Browsing News Entries

Browsing News Entries

South Sudan president: I was ‘almost trembling’ as Pope Francis begged me to make peace

Juba, South Sudan, May 20, 2019 / 04:32 pm (CNA).- In an unprecedented gesture last month, Pope Francis kissed the feet of several South Sudanese leaders, who were visiting the Vatican for a retreat, in a plea for peace in the country.

South Sudanese President Salva Kiir told EWTN News that the exchange, which garnered attention around the world, left him “almost trembling.”

“I felt humbled at the humility of the Holy Father, to bend down on the ground and kiss my feet,” Kiir told EWTN News in an interview May 7.

“I was almost trembling because that thing has not happened before, except at the time when Jesus knelt down to wash the feet of his disciples. And it should have been the opposite; his disciples should have been the ones to wash his feet...this is what came into my mind when the Pope knelt down.”

Kiir and former vice-president Riek Machar met with the pope April 10-11 during a retreat at the Vatican.  The pope hosted the retreat specifically for the leaders, who have been at war with each other for years.

Pope Francis encouraged the South Sudanese leaders to “seek what unites you, beginning with the fact that you belong to one and the same people, and to overcome all that divides you,” and told them he was praying for them to become peacemakers, who “build peace through dialogue, negotiation and forgiveness.”

“We have clearly heard the cry of the poor and the needy; it rises up to heaven, to the very heart of God our Father, who desires to grant them justice and peace,” he said.

In 2011, the predominantly Christian South Sudan gained independence from Sudan, which has a Muslim majority and been governed mostly by Islamic law since the 1980s.

A five-year civil war began shortly after the country gained its independence. The war has killed hundreds of thousands of people and displaced millions more.

The fighting has primarily taken place between those forces loyal to Kiir and rebel groups led by Machar. The war has left 2.1 million people internally displaced, with another 2.5 million refugees, according to the United Nations.

“The purpose of this retreat is for us to stand together before God and to discern his will...It is to reflect on our own lives and the common mission the Lord has entrusted to us, to recognize our enormous shared responsibility for the present and future of the people of South Sudan, and to commit ourselves, reinvigorated and reconciled, to the building up of your nation,” the pope told Kiir and Machar.

Kiir and Machar signed a tenuous peace agreement in September 2018, which the country’s Catholic bishops have called “fatally flawed” because it does not address the complex root causes of the conflict.

“Taking the decades and years of mistrust that had existed between these different forces, it’s not an easy thing” to have peace established overnight, Bishop Eduardo Kussala of Tombura-Yambio in South Sudan told EWTN News.

Still, Kussala said the bishops’ conference is grateful for and encouraged by the pope’s meeting with the leaders of opposing groups in South Sudan.

“We have tried to keep the momentum, to continue to work harder and make sure peace is actually in this country….It has again energized us” to serve the leaders and the people, he said.

Kiir said his meeting with Pope Francis was especially meaningful for him, as he grew up in an area of South Sudan that was evangelized primarily by Catholic missionaries, from whom he has learned much.

“Jesus came to the world to teach people to forgive and to live in peace with whoever is near you. And we as Catholics, especially in South Sudan, we have learned a lot from God’s teaching,” he reflected.  

“This is why [although] we have been under oppression all this time...we’re able to reconcile with those oppressors and then we see them as brothers and sisters.”

Kiir said the moment when the Pope displayed such humility was inspiring to him as the leader of the country.

“The feelings that I had at the moment, at that hour, was that I should try my best when I come back to South Sudan. I should try my best to bring peace to my people, so that people reconcile among themselves, and people do not think of fighting again,” Kiir said.

Bishop Kussala said his diocese has been working on peacebuilding and reconciliation efforts.

“We feel that finding local answers, local solutions to the problems emerging among us is the way forward,” he said.

The diocese recently united with other church groups to bring 10,000 young men back from the bush, where they had been fighters, and to prepare the community for reconciliation and forgiveness.

“Many of them are being integrated into the government and are already working in the different organized forces. Others are also being engaged in social and economic activities,” he said.

Kussala emphasized the spiritual aspect of the peace process. He said it is important to see one another with the eyes of faith.

“[We must] believe that we are all equal, we are children of God. We have to forgive each other, that is our strong weapon,” he said.

MS-13 gang member suspected in Salvadoran priest’s death

San Salvador, El Salvador, May 20, 2019 / 04:30 pm (CNA).- A priest has been shot and killed by a suspected gang member in El Salvador, Vatican News reported Sunday. His funeral was held today in Sonzacate, El Salvador.

Father Cecilio Perez Cruz, 38, was pastor of San Jose La Majada Parish in Juayu, El Salvador, in the Diocese of Sosonate near the Guatemalan border.

A group of parishioners found his body Saturday morning; he had been shot three times.

There was a handwritten note next to the priest’s body, signed by the Mara Salvatrucha gang saying “he did not pay the rent,” Vatican News reported. Gangs in El Salvador often use extortion as a means of control.

Mara Salvatrucha is more commonly known as MS-13, a gang formed by children of Salvadoran immigrants in Los Angeles in the 1970s and 80s.

Bishop Constantino Barrera of Sonsonate asked Catholics to pray for Father Perez, and praised the priest’s pastoral ministry, saying he was “close to his people.”

The Government of El Salvador condemned the murder and in a statement expressed condolences to the priest’s family and to the Catholic community.

"We stand in solidarity with all the victims of violence, of any type of violence, and we ask the authorities to administer justice in all cases," Archbishop Jose Luis Escobar Alas of San Salvador said at a news conference yesterday.

"It's not that we seek revenge, but justice is necessary for the good of the victims and for the good of the whole society, because violence will only be overcome if impunity is not allowed. It is truly worrisome the degree of violence that our country suffers. We must work and pray intensely for peace," the archbishop said as quoted by Catholic News Service.

A local police officer told AFP an investigation was in its earliest stages and the killer was not yet known to the police.

El Salvador has one of the highest rates of murder in the world, with 51 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants last year, and gang violence is especially acute.

The Salvadoran government also announced Sunday new orders have been issued to security forces to make sure the priest’s killers are brought to justice, Vatican News said.

Gangs such as MS-13 compete with the government for power and in some cases control entire neighborhoods.

Rick Jones, a policy expert for Catholic Relief Services, told CNA last October that after the United States began deporting large numbers of Salvadorans from Los Angeles after the country’s civil war ended, many of the young people who returned were already involved in gang activity.

“You have a situation where in the mid-1990s most young boys were out of school and unemployed, and only made it to 6th grade. And so they started organizing and [the gangs] spread through the metropolitan area,” he said.

“Then, in 2003, the [US] government decided to put out the ‘Iron Fist’ policy. Meaning zero tolerance. Meaning any kid with baggy clothes, tattoos and a hat on backwards could get picked up and thrown into prison.”

These hardline policies backfired, however, as the homicide rate continued to increase despite the changes.

“The level of violence has risen ever since the country put in these hardline policies,” Jones said.

“What you have in the country, as I said, is you have the underlying conditions of people living in marginal, overcrowded neighborhoods, that were created spontaneously because of the war, so there's no social service, kids don't have access to school, and the communities are all living in fear during the war, and that just gets translated to the next generation. And this generation acts out on that by joining gangs.”

“I think it's the latest manifestation of both structural issues, lack of opportunity, and then trauma from the war getting worked out in a new way, and thirdly the levels of repression that they've had now under the Iron Fist policies for over a decade,” he said.

Clergy in El Salvador continue to be outspoken about human rights violations, in the country, with many working with young people, to try to turn them from gang violence, while also speaking out against El Salvador’s highly overcrowded prison system and the hardline policies that have led to it.  

“We're now working with governments, we're trying to work with the police, to try to help them understand that the repressive tactics are not being effective, and to get better community policing, and more targeted, focused policing, and working with the kids before they get to the point where they need to be locked up...We need to work with adolescents and their families before they get engaged in gangs,” Jones said.

“You have to work with the guys that are locked up. So that when they get out, they don't just go back into the gangs or into criminal behavior, that they actually become peace promoters among some of these neighborhoods.”

Catholic organizations and leaders in El Salvador have recently decried the "impunity" with which gangs often operate, including in the death of another Salvadoran priest killed last year during Holy Week.

Fr. Walter Osmir Vásquez Jiménez was shot and killed the afternoon of March 29, 2018, Holy Thursday, on a dirt road outside of the town of Lolotique, El Salvador, as he was on his way to celebrate Mass. The local press attributed the crime to gangs active in the area.

 

 

Trump insists abortion laws must allow exceptions for rape, incest

Washington D.C., May 20, 2019 / 03:13 pm (CNA).- President Donald Trump over the weekend admonished pro-life advocates seeking to make abortion illegal in all cases. He called for pro-life Americans to be united around legislation that includes exemptions for cases of rape, incest, and when doctors deem the mother’s life to be at risk.

“I am strongly Pro-Life, with the three exceptions - Rape, Incest and protecting the Life of the mother - the same position taken by Ronald Reagan,” the president said on Twitter May 18.

“We must stick together and Win for Life in 2020. If we are foolish and do not stay UNITED as one, all of our hard fought gains for Life can, and will, rapidly disappear!”

Trump’s tweets come after Alabama recently passed a law to make abortion a felony. The law does not have exceptions for rape or incest. Similar legislation passed in Missouri last week, and the governor is expected to sign it into law soon.

Pro-life leaders responded to the president on Twitter. Former Planned Parenthood employee Abby Johnson, who now runs a ministry helping abortion workers leave the industry, argued that the president’s comments had “divided the [pro-life] movement.”

She posted a picture of her adopted son on Twitter, saying, “My son was conceived in rape. I would love for you to meet him, @realDonaldTrump, and tell me how his life isn’t as valuable as my children conceived in love. He deserved to live and I’m so thankful that he does.”

Lila Rose, president of the investigative group Live Action, also responded to Trump’s tweet, saying, “Thank you for the great work your administration has done on behalf of life. If we are pro-life, we must be 100% pro-life. A child of rape or incest is not a 2nd-class citizen. No woman or girl is served by abortion or immune to its trauma, including survivors of rape and incest.”

The tweets reveal a divide within the pro-life movement. While overturning Roe v. Wade – the 1973 Supreme Court decision that mandated legal abortion nationwide – is one of the key goals of the movement, there are differing views on how best to achieve that goal.

Some pro-life advocates have emphasized the need to ban abortion in all cases. Others insist that a complete abortion ban without exceptions is much more likely to be struck down by the courts, while a more moderate law is more likely to be upheld, and would eliminate the vast majority of abortions in the United States.

Dozens of pro-life bills have been introduced in states across the country this year. Pro-life advocates are hopeful that one of them may make its way up the Supreme Court, where the current justices are considered more favorable to the pro-life cause than in previous decades.

A few cases have reached federal appeals courts - including a Texas ban on dismemberment abortions and a Louisiana law requiring abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at a local hospital.

A Marist poll released in February recorded a sharp drop in the proportion of Democrats identifying as pro-choice, from 75% to 61% since the beginning of the year. The same poll found a 19-point jump in pro-life identification among people under 45 years old. Forty-seven percent of people under the age of 45 now say they are pro-life, compared to 48% who say they are pro-choice.

An April poll by Rasmussen showed that when voters are told that a fetal heartbeat can be detected after six weeks of pregnancy, 56% support banning abortion at that point.

Pittsburgh diocese announces first wave of parish mergers

Pittsburgh, Pa., May 20, 2019 / 02:35 pm (CNA).- The Diocese of Pittsburgh has announced the first results of a sweeping reorganization of its parishes, creating five new parishes and designating five former parish churches as shrines.

These changes are the first results of the “On Mission for The Church Alive” initiative, charged with reordering the parochial landscape of the diocese to accommodate fewer priests and shifting parish attendance. The plan, first announced in 2018, will eventually see the 188 parishes of the diocese consolidated into 58 new groupings.

The announced changes will go into effect on July 1, 2019.

In a letter to the clergy and parishioners of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, Bishop David A. Zubik credited the soon-to-be-merged parishes for working “extremely hard” since October of last year to create strong relationships between the communities.

“These five parish groupings have worked extremely hard since last October to foster relationships and, after consultation in the groupings, were prepared to share with me their desire and readiness to form a new parish community,” the bishop wrote in the May 18 letter.

The parish grouping plan was approved unanimously by the diocesan college of consultors and does not include plans for the closure of any church buildings.

Zubik expressed his gratitude to everyone involved in the creation of these new parishes, as their work went “beyond the practical matters related to merging parishes, and highlights the work being done to encourage their respective parishioners to deepen their relationship with Jesus and with each other.”

This, said Zubik, “is the most important reason for On Mission.”

The five churches of Greene County will be combined into the single new parish of Saint Matthias Parish, and served by a pastoral team of two priests and two deacons. The new parish of Christ Our Savior will be made up of the four former parishes of Pittsburgh’s North Side, and will be led by four priests and a deacon.

Seven parish churches located in the New Castle area will collectively become the parish of the Holy Spirit Parish, and will have four priests and two deacons. The parishes of Saint Anne, in Castle Shannon and Saint Winifred, in Mount Lebanon, will merge under the new name of Saint Paul of the Cross. The clergy team for this parish is two priests and two deacons.

The newly created Saint Teresa of Kolkata Parish will consist of five parishes from Beechview and Brookline, and will be served by three priests and two deacons.

In addition to the groupings, five downtown parish buildings of historic and spiritual value will be designated as shrines, and served by a clergy team for the “Shrines of Pittsburgh Grouping.” The clergy team will consist of two full-time priests, one priest assisting on a part-time basis, and a deacon.

One parish building, the Corpus Christi Church building of Saint Charles Lwanga Parish in Pittsburgh’s East End, will close as part of this reorganization.

‘Mayor Pete’ backs no-limits abortion

Washington D.C., May 20, 2019 / 01:30 pm (CNA).- Democratic presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg called abortion a “national freedom” on Sunday, and defended the practice of late term abortion.

The mayor of South Bend, In., made the comments during a “town hall” broadcast for Fox on May 19. In defending unrestricted abortion, Buttigieg appeared to put himself at odds with the majority of voters both in his own party and nationwide.

Asked if he believed there should be any limit on access to abortion, at any time during pregnancy, Buttigieg responded “I trust women to draw the line.”

Mayor Pete, as his campaign prefers him to be styled, was asked specifically about recent legislation at the state level to either expand or restrict abortion access.

In a tweet sent in response to the passage of a law to outlaw abortion in Alabama, Buttigieg said legislators were “ignoring science” in efforts to protect unborn life. Responding to the example of the New York Reproductive Health Act passed earlier this year, which effectively removed all limitations on abortion, Buttigieg said there is no place for the government in discussing limits on abortion.

Characterizing the decision to terminate a pregnancy during the final weeks before term as “an impossible, unthinkable choice,” he repeated that he believed there was no place for the law to intervene.

“That decision is not going to be made any better, medically or morally, because the government is dictating how that decision should be made.”

While Buttgieg’s comments drew applause from the crowd, consistent poll results show a trend in public opinion away from supporting abortion and especially against late-term abortions.

The New York law was passed in January of this year, making abortion a legal right up to the point of birth. Subsequent polling has shown that the vast majority of New Yorkers were opposed to late-term abortion.

A Marist poll published in March found that that 75% of New York residents are opposed to abortion after the 20th week of a pregnancy. Only 20% of those surveyed said they approved of late-term abortion.

Those opposed to abortion after 20 weeks included nearly 70 percent of surveyed Democrats, 73% of political independents and 89% of Republicans.

An earlier poll, released in February, recorded a sharp drop in the proportion of Democrats identifying as pro-choice, from 75% to 61% since the beginning of the year. The same poll found a 19-point jump in pro-life identification among people under 45 years old. Forty-seven percent of people under the age of 45 now say they are pro-life, compared to 48% who say they are pro-choice.

As legislators in New York and Vermont have moved to entrench access to abortion, other states have enacted measures to protect children in the womb. Four states – Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Ohio – have so far this year passed laws to ban abortions after the unborn baby’s heartbeat can be detected, often around 6 weeks of pregnancy. All four laws are already facing legal challenges.

An April poll by Rasmussen showed that while only 45% of voters supported banning abortion after six weeks of pregnancy, that number rose to 56% once they were told a fetal heartbeat can be detected at that point.

Other states have sought to outlaw particular abortion methods, or pass trigger laws which would ban abortion in the event the Supreme Court were to overturn its ruling in Roe v. Wade.

French bishops’ conference to hear testimonies from children of priests

Vatican City, May 20, 2019 / 11:19 am (CNA).- French bishops will meet with the children of priests in June to hear their testimonies of hidden suffering.

Monsignor Olivier Ribadeu Dumas, secretary of the French bishops’ conference, confirmed that three members of the French association Children of Silence will share their stories June 13 at the Bishops Conference of France headquarters in Paris, Le Monde reported.

The president of Children of Silence, Anne-Marie Jarzac, called the June meeting a welcome step. Jarzac met previously with Msgr. Dumas and Father Emmanuel Coquet in February in preparation for the June testimony.

“It was a very moving moment,” Jarzac told Le Monde. “For the first time, we felt that the Church opened its doors to us, that there was no more denial, but a listening and an awareness of what we have lived.”

Jarzac is the daughter of a priest and a nun. She leads the French association for children of priests with more than 50 members.

In February 2019, the Vatican confirmed the existence of an internal document from the Congregation of Clergy outlining criteria on the protection of children of priests. “Notes concerning the practice of the Congregation for the Clergy with regard to clerics with children” is a template document used to aid individual bishops dealing with these cases.

In many cases involving priestly paternity, priests either request dispensation or are dismissed from the clerical state because of the parental responsibility and obligation owed to the child.

“Each case is examined on its merits and its own particular circumstances,” Cardinal Beniamino Stella, prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, told L'Osservatore Romano in an interview Feb. 27. Stella also noted that exceptions to the loss of the clerical state are rare.

“The child’s well-being and care of the child must be at the centre of attention for the Church, so that the child does not lack, not only the necessities of life, but especially the educative role and the affection of a father,” Cardinal Stella said.

The Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy also responded to claims that the existence of children of priests somehow undermines the value of priestly celibacy in the Church.

“The fact that some priests have experienced relationships and have brought children into the world does not affect the theme of priestly celibacy, which represents a precious gift for the Latin church, the ever-present value of which has been expressed by the recent Popes, from St. Paul VI to Pope Francis,” he said.

A pilgrim people: The Warriors to Lourdes share their stories

Lourdes, France, May 20, 2019 / 10:30 am (CNA).- CNA had a chance to get to know some of the more than 200 pilgrims who traveled to Lourdes as part of the Knights of Columbus’ Warriors to Lourdes program during the International Military Pilgrimage, May 16-19. Here are their stories:

 

A century of tradition

The Knights of Columbus has a long history of supporting the troops and conducting military pilgrimages, Supreme Knight Carl Anderson told CNA, with the Warriors to Lourdes program just the latest way they are continuing this tradition.

The Knights “were very much involved in France during the first World War,” Anderson said. “We had the largest military pilgrimage to Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, in 1919.”

Anderson told CNA that the Knights of Columbus also sponsored military pilgrimages to Lourdes during WWI and that when they learned governmental spending cuts meant that the United States would not be sending a delegation to the International Military Pilgrimage in 2013, they joined up with the Archdiocese of the Military Services, USA, to create Warriors to Lourdes.

While he may have an important role leading the Knights, at Lourdes, Anderson stressed that he is just a pilgrim like everyone else.

“I think I come to Lourdes like any Catholic,” said Anderson. “It's a special place for Our Lady, it's a special place to be with people who are taking significant steps on their spiritual journey in life, and deepening their relationship with the Lord through Mary.”

Anderson said he has been to other Marian apparition sites, but there is something “very special” about Lourdes, due to all the people seeking some form of healing.

This weekend, Anderson said he is praying especially for his fellow pilgrims, that they find the spiritual or physical healing they may be seeking, but most of all that everyone on the trip can deepen their relationship with God.

“That includes me, that includes my family--we all have to grow in our spiritual life and we all have to grow closer to the Lord. That process is never done,” he said.

 

A journey home

Many of the Warriors to Lourdes pilgrims are Catholic, but they are very different in the practice of their faith. Some attend daily Mass, and others have a more complicated relationship with the Church.

For Sgt. 1st Class Mary Katzenberg, who is a public affairs chief assigned to Ft. Bragg, the pilgrimage gave her the chance for her to attend her first Mass in about 20 years.

“I reconnected with God about a year ago after a 20-year stint of thinking I could do things on my own or do things my way,” she said.

After receiving an email about Warriors to Lourdes from her unit’s chaplain, Katzenberg said she felt called to apply, “to see if it was something God wanted me to do.”  

She told CNA that she was completely unfamiliar with the story of Lourdes prior to being accepted for the pilgrimage.

Katzenberg had the chance to visit the Lourdes baths, a visit that occurred just prior to the opening Mass for American pilgrims at the Rosary Basilica.

Visiting the baths was “a very emotional experience,” said Katzenberg. “I prayed for God to cleanse my soul, and it almost felt like it was kind of like a second baptism. It moved me.”

The experience has inspired Katzenberg to return to the Catholic faith.

“Well, beginning with this Mass [Friday], I really feel that God led me here to pull me back into the Church, that He knows what I need more than I know what I need,” she said.

“I just feel that that's what He's calling me to do--start attending Mass again and serving within the Church."

 

The next generation

A life of military service is often a family affair, with many people following in their parents’ footsteps and entering the armed forces. One family is hoping the graces from Lourdes will assist with their daughter’s future career in the Air Force.

The Bellm family of Gunnery Sgt. Justin, his wife Kate, and their daughters Courtney, Trinity, and Allison, came to Lourdes from Camp LeJeune, North Carolina. Sgt. Bellm serves as the Platoon Commander at Wounded Warrior, Battalion East, and has been in the military for 16 years.

His daughter, Courtney, will be entering the Air Force in just over two months, on July 23. While she could not find the exact words to describe her pilgrimage experience ahead of her military career, she told CNA “there’s just something about being here, surrounded by militaries from all over the world, and just seeing how we come together.”

The military, Courtney said, is like a “second family.”

This is the family’s first trip to Lourdes, and Sgt. Bellm said he applied because he “thought it would be a good opportunity to reconnect with the family, and a little bit of spiritual enlightenment.” It is also his last year with Wounded Warrior, so he jumped at the opportunity to travel to France.

Kate said that she was praying for family unity throughout the weekend, and that she found the experience to be “enlightening.”

“I didn't really know what to expect, so I just took whatever. I just went in with an open mind, really, and encouraged the girls to go in with an open mind."

 

Fellow travelers

While Lourdes is a site most commonly visited by Catholics, the Warriors to Lourdes pilgrimage is open to people of all religions.

The spiritual needs of non-Catholic pilgrims are tended to by military chaplains. One of those chaplains is Maj. Brian Minietta, an Army Chaplain at Ft. Bragg in North Carolina.

Minietta told CNA that his faith background is in the United Methodist community, and his chaplaincy is supported by the Evangelical Church Alliance. This is his third time joining the Warriors to Lourdes.

"The first time I came as just a pilgrim,” said Minietta. One of his friends, a Protestant chaplain, had attended a previous trip and encouraged him to apply. After he was accepted, Minietta was chosen to lead one of the faith and fellowship groups on his pilgrimage, which he said was an “amazing group.”

Warriors to Lourdes then invited him back on the pilgrimage the following year, but as a trip leader and chaplain.

Even though the Knights of Columbus are a Catholic fraternal organization, and Lourdes is home to numerous Catholic churches and chapels, Minietta said he did not feel out of place at all as a Protestant. He credited his experience in the Army for how he was able to work alongside the other chaplains.

"In the Army,” he said, “we work in a pluralistic environment, and so we kind of have this thing where we say we perform and provide. And so, I perform the things that I can perform as a Protestant chaplain, but it's also my job to provide, so I brought people from my unit on this pilgrimage,” said Minietta. He views the pilgrimage as “an opportunity for me to provide for them.”

During the pilgrimage, eligible Catholic pilgrims were offered the sacrament of anointing of the sick. Non-Catholics were given the opportunity to pray for healing alongside the non-Catholic chaplains. Minietta told CNA that he was glad he was still able to assist those in need of spiritual help.

“I got to pray for people--even though I can’t offer the sacrament, I still got to lay hands on people and pray for them,” he said. “And so, it’s easy for me to overcome our differences.”

Minietta found the experience of going into the baths to be reminiscent of his baptism.

“There's that significance of we need water to survive, water cleanses us. I went into that experience open to however the Lord was gonna work through the usage of water.”

Minietta found another way to provide for the pilgrims: during Saturday night’s Marian procession, he was one of the people who carried the statue of the Blessed Mother.

 

Support and healing

A pilgrimage this large needs a solid support staff. There are many nurses, doctors, and other professionals who are part of the delegation who keep everyone safe.

Commander Lance LeClere, M.D., is serving as the medical director for Warriors to Lourdes.

LeClere, a Navy doctor who is stationed in Annapolis, Maryland, was invited by a past pilgrim to attend this year’s pilgrimage. The call came at “an opportune time” as Leclere and his wife, a Navy nurse, had been seeking an opportunity to go on a medical mission.

“We've always looked for ways to support active duty service members, especially those that have been injured,” said LeClere. “This combined sort of the religious retreat and pilgrimage with the opportunity to serve the wounded, ill, and injured, and so it was a perfect opportunity to combine all of the things that we enjoy supporting."

A graduate of the University of Notre Dame, which boasts its own on-campus grotto modeled after the one in Lourdes, LeClere said it was “very moving” to see the inspiration for the place he spent much time praying as a student.

"It was just very special to be at the original grotto--it was very emotional,” he said.

True to his vocation as a doctor, LeClere told CNA that his intentions for the weekend were for his friends back in Maryland who were experiencing illnesses or other conditions. And true to his vocation in military service, he is praying for their mental well-being as well.

“I've also been thinking a lot about the spiritual and emotional healing of the service members that are on the trip, and folks that I know from back home that are in need of that as well,” he said.

 

For all their people

The armed forces is often compared to a tribe. For one couple, there is also a literal tribe back home praying for their pilgrimage.

Ben Black Bear III and his wife Jennifer Black Bear made the journey to Lourdes from the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Both are members of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe.

Ben and Jennifer were invited to apply after meeting Supreme Knight Carl Anderson at a listening session with the USCCB and 13 other tribes. Ben is an Army veteran who served in Iraq in 2006-2007, and also lived at Ft. Hood before returning to Rosebud.

The Black Bears both work for their church, and both were familiar with the story of Lourdes prior to the pilgrimage. Given the sheer distance between South Dakota and France, Ben described the pilgrimage as his “one-in-a-million chance” to visit the Grotto.

“It’s a really big honor for us, and also our parents, and also our future generation,” he said. They said they will be bringing back Lourdes water to their reservation.

Ben described the trip as “overwhelming,” but he has maintained his focus on prayer and the spiritual graces that come with a pilgrimage. He also knows that he and his wife are serving as  role models for their community.

“This is also a good eye-opener for our reservation, knowing us, (and) coming here,” said Ben. Back in Rosebud, there are people who are following their pilgrimage with keen interest.

“A lot of people researched it and they’re really familiar with what’s going on with it,” he said.

Jennifer told CNA that her prayer intentions for the weekend would primarily concern the well-being of others, and that she will be praying for “the health of all of our people on the reservation, our families, the health of our people.”

 

Miracles received

Some people come to Lourdes hoping for a miracle from its waters. The Fisk family has already experienced theirs.

Julian Fisk, the 14-month old son of Army Captain Adam Fisk and Morgan Fisk, did not have the easiest entrance into the world when he was born in January of last year.

“He came out not breathing for six minutes,” his father told CNA. “He was immediately evac’d to a NICU in a different hospital.”

After Julian arrived in the neonatal intensive care unit, doctors took quick action to attempt to prevent any brain damage due to his lack of oxygen at birth. While some of their efforts were successful, Julian had suffered a subgaleal hematoma, which Adam described as “a very large pocket of fluid that had been built up in his head” that could potentially cause major health issues. Doctors predicted it would take up to a month for the hematoma to heal.

Adam’s father-in-law, Deacon Mark Mitchell, flew in from Georgia to Texas to be with Morgan, Adam, and Julian while Julian was hospitalized. Mitchell had been to Lourdes, and brought some of the healing water with him to the NICU.

“He sprinkled some on Julian’s head, and along his body, and he prayed over him,” Adam explained.

“The next day, the hematoma was gone, and it baffled the doctors. Obviously, it was a miracle to us.”

Julian has now been entirely cleared by his doctors and is “completely where he needs to be at for his age,” said Adam. A few months after his miraculous healing, Adam was encouraged to apply for Warriors to Lourdes by Deacon Mitchell, who is also on this year’s pilgrimage. Adam jumped at the opportunity.

Julian was able to join his parents on the pilgrimage to Lourdes, and is one of the youngest people in the program. Adam said it was “amazing” to be in Lourdes, and to see the Grotto and the spring.

The Fisks have not yet had a chance to enter the baths, but they eagerly await the opportunity--having first-hand knowledge of how healing the water can be. Morgan has a progressive form of Lupus, and Adam said that they are praying for some sort of spiritual or physical feeling for her as well.

“We’re excited to go to that as a family,” said Adam.

California confession bill amended, but still would require priests to violate seal

Sacramento, Calif., May 20, 2019 / 10:16 am (CNA).- California’s state senate will vote on a bill that would require priests to violate the seal of confession in certain limited circumstances. An amended text of the bill passed the Senate appropriations’ committee May 16.

The bill, as amended, would require priests to report to law enforcement knowledge or suspicion of child abuse gained from hearing the sacramental confessions of other priests or co-workers.

The bill originally would have required California priests to violate the seal of confession anytime they gained knowledge or suspicion of child abuse from hearing the confession of any penitent.

In a May 20 statement, Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles said the bill remains “an unacceptable violation of our religious freedoms that will do nothing to protect children.”
 
As amended, he said, “SB 360 still denies the sanctity of confession to every priest in the state and to thousands of Catholics who work with priests in parishes and other Church agencies and ministries.”

According to Angelus News, more than 1,300 people contacted California state senators before the May 16 hearing on the bill, encouraging senators not to require priests violate the confessional seal. Gomez expressed gratitude for those calls.

Clergy in California are already required to report knowledge or suspicion of child abuse in most circumstances, though penitential conversations like sacramental confession are exempted, as are other kinds of privileged conversations, including those covered by attorney-client privilege.

The bill’s sponsor, California state Senator Jerry Hill (D-Calif. 13), has claimed that “the clergy-penitent privilege has been abused on a large scale, resulting in the unreported and systemic abuse of thousands of children across multiple denominations and faiths.”

The senator has claimed that such abuse has been revealed through “recent investigations by 14 attorneys general, the federal government, and other countries.”

In response to questions from CNA about those investigations, Hill’s office provided two resources to CNA. One was a news article from PBS, reporting that several states have undertaken investigations into clerical sexual abuse, but not explicitly mentioning abuse of the sacrament or seal of confession.

The other was a 2017 report from Australia’s Royal Commission, appointed to investigate child sexual abuse in that country.

The Royal Commission report suggests that there should be no exemption from abuse reporting for religious confession. While the commission's executive summary states that "the practice of the sacrament of reconciliation (confession) contributed... to inadequate institutional responses to abuse," it does not provide data detailing the frequency of that contribution.

Hill’s office did not respond to follow-up questions about that report, or about whether the senator considers attorney-client privilege, which is not challenged by the bill, to represent a potential problem of equal proportions.

Gomez, for his part, called Catholics and lawmakers to try other approaches to fighting the child abuse in California.

“Even as amended, SB 360 remains an unacceptable violation of our religious freedoms that will do nothing to protect children. As a Catholic community, let us continue to work with lawmakers for a bill that truly advances our shared goals of fighting the scourge of child sexual abuse in our society,” he wrote.

The bill could be subject to a Senate vote as early as May 21.
 

 

As Australian Catholic school abandons tests and grades, critics are concerned

Sydney, Australia, May 19, 2019 / 04:17 pm (CNA).- A Catholic school in west Sydney has done away with grades, class levels, and tests to promote a more personalized school experience - but educational experts are skeptical.

St. Luke’s Catholic College in Marsden Park is now offering a curriculum personalized to each student, as well as life coaches and staff to build a broader range of skills.

The high school students study essential curriculum, like math, science, and english, three days a week. During the rest of the week, they can pursue their own interests, like music, graphic design, and sports.

“The current model of schooling was designed in the 1800s for a world that was built for manufacturing,” Principal Greg Miller told ABC News.

Because the world has changed, he said, the students benefit from different lessons with life coaches to focus on a student’s strengths and passions. This system is called inquiry-based learning.

“Studying for a test where content changes dramatically, in today's world, will not help the students to respond to real-world challenges and problems as they arise,” said Miller, according to ABC News.

“Their ability and capability to ask and pose questions to collaboratively work with each other is what's needed.”

According to The Conversation, a review panel of the government released a report last year that reinforced the idea of personalized curriculum and levels based on progress.

However, some experts have expressed concern that inquiry-based learning is an extremely experimental model where students could miss out on key parts of the core curriculum.

Jennifer Buckingham, a senior research fellow at the Centre for Independent Studies, said there was not enough evidence to back the new model.

“It is an experiment that isn't based on the evidence that we have about what is effective instruction and what are effective models of schooling,” she said, according to ABC News.

“There have been a few schools around Australia adopting this style of teaching, this style of schooling, and at the moment the evidence is suggesting it's not been as successful in things like literacy and numeracy. And therefore for the children at that school there is a great risk that this experiment will fail.”

Pope: Christ's love helps us love those 'on the other side'

Vatican City, May 19, 2019 / 05:56 am (CNA).- The boundless love with which Jesus Christ loves each and every person is the same love Catholics are compelled to show their “enemies,” Pope Francis said Sunday.

Speaking during his address before the recitation of the Regina Coeli prayer May 19, the pope asked people to answer a question in their hearts: “Am I capable of loving my enemies?”

“We all have people – I do not know if they are enemies – but that do not agree with us, who are ‘on the other side,’” he said.

“Or does anyone have people who hurt them,” he added, urging people to ask themselves: “Am I capable of loving those people? That man, that woman who hurt me, who offended me? Am I able to forgive him?”

It is the love of Jesus for us that makes the act of loving and forgiving others possible, he said, reflecting on the moment at the Last Supper, when, after washing the feet of his disciples, Jesus gives them a “new” commandment: “Love one another as I have loved you.”

“Jesus loved us first,” Pope Francis said. “He loved us despite our frailties, our limitations and our human weaknesses. It was He who made us become worthy of his love that knows no limits and never ends.”

“The love that is manifested in the cross of Christ and that He calls us to live is the only force that transforms our heart of stone into a heart of flesh,” he stated. “The only force capable of transforming our heart is the love of Jesus, if we also love with this love.”

“And this love makes us capable of loving our enemies and forgiving those who have offended us.”

Francis noted that the commandment to love one another, when Jesus gave it, was not novel, but that what made it “new” was the part which says, “as I have loved you.”

Speaking shortly before his Crucifixion and death, Jesus showed his disciples the origin and example of the kind of love people are called to give.

“The novelty is all in the love of Jesus Christ, the one with which he gave his life for us. It is a question of the love of God, universal, without conditions and without limits, which finds its apex on the cross.”

“In that moment of extreme lowering, in that moment of abandonment to the Father, the Son of God has shown and given to the world the fullness of love,” he said.

May the Virgin Mary, the pope prayed, “help us, with her maternal intercession, to welcome from her Son Jesus the gift of his commandment, and from the Holy Spirit the strength to practice it in everyday life.”