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Florida priest, former Vietnamese refugee, named a bishop for Orange, Calif.

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WASHINGTON — Pope Francis has appointed Father Thanh Thai Nguyen, a priest of the Diocese of St. Augustine, Fla., to be an auxiliary bishop in the Diocese of Orange, Calif.

Father Thanh Thai Nguyen, a priest of the Diocese of St. Augustine, Florida, is seen in this undated photo. Pope Francis appointed him Oct. 6 to be an auxiliary bishop in the Diocese of Orange, California. (CNS photo/courtesy Diocese of St. Augustine)

Born in Vietnam, Bishop-designate Nguyen, 64, fled the country in 1979 by boat with his family and spent 10 months in a refugee camp in the Philippines before arriving in Hartford, Conn., in 1980. After brief studies at Hartford State Technical College, he became a math and science teacher in Hartford public schools.

In 1984, he joined the Missionaries of Our Lady of La Salette, studying at Merrimack College and the Weston School of Theology, both in Massachusetts. He was ordained to the priesthood May 11, 1991.

For the next eight years, he worked in parishes in Georgia and Florida. In 1999, he was incardinated into the Diocese of St. Augustine. He has been pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Jacksonville, Florida, since 2014.

Bishop Felipe J. Estevez of St. Augustine said he learned of Father Thanh’s appointment Sept. 27, the day Pope Francis launched the two-year campaign, “Share the Journey.” The global initiative is meant to urge Catholics to understand and get to know refugees and migrants who have fled their homeland due to poverty, violence, persecution, and war.

In 1979, Father Thanh and his family escaped Vietnam during the war. They fled by boat, and after 18 days at sea, they landed on the shores of the Philippines. He lived in a refugee camp for 10 months before moving to the United States in 1980.

“Father Thanh knows the plight of refugees, and he understands their journey seeking a safe home and the ability to support their families,” Bishop Estevez said in a statement. “He has a genuine gift when it comes to ministering to people of diverse cultures.”

“Now that reality is beginning to set in, I need to start the process of letting go and letting God,” said Bishop-designate Nguyen in a statement about his appointment. “Yes, letting go of familiar places, familiar faces, Bishop Estevez, the presbyterate of the diocese, parishioners, and staff of St. Joseph and Christ the King parishes who have played an important role in my priestly ministry for more than 20 years.”

While he was a Missionary of Our Lady of La Salette serving in the St. Augustine Diocese, Bishop John J. Snyder, then head of the diocese, named the priest parochial vicar at Christ the King Parish in Jacksonville.

In September 2001, Bishop Victor B. Galeone, newly named to head the diocese, appointed him pastor of the parish. Through his leadership and initiative, he brought harmony to the Vietnamese community by celebrating a Sunday Mass in Vietnamese and building a Vietnamese Center where cultural traditions among the youth and elderly are preserved.

As pastor of St. Joseph Parish, Bishop-designate Nguyen has been instrumental in strengthening the faith community by celebrating its cultural diversity through parish events throughout the year. He has also built a social/youth hall and added a youth Mass. The parish is about to launch a $4 million capital campaign for parish improvements.

“Father Thanh has not only promoted unity in the parish, but he has fostered more vocations to the priesthood and religious life than any other parish in the diocese,” said Bishop Estevez.

The Diocese of Orange, headed by Bishop Kevin W. Vann, has a large Vietnamese Catholic community.

The Southern California diocese is the 10th largest in the country and one of the fastest growing in the nation. It has 1.3 million Catholics.

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Trump administration expands exemptions on contraceptive mandate

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration Oct. 6 issued interim rules expanding the exemption to the contraceptive mandate for religious employers, such as the Little Sisters of the Poor, who object on moral grounds to covering contraceptive and abortion-inducing drugs and devices in their employee health insurance.

Leaders of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops praised the action as “a return to common sense, long-standing federal practice and peaceful coexistence between church and state.”

The U.S. Supreme Court is seen in Washington Sept. 26. The Trump administration Oct. 6 issued interim rules expanding the exemption to the contraceptive mandate for religious employers, such as the Little Sisters of the Poor, who object on moral grounds to covering contraceptive and abortion-inducing drugs and devices in their employee health insurance. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

The contraceptive mandate was put in place by the Department of Health and Human Services under the Affordable Care Act.

While providing an exemption for religious employers, the new rules maintain the existing federal contraceptive mandate for most employers.

President Donald Trump had pledged to lift the mandate burden placed on religious employers during a White House signing ceremony May 4 for an executive order promoting free speech and religious liberty, but Catholic leaders and the heads of a number of Catholic entities had criticized the administration for a lack of action on that pledge in the months that followed.

From the outset, churches were exempt from the mandate, but not religious employers. The Obama administration had put in place a religious accommodation for nonprofit religious entities such as church-run colleges and social service agencies morally opposed to contraceptive coverage that required them to file a form or notify HHS that they will not provide it. Many Catholic employers still objected to having to fill out the form.

The HHS mandate has undergone numerous legal challenges from religious organizations, including the Little Sisters of the Poor and Priests for Life.

A combined lawsuit, Zubik v. Burwell, made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where the justices in May 2016 unanimously returned the case to the lower courts with instructions to determine if contraceptive insurance coverage could be obtained by employees through their insurance companies without directly involving religious employers who object to paying for such coverage.

Senior Health and Human Services officials who spoke to reporters Oct. 5 on the HHS rule on the condition of anonymity said that the exemption to the contraceptive mandate would apply to all the groups that had sued against it. Groups suing the mandate all the way to the Supreme Court include the Little Sisters of the Poor, the Archdiocese of Washington, the Diocese of Pittsburgh, Eternal Word Television Network and some Catholic and other Christian universities.

In reaction immediately after the 150-page interim ruling was issued, religious groups that had opposed the mandate were pleased with the administration’s action.

An Oct. 6 statement by Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, USCCB president, and Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, chairman of the USCCB’s Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, said the new rule “corrects an anomalous failure by federal regulators that should never have occurred and should never be repeated.”

The church leaders also said the decision to provide the religious and moral exemption to the HHS mandate recognizes that faith-based and mission-driven organizations and those who run them “have deeply held religious and moral beliefs that the law must respect.”

Cardinal DiNardo and Bishop Lori said the decision was “good news for all Americans,” noting that a “government mandate that coerces people to make an impossible choice between obeying their consciences and obeying the call to serve the poor is harmful not only to Catholics but to the common good.”

Michael Warsaw, EWTN chairman and CEO president, said the television network’s legal team would be “carefully considering the exemptions announced today and the impact this may have on our legal challenge to the mandate, but we are optimistic that this news will prove to be a step toward victory for the fundamental freedoms of many Americans.”

Mark Rienzi, senior counsel at the Becket Fund, told reporters in a telephone news conference an hour after the rule was released that it is a “common sense and balanced rule and a great step forward for religious liberty.”

He said the rule “carves out a narrow exemption” and keeps the contraceptive mandate in place for those without moral or religious objections to it.

He noted that it does not provide immediate relief for those groups who had challenged it, such as the Little Sisters of the Poor, which Becket represents. They will “still need relief in courts,” he said, but was confident now that it would happen.

“We’ve traveled a long way,” he added, of the multiple challenges to the contraceptive mandate in recent years, which he described as an “unnecessary culture war fight.”

Rienzi, noted that the HHS rule could have eliminated the contraceptive mandate completely but it did not do so. He also said the new rule is open for comments for a 90-day period and will likely face legal challenges, which already began in a lawsuit filed Oct. 6 by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of members of the ACLU and Service Employee International Union-United Health Care Workers West who say they are at risk of losing their contraception coverage because of where they work or attend school.

In the lawsuit, the ACLU said the interim rules violate the establishment clause regarding religion in the First Amendment and the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment in the Constitution “by authorizing and promoting religiously motivated and other discrimination against women seeking reproductive health care.”

     

Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim.

 

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Bishop urges U.S. to remain committed to Iran nuclear deal

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WASHINGTON — If the United States abandons a multinational agreement that limits the ability of Iran to develop nuclear weapons, the incentive for North Korea to negotiate about its nuclear weapons program would be weakened, said the chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace. Read more »

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‘Love Saves Lives’ is the theme for 2018 March for Life

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WASHINGTON — The theme for the 45th annual March for Life will be “Love Saves Lives: Life Is the Loving, Empowering and Self-Sacrificial Option.”

The March for Life Education and Defense Fund announced the theme for the 2018 rally and march at a briefing on Capitol Hill Oct. 3 with Jeanne Mancini, president of the March for Life organization and other pro-life leaders in Washington. Read more »

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House passes bill to ban abortion after 20 weeks of gestation, Senate action unlikely

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WASHINGTON — The U.S. House Oct. 3 passed the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which bans abortions after 20 weeks of gestation, about the time doctors have determined that an unborn child can feel pain.

The U.S. Capitol in Washington is seen Sept. 26. The U.S. House Oct. 3 passed the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which bans abortions after 20 weeks of gestation, about the time doctors have determined that an unborn child can feel pain. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

Introduced by Rep. Trent Franks, R-Arizona, it would punish doctors who perform an abortion after 20 weeks, except in cases of rape, incest or if the life of the mother is threatened. Physicians could face up to five years in prison. Women seeking abortions would not be penalized under the bill.

In a statement Oct. 2, the Trump administration said it strongly supported the bill, H.R. 36, and “applauded the House of Representatives for continuing its efforts to secure critical pro-life protections.”

President Donald Trump said he would sign the measure if it reached his desk.

The Senate still must schedule consideration of the bill, but that seemed unlikely. Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, told reporters, “That’s not a near-term priority.”

In a Sept. 29 letter to House members, Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, urged passage of the bill.

“While there are divergent views on the practice of abortion,” he said, “it is widely recognized from public opinion polls that a strong majority of the public is consistently opposed to late-term abortions.”

He said called the ban on abortion after 20 weeks “a place to begin uniting Americans who see themselves as ‘pro-life’ and as ‘pro-choice.’”

“All decent and humane people are repulsed by the callous and barbarous treatment of women and children in clinics … that abort children after 20 weeks,” said the cardinal.

“Planned Parenthood’s callous and disturbing practices of harvesting fetal body parts from late-term abortions, partial-birth abortions and the deplorable actions of late-term abortionist Dr. Kermit Gosnell … have shocked our nation and led many Americans to realize that our permissive laws and attitudes have allowed the abortion industry to undertake these procedures,” Cardinal Dolan said, calling the bill’s 20-week ban a “common-sense reform.”

He added that “every child, from conception onward, deserves love and the protection of the law. The real problems that lead women to consider abortion should be addressed with solutions that support both mother and child.”

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Rev. King’s nonviolent philosophy needs to be lived today, speakers say

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s support of nonviolence to bring about social change applies as much to today’s society as it did when Rev. King put his philosophy to paper 60 years ago, said speakers at an Oct. 2 news conference at the memorial dedicated to the civil rights figure in Washington.

Bishop George V. Murry of Youngstown, Ohio, chair of the U.S. bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism, is seen near the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington Oct. 2. He and other faith leaders gathered near the monument to commemorate Rev. King’s 1957 essay about “Nonviolence and Racial Justice.” (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

That the news conference was scheduled in advance of, and held the day after, the Las Vegas shooting spree that killed 58 people and injured more than 500 only underscored the importance of Rev. King’s message, according to the speakers.

“It’s hard to find something in times like these that doesn’t sound like clichés,” said Bishop George V. Murry of Youngstown, Ohio, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism. “As a society, we need to stop making excuses and commit to nonviolence.”

He added, “Pope Francis speaks of the earth as our common home. So it is. And so it is with our society. … It is so easy to speak of human dignity,” said, “but do we believe it selectively — applying it to some people but not to others?”

Bishop Murry, who is African-American, acknowledged he has been the target of racism and segregation. One of the more frustrating episodes for him, he told Catholic News Service, was when a white airline passenger called for a flight attendant because he did not want to sit next to Bishop Murry.

Rev. King’s essay, “Nonviolence and Racial Justice,” appeared in the Feb. 6, 1957, issue of the Christian Century, a theological journal. It laid out his principles for acting nonviolently to seek change.

In his essay, Rev. King wrote: “How is the struggle against the forces of injustice to be waged? There are two possible answers. One is resort to the all too prevalent method of physical violence and corroding hatred. The danger of this method is its futility. Violence solves no social problems; it merely creates new and more complicated ones. Through the vistas of time a voice still cries to every potential Peter, ‘Put up your sword!’ The shores of history are white with the bleached bones of nations and communities that failed to follow this command.”

One of the points Rev. King made about nonviolent resistance as an alternative is that it “does not seek to defeat or humiliate the opponent, but to win his friendship and understanding.”

“The nonviolent resister,” he said, “must often express his protest through noncooperation or boycotts, but he realizes that noncooperation and boycotts are not ends themselves; they are merely means to awaken a sense of moral shame in the opponent. The end is redemption and reconciliation. The aftermath of nonviolence is the creation of the beloved community, while the aftermath of violence is tragic bitterness.”

“Things looked bleak, and the violence was real, but Rev. King held that high ground. And people rallied to him,” said Carl Anderson, supreme knight of the Knights of Columbus, which sponsored the news conference. “He understood that there were two non-negotiable principles in our democracy: first, that all are created equal and are entitled to the equal protection of our nation’s laws; second, that in our democracy, there can be no place for political violence.”

The United States has many challenges, including renewed racism by groups like the Ku Klux Klan, he said, noting that from its founding in 1882, the Knights as an organization “has long assisted the cause of racial equality.”

Anderson added, “Today, as then, we stand united in the principle that all are created equal, and we reiterate the words of Pope Francis last month calling for ‘the rejection of all violence in political life.’ We believe the way of nonviolence is as relevant today as ever.”

“Dr. King is still the beacon of the way forward,” said Bishop Charles E. Blake Sr., presiding bishop of the Church of God in Christ, in remarks delivered by Bishop Edwin C. Bass, president of the denomination’s Urban Initiatives. Bishop Blake added that 2018, the 50th anniversary of Rev. King’s assassination, should be seen as “the year of Martin Luther King Jr.,” with programs and conferences to renew the commitment to nonviolence.

The Rev. Eugene Rivers, founder and director of the Boston-based W.J. Seymour Institute for Black Church and Policy Studies, called this moment “a biblical opportunity to be salt and light in the midst of this political darkness. … We have to learn how to disagree without being disagreeable.”

Rev. Rivers cautioned the change would not be instantaneous: “I’m not optimistic, yes, but I’m full of faith.”

     

Follow Pattison on Twitter: @MeMarkPattison.

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America needs ‘new sense of our common humanity,’ says Red Mass homilist

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — Los Angeles Archbishop Jose H. Gomez on Oct. 1 asked the Supreme Court justices, government officials, lawyers and other members of the judiciary gathered at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington to renew a commitment to a government that “serves the human person.”

Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles, who is vice president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, delivers the homily during the 65th annual Red Mass Oct. 1 at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington. The Mass traditionally marks the start of the court year, including the opening of the Supreme Court term. (CNS photo/Jaclyn Lippelmann, Catholic Standard)

He was the homilist at the 65th annual Red Mass in the nation’s capital. Celebrated the Sunday before the opening of the Supreme Court’s term, the annual Mass invokes the Holy Spirit upon those who are responsible for the administration of justice.

Washington Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl was the main celebrant. Concelebrants included Washington Auxiliary Bishops Barry C. Knestout, Mario E. Dorsonville and Roy E. Campbell Jr.; Archbishop Gomez; Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of Arlington, Va.; Auxiliary Bishop Richard B. Higgins of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services; and Cardinal John Olorunfemi Onaiyekan of Abuja, Nigeria.

The distinguished guests at the Mass included five members of the Supreme Court: John G. Roberts Jr., chief justice of the United States; and Associate Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, Stephen G. Breyer and Samuel A. Alito Jr.; and U.S. Solicitor General Noel Francisco.

In his homily, Archbishop Gomez spoke about St. Junipero Serra, the newest American saint who was one of the founding missionaries of Los Angeles as part of a string of missions in California and was canonized by Pope Francis during the pontiff’s 2015 visit to Washington.

By canonizing him, Archbishop Gomez said Pope Francis was making a point that “we should honor St. Junipero Serra as one of the Founding Fathers of the United States,” since the missionaries came here before the pilgrims and began their outreach before the nation’s first president was inaugurated.

“It reminds us that America’s first beginnings were not political,” he said. “America’s first beginnings were spiritual.”

Those missionaries, along with the colonists and statesmen later on, laid the groundwork for “a nation conceived under God and committed to promoting human dignity, freedom and the flourishing of a diversity of peoples, races, ideas and beliefs,” said Archbishop Gomez, who is vice president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The reason the Red Mass is so important each year, Archbishop Gomez said, is because “there is a time for politics and a time for prayer. This is a day for prayer.”

The readings for the Mass included the story of Pentecost, which Archbishop Gomez said “reveals the Creator’s beautiful dream for the human race,” where people from different nations were brought together through the Holy Spirit, who spoke to each of them in their native tongues.

“The mission that Jesus gave (the church) is the beautiful mission of gathering all the peoples of the earth into one family of God,” said Archbishop Gomez. “In God’s eyes, there are no foreigners, there are no strangers. … When God looks at us, he sees beyond the color of our skin, or the countries where we come from, or the language that we speak. God sees only his children, sons and daughters made in his image.”

Archbishop Gomez noted that before God created the earth, he knew each person he would create and had a plan for each of their lives.

“Every life is sacred, and every life has a purpose in God’s creation,” he said.

The Founding Fathers understood this teaching so well that they called the truths “self-evident,” said Archbishop Gomez.

“America’s founders believed that the only justification for government is to serve the human person, who is created in God’s image; who is endowed with God-given dignity, rights and responsibilities; and who is called by God to a transcendent destiny,” said Archbishop Gomez.

Addressing the guests at the Mass, Archbishop Gomez said, “My brothers and sisters, you all share in the responsibility for this great government.”

He called public service a “noble vocation” that requires honesty, courage, prudence, humility, prayer and sacrifice.

“So today, let us ask the Holy Spirit for his gifts and renew our commitment to this vision of a government that serves the human person,” said Archbishop Gomez. “Let us commit ourselves to an America that cares for the young and the elderly, for the poor and the sick; an America where the hungry find bread and the homeless a place to live; an America that welcomes the immigrant and refugee and offers the prisoner a second chance.”

While at times our nation has failed to live up to its founding vision, Archbishop Gomez said, “that should not make us give in to cynicism or despair.”

“For all our weakness and failure: America is still a beacon of hope for peoples of every nation, who look to this country for refuge, for freedom and equality under God,” he added.

Jesus gave the Apostles the power to forgive sins, but he also is “giving every one of us the power to forgive those who trespass against us,” said Archbishop Gomez, who noted that this gift of forgiveness is “part of the unfinished revolution in American society.”

“True forgiveness sets us free from the cycles of resistance and retaliation; it sets us free to seek reconciliation and healing,” said Archbishop Gomez. “”And this is what we need in America today — a new spirit of compassion and cooperation, a new sense of our common humanity. We need to treat others as our brothers and our sisters — even those who oppose or disagree with us. The mercy and love that we desire — this is the mercy and love that we must show to our neighbors.”

The Mass is sponsored by the John Carroll Society, a network that aims to enhance fellowship among Catholic leaders in the Washington area and serve the archbishop of Washington.

By Kelly Sankowski, a staff member of the Catholic Standard, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Washington.

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Prayers after ‘unspeakable terror’ in Las Vegas

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WASHINGTON — The nation has experienced “yet another night filled with unspeakable terror,” and “we need to pray and to take care of those who are suffering,” said the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington.

In Las Vegas, a gunman identified by law enforcement officials as Stephen Craig Paddock, 64, was perched in a room on the 32nd floor of a hotel and unleashed a shower of bullets late Oct. 1 on an outdoor country music festival taking place below. The crowd at the event numbered more than 22,000.

People mourn during an interfaith memorial service Oct. 2 in Las Vegas for victims of a shooting spree directed at an outdoor country music festival late Oct. 1. A gunman perched in a room on the 32nd floor of a casino hotel unleashed a shower of bullets on the festival below, killing at least 59 people and wounding another 527. (CNS photo/Lucy Nicholson, Reuters)

He killed at least 59 people and wounded more than 500, making it by all accounts “the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history,” Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, USCCB president, said in an Oct. 2 statement.

“My heart and my prayers, and those of my brother bishops and all the members of the church, go out to the victims of this tragedy and to the city of Las Vegas,” he said.

“Our hearts go out to everyone,” Bishop Joseph A. Pepe of Las Vegas said in a statement. “We are praying for those who have been injured, those who have lost their lives, for the medical personnel and first responders who, with bravery and self-sacrifice, have helped so many.

“We are also very heartened by the stories of all who helped each other in this time of crisis. As the Gospel reminds us, we are called to be modern-day good Samaritans,” he added. “We continue to pray for all in Las Vegas and around the world whose lives are shattered by the events of daily violence.”

He said an early evening interfaith prayer service was to take place at the city’s Cathedral of the Guardian Angels and he invited “our sisters and brothers around the world to join us in prayer for healing and for an end to violence.”

In a telegram to Bishop Pepe, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, said Pope Francis was “deeply saddened to learn of the shooting in Las Vegas” and “sends the assurance of his spiritual closeness to all those affected by this senseless tragedy.’

“He commends the efforts of the police and emergency service personnel, and offers the promise of his prayers for the injured and for all who have died, entrusting them to the merciful love of Almighty God,” the cardinal said.

The barrage of shots came from a room on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel-casino complex on the Las Vegas Strip. Once police officers determined where the gunshots were coming from, they stormed the room to find the suspect dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, Clark County Sheriff Joseph Lombardo told reporters.

The suspect later identified as Paddock was from Mesquite, Nevada, about 80 miles northeast of Las Vegas, and was described in later reports as a retired accountant. News reports also said law enforcement believed the suspect was a “lone wolf” in planning and carrying out the attack.

In his statement, Cardinal DiNardo said: “At this time, we need to pray and to take care of those who are suffering. In the end, the only response is to do good, for no matter what the darkness, it will never overcome the light. May the Lord of all gentleness surround all those who are suffering from this evil, and for those who have been killed we pray, eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them.”

Catholic bishops and other Catholic leaders around the country issued statements expressing sadness at the horrific developments in Las Vegas, offering prayers for the victims and praising first responders, volunteers and bystanders for their efforts at the scene.

“Once again we must reach out in shock and horror to comfort the victims of a mass shooting in our country,” said Cardinal Blase J. Cupich of Chicago.

“We reaffirm our commitment to nonviolence and to addressing the causes of such tragedies. At this time we come together in prayer and also in resolve to change a culture that has allowed such events to become commonplace,” he said. “We must not become numb to these mass shootings or to the deadly violence that occurs on our streets month in and month out.”

He called for better access to mental health care and “stronger, sensible gun control laws.”

“We pray that there comes a day when the senseless violence that has plagued the nation for so long ends for good,” said Holy Cross Father John I. Jenkins, president of the University of Notre Dame. The bells of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart on the campus were to ring in the afternoon for all those affected by the Las Vegas tragedy.

The Catholic University of America in Washington offered prayers and support for the shooting victims. It also announced campus counselors and campus ministry staff were available to students needing help dealing with the deadly events, and said the employee assistance program was available to faculty and staff for the same purpose.

“As a community of faith, our university offers its prayers for the victims and their families, the first responders, and the health care workers who are caring for the injured,” said John Garvey, the university’s president. He added, “I ask that we meet this moment by cultivating peace with our words and deeds in our own community.”

The Archdiocese of Detroit held a noon service at St. Aloysius Church to pray for the victims of the shooting, their families and all affected, and also to pray “for an end to such devastating violence in our country and around the world.”

“Violence has once again horrified us as a nation and drawn us together in sorrow. All of us, people of faith as well as those with no particular religious affiliation, are stunned by the tragic, senseless, and incomprehensible loss of life in Las Vegas,” said Atlanta Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory.

“Jesus is weeping with us and for us,” said Pittsburgh Bishop David A. Zubik. “It is time for us as a nation to require at least as much from those purchasing guns as we expect from those making application for a driver’s license. Public safety must always come first.”

He called on lawmakers “to make it far more difficult for those with dangerously impaired moral reasoning, criminals and terrorists to make their point with a gun” and, like Cardinal Cupich, urged better access to mental health care “for those who may be prone to violence.”

“Join with me in prayer that we as a nation will seek to build a society in which the right to life is the standard against which all other rights are measured,” he said.

“I pray for the end of the violence and hatred in our nation, and I continue to pray that we follow the truth given to us in Psalms, that we should always trust in Jesus,” said Bishop Richard F. Stika of Knoxville, Tennessee.

Bishop Edward C. Malesic of Greensburg, Pa., noted the “tragic irony” that the mass shooting had taken place on Respect Life Sunday and the beginning of the Catholic Church’s observance of Respect Life Month.

“We can never become numbed to the seemingly endless stream of outrageous crimes that show a lack of respect for our fellow human beings,” the bishop said. “We continue to teach and proclaim that every human person is created in God’s image and has the right to life. … We will continue to pray that the light of God’s love will reach into the darkest places in our nation and our world.”

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Disturbing, shameful: Bishops join opposition to reported U.S. refugee limit

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WASHINGTON — The U.S. Catholic bishops and other faith groups are objecting to reports that the Trump administration will limit the number of refugees the United States accepts to 45,000 for the upcoming fiscal year.

A severely malnourished child is seen as Rohingya refugees wait to receive aid Sept. 25 at a camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. Immigrants and refugees need to be respected and assisted, not treated like an enemy, a panel said during a Sept. 27 news conference at the Vatican launching the Caritas “Share the Journey” campaign. (CNS photo/Cathal McNaughton, Reuters)

It would be the lowest admission level for persons fleeing persecution that the U.S. has accepted since the executive branch was allowed to set the caps in 1980 under the Refugee Act, signed into law by President Jimmy Carter.

“We are disturbed and deeply disappointed by the proposed presidential determination number of 45,000,” said Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, who is chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration.

“While the Catholic bishops, Catholic Charities, and Catholic communities across the country join in welcoming all of those refugees to American communities with joy and open arms, we are gravely concerned for the tens of thousands of extremely vulnerable refugees left behind by this decision,” he said in a Sept. 29 statement.

“As I have stated before, this decision has very severe human consequences — people with faces, names, children and families are suffering and cannot safely or humanely remain where they are until the war and persecution in their countries of origin gets resolved,” Bishop Vasquez said.

“These people include at-risk women and children; frightened youth; the elderly; those whose lives are threatened because of their religion, ethnicity or race; and refugees seeking family reunification with loved ones in the United States,” he added.

David Robinson, executive director of Jesuit Refugee Service, called the 45,000 figure a “shamefully low number.”

Robinson said in a Sept. 27 statement that setting such a low goal “is a retreat from global leadership and undermines both our interests and our values. Our faith calls us to be compassionate, and this unprecedented policy is in direct opposition to the belief that we should welcome the stranger, especially the victims of war, terror and oppression.”

The limit comes at a time when one in every 113 people in the world is facing displacement from their home country because of conflicts, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, or UNHCR. Last year, the agency said 65 million people around the world suffered that type of displacement.

“With historically high numbers of innocent people fleeing violence worldwide, the United States response cannot be to welcome a historically low number of refugees into our country,” Bill O’Keefe, vice president for government relations and advocacy for Catholic Relief Services, said Sept. 27.

Bishop Vasquez said the U.S. Catholic bishops are urging the Trump administration “to welcome and resettle every one of the refugees eventually authorized” for fiscal year 2018. “Looking ahead, we strongly urge the administration next year to return to the level of resettling at least 75,000 refugees annually to the United States,” he added. “We can and must do better.”

Other faith groups, including the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, the second-largest refugee resettlement agency in the U.S., said it was “profoundly disappointed” at the reduction.

When the Refugee Act of 1980 went into effect, the U.S. set the cap at over 231,000 refugees. Though it has declined steadily since then, the country has accepted between 70,000 to 80,000 displaced persons each year for almost two decades. President Barack Obama set the cap for fiscal year 2017 at 110,000 during his last year in the White House.

In his first executive order as president, Donald Trump, set the cap at 50,000 and said any more than that “would be detrimental to the interests of the United States.”

Just as they did then, many faith communities still disagree with the president.

“Churches and communities, employers and mayors are heartsick at the administration’s callous and tragic decision to deny welcome to refugees most in need,” said Linda Hartke, president and CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service.

“We are not afraid of our new neighbors and are not fooled by cruel and false claims that refugees are a threat to our safety,” she said Sept. 27. “The American legacy of welcoming refugees has made us stronger and better, and the government’s own research proves that refugees bring economic benefit to our country through their hard work.”

In his statement, Bishop Vasquez noted that “each refugee that comes to the United States is admitted through an extensive vetting system. Many of these refugees already have family in the United States, and most begin working immediately to rebuild their lives; in turn contributing to the strength and richness of our society.

“God has blessed our country with bounty and precious liberty,” he continued, “and so we have great capacity to welcome those in such desperate need, while ensuring our nation’s security.”

Bishop Vasquez noted that on Sept. 27, when the Trump administration released its recommendation for the 45,000-cap on refugees, that same day Pope Francis “exhorted us to ‘reach out, open your arms to migrants and refugees, share the journey.’”

At the Vatican, the pope launched the two-year “Share the Journey” campaign of Catholic charities around the world to promote encounters between people on the move and people living in the countries they are leaving, passing through or arriving in.

“We urge the administration to move past this period of intensified scrutiny and skepticism of the U.S. refugee program, which serves as an international model,” Bishop Vasquez said. “This is a moment of opportunity to restore America’s historic leadership as a refuge for those fleeing persecution.”

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A week after surviving hurricane, Puerto Ricans beg for help

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More than a week after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, much of the island remained without communication and in desperate need of humanitarian aid.

A woman carries bottles of water and food during a distribution of relief items Sept. 24 in San Juan, Puerto Rico, days after Hurricane Maria. (CNS photo/Alvin Baez, Reuters)

News programs have been broadcasting about long lines of travelers, who have little food or water, and are desperate to get off the island at the San Juan airport to no avail. 

But the scene of destruction outside the airport is even more stark: An island whose dense tropical landscape, along with its infrastructure, towns and cities, has been greatly stripped by winds that reached 155 mph.

Catholic Church groups have mobilized to send help. Some organizations, however, have reported problems mobilizing the aid out of airports and into the places and people who need them.

Officials say Hurricane Maria left 16 dead in Puerto Rico, 27 dead in Dominica and one in the U.S. Virgin Islands. But accurate information has been hard to come by since cellphone service and electricity, along with access to water and fuel, have been knocked out. Many roads into rural areas still are blocked by debris, making it difficult to access those who live there.

Many Puerto Ricans in the mainland U.S. have been making desperate pleas on social media to see if others can give them information about relatives or conditions in town or cities where their relatives live but which remain without communication.

President Donald Trump is set to visit Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory of 3.4 million, as well as the U.S. Virgin Islands on Oct. 3. He has largely been criticized for what some perceive as a slow humanitarian response and for spending time tweeting against athletes as Puerto Rico suffered. But when he got around to tweeting about the island’s misery, he also offended many by bringing up its debt, including debt to Wall Street, as well as the island’s pre-existing failing infrastructure.

It took a week for the U.S. to send a plane carrying 3,500 pounds of water as well as food and other supplies to the island, but the president said, “It’s on an island in the middle of the ocean. … You can’t just drive your trucks there from other states.” A hospital ship also has been sent.

Scarcity of food, water and fuel is rampant. The deaths of two patients in intensive care at a San Juan hospital were blamed on lack of fuel.

On Sept. 27, the Trump administration said it would not waive shipping restrictions to get fuel and supplies to island, angering politicians such as U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, who asked the Department of Homeland Security to waive the restrictions known as the Jones Act.

Many, such as New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, are in the meantime offering Masses as well collecting donations to help in a long recovery ahead for Puerto Rico.

Cardinal Dolan will celebrate a Mass in Spanish at St. Patrick’s Cathedral Oct. 8, to “express prayerful solidarity with the people of Puerto Rico and Mexico, and their relatives and friends in New York, in the wake of the natural disasters that have ravaged both lands this month,” according to an article in the archdiocesan newspaper, Catholic New York.

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