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Vatican Christmas stamps feature artwork by inmate

Vatican City, Nov 12, 2018 / 11:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The artwork featured on the Vatican’s postage stamps for Christmas 2018 were painted by a man serving a life-sentence in a Milanese prison.

The two stamp designs, painted by Marcello D’Agata, depict the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Nativity of Christ.

The postage stamps were unveiled by Archbishop Mario Delpini of Milan at a Nov. 9 presentation in the Milan prison and can be purchased at the Vatican City post office. They are available in denominations of 1.15 or 1.10 euro ($1.29, $1.24), which is the postage required to mail directly to Europe and the Mediterranean region.

An Italian journalist had the idea for the Vatican stamps after having followed a philately initiative within the Milan prison for several years.

According to L’Osservatore Romano, a Vatican-supported newspaper, D’Agata was drawn to art from an early age. “I confess that as a child, as soon as a blank paper appeared before me, I never failed to draw on it,” he told the newspaper.

“Of course, they were just scribbles, but I liked it so much, because on those papers I gave shape and color to my emotions and, most of all, to my dreams.”

D’Agata said he had fallen away from artistic expression until a few years ago, when the director of the prison allowed a group of prisoners to take part in a drawing course, which served as a “source of inspiration and the dormant talents came back to life.”

Science should serve humanity, Pope Francis says

Vatican City, Nov 12, 2018 / 10:26 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis told a group of scientists Monday to use their knowledge for the benefit of all humanity, especially at the service of those people who are most often disregarded by most of society.

It is not enough to merely follow the principles of ethics, the Church expects from science “a positive service that we can call with Saint Paul VI the ‘charity of knowledge,’” the pope said Nov. 12.

“I would like to stand before you as the advocate of the peoples that receive only rarely and from afar the benefits of vast human knowledge and its achievements,” he continued, “especially in the areas of nutrition, health, education, connectivity, well-being and peace.”

Pope Francis spoke in an audience with participants in the Pontifical Academy of Sciences’ plenary meeting, taking place at the Vatican Nov. 12-14 on the theme “Transformative roles of science in society: From emerging basic science toward solutions for people’s wellbeing.”

Referencing the theme of the academy’s plenary meeting, he praised the academy’s focus on using knowledge to confront the challenges facing modern society, stressing that “the universal rights we proclaim must become reality for all.”

“Science can contribute decisively to this process and to breaking down the barriers that stand in its way,” he said, encouraging scientists to conduct research which benefits all people, “so that the peoples of the earth will be fed, given to drink, healed and educated.”

He also encouraged them to give sound advice to the political and economic spheres “on how to advance with greater certainty towards the common good, for the benefit especially of the poor and those in need, and towards respect for our planet.”

In his speech, Francis outlined a few of the possible fruits of a scientific community focused on a “mission of service.”

One of these fruits is “commitment to a world without nuclear arms,” he said, echoing sentiments of St. Paul VI and St. John Paul II, “that scientists actively cooperate to convince government leaders of the ethical unacceptability of such weaponry, because of the irreparable harm that it causes to humanity and to the planet.”

He urged “the need for disarmament,” which he argued is a topic raised less and less frequently by those in positions of power. “May I be able to thank God, as did Saint John Paul II in his Testament, that in my Pontificate the world was spared the immense tragedy of an atomic war,” he stated.

Pope Francis also noted what he said is a “lack of will and political determination” to end the arms race and wars. More monetary resources could then be put toward renewable energy and programs to ensure water, food, and health for all, he said.

On climate change, he pointed out the influence of human actions and said there is a need for responses aimed at protecting “the health of the planet and its inhabitants,” which is risked by use of fossil fuels and deforestation.

In his address, he also praised the Academy of Sciences’ work combating human trafficking, forced labor, prostitution, and organ trafficking and said he stands at their side “in this battle for humanity.”

“This is the immense panorama that opens up before men and women of science when they take stock of the expectations of peoples,” he said: “expectations animated by trusting hope, but also by anxiety and unrest.”

 

Apostolic Nuncio: Bishops need to regain trust of their faithful

Baltimore, Md., Nov 12, 2018 / 08:52 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Bishops in the United States need to work hard to regain the trust of their flocks and combat a culture of clericalism, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States, told those present at the USCCB’s Fall General Assembly in Baltimore, Md.

After acknowledging that the past year has been “challenging and sobering,” Pierre spoke sternly to his brother bishops and told them that they need to accept their responsibility as “spiritual fathers” of their dioceses.

While the Church is “always” in need of renewal, Pierre said that that this task will be impossible without rebuilding the trust of their community. It is a task that demands time, effort sacrifice, and reform on the part of the bishop.

“The only way of reforming the Church is to suffer for her,” he said, and this reform needs to come from the mission of the Church. In creating reform, bishops must show that they are capable of solving problems that are placed before them, “rather than simply delegating them to others.”

Bishops, he sad, have a “special responsibility” to strengthen the faith of others, especially when presented with these challenges.

“The people of God have rightly challenged us to be trustworthy,” he said.  

“Pope Francis never ceases to tell us that if we are to begin again, then we should begin again from Jesus Christ, who lightens our lives and helps us to prove that we can be trustworthy.”

Despite admonishing the bishops for betraying the trust of the faithful, he also offered praise for certain aspects of their work.

Pierre voiced approval for the bishops’ efforts in creating sanctions and rules for the protection of children and vulnerable adults. There is, however, always more that can be done, and bishops should not be afraid to “get their hands dirty” and remain vigilant in this work.

“Those of you who have done good work have to be congratulated for your commitment as leaders, and for setting a good example for us all,” he said, noting that one case of clerical sex abuse is one too many.

He also praised the media for their work in reporting the abuse crisis, reminding the bishops not to shoot the messenger, so to speak, when it comes to these stories, regardless of how “painful and humiliating” they may be.

As a way to regain the trust of the faith, bishops need to work on fighting back against a culture that promotes clericalism and one that tolerates the abuse of authority, he said. These sins are not those of the media, nor are they “products of conspiracies,” he said. Rather, they are for the Church to confront head-on.

“These are things we must recognize and fix,” he said, starting from the beginning of the priesthood formation process in the seminaries. Those who are selected for the seminary must be properly screened, and he encouraged the bishops to spend time talking to young people and hearing their concerns.

Bishops “cannot run from the challenges that present and confront us,” he said, but instead need to have “open hearts” and hear the concerns of the faithful.

“Even if things seem dark, do not be discouraged. Have hope. [Christ] is with us, and He accompanies the Church,” he said.

Cardinal DiNardo to US bishops: Avoid despair, presumption in addressing abuse crisis

Baltimore, Md., Nov 12, 2018 / 08:34 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Cardinal Daniel DiNardo opened the fall assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) with a speech calling for bishops to avoid the two temptations of “despair and presumption” as they address the sexual abuse scandals facing the Church.

In his opening speech, given as president of the USCCB, DiNardo said that the Church must rely on “trusting faith,” and “living memory” as it seeks to support victims of abuse and to reassure the faithful.

DiNardo’s address was clearly amended to account for the surprise announcement that the Holy See had blocked the bishops from voting on two key proposals.

Shortly before his speech, the cardinal told the hall that he had been instructed by Rome that the U.S. bishops were not to vote on a proposed new set of standards for episcopal conduct or on the creation of a new lay-led body to investigate episcopal misconduct. Instead, the American bishops have been told to wait until after a special meeting of the presidents of the world’s bishops’ conferences called by Pope Francis for February.

Despite the sudden change to the conference agenda, DiNardo said that the American bishops take the abuse crisis seriously.

“We remain committed to the program of episcopal accountability. Votes will not take place, but we will move forward,” DiNardo told attendees.

Addressing survivors in the first person, the Archbishop of Galveston-Houston said, “I am deeply sorry.”

“In our weakness we fell asleep,” he said, while calling for a renewed vigilance, both against abuse and against paralysis in the face of recent scandals.

Despair, he said, must yield to the knowledge that the Church “has always been and will always be the body of Christ” which the bishops are called to serve as members.

On the other hand, DiNardo also warned against presuming that the current crisis would just “blow over” or worse, was a crisis of the past not the present. While noting that many of the recent scandals concerned cases of abuse from past decades, he said that the Church could not presume that victims should “heal on our timeline.”

Progress has been made, DiNardo told the bishops, but they must remain “willing but also ready to ask forgiveness” of victims, survivors and the faithful. Bringing healing to the sexual abuse crisis will require “all our spiritual and physical resources”

“It is only after listening that we can carry out the changes needed,” DiNardo said, ending with a plea to the bishops that the conference proceed untied in humility.

“Let us submit to the Holy father and to each other in a spirit of fraternal correction,” he said.

“Brothers, we have fallen into a place of great weakness. We must act right here and right now to better serve our sisters and brothers.”

“We can begin to clean and then to heal the lacerations in the body of Christ.”

 

Vatican cancels US bishops’ vote on sex abuse reform measures

Baltimore, Md., Nov 12, 2018 / 07:57 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the U.S. bishops’ conference has told the American bishops that they will not vote on two key proposals which had been expected to form the basis for the Church’s response to the sexual abuse crisis.

The news came at the beginning of the U.S. bishops’ conference fall general assembly, meeting in Baltimore Nov. 12-14.

The instruction to delay consideration of a new code of conduct for bishops and the creation of a lay-led body to investigate bishops accused of misconduct came directly from the Holy See, DiNardo told a visibly surprised conference hall.

DiNardo said that the Holy See insisted that consideration of the new measures be delayed until the conclusion of a special meeting called by Pope Francis for February. That meeting, which will include the presidents of the world’s bishops’ conferences, will address the global sexual abuse crisis.

Apologizing for the last minute change to the conference’s schedule, he said had only been told of the decision by Rome late yesterday.

Ahead of the bishops’ meeting, two documents had been circulated: a draft Standards of Conduct for bishops and a proposal to create a new special investigative commission to handle accusations made against bishops.

These proposals had been considered to be the bishops’ best chance to produce a substantive result during the meeting, and signal to the American faithful that they were taking firm action in the face of a series of scandals which have rocked the Church in the United States over recent months.

Speaking before the conference session had even been called to order, DiNardo told the bishops he was clearly “disappointed” with Rome’s decision. The cardinal said that, despite the unexpected intervention by Rome, he was hopeful that the Vatican meeting would prove fruitful and that its deliberations would help improve the American bishops’ eventual measures.

While DiNardo was still speaking, Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago intervened from the floor, expressing his support for the pope.  

“It is clear the the Holy See is taking the abuse crisis seriously,” Cupich said.

At the same time, he suggested that the work which had gone into preparing the two proposals should not go to waste.

Cupich suggested that if the conference could not take a binding vote, they should instead continue with their discussions and conclude with resolution ballot on the two measures. This, he said, would help best equip Cardinal DiNardo to present the thought of the American bishops during the February meeting, where he will represent the U.S. bishops’ conference.

“We need to be very clear with [DiNardo] where we stand, and be clear with our people where we stand,” Cupich said.

While acknowledging that the February meeting was important, he noted that responding to the abuse crisis “is something we cannot delay, there is an urgency here.”

Cupich went on to propose moving forward the American bishops’ next meeting, currently scheduled for June 2019. Instead, he suggested, the bishops should reconvene in March in order to act as soon as possible after the February session in Rome.

 

Sr Thea Bowman's cause for canonization could open at US bishops' meeting

Baltimore, Md., Nov 11, 2018 / 04:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Sr. Thea Bowman was the first African American woman to address the U.S. bishops' conference. Most likely, she was also the first person to get them to hold hands and sing and sway to a Negro Spiritual.

“We shall overcome,” she intoned at their 1988 spring meeting in her signature rich voice, before exhorting the bishops to join in with a hearty “Y’all get up!”

Sr. Thea, a Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration, a daughter of the Deep South and the granddaughter of a slave, was sick from battling cancer and confined to a wheelchair at the time.

But that didn’t stop the 51 year-old from doling out more instructions when the stiff group still wasn’t swaying to her satisfaction: “Cross your right hand over your left hand, you gotta move together to do that,” she said as the bishops crossed arms and held hands before continuing the song.

“See in the old days you had to tighten up so that when the bullets would come, so that when the tear gas would come, so that when the dogs would come, so that when the horses would come, so that when the tanks would come, brothers and sisters would not be separated from one another,” she told the bishops, referring to the days of the Civil Rights movement.

“And do you remember what they did with the bishops and the clergy in those old days? Where’d they put them? Right up in front. To lead the people in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in the Church,” she said.

That keynote showcased Sr. Thea in her element – sharing her faith and love of God, urging racial awareness and reconciliation within the Catholic Church, joyfully belting out Gospel hymns and convincing everyone around her to join in.

Now, nearly 30 years after her death, Sr. Thea will once again feature at the U.S bishops' conference - but this time, they will be voting to approve the opening of her cause for canonization.

The precocious 'old folks child'

Sister Thea was born Bertha Bowman on December 29, 1937 in Yazoo City, Mississippi, the only daughter to her father, a family doctor, and her mother, an educator. The family resided in Canton, a town 30-some miles to the south and east of Yazoo City.

She was the granddaughter to slaves, and her maternal grandmother was a prominent educator in the area after whom the local school was named.

From an early age, Bertha self-identified as an “old folks child”, her parents having been middle-aged by the time she was born. She was doted on by aunts, uncles, and grandparents during her childhood. Her mother taught her to read, her father taught her some of the basics of First Aid.

One thing Bertha learned early on from the “old folks” in her life was what she would affectionately call “old time religion.” Her parents were Methodist, and the Bible belt town was full of active parishes of all Christian denominations.

In the book Sister Thea: Songs of my People, she recalled: “Many of the best (religion) teachers were not formally educated. But they knew scripture, and they believed the Living Word must be celebrated and shared...Their teachings were simple. Their teachings were sound,” she said. “Their methodologies were such that, without effort, I remember their teachings today.”

The religious vitality of her surroundings sent the young Bertha on her own “spiritual quest” of sorts, and she sat in on religious services at many of the different churches in town. At the Catholic Church, she was one of just a few black people there, relegated at the time to the back pews.

Ultimately, it was the witness of the love and service of Catholic sisters, specifically the Franciscan order that she would eventually join, that convinced her to become Catholic at the young age of 9.

“Once I went to the Catholic Church, my wanderings ceased. I knew I had found that for which I had been seeking. Momma always says, God takes care of babies and fools,” she wrote in an autobiography in 1958.

By all accounts, her parents were supportive of the little convert, and enrolled her in Holy Child Catholic school following her conversion, where she became enthralled with the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration from Wisconsin who were serving there.

Besides her religious seeking, her heart for God also manifested itself in other ways, said Father Maurice Nutt, a Redemptorist priest and former student of Sr. Thea who is now the diocesan promoter of her cause for canonization.

“When lunchtime would come, she would notice children who didn’t have any food, and so she would take her lunch and she would give it to them. And they would say Bertha, don’t you want to eat? And she would say no, I’m not very hungry today,” he said.

“So her concern as a child was to feed the poor, she wanted to help those who were marginalized in any way.”

Her mother soon caught on that Bertha was coming home from school hungry, and so the two of them began making extra peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for Bertha to give to her friends at lunchtime.

“So you’re seeing from a very early age that this woman Thea Bowman walked with God, she was close to God, God was everything to her so she was his servant.”

Bertha becomes Thea

That strong sense of religiosity and wanting to serve others never left Bertha, and at the age of 15 she was determined to join the order of FSPA sisters that had taught at her school.

Her parents, neither yet Catholic, pleaded with her to reconsider, or to at least consider joining traditionally black orders of sisters that were much closer to home.

But the determined Bertha staged a hunger strike until her parents relented. She was accompanied by another sister on the long train ride to the FSPA motherhouse in La Crosse, Wisconsin with special permission to sit in the white passenger cars rather than in the baggage cars, as was mandated for blacks in the pre-civil rights movement days.

A couple years into formation, Bertha took the religious name of Thea, which she would have for the rest of her life.

Sister Rochelle Potaracke, FSPA, was a young sister at the time that Thea joined the convent in 1953.

She told CNA that she remembers Thea as a happy and energetic young postulant, who stuck out in the state of Wisconsin, where very few black people lived at the time. Her blackness even made news in the local Catholic paper that summer: “Negro Aspirant” read the headline.

“When I was growing up I never saw a black person, that was in the early '40s, and that’s the same for many areas I know,” Potaracke told CNA.

“But I think we accepted (Thea) very well. We loved her dearly, she fit right in with all of us, she always had her singing and her enthusiasm,” she said.

“But it must have been terribly hard for her. I think of it now, I didn’t think of it then. I didn’t think ‘Oh, the poor dear, but I think now it had to be a challenge for her, she was in a whole new almost different country so to speak.”

According to a biography, Thea’s Song, after the newness of the convent experience wore off, Thea experienced culture shock and blatant racism, within and without the convent walls.

Sister Helen Elsbernd, who went through formation with Thea at the FSPA motherhouse, said Sr. Thea didn’t mention anything to her fellow sisters about racial discrimination at the time.

“She didn’t talk about it. In the early years of formation she tried very hard to fit in with the culture here,” Elsbernd recalled.

Her first years as a sister were also challenging for another reason - in 1955, two years into formation, Thea was stricken with tuberculosis, and spent most of that year in the sanatorium.

“I marvel at her constant cheerfulness,” one sister wrote to Thea’s parents during her illness.

‘Black is beautiful’: Sr. Thea’s racial advocacy grows

Sr. Thea’s cheerful energy would remain her signature trait as her passionate advocacy for racial integration in the Catholic Church began to further develop.

Potaracke, who spent time studying with Sr. Thea during graduate school at Catholic University of America, said that for years, the sisters had been going to school at CUA, where they were simply known as the Franciscan sisters from Wisconsin.

That changed when Sr. Thea came on the scene. Early into their days at CUA, Sr. Thea and her fellow sisters attended a student event, during which Thea leapt up to tell her story as a young black woman growing up in the South.

“Thea could just grab an audience any time she wanted, she could just spark life into the group that was in front of her,” Potaracke recalled.

“She started singing these songs and everyone was clapping and dancing and jumping around. And after that time we were no longer the FSPA’s, it was oh - you’re Sister Thea’s group. I point that out because that’s the impression she made on people,” she said.

As a CUA student, Sr. Thea helped to found the National Black Sisters Conference and became a noted public speaker and advocate for African Americans in the Church. She advocated for encounter between white and non-white Catholics, for increased representation in Church leadership for non-whites, and for an embrace of music and traditions from different cultures into the Church.

As her racial advocacy grew, one of Sr. Thea’s signature phrases became “black is beautiful.”
“‘Black is beautiful,’ that’s what she would say all the time,” said Potaracke.

It was a phrase that came from Thea’s mother, who had tried to teach her from an early age to handle the racial discrimination that she experienced with love rather than hate.

“Her mother always said that she had to be honest and good to people. Her mother said: ‘You can’t hate, because if you hate you will become like the people you want to hate. Remember, black is beautiful.’”

An impressive scholar, Sr. Thea would eventually get her doctorate in English, and spent several years teaching at Viterbo College in La Crosse, which was staffed by many FSPA sisters. During her time there, she formed singing groups of African American students who became popular throughout the area, Elsbernd said.

In 1978, Sr. Thea moved back to Mississippi, to help her aging parents and to serve in outreach ministry to non-white communities for the Diocese of Jackson. During this time, she continued to expand her speaking and singing ministries, and travelled extensively to give talks nationally and internationally about the importance of racial awareness and acceptance in the Church.

In 1980, she helped to found the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University in New Orleans, where she taught until nearly the end of her life. It was during that time that Fr. Maurice Nutt met Sr. Thea at a conference for black Catholic clergy and religious, at which Sr. Thea was the speaker.

“I was so impressed by her. No one really meets Sr. Thea, they encounter her,” Nutt said.

Her talk was the first time that Nutt really considered what it meant to be black and Catholic, and the unique gifts that the black community could bring to the Church, he said.

“It was a cathartic moment for me, because she really enabled me to bring my very best self, my African American self, to the Church, to give my life in service to the Church,” Nutt recalled.

He was so moved by her that he joined the next cohort at the Institute.

“She would always say that we are an integral part of the Church, that as African American Catholics, we have gifts to share, we have our spirituality, we have our witness of struggle and suffering. We have the joy of knowing Jesus even in times of sorrow,” he said.

“And so what she taught me was to bring my gifts to the Church. She taught me to be very intentional in my expression of spirituality, to share what it means to be black and Catholic, that we should not hide those gifts, but that there’s a mutuality, that integration means that you have something to share but I also have something to share.”

Nutt remembers Sr. Thea as a brilliant teacher who demanded excellence, but also as a warm and caring woman who embraced her students as her own children.

“Thea became my spiritual mother, and I became her spiritual son, and she would call me son,” Nutt said. “She would say that the seminarians she encouraged, she said ‘These are the sons that I give to the Church.’ And I am so grateful that I was counted in that number.”

In 1984, Sr. Thea’s parents died within months of each other. Not long after, she received a diagnosis of breast cancer.

“That was crushing,” Nutt said. “She was the only child of this elderly couple, it seemed like her whole world had fallen apart, and then she received the challenge of cancer.”

While many would be tempted to give up, Sr. Thea made a decision: “I’m going to live until I die,” she said.

And she did. She kept up her speaking engagements and outreach ministry at full-bore. She recorded songs and helped compile the African American hymnal “Lead Me, Guide Me”, gave numerous biographical interviews including a “60 Minutes” segment, and spoke to the U.S. bishops in 1989.

“We as Church walk together,” she told the bishops. “Don’t let nobody separate you, that’s one thing black folks can teach you, don’t let folks divide you. The Church teaches us that the Church is a family, a family of families, and a family that can stay together. And we know that if we do stay together...if we walk and talk and work and play and stand together in Jesus’ name we’ll be who we say we are, truly Catholic. And we shall overcome - overcome the poverty, overcome the loneliness, overcome the alienation, and build together a holy city, a new Jerusalem, a city set apart where...we love one another.”

While she was sick, Nutt said Sr. Thea would pray “that God will heal my body. If God will heal my body, I’ll say thank you Lord. But I also know that if God doesn't give me what I ask of him, God will give me something better.”

And on March 30, 1990, “that something better was to call her home,” Nutt said.

The legacy of Sr. Thea

Nutt said he thinks Sr. Thea will be remembered for her passionate advocacy on behalf of blacks and other minorities in the Church.

“She spoke about the fact that African American Catholics, we have a deep and abiding history. She told the history that we come from the Ethiopian eunuch, we come from Simon of Cyrene...that we are not late in joining the Church but that people of African descent have been there from the early days of Catholicism, and that this is our home,” he said.

Potaracke said she remembers Thea as a warm woman who had a strong sense of self and wasn’t afraid to advocate for herself and others.

“She was a spark, and she spoke her voice, if she didn’t like something she said it strong and clear, no matter what meeting you were at, she would speak her voice,” Potaracke said.

“It was her inner belief that she was a beautiful woman, that she had a place in this world, and that she was going to go out and change the people she met, and she did. Whether you were penniless or whether you were the wealthiest person, she just had lots of friends in every corner of the world.”

He said he believed she would also be remembered for her love of God, from which flowed her joy and love for others.

“You knew in her midst that you were in the presence of someone extremely special, who had a deep connection with God. Thea said she grew up in a world where God was so alive, and she shared that joy with everyone, that God is real, that God is love, that God is alive, and anyone who met her experienced the presence of God,” he said.

As for Sr. Thea herself, she once said that she wanted to be remembered simply as someone who tried.

“Think of all the great things she did, and she simply said: I want to be remembered as someone who tried. She said she wanted on her tombstone: ‘She tried,’” Nutt said.

“That speaks of her humility. That speaks of her love for God and that she never proclaimed herself to be holy or righteous. She was a disciple of Jesus Christ who tried to love one another, to love other people, to try to lift her service to God and the Church.”

Nutt encouraged Catholics to ask for Sr. Thea’s intercession as her cause gets underway.

“I would encourage people to seek her intercession, especially if they’re struggling with their faith, if they’re struggling with family issues. I would encourage students to pray to her when they’re taking tests, I would also say anyone battling cancer of any kind to seek her encouragement, to seek her inspiration, as they journey through their battle with cancer.”

As is customary, when a bishop begins the preliminary phases of someone’s cause for canonization, the cause must be put to a vote of the U.S. bishop’s conference. At their meeting Nov. 12-14, the bishops are expected to endorse the opening of the cause of Sr. Thea Bowman, which is being overseen by Bishop Joseph Kopacz of Jackson.

Pope Francis marks World War I centenary with message of peace

Vatican City, Nov 11, 2018 / 05:22 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The bells of St. Peter’s Basilica rang out in unison with thousands of other church bells around the world Sunday as Pope Francis commemorated the 100 year anniversary of the end of World War I.

“While we pray for all the victims of that terrible tragedy, let us say forcefully: invest in peace, not on war!” Pope Francis said at the end of his Angelus address Nov. 11.

The memory of World War I should be a warning to “reject a ‘culture of war’ and seek every legitimate means to put an end to the conflicts that still bleed several regions of the world,” he said and added, “It seems that we do not learn.”

Francis quoted Pope Benedict XV, an advocate for peace during WWI, who denounced the war as “useless slaughter” in his 1917 peace plan. As pope throughout the entirety of the first world war, Benedict wrote five encyclicals and three apostolic exhortations concerning peace.

Around 17 million people, soldiers and civilians, were killed during the Great War. November 11, 2018 marks the 100th anniversary of the signing of the armistice between Germany and the Allies in France, which ended World War I in 1918.

At 1:30 p.m. in Rome, the bells of St. Peter’s Basilica tolled in honor of this centenary in coordination with church bells all over Europe and around the world.

The pope noted that the feast day of Saint Martin of Tours falls on Armistice Day, calling the soldier saint’s act of cutting his cloak in half to share with a poor man a “gesture of human solidarity” that points toward “the way to build peace.”

Francis focused the message of his Angelus address on the poor widow in Matthew’s Gospel, who gives two coins that make up her entire livelihood in her offering to the Temple.

“In this humility, she performs an act charged with great religious and spiritual significance,” he said. “That gesture, full of sacrifice, does not escape the attentive gaze of Jesus, who indeed sees in it the total gift of self, which he wants to teach his disciples.”

“The scales of the Lord are different from ours. He weighs people and their actions differently: he does not measure quantity but quality, he searches the heart and looks at the purity of intentions,” Francis explained.

When we are tempted to seek the attention of others through our altruism, we should think of this poor woman, Francis said. “It will do us good: it will help us to get rid of the superfluous, to focus on what really matters, and to remain humble.”
“The Virgin Mary, a poor woman who gave herself totally to God, sustains us in the purpose of giving the Lord and our brothers not something of ourselves, but ourselves, in a humble and generous offering,” he said.

As Pope Francis prepares to celebrate the second World Day of the Poor next Sunday, mobile medical clinics are set up near Saint Peter’s Basilica to treat anyone in need of general and specialized medical care, including cardiology, dermatology, and ophthalmology Nov. 12 - 18.

After 100 years, US Catholicism still bears the stamp of World War I

Washington D.C., Nov 11, 2018 / 03:14 am (CNA).- A century after the close of World War I, the war has faded from living memory. But its effects endure.

President Woodrow Wilson had campaigned for re-election on a promise he would keep the country out of war. But subsequent events, including the discovery of a German telegram promising American territory to Mexico in the event of war, led to the U.S. entry into war in April 6, 1917.

The country of barely 100 million people joined a conflict involving 15 other countries. The war witnessed the fall of long-standing governments, took 8.5 million lives and wounded over 21 million in combat alone, according to figures from the U.S. Department of Justice. American casualties numbered 53,000 killed in battle and 200,000 wounded.

Days after U.S. entry into war, Cardinal James Gibbons of Baltimore wrote to Wilson, pledging that the bishops and Catholics as a whole were ready “to cooperate in every way possible with our president and our national government, to the end that the great and holy cause of liberty may triumph, and that our beloved country may emerge from this hour of test stronger and nobler than ever.”

“Our people, now as ever, will rise as one man to serve the nation,” the cardinal said in an April 18, 1917 letter.

American Catholic reaction to the war came in a time when Catholics were still a patchwork of immigrant groups, themselves divided in attitudes towards assimilation, ethnicity, and their lands of origin.

“Before the war, and especially before the turn of the century, the hierarchy of the American Catholic Church was dominated by Irish bishops, but the parishes were often drawn up along ethnic lines,” Matthew J. O’Brien, a history professor at Franciscan University of Steubenville, told CNA. “But in the years leading up to the war, a number of...bishops tried to curtail ethnic parishes in favor of territorial parishes, trying to foster greater assimilation into American society.”

“After the declaration of war in 1917, more Catholics stressed their military service rather than question the war effort, although there were ethnic newspapers that lost their mailing licenses during wartime for charges of sedition,” he added. “The effect of sedition laws was more indirect than direct, but they contributed to the overall pressure for Catholic Americans to ‘keep their heads down’.”

Other Catholics served with great prominence, such as the U.S. Army regiment known as the Fighting 69th. Part the historic Irish Brigade under the New York Army National Guard, it was still disproportionately Irish at the time of the war. The regiment was federalized and sent to Europe as the 165th Infantry Regiment.

The Catholic convert and poet Joyce Kilmer was a member of the regiment. His poetry featured deep piety, and at least one poem, “Trees,” still endures in popular memory: “Poems are made by fools like me / But only God can make a tree.”

At the age of 31, on July 30, 1918, he was killed by a sniper at the Second Battle of the Marne.

The week of heavy action killed or wounded half the men of the regiment.

The division’s chaplain, the Canadian-born Father Francis Duffy of the Archdiocese of New York, was responsible for boosting the morale of the soldiers and comforting the wounded in hospitals. As a Catholic priest, he would say Mass and move through the trenches after an artillery bombardment to give last rites to the dying.

Another of his primary duties as a chaplain was to bury the dead.

“I knew these men so well and loved them as if they were my younger brothers. It has been the saddest day of my life. Well, it is the last act of love I can do for them and for the folks at home,” he said in his diary at the conclusion of one battle, according to the New York archdiocese archives’ exhibit “The Great War and Catholic Memory.”

When the division learned of the armistice two days late, on Nov. 13, 1918, the troops celebrated. But the priest recorded in his diary: “I could think of nothing except the fine lads who had come out with us to this war and who are not alive to enjoy the triumph. All day I had a lonely and aching heart.”

Kilmer and Duffy served with another Catholic who would rise to prominence: William “Wild Bill” Donovan. Donovan would receive the Congressional Medal of Honor for his wartime service, and during the Second World War he would head the Office of Strategic Services, the U.S. covert agency that was predecessor to the Central Intelligence Agency.

The Fighting 69th became “the best-known face of Catholic soldiers in the U.S. Army,” O’Brien said. “Although they were linked by an overarching Irish-American imagery, they also proudly included Catholics from other ethnic backgrounds and Jewish-Americans as well.”

Its image became “iconic” due to the 1940 movie of the same name, which according to O’Brien had a “strong message of ethnic pluralism.”

As for Duffy, his influence would continue. He was a ghost writer for New York Gov. Al Smith during controversy over whether the Democratic presidential candidate’s Catholic faith would interfere with his ability to be president. Since 1937, five years after his death, his statue has stood in Duffy Square in the northern triangle of New York’s Times Square. It shows a priest standing before a 17-foot tall Celtic Cross.

At a time when Catholic bishops avoided forming national organizations, it was during World War I when the U.S. bishops organized the unprecedented National Catholic War Council, a forerunner to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. In the 1920s the council, whose name had been changed to the National Catholic Welfare Council, proved an important platform for many programs and causes. It led the national response to an attempt to ban Catholic schools in Oregon backed by the anti-Catholic Ku Klux Klan and the Scottish Rite Masons.

This council also proved to be the seedbed for future leaders like Msgr. John A. Ryan, who was “strongly influenced by the social justice message of Rerum Novarum,” the encyclical of Pope Leo XIII, O’Brien said. Ryan would play an important role in the Roosevelt administration and was a counterweight to the polemical populist “Radio Priest” Father Charles Coughlin, who turned towards anti-Semitism and fascism during the 1930s.

But during World War I, it was anti-German sentiment that ran high. Many German-Americans were Catholic.

“German communities often toned down their ethnic displays, especially in the Midwest,” O’Brien said. “The number of German-language newspapers in cities like Milwaukee dropped precipitously, and some school districts actually stopped offering German as a language elective for high-school students.”

“In some ways, World War I left many Catholics in a vulnerable position,” O’Brien said. “The two largest ethnic groups who opposed the American entry into the war were German and Irish Americans, both of whom drew the ire of President Woodrow Wilson. Pope Benedict XV’s call for a negotiated peace also prompted some Americans to question whether the Pope secretly favored the Central Powers (although there is no evidence for this).”

The war’s Catholic critics have had little prominence in history, but their lives too are being revisited. Benjamin Salmon, one of the few Catholic conscientious objectors to the war who even declined a non-combatant role, was a strict foe of all war to the point where he seemed to reject Catholic just war theory.

His writings against the war were censored by the U.S. Post Office. The New York Times claimed he was a suspected spy, and other newspapers ridiculed him as a coward and a slacker. He was convicted in a civilian court, then convicted in a military court despite never being inducted as a soldier.

Salmon was initially sentenced to death, with his sentenced later reduced. He spent a long period in solitary confinement and his 135-day hunger strike resulted in forced feeding.

Finally released after a pardon in 1920, he had to move to Chicago with his wife and son to avoid animosity in Denver. He continued to be a devout Catholic, with a son and a daughter entering the priesthood and religious life, respectively. Some of his devotees asked the Archdiocese of Denver to consider opening his canonization cause in 2015, the Denver Post reported.

Men and women who sought to support the war effort included the Knights of Columbus, whose members provided relief work staff and helped raise more than $14 million for recreation centers for soldiers stationed in Europe.

After the war Cardinal Gibbons’ Sept. 26, 1919 pastoral letter to U.S. Catholics, praised their demonstration of “traditional patriotism” and their devotion to “the cause of American freedom” in wartime.

He also reflected on the “spiritual suffering” of those involved in the war: sorrow, hopelessness and moral evil.

“For we may not forget that in all this strife of the peoples, in the loosening of passion and the seething of hate, sin abounded. Not the rights of man alone but the law of God was openly disregarded. And if we come before Him now in thankfulness, we must come with contrite hearts, in all humility beseeching Him that He continue His mercies toward us, and enable us so to order our human relations that we may both atone for our past transgressions and strengthen the bond of peace with a deeper charity for our fellow men and purer devotion to His service,” the cardinal wrote.

He said a spirit of “union and sacrifice for the commonweal… found its highest expression in the men and women who went to service in distant lands. To them, and especially those who died that America might live, we are forever indebted. Their triumph over self is the real victory, their loyalty the real honor of our nation, their fidelity to duty the bulwark of our freedom.”

“To such men and their memory, eulogy is at best a poor tribute,” he said. “We shall not render them their due nor show ourselves worthy to name them as our own, unless we inherit the spirit and make it the soul of our national life. The very monuments we raise in their honor will become a reproach to us, if we fail in those things of which they have left us such splendid example.”
 

 

With US adoption needs high, Kansas looks to restrict religious agencies

Topeka, Kansas, Nov 10, 2018 / 04:08 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The incoming governor of Kansas is looking for a way to avoid enforcing a religious freedom law protecting adoption agencies that place children only in homes with a mother and a father.

"If there is way to direct the agency to not implement that, then I will do that," Governor-elect Laura Kelly said in a Statehouse news conference, according to the Associated Press.

Kelly, a Democrat, said her staff is examining whether the state can block enforcement of a new law protecting adoption agencies from being required to place children in homes against their religious beliefs.

The law was passed after debate regarding religious agencies that place abused and neglected children, and would not place children in households with same-sex couples.

Chuck Weber, executive director of the Kansas Catholic Conference, is confident the law will stand, according to the Associated Press. The authors of the bill were careful in drafting it to ensure that it would withstand a constitutional challenge, he said.

Other states have seen similar debates in recent years. Faith-based child welfare providers in multiple states including in Massachusetts, Illinois, California, New York, and the District of Columbia have been forced to shut down their adoption and foster care services because of beliefs that children should be placed with a married mother and father.

On Nov. 8, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released its annual analysis on U.S. adoption and foster care. The analysis found that the number of children in foster care awaiting adoption has reached a nine-year high, at 123,437.

It noted that the growing opioid crisis nationwide has led to an increase in children entering foster care.

Ryan Hanlon, vice president of the National Council for Adoption, called the report “a stark reminder of the work those of us in child welfare have before us.”

“For every one child who was adopted this year, two children eligible for adoption were left waiting,” the council said in a press release.

 

Half of countries have fertility rates below replacement level, study finds

London, England, Nov 10, 2018 / 06:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A newly published study has found that nearly half of countries have fertility rates which are below replacement level, meaning that population size will decrease without immigration.

Published in the November issue of The Lancet, the study examines population and fertility by age and sex in 195 countries and territories between 1950 and 2017.

Funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and part of the Global Burden of Disease analysis, the study found that the total fertility rates have decreased by more than 49 percent. The study states women on average are having a fewer babies in their lifetime – 2.4 as of 2017, compared to 4.7 in 1950.

To maintain population, the total fertility reate needs to be about 2.1.

The world population has increased by nearly 200 percent since 1950, though researchers have expressed concern that fewer births will lead to more elderly people than children.

Professor Christopher Murray, the director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, told the BBC that half of the countries have birth rates which are lower than the replacement level.

"On current trends there will be very few children and lots of people over the age of 65 and that's very difficult to sustain global society,” he said.

"Think of all the profound social and economic consequences of a society structured like that with more grandparents than grandchildren.”

“We've reached this watershed where half of countries have fertility rates below the replacement level, so if nothing happens the populations will decline in those countries … the idea that it's half the countries in the world will be a huge surprise to people.”

“We will soon be transitioning to a point where societies are grappling with a declining population.”

He said fertility rates are lower in more developed countries like the U.S., South Korea, Australia, and in much of Europe. However, due to higher life expectancies and immigration, the population in these countries have not decreased.

The study also found that three factors have contributed to the decline in fertility rates – more education and work for women, a decrease of deaths in babies under five, and increased availability of contraception.

When a trend in 2014 found a decrease in U.S. birth rates, experts identified the decrease as a shift in the cultural understanding about sex and childbearing, according to the National Catholic Register.

Mary Rice Hanson, who works at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, stated that “Our culture sees children through a warped lens, where children represent loss and burden – lost ‘freedom,’ lost privacy, lost wages, lost opportunities to travel, independence, even sex.”