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DiNardo: Action on McCarrick 'clear signal' church will not tolerate abuse

IMAGE: CNS photo/Bob Roller

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WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The Vatican's removal from the priesthood of Theodore E. McCarrick "is a clear signal that abuse will not be tolerated," said the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Feb. 16.

"No bishop, no matter how influential, is above the law of the church," said Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston. "For all those McCarrick abused, I pray this judgment will be one small step, among many, toward healing."

"For us bishops, it strengthens our resolve to hold ourselves accountable to the Gospel of Jesus Christ," the cardinal said. "I am grateful to Pope Francis for the determined way he has led the church's response."

Cardinal DiNardo's statement followed the Vatican's early morning announcement that Pope Francis has confirmed the removal from the priesthood of McCarrick, the 88-year-old former cardinal and archbishop of Washington.

The Vatican said he was found guilty of "solicitation in the sacrament of confession and sins against the Sixth Commandment with minors and with adults, with the aggravating factor of the abuse of power."

A panel of the Congregation for Doctrine of the Faith found him guilty Jan. 11, the Vatican said. McCarrick appealed the decision, but the appeal was rejected Feb. 13 by the congregation itself. McCarrick was informed of the decision Feb. 15 and Pope Francis "recognized the definitive nature of this decision made in accord with law," making a further appeal impossible.

By ordering McCarrick's "dismissal from the clerical state," the decision means that McCarrick loses all rights and duties associated with being a priest, cannot present himself as a priest and is forbidden to celebrate the sacraments, except to grant absolution for sins to a person in imminent danger of death.

The Vatican decision comes after months of mounting accusations that he abused children and seminarians decades ago. The accusations surrounding the former cardinal have prompted many to ask USCCB leaders and the heads of the archdioceses and dioceses he has served how he could have risen up the ranks of the church to become a cardinal.

Ordained a priest of the New York Archdiocese, he was the founding bishop of the Diocese of Metuchen, New Jersey, then served as archbishop of Newark, New Jersey. His last assignment was as archbishop of Washington. During his tenure there, he was named a cardinal.

McCarrick's punishment is the toughest meted out to a cardinal by the Vatican in modern times.

Last July, Pope Francis accepted his resignation from the College of Cardinals, after U.S. newspapers reported detailed accounts that he exposed himself and sexually molested two boys in his early years as a priest -- accusations that spanned almost five decades and were too old to legally prosecute.

In a June 20 statement, he said he had "absolutely no recollection" of the abuse "and (I) believe in my innocence" but said he was stepping down out of obedience. In December he went to live at a friary in Kansas to await the outcome of the Vatican's decision on his status.

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Cindy Wooden and Rhina Guidos contributed to this story.

 

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Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

McCarrick removed from the priesthood after being found guilty of abuse

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis has confirmed the removal from the priesthood of Theodore E. McCarrick, the 88-year-old former cardinal and archbishop of Washington.

The Vatican announced the decision Feb. 16, saying he was found guilty of "solicitation in the sacrament of confession and sins against the Sixth Commandment with minors and with adults, with the aggravating factor of the abuse of power."

A panel of the Congregation for Doctrine of the Faith found him guilty Jan. 11, the Vatican said. McCarrick appealed the decision, but the appeal was rejected Feb. 13 by the congregation itself. McCarrick was informed of the decision Feb. 15 and Pope Francis "recognized the definitive nature of this decision made in accord with law," making a further appeal impossible.

By ordering McCarrick's "dismissal from the clerical state," the decision means that McCarrick loses all rights and duties associated with being a priest, cannot present himself as a priest and is forbidden to celebrate the sacraments, except to grant absolution for sins to a person in imminent danger of death.

The only church penalty that is more severe is excommunication, which would have banned him from receiving the sacraments. The other possible punishment was to sentence him to a "life of prayer and penance," a penalty often imposed on elderly clerics; the penalty is similar to house arrest and usually includes banning the person from public ministry, limiting his interactions with others and restricting his ability to leave the place he is assigned to live.

McCarrick's punishment is the toughest meted out to a cardinal by the Vatican in modern times.

McCarrick's initial suspension from ministry and removal from the College of Cardinals in 2018 came after a man alleged that McCarrick began sexually abusing him in 1971 when he was a 16-year-old altar server in New York; the Archdiocese of New York found the allegation "credible and substantiated" and turned the case over to the Vatican.

At that point, in June, then-Cardinal McCarrick said he would no longer exercise any public ministry "in obedience" to the Vatican, although he maintained he was innocent.

In late July, the pope accepted McCarrick's resignation from the College of Cardinals and ordered him to maintain "a life of prayer and penance" until the accusation that he had sexually abused a minor could be examined by a Vatican court.

In the weeks that followed the initial announcement, another man came forward claiming he was abused as a child by McCarrick, and several former seminarians spoke out about being sexually harassed by the cardinal at a beach house he had in New Jersey.

Since September, McCarrick has been living in a Capuchin friary in rural Kansas.

The allegations against McCarrick, including what appeared to be years of sexual harassment of seminarians, also led to serious questions about who may have known about his activities and how he was able to rise to the level of cardinal.

At least two former seminarians reported the sexual misconduct of McCarrick to their local bishops as far back as the 1990s. The Archdiocese of Newark and the dioceses of Metuchen and Trenton made a settlement with one man in 2005, and the Diocese of Metuchen settled with the other man in 2007.

A spokeswoman for the Diocese of Metuchen told Catholic News Service in August that both settlements were reported to the Vatican nuncio in Washington. The two archbishops who held the position of nuncio in 2004 and 2006 have since died.

Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, who served as nuncio in Washington from 2011-2016, made headlines in mid-August when he called for Pope Francis to resign, claiming the pope had known of allegations against McCarrick and had lifted sanctions imposed on McCarrick by now-retired Pope Benedict XVI.

The former nuncio later clarified that Pope Benedict issued the sanctions "privately" perhaps "due to the fact that he (McCarrick) was already retired, maybe due to the fact that he (Pope Benedict) was thinking he was ready to obey."

In an open letter to Archbishop Vigano released in October, Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops since 2010, said that in 2011, "I told you verbally of the situation of the bishop emeritus (McCarrick) who was to observe certain conditions and restrictions because of rumors about his behavior in the past."

Then-Cardinal McCarrick "was strongly exhorted not to travel and not to appear in public so as not to provoke further rumors," Cardinal Ouellet said, but "it is false to present these measures taken in his regard as 'sanctions' decreed by Pope Benedict XVI and annulled by Pope Francis. After re-examining the archives, I certify that there are no such documents signed by either pope."

Cardinal Ouellet's letter was published a few days after the Vatican issued a statement saying that it would, "in due course, make known the conclusions of the matter regarding Archbishop McCarrick."

In addition, Pope Francis ordered "a further thorough study of the entire documentation present in the archives of the dicasteries and offices of the Holy See regarding the former Cardinal McCarrick in order to ascertain all the relevant facts, to place them in their historical context and to evaluate them objectively."

The Vatican statement said it is aware "that, from the examination of the facts and of the circumstances, it may emerge that choices were made that would not be consonant with a contemporary approach to such issues. However, as Pope Francis has said: 'We will follow the path of truth wherever it may lead.' Both abuse and its cover-up can no longer be tolerated, and a different treatment for bishops who have committed or covered up abuse, in fact, represents a form of clericalism that is no longer acceptable."

McCarrick had been ordained to the priesthood in 1958 for the Archdiocese of New York. James, the first child he baptized after ordination, claimed that from the time he was 11 years old and for some 20 years, McCarrick sexually abused him.

In 1977, McCarrick was ordained an auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of New York and, in 1981, St. John Paul II named him the first bishop of the Diocese of Metuchen, New Jersey. Five years later, he became the archbishop of Newark, New Jersey, and in November 2000 St. John Paul named him archbishop of Washington, D.C., and made him a cardinal early in 2001. McCarrick retired in 2006.

At least three other cardinals have been accused of sexual abuse or impropriety in the past 25 years. In the 1990s Austrian Cardinal Hans Hermann Groer was forced to step down as archbishop of Vienna and eventually to relinquish all public ministry after allegations of the sexual abuse and harassment of seminarians and priests; he died in 2003 without having undergone a canonical trial.

Pope Benedict XVI forced Scottish Cardinal Keith O'Brien to step down as archbishop of St. Andrews and Edinburgh in early 2013; after an investigation, Pope Francis withdrew his "rights and duties" as a cardinal, although he retained the title until his death in March 2018.

Australian Cardinal George Pell, facing charges of abusing minors, has been on leave from his post as head of the Vatican Secretariat for the Economy since mid-2017; he reportedly was found guilty of some charges in December, but the court has imposed an injunction on press coverage of the trial. Pope Francis told reporters he would not speak about the case until the court proceedings have run their course.

 

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Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Update: Catholic bishops, groups oppose Trump's call for national emergency

IMAGE: CNS photo/Jose Luis Gonzalez, Reuters

By Rhina Guidos

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Catholic bishops near the U.S.-Mexico border, joined by other U.S. prelates, voiced opposition immediately after President Donald Trump's Feb. 15 declaration of a national emergency so he can order construction of a barrier along parts of the border between the two countries.

"In our view, a border wall is first and foremost a symbol of division and animosity between two friendly countries," the bishops said.

"Furthermore, the wall would be an ineffective use of resources at a time of financial austerity," they said. "It would also would destroy parts of the environment, disrupt the livelihoods of ranchers and farmers, weaken cooperation and commerce between border communities, and, at least in one instance, undermine the right to the freedom of worship."

Speaking at news conference in the Rose Garden, Trump said he was going to sign a national emergency declaration to stave off a flow of drugs, human trafficking, gang members and illegal immigration coming across the southern border.

The president later signed a spending bill that provides $1.375 billion for fencing and other measures along the border -- a fraction of the $5.7 billion he had been asking from Congress for construction of the a barrier. Declaring the national emergency could grant him up to $8 billion for his project.

The promise of a wall on the southern border was key to his presidential campaign, but as a candidate he said neighboring Mexico, not the U.S., would pay for the structure. When Mexico refused to pay for the wall, he turned to U.S. lawmakers for funding, but they have largely refused to grant U.S. taxpayer money to build it, which led to a partial government shutdown earlier this year.

In a separate bishops' statement following Trump's announcement, Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Migration, said they were "deeply concerned about the president's action to fund the construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, which circumvents the clear intent of Congress to limit funding of a wall."

"We oppose the use of these funds to further the construction of the wall," Cardinal DiNardo and Bishop Vasquez said. "We remain steadfast and resolute in the vision articulated by Pope Francis that at this time we need to be building bridges and not walls."

In their statement, the border bishops and the other prelates who joined them said that while they agree with the president that there is a "humanitarian challenge" at the border, "erecting a wall will not solve the problem," they said, and they asked Congress to step in with more humanitarian responses.  

This statement was signed by Bishop Robert W. McElroy of San Diego; Texas Bishops Mark P. Seitz of El Paso and James A. Tamayo of Laredo and Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller of San Antonio; Bishop Edward J. Weisenburger of Tucson, Arizona; Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of Newark, New Jersey; New Mexico Archbishop John C. Wester of Santa Fe, retired Bishop Ricardo Ramirez of Las Cruces and retired Tucson Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas, who is apostolic administrator of Las Cruces; Bishop John Stowe of Lexington, Kentucky; and Cardinals Sean P. O'Malley of Boston and Blase J. Cupich of Chicago.

In his speech, the president said he wanted to build the wall "not just because it was a campaign promise," but because "everyone knows a wall works" and national emergencies such as the one he is calling for had been used by presidents previously without problems. Such declarations are common and at least 31 declared emergencies remain in place, but the current one seems to be designed to get around Congress.

The dozen or so bishops in their statement said they worried that a wall would drive migrants to more remote regions of the border and risk great loss of life.

When a wall was constructed in the San Diego area in the mid-1990s, for example, migrants were driven, often by smugglers, to the desert of Arizona and other remote regions in order to cross the border, they said, citing U.S. Border Patrol statistics that showed that over 7,000 migrants died in those areas from 1998 to 2016.

"The truth is that the majority of persons coming to the U.S.-Mexico border are asylum-seekers, many of whom are women and children from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador who are fleeing persecution and violence in their home countries," the bishops' statement said. "Along their journey to safety, they encounter many dangers. A wall would not keep them safe from those dangers. Rather, a wall would, further subject them to harm by drug cartels, smugglers, and human traffickers."

They said that while the country had a right to control and secure its borders, "border enforcement must protect and preserve the human rights and life of all persons, regardless of their legal status." Instead of a wall, they said, Congress should focus on more humane policies, such as reforming the immigration system "in a manner that is just, protects human rights and reflects American values."

"It is powerful that the bishops on the border are speaking against a wall. They, more than anyone in the church, know firsthand the reality along the border, and the suffering endured by families and children at the hands of recent U.S. policies," said Kevin Appleby, senior director of international migration policy at the Center for Migration Studies in New York in an email to Catholic News Service.

The Center for Migration Studies and the Ignatian Solidarity Network in Ohio joined in a statement signed by more than 40 faith leaders questioning the morality of structure.

"History has shown that border walls constructed to restrict human rights, such as the Berlin Wall, cause harm to human beings, all of whom possess God-given rights and are equal to us in the eyes of God. Because of this injustice, they eventually come down," the statement said.

Other Catholic groups such as the Sisters of Mercy and the Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach also voiced early opposition to Trump's declaration.

"We unequivocally oppose the president's decision to declare a state of national emergency in order to circumvent Congress and divert funding to pay for construction of a border wall. This decision is immoral and unnecessary. The real emergency is the dehumanization of migrants and the utter disregard for border communities and the environment. Construction of a wall and further militarization is not a solution," said a statement from the Columban center.

"A declaration of a national emergency aimed at funding an immoral wall will not correct years of failed immigration policy or ameliorate the U.S. role in root causes of migration," said Mercy Sister Patricia McDermott, president of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, in a statement. "The real one is of disinformation and misplaced values. President Trump fans a fear of asylum seekers by mischaracterizing them as criminals when the vast majority are people fleeing unspeakable atrocities for safety and a better life."

Trump said he expected lawsuits over the declaration but hoped the U.S. Supreme Court would ultimately rule in his favor. He defended his actions and said such declarations have been made in the past "for far less important things."

"I didn't need to do this, but I'd rather do it much faster," Trump said, while voicing frustration that seemed directed at former House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, whom Trump seemed to blame for Congress' early failure to fund his proposed border wall.  

"I'm very disappointed in certain people, one in particular for not having pushed this faster," Trump said. A reporter then asked: "Are you referring to former Speaker Paul Ryan?"

"Let's not talk about it. What difference does it make?" the president responded.

 

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Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Welcome Christ present in migrants and refugees, pope urges

IMAGE: CNS photo/Vatican Media

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Even if Christians struggle to recognize him with his "torn clothes (and) dirty feet," Jesus is present in the migrants and refugees who seek safety and a dignified life in a new land, Pope Francis said.

If Jesus' words, "Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me," are true, the pope said, then "we must begin to thank those who give us the opportunity for this encounter, namely, the 'others' who knock on our doors, giving us the possibility to overcome our fears in order to encounter, welcome and assist Jesus in person."

Pope Francis spoke about overcoming fear and welcoming others during a Mass he celebrated Feb. 15 at a church-run retreat and conference center in Sacrofano, about 15 miles north of Rome.

The Mass was part of a conference titled, "Welcoming Communities: Free of Fear," which was sponsored by the Italian bishops' office for migration, Caritas Italy and Jesuit Refugee Service's Centro Astalli. The 500 participants included representatives of parishes, religious orders and Catholic-run agencies assisting migrants and refugees, as well as individual families who host newcomers.

At a time when Italy's government is trying to severely restrict immigration, Caritas Italy said the meeting was designed to encourage those working with migrants and refugees and to counteract fear of migration by highlighting how individuals and the entire country benefit from welcoming them.

The prayers of the faithful, most of which were read by migrants, included asking God to help pastors educate all Catholics to welcome migrants and refugees and to help government leaders promote tolerance and peace. Ending, as is traditional, with a prayer for the dead, the petitions made special mention of people who were killed for their faith.

In his homily, Pope Francis noted how the ancient Israelites had to overcome their fear of crossing the Red Sea and trust God in order to make it to the promised land. And, when the disciples were on the lake in a storm, Jesus told them to not be afraid and assured them he was there with them.

"The Lord speaks to us today and asks us to allow him to free us of our fear," the pope said.

"Fear is the origin of slavery," just as it was for the ancient Israelites, he said, "and it is also the origin of every dictatorship because, on the fear of the people, the violence of the dictator grows."

Of course, the pope said, people naturally are afraid of what they don't understand and of strangers who speak another language and have another culture. The Christian response is not to play on those fears, but to educate people and help them turn strangers into friends.

"We are called to overcome fear and open ourselves to encounter," he said. "The encounter with the 'other,' then, is also an encounter with Christ. He himself told us this. It is he who knocks on our door hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, sick and imprisoned, asking to be met and assisted."

Pope Francis asked Catholics who have had "the joy" of assisting migrants and refugees to "proclaim it from the rooftops, openly, to help others do the same, preparing themselves to encounter Christ and his salvation."

 

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Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Texas locality orders popular Catholic center for migrants to vacate

IMAGE: CNS photo/Chaz Muth

By Rhina Guidos

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- A group of city commissioners in the border city of McAllen, Texas, voted in mid-February to remove from a building a popular Catholic-administered center run by Sister Norma Pimentel, who has been praised by Pope Francis for her work with migrants.

McAllen city commissioners voted Feb. 11 to vacate within 90 days the building that Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley uses to provide temporary shelter for immigrants who cross from Mexico into the United States but who have been released by federal authorities.

Sister Pimentel, who has won national and international praise for the type of work that takes place at the center, is the executive director for the charitable agency that runs the temporary shelter, which provides food, clothes, a shower and other necessities for migrant children and adults passing through the city in the Diocese of Brownsville, Texas.  

Residents were complaining to city commissioners about activity in their neighborhood that they said was coming from what's known as the "respite center," which began occupying the space in December, said a Feb. 11 story by the local newspaper, The Monitor. But Sister Pimentel, according to the report, said during a meeting to discuss the issue that the families the shelter helps are receiving services inside the building.

"They don't go wandering around," she said, according to the newspaper story.

Brownsville Bishop Daniel E. Flores said Feb. 13 via Twitter that "the decision of the McAllen City Commission was disheartening for many, yet, I continue to have hope in our collaborative relation with the city."

He said the diocese, as well as Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, were committed to finding "a welcoming location to continue the work of the respite center."

"How we treat the poor is how we treat Christ. And to give him even a cup of water invites a blessing from God," he continued.

In a statement released by Catholic Charities Feb. 13, Sister Pimentel, a member of the Missionaries of Jesus, said she was disappointed but would continue to work with the city of McAllen "in efforts to treat immigrant families in a just and humane way and ensure that they are in compliance with existing immigration laws."

Last summer, a group from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which included the organization's president, Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, and its vice president, Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles, visited a respite center, but in a different location, that Catholic Charities runs in McAllen.

The work of "welcoming the stranger" that takes place at the center has been the focus of fundraisers at the Vatican, featured on news shows, and has caught the attention of those such as Kerry Kennedy, Robert and Ethel Kennedy's daughter, and TV celebrity Gayle King.

When President Donald Trump visited McAllen Jan. 10, Sister Pimentel invited him to visit the respite center, but he did not make a stop there.

The original respite center in the area began in 2014, when Sister Pimentel saw an influx of immigrants arriving in Rio Grande Valley region and with local volunteers, she began a makeshift operation to help the migrants obtain clothes and food. Out of a property that belonged to the local Sacred Heart Church, they began clothing and feeding the newcomers.

Since then, respite centers at various temporary locations have helped thousands of migrants, many seeking asylum and passing through the border city, have access to a shower after a harrowing trip, a clean change of clothes, a quick medical exam, if they need it, a warm meal and sometimes a snack for the road. Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley is raising funds to build a permanent facility.

"Our mission remains unchanged -- to restore and recognize the human dignity of all vulnerable people -- throughout our community including those seeking asylum," Sister Pimentel said in the statement issued following the decision.

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Contributing to this story was Rose Ybarra in San Juan, Texas.

 

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Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Update: Catholics, Muslims bond over weekly lunch at Indianapolis deli

IMAGE: CNS photo/Sean Gallagher, The Criterion

By Sean Gallagher

INDIANAPOLIS (CNS) -- The openness to people of other faiths that Pope Francis modeled during his Feb. 3-5 visit to the United Arab Emirates has been embraced for more than 20 years at a weekly lunch shared by Muslims, Catholics and other Christians at Shapiro's Delicatessen in Indianapolis.

John Welch, a longtime member of St. Joan of Arc Parish in Indianapolis, helped start the lunch meetings in 1997.

"It's the presence of Jesus in our midst," Welch told The Criterion, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

Over the years, Welch and those sharing lunch and their lives together at Shapiro's have included members of the Italy-based Catholic lay movement Focolare, members of the Nur-Allah Islamic Center in Indianapolis, as well as Protestant clergy in the city.

Welch, 84, was honored at a recent lunch by those in attendance as he prepared to move with his wife, Mary, to Chicago to live closer to family.

He was inspired to reach out to Muslims in the Indianapolis community through his involvement in Focolare, which emphasizes building unity among people based on sharing the love of God with them.

Welch said that the members of Focolare, who are known as "Focolarini," are called to embody in their daily lives Jesus' teaching to love others as he loved them.

"Our vocation is that, when Jesus said, 'Whenever two or more are united in my name' -- which means his commandment to love one another -- 'there am I present in their midst,'" Welch said. "So whether we're a father (of a family), or a Protestant pastor, an imam, the vocation is to live such mutual love ... that Jesus dwells in our midst.

"If people are touched by their exposure to us, it's not us. It's the presence of God in our midst that attracts them," he added.

Michael Saahir, who is leader, or imam, of Nur-Allah, has been attracted to the principles of Focolare for decades, having met with Chiara Lubich, its founder, on various occasions before her death in 2008. He also has visited the Vatican eight times to participate in interreligious dialogue events.

After the recent gathering at the deli, Saahir spoke to The Criterion about the influence of Focolare and the lunches he has shared with Welch and others in his Muslim faith.

"I have to love the one nearest to me in the present moment, even if I don't like them, even if I don't want to be there," he said. "It exposed in me a shortcoming and, at the same time, forced me to develop a discipline to at least try to love the other person in that present moment."

Many in the United States didn't like Muslims after the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Nur-Allah received bomb threats in the days following. But Welch and other Focolarini in Indianapolis wanted to show solidarity with the Muslims of Nur-Allah by attending their Friday prayer service, known in Arabic as Jumu'ah, a few days later.

"On Sept. 14, 2001, they put into practice what they'd been preaching," Saahir said. "It was real. It wasn't a conversation. It was a demonstration. You saw people put themselves where they didn't have to be. They came. It was awesome."

John Mundell, a member of St. Pius X Parish in Indianapolis and Focolare, was there that day and afterward saw the effects of this witness by him and his fellow Focolarini.

"We had some answers that people were perhaps looking for and got a lot of requests after that to share our understanding of how you can have a dialogue with people that are so different," Mundell said. "So that's what we did. We had an obligation to share it."

The kind of interreligious events that Saahir has attended at the Vatican often involve experts and high-level religious leaders.

The weekly lunches at Shapiro's, though, are shared by ordinary believers sharing with each other the joys and trials of their everyday lives and how they understand them in light of their faith.

One of the attendees at the lunch when Welch was honored was Nur Allah member David Shaheed, a retired Marion County judge. He was one of the original people who shared lunch with Welch starting in 1997.

He was thankful for the deep bond that the lunches at Shapiro's created among people of differing faiths over the years.

"Once you can sense that, even though a person may have Mass and you have Jumu'ah, when they tell you some of their experiences, it lets you know that God is not just speaking to your faith," Shaheed said. "There's a clear demonstration through the lives of others that God is working in the lives of other people."

Although he won't be attending the lunches any longer, Welch said that this bond will continue as he moves away.

"Keep on keeping on," he said. "We'll be hearing about you all of the time."

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Gallagher is a reporter at The Criterion, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

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Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Update: Territory is life, life is territory: what indigenous want church to know

IMAGE: CNS photo/Barbara Fraser

By Barbara J. Fraser

LETICIA, Colombia (CNS) -- Rafael Noteno Capinoa, a Kichwa Indian, worries about what could happen to the forest around his village on Peru's Napo River if an oil company begins drilling in the area.

"The forest is where we are born, we grow up, we live, we die and are buried," he said. "During our lifetime, we use what we find there."

For the Kichwa and other Amazonian peoples, every plant and animal has a spirit, and humans live in harmony with them, he said. "But if people behave badly, nature may abandon them."

A year ago, during a visit to Peru, Pope Francis asked an audience of native people of the Amazon basin to help bishops and religious to understand their relationship with the natural world. Since then, church leaders have held more than 40 meetings in the nine Amazonian countries to listen to local people, in preparation for the Synod of Bishops for the Amazon to be held at the Vatican in October. The meetings have been coordinated by the Pan-Amazonian Church Network, or REPAM.

Noteno was among about 70 indigenous people who gathered at a Ticuna and Huitoto village outside this Amazonian town Feb. 2-4 to talk about what they would like the church to understand.

"The Catholic Church is increasingly aware of the many ways in which the Amazon is being destroyed," said Columban Father Peter Hughes, an adviser to the synod planning committee.

There are "constant threats (against) original peoples whose lands are being taken away, whose cultures are being disregarded, and whose land and rivers, the place where they live, are being destroyed," Father Hughes said. "The synod is a chance to give voice to the Amazon. The church has to listen."

The danger is real for Antonio Verisimo da Conceicao, an Apinaje Indian from Tocantins, a state in east-central Brazil. Although the Brazilian government has recognized the boundaries of his community of Pemxa, a dam threatens his people's water sources, he said, and industrial farms are encroaching on an area that his community has requested for expansion.

He and his son have both received death threats for standing up for their rights.

Parts of the Brazilian Amazon have long been dangerous for people who defend land rights. Sister Dorothy Stang, an American-born member of the Congregation of Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, was murdered Feb. 12, 2005, near the town of Anapu in the Amazonian state of Para, where she helped small landholders defend their farms and forests.

In 2017, Brazil was the deadliest county for environmentalists, indigenous leaders and other defenders of land rights, with 57 killed that year, according to the nonprofit organization Global Witness.

For da Conceicao and other Amazonian people, "territory is life and life is territory," Father Hughes said.

The Amazon basin contains the largest remaining expanse of tropical forest in the world. In his encyclical "Laudato Si', on Care for our Common Home," Pope Francis highlighted its importance for the global climate, as well as its significance as a home to the region's original peoples.

Deforestation has been increasing in recent decades, however, as roads, industrial farms and cattle ranches continue to expand. Indigenous territories have significantly lower deforestation rates than surrounding areas and are sometimes even better protected than government-established parks or reserves, studies have found.

Maintaining a traditional way of life in the forest is increasingly difficult, however, as young people often leave their villages in search of jobs or a college education. Facing discrimination in cities, they may conceal their indigenous roots.

When young people move away from their communities, they lose the chance to learn traditional songs, stories and myths from their parents and grandparents. Some never learn their native language, because their parents were forbidden to speak it in school -- sometimes even in Catholic mission schools, said Washington Salvador Tiwi Asamat, 45, a Shuar man from southern Ecuador.

Those are values that the church wants to help people recover, said Father Hughes.

Mariela Rivera Diaz, a Yagua woman from the community of San Jose de Piri, in Peru's northeastern Loreto region, has watched her oldest children move away to get an education in distant cities. Worried that her native tongue might disappear, she began to teach the Yagua language to younger children in her community.

Santiago Yahuarcani, a Huitoto artist from Pebas, a town on the bank of the Amazon River in Peru, began to rediscover his people's history when he found that tourists were more captivated by his paintings of village life or mythical beings than scenes of forests and rivers.

He encourages young people in Pebas not only to speak their native language, but also to learn traditional music and dances.

As church leaders prepare for the synod for the Amazon, they have much to learn from native peoples whose lives are so closely intertwined with the forests and rivers of the region, Father Hughes said.

"The word of God exists in the air, the water, the plants, the animals," he said. "It is the Bible of life, the Bible of creation."

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Pope calls on world leaders to eradicate poverty, hunger

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Junno Arocho Esteves

ROME (CNS) -- Sustainable development in rural areas is key to making poverty and hunger a thing of the past, Pope Francis said.

In an address to members of the International Fund for Agricultural Development's governing council Feb. 14, the pope said that while achieving such a goal "has been talked about for a long time," there has not been enough concrete action.

"It is paradoxical that a good portion of the more than 820 million people who suffer hunger and malnutrition in the world live in rural areas, are dedicated to food production and are farmers," he said at the council's opening session at the Rome headquarters of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization.

The two-day meeting of the organization, commonly known as IFAD, was devoted to the theme: "Rural innovation and entrepreneurship."

Before addressing the gathering, the pope presented a gift to the organization: a sculpture by Argentine artist Norma D'Ippolito, titled "Ecce Homo" ("Behold the Man") depicting the hands of Christ bound with ropes.

In his speech, the pope said he came to bring the "longings and needs of many of our brothers and sisters who suffer in the world."

"They live in precarious situations: the air is polluted, natural resources are depleted, rivers are polluted, soils are acidified," he said. "They do not have enough water for themselves or for their crops; their sanitary infrastructures are very inadequate; their houses are meager and defective."

While society has made advances in other areas of knowledge, he added, little progress has been made in helping the rural poor. Winning the fight against poverty and hunger requires using scientific and technological advances for the common good.

"Being determined in this fight is essential so that we can hear -- not as a slogan but as a truth -- 'Hunger has no present and no future. Only the past,'" he said. "In order to do this, we need the help of the international community, civil society and all those who have the resources. Responsibilities cannot be evaded, passed from one to another, but must be assumed in order to offer concrete and real solutions."

Pope Francis said that today's challenges cannot be resolved "in isolation, occasionally or ephemerally" but instead require a joint effort that affirms "the centrality of the human person."

Those who are suffering, he added, must be directly involved in the fight against hunger and not viewed as "mere recipients of aid that may end up generating dependencies."

He also encouraged the members of IFAD to continue along the path of innovation and entrepreneurship to achieve the goal of eradicating malnutrition and promoting sustainable development.

"It is necessary to promote a 'science with a conscience' and truly put technology at the service of the poor," the pope said. "On the other hand, new technologies should not be in opposition to local cultures and traditional knowledge, but rather complement them and act in synergy with them."

After his speech, the pope met with delegates from 31 different indigenous groups present from Africa, Asia, the Americas and the Pacific.

Alessandro Gisotti, interim director of the Vatican press office, said in a statement that the pope's meeting with the delegates lasted nearly 20 minutes.

"The pope greeted each person present; several of them gave Pope Francis a handmade stole," Gisotti said.

Speaking to the delegates, the pope said that indigenous people are "a cry for hope" that remind the world of the shared responsibility in caring for the environment. While certain decisions have "ruined" the earth, he added, "it is never too late to learn the lesson and learn a new way of life."

Indigenous people, he said, know how "to listen to the earth" and to live in harmony with it.

"Let us never forget the saying of our grandparents: 'God always forgives, men sometimes forgive, nature never forgives,'" Pope Francis said. "And we are seeing this through its mistreatment and exploitation. You -- who know how to dialogue with the earth -- are entrusted with transmitting this ancestral wisdom to us."

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju

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Report finds no evidence of racist statements from Covington students

IMAGE: CNS photo/Madalyn McGarvey, Reuters

By Carol Zimmermann

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- An independent investigation into the much-discussed encounter that went viral between Catholic high school students, a Native American tribal leader and members of another protest group on the Lincoln Memorial grounds in Washington in January found no evidence that the students of Kentucky's Covington Catholic High School issued "offensive or racist statements."

A report on the investigation was released by the Covington Diocese Feb. 13.

Two days before releasing the report's findings, Covington Bishop Roger J. Foys wrote to parents of the high school students telling them he was pleased to let them know that his hope that an inquiry into the events of Jan. 18 would "exonerate our students so that they can move forward with their lives has been realized."

The investigation, conducted by Greater Cincinnati Investigation Inc., which has no connection with the high school or diocese, "demonstrated that our students did not instigate the incident that occurred at the Lincoln Memorial," the bishop said.

The four-page report signed Feb. 11 said that four investigators spent 240 hours looking into the events of Jan. 18 when the Covington Catholic High School students -- in Washington for the annual March for Life -- met up with other groups while waiting for their buses to pick them up. The investigators spoke with 43 students, 13 chaperones and a number of third-party witnesses. They also reviewed about 50 hours of internet footage or comments focused on the groups' exchange.

Investigators were unable to question Nathan Phillips, tribal elder for the Omaha Tribe, who was chanting and beating a drum by the students, or Nick Sandmann, the student most prominent in viral footage of the encounter.

The incident in question gained national attention from a viral video of it that showed students surrounding Phillips, who was chanting and beating a drum. The students appeared to be mocking him and Sandmann, inches away from the drummer, who never moved and was smiling, was accused of flagrant disrespect.

The clip caused immediate outrage, particularly on social media. But by the next day, extended footage of how the situation unfolded revealed that another group had taunted the students. Phillips had walked over to the group as a type of intervention.

Just days after the video prompted rounds of criticism, Sandmann issued a statement saying he had "received physical and death threats via social media, as well as hateful insults."

In a Jan. 22 statement, the Covington Diocese said the incident and the reaction to it was "a very serious matter that has already permanently altered the lives of many people. It is important for us to gather the facts that will allow us to determine what corrective actions, if any, are appropriate."

The investigators' report said it found no evidence of the students responding in an offensive manner to the black Hebrew Israelites who first addressed them nor did the students chant "build the wall" as some had speculated.

According to the report, the students asked their chaperones if they could perform a school cheer to drown out the remarks of the protest group. The students also said they felt "confused" by being approached by Phillips and although some performed a "tomahawk chop" none of the students said "racist or offensive statements" to Phillips.

Some students said chaperones had reminded them that if "they engaged in a verbal exchange with the black Hebrew Israelites, they would receive detention when returning to school."

The investigators also noted that most of the students wearing the "Make America Great Again" hats had bought them in Washington during their visit. In previous years, chaperones said some students bought "Hope" hats in support of President Barack Obama. There is no school policy prohibiting political apparel on school-sponsored trips, the report said.

In his letter to the Covington Catholic High School community, Bishop Foys said that in the weeks since the original video went viral "two well-worn and oft-used adages have come to mind: Seeing is believing and perception is reality."

He said the immediate reaction to the initial video "led almost everyone to believe that our students had initiated the incident and the perception of those few minutes of video became reality."

"In truth, taking everything into account, our students were placed in a situation that was at once bizarre and even threatening. Their reaction to the situation was, given the circumstances, expected and one might even say laudatory," he wrote.

He said the students could "never have expected what they experienced on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial" and added that their "stance there was surely a pro-life stance."

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Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim

 

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Filmmaker's new movie 'Across' tells story of Father Augustus Tolton

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy Director Christopher Foley

By Robert Alan Glover

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (CNS) -- Father Augustus Tolton, the first African-American priest ordained for a diocese in the United States, was born into slavery and endured myriad obstacles, both inside the Catholic Church and out, as he relentlessly followed his call from God.

Nashville filmmaker Chris Foley, inspired by the story of Father Tolton's life, has written and directed a short film, "Across," about the Tolton family's escape from slavery.

"I spent about three years developing and writing the film, beginning with a short article I read about Father Tolton, then I attended a talk on him in Chicago given by Bishop Joseph Perry in 2015," Foley told the Tennessee Register, newspaper of the Diocese of Nashville.

Bishop Perry, a Chicago auxiliary bishop, who has family from Nashville, is postulator for Father Tolton's sainthood cause, which was opened in 2010 by Chicago Cardinal Francis E. George, giving the priest the title "servant of God."

"It was at the talk that I first mentioned my goal of making a film about 'Gus' -- as I now call him -- to Bishop Perry, but I don't think he took me seriously," recalled Foley.

Serious he certainly was because, said Foley, "this is a man who became a role model for priests -- black and otherwise -- in this country."

Augustus Tolton was born into slavery in 1854 on a plantation near Brush Creek, Missouri. He was baptized at St. Peter Church near Hannibal, Missouri.

His father left to try to join the Union Army during the Civil War; he later died of dysentery, according to accounts Father Tolton told friends and parishioners. In 1862, his mother, Martha, escaped with her children -- Augustus, Charley, Samuel and Anne -- by rowing them across the Mississippi River to the free state of Illinois. They settled in Quincy.

While the family was living in Quincy, a parish priest allowed young Augustus to attend the parish school over the objections of white parishioners. There he learned to read and write and was confirmed at age 16.

He was encouraged to discern his vocation to the priesthood by the Franciscan priests who taught him at St. Francis College, now Quincy University, but could not find a seminary in the United States that would accept him.

He eventually studied in Rome at Pontifical Urban University. He was ordained for the Propaganda Fidei Congregation in 1886 at age 31 and was expecting to become a missionary in Africa.

Instead, he was sent back to Quincy, where he served for three years before going to the Archdiocese of Chicago in 1889. He spearheaded the building of St. Monica Church for black Catholics. Dedicated in 1894, the parish grew from 30 parishioners to more than 600 under Father Tolton's energetic leadership. He died after suffering heat stroke on a Chicago street July 9, 1897.

"In the end, Father Tolton's story is a great example of suffering, because he never finished a church he was building in Chicago and died at age 43 from heat exhaustion during a heat wave in 1897," said Foley.

"After finishing my research, we finally started filming in 2017 -- eight days total with seven of them in Nashville, and one day in Missouri," said Foley.

The final cast features all local professional actors, including Daylon Gordon, who was 9 at the time Foley chose him to play the young Augustus Tolton.

Tennessee film locations included Percy Priest Lake and Kentucky Lake -- standing in for the Missouri River -- as well as Spring Hill and Paris. The Missouri location was Brush Creek.

"None of the African-American cast members were Catholic, and unfortunately there is still a small number of them in the church, but my goal (with the larger film) is to reach non-Catholics as well," said Foley.

Local actress and budding musician Nina Hibbler-Webster plays Father Tolton's mother.

"I did not know any of the details surrounding Father Tolton, nor his life, until I met Chris, but thought this would be a wonderful opportunity to portray such a person," said Webster.

"We see Martha in her 30s, along with Peter, the father, who died of dysentery while serving in the Union Army, Tolton's baby brother, Samuel, and his other siblings, Charley, who died at age 10, Augustine and Anne," said Webster.

Webster described Martha as "humble, but a woman who experienced a leap of faith and took a chance, based on that faith and a split-second decision to run, to accomplish what they did."

"As a Christian, I view this as a historical piece, and sometimes the only way we get a story like this out there is when someone makes a film from it," said Webster.

Foley hopes to secure enough financing to extend the short film into a full-length feature film that would cover all of Father Tolton's life.

"For one thing, we don't sugar-coat his persecution in the church, and we talk about those people behind it, including (a priest) ... who is -- let's face it -- the bad guy," said Foley.

"If we can finally get his story out there, I think its message will be that the church is calling you," said Foley.

Joan Watson, Nashville's diocesan director of faith formation, organized a Feb. 17 screening of Foley's film and a panel discussion to follow at the Catholic Pastoral Center.

"I knew a little about it, having gotten to know Chris and his wife, Mary Beth, several years ago," she said. "Mary Beth and I discussed doing a screening of the film here, to showcase the immense local talent we have right here in our own diocese, and to introduce people to the story of Father Tolton."

"While Father Tolton is not directly connected to the history of Nashville, I would encourage people who feel drawn to him to pray through his intercession," said Watson.

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Editor's Note: More information about the film at www.acrossmovie.com.

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Glover writes for the Tennessee Register, newspaper of the Diocese of Nashville.

 

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Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.