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Lent provides opportunity for Catholics to focus attention on homeless

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON —Almsgiving is a Lenten tradition and Washington resident Ron Van Bellen says his volunteer work feeding the homeless honors his Catholic faith as he prepares for Easter.

The real estate agent and parishioner at Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Georgetown was one of several volunteers dishing up dinner for homeless men and women lined up March 8 for the weekly St. Maria’s meals program sponsored by Catholic Charities each Wednesday evening.

Van Bellen took time to greet each man and woman who went through the food line before they made their way along the downtown Washington sidewalk to eat their dinner.

“Every time I volunteer I reflect on how my day went and how it related to my relationship with God,” he told Catholic News Service. “It does relate to Lent. We have to sacrifice and serve our brothers and sisters.”

Able Putu, a homeless man in a wheelchair, eats a meal on a Washington street March 8 prepared by volunteers of the St. Maria's meals program run by Catholic Charities. (CNS photo/Chaz Muth)

Able Putu, a homeless man in a wheelchair, eats a meal on a Washington street March 8 prepared by volunteers of the St. Maria’s meals program run by Catholic Charities. (CNS photo/Chaz Muth)

Van Bellen’s example of helping the homeless during Lent is a Catholic value that Washington’s Catholic Charities president and CEO, Msgr. John Enzler, would like to see spread across the U.S.

It’s clear in the Scriptures that fasting and penance goes beyond not eating meat on Fridays and giving something up during Lent, Msgr. Enzler told CNS. “It’s about making someone else’s life better with your service and your commitment.”

The homeless are among the world’s most vulnerable people and providing service to them during Lent is an ideal way for Catholics to live out their faith in a way that will make a real difference, he said.

Concerted efforts by religious and governmental organizations to address the U.S. homeless situation appear to be making a difference.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development reported a 3 percent drop in the national homeless rate from 2015 to 2016 and a 12 percent drop in the last five years.

HUD reported the 2016 national homeless population to be nearly 550,000.

However, the homeless rate rose from 2015 to 2016 in the District of Columbia and a few states, including Alabama, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Oklahoma and Washington.

With more than a half million people still considered homeless, it’s an issue that all U.S. cities confront and there are varying solutions being employed to raise money necessary to address it in a consequential way, Msgr. Enzler said.

In its effort to fund anti-homelessness programs, Los Angeles County placed a proposal called Measure H on its ballot during its March 7 election.

If passed, Measure H would raise the sales tax a quarter cent. Ballots were still being counted as of March 16 to determine the outcome of the measure.

“There doesn’t seem to be a secret sauce, if you will, about how to completely eradicate homelessness,” Msgr. Enzler said. “But, it seems to me that we just don’t have enough case workers and social workers.”

He believes more people need to serve as navigators, mentors or coaches for individual homeless men and women.

“We don’t have enough people who can really step in and say, ‘I’m going to help this one individual,’” Msgr. Enzler said, “and say ‘it’s my job to help just that one person get a job and get a place to stay and stay with them. Mentor them through that process.’”

He has been encouraging volunteers in his Catholic Charities’ programs to make the homeless their focal point during Lent.

Pope Francis has long urged governments and Christians to recognize the dignity of the homeless and help ease their suffering.

Homelessness became more complicated in the nation’s capital this Lenten season, since the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library shut down March 4 for a three-year, multimillion-dollar renovation.

Many D.C. homeless men and women used that library branch as a day resource center, a place to get out of the elements during the daytime hours, to use the computer lab to look for work and to use the public restrooms, Msgr. Enzler said.

That closure inspired him to explore a partnership between the District of Columbia and other charitable groups to fund an official day resource center for the homeless, complete with a meal program, laundry and shower facilities, as well as job counselors, case managers and social workers.

It’s an idea that is still percolating with no commitments yet realized, Msgr. Enzler said.

It’s also an idea that Able Putu, a 37-year-old homeless Washingtonian who uses a wheelchair, would like to see come to fruition.

Putu said the library closure left him without a place to rest, use the lavatory and made him more vulnerable to being robbed during the daytime hours.

“I know a lot of people think the homeless are scum and aren’t worthy of anyone’s help, and maybe that’s true about some of them,” Putu said, “but it’s not true about most of us.”

Van Bellen said he had been one of those people with a negative opinion of the homeless before he started his volunteer work.

“I found out that those were misperceptions,” he said. “What I’ve discovered is the homeless people I’ve encountered here are sweet and definitely misunderstood. I wouldn’t have figured that out if I hadn’t exposed myself to them.”

 

Follow Chaz Muth on Twitter: @Chazmaniandevyl.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Maryland pastor named an auxiliary bishop for Washington

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WASHINGTON — Pope Francis has appointed Father Roy Edward Campbell Jr., who is pastor of St. Joseph Church in Largo, Maryland, as an auxiliary bishop of Washington.

The appointment was announced March 8 in Washington by Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States.

Pope Francis has appointed Father Roy Edward Campbell Jr., who is pastor of St. Joseph Church in Largo, Md., as an auxiliary bishop of Washington. (CNS/Archdiocese of Washington)

Pope Francis has appointed Father Roy Edward Campbell Jr., who is pastor of St. Joseph Church in Largo, Md., as an auxiliary bishop of Washington. (CNS/Archdiocese of Washington)

Bishop-designate Campbell, 69, has been pastor of St. Joseph Catholic Church in Largo, a Washington suburb, since 2010. He is a member of the archdiocese’s clergy personnel board, the vocations board and the college of consultors.

His episcopal ordination will be April 21 at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington.

Raised in the Washington archdiocese, he worked in the retail banking industry in the Washington-Baltimore area until taking early retirement in 2002. The following year he entered the seminary to study for the priesthood. He was ordained for the archdiocese by Washington Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl May 26, 2007.

Bishop-designate Campbell “brings to his new ministry recognized talent and demonstrated ability,” Cardinal Wuerl said in a statement. “He also bears witness to the great cultural and ethnic richness of the Church of Washington reflected in all of the faithful, lay, religious and clergy.”

The appointment was a surprise, Bishop-designate Campbell said in video posted on the archdiocesan website.

“It is a great honor that the Lord himself has bestowed upon me through the Holy Father and quite honestly through our archbishop, Cardinal Wuerl. But it is also very humbling,” he said.

“The only thing that I was looking forward to doing in answering our Lord’s call is to be a priest for his people, to love and serve those he’s called me to, his children, my brothers and sisters. And if he is calling me to serve on a larger scale than a parish as a bishop, then I know I will have his grace, his direction and his love to help me do so,” he said.

The road to the priesthood for Bishop-designate Campbell began in late 1995. Leaving work in Baltimore, he met a person on the street asking for food and took him to get something to eat, according to his biography on the archdiocese website.

“What he said to me I have never forgotten: ‘You’re a Christian, aren’t you?” Bishop-designate Campbell recalled. “My answer to him is just as memorable: ‘I try to be.’ I saw Jesus in that man, as clearly as I saw the man himself. That encounter started my reflection on my relationship with Jesus in a very different way.”

In 1999, Bishop-designate Campbell entered the archdiocese’s permanent diaconate program and four years later entered Pope St. John XXIII National Seminary in Weston, Massachusetts, to begin his priestly formation.

Bishop-designate Campbell was born Nov. 19, 1947, in Charles County, Maryland, and grew up in Washington. He said his mother’s devotion to her Catholic faith demonstrated the importance of having deep love of God in daily life.

A graduate of Howard University and the University of Virginia’s Graduate School of Retail Bank Management, he had a 33-year career with Bank of America, working his way up from teller to vice president and project manager. He also has degrees in zoology, anthropology and chemistry.

After his 2007 ordination, his assignments at Washington parishes included: parochial vicar at St. Augustine Church, 2007-2008; pastoral and sacramental care of the African-American community at Immaculate Conception Parish, 2007-2008; and pastor at Assumption Parish, 2008-2010.

The Archdiocese of Washington covers the District of Columbia and five Maryland counties. Out of a total population of over 2.5 million people, about 647,000, or 22 percent, are Catholic.

Bishop-designate Campbell said he learned about his appointment while in an airport in Florida, as he was waiting for a flight to return to the Archdiocese of Washington after celebrating a Black History Month Mass in Pensacola. He received the news in a phone call from Archbishop Pierre.

“I am amazed. I am very honored, and I do not feel worthy. But I trust the Holy Spirit,” said Bishop-designate Campbell, who will be the nation’s ninth active African-American Catholic bishop. Seven African-American Catholic bishops are retired.

As a bishop, he said he sees his role as “continuing to love and serve the people of God.”

Quoting Pope Francis that priests should be “shepherds with the smell of sheep,” Bishop-designate Campbell said he has always looked at his priesthood as “being with the people, to live in their lives and to offer them God’s sacraments, graces and whatever else they need.”

Richard Szczepanowski contributed to this story.    

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Catholic News Service

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Follow Pattison on Twitter: @MeMarkPattison.

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Third Minnesota diocese files Chapter 11 bankruptcy

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Bishop John M. LeVoir of New Ulm, Minn., retired Bishop Bernard J. Harrington of Winona, Minn., and Bishop John F. Kinney of St. Cloud, Minn., concelebrate Mass with other bishops from Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota at the Altar of the Tomb in the crypt of St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican March 9. The bishops were making their "ad limina" visits to report to the pope and the Vatican about the status of their dioceses. (CNS photo/Paul Haring) (March 9, 2012) See POPE-US March 9, 2012.

Bishop John M. LeVoir of New Ulm, Minn., said March 3 he asked diocesan attorneys to file for reorganization under Chapter !! of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code. CNS file/Paul Haring 

NEW ULM, Minn. — A third Minnesota diocese has filed for reorganization under Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code.

Bishop John M. LeVoir of New Ulm said March 3 he asked diocesan attorneys to take the action in response to the enactment of the 2013 Minnesota Child Victims Act, which temporarily lifted the civil statute of limitations on child sexual abuse claims for three years. That three-year window ended May 25, 2016.

The legal step was “the fairest way to resolve sexual abuse claims while allowing the church to continue its essential work of serving people in our local communities,” Bishop LeVoir said in a statement.

Under the three-year window, 101 lawsuits were filed against the New Ulm diocese and some of its parishes, the statement said.

“I again extend my deepest apologies on behalf of the Diocese of New Ulm to victims and survivors of clergy sexual abuse as minors,” Bishop LeVoir said. “Victims and survivors have shown incredible courage by stepping forward to help prevent such a tragedy from ever happening again. Victims and survivors must be treated with dignity and just compensation is owed them, as well as our daily prayers. These are integral to the healing process.”

Parishes, Catholic schools and other Catholics organizations in the diocese, which covers south and west-central parts of the state, are not part of the reorganization because they are separate corporations under Minnesota law. The diocese has 75 parishes and a Catholic population of about 56,000 out of a total population of just over 280,000.

The Duluth diocese and the St. Paul-Minneapolis archdiocese filed under Chapter 11 in 2015. The cases are pending. Nationwide, 11 other diocese and two religious orders have filed for reorganization.

Statewide, the law resulted in the filing of more than 800 claims of child sexual abuse by priests before the deadline. Other cases include more than 400 in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, 125 in both the Duluth and Winona dioceses, about 75 in the St. Cloud Diocese and about 20 in the Crookston Diocese, Mike Finnegan, an attorney representing abuse victims, told the Star Tribune in Minneapolis.

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Catholic high in ‘Silicon Valley’ reaps millions from Snapchat investment

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MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. — A California Catholic high school did away with future car washes and pizza kit sales March 2 when the $15,000 investment it made with Snap Inc., the company that developed the messaging app Snapchat, sold shares to the public and the school stepped into a windfall of at least $24 million.

The Snapchat logo.

The Snapchat logo.

“The school’s investment in Snap has matured and given us a significant boost,” Simon Chiu, president of St. Francis High School, in Mountain View, said in a letter to parents posted on the school’s website.

The “significant boost” will be used for financial aid, professional development, teacher training and funding of school programs and will not support the school’s annual operating expenses, the letter said.

St. Francis is in the Diocese of San Jose and is sponsored by the Holy Cross Brothers. It began in 1955 as a boys school and merged with Holy Cross High School, run by Holy Cross Sisters in 1972, becoming co-ed. Tuition at the school for the current year is $17,370, which the school’s website points out is the lowest in the region for private coed high schools. Last year the school provided $3.2 million in tuition assistance.

The school, 40 miles south of San Francisco, is in the same town as Google’s headquarters in Silicon Valley, considered the technology hub of the U.S.

The idea for investing in the messaging app that sends photos and videos which disappear after viewing, came from a school parent, Barry Eggers, who also happens to be a venture capitalist. His two teenage children and their friends were big fans of the Snapchat app in 2012, just a year after it got started. So Eggers convinced members of the school’s investment fund, which was begun in 1990, to join his company, Lightspeed, in making an initial investment with with Snap Inc.

On March 2 when the company’s shares went public, St. Francis sold 1.4 million of its shares generating at least $24 million.

“These are exciting and humbling times for St. Francis High School,” the school’s president wrote to parents. “I am grateful for our community’s continued support and partnership, and I look forward to sharing more details with you in the weeks and months ahead about how this opportunity will help us to achieve our goals.”

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Trump signs new order on refugees, excludes Iraq from ban

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s new executive order temporarily banning refugees from certain majority-Muslim countries, signed March 6, now excludes Iraq from the ban.

Iraq had been one of seven nations in the original order, issued Jan. 27 but the implementation of which was blocked in the courts. The new order will not take effect until March 16.

A displaced Iraqi girl holds a lamb in a safe area in Mosul Feb. 28. President Trump signed a new order March 6 that eliminates the previous U.S. temporary ban on admitting refugees from Iraq. CNS photo//Alaa Al-Marjani, Reuters

A displaced Iraqi girl holds a lamb in a safe area in Mosul Feb. 28. President Trump signed a new order March 6 that eliminates the previous U.S. temporary ban on admitting refugees from Iraq. CNS photo//Alaa Al-Marjani, Reuters

Citizens of four of the countries still part of the ban — Iran, Libya, Somalia and Syria — will be subject to a 90-day suspension of visa processing. This information was given to Congress the week prior to the new executive order. The other two countries that remain part of the ban are Sudan and Yemen.

Lawful permanent residents, green card holders, are excluded from any travel ban.

While the revised executive order is intended to survive judicial scrutiny, those opposed to it have declared plans to mobilize their constituencies to block it. Church World Service and the National Council of Churches announced March 2, that they will unveil a new grass-roots ecumenical initiative in support of refugees.

Catholic immigration advocates were on tenterhooks waiting for the revised executive order, the issuance of which had been long promised but slow in coming.

Bill O’Keefe, vice president for government relations and advocacy at Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. bishops’ international aid agency, told Catholic News Service that he had seen communications from “senior White House officials” that would retain the ban, but indicated the indefinite ban on Syrians would be lifted.

Religious preferences found in the would be original order would be erased, but green-card holders would be exempt from the ban. O’Keefe said. The halt of refugee admissions to “determine additional security vetting procedures” would stay in place, he added, and the number of refugee admissions would be cut for the 2017 fiscal year, which runs through Sept. 30, from 110,000 to 50,000; an estimated 35,000 have already been admitted since October, according to O’Keefe.

“Some will argue that simply sectioning out the seven Muslim-majority countries is a form of religious discrimination,” O’Keefe said. “What is clear here is that it’s within the prerogative of the president to lower the threshold of refugee admissions.”

One effect of the order would be to further strain the refugee-processing system at its biggest point. “The bulk of the system and the biggest part of it are those countries like Lebanon, Turkey, which are taking in hundreds of thousands of refugees,” O’Keefe said. “When we don’t do our part, it’s tough for us to tell other countries to make the sacrifices we need to play their part. The risk of the system collapsing and of governments that are already strained not being willing to keep their doors open is very serious, and we’re very worried about that.”

In Syria, he added, “some people have been (refugees there) for five, six years. They’ve had the hope of resettlement in the United States as one of the things that keeps them going.”

Kim Pozniak, CRS’ communications director, spent a week in mid-February in Amman, Jordan, where untold thousands of refugees are living, two and three families at a time, in small apartments in the city.

“I’ve met with people that are worse off than they were three years ago (when she last visited), simply because they’ve started losing hope,” Pozniak said. “One woman, for example, said they’re so bad off they’re considering moving back to Syria.” Pozniak said the woman’s sister, who still lives in Syria, told her “Look, even if it’s so bad that you have to eat dirt, don’t come back here.”

“When I visited three years ago hope of (things being) better in Jordan, being resettled somewhere, or even going back to Syria,” Pozniak said. Now, none of those options seem to be on the table.

Even without a ban, the uncertainty can eat away at people, Pozniak said. “I talked with one 74-year-old woman who together with her son has been in the resettlement process in the United States. They had the interview with UN (High Commissioner for Refugees), the interview with the Embassy, had the iris scan taken, now they have no idea when they’ll be resettled. They’re never given an answer as to when, where, how, and that’s the really frustrating part, being in limbo and not knowing where you’re going to be next.”

Even though Jordan prohibits refugees from taking jobs, desperate people “find a way somehow” to provide for their family, Pozniak said. CRS is offering modest help to some refugees. “We support some cash-for-work projects through Caritas Jordan, teaching refugees and Iraqis some new skills they can use and make a little bit of money,” she added. “For example, we have people in workshops who create mosaics and create packaging, and create handicrafts.”

Pozniak said refugees were incredulous when she told them Americans are afraid of refugees, especially those from Syria. “They had this look on their faces, uncomprehending. ‘What are they afraid of? We’re fleeing the violence. We want the same thing, peace.’ If people could listen to their stories, I think the reactions would be a lot different.”

A Rasmussen Reports telephone poll of 1,000 American adults released Feb. 24 said 54 percent of all voters believe increasing the number of refugees from Syria, Iraq and other countries included in the Jan. 27 executive order poses an increased national security risk to the United States. This is down from September, when 62 percent said President Barack Obama’s proposal to increase the number of Middle Eastern and North African refugees allowed into the United States posed an increased national security risk. The poll was conducted Feb. 20-21.

A Pew Research Center poll released Feb. 27 found Catholics opposing the ban, 62 percent-36 percent. White Catholics were very narrowly in favor, 50 percent-49 percent, while Hispanic and other minority Catholics opposed the ban 81 percent-14 percent.

 

Follow Pattison on Twitter: @MeMarkPattison.

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Trump visits Catholic school in Florida to show support for school choice

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ORLANDO, Fla. — President Donald Trump visited St. Andrew Catholic School in Orlando March 3 to show his support for school choice.

The president was joined by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, and Florida Gov. Rick Scott in a tour of the school that started with a visit to a fourth-grade class.

U.S. President Donald Trump chats with students from St. Andrew Catholic School in Orlando, Fla., March 3. U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos also joined the president. (CNS photo/Jonathan Ernst, Reuters)

U.S. President Donald Trump chats with students from St. Andrew Catholic School in Orlando, Fla., March 3. U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos also joined the president. (CNS photo/Jonathan Ernst, Reuters)

The visit was called a listening session.

One of the tour guests was Denisha Merriweather, who attended a private high school through Florida’s voucher program, which she credits with turning her life around.

“We want millions more to have the same chance to achieve the great success that you’re achieving,” Trump said. The president also told school administrators that “the love you have for what you do is really fantastic,” The Associated Press reported.

In his address to Congress Feb. 28, Trump said that education was the “civil rights issue of our time” and urged Congress to pass legislation to fund school choice for disadvantaged young people, but he did not offer any details.

St. Andrew Catholic School, which opened in 1962, teaches 350 children from pre-K to eighth grade. On its website it says: “Our goals are simple: college and heaven.”

The school partners with the University of Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education, or ACE,  which serves under-resourced Catholic schools.

A March 3 statement from ACE said the president’s visit gave the St. Andrew’s students “a historic opportunity to share their story with the nation.”

“We are acutely aware that the current political climate is among the most polarized in American history,” the statement said. “These divisions have real implications for relationships here in the St. Andrew community.”

It also stressed that “every family has the right to choose the best school for their child” and that “because of the parental choice program in Florida, this school will continue to empower families, form faithful citizens, strengthen the Pine Hills community, and provide children with educational opportunities.”

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