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Parishes aren't talking about the epidemic of domestic abuse.

Washington D.C., Feb 19, 2017 / 04:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Domestic violence is a hidden epidemic that many clergy and laypersons are not properly trained to fight, says one priest who runs the country’s largest parish-based ministry to counter the problem.

“When you start talking about it, that’s when people will start coming forward,” Fr. Chuck Dahm, O.P., who directs domestic violence outreach for the Archdiocese of Chicago, told CNA about the problem of domestic abuse.

The Church's hierarchy “has not been good in getting this into the training of clergy, deacons or priests,” he said, even though a “beautiful” pastoral letter on the topic by the U.S. bishops, “When I Call for Help,” exists.

“Most priests and bishops are unaware of it,” he said. “And it should be taught and discussed in the seminaries, and it’s not.”

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. According to the CDC, “intimate partner violence” can be physical, sexual, or even emotional, as with instances of stalking or “psychological aggression.”

27 percent of women in the U.S. have suffered intimate partner violence at some point, along with 12 percent of men, the CDC has reported.

There are many physical and psychological effects of domestic violence on victims – physical injuries and disabilities and bodily effects of stress, but also anxiety, depression, and trust issues. Children witnessing violence in the home may grow up with emotional problems like anger, or may even become abusers themselves when they are adults.

In his apostolic exhortation on the family, Amoris laetitia, Pope Francis wrote of the problem of domestic abuse:

“Unacceptable customs still need to be eliminated. I think particularly of the shameful ill-treatment to which women are sometimes subjected, domestic violence and various forms of enslavement which, rather than a show of masculine power, are craven acts of cowardice. The verbal, physical, and sexual violence that women endure in some marriages contradicts the very nature of the conjugal union.”

He also insisted upon the need for parishes and priests to be ready to deal properly with these problems: “Good pastoral training is important ‘especially in light of particular emergency situations arising from cases of domestic violence and sexual abuse’,” he added, citing the final document from the 2015 Synod on the Family.

Catholics are responding to this dire need, organizing a prayer campaign for domestic abuse victims while trying to spread awareness of the problem and educate clergy on how to properly deal with instances of abuse.

A symposium on domestic abuse took place in July at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., hosted by the university’s School of Social Service.

A “toolkit” for fighting domestic abuse has been provided by the Catholics for Family Peace, Education, and Research Initiative, which includes prayers and directions for helping a victim of domestic abuse.

The group is asking everyone to pray at 3 p.m. daily for domestic abuse victims, and have called for a day of prayer on Oct. 28, the feast of St. Jude the Apostle, the patron saint of hopeless cases.

Fr. Chuck Dahm has created a parish-based ministry to combat domestic violence. A key part of his work is simply preaching about it, he says, because it is a widespread problem that hides in plain sight.

There is an “overwhelming lack of recognition that the problem is more frequent, more common than people think,” he told CNA. Many priests are completely unaware of cases of it, Fr. Chuck noted, although “there are people in their parishes who are suffering.”

“I have gone to 90 parishes in the Archdiocese of Chicago,” he said. “And after I preach about it, people walk out of the church and they tell me ‘thank you for talking about this. This is long overdue. And my sister, my daughter is in it, or I grew up in it.’ And this is so much more common than anybody realizes.”

Priests must listen when victims tell them of their abuse they’ve suffered, he insisted.

“You always have to believe the victim,” he said. “Victims do not exaggerate. If anything, they minimalize. So they have to be believed and supported.”

In one case, he said, “a victim survivor” told him of how she went to her parish priest, who “was not receptive and said he couldn’t do anything to help her.”

“Well that’s tragic,” he said. “She went and told him about the abuse she was suffering. He didn’t know how to handle it.”

Another problem is when some priests tell an abuse victim to go to marriage counseling with her husband – which “is not appropriate,” Fr. Chuck noted. “She needs domestic violence counseling and he needs perpetrator counseling,” he said. “A lot of priests don’t know that.”

Fr. Chuck participated in the symposium on domestic abuse at Catholic University this past summer.
Since then he’s seen the fruits of the conference, spreading awareness of the problem.

“A significant number went home with the plans of doing something in their diocese or their respective organizations,” he said of conference participants.

The Archdiocese of Washington just held a workshop for priests to learn how to deal with incidents of domestic abuse and 31 priests attended, he said. Two representatives of Catholic Charities in Vermont are starting a workshop for priests there, and the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City held a workshop attended by several priests and a meeting for priests with Fr. Chuck.

“It’s hard to get the priests to come to any kind of event like this,” Fr. Chuck acknowledged.

Unfortunately, it’s been negative incidents that have driven the conversation about domestic abuse, he said. For instance, when surveillance videos surfaced of former NFL running back Ray Rice punching his fiancée, and then dragging her off an elevator while she was unconscious, the “subsequent outrage” after that and other incidents like it “helps create more awareness about the problem.”

Then “people feel a little bit more comfortable and required to speak out about this and do something about it,” Fr. Chuck explained. “The publicity about negative events or harmful events is quite helpful in raising awareness.”

“We’re really behind on this,” he said of the Church’s efforts to combat the problem, while noting at the same time that “we’re making progress.” There will be a Domestic Violence Awareness and Outreach Mass on Saturday Oct. 29 at Chicago’s Holy Name Cathedral, celebrated by Cardinal-designate Blase Cupich.

“Many times violence in the streets begins at home,” Cardinal-designate Cupich stated on the issue. “Adults and children are traumatized and alienated from the love and support they need by the violence they witness. We must respond to this tragedy.”

This article originally ran on Oct. 24, 2016.

Pope Francis: to love your enemies, prayer is a game-changer

Vatican City, Feb 19, 2017 / 01:21 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The path to holiness and sainthood, Pope Francis said, requires imitating Christ by loving our enemies and praying for those who wrong us even when it is difficult.

“It’s true, God the Father is merciful,” he said Feb. 19. “And you? Are you merciful, are you merciful with the people who have hurt you? Or who do not love you?”

“If He is merciful, if He is holy, if He is perfect, we must be merciful, holy and perfect like Him,” he continued. “This is holiness. A man and a woman who do this deserve to be canonized: they become saints. So simple is the Christian life.”

Pope Francis gave his homily during Mass at the parish of Santa Maria Josefa of the Heart of Jesus, where he visited Sunday. Before Mass he visited with young people, the sick, families and those in charge of the parish’s Caritas organization. He also heard the confessions of four parishioners.

This was the Pope’s 13th visit to a parish in the diocese of Rome during his pontificate, and the second in just a little over a month.

In his homily, the pontiff reflected on the way of holiness. This path cannot be followed if we harbor resentment or wish to exact revenge against someone. Quoting the words of Jesus in the Gospel, the Pope said: “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

“Pray for the one who hurts me?” the Pope asked. “Yes,” he answered, “because it changes lives.”

If we think it is impossible, then pray, the Pope said. Pray every day for the grace to forgive and the grace to love.

The Gospel is simple, he said.

“This advice: ‘Be holy, for I the Lord your God, am holy.’ And then: ‘You shall be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect’,” the Pope remarked.

Forgiveness and prayer are the way to do this.

“This is the way of holiness,” he said. “If all men and women of the world learned this, there would be no wars, there would not be.”

Wars begin “in bitterness, rancor, the desire for revenge, to make someone pay. But that destroys families, destroys friendships, destroys neighborhoods, destroys so much,” he said.

For Pope Francis, this is why we must pray always for the grace not to hold grudges and for “the grace to pray for our enemies, to pray for the people that do not love us, the grace of peace.”

If we make this our daily prayer, the Pope continued, even just praying one prayer a day for our enemies, this is how we will “win” and make progress “on the path of holiness and perfection.”

In the end, “evil is overcome by good,” he said, and “sin is won with generosity.”

“Prayer is an antidote against hatred, against wars, these wars that start at home, which start in the neighborhood, which begin in families,” he said.

The Pope said if he knows that someone wants to hurt him and does not love him, “I pray especially for him.”

“Pray for there to be peace,” he said.

Pope prays for victims of terrorist attacks in Iraq and Pakistan

Vatican City, Feb 19, 2017 / 05:09 am (CNA/EWTN News).- After leading the Angelus Sunday, Pope Francis prayed for all those affected by violence and war around the world, particularly the victims of recent terrorist attacks in Pakistan and Iraq, asking pilgrims to offer a moment of silence before leading them in praying the ‘Hail Mary.’

“I think, in particular, of the dear people of Pakistan and Iraq, hit by cruel terrorist acts in recent days,” the Pope said Feb. 19. “We pray for the victims, the wounded and the families. Let us pray fervently that every heart hardened by hatred is converted to peace, according to the will of God.”

A suicide bomber reportedly loyal to the Islamic State attacked devotees at a Sufi shrine in Sehwan, Pakistan, more than 90 miles northwest of Hyderabad, Feb. 16. In addition to the more than 80 killed in the attack, some 250 were wounded.

The same day, a car bomb exploded in Baghdad's southwestern al-Bayaa neighborhood shortly before sunset, killing at least 55 people and wounding more than 60 others, according to Iraq's Interior Ministry.

In his message after the Angelus, Pope Francis also highlighted the ongoing violence in the Kasai region of the Democratic Republic of Congo, saying that he feels a strong sorrow for the victims, especially child soldiers, which he called “a tragedy.”

“I strongly feel sorrow for the victims,” he said, “especially for the many children torn from their families and school to be used as soldiers.”

“I assure you of my closeness and my prayer, for religious and humanitarian personnel working in that difficult region; and renew an urgent appeal to the conscience and responsibility of national authorities and the international community, so that you take appropriate and timely decisions in order to help these brothers and sisters.”

Before leading the Angelus, the Pope reflected on the day’s Gospel reading, which comes from Matthew. In it, Jesus tells his disciples: “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil.”

In this way, “Jesus shows the way of true justice through the law of love that surpasses that of retaliation.” This is how we can “break the chain of evil, and really change things,” Francis said.

“Evil is in fact a ‘vacuum’ of good,” he said, which can only be filled with good, not with another evil, “another void.”

However, this doesn’t mean we are ignoring or contradicting justice, the Pope emphasized. “On the contrary, Christian love, which is manifested in a special way in mercy, is a greater realization of justice.”

“What Jesus wants to teach us is the distinction we have to make between justice and revenge,” he said. “Distinguish between justice and revenge. Revenge is never right.”

We are allowed to seek justice – and it is our duty to do so – he explained, but to take revenge is to incite hatred and violence, which is always wrong.

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus also tells his disciples to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” This does not mean that Jesus in any way endorses the wrongdoing or evil, Francis said. It should be understood as “an invitation to a higher perspective.”

This is the same higher perspective that God the Father has, he noted, who “causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.”

No matter what, the Pope continued, our enemies, are in fact still human people, “created in God’s image,” although at the present time they may be tarnished by sin or error.

Francis said that it’s important to remember that our “enemies” may not just be people who are different from us or who live far away, but that in many cases we can speak about even ourselves as enemies, especially to those we come into conflict with on a regular basis, such as our neighbors and family members.

An enemy is anyone who commits a wrong against us, but “to all of them we are called to respond with good…inspired by love,” he said.

“May the Virgin Mary help us to follow Jesus on this difficult path,” he concluded, “which really enhances human dignity and makes us live as children of our Father who is in heaven.”

“Help us to practice patience, dialogue, forgiveness, and so to be artisans of communion and artisans of brotherhood in our daily lives.”

Florist who lost religious liberty case says all freedoms are at stake

Washington D.C., Feb 19, 2017 / 03:03 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A Washington florist fined for not serving a same-sex wedding out of conscience says the state's supreme court “violated” her freedoms by ruling against her on Thursday.

“What the court decided was that now the government has the power to separate me from my livelihood and my faith,” Barronelle Stutzman, the owner of Arlene’s Flowers in Richland, Wash., told CNA in an interview.

“They're trying to compel me to design something that goes totally against my personal conscience, and they violated my right to free speech and expression.”

Stutzman, sued by the state of Washington and the American Civil Liberties Union for declining to provide flowers for a same-sex wedding, lost her appeal at the state’s supreme court on Thursday. She says she declined to serve a long-time customer’s wedding because of her Christian beliefs that marriage is between one man and one woman.

The court had upheld a lower court’s decision, which ruled that Stutzman violated the state’s law barring discrimination on basis of sexual orientation. The lower court ordered her to pay a fine and legal costs, which stand because of Thursday’s decision. Stutzman will appeal her case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In the 24 hours since the Washington Supreme Court’s decision, Stutzman admitted she has received both calls of support and “hate calls.” Her faith, she said, “just increases day by day,” however.

Although the court ruled that she violated an anti-discrimination law, Stutzman said she still serves gay and lesbian customers and had a 10-year friendship with Rob, the man whose wedding she would not serve.

“It’s not about discrimination at all. Rob was one of my favorite customers,” she said. When he approached her at the shop to ask her to serve his wedding and she declined, “we talked about his mom walking him down the aisle, and we talked about his marriage, and I recommended three other florists to him and we hugged each other and Rob left,” she recalled.

“I love working with Rob, and I would be so excited if he just came back into my shop today and I could wait on him for another ten years. I really miss him.”

Stutzman said she has not had contact with Rob recently other than seeing him at court, and the last personal contact was at the deposition where they hugged and talked. She has received support from other gay and lesbian customers to act according to her beliefs, she said.

Now Stutzman’s livelihood is threatened, as she is liable for the state’s fines and the legal costs were estimated to top $2 million by the end of the case.

Kristen Waggoner, senior counsel at Alliance Defending Freedom who argued Stutzman’s case before the Washington Supreme Court, said that the American Civil Liberties Union is actively fighting other religious freedom appeals throughout the country.

“They are not about protecting freedom. They are about taking it away from those who don’t share their ideology and their radical beliefs,” she said.

“Civil liberties travel together,” she insisted, explaining that countries where freedom of religion is threatened “have less freedom in many other areas as well.”

“We know that this right that’s at issue in Barronelle’s case is essential to having a just and inclusive and a stable America. And we all need to stand for that,” Waggoner said.

President Donald Trump promised in 2015 to “preserve and protect our religious liberty” as a “first priority” in his administration, Waggoner noted, and he must sign an executive order establishing broad religious freedom protections for individuals and religious organizations.

Although a federal order would not affect Stutzman’s case at the state level, it would still be “a sign and good first step to restore balance and to show the states that this needs to be done,” she insisted.

Stutzman hopes her case “speaks in volumes” that “it’s not just my freedom, it’s everybody’s freedom, whether you’re religious or not” that is at stake.

“Rob has the freedom to act on what he believes about marriage and I’m just asking for the same,” she said.

How the possible Vatican-China agreement could be problematic

Washington D.C., Feb 18, 2017 / 04:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The archbishop emeritus of Hong Kong expressed serious concerns about a possible agreement between the Vatican and China on the appointing of bishops.

The agreement would essentially allow the government to pick candidates for bishops and put pressure on the Pope to veto them.

“Because how can you allow the initiative of selection of bishops in the hands of an atheistic government and totalitarian government? I want it to start from the Holy See,” Cardinal Joseph Zen said.

Cardinal Zen spoke to CNA of the possible agreement between the Vatican and the Chinese government on the ordination of bishops there. The current Archbishop of Hong Kong has expressed hope that it will come about.  

Currently, Cardinal Zen explained, “the Vatican approves certain names of people” as candidates and the government does “pay attention” to these names, approving some of them.

“The Chinese government accepts this compromise instead of having more problems,” he said.

In the new proposal, however, episcopal candidates would be elected by the clergy, with the Pope having the final say of accepting or vetoing the candidates.

The problem, Cardinal Zen insisted, is that the government will inevitably meddle in the clergy’s election. “There is no real election in China,” he said.

The pressure would then be put on the Pope if he must repeatedly veto government-appointed candidates.

Hong Kong’s current archbishop, Cardinal John Tong Hon, has defended the new proposal, noting that the Chinese government must now recognize the Pope as the supreme head of the Church and insisting that the final authority on appointing bishops rests with the Pope.

“I would prefer the other way around,” Cardinal Zen insisted. The government has not shown promise that it would accommodate the Vatican’s past concerns, but rather has proven that it wants control over the church in China.

“Even after so much dialogue,” he said of the government, “still they were so unkind to the Church.” He pointed to the recent ordination of two bishops where Lei Shiyin, an excommunicated Chinese bishop “forced his presence to the ordination” and “took part” in it.

The incident was a “slap in the face of the Holy Father,” Cardinal Zen said. “How can the government allow such things? Or even to order such thing? It’s very unkind. It’s a way to say ‘we are still the masters’.”

The state has also meddled in the internal affairs of Catholic schools in Hong Kong, he said, which could prove especially detrimental in the future.

“As church we have full freedom,” he added, “but we have suffered a heavy drawback, which is they have taken away our right of running education. They have changed the law.”

While all schools are state-subsidized, the church under the old plan would “present the management committee” for the schools to the government, usually composed of teachers, parents, and alumni. This committee would be “approved” on formality. A new law has changed that, he said.

“We have no mechanism to intervene. Because until now, until the new law, we run the schools inside the system,” he said.

Now the Church would recommend only 60 percent of the management committee and wouldn’t even “have full control” over that percentage.

“So there is no guarantee anymore the school would go on according to our vision and mission,” he said.

The “underground” Catholic church in China “enjoys a certain amount of freedom” as opposed to the state-run Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, he said, as the government “tolerates” its underground existence as whole villages may be Catholic and priests say mass in homes.

“The majority of the priests and bishops in the official church, they may, in their heart, still very much united with the universal church, but they are under tight control,” he said.

And the situation “is not changing at all, because the system is already very well established at the national level,” he added. The current General Secretary of the Communist Party of China Xi Jingping is about “tightening control,” he said, and “there is really no foundation for any optimism.”

Want to reach humanity? Be open to God's grace, Pope says

Vatican City, Feb 18, 2017 / 11:52 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The Christian mission today means facing new challenges with simplicity, holiness, and openness to God, Pope Francis told an audience with the Marian Fathers on Saturday.

“Many still await knowledge of Jesus, the sole Redeemer of man, and many situations of injustice and moral and material hardship challenge believers,” the Pope said Feb. 18. “Such an urgent mission requires conversion at personal and community levels. Only hearts that are fully open to the action of grace are able to interpret the signs of the times and to hear the calls of humanity in need of hope and peace.”

The Pope told the Marian Fathers that their apostolate is a “vast field” constituted by “the urgent need” to bear witness to the gospel before everyone without distinctions.

 The Pope received members of the Congregation of the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception on Saturday morning in the Vatican’s Consistory Hall. The congregation, present in 20 countries, is holding its general chapter in Rome from Feb. 5-25.

The Pope encouraged their reflections to be done in fidelity with their founder’s charism and their spiritual heritage while also having “a heart and mind open to the new needs of the people.”

“It is true, we must go ahead towards the new needs, the new challenges, but remember: we cannot go ahead without memory,” Pope Francis said. “It is a continual tension. If I want to go ahead without memory of the past, of the history of the founders, the great figures and also the sins of the congregation, I cannot do so.”

The Marian Fathers was founded by St. Stanislaus of Jesus and Mary in Poland in 1673. He was canonized in 2016.

Pope Francis told the congregation’s members that their service to God’s word is “witness to the Risen Christ, whom you have met on your journey and whom, with your style of life, you are called to take wherever the Church sends you.”

“Christian witness also requires commitment to and with the poor, a commitment that has characterized your Institute since the beginning,” the Pope continued. “I encourage you to keep alive this tradition of service to the poor and humble, through the proclamation of the Gospel with language understandable to them, with works of mercy and prayer for the souls of the departed.”

The Pope stressed the importance of simplicity as a spiritual foundation.

“We are not princes, sons of princes or counts or barons: we are simple people, of the people. And for this reason we draw close with this simplicity to the simple people and those who suffer the most: the sick, children, the abandoned elderly, the poor … all of them,” he said. “And this poverty is at the heart of the Gospel: it is the poverty of Jesus, not sociological poverty, but that of Jesus.”

Pope Francis invoked the example of Blessed George Matulaitis, a member of the congregation who became Bishop of Vilnius in Lithuania. He was beatified in 1987.

The Pope praised his writings for showing “the total dedication to the Church and to man.” He praised the congregation’s initiatives to spread its charism to poor countries, especially those in Africa and Asia.

“The great challenge of enculturation requires that today you proclaim the Good News using languages and methods comprehensible to the men of our time, involved in processes of rapid social and cultural change,” the Pope said.

The pontiff asked the Marian Fathers to show courage in their service to Jesus Christ and the Church. He said that God can draw great things out of smallness and unworthiness.

“Our smallness is in fact the seed, that then germinates, grows; the Lord waters it, and in this way it goes ahead,” the Pope said. “But the sense of smallness is that first impulse towards trust in the power of God. Go, go ahead on this road.”

Pope Francis prayed for the congregation’s journey of faith and growth.

More state legislatures recognizing pornography is harmful

Richmond, Va., Feb 18, 2017 / 03:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Virginia could become the third state to officially recognize the harmful effects of pornography.

By a vote of 82-8, the Virginia House of Delegates on Feb. 2 passed a resolution recognizing that pornography leads to “individual and societal harms.”

The resolution says pornography is biologically addictive and hurts families. The use of pornography may normalize violence and abuse, lead to the hypersexualization of teenagers, and increase acceptance of risky behavior, the resolution said.

Nine delegates did not vote on the resolution, which now heads to the Senate for consideration.

The measure was introduced by Delegate Robert G. Marshall, a Republican from Prince William. The original wording recognized pornography as a “public health crisis,” but that language was changed, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports.

Both chambers of the South Dakota legislature unanimously passed a resolution against pornography. The Jan. 31 vote in the House was 65-0, following a 35-0 vote in the Senate.

The South Dakota resolution used wording that recognized pornography as a public health hazard. The language was identical to that of a resolution the Utah legislature passed unanimously in March 2016.

Other countries are also considering the effects of widespread pornography.

In December 2016 the Canadian House of Commons unanimously approved a motion introduced by MP Arnold Viersen instructing health officials to examine the public health effects of violent pornography on adults and children.

Canada’s last major public study on sexually explicit material was the 1985 Fraser Committee Report.

“It is appalling that the last time Canada studied the impact of violent sexually explicit material was 30 years ago, before the invention of the internet,” Viersen said in March 2016. “This is a public health issue, it’s a women’s equality issue and it is time for Parliament to make this a priority.”

Dawn Hawkins, executive director of the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, backed the Canadian resolution. She citied research showing “neurologic changes to the brain that mimic drug addiction.” Other research indicated a link between pornography and increases in sexual dysfunction and even sexual violence.

“Once a social or health issue involves problems that affect individuals or groups beyond their capacity to correct, responsibility shifts from individual accountability to holding the forces and influences that cause it accountable,” Hawkins said in December.

She said it is “vital” for all countries with heavy internet use to study the effects of pornography on younger generations. She suggested there needs to be a public health campaign against “the use and normalization of pornography.”

About 27 percent of children are exposed to pornography even before puberty, the National Center on Sexual Exploitation said.

Pope Francis encourages meeting of popular movements in California

Stockton, Calif., Feb 17, 2017 / 05:12 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis on Friday sent a message of encouragement to the hundreds of religious and community leaders participating in a meeting of popular movements being held this week in California.

“It is the Church, the Christian community, people of compassion and solidarity, social organizations. It is us, it is you, to whom the Lord Jesus daily entrusts those who are afflicted in body and spirit, so that we can continue pouring out all of his immeasurable mercy and salvation upon them,” Pope Francis said in his Feb. 17 message to a regional meeting of popular movements being held in California.

“Here are the roots of the authentic humanity that resists the dehumanization that wears the livery of indifference, hypocrisy, or intolerance.”

The Feb. 16-18 conference being held in Modesto, about 30 miles southeast of Stockton, was organized with the support of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, and the PICO National Network.

The PICO network was a recipient of part of a $650,000 grant from George Soros' Open Society Foundations. Documents from the foundations posted to DCLeaks.com claimed the grant was part of a strategy to use Pope Francis’ U.S. visit to shift the priorities of the Catholic Church in the United States  “to be a voice on behalf of the poor and communities of color.”

“PICO and FPL have been able to use their engagement in the opportunity of the Pope’s visit to seed their position in the long-term project of shifting the priorities of the U.S. Catholic Church to focus on issues of injustice and oppression,” the memo said.

The conference aims to promote the structural changes for greater justice in racial, social, and economic areas.

 “It makes me very happy to see you working together towards social justice,” Pope Francis said in his message to the meeting. “How I wish that such constructive energy would spread to all dioceses, because it builds bridges between peoples and individuals. These are bridges that can overcome the walls of exclusion, indifference, racism, and intolerance.”

The Pope confronted the “invisible tyranny of money” as a disability and restriction to human dignity and the common good. He also discouraged corrupt acts which leads to the benefit of a few and to the ruin of many families.

“The economic system that has the god of money at its center, and that sometimes acts with the brutality of the robbers in the [Samaritan] parable, inflicts injuries that to a criminal degree have remained neglected. Globalized society frequently looks the other way with the pretense of innocence. Under the guise of what is politically correct or ideologically fashionable, one looks at those who suffer without touching them.”

Pope Francis said we must instead respond with change to a system that better reflects loving our neighbor as ourselves. Emphasizing the need for immediate action, he said it is our responsibility to pay attention to present realities, which if unchecked may develop a dehumanizing system that is harder to reverse.

“These are signs of the times that we need to recognize in order to act. We have lost valuable time: time when we did not pay enough attention to these processes, time when we did not resolve these destructive realities. The direction taken beyond this historic turning-point … will depend on people’s involvement and participation and, largely, on yourselves, the popular movements.”

The call for action comes at a time of immigration reform and a refugee crisis.

Pope Francis reiterated the question of the lawyer to Christ in the Gospel of Luke: “Who is my neighbor? … My relatives? My compatriots? My co-religionists?” He recognized that the lawyer's hope may have been for Christ to label neighbors and non-neighbors.

“Do not classify others in order to see who is a neighbor and who is not,” the Pope exhorted. “You can become neighbor to whomever you meet in need, and you will do so if you have compassion in your heart. That is to say, if you have that capacity to suffer with someone else. You must become a Samaritan.”

Recalling that those at the conference have a commitment “to fight for social justice, to defend our Sister Mother Earth and to stand alongside migrants,” Pope Francis affirmed this choice and shared reflections on “the ecological crisis” and that “no people is criminal and no religion is terrorist.”

“The ecological crisis is real,” he emphasized first. “Science is not the only form of knowledge, it is true. It is also true that science is not necessarily 'neutral' — many times it conceals ideological views or economic interests. However, we also know what happens when we deny science and disregard the voice of Nature. I make my own everything that concerns us as Catholics. Let us not fall into denial. Time is running out. Let us act. I ask you again – all of you, people of all backgrounds including native people, pastors, political leaders – to defend Creation.”

“No people is criminal and no religion is terrorist,” Pope Francis then said. “Christian terrorism does not exist, Jewish terrorism does not exist, and Muslim terrorism does not exist. They do not exist. No people is criminal or drug-trafficking or violent.”

He recognized, however, that “there are fundamentalist and violent individuals in all peoples and religions – and with intolerant generalizations they become stronger because they feed on hate and xenophobia.”

“The wounds are there, they are a reality. The unemployment is real, the violence is real, the corruption is real, the identity crisis is real, the gutting of democracies is real,” he continued, identifying the world’s suffering as a “gangrene” whose stench has become unbearable, leading to more hate, quarrels, and even a “justified indignation.”

In the face of this crisis, he said Christians have an opportunity to impact the world: “We also find an opportunity: that the light of the love of neighbor may illuminate the Earth with its stunning brightness like a lightning bolt in the dark.”

He ended his message in reference to the prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi: “let us give everything of ourselves: where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, let us sow pardon; where there is discord, let us sow unity; where there is error, let us sow truth.”

In the course of his message, he thanked Bishop Stephen Blaire of Stockton, Bishop Armando Ochoa of Fresno, Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento, Bishop David Talley of Alexandria, and Cardinal Peter Turkson, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.

“I would also like to highlight the work done by the PICO National Network and the organizations promoting this meeting,” Pope Francis also said. “I learned that PICO stands for 'People Improving Communities through Organizing'. What a great synthesis of the mission of popular movements: to work locally, side by side with your neighbors, organizing among yourselves, to make your communities thrive.”

Muslim refugee hails Pope Francis as the example of religion

Vatican City, Feb 17, 2017 / 04:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Nur Essa, a Muslim Syrian woman whose family was brought to Rome from Lesbos by Pope Francis last April, said that the openness he has shown to those of different faiths has deeply impressed her.

“For me, I was surprised,” she told CNA. “(He is) very open to all of the cultures, all of the religions, and he sets an example for all the religious people in the world, because he uses religion to serve the human being.”

Essa, 31, has met the Pope on several occasions, most recently during the Pope's visit Feb. 17th to Roma Tre University, a public research university in Rome where she currently studies.

She was one of four students of the university to ask the Pope a question, which he answered during his visit.

Essa's question was about the integration of immigrants in Italy: what they must do to integrate into their host country, but also what the rights of the immigrant are.

Before this, Essa and her husband and their little boy met Pope Francis when he brought them to Rome April 16th, 2016, along with two other Syrian refugee families who had been staying in a camp on the Island of Lesbos. She said that the Pope greeted them and blessed her son.

Essa also had an opportunity to speak with him at length when they were invited to be guests at a lunch Aug. 11th at the Vatican, which Essa said was an “honor.”

“He's very, very modest, a very simple man, a very real human being,” she said.
 
Essa has both an undergraduate degree and a master's in microbiology, and is studying biology at Roma Tre.

She said that she and her husband are both from the city of Damascus in Syria and chose to flee the country because her husband had been asked to join the military service there.

They went from Damascus to Turkey, and then from Turkey to Greece, where they stayed in a refugee camp for one month before they were fortunate enough to be chosen as one of the families the Pope brought back to Rome.

Pope Francis visited Roma Tre University at the request of the Dean of the university, who wanted to invite a public figure for the university's 25th anniversary.

According to Fr. John D'Orazio, who is a Catholic chaplain assigned to the university by the Diocese of Rome, the last pope to make a formal visit was St. John Paul II for the university’s 10th anniversary in 2002.

The chaplaincy just finished constructing its first Catholic chapel for students nearby to the university, something they've been wanting to do for a long time, Fr. D'Orazio said.

He said that although students don't live on campus, they still try “to create opportunities for students to meet together” and to reflect on their Catholic faith and “what it means for them in their own studies and in being citizens in today’s world and in society.”

It's a very diverse campus, he said, with students of no faith or of different religions, including Muslim students. “I think it's very interesting and beautiful to be a chaplain inside of a state university,” he said, “because it means creating dialogue, creating collaboration.”

“It's almost like mission work, because you're working in a place where there are all kinds of different people, different backgrounds, different points of view. So it's a good place to create bridges,” he said.

“Pope Francis talks a lot about creating bridges and not walls. And I think that also the chaplaincy in a state university is all about creating bridges of dialogue and collaboration.”

Catholic thinker Michael Novak remembered with gratitude

Washington D.C., Feb 17, 2017 / 02:38 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The theologian, philosopher and Catholic commentator Michael Novak died Friday, drawing remembrances for his insights and influence on religion in public life.

“We are immensely grateful that he could end his academic life as he began it, as a member of our community,” Catholic University of America president John Garvey said, calling Novak a man of “great intellectual honesty.”

“Unlike some scholars, Michael Novak made it a point to reflect on new and different topics, always with a fresh and dynamic perspective,” Garvey said.

Novak died Feb. 17 at the age of 83.

He was a student at Catholic University of America in 1958 and 1959. In 2016 he was named a visiting fellow at the university’s The Arthur and Carlyse Ciocca Center for Principled Entrepreneurship. He taught special topics in management and lectured on human ecology.

The center’s director, Andreas Widmer, stressed Novak’s pioneering role in considering the intersection of faith and economics. He said he and his colleagues were touched by Novak’s “kindness and humility,” his generosity with his time, and his encouragement for others.

“You would never have known from working with him that this was a man who had counseled popes and changed the course of history,” Widmer said.

St. John Paul II, President Ronald Reagan, and U.K. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher considered Novak a friend, Catholic University of America said.

Novak was the author of numerous books, most prominently the 1982 work The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism. He contended that democratic capitalism is “neither the Kingdom of God nor without sin,” but better than all other known systems of political economy.

“Such hope as we have for alleviating poverty and for removing oppressive tyranny — perhaps our last, best hope — lies in this much despised system,” he said.

The book was published around the world and had a particular impact among anti-communist dissidents in Eastern Europe. The book was illegally distributed in Poland by the Solidarity movement, the Washington Post reports.

His other books include Tell Me Why: A Father Answers His Daughter’s Questions About God, a 1998 work he co-authored with his daughter Jana.

Novak wrote on human rights, economic systems, the history of labor unions, U.S. ethnic history, and the role of churches in the modern world.

He was born to a Slovak-American family in Johnstown, Pa. on Sept. 9, 1933. His studies for the priesthood took him to the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome and he was ordained for the Congregation of Holy Cross in 1960. Within months of his ordination, he left the priesthood and was later laicized.

He received a bachelor's degree in philosophy from Stonehill College, a Bachelor of Theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University, and a master's degree in history and the philosophy of religion from Harvard.

Novak worked as a journalist in the early 1960s, writing for the National Catholic Reporter and Commonweal before working for Time Magazine in Rome during the Second Vatican Council. He would go on to serve as an editor at Commonweal and Christian Century magazines, religion editor for National Review, a contributing editor for First Things magazine and editor-in-chief of Crisis Magazine.

According to Novak’s website, his political work included the 1968 campaigns of Eugene McCarthy and Robert F. Kennedy and speechwriting for Democratic vice presidential nominee Sargent Shriver during Sen. George McGovern’s unsuccessful 1972 presidential campaign. He became an opponent of the Vietnam War after initially supporting intervention.

He would turn away from left-wing politics and the Democratic Party to join the Republican-trending neoconservative school of thought. Under President Ronald Reagan, he was named as U.S. Ambassador to the Human Rights Commission of the United Nations and served on the Board of International Broadcasting that oversaw Radio Free Europe and Radio Free Liberty.

He served in multiple academic positions, teaching at Harvard, Stanford, Notre Dame, and Ave Maria University. In the early 1970s, he helped design a new humanities program for the Rockefeller Foundation of New York.

He joined the American Enterprise Institute think tank in 1978, where he worked as a scholar until his retirement in 2010.

Among Novak’s many achievements were his work to launch many academic institutes and seminars, including the Tertio Millennio Seminar that aimed to bring together North American and Eastern European students to discuss Catholic social teaching.

George Weigel, one of Novak's collaborators, wrote in the National Review that "both Church and nation have lost one of their most imaginative and accomplished sons."

Weigel remembered Novak "first and foremost" as a teacher, who "offered a model of patient counseling and courteous listening that our students will long remember."

Novak's honors include the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion.

Ahead of the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, Novak went to the Vatican to argue that the war would be justified on the grounds of self-defense against Iraq’s then-leader Saddam Hussein. His remarks tried to counter some high-level Vatican critics of a war on Iraq.

Though Novak was careful not to criticize him personally, opponents of the war included St. John Paul II.

At the time, the Los Angeles Times reported that U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See Jim Nicholson had brought Novak to Rome for an embassy-sponsored lecture series, but Nicholson stressed that Novak did not represent the U.S. government or its embassies.

Novak is survived by three children and four grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his wife Karen Laub-Novak.