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Martyred priest 'always served those most in need,' says Guatemalan

IMAGE: CNS photo/Steve Sisney, Archdiocese of Oklahoma City

By Tony Gutierrez

OKLAHOMA CITY (CNS) -- Wearing a red and black traditional Guatemalan shirt that had belonged to martyred U.S. priest Father Stanley Rother, Ronald Arteaga traveled from his village of Santiago Atitlan to witness the Sept. 23 beatification of the pastor he knew as "Padre Aplas."

Even though Arteaga was only 10 when now-Blessed Rother was martyred in 1981, he remembers "he was always with the people of Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala, and more than that, he identified with our indigenous population."

The sleeves on Arteaga's shirt had to be rolled up because, as he recalled, Blessed Rother was a tall man.

"He learned to speak Tz'utujil, the language of my people, and he always served the people most in need," Arteaga said.

When Blessed Rother was killed, Arteaga recalled, it "broke the hearts of the entire village," but "we had hope that he would receive this honor and thanks be to God that this day has arrived!"

An estimated 20,000 packed the Cox Convention Center from across the country and throughout the world to witness the beatification of the native Oklahoman who would become the first U.S.-born martyr. Ordained for the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City in 1963, Blessed Rother went to the archdiocesan mission in Santiago Atitlan. He was gunned down in his rectory by three masked men in 1981.

Pope Francis recognized the priest's martyrdom last December, making him the first martyr born in the United States and clearing the way for his beatification.

"We're amazed at the size of the crowd and delighted so many people are interested in celebrating his life," said Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City during a media availability. "He's a local hero whose reputation goes far beyond Oklahoma."

Father Don Wolf, a cousin of Blessed Rother, made an appeal for continued support of the missions the martyr served in Santiago Atitlan and Cerro de Oro.

"For the people of his parish in Santiago Atitlan and Cerro de Oro and all of us here in Oklahoma, he has led our eyes unwaveringly to the kingdom of God," Father Wolf said.

It was for Father Wolf's ordination in May 1981 that Blessed Rother made his last visit to the United States, which Father Wolf said is a distinction that links his priesthood to his cousin's.

"At ordination they invoke the saints ... at my ordination we had one," Father Wolf said. "It's an enormous inspiration and an enormous challenge -- the kind of service his priesthood embodied is the kind of service that I strive to."

Francisco "Chico" Chavajay, program coordinator for Unbound Project in Guatemala, was only 1 when Blessed Rother was killed, but grew up in San Pedro, which is near Santiago Atitlan, knowing who "Padre Alpas" was and the impact he had on the community.

"My family benefited from the hospital he founded because one of my sisters went to the hospital when I was 8 years old, and we didn't have access to a closer hospital," Chavajay recalled. "If it wasn't for his work, it would probably have been a different story for my sister."

Chavajay now works for Unbound, an U.S.-based organization founded in 1981 by five lay Catholics, including one who had worked with Blessed Rother in Guatemala. Unbound works with children and the elderly in poor and marginalized communities throughout the world. In Guatemala, Chavajay is responsible for serving more than 60,000 families.

"For us, he's like an angel we have in heaven to support this cause," Chavajay said. "We feel that Padre Aplas' hand and prayers in heaven are helping guide us in this life to continue bringing the Gospel and salvation to our brothers and sisters in need."

Seminarians Estevan Wetzel and Ian Wintering from the Diocese of Phoenix traveled to the ordination with a group of fellow seminarians attending St. John Vianney Seminary in Denver. They were introduced to Blessed Rother's story through their Oklahoma brothers.

"His ordinary 'yeses' came with a great faith that at the end allowed him to receive a martyr's crown," Wetzel said.

Seminarians from Phoenix typically complete their Spanish immersion program in Antigua, Guatemala, which is near the Santiago Atitlan mission. Wintering hopes to visit Blessed Rother's shrine when he studies there next summer. He said he pulls inspiration from the slain priest's "humility and simplicity."

"I know how broken I am, and how humble he was," Wintering reflected. "I seek his intercession because being a 'nobody' priest, he rose to glory by following God's will, and I hope to do that in my own nothingness."

Sister Gabina Colo, local superior of the Missionary Sisters of the Eucharist in Houston, brought her community to the beatification.

"He was a missionary in Guatemala -- he gave his whole life to the people of Guatemala," Sister Gabina said. "Since we're from Guatemala, it encourages us to be missionaries here in the United States, so we can follow his example."

Father Guillermo Trevino traveled from the Diocese of Davenport, Iowa, for the beatification. Serving in an area that relies heavily on agriculture, Father Trevino was impressed at Blessed Rother's "ordinariness." The future martyr was raised on his family's farm about three miles from Okarche.

"The thing is he was so ordinary, but he had great gifts. In Guatemala he'd be working the farm," said Father Trevino, finding inspiration in his example. In particular, he pointed to a line the late priest uttered that illustrates the devotion he had to his flock: "The shepherd cannot run." "Can I do this?" Father Trevino has asked himself.

Dolores Mendoza Cervantes knew Padre Aplas in Santiago Atitlan. Her father, Juan Mendoza Lacan, helped him to translate the Bible into Tz'utujil, and was himself killed less than a year later on June 22, 1982. Dolores came to the U.S. at 16 because she had threats on her own life, but pointed out as a result of their efforts, "all the newer generations can read the language."

She now lives in Danube, California, with her husband, Robert Cervantes. They said the government at the time considered teaching the Tz'utujil to read a threat.

"Father Stanley and my father-in-law were brave enough to stand up to them," Robert said. "They knew they were going to be killed someday, but that didn't stop them from translating the Bible into Tz'utujil."

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Gutierrez is editor of The Catholic Sun, newspaper of the Diocese of Phoenix.

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Copyright © 2017 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.

Blessed Rother 'an authentic light' for church and world, says cardinal

IMAGE: CNS photo/Dave Crenshaw, Eastern Oklahoma Catholic

By

OKLAHOMA CITY (CNS) -- If the martyrdom of Blessed Stanley Francis Rother "fills us with sadness," it also "gives us the joy of admiring the kindness, generosity and courage of a great man of faith," Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for Saints' Causes, said Sept. 23 in Oklahoma City.

The 13 years Blessed Rother spent as a missionary in Guatemala "will always be remembered as the glorious epic of a martyr of Christ, an authentic lighted torch of hope for the church and the world," the cardinal said in his homily during the U.S. priest's beatification Mass.

"Formed in the school of the Gospel, he saw even his enemies as fellow human beings. He did not hate, but loved. He did not destroy, but built up," Cardinal Amato said. 

"This is the invitation that Blessed Stanley Francis Rother extends to us today. To be like him as witnesses and missionaries of the Gospel. Society needs these sowers of goodness," he said. "Thank you, Father Rother! Bless us from heaven!"

The cardinal was the main celebrant of the beatification Mass, joined by Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City and his predecessor, retired Archbishop Eusebius J. Beltran, who formally opened the Rother sainthood cause 10 years ago.

An overflow crowd of 20,000 packed the Cox Convention Center in Oklahoma City for the beatification of Father Rother, murdered in 1981 as he served the faithful at a mission in Guatemala sponsored by the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City. The evening before a prayer service was held at St. Benedict Parish in Broken Arrow.

In Rome, Pope Francis said Sept. 24: "May his heroic example help us be courageous witnesses of the Gospel, dedicating ourselves in supporting human dignity." After praying the Angelus with visitors gathered in St. Peter's Square, the pope recalled the "missionary priest, killed out of hatred for the faith, for his work in evangelization and the human advancement of the poorest in Guatemala."

In Oklahoma City, before the Sept. 23 Mass began, the congregation was shown a documentary made about his life and ministry titled "The Shepherd Cannot Run: Father Rother's Story." Then Cardinal Amato, Archbishop Coakley, Archbishop Beltran and about 50 other U.S. bishops, over 200 priests and about 200 deacons processed in for the start of the beatification ceremony.

Archbishop Coakley welcomed Catholics "from near and far" who traveled to Oklahoma "to celebrate the life and witness of Father Rother." He acknowledged the ecumenical, interfaith and civic leaders in attendance and those joining the celebration by watching live coverage of it on the internet, TV and radio.

Before Cardinal Amato read the apostolic letter declaring Father Rother "Blessed," Archbishop Beltran gave some remarks, saying that little did Father Rother know that his growing-up years on his family's farm near Okarche "would mold him into the kind of man who would make great strides when he volunteered to go to Guatemala."

"He struggled in seminary," the archbishop remarked, referring to the difficulty the priest had with learning Latin. He was nearly expelled because he had such a hard time, but he went on to be ordained for the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City in 1963. Once in Guatemala to serve in Santiago Atitlan, he learned Tz'utujil, the language of the many Mayan descendants who were his parishioners. He helped translate the Bible into Tz'utujil.

He worked side by side with the people "teaching them many of the agricultural practices he learned in Okarche," Archbishop Beltran said.

The mission was about 10 years old when Father Rother arrived in 1968 and had a staff of 10, but the number of missionaries dwindled as Guatemala's civil war, which began in 1960 and lasted until 1996, intensified. Eventually, Father Rother's name appeared on a death list and he returned home.

"His ways were very quiet and unassuming but eventually he began to receive death threats," the archbishop continued. "He made infrequent visits (back to Oklahoma). On his last visit (in 1981) he felt the need to return to his people no matter what the consequences."

Friends recalled him saying, "The shepherd cannot run. I want to be with my people." Within three days of his return, three men entered his rectory in the dead of night and murdered him.

"His saintly life has become well known beyond boundaries of Oklahoma and Guatemala and the faith of those familiar with his life has been greatly strengthened. How grateful we are to almighty God this day for the beatification of Father Rother," Archbishop Beltran said.

Cardinal Amato followed the archbishop by reading the formal letter about the priest's beatification. When he concluded, a huge colorful banner was unfurled above the altar with a likeness of Blessed Rother and an image of his Guatemalan mission and the Oklahoma City archdiocesan coat of arms at the bottom.

His feast day will be celebrated July 28, the day when he was fatally shot in the head by masked men.

Relics of Blessed Rother, including a piece from one of his rib bones, were brought to the altar in a golden reliquary and set on a small table to the left of the main altar. Cardinal Amato venerated the relics and censed the reliquary.

Rother family members then came up to the altar to greet the cardinal: his sister, Sister Marita Rother, a member of the Adorers of the Blood of Christ, who lives at her community's motherhouse in Wichita, Kansas; and his brother Tom and his wife, Marti, who live on the farm where the martyred priest and his siblings grew up, located three miles from the center of Okarche.

In his remarks, Archbishop Coakley said that on behalf of the local church in Oklahoma "and in communion with my brother bishops in the United States and Guatemala," he felt "profound gratitude" for the opportunity to help celebrate the beatification of a native son.

"We are grateful for your (Pope Francis) recognition of the heroic witness of this good shepherd (who) remained with his people," the archbishop said. "He gave his life in solidarity with so many suffering individuals and family who endured persecution for the sake of the Gospel. We pray the church will experience a new Pentecost and an abundance of vocations to the priesthood inspired by the witness and aided by the intercession of Blessed Stanley Rother."

He thanked Archbishop Beltran for formally opening the Rother cause, as well as the postulator, Andrea Ambrosi of Rome, who attended the Mass, and the many men and women who worked diligently over many years to advance the cause and "make known the holiness and heroism of this ordinary priest."

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Copyright © 2017 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.

Worst sin is doubting God waits for all sinners to convert, pope says

IMAGE: CNS photo/Alessandro Bianchi, Reuters

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The worst sin of all is not trusting in God's infinite love and not believing that God is always waiting for his sinning children to return to him, Pope Francis said.

"He is always at the door, waiting for me to open it just a tiny bit to let him in, and to not be afraid" of past sins getting in the way of conversion, the pope said in a homily Sept. 24.

The pope celebrated Mass in the Vatican garden's grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes for the Gendarme Corps of Vatican City State, as the Vatican police force is formally known. The Mass came ahead of the Sept. 29 feast day of the security service's patron saint, St. Michael the Archangel.

Pope Francis told the police officers that the purpose of life is to seek the Lord and to convert, but one must realize it is God who takes the first step to encounter people.

"Our God doesn't tire of going out to look for us, of letting us see that he loves us" even though everyone is a sinner, he said.

God goes out into the world, sending his son among sinners, and calls out "Come!" the pope said. Even if people respond, "But it's so late" and there are so many sins, "for God it is never late. Never, ever! This is his logic of conversion."

"He respects every person's freedom, but he is there, waiting for us to open the door just a little," the pope said.

"The worst of sins, I think, is not understanding that he is always there waiting for me, not having faith in this love, distrusting God's love," he said.

Later in the day, reciting the Angelus prayer with visitors in St. Peter's Square, the pope underlined the same theme based on the day's Gospel reading of the parable in which Jesus says the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who goes out from dawn to day's end looking for laborers for his vineyard. And those who started late in the day receive the same equal pay as those who began early and did more work.

It is difficult for people to understand God's logic, the pope said, because he is generous and offers salvation freely -- not because of merit or because the person worked for it -- but because it is a gift.

"It's about letting oneself be amazed and won over by the thinking and ways of God," which, "fortunately for us" do not correspond to human ways and logic, he said.

"Human thinking is often marked by selfishness and personal profit, and our narrow and twisting paths are not commensurate to the wide and straight roads of the Lord," the pope said.

"He uses mercy," the pope said, "he forgives broadly, he is full of generosity and goodness which he pours over each one of us, he opens to everyone the limitless territories of his love and grace," which are the only thing that can fill the human heart with the fullness of joy.

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Copyright © 2017 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.

Group issues what it calls 'filial correction' of pope's teaching

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Several dozen priests, scholars and writers have published what they described as a "filial correction" of some of Pope Francis' teachings about marriage -- particularly about access to the sacraments for divorced and civilly remarried Catholics.

The best-known name among the signatories is Bishop Bernard Fellay, superior general of the traditionalist Priestly Society of St. Pius X, a group still involved in talks with the Vatican aimed at regularizing its status within the Catholic Church.

The letter originally was signed by 40 people and delivered to Pope Francis in August; the writers said they did not receive a response, so they released it publicly Sept. 24, launching a website as well: www.correctiofilialis.org.

The Vatican press office had no comment about the letter.

U.S. Cardinal Raymond L. Burke, former head of the Vatican's top court, and German Cardinal Walter Brandmuller, former president of the Pontifical Committee for Historical Sciences, did not sign the letter. Along with two other cardinals who are now deceased, they publicly released in September 2016 a critical set of questions, known as "dubia," that they had sent to Pope Francis about his teaching on the family.

As recently as August, Cardinal Burke spoke in an interview about issuing a "formal correction" of Pope Francis if he refused to respond to the "dubia." The correction, he said, would be a declaration of church teaching, rather than a set of questions.

The new letter accuses Pope Francis of "the propagation of heresies effected by the apostolic exhortation 'Amoris Laetitia' and by other words, deeds and omissions of Your Holiness."

"Amoris Laetitia" ("The Joy of Love") is the document Pope Francis released in 2016 reflecting on the discussions and conclusions of the meetings in 2014 and 2015 of the Synod of Bishops on the family.

In the document, Pope Francis affirmed church teaching that the sacrament of marriage is the bond of one man and one woman united for life and open to having children.

However, the document also encouraged parishes and priests to reach out to couples whose marriages have failed, reminding them that they have not been excommunicated.

In "Amoris Laetitia," Pope Francis asked pastors: to accompany those who have remarried civilly; to check if their sacramental marriage was valid or if they could receive a decree of nullity; and to lead them in a process of discernment about their responsibility for the breakup and about their current situation in light of church teaching. The document seemed to open the possibility -- in certain cases and after the discernment process -- of allowing them to receive absolution and Communion even without promising to abstain from sexual relations with their new partner.

The "filial correction" lists what its authors see as seven "false and heretical propositions" in "Amoris Laetitia," including: a belief that God's grace does not give a believer the strength to meet "the objective demands of divine law"; that divorced and civilly remarried persons "are not necessarily in a state of mortal sin"; that a person can break divine law and not be in a state of sin; that a person can decide in good conscience that sexual relations are morally permissible or even good with someone other than the person they married sacramentally; and that "our Lord Jesus Christ wills that the church abandon her perennial discipline of refusing the Eucharist to the divorced and remarried."

The letter asked the pope to publicly reject the seven propositions.

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Copyright © 2017 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.

Bishops: Amend repeal bill to protect poor, keep ban on abortion coverage

IMAGE: CNS photo/Joshua Roberts, Reuters

By Julie Asher

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The latest version of a Republican measure in the Senate to repeal the Affordable Care Act must be amended to protect poor and vulnerable Americans, said the chairmen of four U.S. bishops' committees.

"As you consider the Graham-Cassidy legislation as a possible replacement for the Affordable Care Act, we urge you to think of the harm that will be caused to poor and vulnerable people and amend the legislation while retaining its positive features," the bishops said in a letter to all senators released Sept. 22.

Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana have co-sponsored the legislation.

"Without significant improvement, this bill does not meet the moral criteria for health care reform outlined in our previous letters and must be changed," they said. That criteria includes respect for life and dignity; honoring conscience rights; access for all; and a high-quality plan that is affordable and comprehensive.

The bishops criticized the measure's Medicaid "per capita cap" because it puts an "insufferable burden" on poor and vulnerable Americans. They did praise the bill for correcting "a serious flaw" in the ACA by ensuring "no federal funds are used for abortion or go to plans that cover it." They called on senators to amend the bill to address it flaws but retain the pro-life provisions.

The Graham-Cassidy bill would repeal the ACA and replace it with block grants for the states to spend as they see fit. The block grants' size, though, would shrink over time and disappear altogether in 2027. The Senate is working under a Sept. 30 deadline to pass the bill.

The letter was signed by Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Pro-Life Activities; Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, chairman of the Committee for Religious Liberty; Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development; and Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, chairman of the Committee on Migration.

The USCCB also launched an action alert -- http://bit.ly/2xvbHag -- urging Catholics to contact their senators to urge them "to protect health care for poor and vulnerable people."

"The Graham-Cassidy bill includes a Medicaid 'per capita cap' that was part of previous bills, which have been rejected," the bishops wrote. "The Medicaid caps will fundamentally restructure this vital program, which supports the medical needs of those most in need. Over time, these modifications will result in deep funding cuts and lost coverage for millions of people.

"The Senate should only proceed with a full report concerning just how many people will be impacted," they said. "Our nation must not attempt to address its fiscal concerns by placing an insufferable health care burden on the backs of the poor."

The bishops said the proposal does "correct a serious flaw" flaw in the ACA by making sure "no federal funds are used for abortion or go to plans that cover it."

"This improvement is praiseworthy, and it is essential that any improved final bill retain these key provisions which would finally address grave moral problems in our current health care system," they said. "We also applaud that Graham-Cassidy redirects funds from organizations that provide abortion."

But they took the bill to task for giving block grants to states "in place of premium tax credits, cost-sharing subsidies and the Medicaid expansion," saying that arrangement will only harm the poor.

"While flexibility can be good at times, these block grants will result in billions of dollars in reductions for those in health care poverty," they said. "States already face significant deficits each budget cycle, and these block grants mean dollars intended for low income individuals and families will suddenly face competition from many other state priorities."

The country "can ill afford to put access to health care for those most in need in jeopardy this way" because, the bishops continued, "the costs to our communities, including public and private organizations at all levels, will be too high."

"Decisions about the health of our citizens -- a concern fundamental to each of us -- should not be made in haste simply because an artificial deadline looms," they said.

"The far-reaching implications of Congress' actions are too significant for that kind of governance," the committee chairmen said.

They told senators that "the common good should call you to come together in a bi-partisan way to pass thoughtful legislation that addresses the life, conscience, immigrant access, market stability and affordability problems that now exist."

"Your constituents, especially those with no voice of their own in this process, deserve no less," they concluded.

Earlier this year, as Senate Republicans drafted and debated an ACA repeal measure, the U.S. bishops in letters and statements repeatedly urged Congress to craft a bill meeting the moral criteria of respect for life and dignity; honoring conscience rights; access for all; and a high-quality plan that is affordable and comprehensive.

When the Senate failed to get enough votes to pass what was being called a "skinny" repeal to remove parts of the Affordable Care Act in the early hours of July 28, Bishop Dewane in a statement said the "task of reforming the health care system still remains."

The nation's health care system under the ACA "is not financially sustainable" and "lacks full Hyde protections and conscience rights," he said at the time. He also noted the health care system "is inaccessible to many immigrants," he said in a statement.

The U.S. bishops have advocated for universal and affordable health care for decades and they supported the general goal of the Affordable Care Act, which was passed in 2010, but the bishops ultimately opposed the law because it expanded the federal role in abortion and failed to expand health care protections to immigrants.

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Copyright © 2017 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.

Agencies, host countries tackling needs of growing number of refugees

By Beth Griffin

NEW YORK (CNS) -- Humanitarian organizations and host countries struggle to develop new ways to address both immediate and long-term needs of an unprecedented number of people who have fled conflict situations around the globe, according to panelists at a Sept. 21 aid agency forum in New York.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees estimates more than 65 million people worldwide were forcibly displaced from their homes by the end of 2016 as a result of persecution, conflict, violence or human rights violations. This is an increase of 300,000 from the previous year. The record high number includes more than 40 million people displaced within their own countries.

Bill O'Keefe, vice president for government relations and advocacy for Catholic Relief Services, said the "average refugee" can expect to spend up to 25 years in that situation and the countries that host refugees are predominantly low- and middle-income nations.

Speaking at the Church Center of the United Nations, with the iconic international complex clearly visible through the huge windows behind them, panelists described recent efforts to institute systemic reforms while responding to challenging day-to-day needs of a growing displaced population.

Education is a life-saving intervention, like food, water and shelter, and it is critical to get displaced children back in school as soon as possible, Giulia McPherson said. She is the director of advocacy and operations for Jesuit Refugee Services/USA.

McPherson said one in four children globally are affected by crisis and conflict, and refugee children are five times more likely to be out of school than others their age. They also experience learning gaps caused by losing two to four years of schooling.

Education must be an integral part of developing a plan to receive refugees in a host country, McPherson said. In the experience of JRS, recruitment of teachers from the refugee community and investment in teacher training and materials produce good outcomes for students, as does helping refugees to establish parent-teacher associations and student organizations, she said.

Ideally, displaced students use the curriculum of the country where they are hosted, not where they originated. This prepares them for possible inclusion in the national educational system if they cannot or do not return home, McPherson said.

Speakers said involving both refugees and members of the host community is critical to the safety and success of displaced persons.

"Social connections and acceptance are key components of a refugee's integration process and should be prioritized in programming and policy development," said Jennifer Poidatz, vice president for humanitarian response for CRS, the U.S. bishops' overseas relief and development agency based in Baltimore.

Discrimination, restrictive policies and the real or perceived competition for finite resources must be addressed, she said.

"We need to understand and respond to the concerns of the host community, combat stereotypes, and promote awareness. As social acceptance increases, so does a willingness to share resources and information, such as employment opportunities," Poidatz said.

CRS has used puppetry in films and workshops to create a dialogue within the host population and help build relationships in tense situations. Film, theater and puppetry are methodologies to tell refugee stories and break down stereotypes, she said.

The agency's programs target vulnerable displaced people and support host communities, Poidatz said. Aid workers need different competencies for various situations, and must try to understand cultural norms and recognize and address trauma.

In a refugee situation in Greece, Poidatz said, CRS brought members of its national staff from Afghanistan and Balkan countries to interpret the language and share the cultural context of people arriving in Greece from those countries.

Brooke Lauten, humanitarian policy and protection adviser for the Norwegian Refugee Council, said nongovernmental organizations are making strides to ensure that refugees and internally displaced people are actively involved in planning programs from which they benefit. In the past, they were not consulted about their needs and wants, she said.

In addition to prioritizing the protection of refugees and promoting better opportunities, Lauten said attention must be paid to the details of how programs are implemented. Winning an increase in work permits is not helpful if there are no jobs. People cannot be resettled in third countries if their "onward movement" is blocked.

Ultimately, political commitment on a regional scale supports safety and mobility and helps to "avoid a crisis level of need," she said.

Lauten said a 2016 initiative by the government of Kenya to send refugees home to neighboring Somalia was postponed after international organizations protested because Somalia was enduring a drought.

Richard Corbridge, director of international programs for War Child in Canada, said displaced people need access to justice and the rule of law to ensure their safety. Refugee women and girls are especially vulnerable and are more affected by violence than any other population, he said. Dialogue and mediation are peacebuilding tools that War Child has used to foster mutual understanding, particularly among youths.

O'Keefe noted the Sept. 27 launch by Pope Francis of Share the Journey, a two-year global campaign led by Caritas Internationalis to raise the status of refugees around the world by strengthening bonds between migrants and communities.

"The refugee advocacy and service community has come together incredibly strongly for this," he said. "The refugees among us are not the problem. They are fleeing the people we should be afraid of."

"Welcoming the Stranger: Making Lives Better for Refugees in Host Countries" was co-sponsored by Caritas Internationalis and Catholic Relief Services as a side event to the 72nd session of the U.N. General Assembly. It drew on documents and agreements from the U.N. World Humanitarian Summit in May 2016 and the UNHCR Summit for Refugees and Migrants in September 2016.

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Copyright © 2017 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.

Pope says church was late fighting abuse, promises 'zero tolerance'

IMAGE: CNS/L'Osservatore Romano

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis has endorsed an approach of "zero tolerance" toward all members of the church guilty of sexually abusing minors or vulnerable adults.

Having listened to abuse survivors and having made what he described as a mistake in approving a more lenient set of sanctions against an Italian priest abuser, the pope said he has decided whoever has been proven guilty of abuse has no right to an appeal, and he will never grant a papal pardon.

"Why? Simply because the person who does this (sexually abuses minors) is sick. It is a sickness," he told his advisory commission on child protection during an audience at the Vatican Sept. 21. Members of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, including its president -- Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley of Boston -- were meeting in Rome Sept. 21-23 for their plenary assembly.

Setting aside his prepared text, the pope said he wanted to speak more informally to the members, who include lay and religious experts in the fields of psychology, sociology, theology and law in relation to abuse and protection.

The Catholic Church has been "late" in facing and, therefore, properly addressing the sin of sexual abuse by its members, the pope said, and the commission, which he established in 2014, has had to "swim against the tide" because of a lack of awareness or understanding of the seriousness of the problem.

"When consciousness comes late, the means for resolving the problem come late," he said. "I am aware of this difficulty. But it is the reality: We have arrived late."

"Perhaps," he said, "the old practice of moving people" from one place to another and not fully facing the problem "lulled consciences to sleep."

But, he said, "prophets in the church," including Cardinal O'Malley, have, with the help of God, come forward to shine light on the problem of abuse and to urge the church to face it.

Typically when the church has had to deal with new or newly emerging problems, it has turned to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to address the issue, he said. And then, only when the problem has been dealt with adequately does the process for dealing with future cases get handed over to another dicastery, he added.

Because the problem of cases and allegations of abuse are "grave" -- and because it also is grave that some have not adequately taken stock of the problem -- it is important the doctrinal congregation continue to handle the cases, rather than turning them over directly to Vatican tribunals, as some have suggested.

However, he said, the doctrinal congregation will need more personnel to work on cases of abuse in order to expedite the "many cases that do not proceed" with the backlog.

Pope Francis told commission members he wants to better balance the membership of the doctrinal team dealing with appeals filed by clergy accused of abuse. He said the majority of members are canon lawyers, and he would like to balance out their more legalistic approach with more members who are diocesan bishops and have had to deal with abuse in their diocese.

He also said proof that an ordained minister has abused a minor "is sufficient (reason) to receive no recourse" for an appeal. "If there is proof. End of story," the pope said; the sentence "is definitive."

And, he added, he has never and would never grant a papal pardon to a proven perpetrator.

The reasoning has nothing to do with being mean-spirited, but because an abuser is sick and is suffering from "a sickness."

The pope told the commission he has been learning "on the job" better ways to handle priests found guilty of abuse, and he recounted a decision he has now come to regret: that of agreeing in an appeals process to a more lenient sanction against an Italian priest, rather than laicizing him as the doctrinal team recommended.

Pope Francis said he has since learned "it's a terrible sickness" that requires a different approach.

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Follow Glatz on Twitter: @CarolGlatz.

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'They killed a man but created a saint,' prelate says of slain priest

IMAGE: CNS photo/Archdiocese of Oklahoma City archives

By Maria Wiering

ST. PAUL, Minn. (CNS) -- Retired Archbishop Harry J. Flynn was rector of Mount St. Mary's Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland, when he got a call in 1979 from an old friend from the seminary, asking if he could visit for a week.

That friend was Father Stanley Rother, a priest of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City and a missionary in a rural part of Guatemala.

He picked up Father Rother from Dulles International Airport near Washington and was appalled by the horrific situation the priest described in Guatemala. Members of his congregation had disappeared and were presumed dead, victims of a civil war between the government and guerrilla groups.

"If they asked for a few more cents for picking coffee beans, they were considered communists, and a truck would come into the village that night, stop at the home of the man or woman who asked for a few more cents, take them out to the country, torture them, kill them, and then throw their bodies into a well to poison that well," said Archbishop Flynn, who headed the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis from 1995 to 2008.

Father Rother described the situation "with a passion," Archbishop Flynn recalled. "It was haunting him. He said, 'If I speak, they'll kill me, but if keep silent, what kind of a shepherd would I be?'"

The friends shared meals together that week, but Father Rother spent his days praying at the seminary's historic Lourdes grotto, a place he had loved while he and Archbishop Flynn were seminarians at "the Mount." At the end of the week, he told then-Father Flynn, "I know what I must do. I must go back and speak."

"But," Archbishop Flynn recalled, "he also said this: 'They're not going to take me out and kill me somewhere in the country and then throw my body into a well.' He said, 'I'll put up a fight like they've never seen before.'"

Archbishop Flynn took Father Rother to the airport and said goodbye. He knew it would be the last time he would see him alive. Two years later, in 1981, Archbishop Flynn opened a newspaper to read that an American priest had been killed in Guatemala. He didn't have to read further to know it was Father Rother.

Archbishop Flynn was to be among others who knew the priest gathering in Oklahoma City's Cox Convention Center Sept. 23 for Father Rother's beatification. In December 2016, Pope Francis officially recognized Father Rother as a martyr, making him the first U.S.-born martyr recognized by the Catholic Church. Also attending will be members of the Rother family, including distant cousins from Minnesota.

Father Rother grew up on a farm near Okarche, Oklahoma. He was a farm boy with a knack for fixing things. After high school, he left home for seminary in Texas, but he was asked to leave after struggling with Latin. Undeterred, he transferred to the Emmitsburg seminary, where he met Archbishop Flynn, who was three classes ahead of him. Archbishop Flynn noted his friend's deep prayer life.

"We could be downstairs in recreation, laughing and carrying on, and then the bell would ring to go up to chapel for night prayer and Stanley seemed to me to go right into prayer, which I found enviable," Archbishop Flynn recalled in a recent interview with The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Minnesota archdiocese.

The two were in the seminary around the time that Pope John XXIII encouraged U.S. bishops to form partnerships between their dioceses and those in Latin America. The then-Diocese of Oklahoma City-Tulsa paired with the Diocese of Solola, Guatemala. In 1968, Father Rother was asked to minister there in Santiago Atitlan, a mission established by Franciscans. The Mayan people there had been without a priest for nearly a century.

People who knew Father Rother weren't surprised that he returned again and again to Guatemala after the violence began, even with many opportunities to stay in the U.S. The Christmas before he died, he famously wrote to his archbishop, "A shepherd cannot run at the first sign of danger."

On July 28, 1981, three men burst into the parish rectory, demanding Father Rother. He was hiding, but when the men threatened the life of one of his protectors, he emerged. He was ultimately gunned down in his rectory, his knuckles raw from the fight, his spattered blood staining the wall. The Guatemalans left the stains, and to this day, visitors -- many of them pilgrims -- can see the aftermath of what the gunmen did to their priest. The fatal bullet remains lodged in the wall.

In 1999, Archbishop Flynn traveled to Father Rother's church in Santiago Atitlan, visited the room where he was shot to death and celebrated Mass in the parish church. Father Rother's body returned to Oklahoma, but the missionary's heart was left behind with the Guatemalans, who have since enshrined it as a relic.

Archbishop Flynn also prays for his friend's intercession, keeping his photograph on his altar for Mass. He feels that he had a graced opportunity to be with Father Rother that summer while he was discerning his impending death.

"I'll always remember sitting in the room where he was martyred, and sitting there and looking at his blood all over the wall, splattered, and experiencing anger in my heart with the people who did that to him -- this gentle, gentle shepherd," he said, "and then realizing what he would have said -- something that Christ said, 'They don't even know what they're doing,' and they probably didn't. ... They killed a man, but they created a saint."

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Wiering is editor of The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

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Bishop, Caritas staffer say situation in Mexico serious, much aid needed

IMAGE: CNS photo/Francisco Guasco, EPA

By

MEXICO CITY (CNS) -- A Catholic bishop and a Caritas worker in Mexico said the situation was extremely serious after the Sept. 19 earthquake, and much aid would be needed.

"The situation is complicated, because the first earthquake (Sept. 7) had already affected thousands of people in Chiapas and Oaxaca," Alberto Arciniega, head of communications for Caritas Mexico, told Catholic News Service Sept. 20. "The church is continuing to assist those dioceses, but with what happened yesterday, the emergency situation is being re-evaluated to get a more exact assessment of the aid that is needed."

The Vatican announced Sept. 21 that, through the Dicastery for Promoting Human Development, Pope Francis is sending an initial $150,000 to aid Mexico. Money will be distributed by the nuncio to dioceses most affected.

Arciniega said all the dioceses in Mexico were collecting food, water and other necessities for victims of the quakes. He said they were seeking economic support from inside and outside the country.

"We know it is a serious situation, and international aid is being requested," Arciniega told Catholic News Service.

"Rehabilitation and reconstruction will take time and will be expensive," he added. "Thousands of people have been left homeless, and many churches have been damaged."

The magnitude 7.1 quake that hit Sept. 19 was not as strong as the earlier magnitude 8.1 quake, but the second quake was centered in Puebla state, just southeast of Mexico City, as opposed to in the Pacific Ocean. Arciniega said Puebla and Morelos states and Mexico City were worst hit in the second quake, which killed more than 230 people.

In Morelos, just to the south of Mexico City, damage was widespread. Gov. Graco Ramirez put the death toll at 73.

President Enrique Pena Nieto has visited the municipality of Jujutla, where houses were reduced to rubble.

Oscar Cruz, spokesman for the Diocese of Cuernavaca, based in the Morelos state capital, told Catholic News service "the damage is worse ... in many towns that are even poorer."

At least 89 parishes in Morelos state suffered damage or were destroyed, according the National History and Anthropology Institute, which is responsible for Mexico's older churches. The Cuernavaca cathedral, which dates to the 1500s and been undergoing restoration activities, also suffered damage and parts of it cannot be used, Cruz said.

Parish residences also were damaged, leaving priests homeless, Cruz said. A pair of priests were injured by falling debris; one was still hospitalized Sept. 21.

The diocese has started collecting goods for those left homeless.

"People have been extraordinary," Cruz said. "This has been an extraordinary moment of solidarity. People are coming out and saying, 'I want to help.'"

Bishop Ramon Castro of Cuernavaca has been touring the hardest-hit towns of Morelos. The bishop and the state governor had been at odds in recent years of social policies promoted by the governor and the bishop's refusal to stop condemning violence and corruption in the state.

The pair have put aside their differences in the wake of such a disaster, Cruz said.

"There's no working together" on the relief effort, "but we're not getting in each other's way," Cruz said.

Mostly, priests and the bishop "have been trying to be close to the people," he added.

Earlier, Arciniega shared audio of an interview with Bishop Castro, who noted that parishes in his diocese had been collecting items to send to victims of the Sept. 7 earthquake in Chiapas and Oaxaca. Now those items -- if they were not destroyed in the Sept. 19 quake -- will be used locally, the bishop said, adding, "but it will not be enough."

Arciniega was in Oaxaca when he spoke to CNS Sept. 20. He said the Sept. 19 earthquake was felt there, but apparently did not cause damage.

"People (in the south) are worried that the assistance will stop because the cameras and newscasts are focusing on Mexico City. There is fear that the aid will stop and the emphasis will be on the center of the country," he said.

He added that it was raining in Tehuantepec, an area of Oaxaca damaged in the first earthquake, which killed nearly 100 people.

"That makes the housing situation more complicated. Not only did people's homes collapse, but now it's raining, so people are in shelters, they need food. They are setting up community kitchens. We are continuing to evaluate how much the diocese can do to help itself and requesting aid from other dioceses and from outside the country."

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Contributing to this story were David Agren in Mexico City; Barbara Fraser in Lima, Peru; and Cindy Wooden at the Vatican.


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Mercy can scandalize those who don't see their own sin, pope says

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Celebrating the feast of St. Matthew, the anniversary of the day when as a 17-year-old he said he was overwhelmed by God's mercy, Pope Francis said it was interesting how many Catholics today seem to be scandalized when God shows mercy to someone.

In his homily at Mass in the Domus Sanctae Marthae Sept. 21, Pope Francis looked in depth at the day's short Gospel story of the calling of St. Matthew.

The story, the pope said, has three parts: "the encounter, the celebration and the scandal."

Jesus sees Matthew, a tax collector -- "one of those who made the people of Israel pay taxes to give to the Romans, a traitor to his country" -- and calls him to follow. Jesus looks at him "lovingly, mercifully" and "the resistance of that man who wanted money, who was a slave to money, falls."

"That man knew he was a sinner," the pope said. "He was liked by no one and even despised." But it was "precisely that awareness of being a sinner that opened the door to Jesus' mercy. He left everything and followed."

"The first condition for being saved is knowing you are in danger," he said. "The first condition for being healed is feeling sick."

In the Gospel story, Matthew celebrates by inviting Jesus for a meal. Pope Francis said it reminded him of what Jesus said in the Gospel of St. Luke, "There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous people who have no need of repentance."

But, the pope said, the Pharisees saw Jesus with Matthew and were scandalized that he would eat with tax collectors and sinners.

The Pharisees were people who continually repeated, "The law says this, doctrine says that," the pope said. "But they forgot the first commandment of love and were closed in a cage of sacrifices, (saying), 'We make our sacrifices to God, we keep the Sabbath, we do all we should and so we'll be saved.'"

But, the pope said, "God saves us, Jesus Christ saves us and these men did not understand. They felt secure; they thought salvation came from them."

In the same way today, he said, "we often hear faithful Catholics who see mercy at work and ask, 'Why?'"

There are "many, many, always, even in the church today," the pope said. "They say, 'No, no you can't, it's all clear, they are sinners, we must send them away.'"

But, Pope Francis said, Jesus himself answered them when he said, "I have come not to call the just, but sinners." So, "if you want to be called by Jesus, recognize you are a sinner."

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