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In #MeToo movement Catholic Church can play role in discussion, healing

IMAGE: CNS photo/Lucy Nicholson, Reuters

By Carol Zimmermann

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The wave of accusations of sexual harassment, misconduct and assault from Hollywood to Capitol Hill and many places in between in recent months has been described as a revolution, a moment and a time for national reckoning.

The accused -- abruptly fired or resigned -- have issued apology statements or denied wrongdoing. Those who have come forward -- predominantly women, but also some men emboldened by the solidarity of the #MeToo movement -- were named "Silence Breakers" by Time magazine and honored as its 2017 Person of the Year.

"We're still at the bomb-throwing point of this revolution," the Time article points out, stressing that for true social change to happen, private conversations on this issue are essential.

And that's where some say the Catholic Church has something to offer both from its lessons learned -- and how it could do more -- to support victims and foster healing.

The U.S. Catholic Church -- tarnished by the clergy sexual abuse scandal that made headlines in 2002 - has taken steps in all of its dioceses to address and prevent the abuse of young people and will keep doing this forever, according to Deacon Bernie Nojadera, executive director of the U.S. bishops' Secretariat for Child and Youth Protection.

As it continues its training, education, background checks and reporting, the church must similarly "face the reality of sexual harassment," said a Dec. 11 editorial in America magazine, pointing out that what the church went through with the abuse crisis shows "it is possible to begin turning even an organization as large and as old as the church toward primary concern for victims. "

But the church faces hurdles in just getting into this discussion, acknowledged Helen Alvare, a law professor at George Mason University's Antonin Scalia Law School and consultor for the Pontifical Council of the Laity, noting that people can accept church teaching on global warming or refuges but its teachings on sexuality "is the thing that gets people mad."

With papal encyclicals such as "Humanae Vitae" ("Of Human Life"), she said the "church was onto something" when it spoke of what would happen when sex was separated from love and responsibility, stressing that if "sex is robbed of its full meaning, it is bound to hurt someone."

And that's what the country is seeing now. As she points out: "We are not talking about women complaining that men stomped on their feet or slapped them really hard, it's sex," which explains the "depth of humiliation and anger" these women feel who have come forward.

"This is not a moment for triumphalism. I don't see anyone in the church taking that approach," Alvare said. "What I do see is people saying: 'Let's look at what's happening, let's name what we're seeing and think about how to fix it.'"

"We're part of that solution," she added, noting that the experience of the church reaching out its hand and saying: 'We're here if you're suffering,' is very powerful."

Part of the church's role can't help but stem from lessons learned in the abuse crisis.

As Deacon Nojadera said: "Clergy sexual abuse should not have happened, but it is part of our history and our landscape" and the church is "healthier and holier" for taking stock of what went wrong and learning to "listen intently" to victims, something he said it didn't do initially.

He also knows the current abuse allegations go beyond the worlds of entertainment and politics and are closer to home with people coming forward in recent months under the tagline #ChurchToo to share their experiences of abuse in church environments of all faiths. These victims have often expressed the added pain of being told they did something to bring about the abuse.

He said the Catholic Church needs to help all who have been abused, not just address wrongs of its own past. When he gives talks around the country, people often pull him aside to talk about spousal abuse, domestic violence and bullying.

He told Catholic News Service that the church's policies, adopted across the board in 2002 in its "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People" put protocols in place for anytime someone calls a parish or diocesan office seeking help with ongoing or previous abuse or assault. For starters, they are offered resources and contact numbers to report the problem.

Dawn Eden Goldstein, an author who has written about finding healing after abuse, said some dioceses and parishes need to do more.

She said if someone contacts a parish priest to say they have suffered abuse, they should not be immediately given a list of local therapists which they could find on their own, or books with "vague platitudes." Instead, she said, victims need clear spiritual guidance and reading recommendations tailored to their specific needs. Most of all, Goldstein said, "they need someone to listen to them with an open heart and say: 'I'm very sorry to hear what was done to you. It wasn't your fault.'"

In short, there needs to be more collaboration, to connect those who've suffered with spiritual care and with priests who are specifically able to help. Victims also need community, she said, pointing out the importance of Catholic outreach groups like the Maria Goretti Network, https://mgoretti.org.

Goldstein, who goes by the pen name Dawn Eden and is an assistant professor of dogmatic theology at Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Cromwell, Connecticut, speaks from experience. She was sexually abused as a child and when she became a Catholic as an adult, she said, she was "carrying all of this misplaced guilt," imagining that she should have done something to stop it.

Part of her own path to healing came from the examples of the saints, which she writes about in her book: "My Peace I Give You: Healing Sexual Wounds with the Help of the Saints."

She told CNS that the saints model a path forward for the country's current crisis because they were "bold and courageous in speaking the truth and speaking when they saw people being abused and oppressed in any way."

They also practiced mercy and justice and didn't see a conflict between the two.

For example, St. Maria Goretti -- an 11-year-old Italian girl stabbed in 1902 while resisting a sexual assault -- forgave her assailant on her death bed, but she also gave a detailed description of what happened to her to the police.

As Goldstein sees it, St. Maria Goretti, canonized in 1950, is the "model we need to follow" because she shows those who suffer "that to forgive is in no way to excuse the abuser."

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Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim.

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Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Chaplain says 40 years with bowl-bound Badgers 'a wonderful experience'

IMAGE: CNS photo/Father Nate Wills

By Mary C. Uhler

MADISON, Wis. (CNS) -- When the Wisconsin Badgers' football team travels to the Orange Bowl to play Miami Dec. 30, the players will take a 12-1 record with them -- one of the best in team history.

Accompanying them will be Msgr. Michael Burke -- better known as "Father Mike" to the coaches and players. He has been the team's chaplain for 40 years.

He began working with the team when he was on the faculty of Madison's Holy Name Seminary. The Badgers used the seminary fields and facilities for their summer training camp for many years.

Father Mike was a faculty member, rector, and vocation director during the years from 1977 until the closing of the seminary in 1995.

He remembers the training camps well. "The team was usually at the seminary for over three weeks," he recalled in an interview with the Catholic Herald, newspaper of the Diocese of Madison. "They were locked in and had to stay there the entire time. They certainly got focused, since there were no distractions."

Father Mike believes he was the first team chaplain in the Big Ten Conference. Now, all but three of the schools' teams have chaplains.

Throughout his years as chaplain for the University of Wisconsin-Madison team, Father Mike has offered encouragement and support to the coaches and players of all faiths.

He has performed 104 weddings of players and of coaches and countless baptisms. "They still stay connected with me," he said. "They send lots of pictures."

"Football is very intense," Father Mike observed. "The players have to balance going to school, practicing, and keeping their head straight when they're 18 years old. Many of them have issues with their families."

He said the current head coach, Paul Chryst, and the assistant coaches let Father Mike know if players have personal problems. "It could be a father who's in jail or someone in the family has cancer. I can be there to offer support."

Father Mike said his work with the team is really another parish. "It's very rewarding," he said. "They keep me young."

Father Mike retired in July as pastor of St. Maria Goretti Parish in Madison, where he served since 1996. Since retirement, Chryst told him, "We'll keep you busy."

The priest's encouragement of players "has happened thousands of times," Chryst told the Catholic Herald. "Father Mike really helps our team."

Father Mike prays with players of all faiths before the Badgers' games, including in position groups.

During the games, he stands on the sidelines with the players and coaches. He wears a clerical collar, and recently at the Wisconsin-Iowa game, he got hit and knocked down by an Iowa player.

He said the Iowa player noticed his collar and said, "Sorry, Father," and helped him up.

Father Mike said he has been impressed by the spirituality of the Badgers' players and coaches. He said the players' parents have noticed the change in their children, with many of them going to church more frequently.

The coaches and players also put their faith into action. This became evident this year when Wisconsin played Florida Atlantic University when Hurricane Irma hit their state.

The Florida Atlantic coaches and players ended up staying in Madison from game day on Saturday until the following Wednesday.

Wisconsin's athletic director, Barry Alvarez, and his wife, Cindy, along with Chryst's wife, Robin, and the wives of other coaches, made the Florida Atlantic crew welcome, as did Father Mike himself, who was out every day meeting with the visitors.

"It was impressive to see how we all helped the Florida Atlantic people. Many of them were worried about their families back home. Some of them wrote me thank-you notes when they got back," said Father Mike. "It was a win-win situation all around."

Asked to comment on the Badgers' best football season ever, Father Mike said, "This year, they are so focused. They are a determined group, care for each other, and work together. I've never seen a coaching staff and players who work so well together."

He believes a lot of the success is due to the strong spirituality among the coaches and players, starting with Chryst, who is Catholic himself and attributes much of his success as a coach to the influence of his father, the late George Chryst, who died 25 years ago.

Ordained a priest in 1974, Father Mike said he has been happy. "I'm so grateful I had the opportunity to do what God wanted me to do. I've been blessed with wonderful parents, brothers, sisters and friends. I've made so many wonderful friends over the years."

He retired in July but said he's busier than ever, ministering at a Catholic high school as well as at a Catholic-run nursing facility and a hospice. And he still makes time to serve as chaplain of the Badger football team.

"It's been a wonderful experience," he emphasized.

The Badgers' coaches and players thinks he's "the greatest" and hope he stays around for many more years.

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Uhler is editor of the Catholic Herald, newspaper of the Diocese of Madison.

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Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Natural disasters prompt church to raise millions for aid, recovery

IMAGE: CNS photo/Carlo Allegri, Reuters

By Dennis Sadowski

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In Puerto Rico, Texas, Florida, California and Mexico City, recovery was slow and deep pain remained from a string of natural disasters as 2017 ended.

Hurricanes, wildfires and earthquakes from August through December caused widespread destruction and claimed hundreds of lives. Rebuilding in the affected areas will take years to complete.

Catholic agencies responded with emergency aid and undertook fundraising campaigns to help people of different walks of life who lost homes and livelihoods.

Perhaps no other place was harder hit than Puerto Rico, which was slammed in September by Hurricane Maria, the 10th most intense Atlantic storm on record. Electrical power was at 70 percent capacity and many communities continued to have no access to clean water in mid-December.

Cardinal Blase J. Cupich of Chicago visited the island in early December at the behest of Pope Francis. He toured the island with representatives of Catholic Extension, the papal society that has supported the church in Puerto Rico for decades.

He found once-bustling town centers and business districts shuttered in cities large and small, signaling a massive loss of income and livelihood. Collapsed buildings, flooded homes and roofless structures offered testimony to the severity of the storm.

The official death toll in Puerto Rico stands at 64. However, data obtained by the Center for Investigative Reporting shows that at least 985 additional people died in the 40 days after the hurricane, which is a higher death toll than in 2016, a year without such severe storms.

Elsewhere, Hurricane Harvey, swamped southern Texas and southwestern Louisiana as it ambled offshore in the Gulf of Mexico for days in late August, dumping more than 50 inches of rain on some communities. Catholic parishes and schools were among entities affected by flooding. The storm was the first major hurricane to make landfall on the U.S. mainland since 2005 and caused nearly $200 billion in damage.

Then came the back-to-back storms in the Caribbean: first Hurricane Irma followed by Hurricane Maria. With winds topping 160 miles an hour, both storms devastated entire islands. Irma also caused flooding throughout Florida.

Beyond Puerto Rico, the U.S Virgin Islands, British Virgin Islands, Antigua, Barbuda, Guadeloupe, Martinique, and Turks and Caicos were battered by the storms.

About the same time, earthquakes of magnitudes 8.1, 7.1 and 6.1 jolted Mexico Sept. 7, Sept. 19 and Sept. 23, resulting in 474 deaths and more than 6,300 injuries.

The temblors were followed in October and December by wildfires in California, driven by hot winds and fueled by hundreds of thousands of acres of dry timber, a consequence of a dry summer.

The most recent round of fires near Los Angeles followed by two months more than a dozen wind-whipped blazes in California wine country that destroyed thousands of homes in urban neighborhoods, causing 24 deaths and leaving hundreds of families homeless.

In response to the disasters, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Catholic Charities USA, Society of St. Vincent de Paul and Catholic Relief Services mobilized to raise funds to assist with emergency relief and long-term recovery.

The USCCB collected $38.5 million for hurricane relief and another $1.3 million for Mexican earthquake relief. Catholic Charities USA raised $24 million for disaster assistance. The Society of St. Vincent de Paul also was on the scene in various locales coordinating its response through parish and diocesan councils.

Other donors included Catholic Extension, which provided $400,000 in immediate support to the church in Puerto Rico following the hurricanes, and the Knights of Columbus, which pledged $1.4 million for church repairs in Florida, Texas and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The organization earlier provided $100,000 to the Archdiocese of San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Caritas Mexico by the end of October had raised $900,000 for earthquake emergency aid. Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. bishops' overseas relief and development agency and a partner in the church's Caritas Internationalis network, was on the ground providing disaster assistance.

The U.S. bishops' Subcommittee on Catholic Home Missions made an emergency grant of $50,000 to the Diocese of Santa Rosa, California, to help with its response to the fires. In addition, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles began collecting funds even as wildfires raged in early December for families, parishes and schools affected by the fires in Los Angeles and Ventura countries.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said 2017 was the seventh most active hurricane season on record dating to 1851 and the most active season since 2005.

Alan Betts, a Vermont-based climate scientist who has studied global weather and climate for more than 40 years, outlined his concerns about future weather patterns during a Nov. 2 Catholic Climate Covenant webinar.

Betts long ago concluded that earth is warming and that humans cause it because of their penchant for burning fossil fuels in large quantities.

During the webinar and a September presentation at St. Michael's College in Colchester, Vermont, Betts explained that a warming atmosphere holds more water vapor. More humidity in the atmosphere means a higher potential for downpours.

At the same time, the oceans are a storehouse for excessive heat. The Climate Special Report released by 13 federal agencies Nov. 3 found that the oceans have absorbed 93 percent of the excess heat caused by greenhouse gas warming since the mid-20th century, leading to altered global and regional climate.

The warmer the oceans, the more intense the hurricanes, Betts said.

The Catholic Climate Covenant and the Global Catholic Climate Covenant continued efforts throughout the year to call on people to advocate for action to cut carbon emissions, a leading cause of climate change.

In other climate-related actions, hundreds of Catholics from across the country joined the two organizations during the April 29 People's Climate March in Washington.

In sweltering heat -- the temperature reached 91 degrees at nearby National Airport, tying a record set in 1974 for the date -- an estimated 200,000 people walked from the Capitol to the Washington Monument to protest President Donald Trump's environmental agenda.

The Trump administration has begun the process of dismantling environmental regulations and rolling back the Clean Power Plan regulating carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants in the name of creating jobs and boosting the U.S. economy. Trump also followed through on a campaign pledge to begin the process of withdrawing the U.S. from the Paris climate accord.

The U.S. bishops issued several statements throughout the year calling on the president to remain in the accord and keep the Clean Power Plan in place.

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Follow Dennis Sadowski on Twitter: @DennisSadowski.

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Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Pope: Helping refugees means converting hearts hardened against them

IMAGE: CNS photo/Hannah McKay, Reuters

By Carol Glatz

ROME (CNS) -- With so much suffering, poverty and exploitation in the world, missionary work must also include reaching out to people whose hearts are closed to receiving immigrants and refugees, Pope Francis told Jesuits in Myanmar.

"Unfortunately, in Europe there are countries that have chosen to close their borders. The most painful thing is that to take such a decision they had to close their hearts," he said during a private audience Nov. 29 in the chapel of the archbishop's house in Yangon.

"Our missionary work must also reach those hearts that are closed to the reception of others," he told 31 Jesuits from different parts of Asia and Australia, who are based in Myanmar.

The Rome-based Jesuit-run journal, La Civilta Cattolica, published a transcript Dec. 14 from the private meeting in Myanmar and the pope's private meeting Dec. 1 at the apostolic nunciature in Dhaka with Jesuits based in Bangladesh.

In both meetings, the pope listened to and answered their comments, concerns and questions, and the journal provided an English translation of the original Spanish remarks.

A Jesuit's mission is to be close to the people, especially those who are suffering and forgotten because "to see them is to see Christ suffering and crucified," he said in his meeting in Myanmar.

His approach, he said, is to try to visit these places and to "speak clearly, especially with countries that have closed their borders."

"It is a serious issue," he said, commenting on how that evening, they all would be sitting down to a full meal, including dessert, while many refugees will "have a piece of bread for dinner."

He recalled visiting the refugees in Lesbos, Greece, and how the children he was greeting were torn between shaking his hand and reaching for candy that Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople was pulling out of his pockets.

"With one hand, they greeted me with the other, they grabbed the candy. I thought maybe it was the only sweet they had eaten for days."

The situation of many of the refugees and stories they have told him have "helped me to cry a lot before God," he said, particularly when a Muslim man recounted how terrorists slit the throat of his Christian wife right before his eyes when she refused to take off the cross she wore.

"These things must be seen and must be told," he said, because news of what is happening does not reach most people, and "we are obliged to report and make public these human tragedies that some try to silence."

The Jesuits he met in Bangladesh thanked him for talking about the Rohingya people, a Muslim minority being pushed from Myanmar's Rakhine state and seeking refuge in Bangladesh.

"Jesus Christ today is called Rohingya," as these people are their brothers and sisters, the pope told the Jesuits.

Just as St. Peter Claver ministered in the 17th century to slaves subjected to horrible conditions, such shameful conditions people endure still persist, he said.

"Today, there is much discussion about how to save the banks. The problem is the salvation of the banks. But who saves the dignity of men and women today?"

"Nobody cares about people in ruins any longer. The devil manages to do this in today's world. If we had a little sense of reality, this should scandalize us."

"The impudence of our world is such that the only solution is to pray and ask for the grace of tears," he said.

Meeting the Rohingya refugees that same day at the archbishop's residence in Dhaka, he added, made him feel ashamed. "I felt ashamed of myself, for the whole world!"

When asked "why such attention" for the small Catholic community in Bangladesh when he elevated their archbishop in Dhaka to the rank of cardinal, Pope Francis said that in naming cardinals, he looks to the "small churches, those that grow in the peripheries, at the edges."

It's not meant to give them "consolation," but is "to launch a clear message: the small churches that grow in the periphery and are without ancient Catholic traditions today must speak to the universal church, to the whole church. I clearly feel that they have something to teach us."

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Editors: The full text in English can be found online at: https://laciviltacattolica.com/church-life/at-the-crossroads-of-history-pope-francis-conversations-with-the-jesuits-in-myanmar-and-bangladesh/

 

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Hold the phone: Vatican says Pope Francis doesn't use WhatsApp

IMAGE: CNS photo/Ritchie B. Tongo, EPA

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- While the thought of receiving a blessing by text from Pope Francis could have millions of mobile users glued to their smartphones, the Vatican spokesman said that isn't his style.

The spokesman, Greg Burke, issued a statement on Twitter Dec. 13 saying that Pope Francis doesn't use the instant messaging platform WhatsApp.

Reports of "the Holy Father using WhatsApp are false," Burke tweeted. "He does not send messages or blessings through this medium."

The Pope Francis Foundation, a Catholic organization in Corrientes, Argentina, announced Dec. 12 the launch of "Wabot-Papa Francisco," a chatbot that allows users to contact the pope and keep up-to-date with his schedule, reported the Argentine newspaper, La Nacion.

The foundation said the chatbot would respond to users queries through "texts, images, video, audio and documents," La Nacion reported.

"You can also have a simulated chat with His Holiness. Wabot technology allows the entire Catholic community or people of any other faith to interact with the pope," the foundation said.

The pope, the organization added, "is a technological man, he believes that technology can help many people and understands that it is the future of communications."

In his message for the 50th World Communications Day Jan. 24, 2016, Pope Francis acknowledged that emails, text messages, social networks and chats can be "fully human forms of communication."

However, he added, "it is not technology which determines whether or not communication is authentic, but rather the human heart and our capacity to use wisely the means at our disposal."

Despite his favorable attitude toward new forms of communication, the pope has also admitted that he is "a dinosaur" when it comes to technology.

During a Google Hangout conversation sponsored by Scholas Occurrentes in 2015, a young girl from Spain asked the pope if he liked to take photos and upload them to a computer.

"Do you want me to tell you the truth?" the pope asked. "I'm a disaster with machines. I don't know how to work a computer. What a shame!"

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

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Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Sunday has lost its sense as day of rest, renewal in Christ, pope says

IMAGE: CNS photo/Tony Gentile, Reuters

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Just like a plant needs sun and nourishment to survive, every Christian needs the light of Sunday and the sustenance of the Eucharist to truly live, Pope Francis said.

"How can we carry out the Gospel without drawing the energy needed to do it, one Sunday after another, from the limitless source of the Eucharist," he said Dec. 13 during his weekly general audience.

"We don't go to Mass to give something to God, but to receive from him that which we truly need," the pope said. Sunday Mass is the time and place Christians receive the grace and strength to remain faithful to his word, follow his commandment to love others and be credible witnesses in the world.

The pope continued his series of audience talks on the Mass in the Vatican's Paul VI hall, which was decorated with a large Christmas tree and a life-sized Nativity scene. A number of people in the audience hall handed the pope -- who turns 81 Dec. 17 -- Christmas cards, notes and a chocolate cake.

In his catechesis, the pope responded to the question of why it is so important to go to Mass on Sundays and why it is not enough just to live a moral life, loving others.

Sunday Mass is not simply an obligation, he said. "We Christians need to take part in Sunday Mass because only with the grace of Jesus, with his presence alive in us and among us, can we put into practice his commandment and, in this way, be his credible witnesses."

"Just like a plant needs the sun and nourishment to live, every Christian needs the Sunday Eucharist to truly live," he said in summarized remarks to Arabic speakers.

"What kind of Sunday is it for a Christian if an encounter with the Lord is missing?" he asked in his main talk.

Unfortunately, in many secularized countries, the Christian meaning of the day has been lost and is no longer "illuminated by the Eucharist" or lived as a joyous feast in communion with other parishioners and in solidarity with others, he said.

Also often missing is the importance of Sunday as a day of rest, which is a sign of the dignity of living as children of God, not slaves, he said.

"Without Christ, we are condemned to be dominated by the fatigue of daily life with all its worries and the fear of tomorrow. The Sunday encounter with the Lord gives us the strength to live today with confidence and courage and to move forward with hope," he said.

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Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Update: Fundraising starts to aid victims of Southern California fires

IMAGE: CNS photo/David McNew, Reuters

By

LOS ANGELES (CNS) -- Six major wind-fueled wildfires in Southern California have destroyed more than 1,000 structures and forced the evacuation of 200,000 residents.

After he surveyed the damage in Ventura County, north of Los Angeles, where the worst of the fires has raged, California Gov. Jerry Brown told reporters that the fires "may be the new normal." He declared a state of emergency for the area Dec. 6. 

U.S. President Donald Trump declared a state of emergency for California Dec. 8. As of Dec. 12, officials had reported only one fatality.

The Archdiocese of Los Angeles has started a fund for victims of the wildfires that have raced through the archdiocese and spread to locations in the nearby Orange and San Diego dioceses.

"Friends, as the wildfires continue, the needs of our neighbors continue to increase," said Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles on the archdiocesan webpage that hosts the fundraising campaign, https://tinyurl.com/yaa4qlu2.

"In this season of giving, let us open our heart to our brothers and sisters in need," he added. "Let us keep praying for an end to the fires and let us keep praying for the safety of our police, fire and emergency workers -- and all those who are in harm's way."

In a Dec. 8 statement from Washington, Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, asked prayers for all those in danger, "both those whose homes are in the fire's path and those courageous first responders and firefighters who are putting their lives at risk."

The wildfires, which have stubbornly resisted most efforts to be reined in by firefighters, have hit Los Angeles, Ventura and Santa Barbara counties in the archdiocese.

This is the second set of wildfires to have hit California this fall. Wildfires burned thousands of acres in the Sonoma and Napa areas in the northern part of the state in October, killing 31, scorching more than 128,000 acres and causing an estimated $3 billion-$6 billion in damage.

The Southern California series of wildfires had passed the 150,000-acre mark within four days of their starting Dec. 4. As of the morning of Dec. 8 local time, no fatalities had been reported despite the density of population in the region.

Four counties have already declared a state of emergency.

Archbishop Gomez on Dec. 5 called for prayers for the well-being of families, firefighters and rescue workers "facing devastating fires and high winds" in the wildfires.

"May God keep them all safe and put an end to these fires!" the archbishop said in a message sent via social media channels and posted on the archdiocesan news site, angelusnews.com.

On Twitter, Los Angeles Auxiliary Bishop Robert E. Barron said the fires in Ventura County, which is in his pastoral region, had alone forced 30,000 people to evacuate.

"Join me in praying for all the evacuees, firefighters, officials, and everyone helping to subdue the flames," he tweeted. About 1,000 firefighters were working to contain the wind-driven flames.

Called the Thomas Fire, it is the biggest of the wildfires being stoked by dry conditions and high winds. Among the evacuees in Ventura County were students and faculty at Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula.

In a message posted on its website and on Twitter, the Catholic college expressed "deep gratitude for the prayers of its many friends and for the heroic firefighters who battled all of Monday night (Dec. 4) to protect the Santa Paula campus."

The college canceled classes for the rest of the week as roads had been closed and power was out in some communities. "The college is hopeful that it will reopen in time for final exams next week," the college said in a Dec. 5 statement.

Students from California who had transportation were considering returning home for the time being; others planned to remain at the homes of local friends and faculty.

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Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Update: Washington Archdiocese appeals court decision on transit ad

IMAGE: CNS photo/Archdiocese of Washington

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WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The Archdiocese of Washington appealed a federal judge's denial of a request for an emergency injunction over the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority's advertising guidelines.

The appeal was filed Dec. 10 with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson Dec. 8 denied the archdiocese's request that WMATA be required to post an ad promoting its annual "Find the Perfect Gift" initiative for the Advent season.

Transit authority officials had denied the ad based on 2015 policies that ban ads "that promote or oppose any religion, religious practice or belief."

In a statement released after the court filing, Ed McFadden, the archdiocese's secretary for communications said the church officials were concerned that the transit authority was too willing to promote "the secular half" of Christmas gift giving, "but not the 'religious half.'"

"Indeed it seems clear that while Macy's could advertise its extended holiday hours, the archdiocese could not advertise its own extended holiday hours," he said. Such a distinction, he added, amounts to discrimination based on earlier court decisions.

"A retailer offering to help consumers 'find the perfect gift' during the holiday season would be welcomed, but a message suggesting that the perfect gift can be found on altars rather than shopping aisles is verboten," the statement said.

"In a society concerned more with what's under the tree and where the birth of Jesus is treated as an elusive element to the season, we simply want to share the real Christmas story, the full joy of Christmas with our neighbors and share the Christmas spirit with those in need," McFadden said.

Berman found that while buses are controlled by a government agency, the authority's rules likely are legal and reasonable because WMATA's restrictions are not based on whether the agency opposes the advertiser's particular views.

The archdiocese contended WMATA's policy that "prohibits all noncommercial advertising, including any speech that purportedly promotes a religion, religious practice or belief," is a violation of the free speech and free exercise of religion clauses of the First Amendment and a violation of the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment.

The WMATA's prohibition, the archdiocese contends, "violates the free speech rights of the archdiocese because the prohibition creates an unreasonable and disproportionate burden on the exercise of the archdiocese's speech without any legitimate justification."

The archdiocese has in previous years advertised on WMATA's public buses. Up until 2015, the archdiocese purchased WMATA space for ads that, according to the lawsuit, "were explicitly religious in character."

"These advertisements included a campaign highlighting the importance of the sacrament of reconciliation during the liturgical season of Lent. This campaign, 'The Light Is on for You,' was remarkably successful for the archdiocese -- and lucrative for WMATA -- with advertisements on the backs of 85 buses throughout the metropolitan area."

The rejected ads highlight the archdiocese's annual "Find the Perfect Gift" campaign, which refers viewers to the FindThePerfectGift.org website that includes Mass schedules, reflections on the meaning of Advent and Christmas, religious holiday traditions and opportunities for charitable service. The image is a silhouette of shepherds and sheep standing on a hill.

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Pope: Guadalupe feast shows Mary's closeness to those on margins

IMAGE: CNS photo/Max Rossi, Reuters

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The appearance of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which mirrored that of the indigenous people of the time, is a sign of Mary's closeness to those who are marginalized, Pope Francis said.

Like St. Juan Diego, who felt of no importance at being chosen by Mary because of his indigenous heritage, marginalized people in today's world are often made to feel worthless by conditions imposed upon them, the pope said in his homily during a Mass in St. Peter's Basilica Dec. 12, the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

"Among them are the indigenous and Afro-American communities, who often are not treated with dignity and equality of conditions; many women who are excluded because of their sex, race, or socioeconomic situation; young people who receive a poor education and have no opportunities to advance in their studies or to enter into the labor market so as to move ahead and establish a family; many poor people, unemployed, migrants, displaced, landless peasants, who seek to survive on the informal market; boys and girls subjected to child prostitution, often linked to sex tourism," he said, quoting a 2007 Latin American bishops' council document he helped write.

Processing into the basilica dressed in white, the symbol of purity, Pope Francis made his way to a replica of St. Juan Diego's tilma, which bears the image of Mary, who appeared to the indigenous saint in 1531. The pope stood before the image, bowing reverently and censing it three times.

In his homily, Pope Francis reflected on the reading from St. Luke's Gospel, in which the angel appears to Mary, informing her that she is with child.

"And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren; for nothing will be impossible for God," the angel said.

Elizabeth's sterility, the pope said, was considered at the time "a divine punishment for her or her husband's sin" and a sign of shame and guilt "for a sin she did not commit ... (she was) made to feel small for being unable to fulfill what was expected of her."

However, in Elizabeth -- who was the first to recognize the child in Mary's womb -- Christians can find a woman who is "fruitful and amazed" upon experiencing in her life "the fulfillment of a promise made by God."

"In her, we understand that God's dream is not nor will be sterile or to stigmatize or fill his children with shame, but rather bring forth through and from them a song of blessing," he said.

This fruitfulness can also be seen in St. Juan Diego, who was chosen by Mary to bear on his "tilma the image of the Virgin."

Mary, shown "with dark-skin and mestizo appearance," reflected a "mother capable of taking on the traits of her children to make them feel a part of her blessing," the pope said.

Our Lady of Guadalupe, he added, remains a symbol of the wealth and cultural diversity of Latin America and the Caribbean that must not only be cultivated, but also defended from every attempt to impose a way of thinking that "makes everything we inherited from our elders invalid or sterile."

"In short, our fruitfulness requires us to defend our people from an ideological colonization that cancels out the richest thing about them, whether they be indigenous, Afro-American, mestizo, farmer, or suburban," the pope said.

Pope Francis called on Christians to look to Mary and learn from her, to become a church with a "mestizo appearance, an indigenous appearance" that takes the form of the little ones.

It is "the appearance of a person who is poor, unemployed, of a boy or girl, old or young, so that no one may feel sterile and infertile, so that no one feels ashamed or worthless," the pope said.

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

 

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Blessed Oscar Romero continues to inspire listeners through radio

IMAGE: CNS photo/Melissa Vida

By Melissa Vida

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador (CNS) -- In San Salvador's traffic jams or at work, people turn on Radio YSAX to listen to Blessed Oscar Romero's homilies, just as they did over 30 years ago.

"I listen to this radio station in Romero's honor, because it is the one he used," Karen Larin, a radio listener, told Catholic News Service. "Hearing his voice is great; it's as if he were here, talking with us."

From the 1970s until his assassination in March 1980, Blessed Romero used the radio station YSAX to inform Salvadorans and the international community of the horrors of El Salvador's civil war. In a time when public media was self-censoring, Radio YSAX served as a spiritual guide as well as a news broadcast.

"Oscar Romero collected notes from his listeners and then disclosed when and where human rights were being violated," Father Edwin Henriquez, director of the radio, told Catholic News Service.

"Without the radio, there would be no Archbishop Romero," Father Henriquez said. "We wouldn't know the truth of what was happening at the time, and he wouldn't have been able to tell the world about the crimes committed against humanity here."

Reopened in 2015, the station has set itself one purpose: to keep Blessed Romero alive. Every weekday, at 1 p.m., the late archbishop's voice reverberates again through the speakers and draws radio listeners from all over the world. When the radio is cut for a few days, people from as far as Europe and Australia call to know what happened.

"This radio station gives us hope," Larin said. "Romero represents a father's love to us, but he was also a father who defended us, because he denounced the abuse of power." Larin said Blessed Romero helped his followers reconnect with a concrete, nearby God.

In developing countries, the radio as a means of communication remains influential. With only 20 percent of the country's households having internet access and more than 10 percent of the population being illiterate, the radio has a broad outreach in El Salvador. It answers the need for real-time information and reliable, interactive hosts.

For Estephanie Castillo, volunteer at YSAX, the radio is also a relevant tool to evangelize and raise awareness on everyday issues.

"Through the radio, we can transmit fundamental values to build a caring and just society," she said.

Radio YSAX speaks to people of all ages. Hearing Blessed Romero's voice reassures older generations, who recognize him and identify with the historical context of his speech.

"But the radio program also speaks to the youth," Larin said, "because they learn about (Blessed Romero) and our past, and that gives hope for our country."

Most radio volunteers are millennials.

"Our youth needs to bring the light of Jesus and remind others that there is still hope," Castillo said. Quoting Blessed Romero, she said, "We need to see the truth with open eyes and with our feet grounded, but with our hearts full of the Gospel and of God to look for solutions of justice."

For the listeners, Blessed Romero's message of faith and social justice is still valid in 2017. Yesterday's state-enforced violence and guerrillas became today's gang barbarism. As Father Henriquez recalled, Blessed Romero did not give in to political correctness when condemning such abuses.

"Romero did not seek applause nor praise and, indeed, some naysayers disliked him because the message of Jesus always has social consequences," Father Henriquez said. "It's not that we meddle with economics or politics, but we seek to touch people's hearts ... and that transforms society."

And El Salvador is in dire need of social change. Still hurt and polarized by the civil war that took place in the 1980s, the country suffers from the rocketing unemployment rates and the highest homicide rate in the world. Gang members extort, rob and kill civilians.

"The violence we have known during the war has been transformed, the culture of death is still prevalent and our youth is suffering the most," Father Henriquez said.

In this postwar context, Blessed Romero remains a beacon of hope.

"In my own personal hardship, I feel like he accompanies me and helps me," Castillo said.

"Romero continues to speak to us in the midst of violence, impunity and corruption: We should pay attention to him," Larin said. "Oscar Romero is alive."

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Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.