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Vandalism at Jewish cemeteries decried, called hateful actions

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Catholic News Service

PHILADELPHIA — Responding to the destruction of some 100 gravestones at a Jewish cemetery in Philadelphia, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput Feb. 27 deplored the “senseless acts of mass vandalism.”

The gravestones were discovered toppled over from their bases the previous morning at Mount Carmel Cemetery in Northeast Philadelphia.

National media report on more than 170 toppled Jewish headstones Feb. 21 after a vandalism attack on Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery in University City, Mo. The incident at the cemetery near St. Louis was repeated in suburban Philadelphia Feb. 26 when gravestones were destroyed at a Jewish cemetery there. (CNS photo/Tom Gannam, Reuters)

National media report on more than 170 toppled Jewish headstones Feb. 21 after a vandalism attack on Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery in University City, Mo. The incident at the cemetery near St. Louis was repeated in suburban Philadelphia Feb. 26 when gravestones were destroyed at a Jewish cemetery there. (CNS photo/Tom Gannam, Reuters)

The archbishop issued a statement in which he called on the clergy, religious and laypeople of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia “to join in prayerful solidarity with the families of those whose final resting places have been disturbed. Violence and hate against anyone, simply because of who they are, is inexcusable.”

The incident at Mount Carmel Cemetery mirrors gravestones destroyed at another Jewish cemetery near St. Louis about a week before.

In a statement Feb. 24, the chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, expressed solidarity and support for the Jewish community and also called for the rejection of such hateful actions.

“I want to express our deep sympathy, solidarity, and support to our Jewish brothers and sisters who have experienced once again a surge of anti-Semitic actions in the United States,” said Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski of Springfield, Massachusetts, speaking on behalf of all the bishops and U.S. Catholics. “I wish to offer our deepest concern, as well as our unequivocal rejection of these hateful actions. The Catholic Church stands in love with the Jewish community in the current face of anti-Semitism.”

Two days earlier, the National Council of Churches in a statement said that “anti-Semitism has no place in our society. Eradicating it requires keeping constant vigil.”

In his statement, Archbishop Chaput said that “for Catholics, anti-Semitism is more than a human rights concern. It’s viewed as a form of sacrilege and blasphemy against God’s chosen people. In recent weeks, our country has seen a new wave of anti-Semitism on the rise. It’s wrong and it should deeply concern not only Jews and Catholics, but all people.”

Even as the archbishop issued his statement, a new wave of fear spread for Jewish people in the United States as about a dozen Jewish community centers across the country received anonymous threats of violence.

Several centers in the Philadelphia region, including the Kaiserman Jewish Community Center, which includes a preschool, in the Philadelphia suburb of Wynnewood, had been evacuated the morning of Feb. 27 because of bomb threats, local media reported. By the afternoon, the facility along with others in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware had reopened.

Scores of other such threats have been received by Jewish community centers in recent weeks across the country.

“As a community, we must speak out to condemn inflammatory messages and actions that serve only to divide, stigmatize and incite prejudice,” Archbishop Chaput said. “We must continually and loudly reject attempts to alienate and persecute the members of any religious tradition.

“Rather, as members of diverse faith and ethnic communities throughout the region, we must stand up for one another and improve the quality of life for everyone by building bridges of trust and understanding.”

The heads of the Religious Leaders Council of Greater Philadelphia met the afternoon of Feb. 27 at the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia to discuss the situation. Msgr. Daniel Kutys, moderator of the curia for the Philadelphia archdiocese, represented Archbishop Chaput at the meeting.

The archbishop, who is a co-convener of the more than 30-member religious leadership council, was unable to attend the meeting.

In the neighboring Diocese of Camden, New Jersey, Bishop Dennis J. Sullivan called the desecration of the Pennsylvania cemetery “abhorrent behavior” that “has no place in contemporary culture (and) stands in opposition to everything the Catholic Church believes and teaches.””

Bishop Sullivan also noted that Jewish community centers in his diocese as well as in Pennsylvania and Delaware received bomb threats over the weekend and on Feb. 27, the day he issued his statement.

“As Catholics, we too are spiritual descendants of Abraham. We recognize that an attack or threat against our Jewish family members is an attack against all peoples of faith,” he said, adding that everyone in the Camden Diocese stands “in solidarity with our Jewish sisters and brothers against these hateful and anti-Semitic incidents.”

“We pray that the perpetrators of these incidents will come to know God’s love, bringing them to the light of peace where they may recant these acts of hate and join with all people of goodwill in forging a community of compassion,” Bishop Sullivan said.

In St. Louis, an interfaith cleanup effort of the vandalized cemetery took place Feb 22 followed by an interfaith prayer service. Vandals toppled more than two-dozen gravestones and damaged an estimated 200 more at the historic Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery, which dates to 1893.

Represented by seminarians, priests, deacons, students and laity, Catholic St. Louisans stood with Jewish brethren at the cemetery in University City.

They were among about 1,000 people who helped with cleanup, including Vice President Mike Pence and Missouri Gov. Eric Greitans. When he came unannounced to help rake leaves, Pence was wearing work clothes, as he had come from another event.

“There is no place in America for hatred, prejudice, or acts of violence or anti-Semitism,” he said later. “I must tell you that the people of Missouri are inspiring the nation by your love and care for this place and the Jewish community. I want to thank you for that inspiration. For showing the world what America is all about.”

Greitens, who came ready to work in jeans, boots and a work shirt, described the vandalism as “a despicable act … anti-Semitic and painful. Moments like this are what a community is about. … We’re going to demonstrate that this is a moment of revolve. We’re coming together to share service.”

Seminarians were among those who answered St. Louis Archbishop Robert J. Carlson’s call Feb. 21 “to help our Jewish brothers and sisters.” About a dozen used their afternoon free time to help out.

“This is neat to see,” said seminarian Cole Bestgen, watching the workers fan out on a sunny and unseasonably warm 67-degree day armed with rakes, trash barrels and buckets. Though toppled headstones already had been replaced, the volunteers took care of general cleanup and maintenance.

The desecration sparked outrage from numerous ecumenical groups — Jewish, Catholic, Christian, Muslims and more — and dignitaries across the country, including President Donald J. Trump, who sent messages of thanks through Pence and Greitens.

 

Gambino is director and general manager of CatholicPhilly.com, the news website of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Contributing to this story was Dave Luecking in St. Louis.

 

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Bishops back Trump’s repeal of directive on transgender bathroom access

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WASHINGTON — The chairmen of two U.S. bishops’ committees Feb. 24 praised President Donald Trump’s repeal of the Obama administration’s directive on transgender access to bathrooms.

A gender-neutral bathroom is seen in this 2014, file photo, at the University of California, Irvine. Two U.S. bishops' committees have endorsed President Trump's repeal of the Obama administration's order on transgender access to bathroom. CNS photo/Lucy Nicholson, Reuters)

A gender-neutral bathroom is seen in this 2014, file photo, at the University of California, Irvine. Two U.S. bishops’ committees have endorsed President Trump’s repeal of the Obama administration’s order on transgender access to bathroom. CNS photo/Lucy Nicholson, Reuters)

The guidance, issued last May by the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Education, “indicated that public pre-K through 12 schools, as well as all colleges and universities, should treat ‘a student’s gender identity as the student’s sex,’” said the bishops’ joint statement.

The document “sought to impose a one-size-fits-all approach to dealing with sensitive issues involving individual students,” said Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth, and Bishop George V. Murry of Youngstown, Ohio, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Catholic Education.

“Such issues are best handled with care and compassion at the local level, respecting the privacy and safety concerns of all students,” they said.

In rescinding the directive, the Trump administration said that addressing of transgender access to bathrooms is best left to the states and local school districts, not the federal government.

The Obama administration said it applied to all public schools as well as colleges and universities that received federal funding. The directive “summarizes a school’s Title IX obligations regarding transgender students,” administration officials said, and that it also explained how the Education and Justice departments will “evaluate a school’s compliance with these obligations.”

The federal Title IX statute prohibits sex discrimination in educational programs and activities, like sports. Some months before issuing the directive, Obama administration had warned schools that denying transgender students access to the facilities and activities of their choice was illegal under its interpretation of federal sex discrimination laws.

Officials at the Justice and Education departments in the Trump administration rejected the previous administration’s position that nondiscrimination laws require schools to allow transgender students to use the bathrooms of their choice.

That directive, they said, was arbitrary and devised “without due regard for the primary role of the states and local school districts in establishing educational policy.”

“Pope Francis has taught that ‘biological sex’ and the sociocultural role of sex (gender) can be distinguished but not separated,” said Archbishop Chaput and Bishop Murry, quoting from “Amoris Laetitia,” the papal document on marriage and family.

“The Catholic Church consistently affirms the inherent dignity of each and every human person and advocates for the well-being of all people, particularly the most vulnerable,” the two prelates said. “Children, youth and parents in these difficult situations deserve compassion sensitivity, and respect. All of these can be expressed without infringing on legitimate concerns about privacy and security on the part of all young students and parents.”

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Trump administration announces ‘enhanced enforcement’ of immigration laws

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — In two memos published Feb. 20, the Department of Homeland Security outlined guidelines that White House officials said would enhance enforcement of immigration laws inside the country as well as prevent further unauthorized immigration into the U.S.

A "No Trespassing" sign is situated along the steel bollard border fence in Nogales, Ariz., Feb. 19. (CNS /Nancy Wiechec)

A “No Trespassing” sign is situated along the steel bollard border fence in Nogales, Ariz., Feb. 19. (CNS /Nancy Wiechec)

In a Feb. 21 news briefing, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said the guidelines include hiring more border agents, construction of a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, and hiring more personnel to “repatriate illegal immigrants swiftly.”

The memos by Department of Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly also called for state and local agencies to “assist in the enforcement of federal immigration law” and for hiring additional border patrol agents, as well as “500 Air and Marine Agents/Officers.” The cost of implementing such programs, whether there’s enough funding and how Congress will be involved, was not discussed.

While there have been two arrests under the new administration involving recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA, it was not mentioned in the new guidelines. The program grants a reprieve from deportation and allows a work permit for those who were brought as minors to the U.S. without legal permission.

In the news briefing, Spicer said the guidelines were meant to prioritize for deportation anyone who was a criminal or posed a threat in some form, but he also said “laws are laws” and that anyone in the country who is here without permission is subject to removal at any time.

In a Feb. 23 statement, Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Migration, said that while public safety is important, the memos detailing the new guidelines “contain a number of provisions that, if implemented as written, will harm public safety rather than enhance it.” Bishop Vasquez added that it will break down “the trust that currently exists between many police departments and immigrant communities, and sow great fear in those communities,” if local enforcement is used to enforce federal immigration laws.

The memos addressed the issue of unaccompanied minors who cross the border, fleeing violence in their home countries or seeking reunification with family in the U.S. They said that “regardless of the desire of family reunification,” smuggling or trafficking is “intolerable” and said “exploitation of that policy led to abuses by many of the parents and legal guardians.”

Bishop Vasquez said the policies in the memos “will needlessly separate families, upend peaceful communities, endanger the lives and safety of the most vulnerable among us” and urged the Trump administration to “reconsider the approach” expressed in the Feb. 20 memos but also “reconsider the approach it has taken in a number of executive orders and actions issued over the last month. Together, these have placed already vulnerable immigrants among us in an even greater state of vulnerability.”

Department of Homeland Security workers, the memo also said, should prioritize for deportation “removable aliens” who “have abused any program related to receipt of public benefits.”

Reports from major outlets such as The New York Times and The Washington Post said the administration in a conference call said it was seeking to calm fears among immigrant communities by saying only those who “pose a threat or have committed a crime” need to worry about being priorities. But during the news briefing, when asked about a woman who was deported despite having no major criminal convictions, Spicer said he wouldn’t comment on specific cases.

After drafts of memos leaked out in mid-February proposing use of the National Guard in immigration operations, The Associated Press reported that the New Mexico’s Catholic bishops called the ideas in the memos “a declaration of some form of war.” AP provided documents to back up the claim but the White House denied it and the final guidelines made no mention of the National Guard.

Catholic leaders have been urging dignity and respect for migrants and have acknowledged the rampant fear among communities.

The Conference of Major Superiors of Men Feb. 21 issued a statement denouncing the recent arrest by immigration officials of six men exiting a hypothermia shelter at Rising Hope Mission Church in Alexandria, Virginia, saying it violated Immigration and Customs Enforcement policy “not to conduct enforcement actions at or near sensitive locations like houses of worship.”

The conference said it invited “others to join us in denouncing these deportation efforts that harm the ‘least of our brothers and sisters.’ We especially denounce the irreverence, disrespect and violation of sensitive locations, such as houses of worship and ministry which belong to God and the erosion of our Constitutional right to be free from religious oppression by our government.”

 

Follow Guidos on Twitter: @CNS_Rhina.

 

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Plaintiff in Roe v. Wade ruling, who later became pro-life and a Catholic, dies

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KATY, Texas — Norma McCorvey, the plaintiff “Jane Roe” in the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion virtually on demand, died Feb. 18 at an assisted-living facility in Katy. She was 69.

The New York Times said a New York journalist named Joshua Prager, who interviewed her many times for a book he is writing about the Roe decision, confirmed that she had died. The cause of death was heart failure. Her funeral will be private, family members said.

Norma McCorvey, the anonymous plaintiff known as Jane Roe in the Supreme Court's landmark 1973 Roe vs. Wade ruling legalizing abortion in the United States,  died Feb. 18 at age 69. She is pictured in a 2005 photo. (CNS photo/Shaun Heasley, Reuters)

Norma McCorvey, the anonymous plaintiff known as Jane Roe in the Supreme Court’s landmark 1973 Roe vs. Wade ruling legalizing abortion in the United States, died Feb. 18 at age 69. She is pictured in a 2005 photo. (CNS photo/Shaun Heasley, Reuters)

McCorvey became a pro-life supporter in 1995 after spending years as a proponent of legal abortion. She also became a born-again Christian. A couple of years later, she said she felt called to join the Catholic Church of her youth. Her mother was Catholic and her father was a Jehovah’s Witness. After instruction in the faith, she was accepted into the church in 1998.

“Losing a loved one is always a difficult time for a family. Losing a loved one who was also a public figure at the center of a national controversy brings additional challenges. It also brings additional consolations,” said a Feb. 19 statement from McCorvey’s family released by Priests for Life.

The family thanked the “many people across America and around the world who, in these days, are expressing their condolences, their prayers, and their gratitude for the example Mom gave them in standing up for life and truth. Though she was the Jane Roe of Roe v. Wade, she worked hard for the day when that decision would be reversed.”

McCorvey’s family said Priests for Life would be organizing memorial Masses and other services around the country “to give more people an opportunity to remember Mom’s life and work.”

Born in Simmesport, Louisiana, Sept. 22, 1947, Norma Leah Nelson was raised briefly at her family’s home in Lettsworth, Louisiana. The family later moved to Houston. McCorvey was 13 when her father left. Her parents divorced, and she and her older brother were raised by their mother, Mildred, who was said to be violent toward her children.

Norma married Woody McCorvey when she was 16. When she was pregnant with the couple’s first child, she moved in with her mother, alleging Woody had assaulted her. She gave birth to daughter Melissa in 1965. She struggled with alcoholism and came out as a lesbian. The following year, McCorvey became pregnant with her second child, who was put up for adoption.

In 1969, when she was 21 and became pregnant a third time, she tried to obtain an illegal abortion but had no luck as state authorities had shut down such operations. She was referred to lawyers seeking a plaintiff for an abortion suit against the state of Texas. The case took three years to reach the Supreme Court. McCorvey gave her baby up for adoption.

“I did sign the affidavit that brought the holocaust of abortion into this nation,” McCorvey said later. But “I found out about Roe v. Wade like everyone else did, in the paper.”

McCorvey said she was told that legalizing abortion would end back-alley abortions and “probably” put a stop to rape and incest. “They (the lawyers) had a hidden agenda,” she said. “They told me that they only wanted to legalize abortion in the state of Texas, but what they actually wanted to do was what they did, legalize abortion across the land.”

In 1994, after more than two decades of drug use and various jobs at abortion clinics, McCorvey said she began to change her mind about the abortion industry, especially when Operation Rescue moved next door to her workplace, an abortion clinic in Texas.

She was particularly enchanted with the friendliness of two little girls, Emily and Chelsea, who were the daughters of Operation Rescue workers. “I was on the pro-abortion side so long, I didn’t know how to react to kindness and love that all these people and the children were showing me,” McCorvey recalled.

She became disillusioned with her job admitting women for first- and second-trimester abortions. Each weekend, according to McCorvey, clinic staff had to perform enough abortions to meet a $40,000 quota.

“What I didn’t understand at the time was that I was tiring of the abortion movement,” she said, adding she was “fed up with the lies and the mistreatment of the women” coming in for abortions.

When she started counseling women that they were under no obligation to go through with their abortions, reducing the weekend numbers, she was fired, McCorvey said.

In 1995, while attending a church service with Emily and Chelsea’s family, McCorvey answered an “altar call” to come forward and publicly accept Christ. In August that year, she was baptized by the Rev. Flip Benham, then director of Operation Rescue National.

From there, increased contact with Catholic pro-life leaders both inside and outside the Dallas Diocese led to her decision to become a Catholic. She documented much of her conversion story in her 1997 autobiography, “Won by Love.”

After receiving instruction in the Catholic faith at St. Albert’s Priory at the University of Dallas, she became a Catholic Aug. 17, 1998. She received holy Communion and confirmation at a private Mass at St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Dallas and attended by more than 60 family members and friends from the pro-life movement.

“While pro-abortion advocates used Norma McCorvey to advance their efforts to legalize abortion in the early 1970s, she spent the last half of her life attempting to right the terrible wrong … visited upon the country” by the court’s decision in Roe and its companion case, Doe v. Bolton, said Carol Tobias, president of National Right to Life.

“Norma became an outspoken advocate for protecting the lives of mothers and their unborn children. … (She) was a friend and valued ally in the fight for life and she will be deeply missed,” Tobias added in a Feb. 18 statement.

 

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Bishops urging Trump to protect religious liberty

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WASHINGTON — Catholic Church leaders in a Feb. 16 statement said they were encouraged that President Donald Trump may be considering an executive order to protect religious freedom and said they would be grateful if he would move forward with the pledge that his administration would “do everything in its power to defend and protect religious liberty”

New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan has joined with other U.S. bishops in urging President Trump to affirm his pledge to protect religious liberty. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan has joined with other U.S. bishops in urging President Trump to affirm his pledge to protect religious liberty.
(CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

“As Christians, our goal is to live and serve others as the Gospel asks. President Trump can ensure that we are not forced from the public square,” said the statement from committee chairs of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The statement was jointly issued by: New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, chairman of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities; Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, chairman of the Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth; Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori, chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty; and Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development.

The church leaders said an executive order would “implement strong protections for religious freedom across the federal government in many of the areas where it has been eroded by the preceding administration, such as health coverage, adoption, accreditation, tax exemption, and government grants and contracts.”

“We ourselves, as well as those we shepherd and serve, would be most grateful if the president would take this positive step toward allowing all Americans to be able to practice their faith without severe penalties from the federal government,” they said.

A draft version of the executive order was leaked in late January called “Establishing a Government-Wide Initiative to Respect Religious Freedom.” When it failed to appear on the president’s desk, rumors were circulating that a scaled-back version might appear at his desk but there has been no word about it from the Trump administration.

The U.S. bishops posted an online letter for Catholics to send to the president urging him to sign the order after the draft version was leaked.

The Feb. 16 statement said the order would restore “the federal government’s proper relationship with the First Amendment and other laws protecting conscience and religious freedom will enable us to continue our service to the most vulnerable of Americans.”

The statement stressed that U.S. Catholic bishops have long supported religious liberty, adding that during the last several years “the federal government has eroded this fundamental right,” most notably with the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate for religious employers who do not fit the mandate’s narrow exemption including the Little Sisters of the Poor.

The USCCB leaders urged Trump to keep his promise and put an end to regulations and other mandates by the federal government “that force people of faith to make impossible choices. 

“We express our fervent hope that with new leadership in the executive branch, basic protections for religious practice may be restored and even strengthened,” they said.

The statement said an immediate remedy to the threats against religious freedom is needed and without it the church’s freedom to serve others “will remain in jeopardy and needless conflict between the faith community and the federal government will continue.”

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U.S. bishops call for solidarity with Middle East victims of violence, refugees

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WASHINGTON — Christians and all people in the Middle East need the solidarity of the U.S. Catholic Church, said the chairmen of three committees of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the head of the Catholic Relief Services board.

The damaged entrance of St. Mary's Church is seen in 2016 in Damascus, Syria. Christians and all people in the Middle East need the solidarity of the U.S. Catholic Church, said the chairmen of three committees of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the head of the Catholic Relief Services board. (CNS photo/Mohammed Badra, EPA)

The damaged entrance of St. Mary’s Church is seen in 2016 in Damascus, Syria. Christians and all people in the Middle East need the solidarity of the U.S. Catholic Church, said the chairmen of three committees of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the head of the Catholic Relief Services board. (CNS photo/Mohammed Badra, EPA)

“A concern for our Christian brethren is inclusive and does not exclude a concern for all the peoples of the region who suffer violence and persecution, both minorities and majorities, both Muslims and Christians,” said a Feb. 10 statement from four bishops.

“To focus attention on the plight of Christians and other minorities is not to ignore the suffering of others,” the statement said. “Rather, by focusing on the most vulnerable members of society, we strengthen the entire fabric of society to protect the rights of all.”

The group included Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty; Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, New Mexico, chairman of the Committee on International Justice and Peace; Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, chairman of the Committee on Migration; and Bishop Gregory J. Mansour of the Eparchy of St. Maron of Brooklyn, New York, chairman of the board of Catholic Relief Services.

The group pointed to the findings of a recent USCCB delegation to Iraq, which confirmed that Christians, Yezidis, Shiite Muslims and other minorities had experienced genocide at the hands of the Islamic State group.

“It is important for Syrians and Iraqis of all faiths to recognize this as genocide, for that recognition is a way to help everyone come to grips with what is happening and to form future generations that will reject any ideology that leads to genocidal acts and other atrocities,” the bishops said in their statement.

The bishops called on Americans to accept “our nation’s fair share” of vulnerable families, regardless of religion and ethnicity, for resettlement as refugees. They called for special consideration of the victims of genocide and other violence.

They urged the U.S. to encourage the Iraqi government and the regional government in Irbil, Iraq, to “strengthen the rule of law based on equal citizenship and ensure the protection of all.”

U.S. aid should assist local and national efforts to improve policing and the court system and encourage local self-governance, the bishops said. Similar efforts are needed in Syria as well, they said.

The U.S. also can provide “generous” humanitarian and development assistance to refugees, displaced people and Iraqi and Syrian communities as they rebuild, the statement said. Such funding can be directed in part to “trusted faith-based nongovernmental agencies” such as Catholic Relief Services and local Caritas agencies, the bishops said.

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Bishop welcomes federal court ruling against President Trump’s refugee ban

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WASHINGTON — The chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Migration welcomed a federal appeals court ruling that upheld a temporary restraining order against President Donald Trump’s travel ban on refugees from seven predominantly Muslim countries that also temporarily suspended the country’s refugee resettlement program.

Syrian refugee Baraa Haj Khalaf and her daughter, 1-year-old Shams, wave after arriving Feb. 7 at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago. (CNS photo/Kamil Krzaczynski, Reuters)

Syrian refugee Baraa Haj Khalaf and her daughter, 1-year-old Shams, wave after arriving Feb. 7 at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago. (CNS photo/Kamil Krzaczynski, Reuters)

“We respect the rule of law and the American judicial process. We remain steadfast in our commitment to resettling refugees and all those fleeing persecution,” Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, said in a statement Feb. 10.

“At this time we remain particularly dedicated to ensuring that affected refugee and immigrant families are not separated and that they continue to be welcomed in our country,” the statement said.

The bishop pledged that church agencies would continue to welcome people “as it is a vital part of our Catholic faith and an enduring element of our American values and traditions.”

In a decision issued late Feb. 9, a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously rejected the government’s argument to lift the freeze on the president’s order and maintained that the court had jurisdiction in the case as a check on executive power.

Trump had argued that his order was a matter of national security and that the courts had no claim to adjudicate the issue.

The panel ruled otherwise saying that such an argument “runs contrary to the fundamental structure of our constitutional democracy.”

Further, the judges said, “although courts owe considerable deference to the president’s policy determinations with respect to immigration and national security, it is beyond question that the federal judiciary retains the authority to adjudicate constitutional challenges to executive action.”

The administration is expected to file an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court.

Trump said in a posting on Twitter minutes after the ruling was released: “see you in court, the security of our nation is at stake!”

He later told reporters that the judges had made “a political decision.”

The case was filed by the state of Washington, which argued that Trump’s order was unconstitutional because it discriminated against Muslims and that state agencies were harmed because students and employees were barred from re-entering the country. The state of Minnesota subsequently joined the lawsuit.

U.S. District Court Judge James Robart of Seattle halted Trump’s travel ban Feb. 3 by granting a temporary restraining order.

Several lawsuits have been filed challenging Trump’s Jan. 27 executive order that suspended the entire U.S. refugee resettlement program for 120 days and banned entry of all citizens from seven majority-Muslim countries — Syria, Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Yemen and Somalia — for 90 days.

Another clause in the order established religious criteria for refugees, proposing to give priority to religious minorities over others who may have equally compelling refugee claims.

In its 29-page ruling, the appeals court said the administration’s lawyers had provided no evidence that refugees from the seven countries named in the ban posed a national security threat through terrorism.

The judges also wrote that the government had not shown Trump’s order provides any avenue for those restricted from traveling to the U.S. to appeal the decision or seek a hearing to present their reasons for entering the country. The decision said that earlier court cases had determined that the protections established under the due process clause in the Constitution’s Fifth Amendment “apply to all ‘persons’” within the U.S. including aliens whose presence is “lawful, unlawful, temporary or permanent” as well as to people attempting to reenter the U.S. after traveling.

The court also considered the public’s interest in the case and determined that the public “has an interest in the free flow of travel, in avoiding separation of families and in freedom from discrimination.”

 

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Slammed in 2005 by Katrina, tornado victims hold fast to faith

February 9th, 2017 Posted in Featured, National News Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

NEW ORLEANS — Vergie and Roger Davis of Resurrection of Our Lord Parish in New Orleans East, who recently celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary, have been through natural disasters of near biblical proportions before.

Vergie and Roger Davis, parishioners of Resurrection of Our Lord Parish in New Orleans East, assess the damage to their home, which was destroyed by a tornado Feb. 7. Their home is about five blocks from the church. The Davises have endured a house fire in 1982 and flooding from Hurricane Katrina in 2005 but say their faith is intact. (CNS photo/Peter Finney Jr., Clarion Herald)

Vergie and Roger Davis, parishioners of Resurrection of Our Lord Parish in New Orleans East, assess the damage to their home, which was destroyed by a tornado Feb. 7. Their home is about five blocks from the church. The Davises have endured a house fire in 1982 and flooding from Hurricane Katrina in 2005 but say their faith is intact. (CNS photo/Peter Finney Jr., Clarion Herald)

In 1982, an electrical fire broke out inside their three-bedroom home five blocks from the church, sending smoke billowing through the interior. The cleanup took 18 months.

In 2005, when Hurricane Katrina breached poorly constructed federal levees, their house, for which they had just made their last mortgage payment, took on 4 and a half feet of water. They got back into their house in 2007.

And, then Feb. 7, a massive tornado swept through the neighborhood while Vergie took cover inside an interior closet.

“I’ve known this for the longest,where’s the best place for me to go,” she told the Clarion Herald, newspaper of the Archdiocese of New Orleans. “I knew the inside closet, farthest away from the interior walls. I saw lightning, and I knew it was time to jump in. I knew I had to hold on tight — you could feel it shake.”

After about a minute, when the noise stopped, she was able to pry the door open despite the debris pile at the bottom of the door.

She looked up and saw the sky. Their house had been destroyed.

The Davises were among 250 families in New Orleans East whose houses were either heavily damaged or destroyed by the powerful tornado, relatively rare in southeast Louisiana. Despite the wide swath of damage, officials reported no fatalities and only about a dozen injuries.

As the Davises assessed the damage Feb. 8 with their pastor, Father Geoffrey Omondi Muga, of the Franciscan Missionaries of Hope, they reflected on the trials they have endured over the last 35 years.

“Well, I’m a little numb,” said Roger, 74, grand knight of Resurrection’s Knights of Columbus Council 4547. “The only consolation I have is that we’ve been through this before, maybe not in the same way. (After Katrina) we had a house we could still rebuild and still had the structure, but this is a little bit different. I’m just glad everybody’s OK. There were no fatalities. That’s the biggest thing.”

Father Muga, pastor for 14 months, walked through the neighborhood to assess the devastation. He stopped at the heavily damaged brick home of parishioner Carol Adams, who told him the doorbell had rung mysteriously before the tornado hit.

“I went to the door and nobody was there,” she said. “My husband went to the front and I went to the back. All of a sudden I heard a ‘shhhhh.’ I told my husband, ‘What is that?’ We closed the door and came and laid down in the hall. Thank God.”

Asked how she could put this into perspective after sustaining 5 feet of flooding during Katrina, Adams said: “By the will of God. Start all over. Life goes on.”

“As I walk around, I think they are pretty shaken, but they are kind of absorbing it,” Father Muga said. “I didn’t see them in a frenzy. The police and firemen were here. Since they have gone through Katrina, I think they are not so much overwhelmed. But it’s a lot of damage.”

Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New Orleans was among several agencies partnering with the Red Cross and city officials to establish an overnight shelter at a facility in a nearby park and offer case management and counseling services.

Second Harvest Food Bank of Greater New Orleans and Acadiana, operated by the archdiocese, dropped off 700 prepared meals and set up distribution of water and snacks at the park. It was considering setting up a distribution site closer to the damage zone.

“We’re still trying to get a handle on it,” said Jay Vise, director of communications for Second Harvest. “Every time I see more footage of it, it just seems bigger and bigger. Meteorologists tell us they’ve never seen this type of tornado. This is a Midwest, giant wedge tornado. You don’t see that down here.

“By the grace of God, no one was killed,” he added. “When you see the destruction from the air that’s 2 miles wide, it looks like somebody came through with a giant pencil eraser and wiped it out.”

As the Davises walked over felled beams, ribbons of pink insulation and shattered glass in their living room, they said they were not sure what they would do next. They do have insurance, but they may not want to rebuild a third time.

The couple said they’ll have to make a decision about coming back and rebuilding, the house will have to be torn down, or finding a house or condo in another part of the city.

The Davises said they will continue to hold fast to their faith. Vergie is continuing to recover from an aneurysm last summer, and their daughter had a recent battle with cancer.

Vergie wore a light blue shirt with a patch honoring Mother Henriette Delille, foundress of the Sisters of the Holy Family, a congregation of African-American sisters founded in pre-Civil War New Orleans who educated slaves and cared for the elderly at a time when teaching slaves was against the law. Roger wore his Knights of Columbus cap and shirt.

Vergie got her name because she was born March 24, the eve of the feast of the Annunciation of the Mary.

“Ask God to guide me as to which way to go,” Vergie said.

Before leaving their home, Father Muga joined hands with the Davises and offered a prayer.

“Almighty Father, we thank you for life,” he said. “We thank you for the gifts that you’ve given us to be your sons and daughter. … We lift Vergie and Roger up to you today and thank you for their lives, for sparing them.

“We pray that this tornado, this event, may bring us together as a family, as a community and may also bring us closer to you.”

 

Finney is executive editor/general manager of the Clarion Herald, newspaper of the Archdiocese of New Orleans.

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Verbal attacks on Hispanics in church followed by support from Portland community

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Catholic News Service

PORTLAND, Ore. — Father Raul Marquez had never seen anything like it. Eight men walked to the front door of St. Peter Church in Southeast Portland Jan. 29 and began bellowing during the Spanish Mass.

Father Raul Marquez of St. Peter Parish in Portland, Oregon, thanks people who came to stand vigil outside his church Feb. 5. The crowd formed a human shield a week after a group of eight men stood outside the front door of the church during a Spanish Mass and yelled insults about Catholicism, immigrants and the morals of the parish women. (CNS photo/Francisco Lara, Catholic Sentinel)

Father Raul Marquez of St. Peter Parish in Portland, Oregon, thanks people who came to stand vigil outside his church Feb. 5. The crowd formed a human shield a week after a group of eight men stood outside the front door of the church during a Spanish Mass and yelled insults about Catholicism, immigrants and the morals of the parish women. (CNS photo/Francisco Lara, Catholic Sentinel)

Dressed like hunters, they accused worshippers of not being true Christians, questioned the sexual morals of the women and harangued the congregation for being made up of immigrants.

The group, which calls itself “Street Preachers,” has been setting up counter-protests at events criticizing President Donald Trump, including a late January demonstration at Portland International Airport.

The St. Peter community, already living in fear because of federal immigration policy proposals, was shocked.

“All that Sunday I felt upset and didn’t understand,” said Father Marquez, a Colombian native who has been pastor of St. Peter for five years. “How I was going to be happy while I heard and remembered the verbal insult? I was looking for an answer.”

The Gospel reading of the day said, in part, “Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you.”

The following Sunday, Feb. 5, an answer to the priest’s question came and the fear was soothed as more than 300 people formed a human shield in front of St. Peter Church during Masses. News of the previous week’s attack had gone out on social media, drawing the crowd that stood in silence, holding signs.

“I didn’t expect this outpouring of love for us,” said Alberto Gonzalez, a native of Oaxaca, Mexico, who has been a member of St. Peter for 18 months. “This time is very difficult for us and here we are surrounded by love of all of the American people, who came to show they are here, we are one, we are one community.”

With tears in his eyes, Gonzalez said he has not felt supported until now. At first, he thought the large group of white people had come to hurl more invective, but then he saw they had come to protect their brothers and sisters.

“This is solidarity,” Gonzalez told the Catholic Sentinel, newspaper of the Portland Archdiocese. “This is love.”

Parishioners got a lesson in nonviolent response to harassment. A table of coffee and sweets was put up near the front door of the church for protectors who came out despite chilly rain.

Joining Father Marquez in a sign of support were Father Ron Millican from nearby Our Lady of Sorrows Church and the Rev. Elizabeth Larson from St. Mark Lutheran Church.

“I wanted to come here and hug each person,” Rev. Larson said.

Father Millican invited his parishioners to come and show support. “We need to be together,” he said. “It is very sad that it takes something like this to make us come together. But it is beautiful, the outpouring of support for the dignity of everyone.”

Nona Carrasco was one of those outside who got completely wet. “This is my community,” Carrasco said. “I don’t stand for bigotry. I will stand for my community and this is what we do.”

Father Marquez received hundreds of messages of support. The first was a letter from Portland Archbishop Alexander K. Sample, who told the people of St. Peter Parish he stands with them.

“I was saddened beyond words to learn of the terrible experience that many of you encountered as you came to church last weekend,” the archbishop said in his letter. “It is so tragic that you were coming to celebrate God’s love and mercy and yet you experienced cruelty and hatred at the hands of severely misguided protestors.

“I am especially upset to learn of the verbal abuse heaped upon members of our Hispanic community” and also what was “directed against women in your community,” he said, calling it “vile behavior.” Archbishop Sample also noted that the same group was targeting other churches as well.

“Please be assured that I, as your archbishop and shepherd, stand firmly with you in the face of such ignorant and hateful words,” the archbishop told parishioners. “You are our brothers and sisters, and as members of the same family of faith, we must hold fast to our unity in Christ. … Be assured of my love.”

After the Feb. 5 Mass, Father Marquez walked out to thank supporters. He could barely move as people hugged him and asked for his blessing.

“This is the time to live the Gospel radically by praying for those men and their few sympathizers and to intentionally forgive them,” the priest said.

By Rocio Rios, editor of El Centinela, the monthly Spanish-language newspaper of the Portland achdiocese.

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New gender policy won’t affect Catholic Scouting groups, says committee

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IRVING, Texas — The Boy Scouts of America’s new policy to accept members based on their gender identity will have no impact on Scouting units sponsored by the Catholic Church, said the National Catholic Committee on Scouting. Read more »

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