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Catholic leaders meeting in Orlando seeks to bring ‘Joy of the Gospel’ vision to U.S. church

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — This summer’s Convocation of Catholic Leaders comes at a time when the U.S. Catholic Church is seeking how best to respond to a changing social landscape while bringing Pope Francis’ vision for a church that offers mercy and joy to the world.

Volunteers serve guests lunch in the main dining hall of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in 2016 in Phoenix. Leaders from dioceses and various Catholic organizations will gather July 1-4 in Orlando, Fla., for the "Convocation of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of the Gospel in America" sponsored by the U.S. bishops.(CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)

Volunteers serve guests lunch in the main dining hall of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in 2016 in Phoenix. Leaders from dioceses and various Catholic organizations will gather July 1-4 in Orlando, Fla., for the “Convocation of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of the Gospel in America” sponsored by the U.S. bishops.(CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)

Called by the bishops, the historic convocation will find more than 3,000 Catholic leaders — bishops, clergy, religious and laypeople — meeting July 1-4 in Orlando, Florida, to focus on how the pope’s 2013 apostolic exhortation, “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”), applies in the United States.

The pope’s document lays out a vision of the church dedicated to evangelization, missionary discipleship, in a positive way, with a focus on society’s poorest and most vulnerable, including the aged and unborn.

Jonathan Reyes, executive director of the U.S. bishops’ Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development and a convocation planner, sees the gathering as a way for Catholics across the diverse spectrum of the church to unify in Christ.

“The beauty of it for us as Catholics is it’s not just another trade meeting,” Reyes said. “This is centered, as Pope Francis said again and again, in the encounter with Jesus Christ. That’s what holds us together. Even Catholics need a moment of unity these days. Not just our country, but we as Catholics need a moment of unity around Christ.”

The idea of missionary discipleship expressed by the pope has taken root in the work of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. It’s the pre-eminent theme in the 2017-2020 strategic plan the bishops adopted during their annual fall general assembly in November.

Planning for the gathering, titled “Convocation of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of the Gospel in America,” has been underway for a few years. It is being called to examine today’s concerns, challenges and opportunities for action in light of the church’s evangelization mission, Reyes said.

“So we’re going to encounter Christ together, converse together, pray together, encounter one another and talk very practically about what are the challenges, what’s it mean to be missionary disciples at this moment and how do we go out and do it,” Reyes said.

Planners want people to mix and mingle and learn from each other during the invitation-only event.

“This group of people would never be in the same strategic conversations together if it weren’t for the bishops calling them together. They are in all kinds of ministries throughout the church. They are professionals in all the different fields, education, business, teachers. We have people from all socioeconomic groups,” Reyes said.

Such a gathering of bishops and key church leaders has occurred just once before within the U.S. church.

In 1917, in response to the country’s entry into World War I, the bishops met with a select group of leaders to determine how to respond to social needs emerging from the war. That meeting at The Catholic University of America in Washington led to the formation of the National Catholic War Council “to study, coordinate, unify and put in operation all Catholic activities incidental to the war.” After the war, the bishops met to make the council permanent and established the National Catholic Welfare Council, the forerunner to today’s USCCB.

“They were responding to a very different crisis, World War I. But there was a sense of the importance of the moment that the church of the United States had to come together under the bishops to find a way of going forward, a vision of hope for the country and to serve,” Reyes said.

Today, like the wider society, the U.S. church is grappling with how best to respond to rapid sociological changes: demographics including a rising Latino population and people leaving organized religion, an economy that has led to a smaller middle class, a broadening of the legal definition of marriage, polarization along ideological lines and technological advances that have changed how people relate with each other.

How to respond under the guidance of Pope Francis will begin to be discussed during the convocation. Each day has its own theme for participants to consider in light of changing church and social structures:

  • July 1: National Unity
  • July 2: Landscape and Renewal
  • July 3: Work and Witness
  • July 4: A Spirit of Mission

On days 2 and 3, plenary sessions will feature panel discussions pertaining to an aspect of the themes with nearly two dozen breakout sessions exploring topics influencing the church’s work.

Mass will be part of each day as well. The July 3 Mass will incorporate religious liberty as part of the bishops’ annual Fortnight for Freedom observance.

Reyes and planners, including the bishops envision the convocation as a starting point with Pope Francis providing the inspiration through his call to bring the Gospel to others.

“The Gospel is a pretty good thing to rally around,” Reyes told CNS. “You can build a lot unity out of it.”

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Washington letter: U.S. strike on Syria raises ‘just-war theory’ questions

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON —The U.S. cruise missile strike on a Syrian air base days after chemical weapons were dropped on civilians in rebel-controlled territory further endangers innocent people, observers familiar with the just-war theory said.

If anything, the observers told Catholic News Service, the unilateral U.S. response could embolden Syrian President Bashar Assad to undertake future attacks, exposing more lives to harm, including those of people fleeing the violence.

The USS Porter, in the Mediterranean Sea, fires a Tomahawk missile April 7.  The missile strike on a Syrian air base days after chemical weapons were dropped on civilians in rebel-controlled territory further endangers innocent people, said observers familiar with the just-war theory. (CNS photo/U.S. Navy handout via Reuters)

The USS Porter, in the Mediterranean Sea, fires a Tomahawk missile April 7. The missile strike on a Syrian air base days after chemical weapons were dropped on civilians in rebel-controlled territory further endangers innocent people, said observers familiar with the just-war theory. (CNS photo/U.S. Navy handout via Reuters)

The U.S. strike early April 7 on the Shayrat airfield came three days after chemical weapons were dropped in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib province. The attack claimed more than 80 lives, including dozens of children.

President Donald Trump has cited the deaths of the children in particular in condemning the attack prior to the retaliatory strike.

The Pentagon reported that 23 of 59 missiles launched from warships in the eastern Mediterranean Sea struck the air base. Military leaders were unsure of the status of the remaining 36 missiles.

SANA, the Syrian state news agency, said 15 people died during the U.S. attack and that nine of the dead, including four children, were civilians.

Overall, the six-year civil war has claimed as many as 470,000 lives according to various humanitarian agencies. An estimated 4.8 million people have been displaced with many fleeing the country altogether.

Such numbers should give pause to the U.S. and the world to think about the morality of future military actions and focus on responding to the needs of displaced people rather than one-time retaliatory strikes, said the expert observers.

“Few problems get resolved in 24 hours,” said Jesuit Father John Langan, who holds the Cardinal Bernardin Chair of Catholic Social Thought at Georgetown University.

Father Langan was among several people who said that applying the just-war theory in Syria’s conflict is difficult because the warring factions are within one country rather than among two or more nation states, but that moral reason requires that the primary concern must be the protection of civilians.

The just-war theory encompasses seven principles: war as a last resort; war is waged by a legitimate authority; just cause in that a war must be in response to wrong suffered; probability of success; right intention to re-establish peace; proportionality so that the violence in a just war is proportional to the casualties suffered; and civilian casualties, meaning civilians are never the target in a just war.

“I think civilians are at great risk, but it’s not as if there are risk-free alternatives in that situation,” Father Langan said. “The level of risk depends on the smart quality of intelligence available. It’s particularly important in light of these considerations to avoid attacks that kill large numbers of civilians, particularly children.”

Lawrence Wilkerson, who served as chief of staff to Colin Powell when he was secretary of state and now is a distinguished adjunct professor of government and policy at the College of William and Mary, said U.S. leaders seem to have ignored the refugees.

“That should be the very first emphasis, taking care of these people,” Wilkerson said.

Wilkerson and others questioned Trump’s reasoning for the April 7 missile strike, the protection of civilians, while the administration has called for prohibiting Syrian refugees from entering the U.S., when in the past they have been welcomed.

They also expressed concern beyond such focused moral questions that the U.S. strike seemed to occur with no specific strategy in place to address the complicated Syrian situation.

“If you look at the (U.S.) strike, my concern about it is on just-war grounds. But I’m also concerned that it seems to be a one-off, something that doesn’t seem to be related to working toward just peace,” said Daniel Philpott, professor of political science at the University of Notre Dame.

Philpott called for the international community to step up in response.

“In a strict legal sense and a larger moral sense, there needs to be a much more concerted international effort to not just have pinprick strikes, but toward bringing the whole thing to a halt,” he said.

Notre Dame colleague David Cortright, director of policy studies at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, said the U.S. action “does not fit an ethical response,” because not all the facts were known at the time.

“When we respond so quickly in a military fashion it looks like retaliation rather than an attempt to find a solution,” Cortright explained. “Our ethical foundation calls us to find solutions to conflict, not to retaliate.”

While the use of chemical weapons is a “gross violation of human rights,” Msgr. Stuart Swetland, president of Donnelly College in Kansas City, Kansas, who once served aboard a nuclear weapon-armed submarine while with the U.S. Navy, said the situation in Syria requires that “we want to think these things through.”

Msgr. Swetland expressed concern that there “is not a serious discussion on the U.S. use of military power” in Syria despite the onslaught of U.S. bombs in the country. An estimated 25,000 bombs were dropped by American forces during the last year of President Barack Obama’s administration without congressional authorization.

“Right now, we’re bombing both sides in the civil war. What is your hope and what is your goal?” he asked.

The observers suggested that a strong moral and ethical priority should be for the world to pursue negotiations among all of Syria’s factions to end the civil war, as Pope Francis has repeatedly stated.

How that comes about is difficult to determine. But the answer, the observers said, partially lies in the willingness of Russia, Assad’s main backer, and the U.S. to step back from a major confrontation between the world’s largest holders of nuclear weapons and do what’s best in the interests of the world.

 

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Cardinal Dolan to read from Book of Wisdom at inauguration

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan said the Scripture passage he chose to read at the Jan. 20 inauguration of Donald J. Trump as president, Wisdom chapter 9 in which King Solomon prays for wisdom to lead Israel according to God’s will, was an easy one to make.

“I pray it all the time,” he said and joked that “the Lord still hasn’t answered the prayer.”

Jokes aside, Cardinal Dolan said that Solomon’s prayer has been one offered to God for centuries.

New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan speaks Nov. 14 during the annual fall general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore. (CNS/Bob Roller)

New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan speaks Nov. 14 during the annual fall general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore. (CNS/Bob Roller)

In the prayer, Solomon acknowledges that God made humankind “to govern the world in holiness and righteousness and to render judgment in integrity of heart.” The king continues by asking God for wisdom, “the consort at your throne, and do not reject me from among your children.”

Solomon also pleads with God to send wisdom “that she may be with me and work with me, that I may know what is pleasing to you.” He asks that his “deeds will be acceptable and I will judge your people justly and be worthy of my father’s throne.”

As for his appearance on the podium at the start of the inaugural ceremony with three other faith leaders, Cardinal Dolan explained that he was “flattered” to be invited to participate by inauguration planners.

The cardinal has one minute to read the passage. “That’s more than enough,” he said. “I’ve timed it.”

He also was asked to send his selection to the Trump team. “I don’t know if that was for vetting purposes or not, which I think is appropriate to do so,” he told CNS.

And in these divisive times in the country, Cardinal Dolan acknowledged that he opened himself to critics by agreeing to be part of the ceremonies on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol.

“I know they are (there) because they’ve written to me,” he said. “And as I tell them, had Mrs. (Hillary) Clinton won and invited me, I would have been just as honored.

“We pastors and religious leaders are in the sacred enterprise of prayer. People ask us to pray with them and for them. That doesn’t mean we’re for them or against them,” he added.

“That’s our sacred responsibility.”

The cardinal noted that he had met Trump twice. The first time came Oct. 14 in the midst of the presidential campaign when Trump and his wife, Melania, made the six-block trip from Trump Tower to St. Patrick’s Cathedral. At the time, diocesan spokesman Joseph Zwilling said that Trump had requested the meeting weeks before it occurred.

The two met again at the 71st annual dinner of the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation six days later.

For the record, Cardinal Dolan met Clinton a few months earlier and also at the dinner, according to Zwilling.

The inauguration of a new president can be a time of hope and renewal for the country, Cardinal Dolan said.

“Many people may have reservations of the president-elect and I certainly do, as with any incoming president. But in the great American tradition, we look at the time of an incoming president as a time of hope … a way to give a man a chance and try to fulfill some of the promises he made.”

Trump’s inauguration won’t be the first in which a Catholic cleric participated. History shows that Msgr. John Ryan, a pioneer of the church’s social justice advocacy who served a long term as director of the U.S. bishops’ social action department, offered a prayer at the President Franklin Roosevelt’s 1937 inauguration.

Prelates who prayed at inaugurations include Cardinal Richard J. Cushing of Boston at the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy in 1961; Cardinal Terrence J. Cooke of New York, at both of President Richard Nixon’s inaugurations in 1969 and 1973; and, most recently, Archbishop John R. Roach of St. Paul and Minneapolis, who was U.S. bishops’ conference president in 1977 when President Jimmy Carter took the oath of office.

Cardinal Dolan said he attended ceremonies as a private citizen for President Ronald Reagan in 1981 and President George H.W. Bush in 1989.

 

The full Bible passage of Wisdom chapter 9 can be found online at www.usccb.org/bible/wisdom/9:13.

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Bishop Lennon of Cleveland resigns for health reasons

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Catholic News Service

CLEVELAND — Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Bishop Richard G. Lennon of Cleveland. He has headed the diocese since 2006.

Bishop Lennon, who turns 70 in March, said during a news conference at diocesan offices Dec. 28 that he had developed vascular dementia, leading to his decision to submit his resignation for health reasons to the pope in November.

Pope Benedict XVI greets Bishop Richard G. Lennon of Cleveland during a 2012 meeting at the Vatican. Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Bishop Lennon, who has headed the Ohio diocese since 2006. (CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano)

Pope Benedict XVI greets Bishop Richard G. Lennon of Cleveland during a 2012 meeting at the Vatican. Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Bishop Lennon, who has headed the Ohio diocese since 2006. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano)

“Recently it has come to my awareness that my health has declined to such an extent that I should resign as diocesan bishop,” he said.

“Given the progressive nature of this illness,” he added. “Pope Francis has accepted my request for an early retirement.”

Normally, bishops do not turn in their resignation to the pope until they turn 75, as required by canon law.

The pope named Bishop Daniel E. Thomas of Toledo, Ohio, as the apostolic administrator of the diocese until the installation of a new bishop.

The changes were first announced in Washington early Dec. 28 by Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States.

Bishop Thomas, 57, called Bishop Lennon’s request for an early retirement “both a humble and courageous act, one that speaks volumes to his love for the local church and his desire that the people of God receive the pastoral care they need.”

Having to take on the additional responsibilities of overseeing the Cleveland Diocese was unexpected, Bishop Thomas said. He compared his appointment as apostolic administrator to that of an interim coach.

“My job is to be the conduit from the past to the future,” he said.

Bishop Thomas admitted during the news conference that he had ‘limited’ knowledge of the diocese and that he would undertake a quick study of the Catholic Church that serves 692,000 Catholics in eight counties.

As apostolic administrator, Bishop Thomas said, he would regularly travel between Toledo and Cleveland, a distance of about 120 miles.

“My sister-in-law texted me this morning and said, ‘Well, maybe they should clone you even though the church doesn’t believe in that,’” Bishop Thomas said, smiling. “Someone else said, ‘Well, maybe you should follow the example of Padre Pio.’ But I’m not a saint, so I can’t bi-locate yet.

“But I hope you know I will do everything in my power to work so well with the good folks here and in the Diocese of Toledo to be able to govern the people entrusted to me by Pope Francis until a successor is named,” he said.

Bishop Thomas pointed particularly to the “rich ethnic culture and traditions” represented in northeast Ohio and said he was looking forward to meeting parishioners in the diocese’s 185 parishes as well as the priests, deacons and religious communities that minister to them.

“There is much for me to learn, understand and embrace as I strive, with your help, to get down to the work of governance in shepherding the diocese,” Bishop Thomas said.

Prior to his appointment to head the Toledo diocese in 2015, Bishop Thomas was auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia beginning in 2006. At the archdiocese, he oversaw the Media Affairs Department, the Office for Clergy, including the Department of Permanent Deacons, and the Vocation Office for the archdiocesan priesthood. He was ordained a priest for the archdiocese in 1985 by Cardinal John J. Krol, a native Clevelander.

Bishop Lennon was an auxiliary bishop of Boston before he was named Cleveland’s 10th bishop by Pope Benedict XVI. During his decade in Cleveland, he led the revision of the statutes governing the diocese’s finance, pastoral and presbyteral councils, established norms governing internal audits of parishes and schools, and carried out a plan to consolidate parishes. The diocese also completed a capital campaign in 2016 that raised more than $170 million for parish and diocesan needs.

A Boston area native, Bishop Lennon was ordained in 1973 and served in the Boston Archdiocese as a parish priest, fire department chaplain, assistant for canonical affairs and rector of St. John’s Seminary.

He was ordained auxiliary bishop for Boston in 2001 and served as apostolic administrator of the archdiocese from December 2002 to July 2003 after Cardinal Bernard F. Law resigned as archbishop in the midst of Boston’s crisis over clergy sexual abuse of minors. Cardinal Law’s successor as archbishop, then-Bishop Sean P. O’Malley, was named that July.

 

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U.S. bishops OK four-year 740-things-to-do list

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Catholic News Service

BALTIMORE — A new strategic plan adopted by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Nov. 15 during its fall general assembly reflects the efforts of Pope Francis to establish a more merciful and accompanying church, said the archbishop who led the planning process.

Bishop George V. Murry of Youngstown, Ohio, listens to a speaker Nov. 15 during the annual fall general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

Bishop George V. Murry of Youngstown, Ohio, listens to a speaker Nov. 15 during the annual fall general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

The plan, adopted by a vote of 199-4 with two abstentions, will govern the work of the conference and its committees from 2017 through 2020. It takes effect in January.

“We have adapted these priorities to coincide with the priorities of Pope Francis,” Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond of New Orleans and chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Priorities and Plans, told the assembled bishops before their vote.

The plan incorporates the theme “Encountering the Mercy of Christ and Accompanying His People With Joy” in setting five priorities: evangelization, marriage and family life, human life and dignity, vocations, and religious freedom. In total, the five priorities identify more than 740 individual projects to accomplish during the next four years.

Cardinal-designate Joseph W. Tobin of Indianapolis, who recently was appointed archbishop of Newark, N.J., asked where in the plan might be concern for the environment and people who are experiencing the negative effects of climate change.

“It is more urgent than ever given the possibility that the new (presidential) administration is not going to be interested in the issues Pope Francis is interested in,” Cardinal-designate Tobin said.

Archbishop Aymond responded that the plan’s work on the environment, climate change and a response to the needs of people on the margins of society worldwide falls under the human life and dignity priority.

In that section, one of the areas addressed includes teaching and advocating about what the pope has described as integral ecology, “emphasizing environmental degradation and its impact on the lives of the most vulnerable.”

The plan also calls for the U.S. church to move from a “silo approach” to ministry as expressed through the USCCB committees to deeper collaboration and cooperation in service of each bishops’ ministry.

“Committee chairmen and committee members will need to make sure we stay on track,” Archbishop Aymond told the assembly.

The plan, more than a year under discussion by the bishops through their committees, subcommittees and an ad hoc committee, stems in large part from Pope Francis’ message to the bishops when he visited the U.S. in 2015.

The 28-page document offers an overview of the plan and outlines several specific areas to address under each priority. Much of the plan was developed to support individuals of all ages as well as families as people go through daily life and to encourage actions that carry out what is described as “missionary discipleship.”

Another passage in the plan stresses that it charts “a path of hope for the people in need of a loving embrace as they face the challenges of the world.”

      Further, the document states, “The USCCB strategic plan exists to serve the mission of evangelization entrusted in a particular way to each bishop; it is the tool the U.S. bishops rely upon to prioritize, organize, optimize and resource good works which will allow the conference to fulfill its mission.”

      Two major events are expected to help achieve the priorities including the national Convocation of Catholic Leaders scheduled for July 1-4, 2017, in Orlando, Florida, and the V Encuentro for Hispanic Latino Ministry in 2018.

      Thousands of Catholics are expected at each event to discuss, learn, pray and act on ideas to strengthen the church at the local level and inspire new leaders to take on the challenges posed by modern society.

      The strategic plan also mentions that the early projects being undertaken will help the bishops as they prepare a pastoral letter on race relations that is planned for the 50th anniversary of the death of civil rights leader the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in 2018.

      In his presentation Nov. 14, Atlanta Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory, as chairman of the the USCCB Task Force to Promote Peace in Our Communities, urged his brother bishops to issue the statement on racism sooner than scheduled, because of the racial turmoil that has affected many of the nation’s communities after police shootings of African-Americans. The archbishop also said such a statement would help address postelection tensions across the country.

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Bishops required to speak out for religious liberty, Baltimore archbishop says

November 15th, 2016 Posted in Featured, National News

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Catholic News Service

BALTIMORE — All U.S. bishops are required to speak out for religious freedom for all people of faith whose beliefs are compromised, said Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore.

Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori speaks Nov. 14 during the annual fall general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori speaks Nov. 14 during the annual fall general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

It also is the role of the bishop to equip laypeople to speak in the public arena about the necessity to protect religious liberty when interventions by government officials at any level infringe on the free practice of religion, Archbishop Lori stressed Nov. 14 during the fall general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

“We will not support the faithful if we do not support the challenge we face,” said the archbishop, who chairs the bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty.

Archbishop Lori’s presentation focused on the role of prelates in the campaign to oppose attempts to limit religious practices rather than giving a rundown of committee activities in the past year.

He cited four roles of the bishop in the religious freedom arena: prayer, teaching, equipping laypeople and speaking up themselves.

“Prayer is the privileged pathway to and the privileged expression of the struggle of our people, both those at home and those abroad,” Archbishop Lori explained.

Each local bishop also must dedicate himself to church teaching in order to forming the faithful “in the sense of human dignity and human solidarity and work of the common good,” the archbishop said.

From the first two roles stems the necessity to “promote Christians to take their places as missionary disciples” in the public sphere,” he continued. “And we have to support those men and women to answer the call to serve the poor and advocate for the vulnerable in life.”

Such efforts require dialogue, both with the people bishops serve and people in public life, including elected office, he said.

“Fourth and finally, there are those times we must speak up for ourselves, particularly when the power of the state is marshaled against the church’s ministers of mercy. The bishop must say something. He must speak truth to power,” Archbishop Lori said.

“We must be winsome, but we must not be silent,” Archbishop Lori said.

“In our own nation’s history, we must help build a civil society in which persons can encounter one another as persons, persons who may see the world differently but who are seeking truth all the same,” he said.

While not directly addressing the outcome of the Nov. 8 election that saw Republican Donald J. Trump become president, Archbishop Lori said the church’s vigilance on religious liberty will continue. Trump has said he would seek to alter government policies that some religious leaders complain restrict religious freedom.

“While the contours of the political landscape are changing and have not come fully into view, it’s crucial we remain steadfast in our efforts to plurality,” Archbishop Lori said.

 

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Catholic Charities agencies begin helping Hurricane Matthew victims

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Catholic News Service

Catholic Charities agencies joined emergency response efforts in coastal communities in four Southeastern states as residents and parish staffers began returning to assess the damage Hurricane Matthew left behind.

Civilian rescuers Jeremy Blue and his father, Tommy Blue, ferry a family to safety from their flooded apartment Oct. 9 in Lumberton, N.C., after Hurricane Matthew. The powerful storm killed at least 1,000 people in Haiti and at least 33 in the U.S. (CNS photo/Jonathan Drake, Reuters)

Civilian rescuers Jeremy Blue and his father, Tommy Blue, ferry a family to safety from their flooded apartment Oct. 9 in Lumberton, N.C., after Hurricane Matthew. The powerful storm killed at least 1,000 people in Haiti and at least 33 in the U.S. (CNS photo/Jonathan Drake, Reuters)

Some evacuation orders remained in effect in South Carolina, where the storm came ashore Oct. 7, dumping up to 18 inches of rain in communities near Charleston. High water blocked some roads, preventing people from returning to their homes in South Carolina and North Carolina and others were prevented from leaving their homes as they awaited the delivery of food and water.

In Florida, churches sustained serious damage and the historic Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine in St. Augustine experienced flooding, preventing Mass from being celebrated indoors the weekend of Oct. 8-9.

One Catholic Charities official in North Carolina said that in discussions with some residents he learned that the damage and flooding caused by Matthew exceeded that of the powerful Hurricane Floyd in 1999.

Attempts to reach the Diocese of Savannah, Georgia, were unsuccessful because telephone and electrical lines were down.

Some South Carolina communities in in Horry, Georgetown and Williamsburg counties faced the possibility of flooding, even though the storm’s initial fury bypassed them. Kelly Kaminski, a regional coordinator for Catholic Charities of Charleston, said Oct. 10 that authorities were keeping an eye on rivers that continued to rise from runoff from Matthew’s torrential rains.

Many of the same people affected by the storm or worried about potential flooding continue to recover from the historical floods that swamped the state a year ago, she said.

“We’re working with over 2,000 clients just on the flood stuff. Now in addition we have to handle everything from Hurricane Matthew,” Kaminski told Catholic News Service.

Kaminski had no word on damage to churches and schools because evacuation orders in some communities remained in effect.

New flooding also was a concern in North Carolina, said Daniel Altenau, director of communication and disaster services for Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Raleigh.

“The major concern right now is that rivers are increasingly rising. The flooding is not expected to peak in some areas until Friday (Oct. 14) and may not begin to subside until the 15th,” he said.

Catholic Charities planned to begin distributing food cards to families by Oct. 11 as people either returned home or could be reached by some of the 55 to 60 agency staff members working in the affected communities, Altenau said.

“Many of our own staff has been affected, which has limited the ability to be in the community,” he said.

Up and down the North Carolina coast, churches and schools sustained damaged. Altenau said he had reports from “at least a dozen parishes” reporting damage. “The major problem is roofing issues,” he said. “But because of power being out, we aren’t able to communicate with them. We expect more reports in the coming days as well.”

Hurricane Matthew’’s worst punch missed much of the Florida coast. The most serious damage occurred in the Diocese of St. Augustine, where church properties were seriously damaged or flooded and homes were destroyed.

Kathleen Bagg, director of communications for the diocese, said downed trees littered the property of the Mission Nombre de Dios and the Shrine of Our Lady of Le Leche. A tree fell onto the roof of the Our Lady of Le Leche Chapel, she said, but did not cause damage to the interior of the structure.

The Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine, which was renovated in time for the 450th anniversary of the city and cathedral parish, sustained enough flooding to render it unusable for Masses Oct. 8 and 9, Bagg said. Mass was celebrated in the west courtyard outside the church, she said.

Another church, St. Anastasia on a barrier island across from the center of St. Augustine, is believed to have sustained serious damaged in the storm. Authorities were not allowing residents, many of whom belong to the parish, to return to St. Anastasia Island Oct. 10.

Bagg said that power remained out for much of the region, making it difficult to contact other parishes to determine how they fared.

In Miami, parishioners at Notre Dame d’Haiti Parish began collecting donations of food for the Caribbean nation, which took a direct hit from Hurricane Matthew. Parishioners prayed Oct. 7 for the estimated 300,000 Haitians affected by the storm.

The number of deaths reached 1,000 on Oct. 9, five days after the storm’s 145-mile-an-hour winds and torrential rains slammed into the country, according to a tally by Reuters based on conversations with local officials.

However, Haiti’s Civil Protection Agency reported that 336 people had died. The agency’s accounting of casualties is lower because of a policy that requires emergency workers visit each village to confirm the number of deaths and injuries.

In the U.S., the death toll stood at 33 as of Oct. 11.

 

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Hurricane Matthew tears through Haiti, how to help storm survivors

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Catholic News Service

Wind-whipped rains from Hurricane Matthew shattered Haiti’s southwest peninsula, downing trees, ripping open makeshift wooden homes and causing widespread flooding Oct. 4 as aid workers waited for the storm to subside before mobilizing.

Destroyed homes are seen Oct. 5 after Hurricane Matthew swept through Jeremie, Haiti. Rescue workers in Haiti are struggling to reach parts of the country cut off by Hurricane Matthew, the most powerful Caribbean storm in nearly a decade. (CNS photo/Carlos Garcia Rawlins, Reuters)

Destroyed homes are seen Oct. 5 after Hurricane Matthew swept through Jeremie, Haiti. Rescue workers in Haiti are struggling to reach parts of the country cut off by Hurricane Matthew, the most powerful Caribbean storm in nearly a decade. (CNS photo/Carlos Garcia Rawlins, Reuters)

The city of Les Cayes and coastal towns and villages in South Department were experiencing the most destruction as the storm made landfall at dawn with 145-mile-an-hour winds.

Forecasters expected Matthew to dump up to 30 inches of rain in most communities, with some locales receiving up to 40 inches.

Les Cayes and surrounding areas were the focus of concern for Catholic Relief Services. Kim Pozniak, communications manager, told Catholic News Service that the potential for landslides was high because of the geography of the region.

She said CRS staff also was troubled over the well-being of residents who decided to stay in their homes despite calls to evacuate.

“I was told by staff in Les Cayes yesterday (Oct. 3) that the government was going around with megaphones to alert people. But many decided to stay put to protect their homes and belongings. We’’ve heard that some people did not think the storm would be as severe as predicted,” Pozniak said.

She said Chris Bessey, CRS country director, had been in contact with CRS staff in Les Cayes, despite disruptions in electrical and internet service.

“Trees were knocked down and also there was some flooding already,” she said. “We’re unable to communicate with the staff in Les Cayes because everything is down.”

The agency had positioned relief supplies, including food, sanitation and kitchen kits and emergency shelter materials in warehouses in the area, and workers were prepared to begin delivering aid once the storm moved north. Engineers were stationed in three locales and were preparing to begin assessing damage to homes and to help people with the shelter materials, Pozniak said.

In the hours before the storm made landfall, CRS staff had assisted Haiti’s Civil Protection Agency by offering vehicles and fuel for use to help with evacuation, she added.

Accepting donations

CRS and at least one other Catholic agency had begun accepting donations for their emergency responses in Haiti:

  • Catholic Relief Services online at donate.crs.org/hurricane-matthew-crs; via mail to P.O. Box 17090, Baltimore, Maryland, 21297-0303 and indicate Hurricane Matthew in the memo; or call toll-free 877-435-7277 from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. Eastern time.
  • Catholic Medical Mission Board online at www.cmmb.org/donations/hurricane-matthew/.

Heavy rains also pounded the capital of Port-au-Prince, causing some flooding in low-lying areas, but winds were not as severe, Jacques Liautaud, Haiti manager for the church rebuilding project known as PROCHE, told Catholic News Service Oct. 4.

“We’re seeing mostly rain and a few gusts of high winds. Otherwise, it’s been relatively calm,” said Liautaud, who was in the country monitoring construction projects underway to help the Catholic Church rebuild after the country’s powerful 2010 earthquake.

“The city is pretty shut down today. Everybody is sheltering in place,” he said.

Liautaud added that Haitian media reported that at least three people had died because of the storm. The reports could not be immediately confirmed.

The center of Matthew was expected to continue on a northward path through the Windward Passage between Haiti and Cuba. Heavy rains were expected in eastern Cuba, and hurricane warnings were issued for the Bahamas and Turks and Caicos Islands. Weather forecasters in the United States were keeping an eye on the storm’s path and expected it to pass just offshore from Florida and the southeast coast. Florida Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency for the entire state Oct. 3.

 

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Washington letter: Anger, distrust with candidates may find voters snubbing presidential ballot

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — Campaign 2016 is shaping up to be one where voters are not so much supporting one candidate or another as casting a ballot against a candidate they find intolerable.

Or they may not vote for president at all.

Anger, distrust with candidates may find voters snubbing presidential ballot

In a combination photo, U.S. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton is seen Sept. 9 and U.S Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump is seen Sept. 14. (CNS photo/Brian Snyder/Mike Segar, Reuters)

In a combination photo, U.S. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton is seen Sept. 9 and U.S Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump is seen Sept. 14. (CNS photo/Brian Snyder/Mike Segar, Reuters)

Underlying anger and deep-seated distrust of government and the major party candidates are at the root of one of the most tumultuous presidential campaigns in memory.

How well that anger and distrust are addressed in the seven weeks until Election Day will likely determine who occupies the White House come Jan. 20, a panel of political observers said during a Sept. 13 discussion hosted by Georgetown University’s Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life.

Polling shows that more than half of expected voters say they are voting against Democrat Hilllary Clinton or Republican Donald Trump, Jerry Seib, Washington bureau chief of The Wall Street Journal, told the forum. It’s a phenomenon that Seib said he found unprecedented in his years of covering Washington politics.

“Cynicism is so high. It’s the age we live in,” Seib said.

But Seib found it even more notable that a significant number of voters have said they would vote for neither major party nominee, choosing instead to focus on down-ballot races for Congress, state legislatures and local offices.

In key battleground states, the newspaper’s polls have found that 6 percent to 14 percent of voters said they would vote for neither Clinton nor Trump in head-to-head competition.

“(People are saying) ‘I have made a decision that I will not vote for either of them. Not that I do not know or I’m not sure yet. I have decided I will not vote for either candidate.’ These are astonishing things if you think about it,” Seib said.

Emma Green, senior associate editor at The Atlantic magazine, described the tone among voters as one filled with resignation because they are faced with voting for a candidate low on inspiration and excitement.

From where does such cynicism originate?

Political commentator and participant Mark Shields offered an observation: People, particularly blue-collar workers, feel abandoned by the government because they see that only the desires of the well-heeled are being addressed. He blamed Congress for being ineffective, failing to consider the needs of the working class, middle class and poor.

When millions of people who are still struggling to recover from the Great Recession that began in 2007 see money pouring into political campaigns from corporate entities and elite special interests, they realize that their needs and concerns will largely be ignored, Shields said.

Despite good news from the Census Bureau Sept. 13 that median incomes rose 5.2 percent and poverty fell by 1.2 percent in 2015, people are still struggling to recover economically because the value of their homes has not returned to pre-2007 levels and salaries have failed to keep up with inflation over the last 15 years, Shields added.

“People get bitter,” he said.

Melinda Henneberger, visiting fellow at the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies at The Catholic University of America, suggested the distrust stems from feelings that “the system is rigged,” as Trump and, during the Democratic primary season, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, maintained.

“They feel they have been lied to and want to blow it up,” Henneberger said.

The panelists agreed that Trump and Sanders were able to tap voter anger, cynicism and distrust. Henneberger acknowledged that Trump has made untruthful comments, but that they don’t take his rants literally.

“They like the way it makes them feel when they hear him venting,” she said.

Although Sanders failed to get the Democratic Party’s nomination, he was especially able to tap into the mood of young people and push Clinton to adopt some of the language he used challenging the political status quo, explained Green, who regularly covers millennials, religion and politics.

Green cited the role of social media as important in the election. From being the primary means that young people follow the campaign to being the main forum that extremist groups have promoted bigotry, how messages are shared through social media is expected to play a major part in getting different factions to the polls on Election Day.

Looming among the electorate are religious voters and the panelists said they will be important at the polls, but not solely because of their faith affiliation.

Henneberger, who also is longtime political reporter and editor, said many observers have been surprised how strongly evangelical Christians have lined up behind Trump, who has been accused of bigotry and of carrying out shadowy business deals over the years.

“Evangelical support for Donald Trump doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense, until you start to wonder well, gosh, maybe evangelical voters are getting to be like Catholic voters have been for some time in that they are indistinguishable from other voters they are similar to in other ways,” Henneberger told the audience.

She told Catholic News Service that evangelicals, like Catholics, are more difficult to segregate from other voters when demographics such as economics, education and locale are considered.

“You really can’t look at Trump’s positions and argue that he’s gotten the evangelical vote because of his religious beliefs or even his being concert with them on issues that you think of as faith-based,” Henneberger said.

Despite the upheavals in the campaign, Seib expressed hope that a peaceful transfer of administrations will occur and American democracy will continue uninterrupted.

“I think it’s possible to get too carried away with the pessimism here. In the end there’s a remarkable system in this country, and somehow, through the most remarkably obtuse way, it tends to produce. I think there’s plenty of reason to think it can do that now,” he said.

“So let’s not be woefully discouraged here as I think basically this bizarre system we have tends to right itself and the values tend to persevere somehow,” he continued. “I cannot explain it and I cannot explain how it will be true this year. But I have to believe that it’s true.”

 

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Suspect sought in murders of nuns who worked at Mississippi clinic

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Catholic News Service

Police continued to search for the killer of two women religious who spent years caring for poor people as nurse practitioners in central Mississippi.

Sister Margaret Held, 68, a member of the School Sisters of St. Francis in Milwaukee, and Sister Paula Merrill, 68, a member of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth in Kentucky, are pictured in undated photos. The two women religious were found stabbed to death Aug. 25 in their Durant, Mississippi, home, police said. (CNS photo/School Sisters of St. Francis and Sisters of Charity of Nazareth)

Sister Margaret Held, 68, a member of the School Sisters of St. Francis in Milwaukee, and Sister Paula Merrill, 68, a member of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth in Kentucky, are pictured in undated photos. The two women religious were found stabbed to death Aug. 25 in their Durant, Mississippi, home, police said. (CNS photo/School Sisters of St. Francis and Sisters of Charity of Nazareth)

Sister Margaret Held, 68, a member of the School Sisters of St. Francis in Milwaukee, and Sister Paula Merrill, 68, a member of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth in Kentucky, were found stabbed to death Aug. 25 in their Durant, Mississippi, home, police said.

The sisters had worked at the Lexington Medical Clinic in Lexington, about 10 miles from the house they shared.

Warren Strain, spokesman for the Mississippi Department of Public Safety, said police discovered a car missing from the nuns’ home the evening of Aug. 25 on a secluded street late about a mile from where the women were found dead.

Police officers discovered the women’s bodies after co-workers called asking to check on them after they failed to report for work at the clinic.

“These were just two wonderful faith-filled women who just brought so much life to this poor little section of Mississippi. They and so many of the sisters who have come down here throughout the years are the unsung heroes,” said Franciscan Father Greg Plata, sacramental administrator of St. Thomas the Apostle Church in Lexington, where the sisters participated in parish life.

“They just bring the light of Christ to this area here. Both were extremely loved by the people in the area,” Father Plata told Catholic News Service in a telephone interview Aug. 26.

“These two sisters wouldn’t hurt a flea. It’s almost incomprehensible that someone could perpetrate such a violence against them,” the priest added.

Dr. Elias Abboud, the clinic’s owner, told The Clarion-Ledger newspaper in Jackson, Mississippi, the deaths are “a loss to the community. They were loved by everybody.”

Authorities have released few details about the crime, but police suspect robbery was a motive.

Bishop Joseph R. Kopacz of Jackson commended the sisters for their years of dedicated service.

“They absolutely loved the people in their community,” he said. “We mourn with the people of Lexington and Durant and we pray for the Sisters of Charity, the Schools Sisters of St. Francis and the families left behind.”

Sister Susan Gatz, president of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, asked for prayers of gratitude “for the precious lives of Sisters Paula and Margaret” in a statement on the community’s website. “They served the poor so well. Because we are Gospel women, please also pray for the perpetrators,” the statement said.

Sister Susan also asked for prayers for the women’s families, their religious communities, those who work at the medical clinic, the clinic’s clients and the community of Durant.

The leadership team of the U.S. province of the Schools Sisters of St. Francis in a statement announced its shock and grief over hearing the news of the deaths.

“Sister Margaret has been a member of our community for 49 years and lived her ministry caring for and healing the poor,” the leadership team said. “Please keep Sister Margaret, Sister Paul and their families and loved ones in your prayers.”

Sister Paula, a native of Massachusetts, moved to rural Mississippi in 1981, serving in health care ministry for more than 30 years. She joined the Lexington clinic in 2010.

A video about Sister Paula’s ministry recently posted on her community’s website described her ministry in rural Holmes County, where 62 percent of the children live in poverty.

“I have been so edified by the faith of the people I have cared for,” Sister Paul said in the video. “They challenge me, they inspire me.”

Sister Margaret first ministered in Mississippi as a social worker at a health center in Holly Springs in 1975. She relocated to Omaha, Nebraska, from 1981 to 1983 as a community health nurse with the Visiting Nurse Association before returning to Mississippi that year. She became a nurse practitioner in 1994, serving in Tupelo, Marks and Lexington. She began her service with her religious order as a teacher at St. Joseph High School in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, said Aug. 25 in a statement that the sisters “leave a legacy of dedication to their consecrated life and deep compassion for those they served.”

He asked the faithful to “join me in praying for the repose of the souls of Sister Paula and Sister Margaret and for their families and religious communities. May they rest in peace.”

Meanwhile, Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki of Milwaukee held up the example of the sisters for their service.

“Any act of violence is always a tragedy for the entire community,” he said Aug. 25. “A random act of violence makes no sense. When an act of violence is perpetrated on a sister who has dedicated her life to performing good works and serving the community in the name of Jesus, that act of violence is magnified in a multitude of ways.”

Contributing to this story were Marnie McAllister, editor of The Record in the Archdiocese of Louisville, Kentucky, and Maureen Smith, editor of the Mississippi Catholic in the Diocese of Jackson, Mississippi.

Follow Sadowski on Twitter: @DennisSadowski.

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