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Catholics, Muslims urged to work together, learn from one another

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CHICAGO — Leaders in Catholic-Muslim dialogue called on members of both faith communities to find ways to accompany one another and work together at a moment when all religion is under threat from an increasingly secular and even anti-religious society.

San Diego Bishop Robert W. McElroy, co-chair of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ West Coast Catholic-Muslim Dialogue, and Sherman Jackson, a professor of religion and American studies and ethnicity at the University of Southern California Dornsife, both offered comments at a March 8 public session in Chicago.

Cardinal Blase J. Cupich of Chicago visits March 8 with Scott Alexander, associate professor of Islamic studies at Catholic Theological Union, and Saleha Jabeen, a 2014 graduate of the theological union. They spoke following a public session held during the March 7-8 National Catholic-Muslim Dialogue, which had as its theme "Reflections on the Common Good and Hospitality in the Catholic and Muslim Traditions" and was held at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. (CNS photo/Karen Callaway, Chicago Catholic)

Cardinal Blase J. Cupich of Chicago visits March 8 with Scott Alexander, associate professor of Islamic studies at Catholic Theological Union, and Saleha Jabeen, a 2014 graduate of the theological union. They spoke following a public session held during the March 7-8 National Catholic-Muslim Dialogue, which had as its theme “Reflections on the Common Good and Hospitality in the Catholic and Muslim Traditions” and was held at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. (CNS photo/Karen Callaway, Chicago Catholic)

The public session came during the March 7-8 National Catholic-Muslim Dialogue, co-sponsored by the Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and held at the Catholic Theological Union.

Bishop McElroy said that theological dialogue and reflection is important, but the relationship between Catholics and Muslims in the United States must extend beyond theologians and take on a pastoral aspect.

“It is not enough to clarify our commonalities and differences on a deep theological level or even to publish these findings, if we do not take steps to broadly convey this deepened level of friendship and truth to Muslims and Catholics within our nation,” he said.

At the moment, Catholic and Muslim communities simply do not know one another well enough, the bishop said.

The U.S. bishops’ ecumenical and interreligious committee has co-sponsored three regional Catholic-Muslim dialogues for over two decades — mid-Atlantic, Midwest and West Coast. In February 2016, the committee announced the launch of a national dialogue.

Chicago Cardinal Blase J. Cupich began his tenure as the Catholic co-chair of the national dialogue Jan. 1. The Muslim co-chair is Sayyid Syeed, director of the Islamic Society of North America’s Office of Interfaith and Community Alliances.

In his remarks, Bishop McElroy said ignorance “leads to problems between our two communities, but it is not merely or even primarily theological ignorance.”

“It is the ignorance of not knowing one another as brother and sister precisely in our religious identities,” he said.

“It is the ignorance of not having worked together as people of faith to confront secularism,” he continued, “(of) not having joined with one another to pass on religious faith to our children in a youth culture so hostile to faith, not working together to establish greater spheres for religious liberty within our nation so that we can live in fidelity to our traditions of faith and prayer and morality, not collaborating to bring the sacred understanding of sin and redemption into the heart of our society’s understanding of the human condition and human development.”

Jackson said the obstacle to greater friendship and cooperation goes beyond ignorance to fear.

“Part of what undermines the relationship between Muslims and anybody else in America, not just Catholics, is that it’s so easy to scare people about Islam,” he said. “Because of that fear, you can never get to the point of trust, and without trust there is no friendship, and without friendship, there is no real cooperation.”

Catholics faced similar suspicions in the United States of the 19th and early 20th centuries because they were believed to have a higher allegiance to Rome than to the country.

“The Jewish Question,” the phrase coined by German philosopher Bruno Bauer in the 19th century, was based on the idea that Judaism was a religion of laws that governed private and public conduct, and as such, was incompatible with the modern secular state, Jackson said.

“The present moment has prompted many of us to ponder whether America might be staggering toward a dreaded yet entirely avoidable ‘Muslim Question,’” he said,

Religion, whether Christianity or Islam, can be seen as opposed to the European enlightenment liberalism that American founding fathers relied on.

That liberalism “calls into question all forms of authority outside the individual self, especially religion,” Jackson said. “It insists that individuals must be free to choose their way of life, with the only restrictions being the extent to which their choices encroach upon the freely made choices of others.”

Religious traditions, including Islam and Christianity, set a much higher value on the common good, Jackson said, and call on their members to contribute to it. Muslims who embrace Shariah, Islam’s religious law — can contribute to and benefit from the common good in any number of ways, from following speed limits to keeping public spaces safe for all.

“While such Islamic virtues as fairness, mercy or hospitality may inform the spirit of these deliberations, concrete conclusions would draw upon such principles as efficiency, safety, economic cost, long­ term resource management and the like,” Jackson said. “And in none of this — Islam, Shariah or Muslim ‘God-consciousness’ — would pose an impediment to engaging with non-Muslims on a completely equal footing.”

The challenges of the current moment — including climate change, corporate greed, mistrust between law enforcement and communities of color, among others — could offer an opportunity, he said.

“In fact, given these contemporary challenges, now might be the time when religion in America, including Islam, is best positioned to demonstrate its value as a contributor to the common good,” Jackson said.

“For religion can stand up to the state, the market and the dominant culture,” he continued, “by equipping its followers with an independent moral identity with which to analyze and assess the activities of government, ‘the economy’ and the dominant culture, instead of looking upon the state as essentially the god of the nation, the economy as a divinely predestined order, or the dominant culture as the ultimate, supreme value that is too lofty to be subjected to critical examination.”

Bishop McElroy called on Catholics to take a more vocal stand against anti-Muslim discrimination in the United States and elsewhere.

“If the Catholic-Muslim dialogue is to mean anything at this current moment in our nation’s history, the Catholic community must in the context of this dialogue condemn unequivocally the anti-Muslim prejudice which is present in our midst, and more sadly, present within our own Catholic community,” he said.

“Our nation does face a threat from extremists who have distorted the tradition of Islam and bring violence against innocent victims, and we must be vigilant in identifying and combating that threat,” he said. “But in linking the Muslim community to that threat in a discriminatory manner, we undermine our national security and dishonor our national heritage.”

Bishop McElroy also called on Muslims to condemn the persecution of Christians in Muslim-majority countries, which, he acknowledged, many have already done.

“I have spoken at length with many Muslim leaders within the United States who have pressed for authentic religious toleration throughout the Middle East, and I know many who have placed their own lives and reputations at risk in this effort,” he said.

“But it is a work of the entire Muslim community within our nation, for building a society founded upon the principle of inclusion and religious liberty is a labor which will never be fully accomplished and will always have enemies,” Bishop McElroy added.

By Michelle Martin, a staff writer at the Chicago Catholic, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Chicago.

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Sin is scary, but God is always ready to forgive, pope says

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Catholic News Service

ROME — Witches don’t really exist, so they can do no harm, Pope Francis told a young girl, but gossip, sin and evil exist and they hurt people every day.

Pope Francis greets people March 12 during a visit at the Rome parish of St. Magdalene of Canossa. (CNS photo/Alessandro Bianchi, Reuters)

Pope Francis greets people March 12 during a visit at the Rome parish of St. Magdalene of Canossa. (CNS photo/Alessandro Bianchi, Reuters)

“What frightens me?” the pope asked, repeating the question posed by Sara, one of the children at the Rome parish of St. Magdalene of Canossa. “I’m frightened when a person is bad; the wickedness of people” is scary.

Spending close to four hours at the parish March 12, Pope Francis answered questions from the children, met with the older and sick members of the parish, spent time with parents whose babies have been baptized in the past year and with the Canossian Sisters, whose founder is honored as the parish’s patron saint.

Before celebrating an evening Mass, the pope also heard confessions.

He had told the children that the “seeds of wickedness” lie within each human being, but that God is always willing to forgive those who are sincerely sorry for their sins.

Sara had told him she’s afraid of witches, but Pope Francis told her that witches don’t really exist and those who claim to be able to cast spells are lying.

What is really frightening, the pope said, is the harm caused when people choose to sin, a choice that often begins small. “And it frightens me when in a family, neighborhood, workplace, parish, or even the Vatican, there is gossip. That’s scary.”

“You have heard or seen on TV what terrorists do? They throw a bomb and run,” he said. “Gossip is like that. It’s throwing a bomb and running away. Gossip destroys” people and reputations.

In his homily at the Mass, Pope Francis described sin as being ugly, an offense against God and “a slap” to God’s face.

“We are used to talking about other people’s sins. It’s an ugly thing to do,” the pope said. Instead, people need to look at their own sins and at Jesus, who took upon himself the sins of all humanity.

“This is the path toward Easter, toward the resurrection” where Jesus’ face will shine like it did at the transfiguration.

But Christians also need to gaze at the crucifix and at the face of Jesus “disfigured, tortured, despised, bloodied by the crown of thorns” because he loved humanity so much that he took on the sins of the world and “paid so much for all of us.”

The face of Jesus, he said, “encourages us to ask forgiveness for our sins and not to sin so much. It encourages us most of all to trust because if he has made himself sin and has taken on our sins, he is always ready to forgive us. We just need to ask him.”

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Raiders bench savors chance to be part of title game, winning program

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Dialog reporter

 

NEWARK – As the minutes dwindled down and the outcome of the girls’ state basketball championship game was no longer in doubt, they started to rise. One by one, Ursuline’s reserves tapped the scorer’s table and waited for a whistle, and their names would be added to the scoresheet signifying that, yes, they had appeared in the final.

Raiders coach John Noonan said it was very important for him to get as many girls into the game as he could, and this year that meant the entire roster. Last season, he said, he was unable to get one of his seniors into the lineup. She had been injured during the playoffs, but that should not have made a difference, he added. Read more »

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Raiders finish dominant postseason run with program’s 17th hoops championship

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Dialog reporter

NEWARK – Ursuline displayed an efficient offense and its usual smothering defense and was never threatened in capturing the school’s 17th state girls basketball championship on March 10 at the Bob Carpenter Center. A 15-0 run spanning nearly five minutes in the first quarter gave the Raiders the cushion they needed on the way to a 54-32 win in front of 1,454 fans, many of them wearing red and black.

It was the Raiders’ third-straight championship. They also defeated Caravel for the 2015 title. Read more »

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Pope Francis talks criticisms, populism in interview with German weekly

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — When facing criticism, a sense of humor and the grace to remain at peace are always the best response, Pope Francis said in an interview with Germany’s Die Zeit newspaper.

In the interview, published March 8 online and in print March 9, the pope laughed and said the Roman dialect featured in posters that were plastered around the Rome city center criticizing him “was great.”

Pope Francis arrives to lead his general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican March 1.In an interview he gave to a German weekly newspaper, Die Zeit, published March 8, the pope addressed his response to criticisms and the current populism trend.  (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis arrives to lead his general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican March 1.In an interview he gave to a German weekly newspaper, Die Zeit, published March 8, the pope addressed his response to criticisms and the current populism trend. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

The poster, featuring a stern-faced picture of the pope, said: “Ah Francis, you’ve taken over congregations, removed priests, decapitated the Order of Malta and the Franciscans of the Immaculate, ignored cardinals … but where is your mercy?”

“There is this prayer, which is attributed to (St.) Thomas More, that I pray every day: ‘Lord, give me a sense of humor!’ The Lord preserves my peace and gives me a great sense of humor,” Pope Francis said.

Vatican Radio released a brief summary with selected quotes from the nearly 6,000-word interview, in which the pope discussed several issues and events.

Order of Malta

Among the areas of discussion was his relationship with Cardinal Raymond L. Burke, current patron of the Order of Malta, who is often viewed as one of Pope Francis’ most vocal critics.

The pope denied rumors that Cardinal Burke was sent to Guam as a form of “exile” to be the presiding judge in a church trial investigating allegations of sexual abuse leveled against Archbishop Anthony S. Apuron of Agana.

Instead, he was chosen, the pope said, because the former head of the Vatican’s highest court is “an excellent jurist” and the allegations were “terrible incidents.” He said he was grateful for the cardinal’s service to address “a serious abuse case.”

“I do not regard Cardinal Burke as an adversary,” the pope said.

The pope was asked about the recent change of leadership at the Knights of Malta, in which Fra Matthew Festing, the former grand master, resigned at the pope’s request, after the order’s forced ouster of its grand chancellor, Albrecht Freiherr von Boeselager.

While Cardinal Burke remained the order’s patron, the pope appointed Archbishop Angelo Becciu as his special delegate and sole spokesman to the Knights of Malta.

“The problem with the Order of Malta was more that (Cardinal Burke) was unable to deal with it,” he said. “I have not removed his title of patron. He is still the patron of the Order of Malta.”

The pope suggested it was a question of “clearing things up a bit in the order, and that is why I sent a delegate with a different charism than (Cardinal) Burke.”

Pope Francis has been an outspoken in his criticism against populist rhetoric that views refugees escaping war, violence and poverty as “unworthy of our attention, a rival or someone to be bent to our will.”

Rise of populism

When asked by Die Zeit about the rise of populism, particularly from those on the right of the political spectrum , the pope said he uses the word “populism” in the sense defined in Latin America as way “to use the people” to gain power.

Recalling Germany’s history, the pope said Adolf Hitler rose to power promising to return Germany to its former glory after a serious economic crisis.

“He convinced the people that he could. Populism always needs a messiah and a justification: ‘We preserve the identity of the people!’” the pope said.

“Great politicians,” such as Germany’s first post-war chancellor, Konrad Adenauer and former French Prime Minister Robert Schuman, envisioned a Europe united in brotherhood, and that “had nothing to do with populism,” he said.

“These men had the gift of serving their country without placing themselves in the center, and this made them great leaders. They did not have to be a messiah. Populism is evil and ends badly, as the past century has shown,” Pope Francis said.

Other topics the pope touched on in the interview included the shortage of priests and the possibility of female deacons.

“The call for priests represents a problem, an enormous problem,” especially in Germany and Switzerland, he said.

“The problem is the lack of vocations. And the church must solve this problem,” the pope said.

He expressed the view that an increase in prayer and outreach to youth could change the situation.

“The Lord has told us: Pray! That is what’s lacking: prayer. And also lacking is the work with young people who are seeking direction. Service to others is missing” and low birth rates are also a factor, said the pope. “Working with young people is difficult, but it is essential, because youth long for it.”

He added that youths are the ones who lose most in many modern societies because of a lack of employment.

Asked whether the vow of celibacy could be optional for the priesthood, but not for higher offices like bishop or cardinal, the pope said, making clerical celibacy optional “is not the solution.”

When asked about ordaining married men of proven virtue, known in Latin as “viri probati,” Pope Francis replied that was a topic, like others, theologians needed to study more in depth.

“Then we must determine what tasks they could undertake, for example in remote communities,” he said.

Women deacons?

Pope Francis spoke about the commission studying women deacons and the exact roles they played in early church history. The commission is an ongoing project, he said, dedicated to open dialogue.

“It was about exploring the subject, and not to open a door” on automatic approval, Pope Francis said of the commission.

“This is the task of theology; it must research to get to the foundation of things, always. That also goes for the study of the sacred Scriptures. … What does that mean today? Truth is to have no fear. That is what historical truth and scientific truth tell us: Do not be afraid! That makes us free.”

Pope Francis also discussed his personal faith experiences and beliefs about God’s mercy, saying that an individual’s faith grows throughout a lifetime.

“Faith is a gift. It will give itself,” said the pope, adding that faith is to be prayed for.

“He said he does not like to be idealized by others, saying that idealizing a person leads to aggression.

“I am a sinner and I am fallible,” he said. “When I am idealized, I feel attacked.”

He said that he views himself as a normal person trying to do his best.

He also added that he does not become angry at people who disagree with his opinions and believes that diverse opinions are good for the world.

“Since I was elected pope, I have never lost my peace. I can understand if some people do not like my own way of going about things, and that is completely normal,” said Pope Francis.

“Everyone may have their own opinion. That is legitimate and humane and enriching,” he said.

Travel plans

In response to a question, Pope Francis said he is not able to visit Germany this year for the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, despite an invitation from Chancellor Angela Merkel.

“The appointment calendar is very full this year,” he told Die Zeit.

Asked whether he would visit Russia, China, India or other countries perhaps this year, Pope Francis replied: “To Russia I cannot travel, because then I would also have to travel to Ukraine.

Even more important would be a trip to South Sudan, but I don’t believe that is possible. Also, a trip to the Congo was planned, but that will also not work with (President Joseph) Kabila. So, remaining on the program are India, Bangladesh and Colombia, one day for Fatima in Portugal, and as far as I know, a trip to Egypt is being studied. Sounds like a full calendar, right?”

Contributing to this story were Zita Fletcher in Germany and Carol Glatz in Rome.

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Cardinal Dolan backs national school choice bill in Wall Street Journal piece

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NEW YORK — Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York urged President Donald Trump to follow through on a recent call for legislation that funds school choice for disadvantaged youth nationwide.

Writing in a column for The Wall Street Journal March 9, Cardinal Dolan said he hoped that the president would “push Congress to make scholarship tax credits available to working-class families.”

The cardinal called for rapid action in Congress so that families can benefit as soon as possible from having a choice on where to send their children to school.

Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York and Pope Francis pray with students in 2015 at Our Lady Queen of Angels School in the Harlem section of New York City. Cardinal Dolan March 9 urged President Donald Trump to follow through on a recent call for legislation that funds school choice for disadvantaged youth nationwide. (CNS/Reuters)

Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York and Pope Francis pray with students in 2015 at Our Lady Queen of Angels School in the Harlem section of New York City. Cardinal Dolan March 9 urged President Donald Trump to follow through on a recent call for legislation that funds school choice for disadvantaged youth nationwide. (CNS/Reuters)

Seventeen states already have scholarship tax credit programs and Cardinal Dolan said children in the remaining states “deserve the same opportunities.”

Under a nationwide tax credit program parents can opt to send their children to private schools, the cardinal wrote, noting that 97 percent of Catholic high school students in the Archdiocese of New York graduate in four years and 95 percent attend college.

The column cited the benefits of one such program, the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program, for 300 students who attend St. Andrew Catholic School in Orlando, Florida, which Trump visited March 3 to announce his support for school choice. Statewide, nearly 98,000 children from low-income families attend parochial or private schools under the program.

Cardinal Dolan wrote that scholarship tax credits “help advance educational and economic justice. They strengthen society by creating opportunity for those who might not otherwise have it.”

He also cited a report in the Peabody Journal of Education in 2016, which reviewed 21 studies on the effect of school choice on test scores of students not participating in such a program. The authors found that in 20 of the studies, the competition from private schools led to improved test results for students in public schools.

The column concluded that taxpayers save money under school choice programs because school overcrowding and costs are reduced.

“Public school classrooms would not be able to handle the considerable influx of children if Catholic and other religious schools closed. We save the public money, and we educate children just as well, if not better, for half the cost when you compare Catholic school tuition with public school spending per pupil,” Cardinal Dolan wrote.

An effort to pass a school choice bill in New York failed in 2012 despite bipartisan and labor union support and again in 2015 because of teacher union opposition, the column said, and therefore, a national solution “is needed to bring relief to families who need it.”

Any effort to adopt school choice must protect religious liberty, Cardinal Dolan stressed.

“The Catholic Church has always stood in solidarity with the poor and vulnerable and our most effective charitable ministry is our schools,” he wrote. “A high-quality, values-based education is simply the surest path out of poverty.”

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Vatican forum encourages women’s voices of faith in the church

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Women and men from around the globe gathered for an event inside Vatican City that celebrated and encouraged the need for women’s voices to be heard in the church and in the world.

The annual Voices of Faith conference was held March 8, coinciding with the celebration of International Women’s Day.

Marguerite Barankitse of Burundi speaks during the Voices of Faith gathering March 8 at the Vatican. The event, held on International Women's Day, had the theme "Stirring the Waters-Making the Impossible Possible." (CNS photo/Massimiliano Migliorato, Catholic Press Photo)

Marguerite Barankitse of Burundi speaks during the Voices of Faith gathering March 8 at the Vatican. The event, held on International Women’s Day, had the theme “Stirring the Waters-Making the Impossible Possible.” (CNS photo/Massimiliano Migliorato, Catholic Press Photo)

According to its website, the Voices of Faith event “provides what has been a notably absent, the voices of Catholic women and their capacity to exercise authority within and outside the church and faith that emerges not from abstract theological ideals but in confronting the reality of the poor.”

The event featured several guest speakers, including Dr. Mireille Twayigira, a survivor of the Rwandan genocide, and twin sisters Nagham and Shadan, whose last name was not given; the two are refugees from Homs, Syria, who work with Jesuit Refugee Services helping others forced to flee violence in their homeland.

Jesuit Father Arturo Sosa Abascal, superior general of the Society of Jesus, said in the opening address for the conference, that women and men of faith need to stand together in today’s difficult political and social climate.

Faith, he said, gives the audacity “to seek the impossible, as nothing is impossible for God.”

The participation of women is also necessary in positions of leadership, especially in areas of conflict such as the Central African Republic, South Sudan and Colombia, he said.

While it is “hard to imagine peace, can we have the audacity to dream to bring peace to these countries?” he asked.

Among the examples of the need for the voice of women in the political spectrum, Father Sosa cited German Chancellor Angela Merkel who “has been the most courageous and visionary leader in Europe.”

“She had the compassion to look at those who were in need and the vision to see that they would make a contribution to Germany and Europe,” he said.

He also cited the example of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, president of Liberia, for bringing peace and reconciliation “to her war-torn country in a way that for most men would be impossible.”

Although Pope Francis has voiced his support for broader participation of women’s voices in the decisions of the Catholic Church, Father Sosa acknowledged “that the fullness of women’s participation in the church has not yet arrived.”

“We have to work harder to develop a profound theology of women,” he said. However, their “inclusion, which will bring the gift of resilience and collaboration, remains stymied.”

Among the presenters at an afternoon panel discussion was Sister Simone Campbell, a Sister of Social Service and executive director of Network, a Catholic social justice lobbying organization that sponsored the “Nuns on the Bus” tour in the United States.

Sister Campbell explained it was “essential for women to work for peace” and social justice, particularly for the poor and the marginalized, and she praised Pope Francis’ efforts to bring their plight to the forefront of Catholic social teaching.

“We rejoice in ‘Laudato Si’;’ that (says) care for the earth and care for the poor come from the same reality of exploitation of both and that until we learn to end the exploitation, we will not care for those at the margins, we will not care for our earth. And that is what moves me in such a deep way,” she said.

Highlighting four virtues young women need to make their voices heard, Sister Campbell said that joy and a holy curiosity to “listen, ask questions and learn from others” was important.

She also encouraged women to engage in “sacred gossip,” explaining the need to share the stories they have learned from others so that those stories “can multiply” in others.

Finally, Sister Campbell also called on women to pray so that they discover what their role is within the body of Christ.

Recalling a moment of prayer, Sister Campbell said she “realized that my role is to be stomach acid in the body of Christ.”

“That is because I’m called to nourish, to break down food, release energy. But I can be toxic in large quantities so I need to be contained. But if we each do our part, then the body is whole and it all gets done. So, I urge you to do your part,” she said.

 

Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

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Bishops seek revised health care law that’s ‘affordable and comprehensive’ — updated

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WASHINGTON — Calling health care “a vital concern for nearly every person in the country,” the U.S. Catholic bishops said March 8 they will be reviewing closely a measure introduced in the House March 6 to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price gestures at a stack of papers that he said was the Affordable Care Act during a March 7 press briefing as White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer looks on at the White House in Washington. The law, as passed in 2010, was 906 pages long. Republicans in the U.S. House have introduced a measure to repeal and replace the federal health care law. (CNS photo/Carlos Barria, Reuters)

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price gestures at a stack of papers that he said was the Affordable Care Act during a March 7 press briefing as White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer looks on at the White House in Washington. The law, as passed in 2010, was 906 pages long. Republicans in the U.S. House have introduced a measure to repeal and replace the federal health care law. (CNS photo/Carlos Barria, Reuters)

“Discussions on health care reform have reached a level of intensity which is making open and fruitful dialogue difficult, even while most people recognize that improvements to the health care system are needed to ensure a life-giving and sustainable model for both the present and future,” said a letter to House members signed by the chairmen of four U.S. bishops’ committees.

“Given the magnitude and importance of the task before us, we call for a new spirit of cooperation for the sake of the common good,” they wrote.

The letter was signed by Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, chairman, Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty; Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman, Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, and Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, chairman, Committee on Migration.

Main provisions of the new House bill include: eliminating the mandate that most individuals have health insurance and putting in its place a new system of tax credits; expanding Health Savings Accounts; repealing Medicaid expansion and transitioning to a “per capita allotment”; prohibiting health insurers from denying coverage or charging more money to patients based on pre-existing conditions; and cutting off funds to Planned Parenthood clinics.

The Catholic Health Association in a March 7 statement said it “strongly opposed” the House repeal and replace measure, saying it “asks the low-income and most vulnerable in our country to bear the brunt of the cuts to our health system.” It pointed to the proposal to cap federal financing of Medicaid, which is a state-federal program; to eliminate cost-sharing subsidies for low-income people and create “barriers to initial and continuing Medicaid enrollment.”

CHA said the provision on pre-existing conditions would come with a 30 percent monthly premium surcharge for a year “should they have a lapse in coverage.” Its vision for health care in the U.S. “calls for health care to be available and accessible to everyone, paying special attention to poor and vulnerable individuals,” the CHA statement said.

In their letter, the Catholic bishops called on lawmakers to consider moral criteria as they debate the measure, including: respect for life and dignity; honoring conscience rights; access for all; a plan that is “truly affordable … comprehensive and high quality.”

“Any modification of the Medicaid system as part of health care reform should prioritize improvement and access to quality care over cost savings,” they said.

The U.S. Catholic Church, the bishops said, “remains committed to the ideals of universal and affordable health care, and to the pursuit of those ideals in a manner that honors” the moral criteria they outlined.

Health care is not just another issue, but a “fundamental issue of human life and dignity” and “a critical component of the Catholic Church’s ministry,” they added.

The U.S. bishops have advocated for universal and affordable health care for decades and they supported the general goal of the Affordable Care Act, which was passed in 2010, but the bishops ultimately opposed the law because it expanded the federal role in abortion and failed to expand health care protections to immigrants.

Sister Simone Campbell, a Sister of Social Service, who is executive director of the Catholic social lobby Network, said the new health care bill “must be rejected.”

“Our test for any ACA replacement bill is simple,” she said in a March 8 statement. “Does the bill protect access to quality, affordable, equitable health care for vulnerable communities? After reviewing the House GOP replacement bill, the answer is a resounding no.

“Instead of providing greater health security, the bill increases costs for older and sicker patients and drastically cuts the Medicaid program, all while providing huge tax cuts to wealthy corporations and individuals,” she continued. “This is not the faithful way forward and must be rejected.”

Catholic Charities USA sent a letter March 8 to Congress voicing its opposition to the new health care measure, signed by Dominican Sister Donna Markham, president and CEO of the organization. She noted “commendable efforts” in the bill including protection for the unborn and greater flexibility for the states.

But Sister Markham said the measure makes major reductions in health care for more than 70 million poor and vulnerable on Medicaid and said it “undermines access to life-saving health care coverage.”

Tom McClusky, vice president of government affairs for March for Life Action, praised lawmakers for the bill’s pro-life provisions.

“House leadership and those who drafted the American Health Care Act deserve high accolades for their efforts to make certain that any changes to the health care system do not encourage, subsidize or directly pay for abortions,” he said. “They also deserve praise for sticking to their commitment to eliminate Planned Parenthood, America’s largest abortion provider, from Medicaid reimbursements for one year.”

“This will redirect women to federally qualified health centers, which provide all of the health services American women need and outnumber Planned Parenthood clinics by a ratio of 20:1,” McClusky added.

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Raiders play complete game, overwhelm Sanford to move on to girls hoops final

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NEWARK – During the final days of the regular season, Ursuline played Sanford, had a day off, then met Caravel the next day. That scenario will be replayed on Friday after the Raiders advanced to the state championship game following a convincing 48-16 win over Sanford on March 8 at the Bob Carpenter Center.

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Reaction to revised four-month refugee ban ranges from concern to opposition

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — Within hours of President Donald Trump’s new executive order March 6 banning arrivals from six majority-Muslim nations, Catholic and other religious groups joined secular leaders in questioning the wisdom of such a move, with others vowing to oppose it outright.

U.S. President Donald Trump signs a revised executive order for a U.S. travel ban March 6 at the Pentagon in Arlington, Va. The executive order temporarily bans refugees from certain majority-Muslim countries, and now excludes Iraq. (CNS photo/Carlos Barria, Reuters)

U.S. President Donald Trump signs a revised executive order for a U.S. travel ban March 6 at the Pentagon in Arlington, Va. The executive order temporarily bans refugees from certain majority-Muslim countries, and now excludes Iraq. (CNS photo/Carlos Barria, Reuters)

Bill O’Keefe, vice president for advocacy and government relations at Catholic Relief Services, said in a statement, “As the world’s most blessed nation, we should be doing more to provide assistance overseas and resettle the most vulnerable, not less. It is wrong, during this time of great need, to cut humanitarian assistance and reduce resettlement.”

O’Keefe added, “Refugees are fleeing the same terrorism that we seek to protect ourselves from. By welcoming them, we show the world that we are an open, tolerant nation which seeks to protect the vulnerable. That has always been America’s greatest strength.”

“At the heart of the work of Catholic Charities is the Gospel mandate to welcome the stranger and care for the most vulnerable among us,” said Dominican Sister Donna Markham, president and CEO of Catholic Charities USA, in a statement.

“Today’s executive order not only hinders that work, but also effectively abandons, for four months, the thousands of endangered refugees fleeing violence, starvation and persecution,” she added. “It is deeply disturbing to know that the thousands of women, children and other persecuted individuals around the world will face a closed door rather than a helping hand from the United States.”

The revised order replaces Trump’s Jan. 27 order, which has been blocked in the courts. The new order imposes a 90-day ban on issuing visas to people from six predominantly Muslim nations; Iraq is no longer on the list. The countries are Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Sudan and Yemen.

It suspends the U.S. refugee program for all countries for 120 days; Syrian refugees are now not banned indefinitely. The order limits the total number of refugees to be admitted this fiscal year to 50,000, instead of 110,000, as the Obama administration directed.

The order also excludes lawful permanent residents, green card holders, from any travel ban. The new order will not take effect until March 16.

Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Migration, said Trump’s new order still puts vulnerable populations at risk.

“We remain deeply troubled by the human consequences” of the order, he said in a statement. “While we note the administration’s efforts to modify the executive order in light of various legal concerns, the revised order still leaves many innocent lives at risk.”

He said the Catholic bishops welcomed Iraq being removed from the list of countries, but remain disappointed the order still temporarily shuts down the refugee admissions program, reduces by more than 60 percent the number of refugees who can enter the country and still bars nationals from six countries.

The bishops “have long recognized the importance of ensuring public safety and would welcome reasonable and necessary steps to accomplish that goal,” Bishop Vasquez said. “However, based on the knowledge that refugees are already subjected to the most vigorous vetting process of anyone who enters the United States, there is no merit to pausing the refugee resettlement program while considering further improvement to that vetting process.”

“A ban regarding human beings, because they are from a certain country or practice a particular religion is clearly xenophobic, nationalistic and racist,” said a statement by Sister Patricia Chappell, a Sister of Notre Dame de Namur, who is executive director of Pax Christi USA.

“Now is the time to honor the commitment for justice expressed in all faith communities and to proclaim this commitment with actions that uphold the rights of all people,” she added.

Scott Wright, director of the Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach, said that Columbans “have always welcomed migrants and refugees, we do so every day at the U.S.-Mexico border.”

“We must always remember that we are a nation of immigrants and refugees and we are called to stand in solidarity with them,” he said.

People of faith “are called to both address the root causes of migration and seek policies of welcome toward our migrant sisters and brothers,” Wright continued. “We stand against any policies that seek to build a wall, inhumanely detain and deport women and families, or limit migration based solely on a person’s country of origin or religion.”

Eli McCarthy, director of justice and peace for the Congregation of Major Superiors of Men, called it “completely unjust to punish an entire country due to the suspicion of a potential crime by an individual.”

“We should be asking about the root causes of violent acts, such as U.S. militarization of conflicts, and giving our attention to addressing those concrete situations,” he said in a statement.

“Women religious have been blessed to be able to accompany and serve immigrant and refugee communities across this country for a very long time,” said a statement by Holy Cross Sister Joan Marie Steadman, executive director of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. “Catholic sisters remain committed to welcoming those who come to this country after passing through the U.S. government’s already rigorous screening processes.”

Larry Couch, director of the National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, aimed his statement directly at Trump.

“Mr. President, why close our borders to those fleeing real atrocities, fleeing the ravages of war and the search for food, clean water and safety?” Couch asked. “This is not what America stands for and not who we are called to be. America is not a country that retreats and Americans choose to not live in fear of the ‘what if.’ Mr. President, welcome the refugee and welcome the face of God.”

“The ban goes against everything that we stand for as Franciscan Catholic Christians, and against what Jesus and Francis of Assisi taught and lived,” said a statement from Patrick Carolan, executive director of the Franciscan Action Network. “St. Bonaventure tells us that how we choose and what we choose makes a difference, first in what we become by our choices and second what the world becomes by our choices.”

A statement from the organization’s associate director, Franciscan Sister Marie Lucey, tied the situation of refugees and the need to welcome them into the U.S. to Lent.

“For Christians, Lent is a season of repentance for personal and social sin. The Franciscan Action Network will stand in prayer and solidarity with Muslim sisters and brothers, as well as all refugees and immigrants, during the forty days of Lent,” she said.

“While opposing bans and harmful executive orders, we also pray for a change of hearts and minds of this administration and legislators who support anti-refugee and anti-immigrant measures,” Sister Lucey added. “We will also continue to speak out against this injustice which is as cruel and unusual as it is astounding and irreconcilable.”

Sara Benitez, Latino program director for the interfaith group Faith in Public Life, said that once again Trump “is compromising our integrity as a nation.”

“The refugee ban introduced today is rooted in the same immoral and divisive policy we saw a few weeks ago, and we will not stand for it,” she said in a statement.

“We must continue the work on the ground to stand up for our immigrant and refugee neighbors who are under threat,” added Benitez, whose organization amassed dozens of pastors for a midafternoon protest March 6 in front of the White House.

Faith in Public Life also has mounted a “Build Bridges, Not Walls” campaign to list ways people can support refugees and other immigrants.

“The new order doubles down on demonizing refugees — implying that America should fear those who have been persecuted, tortured, threatened and victimized by terrorists. America is diminished when we abandon our values and close our doors,” said a statement by said Linda Hartke, president and CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, or LIRS.

“Had the new executive order been in place last month, it would have likely prevented LIRS from reuniting Mushkaad Abdi, a 4-year-old Somali refugee who was alone in Kampala, Uganda, with her mother and sisters in Minneapolis,” Hartke added. “To close our nation’s doors on those who are simply seeking safety and protection is shameful and misguided.”

“While the White House may have made changes to the ban, the intent to discriminate against Muslims remains clear. This doesn’t just harm the families caught in the chaos of President Trump’s draconian policies, it’s diametrically opposed to our values, and makes us less safe,” said a statement from Eric Schneiderman, New York state’s attorney general.

Schneiderman took the White House to court after Trump’s first executive order; other court challenges around the country followed.

“My office is closely reviewing the new executive order, and I stand ready to litigate, again, in order to protect New York’s families, institutions, and economy,” Schneiderman said.

The Catholic Legal Immigration Network Inc. called the new order “nearly as egregious” the earlier version. “While this order no longer includes an indefinite bar on refugees from Syria and has dropped the visa ban for Iraqis, it still fails to honor American ideals and protect people whose lives are at risk,” said Jeanne Atkinson, executive director of CLINIC.

Without commenting on the executive order itself, Nina Shea, director of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom, said: “There’s a dire need for President Trump to issue a separate executive order — one specifically aimed to help ISIS (Islamic State) genocide survivors in Iraq and Syria. … Even if ISIS is routed from Mosul (Iraq), the Christian community is now so shattered and vulnerable, without President Trump’s prompt leadership, the entire Iraqi Christian presence could soon be wiped out.”

 

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