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Jesuit in Puerto Rico calls hurricane damage ‘apocalyptic’

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Catholic News Service

It took a couple of days for Jesuit Father Flavio Bravo to venture out and survey the devastation of Hurricane Maria, with its torrential rain and winds of 155 miles per hour, inflicted for hours on the island of Puerto Rico.

Wind from Hurricane Maria bent this iron cross Sept. 20 on top of a tower at the entrance of the Jesuit Colegio San Ignacio de Loyola in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The deadly hurricane plowed into Puerto Rico Sept. 20 with winds up to 155-miles-per-hour. (CNS photo/courtesy Jesuit Father Flavio Bravo)

“We were trapped,” because of debris, said Father Bravo, the superior of the Society of Jesus’ Puerto Rico community, recounting the initial aftermath of the hurricane on the island. When Father Bravo finally managed to get outside, the scene was nothing short of “apocalyptic,” he said during a Sept. 22 telephone interview with Catholic News Service.

In what was once a lush forest, the palm trees that are still standing look more like telephone poles because they have no leaves on them. Before Maria, it was hard to see anything past the dense tropical foliage, and now “you can see all along.” Seeing the fallen trees, “it is brutal,” Father Bravo said.

But what was most shocking, said Father Bravo, was the sight of the cross at the entrance of Colegio San Ignacio de Loyola, the secondary school the Jesuits operate on the island: The 6-foot-5-inch cross was bent into a 45-degree angle by the hurricane’s forceful winds and now looks almost like a sword planted on the cement post.

“It was a sight that touched me. But that cross invites me to think: What have I done for Christ? What am I doing for Christ? What ought I do for Christ?” Father Bravo said, citing part of the Jesuits’ Spiritual Exercises. “It was a message of destruction but also of reconstruction.”

Puerto Rico, as well as other places affected by September’s back-to-back hurricanes, first Irma and now Maria, has a long way to go before life returns to normal.

Father Bravo said the aftermath has left a pile of emotions and thoughts almost as high as the debris: sadness, desperation from lack of communication, the poor who already were suffering will now suffer more, wanting to help but not knowing where to begin. It feels daunting, he said.

Those who have been able to free themselves from damaged buildings and homes are out looking for neighbors, family, making sure everyone is OK.

“There isn’t a sense of panic, but (rather) sadness. … You don’t know how to console, or be consoled” because there’s so much destruction all around, he said.

Puerto Rico, which already was experiencing economic problems because of huge debt due to mismanagement, had an infrastructure with massive problems before the hurricanes arrived. The economy already was weak, people were leaving the island behind and with it, family, because of the financial problems. And now those who had little, have nothing, Father Bravo said.

“It’s an avalanche of disasters, one disaster after another disaster,” he said.

One of Father Bravo’s tasks is to repair the damage done to the Jesuit school, which educates more than 600 in San Juan, and which already had suffered damage from Hurricane Irma. Electricity will not return for a long time, he said, maybe four to six months. There is a lot of broken glass, damages to buildings, and debris to clear.

And yet, he said, the feeling he hangs onto is of gratitude to God, gratitude to those who are thinking about those who are suffering on the island and other places, gratitude for those who have been moved with compassion, gratitude for those who have helped and want to help, and gratitude for those “who have not allowed us to feel the emptiness,” he said. Even in the midst of tragedy, “we are seeking the greater glory of God,” said Father Bravo. The Society of Jesus in Puerto Rico wants to offer its thanks for the help and support it will take to raise, in the middle of an aftermath, a path of hope to face the future ahead.

The website for the Jesuit’s province lists a link for donations at jesuitscentralsouthern.org to help with recovery efforts.

     

Follow Guidos on Twitter: @CNS_Rhina.

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Catholics in Puerto Rico deal with Hurricane Maria’s wrath

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Catholic News Service

Authorities say it may take months for electricity to fully return to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria pummeled the island and its infrastructure as it made landfall Sept. 20.

People walk in a flooded street Sept. 21 in Toa Baja, Puerto Rico, in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. (CNS photo/Thais Llorca, EPA)

When the hurricane hit the island with winds of up to 155 miles per hour, it tore out cables, roofs from homes and buildings, uprooted palm trees and even bent a cross anchored to a cement post at the entrance of a Jesuit school.

It has been difficult to communicate with the those on the island, said Capuchin Franciscan Father Urbano Vasquez, of the Shrine of the Sacred Heart in Washington, who studied in Puerto Rico and has vast ties to the island. He has been trying to communicate, to no avail, with a community of Poor Clares in Cidra, Puerto Rico, and others he knows on the island, but phone service is hit or miss.

Father Vasquez, however, was able to make contact with a group of seven Capuchin Franciscan friars after the hurricane passed. They took refuge from the storm in Trujillo Alto, about 10 minutes from Old San Juan.

“They were scared because it was the first time they’ve been through something like that,” said Father Vasquez. “They spent the time praying or near the Eucharist” as winds tore through part of the roof near a chapel in the building at Centro Capuchino. Some later sent him videos of the winds whistling through the streets, images taken from a cracked window in an arched entrance door.

The entrance door to the friary caved in, he said, leaving no path for the friars to make their way to the main street. But even if they could get out to the street, authorities have put a curfew in place, afraid citizens could come in contact with fallen cables and other objects that could pose danger on the ground.

The friars told him of the devastation they could see from inside, he said, including fallen palm trees and blocked roads. A parishioner sent him photos of debris, such as torn and battered traffic lights left behind by Maria’s wrath.

Capuchin Franciscan Father Carlos Reyes, in a Sept. 21 phone interview with Catholic News Service, said he didn’t sleep through the harrowing night he spent listening to Hurricane Maria barrel through San Juan.

“I spent the night praying,” he said, and listening to the radio was the only way to hear what was happening in Puerto Rico and the world. He heard about the earthquake in Mexico and in the middle of his own experience with nature’s wrath, he prayed for the earthquake’s victims.

Water crept in at one point and the friars were doing their best to keep it out of the residence. The only way to live through such an experience is with faith and thinking about safety, he said. Authorities tried to drive the urgent message that Hurricane Maria was no joke and many listened, he said.

“The message was to save life, not the material,” he said. “You can reconstruct structures, but not life.”

Father Reyes, originally from El Salvador, said he has lived through strong earthquakes and their damage sometimes affects a centralized area, but Hurricane Maria tore through an entire island.

As of Sept. 22, at least 15 people were killed in Puerto Rico, and 14 deaths were reported on the island nation of Dominica. Two others were killed in the French territory of Guadeloupe and one on the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, urged Catholics to respond with prayer and other help “in this time of great need for our brothers and sisters in harm’s way, many of whom have been hit repeatedly by the successive hurricanes.”

In a Sept. 22 statement, he noted the catastrophic effects of Hurricane Maria were visited on Puerto Rico and elsewhere in the Caribbean “just as we begin to assess the material and emotional damage of hurricanes Harvey and Irma.”

Cardinal DiNardo said: “Casting aside any temptation to despair, and full of hope in the loving providence of God, we pray that our Father may receive unto his loving presence those who have lost their lives, may he comfort the grieving, and may he fortify the courage and resilience of those whose lives have been uprooted by these disasters. May he extend the might of his right hand and bid the sea be quiet and still (Mark 4:39).”

Most of Puerto Rico remained without communication and little information had been gathered about conditions. “Our telecommunications system is partially down,” Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello told the news agency CNN Sept. 20. “Our energy infrastructure is completely down.”

The Society of Jesus in Puerto Rico posted on a website a message and a photo of a cross bent by the hurricane’s wind, but which is still anchored to a tower at Colegio San Ignacio de Loyola in San Juan, a Jesuit, college-preparatory school that the order operates on the island’s capital city.

“With gratitude, we have learned that the Jesuits, faculty and staff are safe,” said the message from Father Flavio Bravo, Jesuit superior of his order’s Puerto Rico community. “Communication from the island remains limited, so we await news on our school families and members of our parish.”

On the website jesuitscentralsouthern.org, he posted a link for donations to help with recovery efforts, but much like the Capuchins, it’s too early to take in the enormity of damages.

Father Reyes said the damage to Puerto Rico isn’t just material but also psychological for those who lived through the experience of Hurricane Maria and he worries for the most vulnerable in the population.

“This leaves behind a lot of damage,” he told CNS. “But we hope for goodwill … the worries and necessities are great … but we can learn a lot from these experiences, that we have to find the good among the bad. In the middle of all of this, faith strengthens us.”

     

Follow Guidos on Twitter: CNS_Rhina.

       

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Bishop McElroy: Attacks against Jesuit author expose homophobia, judgmentalism

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — A U.S. bishop vigorously defended Jesuit Father James Martin when a prominent U.S. seminary canceled an invitation it had extended to the well-known author, who was to speak about Jesus at an October event, after fringe groups unhappy with the priest’s recent book about the church and the gay community mounted a series of attacks.

San Diego Bishop Robert W. McElroy wrote Sept. 18 that ““The concerted attack on Father Martin’s work has been driven by three impulses: homophobia, a distortion of fundamental Catholic moral theology, and a veiled attack on Pope Francis and his campaign against judgmentalism in the church,” (CNS file)

Theological College, a national seminary at The Catholic University of America in Washington, said the cancellation, first made public Sept. 15, came after it “experienced increasing negative feedback from various social media sites regarding the seminary’s invitation” to Father Martin. It did not name the groups associated with the attacks.

“This campaign of distortion must be challenged and exposed for what it is, not primarily for Father Martin’s sake, but because this cancer of vilification is seeping into the institutional life of the church,” said San Diego Bishop Robert W. McElroy in a vigorous defense published by America magazine Sept. 18.

“The concerted attack on Father Martin’s work has been driven by three impulses: homophobia, a distortion of fundamental Catholic moral theology, and a veiled attack on Pope Francis and his campaign against judgmentalism in the church,” wrote Bishop McElroy.

The cancellation of the speech was not the first, Father Martin noted, even though that speech and others he was to give were about Jesus and not the book.

In a Sept. 15 Facebook post, the priest wrote about the incident and said the attacks included “a storm of phone calls, emails and messages to Theological College, which included, I was told, people screaming at the receptionists who answered the phone. In the end, they felt that the expected protests and negative publicity would distract from Alumni Day.” 

Father Martin was to speak at an Oct. 4 symposium celebrating the 100th anniversary of the seminary’s founding.

“The organizers were all apologetic and in some cases more upset than I was. I know that they were under extreme pressure, and in some cases were overwhelmed by the rage that can be generated by social media: ill will based on misrepresentations, innuendos, homophobia and especially fear. Perfect love drives out fear, as 1 John says. But perfect fear also drives out love,” Father Martin wrote.

“Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion and Sensitivity,” the book that has driven the controversy, grabbed the No. 1 spot on Amazon’s Roman Catholicism category Sept. 18. 

It has been endorsed by Bishop McElroy, U.S. Cardinal Kevin J. Farrell, prefect of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life, and Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of Newark, N.J., and has a long list of endorsements from other notable Catholics. However, it also was recently criticized by Guinean Cardinal Robert Sarah in an opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal.

Jesuit Father Matt Malone, editor of America magazine, where Father Martin is editor at large, defended the priest and the book, which has been approved by the Jesuits as being in line with church teaching, in a Sept. 16 statement.

“Some elements in the American church,” Father Malone said, “have taken it upon themselves to organize a campaign, not only against the contents of the book, but against Father Martin himself. In recent weeks, Father Martin has been subjected to repeated, calumnious attacks in social media and in print, involving invective that is as appalling as it is toxic. It is one thing to engage in spirited debate. It is another thing to seek to stymie such debate through fear, misinformation, or blunt censorship.”

Though Theological College, with the cancellation of the invitation made more than a year ago, was seeking to avoid controversy, it invited more attention. The news of the cancellation ended up appearing in the pages of major U.S. newspapers such as The New York Times and The Washington Post over the weekend of Sept. 16 and 17.

John Garvey, Catholic university’s president, issued a statement saying the institution regretted any implication that the university supported the decision by the seminary, adding that “universities and their related entities should be places of free, civil exchange of ideas. Our culture is increasingly hostile to this idea.”

Garvey said it was “problematic” that groups within the Catholic Church demonstrate an “inability to make distinctions and to exercise charity.”

In his Facebook post, Father Martin, a consultor to the Vatican’s Secretariat for Communications, said the only thing he asked of the organizations that canceled his talks is that they be honest about the reasons for the cancellations.

“Also, I want to say that none of these cancellations disturbs me,” he said. “I’ve not lost any sleep over them. … I want to say that Jesus is close to me in prayer. So I am at total peace.”

Thousands on social media, including high profile Catholics, voiced support for the Jesuit.

After the Theological College invitation was rescinded, Holy Trinity Church, in Washington’s Georgetown neighborhood, asked Father Martin if he could instead visit their Jesuit parish around the same time.

“So I look forward to seeing you all in Washington,” he said.

Whether by coincidence or on purpose, on Sept. 18 hackers briefly took down the international Catholic daily LaCroix International after it ran the commentary “Catholic Cyber-Militias and the New Censorship” about the incident.

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The Chainsaw Carmelite: Texas principal knows the joys of serving and severing

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Catholic News Service

She inspired many when she rolled up the sleeves of her habit to clean up after Hurricane Irma with a chainsaw.

Carmelite Sister Margaret Ann Laechelin, principal of Archbishop Coleman F. Carroll High School in Miami, holds the chainsaw she used to help clean up debris following Hurricane Irma. (CNS photo/courtesy Sister Margaret Ann)

After the local police department posted a video Sept. 12 on Twitter of Carmelite Sister Margaret Ann Laechelin trimming branches off a fallen tree with a chainsaw, she became an instant hit and a symbol of sorts for the hurricane-ravaged Miami area.

“People are making a big deal about the chainsaw, but I’ve already given my life to God and that’s what brings true joy,” not the fame that came after the airing of the video, said Sister Laechelin in a Sept. 14 phone interview with Catholic News Service.

But the community at Archbishop Coleman F. Carroll High School, where she is the principal, has been enjoying the fame and the attention it has brought to the suburban Miami Catholic school of 300 students in West Kendall, she said.

“They say ‘Sister, you’re famous. Can I have your autograph?’” she said.

The community needs every bit of levity it can find as it recovers from the damage wrought by Hurricane Irma, which led to the school’s closing because a cooling tower needs to be fixed before students are allowed to return. Inspired by the Carmelite’s example of contributing to the cleanup, families from the school have shown up to help clean around the perimeter, she said.

Though it’s not open for classes, the school has been helping the surrounding community, giving out ice (from its icemaker) and providing a place for others to charge their phones and regroup, Sister Laechelin said.

“There’s such joy in giving,” she said.

And that’s what she was doing when she decided to clear the tree from the road when a police officer, armed with a phone, happened to drive by and filmed her. Though you wouldn’t know it from the video, she had never really used a chainsaw before, but when she was faced with finding a way to clear the tree, she remembered some important advice from her students.

“I had to go on YouTube” to figure it out, she said, “but growing up in Texas, I did a lot of yardwork and my dad taught me to figure things out.”

Though she lives in Florida, she is a member of the Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart in Los Angeles, who also have a community of four women religious in Florida. Via FaceTime, she has been talking to them, easing the concerns of her community in Los Angeles, she said.

“Sisters, we stick together,” she told CNS.

They weren’t surprised at all. she said, by seeing her wielding the chainsaw and said, “That’s Sister Margaret Ann, she never sits back and jumps right in.”

Her family in Texas, however, was in “awe” when they saw her on TV, she said, and told her “I always thought you’d be famous, but not because of a chainsaw.”

The best lesson she can impart on her students from the situation, she said, comes from the Gospel.

“I want them to know that if they see a need, to step in and to help people, to help others, because God didn’t create us to be selfish and to care only for our little world,” she said.

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Former Trump aide says Catholic Church welcomes illegal immigrants for their money

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — In an interview set to air Sept. 10 on the CBS TV program “60 Minutes,” former White House strategist Steve Bannon criticized the Catholic Church and U.S. bishops for their views on immigration, saying, “they need illegal aliens to fill the pews.”

Former White House Chief Strategist Stephen Bannon is seen at the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Md., Feb. 23. (CNS photo/Joshua Roberts, Reuters)

In the interview Bannon, a Catholic, told newsman Charlie Rose that the bishops have “an economic interest in illegal immigration.” He also criticized his former boss, President Donald Trump, for taking a step back hours after ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, when the president said on Twitter that he might revisit the decision in six months.

“Trust me, the guys in the far right, the guys on the conservative side are not happy with this,” Bannon said.

Catholic officials, including a representative of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, disputed the claim.

CBS released advance clips of the interview Sept. 7.

The interview marks the first time since leaving the Trump administration that Bannon, who founded the website Breitbart News, has spoken out. Since leaving the administration, he has returned to Breitbart.

Citing the Gospel call to welcome the stranger and other church teachings, the U.S. bishops have urged for comprehensive immigration reform and for the protection of youth under the DACA program.

Bannon said the U.S bishops have been “terrible” about handling immigration because they can’t “come to grips with the problems in the church. They need illegal aliens. They need illegal aliens to fill the churches. That’s, it’s obvious on the face of it.”

Bannon said immigration issues are not part of church doctrine and the bishops need to understand that “this is about the sovereignty of a nation.”

“And in that regard,” he added, “they’re just another guy with an opinion.”

 

‘Preposterous’ and ‘insulting’

In a Sept. 7 statement responding to Bannon’s interview, James Rogers, chief communications officer for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said it is “preposterous to claim that justice for immigrants isn’t central to Catholic teaching,” noting that the mandate comes directly from the words of Jesus, who spoke of feeding the hungry and welcoming the stranger.

“Immigrants and refugees are precisely the strangers we must welcome,” he added, saying:”This isn’t Catholic partisanship. The Bible is clear: Welcoming immigrants is indispensable to our faith.”

Rogers also noted that caring for the “Dreamers,” or DACA recipients, is a response to commands in both the Old and New Testaments.

He said the bishops’ views on life issues, marriage, health and immigration reform are “rooted in the Gospel of Jesus Christ rather than the convenient political trends of the day.”

Rogers stressed that for anyone to suggest that the bishops’ recent statements on immigrants are for “financial gain is outrageous and insulting.”

New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan offered similar reaction in a Sept. 7 interview on the Jennifer Fulwiler Show, on The Catholic Channel, on SiriusXM satellite radio.

The cardinal said he had seen a transcript of the Bannon interview on “60 Minutes” and was “rather befuddled” by it.

He said Bannon’s comment that “the only reason the bishops care for immigrants is because we want to fill our churches and get more money” was insulting.

He also said he wanted to clarify Bannon’s remark that immigration issues are not part of church doctrine. 

“He might be right,” the cardinal said: “it comes from the Bible itself,” which he said is very clear about treating immigrants with dignity and respect.

Contributing to this report was Carol Zimmermann.

     

       

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Trump backtracks a little on DACA after backlash

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — Hours after the Trump administration announced on Sept. 5 an end to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program, the president seemed to backtrack, just a bit, by saying that if Congress can’t find a legislative solution to legalize the program’s 800,000 beneficiaries in six months, he might step in.

A Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals supporter demonstrates in El Paso, Texas, Sept. 5. (CNS photo/Jose Luis Gonzalez, Reuters)

“Congress now has 6 months to legalize DACA (something the Obama Administration was unable to do). If they can’t, I will revisit this issue!” President Donald Trump tweeted in the evening, even after Attorney General Jeff Sessions said using executive action in such as manner, as then-President Barack Obama had done, was “unconstitutional.”

Obama established DACA in 2012 by executive action after Congress could not agree on legislation that would have legalized youth brought to the U.S. as children.

After DACA was rescinded, condemnation quickly followed. Javier Palomarez, the head of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, said on a television show shortly after the decision was announced that he was resigning from the president’s diversity coalition because of its move to end DACA. The chamber of commerce then followed up with a statement saying that it “vehemently” opposed the president’s “inhumane and economically harmful decision to terminate DACA.”

Fifteen states and the District of Columbia announced Sept. 6 that they were filing lawsuits against the administration to stop it from ending the program.

Republicans, such as House Speaker Paul Ryan, seemed optimistic and said he had
“hope” that Congress could come to an agreement. Congress has not been able to agree on immigration legislation in more than a decade.

At a demonstration outside the White House on Sept. 5, DACA recipient Greisa Martinez, who is advocacy director at United We Dream, a national immigrant youth led organization, said DACA beneficiaries will try to press for a legislative solution. However, she and other beneficiaries don’t want to be part of political deals that will put other migrants at risk, she said. In other words, migrant youth will oppose any deals that attempt to use them as political pawns and oppose any legislation that will in turn put their parents or families at risk, she said.

The New York-based Center for Migration Studies said in a Sept. 5 statement by executive director Donald Kerwin that “Congress should act swiftly to pass the bipartisan DREAM Act, which was recently introduced in the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives.”

Although the 2017 version is the latest move by Congress to attempt at bipartisan legislation to help the undocumented youth, the White House told news agency McClatchy in July that the president wouldn’t sign the proposed Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act, or DREAM Act, legislation so it’s hard to tell what legislative solutions the president is seeking.

Kerwin also took issue with what he called the attorney general’s “demonstrably false claims and half-truths” when he announced why the administration was rescinding the program. The DACA program did not cause the flight of large numbers of unaccompanied minors to the United States, Kerwin said. That was a result of the violence from the Northern Triangle states of Central America, which includes El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

DACA recipients also have not deprived hundreds of thousands of U.S. citizens of jobs, Kerwin said.

“Sessions also repeatedly invoked the phrase ‘illegal aliens’ to describe legally present young persons who are American in everything but status,” Kerwin said.

     

Follow Guidos on Twitter: @CNS_Rhina.

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Catholics turn out to support ‘dreamers’ after DACA rescinded

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — Mercy Sister Rita Parks stood near the large crowd in front of the White House that was almost silenced after U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced shortly after 11 a.m. on Sept. 5 that the Trump administration was ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program.

Dafne Jacobs, a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipient stands with supporters during a rally outside the Federal Building in Los Angeles, Calif., Sept. 1. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Sept. 5 that the DACA program is “being rescinded” by President Donald Trump, leaving some 800,000 youth, brought illegally to the U.S. as minors, in peril of deportation and of losing permits that allow them to work. (CNS photo/Kyle Grillot, Reuters)

“I’m astounded, saddened. I saw their faces, the tears and their dreams shattered,” said Sister Parks, of some of the DACA recipients nearby who were trying to take in the recent news. Many of them, the majority in their 20s, had just heard what they didn’t want to believe: that the program that grants them a work permit and reprieve from deportation, is months away from disappearing.

Some, like Catholic DACA recipient Claudia Quinones, who was in the Washington crowd, had held out hope up until the moment of the announcement that President Donald Trump would make a decision with “heart,” as he had earlier promised regarding the program that allows beneficiaries like her, brought to the U.S. as children without legal documentation, certain protections.

Instead, his attorney general said that by giving job permits to DACA recipients, jobs were “denied … to hundreds of thousands of Americans by allowing those same jobs to go to illegal aliens” meaning the young migrants. Sessions also criticized the program, calling it “unilateral executive amnesty” and said it was responsible for “a surge of unaccompanied minors on the southern border that yielded terrible humanitarian consequences.” However, many organizations have attributed the surge of unaccompanied minors to scaling violence in Central America, not to the DACA program.

Many in the crowd held up signs saying “shame” and pointed them toward the White House after the announcement. Many shouted “Donald Trump, shame on you!”

The Department of Homeland Security, which administers the program, has stopped accepting DACA applications, and current recipients will not be affected until March 5, which Sessions said, gives Congress an opportunity to find a legislative solution for the current 800,000 beneficiaries. On its website, DHS says DACA recipients can continue working until their work permits expire. Those with DACA permits that expire between Sept. 5 and March 5, 2018 are eligible to renew their permits, the website says, but they won’t be able to renew after that two-year extension.

In what can be interpreted as a command, the president tweeted: “Congress, get ready to do your job – DACA!,” kicking the political ball into Congress’ hands. But it’s unclear what Congress can and will do.

“We’re not a political hot potato,” said DACA recipient Greisa Martinez, who is advocacy director at United We Dream, a national immigrant youth-led organization for so-called “dreamers,” as the DACA youth are called. The moniker comes from the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act, or DREAM Act, a legislative proposal that has repeatedly failed to pass in Congress and which would give DACA recipients conditional residency. Though a recent bipartisan version of the DREAM Act was once again proposed by Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, of South Carolina, and Democrat Dick Durbin, of Illinois, the president said pre-emptively he would not sign it. So, it’s unclear what he means when he asks Congress to fix the situation for “dreamers.”

Martinez, who was brought from Mexico to the U.S. at age 7 by her parents, said in an interview with Catholic News Service that there’s a lot of uncertainty about what will happen to youth like her but says she’s focused on the fight ahead to “push politicians to better people.”

“I hold on,” she said, “because I know God is on my side.”

Her fellow “dreamer,” Quinones, a parishioner at Our Lady of Sorrows in Maryland, said the weekend before the announcement had been “very stressful.” Because of DACA, she has a work permit, a driver’s license and is able to attend college in the area. Now, that’s all up in the air. But DACA youth and other immigrants, as well as other Catholics, have shown a lot of support and that helps, she said.

The crowd in front of the White House was sprinkled with Catholics representing organizations such as the Sisters of Mercy, the Franciscan Action Network, Faith in Public Life, as well as men and women religious out to show their support.

Capuchin Franciscan Father Kevin Thompson of Washington, said he wanted to support the youth, which include many young Catholics at the nearby Shrine of the Sacred Heart, where he is the auxiliary pastor.

“This is their country,” he said. “This is the country they know.”

He said he would be praying for Catholics who are against programs such as DACA. The Old Testament is clear, he said, in saying that Christians must welcome the stranger.

“I pray for a change of heart,” he said.

Mercy Sister Anne Curtis said she, too, couldn’t understand the opposition of some Catholics against programs such as DACA because from the Christian point of view, “our tradition is so clear,” regarding immigrants, she said, and urged others to “look to the Gospel.”

She said she was particular disheartened with the announcement because the “dreamers” had been led to believe that the outcome would be different.

“My heart breaks,” she said. “The hope they were given and now to have their dreams dashed.”

Kevin Appleby, senior director of international migration policy for the New York-based Center for Migration Studies, joined the crowd in Washington and said the decision was “cruel, as it violates a pledge made by our government to these young people and places them at risk of deportation to countries they do not know.”

“It is sad that the president was unable to summon the moral and political courage to stand by these inspiring young immigrants, who have shown great strength and fortitude in their efforts to achieve the American dream,” he said. “They represent the future leaders of our nation and would contribute greatly to our economy and culture, if given the chance. Instead of firing them, the president should be hiring them. Now it is up to Congress to do the right thing and find a long-term solution to their plight.”

That includes plans for granting them permanent residency and citizenship, he said.

Dreamer Quinones said she’d received much support from church members at the parish level and among those who turned out to support DACA beneficiaries like her during demonstrations but said she would like to see more support from the local hierarchy.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops called the cancellation of DACA “reprehensible” and said in a Sept. 5 statement that the president’s announcement “causes unnecessary fear” for the youths and their families. The bishops repeatedly called on the president to keep the program. They told DACA recipients on Sept. 5: “You are children of God and welcome in the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church supports you and will advocate for you.”

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Ending DACA program called ‘reprehensible’ and ‘heart-breaking’ by U.S. bishops

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Sept. 5 that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program is “being rescinded” by President Donald Trump, leaving some 800,000 youth, brought illegally to the U.S. as minors, in peril of deportation and of losing permits that allow them to work.

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals supporters demonstrate near the White House in Washington Sept. 5. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Sept. 5 that the DACA program is “being rescinded” by President Donald Trump, leaving some 800,000 youth, brought illegally to the U.S. as minors, in peril of deportation and of losing permits that allow them to work. (CNS photo/Kevin Lamarque, Reuters)

Although the Department of Homeland Security will immediately stop accepting applications to the DACA program, current recipients would not be affected until March 5, which Sessions said will “create a time period for Congress to act, should it choose.”

He described the 2012 policy, popularly known as DACA and implemented under President Barack Obama, as an “unconstitutional exercise of authority by the executive branch.”

DACA does not provide legal status for youths who were brought to the country without legal permission as children, but it gives recipients a temporary reprieve from deportation and employment authorization in the United States, as long as the applicants meet certain criteria.

In the days leading up to the decision, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, along with other Catholic organizations, asked the president to keep the program.

A Sept. 5 statement from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops called the cancellation of DACA “reprehensible” and something that “causes unnecessary fear for DACA youth and their families.”

“Today, our nation has done the opposite of how Scripture calls us to respond. It is a step back from the progress that we need to make as a country,” they said, adding that the decision by the Trump administration is a “heartbreaking moment in our history that shows the absence of mercy and goodwill, and a short-sighted vision for the future.”

The bishops also urged Congress to “immediately resume work toward a legislative solution.”

They told DACA recipients: “You are children of God and welcome in the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church supports you and will advocate for you.”

The statement was signed by Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, USCCB president; Los Angeles Archbishop Jose H. Gomez, USCCB vice president; Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, chairman of the Committee on Migration; and Bishop Joseph J. Tyson of Yakima, Washington, chairman of the Subcommittee on Pastoral Care of Migrants, Refugees, and Travelers.

 

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Catholic groups are mobilizing to help in Hurricane Harvey’s aftermath

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Catholic News Service

Catholic dioceses and charities are quickly organizing to help in the aftermath of a Category 4 hurricane that made landfall with heavy rains and winds of 130 miles per hour late Aug. 25 into the Rockport, Texas area, northeast of Corpus Christi. The National Weather Service said in a tweet Aug. 27 that the rainfall expected after the hurricane and storm are over “are beyond anything experienced before.” The hurricane, named Harvey, is said to be the strongest one to hit the United States in more than a decade and perhaps the strongest one to make landfall in Texas.

Lisa Rehr embraces her four-year old son Maximus as they await to be evacuated Aug. 26 from Rockport, Texas. (CNS photo/Adrees Latif, Reuters)

Catholic Charities USA, as well as the Society of St. Vincent de Paul Disaster Services, announced early on Aug. 26 that they’re mobilizing to help an as-yet-unknown number of persons affected by the hurricane. The Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops has a list of charities helping with the disaster listed on its website at https://txcatholic.org/harvey.

Authorities reported at least five casualties as of Aug. 27, but because of safety issues, not many emergency teams have been yet able to respond to the aftermath and much of the damage is unknown. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott declared the state a disaster area, which will allow federal money to help in reconstruction. Catholic groups said they want to help with the immediate needs of the communities affected.

“We will be sending in rapid-response teams to help our impacted St. Vincent de Paul councils and we are coordinating nationally with the Knights of Columbus, Knights of Malta and (Catholic Charities USA),” said Elizabeth Disco-Shearer, CEO of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul USA.

Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, on Aug. 27 urged “all people of goodwill to closely monitor future calls for assistance for victims and survivors in the days ahead.”

The cardinal also is the head of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, one of the hardest-hit areas.

“Hurricane Harvey hit the Gulf Coast in a catastrophic and devastating way this weekend, bringing with it severe flooding and high winds which have taken human life, caused countless injuries, and severely damaged homes and property throughout the region,” said the cardinal in an Aug. 27 news release. “The effects of this storm continue to put people in harm’s way, with horrific scenes playing out all around, such as those of people trapped on their rooftops as water continues to rise around them. Many dioceses of the church in the United States have been affected; many others will be as the storm continues.”

He asked for prayers but also for assistance for those affected. One of the first to pledge help was the Diocese of Brownsville, Texas, where Bishop Daniel E. Flores authorized a second collection to be taken up at the diocese’s local churches on the weekend of Aug. 26-27 to send to Catholic Charities in nearby Corpus Christi and “other places hardest hit by loss of power, storm damage, flooding.”

It’s been hard to communicate with other areas, said Bishop Flores in an Aug. 26 interview with Catholic News Service, so it’s hard to gauge the extent of the damage. But he said his diocese wanted to get a head start to quickly divert help where it is needed and as fast as possible.

If the Rio Grande Valley, where Bishop Flores’ diocese is located, was spared the major impact of Hurricane Harvey, then the diocese had a duty to help their neighbors to the north, in the coastal areas of Corpus Christi and Galveston-Houston, which seemed to be hit hardest, he said. Hurricane Harvey seemed to enter near Corpus Christi and affected seven coastal counties in Texas and one Louisiana parish.

“We continue to pray for every for everyone affected by the hurricane and those who are at risk as the storms continue,” said Bishop Flores in a statement.

Though the brunt of the hurricane’s winds has passed and Harvey was downgraded to a tropical storm hours after landfall, heavy rains and “catastrophic flooding” are expected for days, said the National Hurricane Center.

“We have to remember … the families affected by flood damage in the next few days in other parts of the state will be in need of relief,” said Bishop Flores. “We will assess better how we can help as we get further information about the needs from the (Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops) and Catholic Charities.”

In an Aug. 26 statement published by the Galveston-Houston archdiocese, Cardinal DiNardo said powerful winds and heavy rainfall have already impacted many lives and homes throughout the region, and many in the southern counties of his archdiocese have already suffered substantial property damage and losses

In Houston, the country’s fourth largest city with 6.6 million residents, many struggled seeking safety in flooded residential streets, which are expected to get up to 50 inches of rainfall by the time the rain stops sometime at the end of August.

“Numerous homes in these communities are currently without power. Several forecasts anticipate additional storm damage and flooding in the coming days, along with high winds and tornado activity,” Cardinal DiNardo said.

Up to 250,000 have been reported without power in Texas, a number that’s expected to rise.

San Antonio Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller said in a statement that the archdiocese pledged its support to recovery efforts that will start after the rain and wind subside. 

“My thoughts and prayers are with the people of the dioceses of Corpus Christi and Victoria, as well as the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, as they cope with the damaging effects of Hurricane Harvey,” he said. “The people of San Antonio have opened their arms to welcome evacuees of this historic hurricane, and Catholic Charities of the archdiocese has been assisting and will continue to assist in a variety of ways those impacted by this natural disaster.”

Bishop W. Michael Mulvey, of the Diocese of Corpus Christi, said he was grateful to the bishops who reached out to him and to his diocese. He said the true damage around the diocese still is not known and officials are waiting for conditions that will allow a better assessment of the damage.

In his statement, Cardinal DiNardo asked for prayers for emergency personnel and volunteers who are out and about in dangerous conditions and also “for those residing in our archdiocese, in Texas and along the Gulf Coast, be safe and may God have mercy on those affected by Hurricane Harvey.”

       

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Bishop Murry says racism demands church’s attention

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — By creating a committee to deal with racism, the country’s Catholic bishops are standing up for the American value of equality and for a Gospel that refutes the hatred and violence the country witnessed Aug. 11 and 12 during white supremacist demonstrations in Charlottesville, Va., said the bishop who will lead the effort. Read more »

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