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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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Dolan: Honesty about church’s flaws might win back fallen-away members

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Catholic News Service

NEW ORLEANS — New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan suggested to more than 400 priests of the state of Louisiana that humbly and openly sharing the “wounds” and shortcomings of the church might bring those who are alienated back to the practice of the faith.

New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan and New Orleans Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond share a light moment Sept. 19 before Cardinal Dolan delivered the opening address at the Louisiana Priests’ Convention in New Orleans. More than 430 priests attended the three-day conference, the largest attendance in the conference’s history. (CNS photo/Peter Finney Jr., Clarion Herald)

Using the image of the church as “our supernatural family, which we, as priests, are called to image,” Cardinal Dolan told the opening session of the three-day Louisiana Priests’ Convention that human weakness has been a part of the church from the beginning.

“The church is not just our family, it’s also a dysfunctional family,” he said Sept. 19 during what is one of the largest statewide gatherings of priests in the U.S. “Everybody today talks about dysfunctional families. Have you ever met a functional one?”

Cardinal Dolan, who spoke on the theme of “Shepherding Today as Priest, Prophet and King,” said in the jubilee year of 2000, St. John Paul II “apologized publicly” 54 times for “the specific sins of the church.”

“That’s more than once a week,” Cardinal Dolan said. “And Pope Francis surely has done so.”

The cardinal said while the world is “ever ready to headline the flaws of the church,” the dynamic changes when “her loyal members are more than willing to own up to them.”

If that happens, people estranged from the church “might just take a second look,” he said.

“Their favorite caricature of the church is as a corrupt, arrogant, self-righteous, judgmental hypocrite,” Cardinal Dolan said. “I sure don’t have any problem admitting that, at times, it can be tough to love the church because of her imperfections. The mystical body of Christ has lots of warts.”

However, Cardinal Dolan noted, it is clear from the Acts of the Apostles, in particular the conversion of St. Paul, that “Jesus Christ and his church are inseparable.”

When Saul was blinded and knocked off his horse on his way to Damascus, Cardinal Dolan said, the voice he heard was, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

“He didn’t say, ‘Why do you persecute my people?’ Nope. ‘My followers?’ Nope. ‘My disciples?’ Nope. To be rather blunt, Jesus and his church are the same. Christ and his church are one. Jesus Christ and his church are synonymous,” the cardinal continued.

“My brother priests, as we consider the priesthood, preserving the unity of Christ and his church is perhaps the most significant pastoral challenge we shepherds face today,” Cardinal Dolan said. “I’m not telling you anything (new) – you’re all on the front lines. The dominant opinion and sentiment that we face today is, ‘We want Christ; we want nothing to do with that stupid church.’”

A YouTube video by evangelical Jefferson Bethke, “Why I hate religion but love Jesus,” “went viral with 27 million views” because of that sentiment, he said.

“Such is the popular and the successful crusade now to annul the spousal bond between Christ and his bride, the church,” Cardinal Dolan said. “We hear this all the time, right? ‘I prefer spirituality to religion; I want the Lord as my shepherd, as long as I’m the only one there; I want Christ as my king in a kingdom of one; I’ll believe, I won’t belong; God is my father, and I’m the only child; Jesus is my general, but there’s no army.’ They want Christ without his church.”

Cardinal Dolan said Pope Francis has made it clear that a Christian cannot be “a nomad” but is someone who “belongs to a people, the church. A Christian without a church is something purely idealistic.”

“We live in a world that often considers belief in God a private hobby, at best, a dangerous ideology, at worst,” Cardinal Dolan said. “The church is considered superstitious, irrational, backwards, useless, counterproductive, out of it. So, what do we do, my fellow museum pieces?”

Cardinal Dolan suggested to the 435 priests that they evangelize by developing “a theology and a practice of the church as a family.” He said it’s not a new idea; it’s one that also resonate with the Jewish community, which is experiencing similar challenges of keeping young people within the practice of their faith.

Cardinal Dolan said the late New York newspaper columnist Jimmy Breslin once wrote: “We Catholics might not be very good at being members of the church, but we never leave. We’re all just one chest pain away from going back.”

“Not anymore, I’m afraid,” Cardinal Dolan said. “I don’t know about you, but every time the Pew Research Center puts out a new study, every time CARA (Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate) announces more statistics, I, as a priest, a shepherd, a prophet and a king, hold my breath because the percentage of people who claim to be ex-Catholic or ‘none’ rises a couple of points.”

If people with a cynical or jaded view of the church experience priests who “prize honesty and humility” and are “contrite and eager” to reform the flaws of the church, then they may begin to view the church as “a warm, tender, inviting family.”

“If we’re not afraid as priests to show our wounds — the wounds of the church, the wounds of our family — maybe the other wounded will come back,” Cardinal Dolan said.

     

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

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Blessed Stanley Rother: Oklahoma priest and martyr beatified

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OKLAHOMA CITY — If the martyrdom of Blessed Stanley Francis Rother “fills us with sadness,” it also “gives us the joy of admiring the kindness, generosity and courage of a great man of faith,” Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for Saints’ Causes, said Sept. 23 in Oklahoma City.

Clergymen concelebrate Mass during the beatification Mass for Father Stanley Rother Sept. 23 at Oklahoma City’s Cox Convention Center. Blessed Rother, a priest of the Oklahoma City Archdiocese, was murdered in 1981 in the Guatemalan village where he ministered. (CNS photo/Dave Crenshaw, Eastern Oklahoma Catholic)

The 13 years Blessed Rother spent as a missionary in Guatemala “will always be remembered as the glorious epic of a martyr of Christ, an authentic lighted torch of hope for the church and the world,” the cardinal said in his homily during the U.S. priest’s beatification Mass.

“Formed in the school of the Gospel, he saw even his enemies as fellow human beings. He did not hate, but loved. He did not destroy, but built up,” Cardinal Amato said. 

“This is the invitation that Blessed Stanley Francis Rother extends to us today. To be like him as witnesses and missionaries of the Gospel. Society needs these sowers of goodness,” he said. “Thank you, Father Rother! Bless us from heaven!”

The cardinal was the main celebrant of the beatification Mass, joined by Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City and his predecessor, retired Archbishop Eusebius J. Beltran, who formally opened the Rother sainthood cause 10 years ago.

An overflow crowd of 20,000 packed the Cox Convention Center in Oklahoma City for the beatification of Father Rother, murdered in 1981 as he served the faithful at a mission in Guatemala sponsored by the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City. The evening before a prayer service was held at St. Benedict Parish in Broken Arrow.

In Rome, Pope Francis said Sept. 24: “May his heroic example help us be courageous witnesses of the Gospel, dedicating ourselves in supporting human dignity.” After praying the Angelus with visitors gathered in St. Peter’s Square, the pope recalled the “missionary priest, killed out of hatred for the faith, for his work in evangelization and the human advancement of the poorest in Guatemala.”

In Oklahoma City, before the Mass began, the congregation was shown a documentary made about his life and ministry titled “The Shepherd Cannot Run: Father Rother’s Story.” Then Cardinal Amato, Archbishop Coakley, Archbishop Beltran and about 50 other U.S. bishops, over 200 priests and about 200 deacons processed in for the start of the beatification ceremony.

Archbishop Coakley welcomed Catholics “from near and far” who traveled to Oklahoma “to celebrate the life and witness of Father Rother.” He acknowledged the ecumenical, interfaith and civic leaders in attendance and those joining the celebration by watching live coverage of it on the internet, TV and radio.

Before  Cardinal Amato read the apostolic letter declaring Father Rother “Blessed,” Archbishop Beltran gave some remarks, saying that little did Father Rother know that his growing-up years on his family’s farm near Okarche “would mold him into the kind of man who would make great strides when he volunteered to go to Guatemala.”

“He struggled in seminary,” the archbishop remarked, referring to the difficulty the priest had with learning Latin. He was nearly expelled because he had such a hard time, but he went on to be ordained for the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City in 1963. Once in Guatemala to serve in Santiago Atitlan, he learned Tz’utujil, the language of the many Mayan descendants who were his parishioners. He helped translate the Bible into Tz’utujil.

He worked side by side with the people “teaching them many of the agricultural practices he learned in Okarche,” Archbishop Beltran said.

The mission was about 10 years old when Father Rother arrived in 1968 and had a staff of 10, but the number of missionaries dwindled as Guatemala’s civil war, which began in 1960 and lasted until 1996, intensified. Eventually, Father Rother’s name appeared on a death list and he returned home.

“His ways were very quiet and unassuming but eventually he began to receive death threats,” the archbishop continued. “He made infrequent visits (back to Oklahoma). On his last visit (in 1981) he felt the need to return to his people no matter what the consequences.”

Friends recalled him saying, “The shepherd cannot run. I want to be with my people.” Within three days of his return, three men entered his rectory in the dead of night and murdered him.

“His saintly life has become well known beyond boundaries of Oklahoma and Guatemala and the faith of those familiar with his life has been greatly strengthened. How grateful we are to almighty God this day for the beatification of Father Rother,” Archbishop Beltran said.

Cardinal Amato followed the archbishop by reading the formal letter about the priest’s beatification. When he concluded, a huge colorful banner was unfurled above the altar with a likeness of Blessed Rother and an image of his Guatemalan mission and the Oklahoma City archdiocesan coat of arms at the bottom.

His feast day will be celebrated July 28, the day when he was fatally shot in the head by masked men.

Relics of Blessed Rother, including a piece from one of his rib bones, were brought to the altar in a golden reliquary and set on a small table to the left of the main altar. Cardinal Amato venerated the relics and censed the reliquary.

Rother family members then came up to the altar to greet the cardinal: his sister, Sister Marita Rother, a member of the Adorers of the Blood of Christ, who lives at her community’s motherhouse in Wichita, Kan.; and his brother Tom and his wife, Marti, who live on the farm where the martyred priest and his siblings grew up, located three miles from the center of Okarche.

In his remarks, Archbishop Coakley said that on behalf of the local church in Oklahoma “and in communion with my brother bishops in the United States and Guatemala,” he felt “profound gratitude” for the opportunity to help celebrate the beatification of a native son.

“We are grateful for your (Pope Francis) recognition of the heroic witness of this good shepherd (who) remained with his people,” the archbishop said. “He gave his life in solidarity with so many suffering individuals and family who endured persecution for the sake of the Gospel. We pray the church will experience a new Pentecost and an abundance of vocations to the priesthood inspired by the witness and aided by the intercession of Blessed Stanley Rother.”

He thanked Archbishop Beltran for formally opening the Rother cause, as well as the postulator, Andrea Ambrosi of Rome, who attended the Mass, and the many men and women who worked diligently over many years to advance the cause and “make known the holiness and heroism of this ordinary priest.”

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Jesuit in Puerto Rico calls hurricane damage ‘apocalyptic’

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Catholic News Service

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

Follow Guidos on Twitter: @CNS_Rhina.

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‘They killed a man but created a saint,’ prelate says of slain priest

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Catholic News Service

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Retired Archbishop Harry J. Flynn was rector of Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md., when he got a call in 1979 from an old friend from the seminary, asking if he could visit for a week.

Father Stanley Rother, a priest of the Oklahoma City Archdiocese who was brutally murdered in 1981 in the Guatemalan village where he ministered to the poor, is pictured in an undated photo. The Archdiocese of Oklahoma City announced the North American priest will be beatified Sept. 23 in Oklahoma. (CNS photo/Archdiocese of Oklahoma City archives)

That friend was Father Stanley Rother, a priest of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City and a missionary in a rural part of Guatemala.

He picked up Father Rother from Dulles International Airport near Washington and was appalled by the horrific situation the priest described in Guatemala. Members of his congregation had disappeared and were presumed dead, victims of a civil war between the government and guerrilla groups.

“If they asked for a few more cents for picking coffee beans, they were considered communists, and a truck would come into the village that night, stop at the home of the man or woman who asked for a few more cents, take them out to the country, torture them, kill them, and then throw their bodies into a well to poison that well,” said Archbishop Flynn, who headed the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis from 1995 to 2008.

Father Rother described the situation “with a passion,” Archbishop Flynn recalled. “It was haunting him. He said, ‘If I speak, they’ll kill me, but if keep silent, what kind of a shepherd would I be?’”

The friends shared meals together that week, but Father Rother spent his days praying at the seminary’s historic Lourdes grotto, a place he had loved while he and Archbishop Flynn were seminarians at “the Mount.” At the end of the week, he told then-Father Flynn, “I know what I must do. I must go back and speak.”

“But,” Archbishop Flynn recalled, “he also said this: ‘They’re not going to take me out and kill me somewhere in the country and then throw my body into a well.’ He said, ‘I’ll put up a fight like they’ve never seen before.’”

Archbishop Flynn took Father Rother to the airport and said goodbye. He knew it would be the last time he would see him alive. Two years later, in 1981, Archbishop Flynn opened a newspaper to read that an American priest had been killed in Guatemala. He didn’t have to read further to know it was Father Rother.

Archbishop Flynn was to be among others who knew the priest gathering in Oklahoma City’s Cox Convention Center Sept. 23 for Father Rother’s beatification. In December 2016, Pope Francis officially recognized Father Rother as a martyr, making him the first U.S.-born martyr recognized by the Catholic Church. Also attending will be members of the Rother family, including distant cousins from Minnesota.

Father Rother grew up on a farm near Okarche, Ok. He was a farm boy with a knack for fixing things. After high school, he left home for seminary in Texas, but he was asked to leave after struggling with Latin. Undeterred, he transferred to the Emmitsburg seminary, where he met Archbishop Flynn, who was three classes ahead of him. Archbishop Flynn noted his friend’s deep prayer life.

“We could be downstairs in recreation, laughing and carrying on, and then the bell would ring to go up to chapel for night prayer and Stanley seemed to me to go right into prayer, which I found enviable,” Archbishop Flynn recalled in a recent interview with The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Minnesota archdiocese.

The two were in the seminary around the time that Pope John XXIII encouraged U.S. bishops to form partnerships between their dioceses and those in Latin America. The then-Diocese of Oklahoma City-Tulsa paired with the Diocese of Solola, Guatemala. In 1968, Father Rother was asked to minister there in Santiago Atitlan, a mission established by Franciscans. The Mayan people there had been without a priest for nearly a century.

People who knew Father Rother weren’t surprised that he returned again and again to Guatemala after the violence began, even with many opportunities to stay in the U.S. The Christmas before he died, he famously wrote to his archbishop, “A shepherd cannot run at the first sign of danger.”

On July 28, 1981, three men burst into the parish rectory, demanding Father Rother. He was hiding, but when the men threatened the life of one of his protectors, he emerged. He was ultimately gunned down in his rectory, his knuckles raw from the fight, his spattered blood staining the wall. The Guatemalans left the stains, and to this day, visitors, many of them pilgrims, can see the aftermath of what the gunmen did to their priest. The fatal bullet remains lodged in the wall.

In 1999, Archbishop Flynn traveled to Father Rother’s church in Santiago Atitlan, visited the room where he was shot to death and celebrated Mass in the parish church. Father Rother’s body returned to Oklahoma, but the missionary’s heart was left behind with the Guatemalans, who have since enshrined it as a relic.

Archbishop Flynn also prays for his friend’s intercession, keeping his photograph on his altar for Mass. He feels that he had a graced opportunity to be with Father Rother that summer while he was discerning his impending death.

“I’ll always remember sitting in the room where he was martyred, and sitting there and looking at his blood all over the wall, splattered, and experiencing anger in my heart with the people who did that to him — this gentle, gentle shepherd,” he said, “and then realizing what he would have said — something that Christ said, ‘They don’t even know what they’re doing,’ and they probably didn’t. … They killed a man, but they created a saint.”

     

Wiering is editor of The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

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Catholics in Puerto Rico deal with Hurricane Maria’s wrath

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Catholic News Service

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

Follow Guidos on Twitter: CNS_Rhina.

       

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Bishops: ACA repeal bill puts ‘insufferable burden’ on the poor

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — The latest version of a Republican measure in the Senate to repeal the Affordable Care Act must be amended to protect poor and vulnerable Americans, said the chairmen of four U.S. bishops’ committees.

The U.S. flag flies in front of the Capitol dome Sept. 12 in Washington. The latest version of a Republican measure in the Senate to repeal the Affordable Care Act must be amended to protect poor and vulnerable Americans, said the chairmen of four U.S. bishops’ committees.(CNS/Joshua Roberts, Reuters)

“As you consider the Graham-Cassidy legislation as a possible replacement for the Affordable Care Act, we urge you to think of the harm that will be caused to poor and vulnerable people and amend the legislation while retaining its positive features,” the bishops said in a letter to all senators released Sept. 22.

Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana have co-sponsored the legislation.

“Without significant improvement, this bill does not meet the moral criteria for health care reform outlined in our previous letters and must be changed,” they said. That criteria includes respect for life and dignity; honoring conscience rights; access for all; and a high-quality plan that is affordable and comprehensive.

The bishops criticized the measure’s Medicaid “per capita cap” because it puts an “insufferable burden” on poor and vulnerable Americans. They did praise the bill for correcting “a serious flaw” in the ACA by ensuring “no federal funds are used for abortion or go to plans that cover it.” They called on senators to amend the bill to address it flaws but retain the pro-life provisions.

The Graham-Cassidy bill would repeal the ACA and replace it with block grants for the states to spend as they see fit. The block grants’ size, though, would shrink over time and disappear altogether in 2027. The Senate is working under a Sept. 30 deadline to pass the bill.

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

“The Graham-Cassidy bill includes a Medicaid ‘per capita cap’ that was part of previous bills, which have been rejected,” the bishops wrote. “The Medicaid caps will fundamentally restructure this vital program, which supports the medical needs of those most in need. Over time, these modifications will result in deep funding cuts and lost coverage for millions of people.

“The Senate should only proceed with a full report concerning just how many people will be impacted,” they said. “Our nation must not attempt to address its fiscal concerns by placing an insufferable health care burden on the backs of the poor.”

The bishops said the proposal does “correct a serious flaw” flaw in the ACA by making sure “no federal funds are used for abortion or go to plans that cover it.”

“This improvement is praiseworthy, and it is essential that any improved final bill retain these key provisions which would finally address grave moral problems in our current health care system,” they said. “We also applaud that Graham-Cassidy redirects funds from organizations that provide abortion.”

But they took the bill to task for giving block grants to states “in place of premium tax credits, cost-sharing subsidies and the Medicaid expansion,” saying that arrangement will only harm the poor.

“While flexibility can be good at times, these block grants will result in billions of dollars in reductions for those in health care poverty,” they said. “States already face significant deficits each budget cycle, and these block grants mean dollars intended for low income individuals and families will suddenly face competition from many other state priorities.”

The country “can ill afford to put access to health care for those most in need in jeopardy this way” because, the bishops continued, “the costs to our communities, including public and private organizations at all levels, will be too high.”

“Decisions about the health of our citizens, a concern fundamental to each of us, should not be made in haste simply because an artificial deadline looms,” they said.

“The far-reaching implications of Congress’ actions are too significant for that kind of governance,” the committee chairmen said.

They told senators that “the common good should call you to come together in a bi-partisan way to pass thoughtful legislation that addresses the life, conscience, immigrant access, market stability and affordability problems that now exist.”

“Your constituents, especially those with no voice of their own in this process, deserve no less,” they concluded.

Earlier this year, as Senate Republicans drafted and debated an ACA repeal measure, the U.S. bishops in letters and statements repeatedly urged Congress to craft a bill meeting the moral criteria of respect for life and dignity; honoring conscience rights; access for all; and a high-quality plan that is affordable and comprehensive.

When the Senate failed to get enough votes to pass what was being called a “skinny” repeal to remove parts of the Affordable Care Act in the early hours of July 28, Bishop Dewane in a statement said the “task of reforming the health care system still remains.”

The nation’s health care system under the ACA “is not financially sustainable” and “lacks full Hyde protections and conscience rights,” he said at the time. He also noted the health care system “is inaccessible to many immigrants,” he said in a statement.

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

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St. Louis archbishop calls for peace after verdict, asks community to unite

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Catholic News Service

ST. LOUIS — Archbishop Robert J. Carlson of St. Louis called for peace following a not guilty verdict in the trial of former St. Louis Police Officer Jason Stockley.

A woman says a prayer next to a police officer in riot gear during Sept. 17 protests after a not-guilty verdict in the murder trial of former St. Louis police officer Jason Stockley, charged with the 2011 fatal shooting of Anthony Lamar Smith, who was black. Stockley is white. (CNS photo/Lawrence Bryant, Reuters)

Stockley, who is white, was charged with first-degree murder in the shooting death in 2011 of Anthony Lamar Smith, an African-American. St. Louis Circuit Judge Timothy Wilson issued the ruling after Stockley waived his right to a jury trial.

“If we want peace and justice, we must come together as a community through prayer, mutual understanding, and forgiveness,” Archbishop Carlson stated. “While acknowledging the hurt and anger, we must not fuel the fires of hatred and division. We must ask God for peace in our own hearts and share it with those around us.”

Protesters began gathering in downtown St. Louis soon after the ruling was made public on the morning of Sept. 15. Media reports had warned of threatened disruptions if Stockley was found not guilty.

Protests turned violent, and more than 120 people were arrested Sept. 17 as protesters attacked police and broke windows, according to CNN, which also reported that a peaceful protest took place Sept. 18, not too far from the site of the previous night’s violence.

“Violence does not lead to peace and justice; they are opposing forces and cannot coexist,” the archbishop said in his statement. “I implore each of you to choose peace. Reject the false and empty hope that violence will solve problems. Violence only creates more violence. We must work together for a better, stronger, safer community, one founded upon respect for each other, and one in which we see our neighbor as another self.”

Archbishop Carlson was to join other faith leaders from St. Louis for an afternoon interfaith prayer service for peace and solidarity Sept. 19 in downtown St. Louis.

Two Catholic churches in St. Louis, St. Margaret of Scotland and St. Nicholas, opened for prayer and conversation after the verdict was announced. An invitation was extended to a regular peace and justice vigil held every Sunday at 7 p.m. on the stairs of St. Francis Xavier (College) Church.

At St. Nicholas Church, about half a dozen people came for the regular 12:15 p.m. Mass. Father Art Cavitt, who is the pastor and also director of the St. Charles Lwanga Center in St. Louis, said he kept the church, located just north of downtown, open throughout the day Sept. 15 for anyone in need of a place to pray or seek pastoral care.

The tensions that arose from Ferguson and what’s happening now, Father Cavitt said, “say something about us, and our country and humanity and our needs. There’s this festering that has been happening in our communities and in ourselves. It’s more reflective of that, than a specific case that pushes a button.”

Reflecting on the Sept. 15 feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, Father Cavitt said that there are people who, like the Blessed Mother, have been heartbroken time and time again, but yet keep saying “yes” through the lens of faith.

“It is that witness of faith, that witness of the Gospel that will carry us through this day in St. Louis and whatever happens the next day as well,” he told the St. Louis Review, the archdiocesan newspaper.

Assumption Parish in O’Fallon offered prayers for peace and healing at a free evening concert performance by Christian singer-songwriter PJ Anderson Sept. 15.

It was “a chance to join together as God’s beloved coming to pray for our metro area and all cities (and) to resist situations that can pull us apart,” said Amanda Suchara, media coordinator for the parish.

Four Catholic high schools in St. Louis closed in anticipation of the verdict.

By mid-afternoon Sept. 15, several hundred people were assembled at a downtown intersection near City Hall. Students and staff from St. Louis University were present at different points during the day.

Father Christopher Collins, the university’s assistant to the president for mission and identity, started the day at St. Louis University’s School of Law, just a couple of blocks from the protest site. He and several other clergy members went to the street to pray for about half an hour.

As a Jesuit, “you want to follow in a pastoral way, to be where people are hurting and to be present,” he said. “We called on God’s love for all of us.”

A group of several dozen St. Louis University students connected on GroupMe and went downtown after their morning classes.

“I came because it’s the right thing to do. I want to stand with my community and protest what’s going on here. It’s not right,” said junior Michael Winters, who is studying economics.

“The sense of complacency that people have, in that these sorts of things happen and some people come down to protest, but then we just sort of let it slide. I think I’m guilty of this as well, at times,” said junior Charlie Revord, who is studying sociology and economics.

“Today is just a reminder that we have to keep up the pressure to try and make change,” he added. “It’s only going to come through coming together, having dialogue and really standing in solidarity with the people who are suffering.”

— Also by Joseph Kenny

Brinker and Kenny are staff writers at the St. Louis Review and Catholic St. Louis, publications of the Archdiocese of St. Louis.

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