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'Every parish, rectory in hurricane zone' suffering, says church official

IMAGE: CNS photo/Brian Snyder, Reuters

By Tom Tracy

MIAMI (CNS) -- The physical impact of Hurricane Michael and the anticipated recovery period for parts of the Florida Panhandle appear to be on a scale of last year's Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, according to the church's top emergency management specialist in Florida.

"The devastation is so large that we looking at couple of years at least in recovery," said Gabe Tischler, who is working full time on the Hurricane Michael response for the Tallahassee-based Florida Catholic Conference following the storm's Oct. 10 landfall.

The event brought near Category-5 strength winds when it came ashore at Mexico Beach, Florida, near Panama City in the Florida Gulf Coast.

"Every parish and rectory in the hurricane zone has suffered damage, and we are working to get RV units in place so the clergy can move out of the damaged rectories," said Tischler.

As a resident of Tallahassee, he had to evacuate his residence and is now working remotely coordinating relief and volunteer efforts from regional dioceses, private individuals and corporate donors and state and federal authorities along with Catholic Charities agencies.

Scarcity of lodging and housing -- both for residents and emergency responders pouring into the region -- are among the most daunting needs of the recovery efforts, he said, noting that emergency supply distribution centers have been set up or created at Catholic parishes in Florida Panhandle coastal towns of Panama City, Mexico Beach, Marianna, Apalachicola and Port St. Joe.

To date, Catholic Charities of Northwest Florida has distributed an estimated million pounds of goods to 8,000 recipients at a distribution site at St. Dominic Parish in Panama City, considered part of the storm's ground zero.

Portable toilets, satellite phones, portable laundry facilities and a communications vehicle are among the larger items arriving through private donors and church agencies. Cellphone communications has been nonexistent around the hardest-hit areas but that situation is expected to improve in the near future.

The Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee in collaboration with Catholic Charities of Northwest Florida has put out an online call for volunteers, noting that two-thirds of that diocese was substantial impacted by Hurricane Michael.

The website notes that there is a need for at least 50 volunteers, seven days a week for the next few months at a Catholic Charities staging project at St. Dominic Church. Many of the volunteers are staying at their own cost at area hotels and church facilities in the Tallahassee area, organizers said.

In addition, Catholic Charities USA has deployed a small team to the region, with several staff operating a portable laundry facility in Marianna, and another team that will deliver supplies and power generators to Panama City. The Knights of Columbus and individual Charities agencies around the region have also been mobilized to collection donations and send volunteers, Tischler said.

"So many people have lost everything: homes, property and even their livelihood. The scenes of destruction are heart-wrenching, knowing that when we see a place where there once was a house, a family used to live there and are now homeless," Bishop William A. Wack of Pensacola-Tallahassee said in an Oct. 12 letter to the diocese.

A week after the storm came ashore, Hurricane Michael's death toll has risen to 29 across four Southern U.S. states. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump toured hurricane-ravaged areas of the Florida Gulf Coast Oct. 15.

In the Miami Archdiocese, Catholic Charities was sending an initial team of four logistics and fact-finding staff on Oct. 17 to spend several days there helping to establish the distribution site in St. Joe, according to Peter Routsis-Arroyo, CEO of Catholic Charities Miami.

The Miami team planned to be based at the St. John Neumann Retreat Center in Tallahassee through Oct. 21, when another Catholic Charities team from Central Florida was expected to relieve them the following week.

"Later on they may have some specific needs up there as far as case workers or clinical social workers but this first go-round is mostly about assessment," Routsis-Arroyo said, who is formerly Catholic Charities director for the Diocese of Venice in Southwest Florida, which experienced damages from last year's Hurricane Irma.

"You have a lot of shrimpers and rural poor in that area (of Port St. Joe), and that is where they asked us to help out. They do have two sites up and running: one in Mexico Beach, which is ground zero, and one in Panama City, which was destroyed also. We were asked to take the easternmost area (of impact)," Routsis-Arroyo added. A team from Catholic Charities Orlando is expected to assist in this area next week.

The Florida Catholic Conference's Tischler said needed items include food, water, baby and adult diapers, cash donations and on-site volunteers willing to fund their own housing.

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Editor's Note: More information about recovery and volunteer efforts can be found online at https://bit.ly/2Cna8h2.

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Tracy writes for the Florida Catholic, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Miami.

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Copyright © 2018 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.

Young migrants bring vitality, need support, synod members say

IMAGE: CNS photo/Juan Medina, Reuters

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Helping young migrants hold fast to their cultural and religious identity, especially in situations where they are a minority, was a recurring topic at the Synod of Bishops.

Blessed Sacrament Father Robert Stark, director of the Office for Social Ministry for the Diocese of Honolulu and regional coordinator for the Vatican's Migrant and Refugees Section, offered synod members very practical advice for assisting young people on the move.

First, he said Oct. 16, church workers must listen to young people thinking about leaving their homelands and inform them of the dangers. Second, the church should offer food, shelter and safety to young people in transit. And, when they arrive at their destination, the young should be helped with legal assistance and language classes.

"At each phase of their journey, young migrants pass through different dioceses but -- from beginning to end -- they can be in the same loving, caring church," Father Stark told the synod.

Archbishop Ilario Antoniazzi of Tunis, representing the North African bishops' conference, told the synod that many of the dioceses of Libya, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco are thriving today because of the young African Catholics who come to their countries for university studies or while awaiting an opportunity to migrate to Europe.

"These young people have given vitality and joy to our churches and have helped them maturity spiritually, becoming 'the church of encounter,' 'the church of welcome' and of listening," he said.

Christians are a miniscule minority in North Africa and must live their faith with "great discretion" among a Muslim majority that often considers them "infidels, unbelievers or worse."

But by allowing themselves "to be evangelized by their Muslim brothers, that is, to learn their culture and religion," he said, they learn the tolerance, friendship and cooperation that are essential to building a peaceful society.

"Our young people discover in this way that different religions are no longer an insurmountable obstacle but become a different path to the one God we all adore," Archbishop Antoniazzi said.

Lebanese Cardinal Bechara Rai, patriarch of the Maronite Catholic Church, pleaded with his Latin-rite brothers to help migrants from the Eastern Catholic churches maintain their ties to their cultures and to preserve "their liturgical, spiritual and disciplinary patrimony."

For Lebanese Christians, he said, part of that culture has been and must continue to be "promoting interreligious dialogue, which is a dialogue of life, culture and destiny with the Muslims."

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Indifference, hatred is the first step to murder, pope says

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Hurling insults and being indifferent to other people's lives is the first step along the winding path that leads to killing them, at least figuratively, Pope Francis said.

By warning that "whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment," Jesus equates hatred with murder, the pope said Oct. 17 during his weekly general audience.

"Indifference kills. It's like telling someone, 'You're dead to me,' because you've killed them in your heart. Not loving is the first step to killing; and not killing is the first step to loving," he told thousands of pilgrims in St. Peter's Square.

Continuing his series of talks on the Ten Commandments, the pope reflected on Christ's explanation of the Fifth Commandment, "Thou shall not kill."

"Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift," Jesus said according to St. Matthew's Gospel.

Although Christians should have "an attitude of reconciliation with people who we have had problems with," Pope Francis said that sometimes, even while waiting for Mass to begin, "we gossip a bit and speak bad about others."

"This can't be done!" he exclaimed. "Let's think about the gravity of insults, the gravity of despising someone, the seriousness of hatred. Jesus places them along the lines of murder."

By expanding on the definition of murder, the pope explained, Jesus emphasized that every person, carrying within them the image of God, "possesses a hidden self that is no less important than their physical being," and both easily can be destroyed.

"To offend the innocence of a child, an inappropriate phrase is enough," he said. "To hurt a woman, a gesture of coldness is enough. To break a young man's heart, it is enough to deny him trust. To annihilate a man, it is enough to ignore him."

Through his life and death, Christ taught that forgiveness and mercy are "the love we cannot do without."

In Jesus, Pope Francis said, "in his love which is stronger than death and through the power of the Spirit that the Father gives us, we can accept this (commandment) -- 'Thou shall not kill' -- as the most important and essential appeal: the call to love."

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju

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Copyright © 2018 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: Baltimore Archdiocese, Catholic Charities help launch Parish ID

IMAGE: CNS photo/Kevin J. Parks, Catholic Review

By Paul McMullen

BALTIMORE (CNS) -- This generation of immigrants to Baltimore will continue to find a haven in the Catholic Church.

That was the message Oct. 10 from the steps of Sacred Heart of Jesus-Sagrado Corazon de Jesus, where Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh, Archbishop William E. Lori and Catholic pastors who minister to those from foreign countries attended the announcement of the establishment of a Parish ID program.

The program's priority is "focused on helping residents to feel comfortable interacting with the Baltimore City Police Department," according to BUILD, or Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development, which helped organize the initiative.

Even though the enforcement of immigration laws falls primarily under federal jurisdiction rather than municipal jurisdiction, many the city's immigrants who are living in the U.S. without legal documents remain hesitant to report crimes committed against them, for fear of their own arrest, and possible deportation and separation from their families.

"No one should be a victim because they're afraid of calling police," said Pugh, who backed the initiative at a town hall in June.

With the backing of the Archdiocese of Baltimore and logistical support from Catholic Charities of Baltimore, which will print the cards, residents will be able to obtain a non-government-issued ID that shows their photo and home address.

"The full weight of the Archdiocese of Baltimore is behind this effort," said Archbishop Lori, head of the Baltimore Archdiocese.

The program will be launched at Sacred Heart of Jesus-Sagrado Corazon de Jesus, followed by St. Matthew in Northwood and then other parishes that serve immigrant communities.

According to BUILD, city residents who have been members of its affiliate churches for three months are eligible for a Parish ID. It requires an existing identification, such as a passport; proof of address, such as a utility bill; a notarized statement from another person who can verify one's identity; and attendance at a half-day orientation.

Interim Police Commissioner Gary Tuggle said that the card was being introduced to command staff Oct. 11, and department-wide in the next two weeks. BUILD said the IDs will only be recognized in the city.

While some logistics remain to be worked out, priests such as Redemptorist Father Bruce Lewandowski and Father Joseph Muth, who are the respective pastors of those faith communities, will play a substantial role in the roll-out.

"The best example I can think of, I call 911 to report a break in, my house has been robbed," Father Lewandowski said. "I call the police, how do they know I live there? How do I identify myself? If I'm an immigrant, I can show them my passport, but that just says I come from another country.

"I show them my Parish ID, (it shows) there are people there who know me and can verify my identity. If someone is stopped by the police, it says people know me."

Several speakers alluded to the hope that the program could help drive down crime in a city coming off the deadliest year in its history.

"We are sending a clear message, that people have a right to be safe," the archbishop said. "People have a right to live in a city where they see each other as neighbors and friends, rather than strangers and enemies."

"With the security offered by this ID, people will stop looking over their shoulders and stop hiding in their homes and parishes," he added. "This ID provides one avenue to freedom from fear. The ID card is a way of developing trust ' and creating safer streets and homes."

Asked what qualifies him to vouch for his people, Father Lewandowski said, "I know probably 1,500 people in this parish alone, probably 800 at St. Patrick and probably 400 more at Our Lady of Fatima."

Father Muth can speak for Rebecca Kitana, a native of Kenya and member of the Immigration Outreach Service Center, based at St. Matthew Church. The parish is both her spiritual home and her literal one, as she resides in its convent through the auspices of Asylee Women's Enterprise.

"Anyone who comes to our door is given a safe place," Kitana said of the outreach center, which has assisted immigrants from more than 140 countries. "At the IOSC, we know that many immigrants will benefit from the Parish ID. There are people who are living in fear.

"I personally know a woman who is scared to leave her house, because she is afraid that she will come into contact with police, be detained and force to leave behind her child. An ID like this will make people less afraid, and more fully engaged."

Father Muth noted the history of Baltimore, and the church.

"We're an immigrant church, in an immigrant city," Father Muth said. "The city was built, and the church was built, by and for immigrants of many generations. Now we're taking this step for the next generation, to keep them protected with ID cards that acknowledge their place in the community."

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McMullen is managing editor of the Catholic Review, the news website and magazine of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

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Copyright © 2018 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.

Lack of progress fighting hunger is shameful, pope says

IMAGE: CNS photo/Farooq Khan, EPA

By Anne Condodina

ROME (CNS) -- At a time of technological and scientific progress, "we ought to feel shame" for not having advanced in "humanity and solidarity" enough to feed the world's poor, Pope Francis said.

"Neither can we console ourselves simply for having faced emergencies and desperate situations of those most in need. We are all called to go further. We can and we must do better for the helpless," the pope said in a message to world leaders attending a meeting of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome.

The World Food Day ceremony Oct. 16 marks the date the organization was founded in 1945 to address the causes of world hunger.

The theme for 2018 is "Our actions are our future: A zero hunger world by 2030 is possible." The 2030 agenda seeks to end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture.

Local programs are just as important as global commitments to ending hunger, Pope Francis said in his message.

"Global indicators are of no use if our commitment does not correspond to reality on the ground," the pope said. "This must be done in the context of suitable institutional, social and economic support that offers fruitful initiatives and solutions so that the poor do not feel overlooked again."

According to the FAO 2018 State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World report, world hunger is on the rise again, and over 820 million people are suffering chronic undernourishment.

The pope called for policies of cooperation for development that are oriented toward meeting the real needs of the people: "The struggle against hunger urgently demands generous financing, the abolition of trade barriers and, above all, greater resilience in the face of climate change, economic crises and warfare," he said.

While one can dream of a future without hunger, the pope said it is only reasonable to do so "when we engage in tangible processes, vital relations, effective plans and real commitments."

The poor expect real help from world leaders, he wrote, "not mere propositions or agreements."

However, it not only requires political decision-making and effective planning, but also a more proactive and sustainable long-term vision from world leaders, Pope Francis said.

"We overlook the structural aspects that shroud the tragedy of hunger: extreme inequality, poor distribution of the world's resources, consequences of climate change and the interminable and bloody conflicts which ravage many regions," he said.

"Some may say that we still have 12 years ahead in which to carry this out" to meet the 2030 goal, the pope acknowledged. But "the poor cannot wait. Their devastating circumstances do not allow this."

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Copyright © 2018 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: Superiors general see no reason why women shouldn't have vote at synod

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Although bishops should make up the majority of voting members at a Synod of Bishops, the fact that the body is only consultative means women should be included as full members just as priests and religious brothers are, said three priests who are voting members.

The superiors general of the Dominicans, the Jesuits and the Conventual Franciscans -- all priests who are voting members of the synod -- spoke to reporters at a Vatican briefing Oct. 15.

When the men's Union of Superiors General chose two religious brothers to be among their 10 voting delegates at the Synod of Bishops, they consciously made the choice to emphasize that men's religious orders include both priests and laymen, the minister general of the Conventual Franciscans said.

"Obviously, it wasn't an accident" that two brothers were elected, Father Marco Tasca, the minister general, told Catholic News Service after the briefing. "Consecrated life is made up of priests and laypeople, so it is only right that there also be lay superiors general at the synod."

When the superiors elected a brother to the 2015 synod, he said, "there were some doubts about whether or not the synod office would accept him, but the pope intervened and said, 'Let him come.' Case closed.

"This time we didn't ask," Father Tasca said.

Now, he said, that choice "should raise the question of the presence of the sisters, the women. That is the great challenge."

The men's USG and the women's International Union of Superiors General are now asking that question together, Father Tasca said. "We had a meeting last week -- a small group of superiors from both -- and we asked, 'How can we move on this together?'"

The two organizations of superiors, which hold a joint meeting each November, will get together again, he said, to try to move the question forward. "I think the correct path is to present this together, not 'we men' or 'we women' like children, but together."

While rules for the Synod of Bishops provide for the men's union of superiors to elect 10 voting members for the synod, there is no such provision for the women's union of superiors. However, the pope does appoint women religious as observers or experts to the synods.

The women's union of superiors hosted a news conference late Oct. 15 with six of the women religious participating in the synod as observers.

"In future synods -- I will not say in the very next synod, but in future synods -- we will probably see a change in who votes," said U.S. Sister Sally M. Hodgdon, superior general of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Chambery.

"A synod is a synod of bishops -- that is what it is ... it's their meeting, so to speak -- but now that the synods have been opened and expanded to include laypeople," meaning religious brothers, "we believe the church will look at that in the future," she told reporters.

The two religious brothers with voting rights are superiors general of their orders, she said. "I am a superior general. I am a sister. So logically you would think that I would have the right to vote. But that point was not addressed prior to the synod beginning."

However, Sister Hodgdon and the other women at the briefing said that even more important than who gets to vote at the synod is the question of how the Catholic Church at every level can learn to promote cooperation and collaboration between men and women, young and old, ordained and laypeople.

Male and female are the "basic diversity" within the church and it only makes sense to fully honor that and allow that diversity to have a voice, said Xaviere Missionary Sister Nathalie Becquart.

The French sister also was involved in the presynod gathering of young adults in Rome in March and she said it was clear there that it is "natural" for young men and young women to work together. "It's generational," she said.

Several questions at the Vatican's synod briefing earlier in the day regarded the presence of women and their lack of a vote.

"It's a Synod of Bishops," said Father Bruno Cadore, master of the Dominican order. But, he said, the synod rules allow for "representatives" of religious life to participate, and they should be both men and women. "You know," he said, "that 80 percent of consecrated people in the church are women?"

Because the synod "is not a deliberative body, so it is not tied to priestly ordination, I think in the future there will be a Synod of Bishops that says, 'We want the participation of those who collaborate with us in pastoral work and, for this reason, we will invite representatives of consecrated life,' knowing that -- as I said -- 80 percent of them are women. This should happen."

In fact, he said, with this synod focused on "young people, the faith and vocational discernment," it would have made sense to have more women religious participating, given their work in the field of education, faith formation and vocational promotion.

Father Arturo Sosa, superior general of the Jesuits, said he agreed with Father Cadore that "it is a Synod of Bishops," but he also said he sees an effort by Pope Francis to "deepen the synodality of the church" and strengthen the vision of the church as "the people of God" by ensuring that men and women are treated equally and have an equal voice.

"I think this will help us move forward," Father Sosa said.

The repeated questions about women's participation and an international petition calling on the pope to give women a vote at the synod signify "discomfort, which is a sign that something's wrong," he said. "So one must listen and move forward."

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Copyright © 2018 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.

Catholic leaders welcome PEPFAR reauthorization in Congress

IMAGE: CNS photo/Jonathan Ernst, Reuters

By

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Two Catholic leaders applauded congressional committees for reauthorizing the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, opening the door for final passage of a bill to keep the program in place for another five years.

Citing how the 15-year-old program has saved millions of lives around the world and prevented millions of new infections, Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services, chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on International Justice and Peace, and Sean Callahan, president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services, said in a statement Oct. 15 the program ensures U.S. leadership in the campaign against HIV, AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.

Funds under the program, known as PEPFAR, support numerous services such as providing free antiretroviral medicines for eligible patients, support for families devastated by AIDS, after-school programs for children whose parents died from the disease and their caregivers, transportation for health services and counseling.

Callahan and Archbishop Broglio said the program is worthwhile even though they hold "principled concerns" about some aspects of PEPFAR and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS through which funds are funneled that are inconsistent with Catholic teaching. Therefore, they said, church agencies do not implement or advocate for them.

CRS, the U.S. bishops' overseas relief and development agency, has received funding under PEPFAR since 2004. PEPFAR was supported by the USCCB after its staff worked to ensure that conscience protections were included in the law authorizing the program.

PEPFAR "is one of the most successful global health programs in history demonstrating U.S. leadership in saving lives and safeguarding human dignity of the most vulnerable people," the leaders said.

The number of deaths caused by AIDS and other serious diseases each year has been reduced by one-third since 2002 in countries where the Global Fund invests. The program also has supported 6.4 million orphans, vulnerable children and their caregivers over the years.

"Saving lives and protecting the future of vulnerable children is a proud U.S. legacy thanks to the U.S. Congress," the statement said.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee approved the reauthorization Sept. 27 while the Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed the measure Oct. 3.

A final vote on the bill in both houses of Congress is expected this fall.

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Copyright © 2018 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: Limousine crash 'heartbreaking, gut-wrenching' for N.Y. community

IMAGE: CNS photo/Lori Van Buren, Times Union

By Kate Blain

ALBANY, N.Y. (CNS) -- Among the 20 people killed in a devastating limousine accident Oct. 6 in Schoharie were several victims who had connections to parishes, schools and Catholic organizations of the Albany Diocese.

All 17 passengers in the limo and its driver were killed when the car ran through a stop sign, struck two pedestrians and a parked car, and landed in a shallow ravine. The pedestrians also died. Police have arrested the owner of the limousine company and charged him with criminally negligent homicide.

Among the fatalities was Amanda Halse, 26, a server, bartender and supervisor at the restaurant at Shaker Pointe senior living community in Watervliet, sponsored by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet. Her boyfriend, Patrick Cushing, also died in the crash.

Gregory Reeves, regional vice president for Lifestyles, the company that runs the restaurant, recalled the young woman everyone called "Mandy" as low-key, with a "Mona Lisa smile." Halse had worked at Shaker Pointe for the past three years, since the restaurant opened.

"She had an infectious smile," Reeves said, and "what was behind it was a desire to please."

He said he had spoken to Halse about pursuing a career in the restaurant industry; he believed she had what it took to succeed.

Sister Kay Ryan, who also is part of Shaker Pointe's leadership team, agreed with that assessment.

When customers arrived at the restaurant, she said, "Mandy would say, 'Can I get you what you normally order, or are you trying to experiment?'"

"It's such a tragedy that this person who had such potential is not going to be here to fulfill it," Sister Kay told The Evangelist, Albany's diocesan newspaper. "She certainly lived the mission of Shaker Pointe."

Cushing, Halse's boyfriend, graduated from eighth grade at St. Mary's Institute in Amsterdam in 2001.

"He was a wonderful, quiet, shy kid," recalled the school's alumni relations director, Jeanette Constantine, who knew several of the victims and their families.

Constantine noted that newlyweds Shane McGowan and Erin Vertucci McGowan, two more of the crash victims, also attended St. Mary's Institute through seventh grade and second grade, respectively.

The school remembered the victims in morning prayers when the school reopened Oct. 9 after Columbus Day weekend. Constantine said they would also be mentioned in an upcoming liturgy.

The McGowans married in June at St. Mary's Church in Amsterdam.

Mrs. McGowan, who was working toward a master's degree in special education, had worked at St. Mary's Healthcare in Amsterdam. The hospital posted on Facebook that "St. Mary's Healthcare family sends thoughts and prayers to the families and friends of those affected by the Schoharie tragedy" and noted that the community is "(coming) together to support one another during this difficult time."

Mrs. McGowan also was Cushing's cousin. One current pre-kindergarten student at St. Mary's Institute lost an uncle in the accident. Another victim's godchild attends the school.

The intertwined connections are an indication of the closeness of the Amsterdam-area community. Two Catholics told The Evangelist that family members had been on school sports teams with several of the victims and were coached by others.

Constantine said her nephew was a close friend of Cushing's and had flown in from Chicago to attend a candlelight vigil held the evening of Oct. 8 at the Amsterdam pedestrian bridge.

Maryknoll Father Jeffrey L'Arche, pastor of St. Mary's Parish in Amsterdam, attended that vigil, which drew well over 1,000 people. He said the candles ran out before all the participants could take one.

A funeral Mass was celebrated for eight of the victims Oct. 13 at St. Stanislaus Church in Amsterdam and for Cushing the same day at St. Mary's Church, also in Amsterdam. The funeral Mass for the McGowans was being celebrated Oct. 15 also at St. Mary's.

Constantine, Father L'Arche and others used similar words to describe the tragedy: "overwhelming," "heartbreaking" and "gut-wrenching."

Constantine said the hundreds of thousands of dollars already raised for children and other survivors through online GoFundMe pages, as well as the sheer number of memorials held for the victims, show the depth of the tragedy.

The accident has been called the deadliest transportation accident in the United States since 2009.

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Blain is editor of The Evangelist, newspaper of the Diocese of Albany.

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Copyright © 2018 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.

El Salvador celebrates its first saint, whose legacy continues

IMAGE: CNS photo/Jose Cabezas, Reuters

By David Agren

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador (CNS) -- Near the end of his homily at a Mass just prior to St. Oscar Romero's canonization, Jesuit Father Jose Maria Tojeira yelled to the crowd outside the Metropolitan Cathedral: "Viva Monsenor Romero!" (Long live Bishop Romero!)

The overflow crowed lustily yelled back, "Que Viva!" (Long live!)

"We're not venerating a body," Father Tojeira said, "rather someone who is alive, together with God and in the hearts of all Christians that want to continue with the reality of the Gospel."

During the Oct. 14 at the Vatican -- very early morning in El Salvador -- Salvadorans gathered in the square outside the cathedral to watch the ceremony on big screens; others watched in their parishes.

St. Romero was shot dead while celebrating Mass March 24, 1980. His legacy of showing a preference for the poor and promoting peace lives on in his native El Salvador, where, even in death, he plays an outsized role in the country's public life and occupies a special place in its collective consciousness -- for devotees and detractors alike.

He becomes El Salvador's first saint. But his current role in the country transcends religion. He also has assumed the status of national hero, whose words -- spoken in homilies -- sound prophetic and seem apt almost four decades after his death.

"He still is the most venerated and respected leader of the last 100 years, certainly the last 50 years," said Rick Jones, youth and migration adviser for Catholic Relief Services in El Salvador.

"He's still the sign post of what people are looking for in terms of some voice that talks about reconciliation, justice and hope for nonviolent transformation."

St. Romero's slaying came as the country was on the cusp of civil war, which roared through the 1980s. His canonization comes as the country convulses with violence, much of it attributed to gangs preying on populations living in barrios under their control.

As archbishop of San Salvador, the national capital, St. Romero accompanied the poor at a time when some two-thirds of the population lived in poverty. He also voiced people's demands for better wages and criticisms of the "oligarchy"  -- as the elites were caustically called -- at a time when his critics considered such talk "communist." He also called for a suspension of U.S. military assistance.

The poverty and inequality St. Romero spoke out against are still rife in 2018. Many Salvadorans also still flee the country to escape the violence and indignities, causing his words to resonate with younger generations and even some evangelicals and atheists.

"What he said is still valid. His words still carry enormous weight," said Douglas Martinez, a vendor in San Salvador. "He was practically a prophet on this earth."

Canonization was never certain for St. Romero, though some in the country have long considered him a saint.

"For me and for many people in the country -- a good number of people with a social commitment -- Bishop Romero has been a saint since his martyrdom, and now it's going to be the formal act," said Gabina Dubon, coordinator of the transformational social ministry in Caritas El Salvador.

"In that time there was no freedom of expression. He became a voice for those without a voice, a defender of life, dignity, solidarity and the common good."

St. Romero served only three years as archbishop of San Salvador, yet he left a legacy via his homilies, which were broadcast across the country.

Participants in a procession to the cathedral carried signs with quotes culled from those homilies. "There's no more diabolical sin than taking bread from the hungry," read one sign. "It's necessary to call injustice by its name," read another.

The celebrations carried political overtones for some. A U.N. truth commission named Roberto d'Aubuisson, an ex-army officer and founder of the conservative ARENA alliance, as the intellectual author of the murder. He died of cancer in 1992.

Father Neftali Ruiz carried a banner castigating ARENA, but saying of Romero, "The people made him a saint."

Father Ruiz stood outside the same cathedral where tens of thousands of Salvadorans mourned St. Romero at his funeral. Snipers opened fire on the funeral, killing at least 40 people.

Only one Salvadoran bishop attended the funeral: Archbishop Arturo Rivera Damas, who was named St. Romero's successor in San Salvador.

"He always defended Romero," Father Tojeira said of Archbishop Rivera, "but speaking in confidence ... he would say, 'A bishop like Romero arrives every 500 years.'"

The St. Romero canonization showed how time had changed in the country and church though, in an interview, Father Tojeira quipped of St. Romero's critics, "They used to say 'communist.' They now have a little more civilized discourse but continue being similar."

Celebrations of the canonization occurred in dioceses across El Salvador -- even in San Vicente, where priests would bless army helicopters during the civil war. Father Ruiz recalled being expelled from the minor seminary there in 2000 for refusing to stop displaying an image of St. Romero.

Today, images of St. Romero grace everything from postage stamps to murals to the walls of the presidential palace to political ads, as the ruling party attempts to capitalize on his popularity and incorruptible reputation.

That politicians try to appropriate St. Romero's image bothers some devotees as crime, corruption and poverty persist at alarmingly high levels. St. Romero also criticized both sides of the political spectrum.

"(Politicians) don't practice what he preached," said Elsy Cornejo, who was selling CDs of St. Romero's homilies. "He spoke of peace and accompanying the poor."

With the murder rate in El Salvador ranking among the highest in the world and gangs preying on poor barrio dwellers with crimes such as extortion and the forced recruitment of teenagers, Cornejo added, "We're also practicing very little of what he preached."

Church observers expressed hope St. Romero's canonization could bring unity to a country with polarized politics and offer a possibility of improvement.

"He presents a figure for reconciliation," Jones said, "and a different way to move forward other than ... just the left or the right."

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St. Romero's brothers rejoice at his canonization

IMAGE: CNS photo/Jose Cabezas, Reuters

By Melissa Vida

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Before the sun rose in Rome Oct. 14, 88-year-old Gaspar Romero and his brother, 93-year-old Tiberio Romero were at the head of the line of thousands of people waiting to get into St. Peter's Square.

The two were at the Vatican for the canonization of their brother, St. Oscar Romero, the archbishop of San Salvador who was assassinated in 1980.

In the glow of the lights under the colonnade surrounding St. Peter's Square, the Romero brothers and other family members waited with a group of priests from El Salvador.

"Thanks to this event, our country has become known in the whole world," Gaspar Romero told Catholic News Service. "So many people in the world were waiting for this."

While standing in line, he shared an anecdote of the honors his brother received throughout the years.

"The biggest honor was when Queen Elizabeth of England contacted me," he said, explaining it happened under atypical circumstances. "I had seen in the papers that the Westminster Abbey was preparing a statue (of Archbishop Romero in 1998), and so I wrote a thank-you note to them."

A few days later, the British ambassador visited Gaspar Romero at his home and invited him to meet the queen. "For me that was something unexpected, unexplainable and unasked for," he said with a chuckle.

The Anglican Church, while not formally canonizing St. Romero, honored him and nine others as "martyrs of the 20th century" and erected their statues in Westminster Abbey. Lord Rowan Williams, the former archbishop of Canterbury, led an official delegation of the Anglican Communion at the canonization Mass in St. Peter's Square.

Although he had kept a low profile in the wake of his brother's death, Gaspar Romero recently has begun to share his experience publicly.

"I feel proud as a brother and as a family member," he said, "but also as part of the (Salvadoran) people because over there, they love him a lot."

The younger Romero said his trip to Rome made him realize just how much people from around the globe share that sentiment.

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Copyright © 2018 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.