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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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Bishop Malooly condemns acts of anti-Semitic vandalism and threats

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Bishop Malooly issued the following statement Feb. 28 regarding recent anti-Semitic activities around the country and in our community:

“Recent shocking acts of vandalism at Jewish cemeteries and the spate of bomb threats made against Jewish community centers across the nation, including the Siegel Jewish Community Center in Wilmington, reveal an ugly anti-Semitism that I condemn with all people of the Diocese of Wilmington and religious leaders of all faiths in our community.

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

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

“I express my sympathy to members of the Jewish community in Delaware and the Eastern Shore of Maryland for the hate crimes being committed. The Catholic Church rejects this wave of anti-Semitism and, in the words of Pope Francis, sees these kinds of unconscionable acts as ‘completely contrary to Christian principles and every vision worthy of the human person.’

“As Christians begin the season of Lent on Ash Wednesday, March 1, I call on parishioners of the diocese to share God’s love with all their neighbors and speak out clearly against all forms of prejudice and hate directed toward any of God’s people.”

New Castle County Police reported on Feb. 27 that a third bomb threat in a month was made against the Siegel Jewish Community Center in north Wilmington that morning. The building was swept by police and cleared as safe. The threat was made a day after more than 100 headstones were discovered vandalized at a Jewish cemetery in Philadelphia. Similar headstone-toppling vandalism was discovered Feb. 21 at a Jewish cemetery near St. Louis, Missouri.

 

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Vandalism at Jewish cemeteries decried, called hateful actions

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Catholic News Service

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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French president meets with pope to thank him for this words after terrorist attacks

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis met privately at the Vatican with French President Francois Hollande, who said he felt it necessary to thank the pope in person for his words after the slaying of a French priest and other terrorist attacks in France.

The president arrived in Rome Aug. 17 and went directly to the French national church, St. Louis, to visit a

Pope Francis exchanges gifts with French President Francois Hollande at the Vatican Aug. 17. (CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano via Reuters)

Pope Francis exchanges gifts with French President Francois Hollande at the Vatican Aug. 17. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters)

chapel set up as a place of prayer for the victims of terrorism.

The chapel honors the memory of the 130 people who died during the November attacks in Paris, the 84 who died in Nice July 14 and Father Jacques Hamel, who was brutally murdered as he celebrated Mass July 26. Father Hamel’s killers claimed allegiance to the Islamic State group.

After the priest’s murder, Hollande had phoned the pope, telling him that “when a priest is attacked, all of France is wounded.” Pope Francis, traveling to Poland the next day, told reporters he appreciated Hollande’s call, reaching out to him “as a brother.”

Hollande and the pope reportedly spent about 40 minutes meeting privately. The president also met with Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state.

In a statement issued after the meeting, the Vatican provided no details of the discussion. However, it did say that as a gift, Pope Francis gave Hollande a bronze medallion inscribed with the words, “The desert will become a garden,” referencing the prophet Isaiah.

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American and Spanish journalists to lead Vatican press office

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis named two experienced journalists, including its first female vice director, to lead the Vatican press office.

Greg Burke, a native of St. Louis, succeeds Italian Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, who retires after 10 years as head of the Vatican press office, the Vatican announced July 11. Spanish journalist Paloma Garcia Ovejero fills in Burke’s spot as vice director, making her the first female to hold that position.

Greg Burke, the new director of the Vatican press office and Vatican spokesman, and Paloma Garcia Ovejero, the new vice director, are pictured with Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the outgoing Vatican spokesman, during an announcement of their appointments at an informal meeting with journalists at the Vatican press office July 11. Burke, a native of St. Louis, has worked for the Vatican since 2012 and prior to that was a television correspondent for Fox News. Garcia Ovejero is a Spanish journalist who worked for the radio station of the Spanish Bishops' Conference. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Greg Burke, the new director of the Vatican press office and Vatican spokesman, and Paloma Garcia Ovejero, the new vice director, are pictured with Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the outgoing Vatican spokesman, during an announcement of their appointments at an informal meeting with journalists at the Vatican press office July 11. Burke, a native of St. Louis, has worked for the Vatican since 2012 and prior to that was a television correspondent for Fox News. Garcia Ovejero is a Spanish journalist who worked for the radio station of the Spanish Bishops’ Conference. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Burke served as special communications adviser in the Vatican’s Secretariat of State starting in 2012 before he was named by Pope Francis as the vice director of the press office last December.

A graduate of Columbia University’s school of journalism, Burke spent 24 of his past 28 years based in Rome as a journalist with the National Catholic Register, Time magazine and the Fox News network.

The middle child of six, Burke grew up in St. Louis Hills and went to Jesuit-run St. Louis University High School. He is a numerary member of Opus Dei. (Numeraries are lay members of the organization who embrace celibacy.)

Msgr. Dario Vigano, prefect of the Vatican’s Secretariat of Communications, paid tribute to Father Lombardi’s 10 years of service at the press office.

Speaking to journalists July 11, Msgr. Vigano praised Father Lombardi’s professional work and his “ecclesial vision” of the church.

Born in northern Italy near Turin in 1942, Father Lombardi was named program director of Vatican Radio in 1990 and general director of the Vatican television center, CTV, in 2001.

During the reorganization of Vatican offices under Pope Benedict XVI, Father Lombardi was appointed general director of the radio in 2005 and head of the Vatican press office in 2006, while continuing to lead CTV. Before his retirement in 2013, Pope Benedict named Msgr. Vigano the new director of CTV.

Father Lombardi retired as head of Vatican Radio in February this year when the Secretariat for Communications took over the general administration of the radio.

Garcia Ovejero, who studied journalism in Spain and earned a masters degree in management strategies and communications at New York University, worked as the Italy and Vatican correspondent for Spanish radio broadcaster Cadena COPE.

“For me it’s an honor, it’s a service and it’s another way of serving the church. But it is the same church and, in some way, the same type of work: to proclaim the Good News and to transmit faithfully and with dignity the pope’s message,” Garcia Ovejero told Catholic News Service.

The Spanish journalist downplayed her role as the first female vice director of the press office, saying that the first women who served the church “were the ones who found the empty tomb and proclaimed the Resurrection to the apostles.”

“I am in no way the first woman. The first woman above all in the church, in the Vatican and in the press office is the Virgin Mary,” she said.

Garcia Ovejero said she hoped her role will be to serve and fulfill “the will of God, the will of the pope and, in every possible way, the will of the journalists.”

The Vatican announced that Garcia Ovejero, a native of Madrid, and Burke will begin their respective roles Aug. 1.

In Washington, Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, congratulated all three and thanked Father Lombardi for helping to “spread the Gospel throughout the world across two pontificates.”

“I was especially grateful to have learned not only from his media expertise but also his deep love for the church during the six days we spent together as Pope Francis visited the United States,” the archbishop said.

He said Burke was “long known to us in the United States as a devoted man of the church and an unparalleled communicator.”

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St. Louis area parishes respond to victims of record December flooding

January 4th, 2016 Posted in Featured, National News Tags: ,

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VALLEY PARK, Mo. — At about 8:30 on a chilly morning Dec. 30, Mickey Downing of the Valley Park Fire District went house to house in lower Valley Park, knocked on doors and asked people to evacuate for their safety with the Meramec River nearing the top of the levee protecting the small town.

Dixie Freeman, who does not have a car or phone needed to evacuate from her home in Valley Park, Mo., pauses Dec. 30 at City Hall as floodwaters approached the levee capacity. She needed help to get her 94-year-old disabled mother, Nora Dell, two dogs and a cherished cockatiel out of the house. She went to City Hall to ask for help with the animals and transportation. (CNS photo/Lisa Johnston, St. Louis Review)

Dixie Freeman, who does not have a car or phone needed to evacuate from her home in Valley Park, Mo., pauses Dec. 30 at City Hall as floodwaters approached the levee capacity. She needed help to get her 94-year-old disabled mother, Nora Dell, two dogs and a cherished cockatiel out of the house. She went to City Hall to ask for help with the animals and transportation. (CNS photo/Lisa Johnston, St. Louis Review)

The levee gate was built to withstand a crest of 42 feet and 6 inches, a foot lower than the Army Corps of Engineers predicted crest of 43 feet and 6 inches between midnight of that day and 6 a.m. Dec. 31. The levee itself could withstand a 44-foot crest. The record crest was 39, set in 1982.

Most of Downing’s knocks in the community 20 miles southwest of St. Louis went unanswered, which was good news; residents already had sought higher ground. Most of the few who answered were packed and ready to leave. A few diehards were staying behind, hoping to stay dry.

However, Dixie Freeman was neither a diehard nor an evacuee. She was stranded, with her disabled 94-year-old mother, a couple of dogs and a cockatiel. She also was cold, shivering in the 33-degree air as she approached Downing a couple of blocks from her home. She wore lightweight pants and a green knitted sweater.

“Can you help?” she asked Downing.

He quickly learned how dire her situation. She had no phone, no way to communicate with anyone, and a broken-down car. A son was expected to get her, but his arrival was uncertain because of flooding and road closures in his area. Freeman, her mother Nora Dell, dogs Rocky and Fifi, and the cockatiel were stuck.

“My hands are really full,” she said. “Oh, boy, it’s hard.”

Downing quickly offered advice.

“I am recommending you go to City Hall for transportation and then go to (Sacred Heart) Church as a shelter, especially since you don’t have wheels to get out,” he said.

A couple of bystanders volunteered to take Freeman, her mother and the pets to City Hall, where buses were waiting to evacuate residents. After a few phone calls and help from city workers, bus driver Tamekia Davis drove Freeman to her home, where Rocky and Fifi scampered about as she gathered belongings in a couple of suitcases and grocery bags. However, Nora didn’t want to leave. A diabetic, she is partially deaf. She is also blind and uses a walker or a wheelchair.

“What are you doing with me? What are you doing with me?” she asked, repeatedly. Freeman assured her that everything was all right, that they had to leave for their safety. Freeman again faced the prospect of losing everything, as happened in the 1982 flood.

Ultimately, Nora agreed to leave, but she pleaded to bring her dog. “I want my Rocky,” she said.

A veterinarian came for the cockatiel, Downing came by with a couple of other firefighters, and Davis got everyone, including Rocky and Fifi, on the bus for the one-mile ride to Sacred Heart Church.

There, pastor Father Denny Schaab greeted them. Vehicles from lower Valley Park, including U.S. Postal Service trucks and vans from a food pantry, already filled the parking.

In an agreement with Fire Chief Rick Wilken, a parishioner, Father Denny opened the church basement for a shelter, as the parish had done during previous floods. But there was a hitch because the Red Cross had not yet arrived to coordinate efforts even as parishioners steadily called to volunteer to help.

Father Schaab worked his smartphone and discovered that the Red Cross was shifting the shelter to another church because the flood waters threatened the parish site.

Davis reloaded the bus with Freeman and her crew and off they went again, hoping to eventually return to a dry home but with uncertainty hanging over their heads.

“We pray for the best,” Father Schaab said, watching them drive away.

Elsewhere, parishes in areas of the St. Louis Archdiocese affected by flooding responded to people in need and made plans for a coordinated community response.

“Keep us in your prayers,” said Pam Manuel, parish secretary at St. Bridget of Kildare Parish in Pacific, 35 miles southwest of St. Louis.

The parish is allowing people affected by the flooded Meramec River to leave their vehicles and boats in its parking lot, which overlooks the low-lying, water-soaked southern end of the city. Calls came from people seeking housing and while housing options are limited, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul conference at the parish is assisting displaced residents.

Manual is president of the Pacific Lions Club, which has received a grant from Lions Club International to purchase food, water, mops, buckets, gloves and “pretty much anything people will need to get their homes cleaned up,” she said.

Most Sacred Heart Parish in Eureka, not far from St. Bridget, also worked on plans to respond Dec. 30. The former head of the parish’s Society of St. Vincent de Paul conference, who has experience from two previous floods, was among those being consulted. The parish gym was being considered as a place for programs, according to parish staff.

Staff at Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in south St. Louis were glad that sandbagging of the River des Peres was completed, but they remained on edge in case the water tops the levee. The parish buildings were a possible source of shelter in a community response. Parishioners were among the volunteers in the sandbagging effort.

St. Mark Parish in nearby suburban Affton had some water damage in the chapel of its school.

The Arnold Food Pantry, which has worked with Immaculate Conception Parish in Arnold and volunteers from nearby St. David Parish, assisted flood victims in northern Jefferson County.

 

By Dave Leucking, a reporter at the St. Louis Review, newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Louis. Joseph Kenny of the St. Louis Review staff contributed to this report.

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U.S. bishops discuss upcoming papal letter on ecology, the pope’s visit and church app

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Catholic News Service

ST. LOUIS — The U.S. bishops gathered in St. Louis for their spring general assembly heard presentations on the pope’s upcoming encyclical on the environment, the U.S. church’s ongoing work in promoting traditional marriage and the need to remain vigilant in protecting children from abuse.

On the first day of their meeting June 10, there also were reports on the bishops’ efforts to advocate for comprehensive immigration reform and help rebuilding work in Haiti, which is still recovering from the 2010 earthquake.

In the second day of the assembly’s public sessions June 11, the bishops heard a report on a draft for priorities and plans for the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishop for 2017-2020. The report, which was up for a vote, started a lively discussion about what the bishops’ top focus should be.

Several bishops spoke up about the need to put concern for poverty at the top of the list to keep in line with the message and ministry of Pope Francis. The bishops voted to rework the draft document, incorporating the feedback given.

In a 165-5 vote, the bishops approved the inclusion of revised canticles for the Liturgy of the Hours for use in U.S. dioceses. It required a two-thirds vote of the Latin Church members of the USCCB. The bishops also voted to permit the Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations to seek a renewed recognitio, or approval, from the Vatican for the USCCB’s “Program of Priestly Formation, Fifth Edition” for an additional five-year period without any changes to the norms.

Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori attends a morning session June 10 during the annual spring general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in St. Louis. (CNS photo/Lisa Johnston, St. Louis Review)

Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori attends a morning session June 10 during the annual spring general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in St. Louis. (CNS photo/Lisa Johnston, St. Louis Review)

Other highlights were discussions on the much-anticipated arrival of Pope Francis in September and the World Meeting of Families and on other upcoming gatherings such as next year’s World Youth Day in Krakow, Poland and a 2017 convocation.

The bishops also were urged to keep pace with technological advances as a means to spread the Gospel message and advised to keep the “digital doors” of the church open.

In the discussion of the pope’s upcoming encyclical on the environment and human ecology, eight days before its scheduled release, the bishops were called on to help Catholics understand its message.

Pope Francis will challenge the assumptions of “both the left and the right” with the document, said Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, New Mexico, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace.

He also said it would have international implications, particularly regarding solidarity with the world’s poor.

Miami Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski, chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, said the document will likely highlight climate change as “a moral issue,” pointing out that the poor suffer the most from consequences of improper care of the environment even though “they have contributed the least to climate change.”

He said the pope would not be speaking as a scientist or a politician but as a shepherd and that the bishops, who “aren’t novices” on care for the environment, can’t “opt out” of this conversation.

Addressing the pending U.S. Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage, expected in late June, Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone of San Francisco said that no matter how the court rules, it “won’t change traditional marriage” and the bishops will continue to defend it as the church teaches.

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, praised the “courageous leadership” of Archbishop Cordileone in the effort and the bishops gave him a sustained round of applause.

A major topic of the day was Pope Francis’ September visit to the U.S. Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput said the Sept. 22-27 World Meeting of Families, the pope will be there for the last two days, is expected to draw the most participants from the United States, Canada, Vietnam and the Dominican Republic. He also said an expected crowd of more than 1 million will be in Philadelphia.

A message to the pope from the bishops, which was read to the assembly, stressed how they looked forward to meeting him and would “accompany him in prayer” in his visit.

A few of the bishops told reporters in an afternoon news conference that they hoped the pope would address religious liberty and immigration reform during his U.S. visit.

In their morning session, the bishops did not specifically address the June 10 announcement from the Vatican about a new process for holding bishops accountable for protecting children from abuse, but in response to a reporter’s question about it, it was clear they welcomed and supported the Vatican action.

“We have a long track record of wanting to help the bishops be transparent” in their efforts to protect children, said Archbishop Kurtz.

At the start of the meeting, the USCCB’s president noted that for their spring meeting, the bishops were gathered not far from Ferguson and that the bishops’ November general assembly will be in Baltimore, two places roiled in past months by protests, violence in the streets and looting following the deaths of two young African-Americans after confrontations with white police officers.

Archbishop Kurtz urged the bishops to encourage Catholics to take concrete measures to help end racism, including praying for peace and healing, promoting justice for all people, being “truly welcoming” of families of different racial and religious backgrounds. People also should get to know their community’s law enforcement officers, he said.

Auxiliary Bishop Eusebio L. Elizondo of Seattle, chairman of the Committee on Migration, encouraged the bishops to visit immigrant detention centers in their dioceses to better understand the conditions under which immigrants who enter the country without documents are being held.

He said his committee has been advocating for migrants who might be eligible for asylum or other forms of legal status in the U.S., and pushing for a dramatic increase in the number of refugees from Syria, especially, and others who are fleeing their countries due to religious persecution.

He said a pervasive concern is that new interdiction efforts in Mexico to turn back Central American migrants before they can reach the U.S. border mean that many people who would be eligible for asylum in the United States instead are summarily sent back to their home countries.

“This is a violation of international law,” said Bishop Elizondo, adding that the committee and its USCCB staff are raising the issue with the U.S. government.

In a report, for the Subcommittee on the Church in Latin America, Bishop Elizondo said diocesan donations have helped rebuild structures in Haiti and coordinate adult literacy teacher training programs.

The work has been “accomplished with transparency and accountability,” he said, adding that it is something the bishops should be proud of even as they also recognize there is “still so much more to do.”

At times during the meeting, the bishops could be seen checking their tablets or smartphones, scrolling for messages. Such was the case for Archbishop John C. Wester of Santa Fe, New Mexico, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Communications.

Modern communications are “evolving at a dizzying rate,” the archbishop said in his committee report. He urged the bishops to reach out to Catholics where they are — online. To help them in that effort, he said, the USCCB would be launching a Catholic Church app this summer, something the bishops can make particular use of during the pope’s visit.

The bishops were not only urged to prepare for the papal visit but also to think ahead and plan to attend World Youth Day next year in Krakow and participate in a 2017 convocation on the life and dignity of the human person in Orlando, Florida.

At the conclusion of a full day of reports, the bishops concelebrated Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis.

In his homily, Archbishop Kurtz reminded the bishops that St. John Paul II led a vesper service in that cathedral during his 1999 visit and he spoke of the cathedral’s striking beauty.

He added that the bishops, in their work to promote human dignity, marriage, human ecology and an end to racism, have the opportunity to communicate and share God’s beauty with the world.

 

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‘Priest for a Day’ is a ‘Make-a-Wish’ come true for 11-year-old boy

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ST. LOUIS — Make-A-Wish requests often involve meeting athletes, attending sporting events or traveling to amusement parks or beaches.

When it came time for 11-year-old Brett Haubrich of St. Mark School in Affton to make his wish, he not only listed none of those things but had no request at all.

“He didn’t want anything,” explained his mother, Eileen. “They had to keep asking him, ‘What would you like to do? Do you want to meet anybody? What do you want to be when you grow up?’”

Father Nicholas Smith helps Brett Haubrich, a sixth-grader at St. Mark School in Affton, Mo., who was diagnosed with a brain tumor last summer, with his vestments before Mass on Holy Thursday, April 2, at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis. At the invitation of St. Louis Archbishop Robert J. Carlson, Brett took his place beside the altar at the cathedral as "Priest for a Day." (CNS photo/Lisa Johnston, St. Louis Review)

Father Nicholas Smith helps Brett Haubrich, a sixth-grader at St. Mark School in Affton, Mo., who was diagnosed with a brain tumor last summer, with his vestments before Mass on Holy Thursday, April 2, at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis. At the invitation of St. Louis Archbishop Robert J. Carlson, Brett took his place beside the altar at the cathedral as “Priest for a Day.” (CNS photo/Lisa Johnston, St. Louis Review)

The answer to the last question became part of his wish, what Make-A-Wish calls “wish enhancement” to complement the main wish. Turns out he wants to be a priest, a doctor or an engineer, in that order.

So, on Holy Thursday, at the invitation of St. Louis Archbishop Robert J. Carlson, Brett took his place beside the altar at Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis as “Priest for a Day.”

Brett, a sixth-grader who was diagnosed with a brain tumor last summer, served two Masses — the chrism Mass and the evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper — and held the book for Archbishop Carlson for prayers after the homilies. At the evening Mass, he joined 11 seminarians whose feet were washed by Archbishop Carlson and his parents brought up the offertory gifts.

He also joined Archbishop Carlson for two meals; a luncheon with archdiocesan priests and deacons after the chrism Mass and a dinner with seminarians at the archbishop’s residence before the evening Mass.

Best of all, he wore a collar provided by a seminarian from Kenrick-Glennon Seminary in Shrewsbury.

When asked about his favorite part of the day, Brett was unequivocal in his answer.

“The whole thing,” he said as he waited for his dad, Conrad, near the Cathedral Basilica sanctuary with his mom and older sister Olivia after the chrism Mass. “It was really neat for them to let me do this stuff.”

And cool, too, a term he used often in describing the day.

“Just a really cool experience,” he told the St. Louis Review, the archdiocesan newspaper.

His actual wish is cool, too.

“Eating mangoes on a beach,” his mother said. That trip will come later.

Brett’s interim “Priest for a Day” request didn’t surprise his family.

“For years, he has loved the Mass and been religious,” said his mom. “He has such a good heart. He’s a very caring boy.”

Brett is the second oldest of Eileen and Conrad’s four children. He has served at his school church and at his parish, St. Martin of Tours in Lemay, which is visible from the back door of his house only a short walk away.

He likes the smell of incense, enjoys confession and likes “Communion, and the songs, too.”

Communion — the Eucharist, the living presence of Jesus Christ — stands out. “I like receiving the body and the blood” of Christ, he said.

When Brett and his family told several priests about his desire to be a priest for a day, they offered several options. He could shadow a priest for a day, spend the night at a rectory with his dad or serve Saturday morning Mass at the cathedral.

When Father Nick Smith, master of ceremonies at the cathedral, was asked if Brett could serve at a Mass his initial response was
“no way,” followed quickly by “we can do way better than that.”

They did.

Father Smith suggested that Brett serve the two Masses on Holy Thursday — the chrism Mass, which is for priests, and that night’s Mass, “which is always about the Eucharist.” Archbishop Carlson, who was with the priest when he got the request, immediately joined in with other ideas for the day — having Brett attend the seminarians’ dinner and participate in foot washing.

Father Smith prepared an itinerary and delivered it in person to Brett along with a letter signed by Archbishop Carlson asking for Brett’s help at the Masses.

“I handed it to him, and when he got to the first line, ‘I’m making you a priest for a day,’ his eyes got as big as half-dollars,” Father Smith said.

Brett admitted to being a little nervous heading into Holy Thursday, but the events went off like clockwork. Wearing the collar, Brett processed down the center aisle with priests, deacons and seminarians at the chrism Mass — at which Archbishop Carlson blessed the oils to be used throughout the archdiocese for sacraments for the next year — and took his spot near the altar.

He performed flawlessly.

Or as Archbishop Carlson put it: “He did pretty well.”

By Dave Luecking

 

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