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Catholic school students join peers in march against gun violence

IMAGE: CNS photo/Jaclyn Lippelmann, Catholic Standard

By Rhina Guidos

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In the parish hall of Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Washington, elders handed markers to younger members of the parish as they filled in posters with the Gospel-based message from the Book of Isaiah that they wanted others to see at the March for Our Lives event the next day: "And the children will lead us."

The young Catholics joined the tens of thousands of students from across the country who participated on March 24 in a massive demonstration along Washington's Pennsylvania Avenue, the main road that connects the White House to the U.S. Capitol, where both houses of Congress meet -- the institutions many of them say are to blame for countless young lives lost over the years to gun violence.

The event was organized by survivors and friends of those who died at Florida's Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Feb. 14, where 17 died, including an assistant coach and the school's athletic director. Several more were injured in the latest mass shooting to take place at a school. Those who showed up to the march said they were there to support the march organizers and to applaud their effort.

"They were the spark ' finally someone had to do something about it," said Sofia Alpizar, a student at George Washington University. She was in the pews at St. Patrick's Catholic Church watching her younger sister Viviana Alpizar and other Catholic school students who had gathered for reflection and Mass before taking to the streets.

"Don't let his march be the only thing you do," Viviana Alpizar implored, as other students shared some of the reasons why they were participating.

Stephon Wheaton, a 17-year-old from Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School in Takoma Park, Maryland, said he was participating because he had lost his best friend, his brother, to gun violence, an event that left him feeling "mad, frustrated and alone."

J'TA Freeman, a junior at Bishop McNamara High School, told those gathered at St. Patrick's that she experienced gun violence at age 4, when "somebody brutally murdered my uncle."

Violence in the streets and violence in schools come from the same source, she said, and something must be done.

"Bullets have no name, they have no race, no gender ' they don't care who you are. They will hit any and everybody," she said. "We need to take these guns off the streets."

Referencing the alleged gunman in the Parkland, Florida, school shooting, she said, "It should not be that easy for a 19-year-old male to put a gun into a guitar case, get in an Uber, go to the school" and snuff out lives so easily.

"It is not OK, it should never be OK. After this march, I hope, we will need to take action. The people in charge, they need to hear us," she said.

It's "not OK" that parents like hers should have wonder if "I'm going to go to school and I'm going to come back alive or with a bullet wound."

Others, such as Diego Garcia, a 16-year-old from Chicago's Brighton Park neighborhood, who organized a group of 50 students from his parish so they would join the Washington march in solidarity with the Parkland students, said he was concerned about the safety of his younger peers.

"I have two brothers and younger friends, I don't want anything to happen to any of them," he said.

Though he is not old enough to vote, he wanted lawmakers to hear his voice and his pastor helped him do that.

"I'm not 18 so I thought, what can I do?" he said. "I spoke to my priest and he said, 'I'll give you the opportunity to speak.'" By talking to parishioners and making a 34-second video viewed more than 257,000 times, so far, he was able to raise enough donations for all to travel to the march in Washington.

Though older students say they plan to make their voices heard with their votes at the ballot in local and national races, he said he's encouraging his younger friends that "no matter what age are, you can be a leader in your community."

It was a message not lost on 12-year-old Samantha Field, a student at Nativity Catholic School in Burke, Virginia, who was holding a sign outside St. Patrick's that said: "Your right to own an assault rifle does not outweigh my right to live."

What prompted her to take action, she said, was having a cousin in preschool who had to practice a drill in case of a school shooting and she hoped for a day when children like her cousin don't have to be thinking about the violence that could befall them in a place that should be safe.

Though students were the protagonists of the demonstration -- which saw sister marches throughout the country -- many parents and grandparents joined them.

Younger Catholics had the added support of members of their spiritual communities, including priests, and men and women religious, as well as various social justice organizations that showed up to support them

A group from a Franciscan parish in Maryland carried signs during the demonstration, including one with the image of Blessed Oscar Romero, whose feast day fell on the day of the march. Like some of the victims of the Parkland shooting, the Salvadoran archbishop, too, was killed by gunfire on March 24, 1980, while celebrating Mass.

Some bishops took to Twitter to express support for the young participants. Chicago's Cardinal Blase J. Cupich said via Twitter he was blessing local "youth joining the March for Our Lives in Washington, D.C. Let us listen to the voice of our young people and support stronger gun-safety measures."

Also via Twitter, Boston's Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley spoke about the "extraordinary role" of the Florida students "in focusing the mind of the country on this critical social problem" and said it "should be a sign of hope for all of us."

Catholic mom Liz Mora of Washington said she found hope in the day. She told Catholic News Service she marched "for my children and for all children to have the right to go to school without being harmed by gun violence."

She said she wanted people of all races and backgrounds "to drive, walk, ride a bike, play in a playground or to stand in their backyard without being mowed down by bullets."

"I have hope again. Change has already begun," she said. "Companies are changing their policies and what they sell. Gun owners are speaking up for common sense gun laws. I have faith that our youth will lead us and to show us how to keep this momentum going."

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Dolan: Democratic Party abandons Catholics, favors abortion agenda

IMAGE: CNS photo/Jeenah Moon, Reuters


NEW YORK (CNS) -- The once "big tent" of the Democratic Party "now seems a pup tent" as a party that Catholics once embraced has abandoned so many issues Catholics cherish, such as the sanctity of human life and religious education, said New York's cardinal.

He pointed to the party favoring a radical abortion agenda over protecting the human rights of unborn children and all-out efforts to block education credits to help poor and low-income families access Catholic and other nonpublic schools.

"The Democrats Abandon Catholics" reads the headline on a March 23 op-ed by Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan in The Wall Street Journal.

"I'm a pastor, not a politician, and I've certainly had spats and disappointments with politicians from both of America's leading parties," he wrote. "But it saddens me, and weakens the democracy millions of Americans cherish, when the party that once embraced Catholics now slams the door on us."

"The dignity and sanctity of human life, the importance of Catholic schools, the defense of a baby's civil rights" are "widely embraced by Catholics," he said. "This often led Catholics to become loyal Democrats. I remember my own grandmother whispering to me, 'We Catholics don't trust those Republicans.'"

"A cause of sadness to him," Cardinal Dolan said, is that "the needs of poor and middle-class children in Catholic schools, and the right to life of the baby in the womb have largely been rejected by the party of our youth."

A couple of recent events, the cardinal said, brought to mind "two towering people who had a tremendous effect on the Archdiocese of New York and the U.S. more broadly" -- Archbishop John Hughes, the first archbishop of New York (1842-1864) and the funeral of "a great African-American woman, Dolores Grier," a convert to Catholicism, who became vice chancellor of the archdiocese.

"Their witness is worth remembering, especially in this political moment," he said.

For the cardinal, the March 17 feast day of St. Patrick -- patron saint of St. Patrick's Cathedral and the archdiocese -- recalled Archbishop Hughes' "dramatic reverence for the dignity of Irish immigrants."

"Thousands arrived daily in New York -- penniless, starving and sometimes ill -- only to be met with hostility, bigotry and injustice." The archbishop, himself an immigrant, "defended their dignity."

"Because the schools at the time were hostile to these immigrants, he initiated Catholic schools" to give the children a good education "sensitive to their religion" and to prepare them to be "responsible, patriotic citizens." The mission of today's Catholic schools remains "unchanged."

Grier, the first woman to be archdiocesan vice chancellor, was "passionate about civil rights, especially the right of babies in the womb." She always noted "abortuaries," he said," were clustered in poor black and brown neighborhoods."

The values espoused by these two prominent Catholic figures were -- and still are -- widely embraced by Catholics, Cardinal Dolan wrote.

He also noted that last year "an esteemed pro-life Democrat in Illinois, Rep. Dan Lipinski, effectively was blacklisted by his own party" when Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez "insisted that pro-life candidates have no place in the modern Democratic Party."

He said that in the state of New York in particular, these issues important to Catholics have been hit hard as "in recent years, some Democrats in the New York state Assembly repeatedly blocked education tax credit legislation, which would have helped middle-class and low-income families make the choice to select Catholic or other nonpublic schools for their children."

"Opposing the bill reduces the ability of fine Catholic schools across the state to continue their mission of serving the poor, many of them immigrants," Cardinal Dolan said.

In closing, Cardinal Dolan said that it was difficult to have to write about the Democratic Party abandoning Catholics: "To Archbishop Hughes, Dolores Grier and Grandma Dolan, I'm sorry to have to write this. But not as sad as you are to know it is true."

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Salvadoran: Blessed Romero, family friend, used visits to escape horrors

IMAGE: CNS photo/Jo Tuckman

By Jo Tuckman

SANTA TECLA, El Salvador (CNS) -- Leonor Chacon remembers every emotion she felt March 24, 1980, as if it were yesterday.

It started, she recalls, with the happiness that always accompanied the expectation that Archbishop Oscar Romero of San Salvador would be coming to eat with her family in the small city of Santa Tecla, just west of the Salvadoran capital.

Later there was her disappointment when her husband returned home with the news that the archbishop could not make it because he was committed to celebrating Mass that evening in the chapel of the cancer hospital next to where he lived.

And then there was the call informing her he had been shot while celebrating that Mass.

"I ran to the room where my husband was and we cried together," recalled Chacon, now 80. "It was a very great pain."

Today, El Salvador eagerly awaits the canonization of the archbishop who began his pastoral life as a conservative priest known for his charity work and spent his final years accused of being a communist agitator for defiantly speaking out against the death squads and political repression.

But while Chacon celebrates the attention focused on Blessed Romero's message of peace, for her he was also a dear friend, who treated her little family restaurant and home behind it as a refuge from the horror.

Taking a break from making pastries she sells in glass jars on the counter of the restaurant, Chacon let the anecdotes flow.

She recalled the way he would ask to be told jokes, as well as his belly laughs from the sofa when the family would clown about. She smiled fondly at the memory of the time he spent hours sitting with her father, watching telenovelas, and at his voracious appetite for her refried beans.

"He used to say that he came here to disconnect and the rest," she said. "He would say it was like going to the house of Martha and Mary of Bethany."

Chacon first met Blessed Romero on her wedding day in 1963. Her fiance, Raul, had told her about the priest who had taken him in to live in his parish in the nearby town of San Miguel when he became an orphan at the age of 7, so she wrote to ask him if he would marry them. Blessed Romero married them and stayed for the small banquet the family threw for the newlyweds, then he whisked them off to a hotel for their wedding night, paying the bill himself.

From then on, Blessed Romero began regularly dropping by for lunch on his way to and from the capital, developing individual relationships with many of the family members, including her sister, Elvira, who became his secretary.

Chacon said he preferred not to talk about politics when he visited and would brush off concerns for his safety, as he did the last time she saw him, March 8, 1980. He dismissed the idea that he should be traveling with someone, saying he did not want to put anybody else in danger.

Like many in El Salvador, Chacon said the archbishop wrote his own death sentence in the homily he gave the day before his murder, in which he ordered soldiers to "stop the repression."

"He knew they were going to kill him, but he wasn't afraid," she said. "He was smiling a lot the last time he came here."

Chacon told of the children and old people crying as thousands filed passed his coffin as it lay for five days in the San Salvador basilica. She also described how that grief then turned to fear on the very day of his funeral in the cathedral, when snipers fired on the mourners. Dozens died, many in the stampede to escape. Listening to the funeral on the radio in her home, she said the transmission cut out soon after the gunfire and screams began.

A few months later, rumors circulated that anybody found with photographs of the archbishop would be killed. Her husband, who died in 2002, wanted to burn their photos, but she refused. Instead she wrapped them in cloth and put them at the bottom of a chest.

Now she has hung those same photographs proudly on the wall in a kind of shrine she proudly shows to anybody who visits.

"He used to say that there are more people who love me than hate me, and it's still true" she said. "The people who come here get all emotional."

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Can axe-throwing Man Tour hit target of leading young men to the church?

IMAGE: CNS photo/New Albany Deanery

By John Shaughnessy

INDIANAPOLIS (CNS) -- While talking about The Man Tour, Conventual Franciscan Brother Andrew Hennessy shares his purpose for creating an evening that combines throwing axes, drinking beer, eating pizza, smoking cigars and participating in eucharistic adoration.

The 28-year-old friar, who's involved in young adult ministry, wants The Man Tour to deepen the bonds of young men who already share the Catholic faith while also connecting with young men who don't have a home in the church.

"My main hope is to strengthen the community for guys who are in the core group and to reach out to guys who are on the periphery of the church -- to feel some spiritual solidarity together, to make connections across parishes, to build up the church," Brother Andrew told The Criterion, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

"Hopefully, it will be a lot of fun, a lot of good energy, and a chance to come together before the Lord," he said, in advance of what he calls a "night of recreation and holiness."

The Man Tour, which costs $30, is open to 30 young men. On March 10 participants gathered at the Mount St. Francis Center of Spirituality in Mount St. Francis, in the archdiocese's New Albany Deanery. It's where Brother Andrew lives with his fellow Conventual Franciscans.

From the center, the group was chauffeured in two deanery vans to the Flying Axes establishment across the Ohio River in Louisville, Kentucky, where they could throw axes, eat pizza and drink beer.

Brother Andrew explained that Flying Axes is set up like a bowling alley, "but you're throwing axes at plywood. It's a really cool concept, a macho thing to do."

The second part of The Man Tour involved a return to Mount St. Francis for evening eucharistic adoration followed by "cigar smoking and conversation."

Brother Andrew said that his inspiration for The Man Tour partly came from "my imagination running away from me."

"I work with a lot of young adults here. Being guys, we were just throwing out ideas of hanging out as guys, doing guy things," he told The Criterion. "We figured we'd get guys from across the deanery, have some fun together, pray together and build the community of the Church together."

That element of building community is at the heart of The Man Tour, Brother Andrew insists.

"Someone told me that the two things that bring guys together are work and play. As Catholics, I think we also add 'pray' to it -- even though it's not easy to get people to pray together," he said. "It's natural to come together to have fun, and it's natural to come together to worship.

"The thing in my head is the Christian community. It's a community centered around Christ. We're having fun, but we're centering it all around Christ."

Combining faith and fun is a way of trying to connect with young adults who aren't closely tied to the church, said Philip Wiese, director of youth ministries for the New Albany Deanery, who helped coordinate The Man Tour with Brother Andrew.

It's an age group -- from 18 to 35 -- that's searching for something deeper, that's at a defining time in their lives, said Wiese, who is 29, married and the father of four children, with another child arriving soon.

"It's such an important time," he explained. "When you become young adults, the questions in life become more clear: Am I going to be married or single? Is the Lord calling me to be a priest or a religious sister? Where am I working, and is the place good for me spiritually or bringing me down? What kind of community am I in, and is it building me up?

"We're made for community as human beings. That's why it's so important for young adults to have authentic community -- to be built up as a man and as a son of God, to be built up as a woman and as a daughter of God," he added.

When Brother Andrew shared his idea for The Man Tour, Wiese embraced it. He also wants to explore ways to draw young women closer to God and the church through some combination of faith and fun.

"Pope Francis talks about going to the peripheries," Wiese said. "We need opportunities for people to come into the church and to grow in their relationship with Christ and the church without being overwhelmed-to involve them in something that strikes them as interesting."

He called The Man Tour one step in that process.

"We want to bring men together to see where they are in their walk in life, and where they are in their relationship with Christ and the Church so we can better prescribe a men's ministry," Wiese said, adding, "I'm interested to see where this will go, where the Lord will lead us. Prayer and adoration will always be involved."

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Shaughnessy is assistant editor of The Criterion, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

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U.S. delegates say young people want mentors, a voice, unity

IMAGE: CNS photo/Robert Duncan

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Young people want trusted guides as they explore their faith and their vocation, said five young adults from the United States attending the Vatican's pre-synod meeting.

The U.S. delegates to the Vatican meeting March 19-25 also said the 305 young adults from around the world want to see young people consulted more often in their parishes and dioceses. And, one said, in conversations with other delegates, he discovered that Catholics in other countries are not experiencing the sharp divisions that U.S. Catholics are.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops sent three delegates to the meeting: De La Salle Christian Brother Javier Hansen, who teaches at Cathedral High School in El Paso, Texas; Nick Lopez, director of campus ministry for the University of Dallas; and Katie Prejean-McGrady, a wife, new mother, youth minister, and a popular speaker from the Diocese of Lake Charles, Louisiana.

Chris Russo, a 23-year-old working in Boston, represented the Ruthenian Catholic Church. And Nicole Perone, director of adult faith formation for the Archdiocese of Hartford, Connecticut, represented Voices of Faith, an international group that highlights the contributions of women in the church.

A topic that came up consistently at the meeting, Prejean-McGrady said, was young people's desire "to find companions on the journey, to look for people to walk with them."

"When you have personal relationships with people who are vibrantly living their faith, then you yourself are inspired to live your faith," she said. And the relationship also provides a trusted source for dealing with concerns about topics such as sexuality or church teachings that may be difficult to understand, she said.

"'Here's a book; believe it' -- that doesn't work with young people anymore, and we know that because they are consuming far too much media to where they are not going to read that book," Prejean-McGrady said. "You have to talk with them, you have to walk with them, you have to love them and really spend time with them."

Lopez noted that Pope Francis opened the meeting March 19 by telling the delegates that the church wanted to hear their opinions and their questions, even those they thought might make church leaders uncomfortable.

In ministry to young people, they need to know they can ask those questions and that "we are going to discuss them. Nothing is too radical. Nothing is out of left field," he said. If a young person is struggling with something, that is all the reason needed to discuss it.

"Human issues are church issues, and we aren't going to get anywhere unless we begin the conversation," Lopez said.

"Young people seem to live in this age of anxiety, meaning that in a world of seemingly endless possibilities, they are almost paralyzed because they have all of these different options and they want to go forth, but they want to make the right decision, and they want to do so without the fear of failure," Russo said. "My hope is that just as Christ walked with the apostles, the church will walk with young people as they are discerning all these different thoughts and considering different paths."

The accompaniment discussion was key for Perone, who counts herself blessed to have had the guidance and friendship of "a number of people, but especially women, really bright, faithful women who love the church and have dedicated their lives in service to the church."

The preparatory document for the synod, which will be held in October, talks about "role models, guides and mentors," she said, but a lot of young people do not know how to ask for such accompaniment, and many people do not realize they can offer that to young people.

Faith mentors to young people, she said, first must be "faithful Christians, people who are living their lives faithfully and are committed to walking the journey of holiness."

And, she said, "it has to be a person who is not afraid to acknowledge they are human and make mistakes. The words 'authenticity' and 'vulnerability' have come up constantly this week. Those are the two characteristics young people crave, desire and are drawn to" because they make a mentor both trustworthy and approachable.

The young adults said their experience in Rome -- meeting with the pope and formulating suggestions for the bishops who will meet in October -- is an amazing, global example of what young people would like to see at least a hint of in their parishes and dioceses.

"All young people within the Catholic Church want to be heard," Russo said. "They want to have their thoughts expressed as they journey closer to Christ."

In formulating suggestions for the bishops, Lopez said, "one of the main ones was having things like this pre-synod gathering more common in the parishes," for example, by including young adults on the parish or diocesan council or creating parish or diocesan advisory committees of youth and young adults "and having those councils meet often."

"In the U.S., we're blessed to have very passionate young adults who take the initiative to form independent Catholic groups for young adults to meet, outside the church and outside the parish," he said, "but we need to integrate them into parish life to show we are not a separate group, that we're actually part of that community."

The delegates spent most of the week in small groups, working on their suggestions for the synod. Brother Hansen said he told his group that "one of the characteristics of the American church is this extreme polarization between liberal and conservative Catholics, and I was surprised that one thing I found was that that is more or less uniquely American."

The delegates from the wealthy Western nations would talk about "church teaching on controversial issues" or the need to be present on the digital platforms where young people spend their time, but "we have to move beyond these First World problems," Perone said, adding that she was touched by the witness of delegates coming from places where Christians experience violent persecution.

In the United States, she said, "it's easy for us to get bogged down in this division and discord and soundbites -- all these things that really drive us apart, and we don't quite focus on the unity we really should be focusing on: the beauty of our faith, the joy of the Gospel, the beauty of the truth that unites us and not the nuances that divide us."

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Pre-synod meeting is a chance to change the world, say young Africans

IMAGE: CNS photo/Robert Duncan

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- If the Catholic Church at every level -- and governments, too -- would listen to young people and give them a voice in decision-making, they could unleash great potential, said two African young adults.

Vincent Paul Nneji of Nigeria and Tinyiko Joan Ndaba from South Africa were among the 305 young adults participating in a weeklong meeting designed to allow young people -- involved Catholics and others -- to provide input for Pope Francis and the world's bishops, who will meet in a synod in October to discuss "young people, faith and vocational discernment."

Nneji told Catholic News Service March 20 that the preparatory meeting offers a chance for young Catholics in his country who are considered "a minority voice" to speak out on important issues.

"When the pope sent a letter on this meeting, we said, 'Finally, the church in Rome has decided to give us a platform; they decided to give us a listening ear,'" Nneji said.

While struggles with "social injustice, bad leadership, poverty and financial insecurity" are just some of the difficulties facing young Nigerian men and women today, Nneji said, "the major challenge is trying to be a Catholic youth and a light for other people, even in the midst of the conflicts we face in Nigeria."

African youths today, Nneji added, have "so many things in our hearts we want to express and want to say," yet they often feel disregarded. Too many, he said, then resort to violence in the hopes of provoking change.

"Sometimes when you're not allowed to say these things, it's like a volcano and when it gets so big," it blows up, he said.

Nneji told CNS he hopes that, through the pre-synod meeting, the whole world "may see a reason for allowing youths to be heard, for allowing (young people) to be part of decision-making, even in society."

"If we were allowed to express ourselves, we would have less violence, we would have more peace in our society and in our world," he said.

"And of course, in various parts of the world where youths are being exploited and used for various forms of violence, those things will reduce, those things will stop because this time around they will say, 'We have a platform where we can talk, so we don't need to carry guns, we don't need to carry machetes. We just have to go and dialogue,'" Nneji said.

Ndaba told CNS, "I hope that young people can be given a chance to change society because I think we have so much potential."

"But we can't do it on our own," she said. "We need support from the people who have been there before and who can give us direction where to go."

Ndaba was chosen to attend the meeting by Talitha Kum, the anti-human trafficking organization where she works. The organization is an international network of consecrated men and women in 75 countries promoting initiatives against human trafficking.

While the Catholic Church in South Africa is doing its best to prevent future cases of human trafficking, she said, the church also must warn young people of the harm inflicted by those who exploit women, especially when "the demand is coming from Catholics."

During the opening session of the pre-synod meeting March 19, Blessing Okodion, a young Nigerian rescued from forced prostitution in Italy, asked Pope Francis what could be done to increase awareness of human trafficking.

Pope Francis noted that since the vast majority of Italians are Catholic, the majority of men who use prostitutes in Italy also must be.

"One who goes to a prostitute is a criminal, a criminal," Pope Francis told the young people. "This is not making love. This is torturing a woman. Let's not confuse the terms. This is criminal."

As one of many men and women working a to prevent human trafficking in Africa, Ndaba told CNS she was happy to hear the pope speaking frankly about a "hidden crime" that is "not talked about so much."

Human trafficking is an important topic for a youth gathering, she said, "because most victims of human trafficking are young people who are trying to find better jobs, a better life so they migrate and traffickers take advantage of that, most especially with young people.

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

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Pope accepts resignation of communications prefect

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- After a very public controversy involving the use of a letter by retired Pope Benedict XVI, Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Msgr. Dario Vigano as prefect of the Vatican Secretariat for Communication.

Announcing the move March 21, the Vatican published Msgr. Vigano's letter to Pope Francis asking to resign and Pope Francis' reply accepting it.

However, Pope Francis asked Msgr. Vigano, 55, to remain at the secretariat as "assessor" to "make your human and professional contribution" in assisting whoever is named the new prefect as the Vatican continues its long and complicated work of unifying its communications efforts and various media outlets.

The controversy began March 12 at the presentation of a 11-volume series of books, "The Theology of Pope Francis." Msgr. Vigano had asked the retired pope for a theological reflection on the series.

At the book presentation, Msgr. Vigano read selected sentences from Pope Benedict's letter declining to write the reflection. The Secretariat for Communications also published a photograph showing the first page of the letter, with several lines purposefully blurred, and the second page, except for the signature, covered by a book.

An uproar ensued over the intentional blurring of the photograph and questions were raised in the media about what exactly the letter said. In the end, the Vatican released the full text March 17. It showed that not only had Pope Benedict said he was unable to read the full series, but that he objected to one of the authors chosen to write one of the volumes.

In his letter of resignation, Msgr. Vigano told Pope Francis that although it was not intentional, his actions had "destabilized the complex and great work of reform" with which the pope had entrusted him.

"I think that for me stepping aside would be a fruitful occasion for renewal," the monsignor wrote.

Pope Francis had named Msgr. Vigano prefect of the secretariat when it was created in June 2015. The monsignor had been director of the Vatican Television Center. The new secretariat was charged with unifying into one the offices and tasks previously handled by nine entities: the Pontifical Council for Social Communications; the Vatican press office; the Vatican internet office; Vatican Radio; the Vatican television production studio, CTV; the Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano; the Vatican printing press; the Vatican photograph service; and the Vatican publishing house, Libreria Editrice Vaticana.

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Supreme Court examines freedom of speech at crisis pregnancy centers

IMAGE: CNS photo/Jonathan Ernst, Reuters

By Carol Zimmermann

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In oral arguments before the Supreme Court March 20, justices seemed skeptical about a California law that requires pro-life pregnancy centers in the state to visibly display information about abortions to their clients that the centers say violates their right to free speech.

A few of the justices asked about the state's motivation to put the law in place, wondering if it was more about educating women about state-provided services or if it was meant to specifically target centers offering pregnancy-related services that clients might assume are medical facilities.

Justice Elena Kagan said it would be a problem and a First Amendment issue if the law was "gerrymandered" to only apply to certain types of service providers.

The law's requirement that licensed and unlicensed centers disclose their status in advertisements in large type and in many languages was seen as an "undue burden" by Justice Anthony Kennedy, who asked if this would apply -- and was told it would -- to an unlicensed facility that wanted to have a "choose life" or "pro-life" billboard. Justice Sonia Sotomayor agreed that aspect of the law, in some cases, was "burdensome and wrong."

The case is the first abortion-related one to be heard by the court with President Donald Trump's appointee, Neil Gorsuch, on the bench. The oral arguments drew people from both sides outside the court in the freezing rain on the first day of spring. Some signs, held aloft in between umbrellas, said "Patients want care not coercion" and "Give free speech life."

After the hourlong argument, Thomas Glessner, president of the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates, the group representing the pregnancy centers, told the crowd outside that he felt "very optimistic" about the outcome of this case.

California's attorney general, Xavier Becerra, tweeted right after the arguments: "Information is power and all women should know the full range of their #healthcare options! A great morning with my team at #SCOTUS."

In a March 20 statement, Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York said he prayed the court would "do the right thing and uphold our fundamental right to free speech when it decides this case."

"Pro-life pregnancy care centers embody everything that is right and good in our nation: generosity, compassion and love that is offered to support both mother and child," said Cardinal Dolan, chair of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Pro-Life Activities.

He noted that some government officials, instead of "applauding and encouraging the selfless and life-affirming work of these centers" want to "force them to provide free advertising for the violent act of abortion in direct violation of their pro-life convictions and the First Amendment."

The case, National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA) v. Becerra, is about the constitutionality of the Reproductive FACT Act, a state law which says pregnancy centers must post notices in their facilities about available low-cost abortion services and also must disclose if they have medical personnel on staff. The Christian-base centers provide counseling and often offer supplies of diapers, formula, clothes and baby items. Centers that failed to comply with the law have been subject to fines of $500 for a first offense and $1,000 for subsequent offenses.

Three pregnancy centers challenged the law in court saying it infringed on their First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and free exercise of religion.

The law was upheld last October by a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit that said the state could regulate professional speech because of its interest in safeguarding public health and to ensure that "citizens have access to and adequate information about constitutionally protected medical services like abortion."

Last October, a California Superior Court judge granted a permanent injunction against the state attorney general preventing him from enforcing the FACT law.

Justice Stephen Breyer said during the oral arguments that if abortion providers must tell pregnant women about other options, then pregnancy centers should similarly tell their clients about outside services. "In law, as you well know, what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander," which he explained as coming down to this: "If a pro-life state can tell a doctor you have to tell people about adoption, why can't a pro-choice state tell a doctor, a facility, whatever it is, you have to tell people about abortion?"

The USCCB and several other groups including the California Catholic Conference, the Catholic Health Association of the United States, in friend-of-the-court briefs with the Supreme Court supporting the pro-life pregnancy centers, stressed that the government can't force people to say things they don't believe.

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Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim.

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South Carolina artist honors memories of Holocaust victims with drawings

IMAGE: CNS photo/Christina Lee Knauss, The Catholic Miscellany

By Christina Lee Knauss

WEST COLUMBIA, S.C. (CNS) -- Mary Burkett never had formal art lessons. Drawing was something she resolved to try as a hobby in January 2017.

She decided to sketch the face of a little boy she saw in a black and white photo on the internet.

To her surprise, Burkett was able to produce his image on the paper with amazing ease.

"It was like he was already there waiting for me, like he just peeked out at me," she told The Catholic Miscellany, newspaper of the Diocese of Charleston. "I was entirely amazed. I didn't feel like I had drawn him. I felt like he was hidden in the page."

The image is of a boy with a wide-open gaze, fair hair spilling from under a vintage-style cap cocked back on his head. He looks bemused, as if he was forced to pause for a portrait on his way out the door to play.

It wasn't until later that she discovered the photo was of a Romanian Jewish boy named Hersch Goldberg. He died at Auschwitz in 1944, one of millions of children who were victims of the Holocaust.

Burkett had a visceral and emotional reaction to the innocent yet haunting face of Hersch. The fact that his life had been cruelly ended before it ever really began led her to search out images of other children with similar fates.

She felt as if she knew Hersch after drawing him and she wanted to learn the stories of other children like him. Eventually, she decided she wanted other people to learn their stories too.

A year later, that first drawing of the photo of Hersch Goldberg has blossomed into a collection Burkett calls "Beloved: Children of the Holocaust."

It features Burkett's sketch portraits of 25 other children killed in the Holocaust, as well as one of Janusz Korczak, a Polish pediatrician who ran an orphanage for Jewish children in the Warsaw ghetto and was eventually killed at the Treblinka concentration camp.

"I wanted to give these children a chance to speak to the world," Burkett said. "I wanted to honor their precious little lives."

That first sketch launched a journey she never dreamed of when she first put pencil to paper. She has displayed the collection at churches and synagogues, colleges and universities. Several schools have asked her to speak to classes that are studying the Holocaust and she has traveled halfway across the country to share her work with others.

Burkett, who attends St. Peter Church in downtown Columbia, lived in Belgium for several years as a child, where she learned firsthand of the suffering and death that European Jews and other groups suffered at the hands of the Nazis. That perspective, and a lifelong love of children built through motherhood and a 40-year career as a pediatric nurse, likely are part of the reason her portraits of the children are so riveting.

To look at them is to briefly feel as if you have touched a tiny soul. Their eyes, especially, reach out with a spark of life.

Five-month-old Alida Baruch, who died at Auschwitz in 1942, looks like a Gerber baby. Fani Silberman, with dimples and tiny hoop earrings, has the twinkling innocence of a child movie star. Abraham Henselein, although he died at 6, already had an intense gaze. Perhaps he would have been a future scholar or national leader.

Burkett said their expressions convey so much because they were captured in an era when photos were more rare than today.

"Children weren't used to posing all the time back then, so we get to see more of who they really were," she said.

Burkett said her skill can only come from God. As she is quick to explain, she had no formal training prior to that January day when she first started to work. Her artist's tools are spare and simple.

What she calls her toolbox is a Ziploc bag with a few simple items. She uses a pencil in a shade of reddish-brown called sanguine, and smooths edges and lines with cotton balls and swabs. Burkett does most of her sketch work at a large table on the second floor of her West Columbia home, before a window where sunlight spills in on nice days and she can look out at a span of green hills and trees.

Just as she did not expect the "Beloved" collection would exist a year ago, Burkett says she does not know what the future will bring. All she knows is that the children who reached out to her from photos have been given a new life through her pencil.

"I just try to be faithful to what God is telling me and what he is doing in my life," she said. "I feel like through this work the children are being honored and God is being honored. My job now is to shepherd them on the journey. They have a path in front of them. I think part of that path is to show people the sanctity of all life and the true love of God."

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Editor's Note: To view the Beloved collection and learn more about Burkett's work, visit

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Knauss is a reporter at The Catholic Miscellany, newspaper of the Diocese of Charleston.

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Update: After Vatican verdict, Guam archbishop apologizes for predecessor's 'harm'

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Publicly apologizing on behalf of the whole archdiocese for the "grave harm" caused by former Archbishop Anthony S. Apuron of Agana, Archbishop Michael J. Byrnes said a new chapter of humility, repentance and healing has opened for the Catholic Church in Guam following a Vatican verdict against his predecessor.

"I called and still call upon all Catholics on Guam to intensify their prayers and with great humility, offer sacrifice for the grave harm and sins which we have experienced or have enabled in our church," Archbishop Byrnes said during a news conference in Guam March 18.

"We hang our heads in shame for the grave evil one member inflicted upon others, in this case the most vulnerable," he said in remarks, which were later released in a written statement.

"Our prayers for the victims of child abuse by Bishop Apuron and all victims of abuse here and worldwide continue; so shall our efforts to bring healing and restoration to all victims of clergy sexual abuse and to ensure this never happens again," he said.

Archbishop Byrnes, who has been leading the archdiocese since 2016, made his comments after a Vatican tribunal announced March 16 it found Archbishop Agana guilty of some of the accusations made against him, including the sexual abuse of minors.

After a canonical trial conducted by the apostolic tribunal of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Vatican judges imposed the following sanctions on the 72-year-old archbishop: the removal from office and a prohibition from residing in Guam. The archbishop can and will appeal.

During the news conference, Archbishop Byrnes said he did not know on what charges the former archbishop had been found guilty and which ones had been dismissed. In fact, he told local reporters, he had received no communication about the trial's findings other than "I got a phone call saying to go to this site" to read the Vatican's public announcement.

He said there had been no follow-up from the Vatican either as of March 17 and he assumed the former archbishop was now to be called Bishop Apuron, since losing the office of archbishop meant also losing the title associated with it. 

"We'll see with the appeal" what the final situation will be, he added.

Archbishop Apuron released a statement March 17 through his lawyer, Jacqueline Taitano Terlaje: "While I am relieved that the tribunal dismissed the majority of the accusations against me, I have appealed the verdict. ... God is my witness; I am innocent and I look forward to proving my innocence in the appeals process."

Supporters of the archbishop, conversing anonymously with journalists, claimed the archbishop was found guilty on only two of six charges and that the sentence implies those charges were not the most serious ones. Generally, clerics found guilty of sexually abusing minors face either removal from the priesthood or are sentenced to a life of prayer and penance and banned from any public ministry.

Archbishop Byrnes said while there is much work and consultation to do in regard to local legal issues, he felt "a sense of relief" when the Vatican verdict had been announced.

He said his reaction upon hearing the news was, "OK, good. Something's happened and they're not just stringing us along." The announcement of the verdict from the Vatican investigation, which began in February 2017, had been expected last year, the archbishop had said.

Archbishop Apuron is among the highest-ranking church leaders to have been tried by the Vatican for sexual offenses.

In a statement released March 16, the Vatican tribunal said, "The canonical trial in the matter of accusations, including accusations of sexual abuse of minors, brought against the Most Reverend Anthony Sablan Apuron, O.F.M.Cap., Archbishop of Agana, Guam, has been concluded."

"The apostolic tribunal of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, composed of five judges, has issued its sentence of first instance, finding the accused guilty of certain of the accusations and imposing upon the accused the penalties of privation of office and prohibition of residence in the Archdiocese of Guam." U.S. Cardinal Raymond L. Burke, a noted canon lawyer, was the presiding judge in the canonical investigation of Archbishop Apuron.

The statement did not specify the number of charges the archbishop faced, how many of them he was found guilty of or even the nature of the offenses for which he was convicted.

"The sentence remains subject to possible appeal," the Vatican statement said. "In the absence of an appeal, the sentence becomes final and effective. In the case of an appeal, the imposed penalties are suspended until final resolution."

Archbishop Apuron had been accused of sexually abusing several boys in the 1970s, and, in early January, one of the archbishop's nephews publicly claimed the archbishop had sexually abused him in 1990. Archbishop Apuron continually has denied the abuse allegations.

Pope Francis placed Archbishop Apuron on leave in June 2016 after the accusations were made public. The pope named an apostolic administrator to run the archdiocese for several months and then named Coadjutor Archbishop Michael J. Byrnes, a former auxiliary bishop of Detroit, to take over.

Until the Vatican court handed down its sentence, Archbishop Apuron had continued to hold the title of archbishop of Agana, but did not hold the faculties, rights or obligations pertaining to the office, because they had been granted to Archbishop Byrnes.

The former archbishop greeted Pope Francis at the end of a general audience February 7 in Rome. The Italian website, Vatican Insider, claimed former Archbishop Apuron told the pope, "Holy Father, I wanted to see you before I die."

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