Browsing News Entries

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Commentary: Redefining gender while California burns

Sacramento, Calif., Oct 20, 2017 / 03:01 am (CNA).- California is still burning.

At this point, 42 people are dead. Some 217,000 acres are devastated. Thousands of homes are destroyed. Entire towns are now charred wreckage. As the fires burned their hottest, trees glowed a seething orange behind their bark, before exploding. Families took shelter wherever they could find it; one couple spent a long, cold night submerged to their necks in a neighbor’s pool, seeking refuge from falling embers.  

The fires are now mostly contained. But the cleanup will be massive. It will take political cooperation at the local, state, and federal levels to allocate funds, organize rebuilding, and provide relief to the tens of thousands of people who are now displaced – homeless – with no certainty about their future. It will take leadership, compromise, and statesmanship. It will take selflessness.

Even in ordinary times, the political cooperation and organizational infrastructure required after a disaster of this magnitude are a challenge. The political infighting after Hurricane Katrina is the stuff of legend. And these are not ordinary times. After a particularly brutal hurricane season, federal recovery dollars will be hard to come by. And Washington has never been more polarized, or less stable. California is beginning a gubernatorial primary season, which brings with it the kind of posturing and grandstanding that make it difficult to get real work done. At the same time, finger-pointing has begun, as Californians try to explain the causes of the massive wildfires that consumed so much of the Napa Valley. Governor Jerry Brown is already being blamed for the fires, after vetoing a bipartisan 2016 bill intended to make power lines less likely to contribute to the spread of wildfire in residential areas.

In such extraordinary times, facing such a monumental task, it’s natural to hope for a singularly focused, consensus-building political leader, who would cut through partisanship and pettiness to help rebuild lives, homes, and communities across California. Governor Brown, who has a very long record of public service in California, and has few political limitations in the year before his final term expires, should be the man for the job. That is why it is so disappointing that on Sunday night, while the wildfires were still spreading, the governor took time to sign California’s Gender Recognition Act, which allows Californians to choose a “non-binary” gender identity on drivers’ licenses, and to change name and gender on state identification documents with ease.

Signing the bill will cement Brown’s legacy among libertines and elites, who already revere him because of his support for gay marriage and assisted suicide. But while the Gender Recognition Act will win him adulation from progressive pundits, it won’t make it easier for Brown to solve the real and immediate problems his state is facing. In fact, he’s made that job harder.

In the face of a crisis requiring broad cooperation, especially from churches and religious social service agencies, Brown chose to remind Californians of faith that their views don’t matter, and that they have no place in his vision for California. Instead of building the consensus that would help real Californians, Brown chose to secure his place in the pantheon of progressive demagogues, consequences be damned. Instead of facing the reality of California’s needs, Brown spent his time trying redefine what’s real, to usher in a new world in which reason is supplanted by confusion, masquerading as freedom.
 
In the classic 1951 film Quo Vadis, based upon Henryk Sienkiewicz’ novel, the emperor Nero is a mad narcissist: licentious, insecure, and cruel. Nero is far more concerned with securing his place in history – with being remembered as a genius, and an artist – than he is with leading his people. They suffer for his madness, and for his neglect.  

Eventually, Nero’s Rome burns to the ground, in a fire which the emperor himself began. But he is impervious to the suffering of his citizens. He stands overlooking his burning city, plucking a harp, and obsessing about his place in history, and a new world he’ll create in his own image – Neropolis.

“That is my epic,” Nero tells his courtiers. “To change the face of the world. To demolish and create anew.”

California is burning. Brown is not the cause of the fire. But he should be singularly focused on helping his people. Instead, he seems more concerned with plucking a harp for his place in history, redefining reality with his pen. “To change the face of the world. To demolish, and create anew.”

 

How Los Angeles Catholics help the homeless

Los Angeles, Calif., Oct 20, 2017 / 12:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- With growing numbers of people suffering homelessness in the expensive megalopolis of Los Angeles, Catholics and people of other religions are working together to provide a serious response.

“The faith community is really a giant part of the services provided to the folks in need,” Kathleen Domingo, Director of the Los Angeles archdiocese’s Office of Life, Justice and Peace, told CNA.

There’s a reason Catholics help the homeless.

“We’ve been told that our salvation depends on how we treat those in need,” said Domingo. “Our faith isn’t just in praying and personal spirituality, it’s actually in what we put into action.”

She said the homeless are “the face of Christ, especially in Los Angeles.” Many residents live in such prosperity that “to turn our backs on the homeless is really to turn our backs on Christ.”

“We really need to ask ourselves: are we willing to sacrifice our salvation, literally, for our own convenience or our own comfort at not getting involved?” Domingo said.

Leaders of Christian, Jewish, and Muslim communities gathered at the University of Southern California campus Oct. 18 for a roundtable discussion that aimed to find new ideas and a united approach to responding to homelessness.

Among the scheduled speakers was Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles. He joined other religious leaders, homeless experts, and representatives from Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti’s office.

In a June 6 column, Gomez warned that an increase in homelessness shows a failure to foster a strong “human ecology.” It reflects a widening gap “between those who have what they need for a dignified life and those who do not.”

“I worry that we are getting accustomed to these sights in our city,” he said. “We cannot allow ourselves to accept a Los Angeles where sidewalks become permanent residences for our neighbors.”

A May 2017 report from the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority found a 23 percent increase in homelessness in Los Angeles County since the previous year. According to the Associated Press, about 7,700 volunteers counted about 58,800 homeless people, an increase of 11,000.

The number of homeless veterans had increased 57 percent. The number of homeless aged 18 to 24 increased 64 percent, while the number of those under 18 increased 41 percent.

The report did find improvements in the number of homeless families who have shelter. The number of families without shelter decreased 21 percent.

Officials said there is increasing financial stress on renters in the Los Angeles area. Over 2 million households spend half their income or more on housing costs.

The roundtable is sponsored by four USC organizations, including the Institute for Advanced Catholic Studies. Father James L. Heft, founder and president of the institute, said there are many different religions in Los Angeles working to ameliorate the homelessness crisis.

“People in these different religions are doing good things to address this crisis. But they often work by themselves,” he said. “I thought it would be good for the leaders of the different religions to talk with each other, learn from each other, and through these conversations find even better ways to work at solving the crisis of homelessness.”

According to Heft, the roundtable aims to help advance understanding of the “complex issue of homelessness” and learn the most effective ways to address it.

“We want to promote greater cooperation among religions in addressing a serious challenge that our whole community faces,” the priest said.

For Domingo, Catholic action for the homeless in Los Angeles already has a record of success.

In 2016, Catholic Charities of Los Angeles and the St. Vincent de Paul Society worked together to place about 300 people in permanent housing. Though the numbers seem small compared to the problem, the beneficiaries are given a sustainable place to live and the means to stay there for the long-term. They also receive help with job placement and other support resources.

The work of individual parishes is significant, but sometimes difficult to report, Domingo said. “Much of it is done just in a manner of course as the parishes operate.”

Domingo noted a five-parish cluster in the archdiocese’s eastern San Gabriel region which collectively offers cold weather shelter to the homeless. The parishes also offer food, including some meals homemade by parishioners.

In addition, parish outreach seeks barbers, stylists and manicurists for these beneficiaries to “make them feel good and look good while they’re here,” she said.

The parishes involve homeless guests in Christmas activities, including Las Posadas, the traditional Mexican Advent season commemoration of the journey of the Holy Family, in which they found no room at the inn of Bethlehem.

Local schoolchildren make prayer cards, placemats, and table settings to help welcome the hosted families. A jazz band from the local Catholic high school also comes to play.

“You could just see this exhaustion melt away as people listen to music that maybe they haven’t been exposed to for years,” said Domingo, who added: “These are really amazing moments. It doesn’t get a lot of press, but it’s really the parish coming together to do something impactful.”

Some parishes collaborate with the nationwide Family Promise program to house families that have just become homeless. When they secure permanent housing quickly, they have a better chance of not becoming homeless again.

Domingo praised the “housing-first” approach to homelessness. This approach, developed in recent decades, aims to provide permanent housing immediately for those in need, rather than put them through transitional programs whose conditions are sometimes counterproductive and harder to fulfill for someone without permanent housing. She suggested the archdiocese would be happy to pursue such an approach.

“That’s also an approach that’s very much in keeping with Catholic social teaching, with the dignity of the person,” she said. Getting someone a house is something basic that does not need many restrictions.

“Just get people housed. That’s a very good step in the right direction,” said Domingo.

Many Catholic charities, St. Vincent de Paul organizations, and parishes in Los Angeles are taking part in a process called the Coordinated Entry System. It helps to ensure some knowledge about who is getting services and to ensure that some people are not “falling through the cracks.”

Domingo attributed the shortfall in housing for those at risk of homelessness to the “not in my backyard” mindset. Many projects have been halted due to local opposition.

“As Catholics we could help to shift the conversation on that,” she suggested. Catholics could help rally their neighbors to welcome homeless families to their neighborhood just as they’d welcome any family.

She also stressed the need for people to educate themselves about the options specifically available for homeless minors and the elderly so that they could help those the encounter find temporary assistance.

“It seems small in a sense, but they’re realistic steps, and I think that they can be incredibly effective,” she said.

BBC mini-series captures daily life of Benedictine monks

Stratton-on-the-Fosse, England, Oct 19, 2017 / 12:54 pm (CNA).- A new BBC series will depict the daily life of Benedictine monks in a few UK monasteries, taking camera crews to capture a lifestyle normally hidden from the public’s eye.

A three episode mini-series called “Retreat: Meditations from the Monastery,” the broadcast will explore the life of three different abbeys: Downside, Belmont, and Pluscarden.

Produced without a narrator, the series aims to portray the quiet contemplation of the monks’ daily routines using only the natural sounds of the monasteries. Viewers will be able to experience the sights and sounds of meals, Gregorian chants, and gardens.

The series will focus on the Benedictine motto: ‘Ora et Labora’ (prayer and work), by following a few monks engaged in manual labor at the monastery.

Airing on Oct. 24, the first episode will follow the activities of the 14 monks at Downside Abbey in the county of Somerset, England. This episode will accompany a priest while he builds a traditional prayer desk, and a monk who bakes bread for the monastery.

In addition to the television series, BBC Radio 3 will release podcasts from Oct. 23-27, expanding on Benedictine spiritual life.

Downside Abbey is home to the Basilica of St. Gregory the Great, one of England’s three minor basilicas.

In 1606, the Benedictine community of St. Gregory the Great was founded by British monks in Douai, then part of the Spanish Netherlands, because of a prohibition on monastic life in Britain following the Reformation. The monastery was expelled from Douai by anti-Catholic French Revolutionaries, and in 1795, the monks were given permission to move their monastery to England.

 

Government must allow abortion for undocumented teenager, judge rules

Washington D.C., Oct 19, 2017 / 12:50 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- In a controversial decision, a U.S. district judge ruled that the government must facilitate an abortion for an undocumented teenager under federal custody in Texas. The federal government has appealed the ruling, asking for a stay on the judge’s order.

On Oct. 18, U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan ruled that a 17-year-old from Central America, known only as “Jane Doe,” must be allowed to get an abortion. The girl has been in federal custody since early September, and is living in a south Texas shelter operated by the Office of Refugee Resettlement – an agency of the Department of Health and Human Services.

Currently 15 weeks pregnant, the girl has secured outside funding for the abortion, and has obtained state permission to get the abortion – a requirement for any minor in Texas who does not have parental permission for an abortion procedure.

The ACLU has alleged that the government is utilizing an “unconstitutional veto power” by not allowing Doe to obtain an abortion, and has filed a suit against HHS. The administration has countered that the government has “exercised a legitimate choice to refuse to facilitate an abortion,” and argues that the girl could leave the country voluntarily to obtain the procedure. It also argues that since the girl is in the care of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, it has the right to determine what is in the best interest of the teenager.

The government also says that the United States has an interest in “not providing incentives for pregnant minors to illegally cross the border to obtain elective abortions while in federal custody.”

Under the judge’s ruling, the administration must allow the minor to attend an abortion counseling appointment on Oct. 20, and have the abortion the following day or over the weekend. If the administration does not comply, it will be held in contempt of court, the ruling states. A decision on the appeal is expected Thursday evening.

Pro-life organizations criticized the judge’s decision, warning of the precedent it sets.

“Today’s ruling is outrageous and sets a dangerous precedent,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List.

“The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services took a simple position that it would protect the life and dignity of the teenage girl and her unborn child while in their care,” she said in a statement. “Shame on this judge for overruling compassionate care and instead mandating that the U.S. government help facilitate an abortion for a teenage girl.”

“This ruling plays into the broader agenda of the ACLU, which is recklessly exploiting a teenage girl in order to make the United States a sanctuary state for abortion,” she added.

Catherine Glenn Foster, President and CEO of Americans United for Life, also objected to the ruling, saying that because the government would have to expend resources to provide access to the abortion clinic, the decision “mandates that taxpayer funds be expended to facilitate the destruction of an innocent human life, in violation of the Hyde Amendment and the consciences of millions of American citizens.”

English nuns offer free meals – but there's a catch

London, England, Oct 19, 2017 / 12:08 pm (CNA).- A group of religious sisters are offering free meals in a trendy neighborhood of London, but on one condition: the customers must forfeit the use of their phones and converse with fellow diners.

“We give you a little food for soul. We don’t just mean the food that you eat, but something for you to take away and reflect in your life,” said Sister Anna, according to Business Insider.

As part of the new reality TV series “Bad Habits: Holy Orders,” the Daughters of Divine Charity have left their homes in rural Norfolk to serve food at “Nundos” in Shoreditch from Oct. 17-19.

The pop-up restaurant is a play on words for the peri-peri chicken chain Nando’s, but rather than serving African cuisine the holy restaurant offers chicken broth, lentil soup, breads, and homemade pies.  

If the costumer’s phone is put aside, the wholesome meals are offered free of charge as a means to deter people from the distractions of social media.

The Channel 5 series takes five millennial women and follows their transition from a party lifestyle to the simple life of the convent. The girls' beliefs are then challenged by the religious community as they participate in the nun’s activities, like early morning prayers and works of charity.

Founded in 1868, the Daughters of Divine Charity seek to make God visible through acts of charity, like attending to the sick and elderly and aiding children in preparation for the sacraments.

Pursue the common good, not allure of money, Pope tells finance students

Vatican City, Oct 19, 2017 / 11:00 am (CNA).- Pope Francis told a group of students studying finance Thursday not to let themselves get taken in by the charm of money, but to instead work toward building a better future based on justice and the common good.

“It is essential that, until now and in your future professional life, you will learn to be free from the allure of money, from the slavery in which money closes those who worship it,” the Pope said Oct. 19.

It's also essential that students “acquire the strength and the courage not to blindly obey the invisible hand of the market,” he said, and encouraged them to take advantage of their study time, learning “to become promoters and defenders of a growth in equity, to become craftsman of a just and adequate administration of our common home, which is the world.”

Pope Francis spoke to students enrolled in the Chartreux Institute of Lyon. Established in 1825, the school is a private Carthusian educational institution linked to the French state school system.

The institute takes students from grade school all the way through high school, and also offers courses in higher education, with a specialization in the fields of finance, business, and accounting.

In his speech, Pope Francis said he was glad to learn that alongside their education in finances, students also receive a solid foundation in “human, philosophical and spiritual” studies.

To take courses in Rome, he said, allows the students to be immersed in the history “which has so strongly marked European nations.”

“Admiring what the genius of men and the hopes they cultivated were able to accomplish, also you must have it at heart to leave your mark in history,” he said, stressing in off-the-cuff comments that “you have the ability to decide your future.”

Francis told the students to take responsibility not only for the world, but “for the life of every man,” and urged them remember that “every injustice against a poor man is an open wound, and belittles your own dignity.”

Even though the world will expect them to strive for success above all else, the Pope told them to put the time and the means into going forward on “the path of brotherhood,” so that they will be able “to build bridges between men rather than walls, to add your stones to the building of a more just and human society.”

Noting how his audience was composed of both Christians and non-Christians, Pope Francis urged the Christians to stay united with the Lord in prayer, and to learn “to entrust everything to God, and so not give in to the temptation of discouragement and desperation.”

For those who are not Christians, the Pope greeted them with “respect and affection,” telling them to keep they eyes focused on others.

He closed his speech by encouraging all of the students “to work for the good, to become humble seeds of a new world,” and prayed that they would be able to “cultivate the culture of encounter and sharing within the single human family.

St. John Paul II's legacy lives on through new study abroad program

Krakow, Poland, Oct 19, 2017 / 09:00 am (CNA).- Near the heart of Krakow, Poland, you can find a two-level basilica which houses all things related to the beloved St. John Paul II.

Called the “Be Not Afraid – John Paul II Center,” it hosts a relic of his blood, the cassock he wore when he was shot in St. Peter’s Square, a museum, and a research center.

Now, the center will also be the home to a new study abroad program called the JP2 Project.

The JP2 Project is a multi-faceted program that offers students and families ages 16-35 a unique educational experience in Poland. Rooted in the country’s rich culture, the program’s main pillars focus on academics, local culture, service to the church, community life, spirituality, and active life.

“John Paul II challenged young people to greatness: he gave them the truth, he believed in their capacity to give of themselves, to become great saints… In the JP2 Project, we do too,” stated Corinne MacDonald, founder and co-president of the endeavor, which was officially established this year.

“The project is named after JPII because we honestly felt that he was asking us to start it, and because he is the perfect model for youth today,” MacDonald told CNA in a recent interview.

Rewind a few years to when MacDonald was the head of a different study abroad program in Rome, Italy. During this time, she brought students on pilgrimages to Poland and began to notice something amazing.

“In the nine times that I brought American students on pilgrimage to Poland, every one of them was blown away by Poland’s dramatic history, the rich culture and people who have cultivated it, the ascetic beauty, and the inspiring legacies of modern saints such as St. Maximillian Kolbe, Bl. Jerzy Popieluszko, St. Faustina, and St. John Paul II,” MacDonald said.

“We want to replicate that experience for as many students as possible” in the JP2 Program, she continued.

The study abroad experience holds a special place in MacDonald’s heart, most especially because it brought she and her husband, Joseph, together.

“Since study abroad was a part of our marriage story, it never left us, even when we moved back to the U.S. to begin our family,” she continued.

Through a lot of prayer and a nudging that never left their hearts, the MacDonalds made the JP2 Project in Poland a reality. The couple and their two children are additionally joined by Erin Van de Voorde, the vice president, and Therese Reinhold, the administrative assistant.

Throughout the startup process, they found that there was no existing study abroad program in Poland that really adhered to the academic schedule in the United States, so they created the program around the needs of U.S. students.

Student groups currently include three age ranges: high school, college, and young families. MacDonald said each group was founded with the aim of “cultivating virtue and forming the whole person, in the example of Karol Wojtyla.”

The JP2 Project offers two 10-day pilgrimage programs for high school students starting in 2018, one in April and the other in July. This particular group will explore Poland’s culture, history, and key figures, and will also delve into dynamic discussions and daily community prayer, including Mass.

The application process for the high school program is now open to students.

In addition, the JP2 Program will also offer a Family Enrichment Program in July that MacDonald said will focus on “living out spousal love in light of JPII’s teachings and is designed especially for families with small children.”

College students aged 18-29 will also be involved with the JP2 Project through the three-and-a-half-month program, which offers up to six courses. Each course is the equivalent to about three credits in the U.S. academic system, and will be offered through a partnership with the Pontifical University of John Paul II in Krakow.

College students from any university are welcome to apply, and the courses are mainly focused on theology, philosophy, history, art, culture studies and social sciences.

Outside of academics, all participants in the JP2 Program are also given the opportunity to connect with local families, learn the Polish language, serve the homeless in Krakow, attend daily Mass and adoration, and organize sporting activities.

In the future, the JP2 Project is open to expanding to other countries and also hopes to open a seminarian formation program that will focus on building up priests through the culture and spirituality found in Poland.

“Krakow was the place Karol Wojtyla was formed as a seminarian, and the results were spectacular,” MacDonald noted.

“Furthermore, the location of Krakow, Poland has particular significance: it is the city that shaped young Karol Wojtyla and that he in turn shaped as a priest, archbishop and even as Pope John Paul II,” she continued.

The program is already supported by Fr. Tomasz Szopa, the chancellor of the Archdiocese of Krakow, who MacDonald describes as the “spiritual father” to the program and who also serves on the board.

Ultimately, MacDonald said that she hopes the JP2 Project will reach young people through the beauty of Poland and the intercession of Pope St. John Paul II.

“We desire that students of our programs become saints and build up a civilization of love and truth in our society today,” MacDonald said.

“We believe that John Paul II shows them the way.”

Donations to aid the JP2 Project can be made here.

Pope to Methodists: Reconciliation is more than talk – it needs action

Vatican City, Oct 19, 2017 / 07:29 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Marking 50 years of Catholic-Methodist dialogue, Pope Francis on Thursday told members of both traditions that when it comes to future relations, simply speaking about reconciliation is not enough – we must actually pray and work for it.

“This is the journey that awaits us in the new phase of the dialogue, devoted to reconciliation: we cannot speak of prayer and charity unless together we pray and work for reconciliation and full communion,” the Pope said Oct. 19.

Pope Francis met with a delegation of around 50 members of the World Methodist Council on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the beginning of theological dialogue between Catholics and Methodists.

In his address, Francis said that looking toward the future, as well as back over the last 50 years, it is clear that to grow in holiness we must also grow in communion with God and with our brothers and sisters.

“As a call to life in communion with God, the call to holiness is necessarily a call to communion with others too,” he said. “Faith becomes tangible above all when it takes concrete form in love, particularly in service to the poor and the marginalized.”

And this service to others, he pointed out, can be a source of communion between Catholics and Methodists.

“When, as Catholics and Methodists, we join in assisting and comforting the weak and the marginalized – those who in the midst of our societies feel distant, foreign and alienated – we are responding to the Lord’s summons,” he said.

Discussions between the two churches can be a gift not just for their members, but also for our communities and our world, he noted, pointing out that the discussion could be an incentive to Christians everywhere to be “ministers of reconciliation.”

He explained how it is the Holy Spirit that brings about unity, and this is always done in his own way and his own time, just like at Pentecost, where the Spirit awakened “a variety of charisms,” creating unity without uniformity.

“We need then, to remain together,” he said, “like the disciples awaiting the Spirit, as brothers and sisters on a shared journey.”

Francis said that after a long separation, we are like brothers and sisters who are happy to once more meet and learn about one another, moving forward “with open hearts.”

“So let us advance together, knowing that our journey is blessed by the Lord. It began from him, and it leads to him.”

As encouraged by the Second Vatican Council, dialogue enables Christians of different creeds to continue growing in knowledge and esteem, the Pope continued, saying that “true dialogue gives us the courage to encounter one another in humility and sincerity, in an effort to learn from one another, and in a spirit of honesty and integrity.”

Francis expressed his gratitude to the Catholic-Methodist Dialogue Commission and to the World Methodist Council for their work, both past and present.

A lot has been learned over the past 50 years, but the work is not finished, he said, saying we must look forward to that day when we can finally unite in the “breaking of the bread.”

Concluding the audience by praying the ‘Our Father,’ the Pope invited those present to pray for reconciliation as well as the daily bread that sustains us “along the way.”

Europe at a crossroads

Paris, France, Oct 19, 2017 / 06:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Sunday, the people of Austria elected a new government. At 31 years of age, Sebastian Kurz is poised to become Europe's youngest head of government. The Chancellor-to-be of Austria is a Catholic who says of himself that he has a cross hanging in his apartment and that "the faith is very important to me", though he doesn't make it to church as often as he would like to.

Kurz won his landslide victory by doing two things. Firstly, emphasising a strong national identity in general, and secondly, taking a harder line on mass immigration in particular – at least by Western European standards. Like it or lump it – and much of the German speaking media is indeed aghast at the outcome – Austria's election result, for all its idiosyncrasies, is part of a broader revolt against the EU and what it stands for.

On Oct. 7, a week before Austrians went to the polls, ten intellectuals from eight European nations published a call for "A Europe we can believe in". This "Paris Statement", they declared, purports "to actively recover what is best in our tradition", and to build a "peaceful, hopeful and noble future together". Comprising more than 4,000 words, the manifesto is reminiscent of what the popes have warned Europe about time and again: losing her Christian soul.

As Pope Francis put it when addressing the European Parliament Nov. 25, 2014: "In many quarters we encounter a general impression of weariness and aging, of a Europe which is now a ‘grandmother’, no longer fertile and vibrant. As a result, the great ideas which once inspired Europe seem to have lost their attraction, only to be replaced by the bureaucratic technicalities of its institutions."

Three years later, this European malaise has broken out in a rash, from the streets of Barcelona to the bureaucracies in Brussels and Berlin, from the shiny offices of London’s City to the beaches of Lampedusa.

As the Paris Statement warns, Europe is facing a challenge of epic, indeed, historic proportions, of which the demographic decline, institutional distrust, rise in populism and independence movements, waves of unregulated mass immigration and rising concerns over Islamism are all but symptoms.

What is at stake, according to its signatories – which include the Catholic philosophers Robert Spaemann (a friend and advisor to Pope Francis's predecessors), Rémi Brague (a Ratzinger Prize winner), and Ryszard Legutko (a member of the Polish government) – goes deeper: If Europe abandons her Christian roots, rather than drawing on them for renewal, Europe's peoples and cultures will lose their "home".

What is meant by "home" – the word used in the German version, Heimat, expresses it more starkly – is not just a place or a roof over your head. It is ontological: A place of being-at-home, of belonging. The opposite is not just homelessness, but annihilation, be it cultural or physical – a point brought home by the plight of Christians in the Middle East.

From Oct 9-13, government officials, religious community leaders and non-governmental organisations, including Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), met in Budapest for an International Consultation on Christian Persecution.

ADF Executive Director Paul Coleman said during the conference lead-up: "In the Middle East, ISIS has deliberately targeted Christian communities for destruction. We went to Beirut, Amman and Erbil to meet with Christian refugees from Iraq. We spoke with them, cried with them, prayed with them. We documented their testimonies, and provided this evidence to those in power. Successive governments and recently even the United Nations are recognising that ISIS is committing genocide."

Addressing the 300 participants from 30 nations, Hungary's head of government, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, said that while the “intellectual discrimination” against Christians in Europe is “painful but tolerable,” the physical suffering endured by those in Africa and the Middle East is being ignored by an “apathetic Europe” that “denies its Christian roots.”

“A group of Europe’s intellectual and political leaders want to create a mixed society that would completely change the continent’s cultural and ethnic identity, and Christian nature, within just a few generations,” Orbán said. “Hungary, however, is doing the opposite of what Europe is currently doing.”

British intellectual Sir Roger Scruton, one of the signatories of the Paris Statement, agrees with this stance.

"Poland and Hungary are on the right track. You only have to see the dogmatism and cruelty of the Islamic revival in Africa and the Middle East to recognize how threatened we are", the philosopher told CNA in an email interview.

Even critics of the Paris Statement agree that there are valid reasons for this existential angst for Europe. If anything, they scold the scholars for not being clearer about it. “What is Europe?” Matthew Walther asks in "The Week”, and then continues: “For me Hilaire Belloc put it best: ‘Europe is the faith, and the faith is Europe’” – and, laconically, Walther adds: “He should have said ‘was’."

Not everyone is as pessimistic – least of all the popes. In the early 2000s, Saint John Paul II eloquently, albeit unsuccessfully, appealed for the European Union’s constitution to mention Europe’s Christian roots.

Undeterred, the then-Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, continued the struggle. In a 2004 interview with Le Figaro magazine, Cardinal Ratzinger judged the EU’s decision to avoid any mention of God a mistake.

As Pope Benedict XVI, he then used the occasion of his very first general audience in 2005 to point out "the inalienable Christian roots of [Europe’s] culture and civilisation”. Later that year, visiting Cologne for World Youth Day, he urged one million people attending mass there to recover their Christian roots. Time and again, he emphasised that the future of Christianity is a bright one in Europe – albeit only in the long term.

For now, Europe is at a crossroads; and the actual role of the Church in helping the continent rediscover its Christian soul is clear, at least to Roger Scruton.

"The Catholic Church should do what it is called to do, namely preach the gospel and defend the faith", he told CNA.

Excluding people with disabilities makes Church 'incomplete'

Rome, Italy, Oct 19, 2017 / 03:03 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A leading expert on faith and disabilities has said that people with disabilities are an essential aspect of the Church's life and mission, and that parishes which exclude them are “incomplete.”

“It's important to say from the very beginning that any parish that doesn't have people with disabilities in it, is an incomplete body of Christ...their full capacity to evangelize and catechize is impoverished,” Cristina Gangemi told CNA Oct. 18.

Gangemi is co-director of The Kairos Forum, and an expert in pastoral care for people with intellectual disabilities. She has partnered with the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization to host a conference on catechesis for people with disabilities.

The conference, titled “Catechesis and Persons with Disabilities: A Necessary Engagement in the Daily Pastoral Life of the Church,” will take place Oct. 20-22 at the Pontifical Urbanianum University in Rome.

Gangemi told CNA that “to have everybody the same doesn't celebrate the beauty of diversity, because one thing that we're all the same in, one true moment of equality, is that we're all different.”

But, she said, when people with disabilities participate in parish life, it is sometimes “presumed by the priest…that they don't have the learning capacity to be able to be prepared for First Communion or the Sacraments.”

While people with disabilities are often described as having “learning difficulties,” Gangemi said the reality is actually the reverse: “the problem is that there are lots of teaching difficulties.”

She noted that many resources used in catechetical preparation for the reception of the sacraments are not adapted to the learning styles of intellectually disabled people, who frequently learn best through action, drama, art and music.

“So we've got this paradox. You've got people with disabilities who long to receive the sacraments, who from the moment of their conception are touched by God's grace, and so therefore are called to the sacraments, and then you've got this problem in parish structures where nobody really knows how to make all their programs accessible.”

Because people with disabilities often struggle to learn using traditional methods, “the presumption is they can't be catechized.”

The heart of catechesis and evangelization is essentially “the echoing down of faith from one generation to another, from one person to another in the parish,” she said. “And as for evangelization, everybody, no matter who they are, holds the capacity to be an agent of evangelization.”

Pointing to another example, Gangemi recalled the story of a 50-year-old man with disabilities at a parish in London, who at every Mass, during the consecration or when people went up for Communion, would extend his hand toward the altar and make unintelligible sounds.

Typically the man's caretakers would tell him to be quiet and not to make noise. However, one day as the man was watching others receive Communion, he again reached out his hand and said, “Why not me?”

“This reaching out for 40-45 years, watching everybody go up to Communion and come back again, was his longing for the Eucharist,” Gangemi said. “And if you think of what Jesus did and what Jesus said, he made a special focus on people who are left out.”

“His lament, 'why not me?' was no different than the psalmists and the people that were exiled. So I think that's got to stop, my hope is that that will stop, she said.”

In 2016, Pope Francis told an Italian group that excluding anyone from parish life because of a disability is wrong, stressing that it is better to “close the door” of a parish than to exclude the disabled.

Disability catechesis, Gangemi said, is not simply about making sure people with disabilities have access to the Sacraments, but is more broadly focused on “how can we ensure that every single person, born and baptized, can be an agent of evangelization and can have the faith echoed down to them so that they can echo down the faith to others.”

“People with disabilities who become active in the Church through their own creative skills then become people that can evangelize to others and call others to salvation,” she said.

The catechetical conference was proposed in 2016 by Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of the Council for the New Evangelization, and approved personally by Pope Francis. Gangemi, who has a number of family members with disabilities, was invited to help organize the event because of previous Vatican conferences on disabilities she’d arranged.

So far, 420 people who work in catechesis have signed up, coming from professions and countries all over the world. Archbishop Fisichella, Baroness Sheila Hollins of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, and representatives from dioceses around the world will present methods for the catechesis of disabled people. Participants will also have an audience with Pope Francis on day two of the event, demonstrating the Pope's keen interest in the topic.

In her comments to CNA, Gangemi called the conference “historic,” since it is among the first global events to address the topic of catechizing those with intellectual disabilities.

Gangemi is also partnering with the Archdiocese of Newark's office for Pastoral Ministry for Persons with Disabilities, to launch a parish training course on catechesis for the disabled.

The goal, she said, is to engage people so as to “try to make a shift in the way we see and think” about disability, “because the Catholic Church teaches that all life is gift.”

“That's our starting point: all life is gift,” she said, and voiced her hope that the conference would be “the beginning, and that those of us who live now will leave a legacy for those to come, that it won't die.”