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

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

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Trump’s decision to abandon Paris climate pact called troubling, harmful

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President Donald Trump’s June 1 decision “not to honor the U.S. commitment” to the Paris climate agreement “is deeply troubling,” said the chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace.

“The Scriptures affirm the value of caring for creation and caring for each other in solidarity. The Paris agreement is an international accord that promotes these values,” Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, New Mexico, said in a statement released shortly after the president made his announcement in the White House Rose Garden.

Protesters carry signs during the People's Climate March April 29 outside the White House in Washington. The U.S. bishops June 1 urged President Donald Trump to honor the nation's commitment to the Paris climate pact and protect the planet.  (CNS photo/Joshua Roberts)

Protesters carry signs during the People’s Climate March April 29 outside the White House in Washington. The U.S. bishops June 1 urged President Donald Trump to honor the nation’s commitment to the Paris climate pact and protect the planet. (CNS photo/Joshua Roberts)

“President Trump’s decision will harm the people of the United States and the world, especially the poorest, most vulnerable communities,” the bishop said after Trump announced the U.S. will withdraw immediately from the Paris accord.

“The impacts of climate change are already being experienced in sea level rise, glacial melts, intensified storms, and more frequent droughts,” Bishop Cantu said. “I can only hope that the president will propose concrete ways to address global climate change and promote environmental stewardship.”

Trump said the climate accord “is less about the climate and more about other countries obtaining a financial advantage over the United States.”

He said he wants to create a “level playing field” and establish the “highest standard of living, highest standard of environmental protection.” The United States now joins Syria and Nicaragua in not being part of the accord.

Bishop Cantu said that although the Paris agreement is not the only possible mechanism for addressing global carbon mitigation, the lack of a current viable alternative is a serious concern.

He said the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Pope Francis “and the entire Catholic Church have consistently upheld the Paris agreement as an important international mechanism to promote environmental stewardship and encourage climate change mitigation.”

Before Trump made his announcement, Bishop Cantu issued a statement saying the United States had an obligation to honor the Paris agreement to protect “our people and our planet” and “mitigate the worst impacts of climate change.” He urged Trump to honor the accord.

The USCCB released the earlier statement along with copies of letters sent weeks earlier to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Treasure Secretary Steven Mnuchin and National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster. The letters were signed by Bishop Cantu; Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development; and Sean L. Callahan, president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. bishops’ overseas relief and development agency.

“We write about our shared obligation to care for the environment. The Judeo-Christian tradition has always understood ‘the environment’ to be a gift from God,” said the letters urging the Trump administration officials in their respective capacities to reaffirm the U.S. commitment to the Paris accord.

“Pope Francis called on the world’s leaders to come together to protect the gift of our common home. … We have one common home, and we must protect it,” they said.

In both statements Bishop Cantu noted that the U.S. bishops have for years “voiced support for prudent action and dialogue on climate change,” as far back as their 2001 statement on global climate change and again in 2015 in a letter to Congress. They have, he said, “reiterated their support on several occasions.”

“Pope Francis and the Holy See have also consistently voiced support for the Paris agreement,” Bishop Cantu said. In his earlier June 1 statement, Bishop Cantu said the pope’s 2015 encyclical “Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common Home” was timed “to urge the nations of the world to work together in Paris for an agreement that protects our people and our planet.”

The Paris accord has been ratified by 134 of the 197 countries that approved it in December 2015 under the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change. President Barack Obama ratified on its own, bypassing the U.S. Senate. The agreement went into force in October after enough countries ratified it.

A day before Trump announced the immediate withdrawal of the U.S. from the climate accord, Cardinal Peter Turkson, prefect of the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Integral Development of People, told reporters in Washington that “the decision to possibly pull out for us is something we hoped would not have happened.”

“Certain issues should be taken out of the political discussion and not be politicized. … The truth is, climate is a global public good and not limited to any country, not limited to any nation,” the cardinal said.

“The Vatican would always respect the decision of a sovereign state,” added Cardinal Turkson, who was in Washington for a conference at Georgetown University. “We will continue to still talk about climate change and all of that, and hope that some change can occur midstream.”

Also commenting ahead of Trump’s decision was Bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, who said if the president decided to withdraw the United States, “it will be a disaster for everyone.”

The bishop and the academies are at the forefront of promoting scientific studies on climate change and implementation of the recommendations in Pope Francis’ encyclical “Laudato Si’” on care for the environment. The pope gave Trump a copy of the document when they met May 24 at the Vatican.

In an interview June 1 with the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, Bishop Sanchez said he did not think Trump and Pope Francis discussed climate change in any depth when they met, however climate change was a significant part of the discussions the president and top staff members had with Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state.

“In that sense, if he really does what the leaks suggest, for us it will be a huge slap in the face,” the bishop said.

Obama deserves some of the blame, the bishop said, because “he took decisions on climate only through presidential orders, leaving open the possibility that his successor would change everything. That’s the problem. Today, in just one day, Trump could change all the cards on the table to the disadvantage of many and to the advantage of the oil lobby.”

Tillerson participated in Trump’s meeting with Cardinal Parolin and told reporters that while climate change did not come up in Trump’s meeting with the pope, they had “a good exchange on the climate change issue” with the cardinal.

“The cardinal was expressing their view that they think it’s an important issue,” Tillerson said shortly after the meeting. “I think they were encouraging continued participation in the Paris accord. But we had a good exchange on the difficulty of balancing addressing climate change, responses to climate change, and ensuring that you still have a thriving economy and you can still offer people jobs so they can feed their families and have a prosperous economy.”

Asked how Trump responded to Cardinal Parolin’s encouragement to stick with the Paris climate agreement, Tillerson said: “The president indicated we’re still thinking about that, that he hasn’t made a final decision. He, I think, told both Cardinal Parolin and also told Prime Minister (Paolo) Gentiloni that this is something that he would be taking up for a decision when we return from this trip. It’s an opportunity to hear from people. We’re developing our own recommendation on that. So it’ll be something that will probably be decided after we get home.”

 

Dennis Sadowski in Washington and Cindy Wooden in Rome contributed to this story.

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Bishop urges Tillerson to use diplomacy to resolve simmering Congo crisis

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WASHINGTON — The chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace called on Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to undertake diplomatic efforts to ensure that democratic elections are carried out by the end of the year to avoid continued strife and the possible outbreak of civil war.

Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, N.M., gestures during a March 23 meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson at the State Department in Washington.  (CNS/Bob Roller)

Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, N.M., gestures during a March 23 meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson at the State Department in Washington. (CNS/Bob Roller)

In a May 1 letter to Tillerson, Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, the committee chairman, shared the concern of the Congolese Catholic bishops’ conference that an agreement between the country’s government and opposition parties governing a presidential election in 2017 was not being followed.

The Congolese bishops voiced their concern over rising tension in Congo in an April 20 statement after President Joseph Kabila unilaterally nominated Bruno Tshibala as prime minister over the objection of opposition parties.

Tshibala, a former member of the largest opposition party, was named prime minister of a new transitional government established to organize a presidential election by the end of the year after Kabila refused to step down when his second term in office expired in December.

Kabila has said, however, that the government needs more time to overcome the massive logistic and financial challenges to holding an election. The opposition maintains that Kabila is trying to cling to power beyond his constitutional mandate.

Demonstrations in December resulted in at least 40 deaths at the hands of government forces.

The Catholic bishops’ conference helped negotiate Dec. 31 what has been called the St. Sylvester Accord. The agreement called for elections in 2017, after which Kabila would step down. Kabila’s appointment of Tshibala violates that agreement, the bishops said.

Bishop Cantu said Congo could resolve its electoral crisis this year by holding free and fair elections that would lead to the first peaceful transfer of power in the country’s 57-year history or it could descend into autocracy, riots or perhaps civil war.

U.S. diplomacy could head off violence and instability, the committee chairman said.

The Congolese bishops “used their moral authority” to become involved in the talks to create conditions of “peaceful, constructive dialogue to resolve the crisis,” Bishop Cantu explained in his letter.

“It’s not the church’s place to take on a political role by applying pressure on the political parties to resolve the crisis and protect democracy and the common good. The Congolese people need the international community, the United Nations and the regional countries to work together to convince the Congolese government to prepare inclusive, free and fair elections, as called for by the constitution to allow civil society and the common good for the country to flourish,” Bishop Cantu said.

Bishop Cantu urged Tillerson to “deploy the diplomatic and development resources at your discretion to ensure that the government honors its constitution and the democratic principles on which it is built.”

“An investment in diplomacy and promotion of good governance will save many millions of dollars in humanitarian assistance and peacekeeping expenditures in the long run,” Bishop Cantu wrote. “It will also rescue millions of people from needless suffering.”

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Bishop briefs Tillerson on church’s interest in building the ‘common good’

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — The chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace met with the country’s top diplomat, Rex Tillerson, March 23, for a policy-packed 35-minute conversation about immigration, the Middle East, Africa and the role of the Catholic Church’s efforts toward building “the common good.”

Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, N.M., gestures during a March 23 meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson at the State Department in Washington. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, N.M., gestures during a March 23 meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson at the State Department in Washington. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

“After some small talk about Texas,” the two spoke about the Middle East, about Iraq and Syria, reaching out to Central America and Mexico, and the situation in Africa, said Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, New Mexico, explaining his initial meeting in Washington with Tillerson, the U.S. secretary of state, who, like Bishop Cantu, hails from Texas.

Bishop Cantu said the meeting was about letting Tillerson know “that our only motive is to help build the common good, that we don’t have ulterior motives,” and explaining the bishops’ peace and justice committee’s work in the Middle East, Africa, Latin America and the Far East.

Bishop Cantu, as the chairman of the Committee on International Justice and Peace, has spoken for a two-state solution in the Israel-Palestine conflict, against the construction of Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories, for reducing the United States’ nuclear arsenal, and raised concerns about an executive order that targets refugees from some countries with predominantly Muslim populations, which are at odds with stances taken early by the Donald Trump administration.

“I have concerns,” he said in an interview with Catholic News Service, but said the meeting with Tillerson was about establishing a relationship that can help the church advocate for policy issues to help the common good.

“We bring a unique perspective,” said Bishop Cantu. “One of our principles in Catholic social teaching is the common good and that goes beyond our own church needs.”

Bishop Cantu said he talked about the church’s efforts in Congo and South Sudan and the need for stability in such places. U.N. agencies said in February that famine and war in the area are threatening up to 5.5 million lives in the region.

Because of the church’s humanitarian agencies, its solidarity visits, and long-term contact with local governments and populations around the world, the church lends a credible voice, Bishop Cantu said.

“He expressed that he was eager to have open lines of communication with us and to listen to our perspective on things,” Bishop Cantu said.

“The two areas we especially touched on were the Middle East and how to rebuild in Iraq and Syria. And the second topic that he wanted to hear our perspective on is the immigration issue, particularly how to reach out to Central America and Mexico,” said Bishop Cantu.

He said he emphasized to Tillerson the importance of having countries where religious minorities have a say in the government and of investing in rebuilding countries. The proposed Trump administration budget has been criticized for its plans to slash funding for the State Department up to 28 percent, or $10.9 billion. The cuts would greatly affect the department’s Food for Peace Program, which reduces hunger and malnutrition in poor countries, while proposing a $54 billion, or 10 percent, increase in military spending.

Bishop Cantu said he left information with Tillerson about the church’s concerns with the proposed budget.

“We’re concerned about the very steep increase in the military budget, the cutting back on foreign aid, we’re very concerned about that. I did want to emphasize how important development is in regions that need to be stabilized,” he said, “that those are wise investments of time and funds.”

The meeting also included a discussion about Christians in the Middle East, Bishop Cantu said, “and that Christians don’t want to live in a ghetto. … They believe it’s important that they live in an integrated society that is safe and secure,” to have a voice in local, regional as well federal government. He said he also emphasized “the fact that the (Catholic) church in the Middle East can act as a voice between the Sunnis and the Shia” and the importance of the church remaining in places such as Iraq and Syria.

“Any wise government official wants to listen to the voice of people who have a stake in different areas and to listen to the wisdom of experience,” Bishop Cantu said. “We have our brothers and sisters there, the church, who do live there. The fact is that … we bring a trusted voice.

“We bring some wisdom to the conversation,” he added. “Our vision is to build a society that’s stable, that’s just, that’s peaceful, and ultimately, that’s the goal of the state department … and so I think that’s why our voice is valuable to them.”

 

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Bishops visiting Holy Land say Christians must oppose Israeli settlements

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JERUSALEM — Christians have a responsibility to oppose the construction of Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories, said bishops from the U.S., Canada and Europe.

“This de facto annexation of land not only undermines the rights of Palestinians in areas such as Hebron and East Jerusalem but, as the U.N. recently recognized, also imperils the chance of peace,” said bishops who participated in the Holy Land Coordination Jan. 14-19.

Bishops from the U.S, Canada and Europe walk through a street Jan. 16 in Hebron, West Bank. (CNS photo/Marcin Mazur, Bishops' Conference of England and Wales)

Bishops from the U.S, Canada and Europe walk through a street Jan. 16 in Hebron, West Bank. (CNS photo/Marcin Mazur, Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales)

“So many people in the Holy Land have spent their entire lives under occupation, with its polarizing social segregation, yet still profess hope and strive for reconciliation. Now, more than ever, they deserve our solidarity,” said the statement, issued Jan. 19, at the end of the visit.

Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, New Mexico, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace, was among the 12 bishops who signed the statement. Bishop Lionel Gendron of Saint-Jean-Longueuil, Quebec, represented Canadian bishops. The statement also was signed by representatives of the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences, the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community and the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference, as well as bishops from the United Kingdom and other European countries.

During their visit, the bishops visited Hebron, West Bank, where the main market area is closed off to accommodate the security needs of some 800 Israeli settlers. Afterward, Bishop Cantu told Catholic News Service, “It becomes clearer that (the settlements) are not just about outlying settlements but something more systematic; more about infiltrating Palestinian land and forcing Palestinians out by making them so uncomfortable with such limited freedom they don’t want to continue living there.”

Three of the bishops also visited the Gaza Strip, where an Israeli blockade has made it difficult to get supplies for reconstruction of buildings destroyed by Israeli shelling. Bishop William Nolan of Galloway, Scotland, one of the bishops who visited Gaza, said he left feeling “sad and helpless” at the poverty and lack of basic commodities.

In 2006, a government led by Hamas was elected in Gaza. Israel, the United States and the European Union have listed Hamas. an Islamic political party with an armed wing, as a terrorist organization and have imposed economic sanctions against Gaza.

In their statement, the bishops said Christians had a responsibility to help “the people of Gaza, who continue to live amid a man-made humanitarian catastrophe. They have now spent a decade under blockade, compounded by a political impasse caused by ill-will on all sides.”

They also said Christians must continue to encourage nonviolent resistance, as encouraged by Pope Francis.

“This is particularly necessary in the face of injustices such as the continued construction of the separation wall on Palestinian land, including the Cremisan Valley,” the statement said.

The barrier is a series of cement slabs, barbed wire fences and security roads snaking across part of the West Bank. If completed as planned, the separation wall would stretch nearly 400 miles and restrict the movements of 38 percent of residents of the West Bank. Israel maintains that the barrier contributed significantly to a decrease in the number of terrorist attacks, while Palestinians contend that the barrier is simply another Israeli land grab, imprisons them and imposes travel limitations.

The bishops said that each year since 1998, they have called for justice and peace, “yet the suffering continues.”

“So this call must get louder,” their statement said. “As bishops, we implore Christians in our home countries to recognize our own responsibility for prayer, awareness and action.”

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Catholic leaders call on Congress to increase humanitarian aid in budget

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BALTIMORE — The head of Catholic Relief Services and the chairmen of two U.S. bishops’ committees have urged congressional leaders to approve additional funding for humanitarian relief and recovery operations as part of a comprehensive budget measure for fiscal 2017.

The Catholic leaders wrote a letter Nov. 28 in support of a request by the Obama administration for Overseas Contingency Operations funds to address the growing needs of those forced to flee their homes because of natural disasters around the world or as a result of the ongoing fight against Islamic State militants.

A damaged statue of Mary is seen in a church in Qaraqosh, Iraq, Nov. 25. (CNS photo/Goran Tomasevic, Reuters)

A damaged statue of Mary is seen in a church in Qaraqosh, Iraq, Nov. 25. (CNS photo/Goran Tomasevic, Reuters)

They urged action before the Dec. 9 deadline that Congress faces on the federal budget. The government is funded through that date because of a continuing resolution the House passed, and President Barack Obama signed, at the end of September to avoid a government shutdown.

“More than 50,000 people have already fled Mosul, joining the approximately 3.3 million Iraqis who have been internally displaced since ISIS began occupying parts of Iraq in 2014,” stated the letter, released by Baltimore-based CRS Nov. 29. “(We) believe that as the world’s wealthiest nation, we have an obligation to help the innocent who fall victim to war, to protect the marginalized and to lift people out of poverty.”

It was signed by Carolyn Woo, outgoing president and CEO of CRS, the U.S. bishops’ overseas relief and development agency; Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration; and Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, New Mexico, chairman of the USCCB Committee on International Justice and Peace.

Addressing the House and Senate Subcommittees on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs, the Catholic leaders also pointed to increased suffering in other places besides Iraq, such as Southern Africa, which is suffering a severe drought.

They also named South Sudan, the Central African Republic and the Lake Chad Basin, a region that comprises parts of Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria. Ongoing violence and military conflicts in those places have displaced whole populations and exacerbated food insecurity, resulting in acute malnourishment for many. According to a recent report from the U.S. Agency for International Development, an estimated 9.2 million people, primarily in northeastern Nigeria, require humanitarian assistance.

Additional funding from Congress, the Catholic leaders said, will help ensure CRS can continue to respond “to crises like these that don’t make the headlines.”

They acknowledged Congress’ steadfast commitments to humanitarian and development needs around the globe” and urged lawmakers to incorporate the administration’s amendment request for humanitarian relief and recovery activities” in their final appropriations bill.

September’s short-term measure included full funding for military construction and Veterans Affairs for the new fiscal year, but left undecided were 11 remaining annual appropriations bills for various federal agencies.

Woo and Bishops Vasquez and Cantu praised the current proposals before Congress for funding “key humanitarian accounts” — $3.2 billion for Migration and Refugee Assistance; $2.8 billion for International Disaster Assistance; $1.6 billion for Food for Peace; and $60 million for Emergency Refugee and Migrant Assistance.

But they asked Congress also appropriate new Overseas Contingency Operations funds. The Obama administration has requested $14.9 billion.

“We urge you to respond generously to the administration’s request of Nov. 11 for additional humanitarian and recovery assistance,” they wrote.

“As we have already learned in Iraq, individuals, communities, and countries divided by war face significant challenges amidst their suffering,” Woo and the bishops continued. “They must rebuild their communities, and establish inclusive governance that protects majorities and minorities.

“We must provide them with humanitarian help and durable solutions to their plight because it’s the right thing to do, and because their security and prosperity is critical to the stability of the entire region,” they added.

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Supreme Court tie vote blocks temporary plan to stop deportations

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — With a tie vote June 23, the U.S. Supreme Court blocked the Obama administration’s plan to temporarily protect more than 4 million unauthorized immigrants from deportation. Read more »

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New Mexico bishops urges vigilance after explosions at churches

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LAS CRUCES, N.M. — Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces has asked pastors, deacons and parish leaders in the diocese “to exercise increased vigilance in our parish surroundings and activities.”

The bishop’s message, posted early Aug. 4 on the diocese’s Facebook page, was prompted by a small explosion that occurred Aug. 2 outside Holy Cross Catholic Church during the 8 a.m. Mass.

Earlier that morning, by about 20 minutes, a small explosion took place a few miles away at Calvary Baptist Church.

Minor damage was reported at both churches, but there were no injuries or deaths.

Federal and state authorities were investigating what explosives were used and trying to identify who was responsible for the blasts and whether they were connected.

At Holy Cross, the explosion occurred during the eucharistic prayer, according to Bishop Cantu.

Msgr. John Anderson, the pastor, told the Las Cruces Sun-News newspaper: “I was right in the middle of saying the words ‘take and eat, this is my body,’ and there was a pow! I mean, I knew it had to be more than a gunshot.’”

The priest said he “just kept on saying the words.”

Several minutes later, police arrived on the scene and ordered the church evacuated, according to Bishop Cantu.

Msgr. Anderson went to the other side of the street with his parishioners, he said, and “there offered prayers for peace and safety.”

Bishop Cantu said that over the next 24 hours, law enforcement authorities searched the premises for other explosive devices and to gather evidence.

“I was impressed with their thoroughness and professionalism,” the bishop said. “It will surely take some time for the authorities eventually to find the perpetrator(s) and discover the motives of these criminal and violent acts.”

Bishop Cantu said the diocese extended “prayers for and solidarity with” the Baptist congregation.

The AP reported that the explosive device at Calvary Baptist Church had been placed in a mailbox near the entrance to the church’s offices. Police said several congregants were inside the church at the time, but services had not yet started.

“They will remain in our prayers,” he said, adding that Msgr. Anderson and his parishioners also remained “in our thoughts and prayers, as they recover from the trauma of having their most sacred moments violently disrupted. … We pray that, though with increased vigilance, the parish community will return to its routines of worship, formation, service, and community building.”

Bishop Cantu urged parish communities to be aware of “any suspicious activity and report it to proper authorities. Let us do this with heightened awareness, but without alarm.”

He added: “It is important that as much as possible we all return to our routines of parish, school, and community activities, yet with prudent caution and awareness.

The bishop said that he and pastors held an Aug. 3 meeting and realized there is a need for emergency preparedness training in the parishes.

“We will certainly do so in order that our parish and Catholic school leaders can be prepared to respond to any emergencies that may arise,” he said.

“Let us pray for each other. Let us pray for peace,” he said in closing. “Let us pray for the perpetrator(s), that they might discover the joy of peace and forgiveness and leave behind the frustration of hatred and violence.

“We pray for our first responders and those who work to maintain the peace. We pray for strength and healing.”

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