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Louisiana floods called worst U.S. natural disaster since Superstorm Sandy

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BATON ROUGE, La. — The line of destruction caused by historic flooding in southern Louisiana stretches for 25 miles, and according to Red Cross officials, it is the worst natural disaster in the United States since Superstorm Sandy in 2012.

“As we all know the severe flooding in many areas of our diocese has dramatically affected the well-being and livelihood of countless people,” said Baton Rouge Bishop Robert W. Muench in a videotaped message posted to the diocese’s website, www.diobr.org.

Residents pile debris outside their flood-damaged homes in St. Amant, La., Aug. 21. Historic flooding in southern Louisiana killed at least 13 people and damaged an estimated 60,000 homes, said state officials. At least 102,000 people have registered for federal recovery assistance. (CNS photo/Jonathan Bachman, Reuters)

Residents pile debris outside their flood-damaged homes in St. Amant, La., Aug. 21. Historic flooding in southern Louisiana killed at least 13 people and damaged an estimated 60,000 homes, said state officials. At least 102,000 people have registered for federal recovery assistance. (CNS photo/Jonathan Bachman, Reuters)

“To those so impacted I express genuine empathy, heartfelt solidarity and commitment to help as best as we can,” he said, adding his thanks “to those who have so impressively and sacrificially reached out to serve.” He called the “outpouring of concern” extraordinary in “our area and beyond.” On Aug. 14, Bishop Muench visited three evacuation shelters to comfort evacuees.

In his video message, the bishop directed those who want to donate money or goods to go to the diocesan website. He said the site has information on how to donate and a list of stores run by the Society of St. Vincent de Paul that are taking donations of canned goods, clothes, cleaning supplies and even furniture for those who have lost everything.

News reports said the civil entity of East Baton Rouge Parish was the hardest hit of parishes in the region by the heavy rains that fell Aug. 11-14. In some areas, as much as 2 feet of rain fell in 48 hours; in another, more than 31 inches of rain fell in 15 hours.

Civil authorities reported that at least 13 people died in the floods and that about 60,000 homes were damaged, although a Baton Rouge economic development group put the number of damaged houses at 110,000. The Red Cross put the overall cost of recovery at $30 million.

“Thousands of people in Louisiana have lost everything they own and need our help now,”Brad Kieserman, the Red Cross’ vice president of disaster services operations and logistics, told CNN.

Four feet of water inundated the new Cristo Rey Baton Rouge Franciscan High School, which had just opened Aug. 5.

In such a short time, “we’d experienced growth as a family, with the students, with the faculty,” said Jim Llorens, the school’s president, who called the flooding “heartbreaking.” The brand-new school building is closed while school officials assess the damage and find another location to hold classes.

“It was really beginning to come together as a true Cristo Rey family, so we have to regroup … and make sure we don’t lose that,” Llorens said in an interview with the diocese’s CatholicLife Television apostolate and The Catholic Commentator, the diocesan newspaper.

The newspaper and the TV outlet have produced a series of six videos on the flood and its aftermath. Titled “When the Waters Rose,” the series can be viewed at www.catholiclifetv.org in the site’s Programming section.

In another of the videos a mom and her children, all members of St. Margaret Parish, were helping flood victims, even though the family had their own losses, including their house and three vehicles.

“We are fortunate we have each other and that’s a blessing. We have a lot of friends in the same situation,” the mom told a reporter. “We’re just very thankful we’re able to give back … and people have blessed us very much in clothes and water and such. We’re just doing a little bitty bit of what we can do (for others).”

Washington’s Bishop Holley named bishop of Memphis

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Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Bishop J. Terry Steib of Memphis, Tennessee, and has appointed as his successor Auxiliary Bishop Martin D. Holley of Washington.

Washington Auxiliary Bishop Martin D. Holley is seen in this undated photo. Pope Francis appointed him the new bishop of Memphis, Tenn., Aug. 23. (CNS photo/courtesy Catholic Standard)

Washington Auxiliary Bishop Martin D. Holley is seen in this undated photo. Pope Francis appointed him the new bishop of Memphis, Tenn., Aug. 23. (CNS photo/courtesy Catholic Standard)

Bishop Steib has headed the Memphis diocese since 1993. He is 76. Canon law requires all bishops to turn in their resignation at age 75. Bishop Holley, 61, has been a Washington auxiliary since 2004.

Washington Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl said the appointment was “a blessing for that diocesan church” and “also a joy for all of us in Washington.”

“Bishop Holley has demonstrated both pastoral sensitivity and administrative ability that should serve him well as he now undertakes his new ministry in western Tennessee,” he said in a statement. “We rejoice that the Church of Memphis is receiving such a talented and caring pastor of souls.”

Bishops Steib and Holley are two of the nation’s 15 black Catholic bishops. With Bishop Steib’s retirement, eight of them remain active, according to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat of Cultural Diversity in the Church.

Bishop Holley was appointed auxiliary bishop of Washington May 18, 2004, and was ordained a bishop July 2, 2004. He is vicar general for the Archdiocese of Washington and is a member of the archdiocesan college of consultors, priests’ council, seminarian review board, administrative board and chairman of the College of Deans.

Cardinal Wuerl in his statement noted that Bishop Holley is a former moderator of the archdiocese’s ethnic ministries and in that capacity “was able to see that the pastoral needs of all the ethnic and language communities” in the archdiocese “were appropriately addressed.”

Martin D. Holley was born Dec. 31, 1954, in Pensacola, Fla. He attended Alabama State University in Montgomery, where he specialized in administration and earned a bachelor of science degree.

After working from 1977 to 1982 in the Pensacola-Tallahassee diocesan chancery, he studied theology at The Catholic University of America in Washington and at St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach, Fla.

He was ordained a priest of the Pensacola-Tallahassee diocese May 8, 1987.

In addition to parish assignments after his ordination, he was spiritual director of the Serra Club of West Florida, director of the diocesan Department of Ethnic Concerns, a member of the diocesan education commission and spiritual director and instructor of the permanent diaconate formation program. He also was adjunct director of vocations and president of the priests’ council.

When he was named a bishop, then-Father Holley had been pastor of Little Flower Parish in Pensacola for two years. Before that, he was administrator there for two years.

James Terry Steib was born May 17, 1940, the eldest of five children of a sugar cane worker. He grew up on a farm in Vacherie, Louisiana. He entered the Society of the Divine Word order at a high school seminary in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi.

After studies at three Divine Word collegiate seminaries, he was ordained a priest Jan. 6, 1967. Then-Father Steib served his order first at seminaries and then as provincial of the Divine Word’s Southern province until he appointed an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of St. Louis Dec. 6, 1983. He was ordained a bishop Feb. 10, 1984. He also served as vicar general of the St. Louis Archdiocese.

He was appointed fourth bishop of Memphis in March 23, 1993, and when he was ordained a bishop and installed to head the diocese in May of that year, he was one of only two black bishops heading the U.S. dioceses at that time. The other was the now-retired Bishop Joseph L. Howze of Biloxi, Miss.

On the national level, he is a former executive director of the National Black Catholic Clergy Caucus and a former vice president of the Conference of Major Superiors of Men Congregation.

Bishop Steib is a former chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Missions and its Committee on Black Catholics and has been a member of a number of other committees, including the Administrative Committee.

The Diocese of Memphis comprises 10,682 square miles in the state of Tennessee. It has a total population of 1.57 million; just over 65,000, or about 4 percent, are Catholic.

New Mexico bishops oppose plan to reinstate death penalty there

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The Catholic bishops of New Mexico in an Aug. 18 statement said they oppose Republican Gov. Susana Martinez’s plan to reinstate the death penalty and called on the Legislature to reject it.

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez is seen in Los Alamos, N.M., in this 2011 file photo. New Mexico's Catholic bishops renounce her call to reinstate the death penalty. (CNS photo/Larry W. Smith, EPA)

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez is seen in Los Alamos, N.M., in this 2011 file photo. New Mexico’s Catholic bishops renounce her call to reinstate the death penalty. (CNS photo/Larry W. Smith, EPA)

The bishops recalled that when the Legislature in March 2009 repealed “the morally untenable practice of the death penalty,” they applauded the move, calling it a milestone that was “moving New Mexico from a culture of violence to a culture of peace, justice and love.”

“The state created life in prison without the possibility of parole. This renders a perpetrator harmless to society,” they said.

“In one voice, (we) once again echo the teaching of the church that life is sacred,” the New Mexico bishops said. “There is one seamless teaching on God’s gift of life that must be protected from conception in the womb to natural death. It is always tragic and sad when a member of the community is murdered.

“These senseless acts must be prevented by calling for systemic change in society beginning with our youngest children. Crime can be prevented, and this is done by an investment in social capital,” they said.

On Aug. 17, Martinez said she will push for reinstating the death penalty during the 2017 legislative session. She was prompted to call for resuming capital punishment after the recent shooting of a Hatch police officer. She said she supports the death penalty at least for convicted child killers and those convicted of murdering law enforcement officers.

She supported a measure to reinstate the death penalty shortly after she was elected governor in 2011, but the bill died in Democratic-majority Legislature.

The New Mexico bishops quoted the Catechism of the Catholic Church and St. John Paul II in saying that cases where it is “an absolute necessity” for the state to employ the death penalty to ensure the safety of the community “are very rare, if not practically nonexistent.”

We join Pope Francis in his continued call to end the practice of the death penalty,” the bishops said. “Pope Benedict and St. Pope John Paul II both worked diligently to end the death penalty throughout the world. The trend in the United States has now been to abandon the use of the death penalty. In the last five years, five states have passed legislation to repeal their death penalty law.”

The statement was signed by Archbishop John C. Wester and retired Archbishop Michael J. Sheehan of Santa Fe; Bishop Oscar Cantu and retired Bishop Ricardo Ramirez of Las Cruces; and Bishop James S. Wall of Gallup.

Nation’s first laywoman chancellor retires after 27 years

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PORTLAND, Ore. — Mary Jo Tully, the first laywoman to become chancellor of a U.S. Catholic diocese, has stepped down from the post she held for 27 years at the Archdiocese of Portland.

Mary Jo Tully laughs with Archbishop John G. Vlazny, the head of the Archdiocese of Portland, Ore., in 2008. Tully won a papal award and was the first laywoman to serve as chancellor of a U.S. diocese. After 27 years in the role at the Archdiocese of Portland, she has stepped down from the role. (CNS photo/Gerry Lewin, Catholic Sentinel)

Mary Jo Tully laughs with Archbishop John G. Vlazny, the head of the Archdiocese of Portland, Ore., in 2008. Tully won a papal award and was the first laywoman to serve as chancellor of a U.S. diocese. After 27 years in the role at the Archdiocese of Portland, she has stepped down from the role. (CNS photo/Gerry Lewin, Catholic Sentinel)

Tully — known for wit, candor and a pebbly Midwestern voice— taught, wrote and administered her way to unsought renown in Oregon. Daughter of a Chicago policeman, she charmed thousands of listeners and readers, but often accepted the role of tough cop on behalf of the four Portland archbishops she served.

“What I have done, I have always done out of love for the church,” Tully told friends at a farewell dinner in Portland July 29.

She has moved to be near family north of Austin, Texas, and said she hopes to be of service to the church there.

“The church is my family,” Tully said during an Aug. 2 retirement luncheon. “People always ask me why I didn’t become a nun. Well, it’s because they wouldn’t let me be superior,” she joked, getting a big laugh from colleagues.

She was not looking to become a chancellor. Invited and hired by then-Archbishop William J. Levada to take the job in Portland, Tully had previously served as director of religious education in the Archdiocese of Chicago. In the 1960s, she had gone to march with civil rights activists in the South, over the spirited objections of her father.

She wrote books on catechesis, Scripture and the Stations of the Cross and wrote a pithy regular column on Sunday Scriptures in the Catholic Sentinel, Portland’s archdiocesan newspaper, and donated her journalism pay to other causes.

At Portland’s pastoral center, Tully for decades took the toughest crank calls. Colleagues say she was firm, but always loving and clear.

“As one of the four archbishops who have had the privilege of working with Mary Jo, I can only express my extreme gratitude for her service to the church here in western Oregon,” said Archbishop Alexander K. Sample, who has headed the archdiocese since 2013. “She has been a good and faithful servant of the Lord.”

Retired Portland Archbishop John G. Vlazny, who headed the archdiocese from 1997 to 2013, said she was like a godmother for international religious communities who sent members from Asia, Africa and Latin America. Vietnamese Catholics treated her almost like royalty. Archbishop Vlazny once referred to Tully as “the ombudsperson, to be sure, in the life of the archdiocese.”

— By Ed Langlois and Kristen Hannum Langlois is managing editor and Hannum is a staff writer at the Catholic Sentinel, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Portland.

 

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End violence by building bridges, priest urges at Milwaukee Mass for peace

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MILWAUKEE — Violence stems from a breakdown in communication, Father Bob Stiefvater told more than 450 people gathered at All Saints Church in Milwaukee for a Mass of peace Aug. 18.

Five days earlier, fires raged in an area of the city during unrest following the killing by police of an armed man during a traffic stop.

And people need look only as far as their smartphones and computers to see that breakdown, said Father Stiefvater, who said after Mass that his homily was inspired by the prisoners with whom he meets regularly.

“We live in a time in which we kind of separate ourselves out, sometimes by where we live, but an awful lot through our electronics,” he told the congregation, challenging them to look at their phones and computers to see their last 10 texts, phone calls or emails.

“My guess is they were from people who look like you, who think like you, who live like you, who pray like you,” he said of the messages. “We have isolated ourselves and we have lost the power of conversation across these boundaries that we have made throughout our country and in this place and in this city.”

Father Stiefvater said God is calling us to take a look at how we communicate and with whom we communicate and how we communicate or not, “because I think when communications break down, we turn to violence and when communications are almost impossible, we divide ourselves completely into us vs. them.”

Catholics are facing a “holy moment” where they are called to bridge the gaps, he said admitting it will be tough as bridges are walked upon from either side, but “God calls us in our baptism to do this.”

“As we respond to God’s call to be here today, we have to nuance how we communicate with one another,” he said. “We need to go back home and take a look at those texts and phone calls and emails and decide we are going to go beyond the circle and go beyond those who like us or have unliked us and communicate across.

“We at the Archdiocese of Milwaukee have a holy moment in which we are called to bridge the gaps, whether they are real or imagined in our society. We can do this. We are the ones who are called to be bridges,” he said.

He urged people to step out of their comfort zones to get to know their neighbors. “We are called to truly be the local presence of Christ through us, our gathering of the church in Milwaukee,” said Father Stiefvater.

At the request of Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki, Father Tim Kitzke, archdiocesan vicar general for urban ministry, was the main celebrant of the Mass. Several priests concelebrated, including Father Stiefvater; Father Peter Patrick Kimani, All Saints associate pastor; Father Rafael Rodriguez, vice rector of St. Francis de Sales Seminary; and Capuchin Father Michael Bertram, pastor of St. Francis of Assisi in Milwaukee.

Admitting the church and city are hurting, Father Stiefvater opened the Mass by inviting participants to wash their hands and face in the baptismal font.

As members of the congregation processed to the font splashing water on themselves, the choir sang the words from Psalm 51, “Create in me a clean heart.”

Acknowledging the diversity of the gathering, which drew participants from many of the archdiocese’s 198 parishes, Father Stiefvater said those in attendance represented the 600,000 members of the archdiocese.

It had been five days since the shooting and outpouring of violence in the city, said Father Stiefvater, referring to the Aug. 13 rioting sparked by the fatal shooting of 23-year-old Sylville Smith by a Milwaukee police officer.

Two evenings of rioting and protesting followed in the Sherman Park area of Milwaukee, when protesters burned six businesses causing damage expected to exceed several million dollars, according to the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosive as reported by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Aug. 17.

“These five days have been for us a ‘holy ground.’ God present even in those fires, even in that the anger. even in that chaos,” he said, adding this is a holy time for us and God has called you to be here.

Shortly before the closing prayer, Father Kitzke reminded the gathering they must springboard from prayer to action.

“Let’s put our hearts and our heads and our minds together that we can. Thanks be to God for the rich tradition in social teaching our church has given to us. Now, everyone, let’s get to work,” he said.

Reine Assana, a member of Blessed Savior Parish in Milwaukee, was anxious to see that action begin.

“Action after prayer. Let’s get into action, because this community is really hurting and we need to find ways to bring it together,” Assana told the Catholic Herald, a publication that serves the Catholic community in southeastern Wisconsin.

Layman Roman is managing editor of the Catholic Herald, a publication that serves the Catholic community in southeastern Wisconsin.

By Maryangela Layman Roman

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New Zika infection fears spark renewed debate on abortion, birth control

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Catholic News Service

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — With a growing number of U.S. travelers returning from abroad with the Zika virus and with several cases of Zika-related microcephaly and birth defects reported in the U.S., the disease has inflamed the abortion debate domestically.

A view through a microscope shows larvae of the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which transmits the virus Zika, at a laboratory at the National Institute of Health in Bogota, Colombia, April 26. In February, the National Catholic Bioethics Center issued a statement saying that concerns about Zika does not justify abortion or allowing artificial birth control even with the suspected connection between Zika causing birth defects in an unborn child. (CNS photo/Leonardo Munoz, EPA)

A view through a microscope shows larvae of the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which transmits the virus Zika, at a laboratory at the National Institute of Health in Bogota, Colombia, April 26. In February, the National Catholic Bioethics Center issued a statement saying that concerns about Zika does not justify abortion or allowing artificial birth control even with the suspected connection between Zika causing birth defects in an unborn child. (CNS photo/Leonardo Munoz, EPA)

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio. a Republican from Miami, where the Zika virus has now started spreading in one neighborhood through mosquito transmission, said he does not believe the Zika virus should be a pretext for an infected pregnant woman to get an abortion.

Rubio met in Miami Aug. 4 with Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention {CDCP), and Florida’s Gov. Rick Scott. The senator also was making a renewed push to call the U.S. Congress back into session to approve funding for combating Zika domestically and to introduce legislation that would provide U.S. troops serving in high-risk areas with additional protections from Zika.

He also reportedly told the news magazine Politico Aug. 8: “Obviously, microcephaly is a terrible prenatal condition that kids are born with. And when they are, it’s a lifetime of difficulties,” he said. “So I get it. I’m not pretending to you that that’s an easy question you asked me. But I’m pro-life. And I’m strongly pro-life. I believe all human life should be protected by our law, irrespective of the circumstances or condition of that life.”

[It was reported on Aug. 19 that the CDCP announced that “pregnant women and their sexual partners who are concerned about potential Zika virus exposure may also consider postponing nonessential travel to all parts of Miami-Dade County” in Florida.]

Earlier this year, Rubio co-sponsored President Barack Obama’s Zika-fighting legislation, which failed to pass into law in part because of partisan divisions over the bill’s inclusion of components of birth control services from Planned Parenthood.

New York and California officials have indicated cases of babies in those states born with Zika-related microcephaly, and at least 15 babies nationally have been born with Zika-related birth defects as of late July, according to the CDC.

In February, the National Catholic Bioethics Center issued a statement that Zika does not justify abortion or artificial birth control even with the suspected connection between the Zika virus and birth defects.

Zika is the most recent and high-profile instance of any number of diseases that might have deleterious effects on the unborn children whose mothers contract it while pregnant, the statement noted.

“In no way, however, would it justify a change in the Catholic Church’s consistent teachings on the sacredness and inviolability of human life and the dignity and beauty of the means of transmitting life through marital relations. Direct abortion and contraceptive acts are intrinsically immoral and contrary to these great goods, and no circumstances can justify either.”

In February, U.N. officials said pregnant women infected with the Zika virus should be allowed easier access to abortion and birth control and criticized countries whose governments urged women told hold off getting pregnant as Zika cases have increased.

In New York, Father Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life, issued a statement on the Zika-abortion debate last April following the CDC’s finding that the Zika virus can cause some babies to be born with microcephaly.

“Naturally the Zika virus is a cause for concern, and we call upon governments and medical professionals to continue to develop appropriate treatments and interventions,” Father Pavone said. “But in no way does this justify recourse to abortion. The child in the womb is a patient too, and killing one’s patient is never an appropriate response.”

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Olympic swimming medalist Ledecky returns home to cheers

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Catholic News Service

DULLES, Va. — After winning five medals — four gold and one silver — at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, swimming champion Katie Ledecky is taking things one step at a time on her return home.

Wearing her medals around her neck, the first step was right into the arms of friends waiting to greet her as she

U.S. Olympic swimmer Katie Ledecky greets fans at Dulles International Airport in Virginia Aug. 17, after returning home from the Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro. (CNS photo/Jaclyn Lippelmann, Catholic Standard)

U.S. Olympic swimmer Katie Ledecky greets fans at Dulles International Airport in Virginia Aug. 17, after returning home from the Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro. (CNS photo/Jaclyn Lippelmann, Catholic Standard)

walked into the baggage claim area of Dulles International Airport outside of Washington Aug. 17.

Dozens of others cheered and applauded the Olympic champion, a graduate of Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart in Bethesda, Md.

Ledecky left the Olympics with gold medals in the 200-, 400- and 800-meter freestyle races and in the 4×200-meter relay. She broke her own world records in the 400- and 800-meter races. She earned silver in the 4×100-meter freestyle relay.

Soon after saying her hellos, Ledecky told reporters that the next things on her to-do list were to eat a home cooked meal, sleep in her own bed and buy everything else she needs for her college dorm room at Stanford University, where she was soon to begin classes. The 2020 Olympics in Tokyo are on the horizon, but for now, college calls.

Ledecky’s ability to set swimming aside for a few weeks as she prepares for college just like any other incoming freshman is reflective of the humility that so many in the Stone Ridge community admire about her.

“What makes her a really good role model is she is so humble,” said Colleen Carey, a 2015 graduate of Stone Ridge who was a co-captain of the swim team with Ledecky. “She is so grounded not only in her studies but as a person. … Lower schoolers can look up to how she has dealt with the fame.”

Stone Ridge Head of School Catherine Ronan Karrels agreed.

“Her swimming really doesn’t define her as a person, which is what I think keeps her grounded,” Karrels told the Catholic Standard, Washington’s archdiocesan newspaper. “She is so lovable.”

So far, being a normal student and pursuing her goals at the same time has worked well for Ledecky, who met the goals she had set for Rio as far back as 2013.

“I hit them right on the nose and I think that’s the best feeling any swimmer can have,” Ledecky told reporters.

Kelleigh Haley, a 2016 graduate of Stone Ridge who swam with Ledecky at the Nation’s Capital Swim Club and on the Stone Ridge team, was one of the people awaiting the Olympian’s airport arrival.

Haley remembers swimming with Ledecky in practice, and while everyone she swam with always worked hard, Haley said, “She is just out of everyone else’s league.” Citing Ledecky’s 11-second margin of victory in the 800-meter freestyle, Haley added, “She’s in her own race.”

Ledecky worked hard regardless of the circumstances, Haley added. She particularly remembers when Ledecky had her wisdom teeth removed and was back in the pool days later. But Ledecky’s hard work and success never stopped her from looking out for her teammates.

“She really wants to calm you down and wants you to have your best race, regardless of if it is an Olympic race or a high school race,” Haley said.

The crowd of supporters from Stone Ridge wore their “Ledecky Team USA” T-shirts, holding a large banner, and even had a large cut-out of Ledecky’s head. They chanted, “Katie! Katie!”

“It is very hard not to burst with pride,” said Paul Boman, an assistant swim coach and theology teacher at Stone Ridge. “It can’t happen to a nicer, more deserving, better person.”

Ledecky said the support of the community “means so much to me,” and that she felt it thousands of miles away during her week at the Olympics.

“To have them here and to celebrate this with them right away is great,” she said.

In an email interview with the Catholic Standard before this summer’s Olympics, Ledecky, who is known for saying the Hail Mary or other prayers before each race, said her Catholic faith gives her strength and helps her keep balance in her life.

“My Catholic faith is very important to me. It always has been, and it always will be,” said the Olympic champion, who is a parishioner at the Church of the Little Flower in Bethesda. “It is part of who I am, and I feel comfortable practicing my faith. It helps me put things in perspective.”

Seegers is a reporter for the Catholic Standard, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Washington.

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Contemplation leads to ‘transformational leadership,’ women religious told

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ATLANTA — On a personal level, contemplation is “transformative” and on a communal level it is “transformational leadership,” Franciscan Sister Pat Farrell told attendees at the 2016 assembly of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious in Atlanta.

Franciscan Sister Pat Farrell, right, is seen with other women religious in Atlanta Aug. 10 during the 2016 assembly of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. (CNS photo/Michael Alexander, Georgia Bulletin)

Franciscan Sister Pat Farrell, right, is seen with other women religious in Atlanta Aug. 10 during the 2016 assembly of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. (CNS photo/Michael Alexander, Georgia Bulletin)

The Aug. 9-13 assembly drew nearly 800 participants under the theme of “Embracing the Mystery: Living Transformation.” All the speakers pointed to the need for contemplative engagement with the struggles and sufferings of the world.

In her Aug. 11 keynote, Sister Pat addressed the topic “Leading From the Allure of Holy Mystery: Contemplation and Transformation.”

She spoke of centering religious life leadership in contemplation, describing contemplation as “a response to the movement of Spirit that has been stirring in and among us for some time now, becoming increasingly manifest.”

“Where this contemplative impulse might be leading is less obvious. What will be the long-term effect of reclaiming and deepening the contemplative dimension of religious life, of exploring emerging consciousness?” asked Sister Pat, a former LCWR president.

She said when she was given “the gift of time and space for contemplation,” she “found it transformative.”

“I knew that it was not for myself alone, like some private spiritual fitness program for personal enlightenment,” Sister Pat said. “What emerges in any one of us comes as gift from beyond, as leaven given to transform the whole, and in fact has the power to do that.”

Women religious “can only create their future together,” Sister Pat said, “and there is urgent need to be able to sense what is emerging in the group.”

“Communal discernment of some kind has always been part of the dynamic of religious life but there is a new urgency now to deepen our capacity to hear and follow the guidance of collective wisdom,” she continued. “The learning and processes arising from within congregations and through LCWR are both a gift given to us and a call. The future is drawing us beyond the personal toward communal transformation.”

Congregations are “facing critical situations that call for long-range planning for structural, organizational, financial and logistical issues,” Sister Pat said.

Today’s “task-oriented culture makes it easier for many people to deal first with the more concrete and tangible realities,” she said.

But to enable members “to speak together from a contemplative depth,” there must be a focus on what is less tangible, that is creating processes and designs “that tend the inner collective life of the congregation,” Sister Pat said.

“It can be challenging to create spaciousness around leadership tasks that involve tension and complex decision making in order to allow deeper access to the wisdom that is needed,” she said.

The contemplative dialogue process promoted by LCWR is “critically helpful,” Sister Pat said.

“It takes intention and focus to speak together from a deeper source, out of a place of peace, to harvest the wisdom of the whole,” she said. “We are learning together to create a culture among us of deep listening and dialogue.”

Sister Pat cited an example of how the “the value of contemplative spaciousness” stood out for her at the national leadership level. Before LCWR leaders visited the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith as part of a now-concluded oversight process of the group, she said, “we sat together in a circle of silent prayer for an hour.”

“We entered that critical Vatican meeting in a state of deep peace.” Sister Pat told the assembly. “I was not aware of any fear whatsoever, either in myself or the other LCWR leaders. I have often wondered what our initial response to the mandate (to meet with the congregation) might have been if we hadn’t come together from that contemplative space.”

Another example of “spaciousness,” she described was the six weeks of public silence following that meeting, which gave LCWR leaders time to formulate a response.

In April 2015, the Vatican and LCWR announced the successful conclusion of the oversight process. The Vatican approved new statutes and bylaws for LCWR, ending a seven-year process of investigating the group and engaging in dialogue with its officers to ensure greater harmony with church teaching.

LCWR has approximately 1350 members who are elected leaders of their religious orders, who represent approximately 80 percent of the 49,000 Catholic sisters in the United States.

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Violence in Milwaukee ‘a self-inflicted wound,’ says archbishop

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MILWAUKEE — Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki of Milwaukee called the violence that broke out in the city as part of protests over the fatal police shooting of an African-American man “a self-inflicted wound.”

“Violence is never tolerated. Protests are certainly the right of every American, but violence such as looting, burning is never tolerated,” Archbishop Listecki told the Catholic Herald in an Aug. 15 telephone interview. “It only creates a self-inflicted wound on the community.”

Community members attend a vigil Aug. 15  following the police shooting of a man in Milwaukee the previous day. (CNS photo/Aaron P. Bernstein, Reuters)

Community members attend a vigil Aug. 15
following the police shooting of a man in Milwaukee the previous day. (CNS photo/Aaron P. Bernstein, Reuters)

Protesters burned down six businesses in the city, including a gas station, and also torched a police car late Aug. 13 in response to the police shooting of Sylville K. Smith as he fled a traffic stop earlier that day.

Police said Smith, 23, had a gun in his hand and had refused police orders to drop the weapon.

Father Timothy L. Kitzke, the Archdiocese of Milwaukee’s vicar general for urban ministry, told the Catholic Herald Aug. 15 that what happened Aug. 13 could be looked at one of two ways.

“One the one hand it could be Armageddon; on the other hand, it could be seen as mission territory. I see it as a latter,” he said. “Now, more than ever, it is important that people from all of our parishes, including those in the suburbs, must pull together. The problems of racial divisiveness and helplessness must be addressed by everyone.”

Father Kitzke, who also is pastor of a Milwaukee parish and administrator of two others, said he has been in contact with the pastors of the four inner-city parishes asking them to meet with him to continue to address the concerns of the community.

“What do we do with the anger?” the priest said. “We need to address the issues that cause the anger and the hopelessness that lead to violence. And the church has to be a part of that.”

An Aug. 14 statement from Religious Leaders for Racial Reconciliation in Milwaukee, formed last year to address race issues in the city, said the city “was taken to another level of violence where the devil is trying to lead us.”

The group identified three issues that need to be address with the city’s dispossessed: “We need to build relationships with them, look for the root causes of what is going wrong in their lives, and then we need to empower them to change.”

“Have you ever lost your keys? Think about that feeling you had when you couldn’t find them, looking all over, and retracing your steps backwards,” the statement said. “That is how the lost are feeling, that pit in their stomach, and emptiness in their heart, the yearning for something that they don’t yet even know what it is. They are waiting for one of us to show them his love and lead them to their Savior, Jesus!”

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker Wisconsin’s put the National Guard on standby in case of a repeat of the violence Aug. 14, but after-dark protests were peaceful.

 

Contributing to this story was Maryangela Layman Roman.

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Louisiana flooding displaces 20,000, bishop comforts evacuees

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BATON ROUGE, La. — As Louisiana’s governor announced the federal government had declared a major disaster for the state Aug. 14, Catholic churches in the Baton Rouge Diocese called for volunteers to help those displaced by extreme flooding and asked flood victims what assistance they needed.

 

Floodwater is seen at a cemetery in Greenwell Springs, La., Aug. 14. (CNS photo/Jeffrey Dubinsky, Reuters)

Floodwater is seen at a cemetery in Greenwell Springs, La., Aug. 14. (CNS photo/Jeffrey Dubinsky, Reuters)

Gov. John Bel Edwards told reporters at a news conference that about 20,000 people had been rescued from their homes and more than 10,000 people were in shelters after a slow-moving tropical storm system dumped nearly 2 feet of rain on southern Louisiana. Several rivers crested at record levels.

As of mid-morning Aug. 15, state officials said at least six people have died in the floods.

Baton Rouge Bishop Robert W. Muench visited three evacuation shelters Aug. 14 to comfort evacuees. In a statement the day before, he dispensed Sunday Mass obligations for all Catholics affected by the storm and urged parishioners to limit their driving over the weekend because of “the inherent dangers of unsafe driving conditions.”

“Please know of my prayers for your safety and the safety of your church parishes and parishioners,” he said in a message to pastors.

On Aug. 12 Edwards declared a state of emergency for the state of Louisiana and deployed the Louisiana National Guard. He then requested that President Barack Obama issue a federal disaster declaration. With that declaration, which initially affects four civil parishes, with more expected, residents can seek assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. At least 18 civil parishes have declared a state of emergency, with more expected to do so.

“This is a serious event. It is ongoing. It is not over,” Edwards told reporters. “We are not in control as far as how fast these floodwaters will recede, and in fact they are still going up in some places.”

He said he traveled to affected areas and saw firsthand “the destruction caused by this unprecedented flood.”

In a notice on its website, St. Jude the Apostle Catholic Church in East Baton Rouge civil parish called on parishioners available to volunteer to attend a morning meeting Aug. 15 to help with “flood relief planning and implementation.”

“It is possible that a significant number of our parish staff are unable to leave their homes and come to work, so we will need to rely heavily on parish volunteers,” the notice said.

At least two other Baton Rouge parishes, St. George and St. Aloysius, have set up Web pages asking flood victims to submit requests for help and asking others to list the kind of help they can provide.

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