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Integral ecology: Care for creation means caring for the poor

August 31, 2017 - 11:00am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Cindy Wooden

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Catholic social teaching has developed over the past century as new problems -- human, social, economic and environmental -- come clearer into focus and call out for a faith-based response.

Pope Francis' contribution, with his encyclical, "Laudato Si', on Care for Our Common Home," is to emphasize just how closely entwined those problems are.

"After Laudato Si', for the Catholic Church, these are connected. You cannot try to tackle poverty without caring for the earth and equally you cannot care for the earth without caring for the people who live on the earth," said Father Augusto Zampini Davies, an official at the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.

One of the biggest challenges of Pope Francis' approach is a spiritual one, the Argentine priest said. It involves conversion.

The poor are impacted most by climate change, yet they have done the least to contribute to it, he said. "We must convert and change our lifestyles and help others cope with the climate change we've caused."

People in wealthy countries may think they are "ecologically friendly" because they recycle and "like trees and gardening," he said, "but the way we produce, trade, consume and waste" is not offset by separating plastic from paper.

In addition, wealthy countries "have the resources to mitigate the effects of climate change," for example, in building infrastructure to control flooding and providing emergency relief to victims of natural disasters and drought. But in poor countries, thousands of people die in floods and tens of thousands are forced to migrate because of drought and famine.

"If you cannot grow your crops and feed your children, who wouldn't migrate?" he asked.

In richer countries, the conversion Pope Francis is calling for includes learning to face fear with a Gospel-based attitude toward others and toward future generations, the priest said.

The connections between environmental damage, the global economy and migration are clear, he said. And so are the motives underlying reactions like climate-change denial, isolationism and anti-migrant sentiments.

"What Pope Francis does is say, 'OK, here are the symptoms, let's find the roots,'" Father Zampini Davies said. "The roots are the same: selfishness or indifference or greed or this mentality of thinking that if I have more I will be more important."

In many ways, he said, fear appears to be spreading among people in the wealthiest nations, and "politicians play on people's fears. If I feel I am not benefiting from the global economy and I live in a democracy, I will vote for someone who says they will get us out of that."

Christians can find in their faith a healthy way to handle their fears, he said, "because we have a different approach to the quality of life, to what it means to have a better life, because our understanding of life is relational and our understanding of redemption and salvation is that it is for all of creation."

Transforming the former Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace into the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, Pope Francis specified that the office is an expression of the church's "concern for issues of justice and peace, including those related to migration, health, charitable works and the care of creation."

In other words, for Pope Francis, all those issues together are key components of "integral human development."

Father Zampini Davies, a priest of the Diocese of San Isidro, Argentina, is one of the newest officials at the dicastery. He moved to Rome from London where he spent the last four years serving as a theological adviser to CAFOD, the official aid agency of the bishops of England and Wales.

His focus is "integral ecology," which includes development, the environment and spirituality.

Early development efforts focused almost exclusively on material growth, Father Zampini Davies said, but over time it became obvious that increasing income and purchasing power was not enough. Progress also meant access to education and health care and greater social and political inclusion.

Thanks also to the social teaching of Blessed Paul VI, St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, he said, Catholic development experts began insisting that respect for human dignity, strengthening families and religious freedom also were markers of progress.

For many of the development models, he said, environmental degradation was accepted as collateral damage in the drive to increase production and consumption, thereby raising GDPs.

Now it is clear to scientists, economists, development experts and theologians that care for the environment and reducing the factors that contribute to climate change are essential for making development sustainable and truly caring for the poor, Father Zampini Davies said.

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Follow Wooden on Twitter: @Cindy_Wooden.

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Pope offers prayers for victims of flooding in Texas, Louisiana

August 31, 2017 - 9:06am

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy Trudy Lampson handout via Reuters

By

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis offered his prayers for the people of Texas and Louisiana struggling to cope with the devastating impact of Hurricane Harvey and he praised all those engaged in rescuing and caring for the thousands of people forced out of their homes.

In a message to Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, Pope Francis asked that his "spiritual closeness and pastoral concern" be relayed to all those affected by the hurricane and flooding.

The message was sent by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, and released by the Vatican Aug. 31.

"Deeply moved by the tragic loss of life and the immense material devastation that this natural catastrophe has left in its wake, he prays for the victims and their families, and for all those engaged in the vital work of relief, recovery and rebuilding," Cardinal Parolin said.

Pope Francis, he said, "trusts that the immense and immediate needs of so many individuals and communities will continue to inspire a vast outpouring of solidarity and mutual aid in the best traditions of the nation."

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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.

Kansas nun shares memories of her brother who is on path to sainthood

August 30, 2017 - 12:32pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Christopher Riggs, Catholic Advance

By Christopher M. Riggs

WICHITA, Kan. (CNS) -- Sister Marita Rother really didn't get to know her brother, Father Stanley Rother, as a priest until she visited him in Guatemala in the 1970s.

She was at the Adorers of the Blood of Christ convent in Wichita when he left to study for the priesthood.

"He went to the seminary right after high school," she said, adding that he didn't tell his parents of his interest in the priesthood until after he graduated.

"We never talked about it," Sister Marita told the Catholic Advance, newspaper of the Wichita Diocese. "We were both rather quiet. I didn't even tell my friends until shortly before I left that I was actually leaving (to become a nun)."

Still, she and her three brothers were close to one another and to their parents, she recalled.

"We were very seldom not doing things together. Our parents really did keep us in line. We had great respect for each other ... anytime they would hear squabbling -- if it was in their earshot -- they would calm us down."

But Stanley was different from his siblings, she said.

"I actually do not remember him getting a scolding from my parents," Sister Marita said. "I got my share, my other brothers got theirs. Not that I was comparing myself, but when I thought back on it, I don't remember, particularly my mother, ever correcting him for anything, or scolding him like we used to get."

His behavior may have been a foreshadowing of why he will soon be honored by the church.

Sister Marita will be among those participating in a beatification ceremony for Father Rother Sept. 23, in Oklahoma City. Pope Francis acknowledged Father Rother's martyrdom in December, making the Okarche, Oklahoma, native the first recognized martyr to have been born in the United States.

Hundreds of thousands of Catholics died in the Guatemalan civil war from 1960 to 1996, targeted because of the church's insistence on catechizing.

In time, Father Rother's name appeared on a death list. He and an associate left Guatemala in 1981 because of the danger. Father Rother returned to Oklahoma, but his heart was still with the people.

He had a great empathy for the poor, Sister Marita said. Though many of his flock spoke Spanish, a year or two after he began his missionary work in Santiago Atitlan, he asked to begin training in the Tzutujil language, one of the 21 Mayan languages spoken in Guatemala, so that he could better serve his flock.

"It's a very difficult language to learn and almost everyone who heard him speak it could not believe that he learned it in the short time that he did. This man who flunked a year in the seminary because he couldn't learn Latin is now speaking Tzutujil," she said.

It was a blessing for many of his estimated 15,000 parishioners.

"They could understand what he was talking about," Sister Marita said. "It got to where he was giving his homilies in Tzutujil. He soon became known as Padre A'Plas, his Indian name, which was Tzutujil for Francis."

Francis was Father Rother's middle name.

Because of his ability to communicate in the Mayan dialect, she said, the people claimed Father Rother as one of their own.

"When he left, it was like leaving his people," she said. "There was no one there to continue the Mass in their language. He did not want to leave. When he got home, he longed to be back with them. He knew they were not going to survive spiritually and I think he felt like he abandoned them."

He returned to Oklahoma for about three months.

"When I saw him ... he looked terrible. It was like he was lost. He kept gazing out the window, kind of in his own thoughts, and we knew what they were."

When he was told it was safe to return to Guatemala, he hesitated because of his mother's illness, but he decided to return.

"I've got to do it," he told his sister. "And I knew that. I could see it in his eyes. He had to do it."

Within three months of his return, on July 28, 1981, three men entered his rectory in the dead of night and murdered him.

"We knew he was in danger. We didn't know that things had escalated to that point," Sister Marita said. "To get that call was very painful."

She added that she began to understand the love the people had for her brother on her second trip to Guatemala in 1978. She met children here and there all named Francisco. "It turns out there were lots of Franciscos there," she said. "It became a very common name."

Although Father Rother's body is buried in Resurrection Memorial Cemetery in Oklahoma City, his heart will always be with the people he loved. It is enshrined at St. James the Apostle Church in Santiago Atitlan.

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Riggs is editor of the Catholic Advance, newspaper of the Diocese of Wichita.

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Catholic Benefits Association presses Trump to end contraceptive mandate

August 30, 2017 - 12:10pm

By Kurt Jensen

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Frustrated by federal court inaction and the Department of Justice blocking the way, the Catholic Benefits Association has called on President Trump to intervene directly in the legal battle over the Affordable Care Act's contraception mandate.

"This is a problem that's easily remedied," Douglas C. Wilson, CBA's chief executive officer, told Catholic News Service. "It was created by Obama's regulatory administration and it can be undone by the Trump administration just as easily."

In an Aug. 18 letter, Wilson asked the Trump administration, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Justice to stop defending the mandate in court and agree to a permanent injunction protecting the plaintiffs in all cases. The letter also urged the White House to adopt, unchanged, a proposed HHS regulation, submitted in May, to exempt employers with conscientious objections from having to comply with such mandates.

The mandate requires employers to provide coverage for contraception and abortifacients, opposed by Catholic moral teaching, under penalty of fines.

Wilson said he has not yet received anything other than a pro forma White House acknowledgement of the letter.

Asked about it during an Aug. 24 news conference, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders responded, "I'm not sure if (Trump is) aware of the complaints or any specific places where that's being ignored."

On May 4, Trump, in a Rose Garden ceremony, announced an executive order, "Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty."

"Your long ordeal will soon be over," he announced to religious groups that included the Little Sisters of the Poor, whose Supreme Court victory in 2016 was widely considered the beginning of the end of the contraception mandate. "We are ending the attacks on your religious freedom."

The CBA, based in Castle Rock, Colorado, and representing more than 1,000 Catholic health care providers, has been the largest single plaintiff challenging the mandate. The association first sued HHS in March 2014. CBA members "are facing $6 billion in accumulated penalties should this fail to be resolved," Wilson said.

In July, the CBA filed a motion with the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver asking for affirmation of its 2014 injunction blocking implementation of the mandate. But on July 31, Justice Department lawyers opposed the motion and asked that the appeal be kept alive.

"They cited only some unspecified efforts to reach a regulatory resolution outside of the judicial process, but we have no guarantee that such a resolution will be either timely or sufficient," Wilson's letter argued.

(HHS Secretary Tom Price) "believes that the Little Sisters, eighty Catholic bishops, and hundreds of other religious employers should win their lawsuits. The president likewise has promised the religious employers victory. But for whatever reason, the Justice Department keeps defending Obama's contraception mandate in court," Eric Kniffin, a CBA lawyer said.

Wilson added, "It seems that this issue never crosses the finish line."

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Prayers, aid offered amid floods as Texas parishes grapple with Harvey

August 30, 2017 - 11:35am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports via Reuters

By James Ramos

HOUSTON (CNS) -- The 200-home community of McDade Estates down the road from Sacred Heart Parish had just hours to evacuate Aug. 27. City officials knocked door-to-door, alerting residents to escape to higher ground.

Hours later, authorities released historic amounts of water from Lake Conroe as Tropical Storm Harvey continued to flood southeast Texas with as much as 50 inches of rain. Lake Conroe surged past record numbers, forcing city officials to advise more neighborhoods to evacuate as the San Jacinto River churned with floodwaters through Conroe, located 45 miles north of Houston.

Less than three miles away, surrounded by donations of clothes, water and food, Father Philip Wilhite, Sacred Heart Church's pastor, said Red Cross opened an emergency shelter at the parish to house flood victims Aug. 28. The shelter served many of the communities, some less than two miles from the church, flooded by the rising San Jacinto.

Despite the rain, Father Wilhite said "this has been very joyful, to see people come together all in good spirits, doing what we can to help each other."

Sacred Heart joined a number of parishes, including St. Anthony of Padua Parish in The Woodlands, throughout the 10-county Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston that assisted with flood relief as emergency shelters or donation sites Aug. 29. Shelters across the region served thousands of people including a downtown convention center housing about 10,000 people by nightfall.

Father Tom Rafferty, pastor of St. Anthony of Padua, described the response to help as "outstanding" and "generous."

"I try to share with them what the church is, and they're embracing it. You see it all across Houston," he said.

However, Father Norbert Manduzia only had bad news for his parishioners in Spring, closer to Houston. Via Facebook Live, the pastor of St. Ignatius of Loyola Parish showed a church in devastation.

Floodwaters covered the altar floor, nearly reaching the top of some pews.

"All the buildings are flooded," he said in the video. "It's devastated. All the buildings are flooded. I'm standing inside the church now. I'm just speechless. Everything is lost."

Walking back to the narthex, he showed that the "baptismal font meets the floor and the water."

At one point in the video, Father Manduzia picks up the parish processional cross, face down in the water. The corpus then breaks off and floats for a few seconds until Father Khoi Le, parochial vicar, picks it up and places it on a nearby table. The video, viewed more than 300,000 times, shows the clergy and staff saving vestments and other parish property.

Elsewhere, the Discalced Carmelite Nuns of New Caney, Texas said they are praying for Harvey flood victims and aid workers.

"We have been praying every minute for all the people in the Archdiocese and the people in Texas, especially for those seeking shelter and for those who are helping them," Sister Angel Teresa Sweeney, superior of the contemplative community. The small convent, located 37 miles northwest of Houston, found itself less than three miles from a major 12-mile stretch of I-69 that was closed because of high water.

Sister Sweeney said the convent saw 23 inches of rain that caused nearby Peach Creek to rise to a record height, flooding nearby homes. But after seeing damage from the 2016 Tax Day Flood, the seven sisters readied their property with a pump and equipment to handle floodwater, which Sister Sweeney said worked steadily.

In Richmond, Texas, 30 miles southwest of Houston, Sacred Heart Parish served as a shelter until the Brazos River also began to flow past its banks. The parish closed after authorities ordered mandatory evacuations for much of Fort Bend County. The river was expected to rise through Aug. 31, cresting at 57.5 feet, 42 feet above normal.

Near Galveston Island, in Dickinson, one of the hardest hit communities, The Shrine of the True Cross Parish and School was inundated by at least four feet of water. The parish sits less than 500 feet from Dickinson Bayou and is home to a relic of the True Cross, which church officials said was safe. Photos show the submerged parish campus, including a grotto with a statue of the Mary just above the waterline.

Archdiocesan representatives said damage at parishes continued to be assessed as major roadways and communities still remain flooded Aug. 29.

Harvey remained a deadly storm Aug. 30, keeping several counties under storm and surge warnings with "historic river and bayou flooding," according to the National Hurricane Center. The storm has claimed at least 15 fatalities in region.

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Information about contributing to storm relief efforts is available at the Texas Catholic Conference website, https://txcatholic.org/harvey/. Catholic Charities USA also is accepting contributions at https://app.mobilecause.com/vf/CCUSADISASTER.

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Ramos is a staff writer and designer for the Texas Catholic Herald, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.

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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, Orthodox patriarch issue joint plea for care of creation

August 30, 2017 - 10:11am

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Together with the head of the Orthodox Church, Pope Francis urged people to be respectful and responsible toward creation while being aware of how disrupted ecosystems impact the poor.

To mark the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation Sept. 1, the pope said he and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople "prepared a message together."

Although the text was not published immediately, Pope Francis told people at his general audience Aug. 30 that the message would be an invitation to all people "to adopt a respectful and responsible approach toward creation."

"Furthermore," he said, "we appeal to those who hold an influential role to listen to the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor, who suffer more because of ecological imbalances."

Pope Francis instituted the world day of prayer for the Catholic Church in 2015, joining with the ecumenical patriarchate, who has observed the Sept. 1 day of prayer since 1989.

The annual World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation, Pope Francis said when he instituted it, is to be a time for individuals and communities to "reaffirm their personal vocation to be stewards of creation, to thank God for the wonderful handiwork which he has entrusted to our care, and to implore his help for the protection of creation as well as his pardon for the sins committed against the world in which we live."

If Christians are to make their special contribution to safeguarding creation, they must rediscover the spiritual foundations of their approach to what exists on earth, beginning with an acknowledgment that "the life of the spirit is not dissociated from the body or from nature," but lived in communion with all worldly realities, he had said.

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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: God wants people to dream big, not listen to cynics

August 30, 2017 - 9:55am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Tony Gentile, Reuters

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- God wants people to live with hope and joy -- not bitterness -- and to dream with him of a better world, Pope Francis said.

"Please, make sure we do not pay attention to disappointed and unhappy people; let us not listen to those who cynically plead not to cultivate hope in life," he said Aug. 30 during his weekly general audience.

People must ignore those who try to crush enthusiasm and smother "youthful euphoria," he said. Instead, Christians must cultivate a "healthy utopia" based on what God wants for the world.

"God wants us to be able to dream like he does and, with him as we journey, to be quite attentive to reality -- dreaming of a different world," he said.

Continuing his series of audience talks on Christian hope, the pope reflected on a reading from the Gospel of St. John (1:35-43), which describes how the first disciples heard of Jesus and wished to follow him.

Jesus asked the first two men, "What are you looking for?" because he sensed a healthy restlessness in their young hearts, Pope Francis said.

In fact, the pope said, young people who are not seeking something or looking for meaning in life "are not young, they have gone into retirement, they have aged before their time. It's sad to see young people in retirement."

Throughout the Gospels, he said, Jesus responds to the people he meets along the way; he is like an "arsonist," the pope said, setting people's hearts ablaze.

The intense joy Jesus ignites in those he encounters is the wellspring of every vocation, the pope said, whether it be marriage, consecrated life or the priesthood.

In that first encounter, Jesus "gives us new joy and hope and leads us -- even through trials and difficulties -- to an ever-fuller encounter with him and fullness of joy."

Jesus doesn't want people who walk reluctantly behind him, the pope said. "Jesus wants people who have experienced that being with him gives immense joy that can be renewed each day in life."

Any disciple who does not carry joy in his or her heart "does not evangelize in this world."

People do not become preachers of God's word by "sharpening the weapons of rhetoric," the pope said. "You can talk and talk and talk," but it will not make a difference if that bright light of joy is missing from one's eyes.

At the end of the general audience, the pope met with three soccer players, who survived a devastating airplane crash in 2016 that killed all of their teammates.

The charter flight for the Brazil's Chapecoense soccer team was headed from Bolivia to Colombia for the 2016 South American Cup finals. The crash, caused by an exhausted fuel supply, killed 71 of the 77 passengers, which included players, coaching staff, journalists and guests. Only three players and three others survived.

The pope blessed the surviving players, and he greeted and hugged family members of the deceased and the team's current players. David Plinio de Nes, team president, told Vatican Radio that "Pope Francis has let us feel his love since the tragic moment of the plane accident" and has given them the strength to go on.

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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.

Georgia Tech punter forgoes final football season for seminary

August 29, 2017 - 3:25pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Michael Alexander, Georgia Bulletin

By Nichole Golden

ATLANTA (CNS) -- Perseverance has been Grant Aasen's longtime ally.

In recovering from a life-threatening injury, walking on to the Georgia Tech football team as a punter, and discerning the priesthood, Aasen has demonstrated a desire to succeed.

Aasen, who graduated from Georgia Tech with a degree in industrial engineering in May, gave up his final year of football eligibility for the seminary. He planned to enter Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans this fall to begin studying for the priesthood.

Football has been part of Aasen's life since second grade. The youngest son of Mark and Tina Aasen of Fayetteville, Georgia, he grew up a parishioner of Holy Trinity Church in Peachtree City. Aasen, 22, never thought of being a priest as a child.

"It was really just never part of the conversation," he said, explaining that his concentration was on sports and school and "figuring out those natural next steps that every kid my age is supposed to take."

An injury as a sophomore at Starr's Mill High School and later involvement in the Georgia Tech Catholic Center helped him focus on spirituality.

During practice in October 2010, the junior varsity running back was going through drills with varsity players. Aasen got a handoff and a player, nicknamed the Nigerian Nightmare, tackled him. Ufomba Kamalu, who now plays for the Houston Texans, weighed 120 pounds more than Aasen.

"When I hit the ground, my head whiplashed off the ground, which caused a pretty bad concussion," he said. The trainers checked him. He sat out of the rest of practice and a friend drove him home.

Aasen was tired the next day but competed in that evening's game at Northgate High School in Newnan. Northgate is next to a fire station, which was providential.

With more than a minute left in the game, Aasen went to the sidelines and took off his helmet. He started to remove his shoulder pads, passed out and had a seizure. Paramedics based at the fire station arrived quickly. He was taken to the hospital, where doctors determined he had a subdural hematoma, bleeding on the brain. Aasen underwent a craniotomy to relieve pressure on his brain.

The community supported the family with prayer and visits. Aasen credits the prayers for his almost unheard of recovery. He was carrying on conversations within a couple of days and feeling well in a week.

Many people said the recovery was a miracle, but it wasn't until his pastor asked a question that he pondered it as more than a "crazy outcome."

"I do remember Father John Murphy, the priest at Holy Trinity," Aasen said. "He came up to me after Mass once. He said, 'How does it feel to be a miracle?'"

That's when it occurred to the young man; there was something greater at work.

Post-injury, Aasen had double vision for a time and needed physical rehabilitation. A scar on the left side of his head is a clue to his traumatic injury. He also decided to learn kicking and punting so he could still be involved in football.

In fall 2013, he was off to Georgia Tech, joining his brother Davis, who introduced him to the campus Catholic Center, where priests and students helped him to dig more deeply into the faith.

"My parents and I, we would always go to Mass on Sundays, but I didn't quite understand what was going on," he admitted.

He credited Father Joshua Allen, chaplain, and other priests who served at the center with being teachers.

"The Catholic Center is where I've learned everything, for the most part, and observed ... what good Catholics, really solid, practicing Catholics look like," Aasen said.

Father Allen stressed that a student's first week on campus usually determines his or her college lifestyle.

"So we really try to grab all the Catholic students right away and get them plugged into Mass at the Catholic Center and growing those relationships, which luckily for me my brother did for me without me knowing it," Aasen said.

Wanting to play football helped keep Aasen on a straight path. As a punter, he got a late start. Most college punters have been kicking for years and have played soccer, which helps.

It took several tryouts before he made the team in the fall of his second year on campus. He often carried a bag of footballs as he crisscrossed campus, worked out on the track and grass fields and in his dorm room.

Aasen has enjoyed playing the game and holds great memories of his time on the field. He said he will miss the friendships with teammates and relationships with coaches most of all.

During his discernment, he bounced questions off Father Allen and later visited Notre Dame Seminary with his father.

"It just felt right. I'm going to find the same fraternal aspect that I found on the team in seminary. It's just going to look a little different," he said.

It was difficult for Aasen to tell Paul Johnson, Georgia Tech's head coach, that he would be pursuing a different calling.

"God let me know that it was time. And he let me know at the right time," Aasen said.

Johnson said he supported Aasen and believes his former player will be successful.

"I'm certainly not going to get into a contest with a higher being as to what your calling might be," he said.

The Catholic Center has daily Mass, confessions, regular adoration and four Sunday Masses, serving 1,000 students. Students receive prayer instruction and attend Bible studies and formation programs. They are encouraged to participate in social activities.

The center also has a tradition of priestly vocations. Some 30 priests are graduates, with 15 serving in the Archdiocese of Atlanta. There are 14 alumni in formation for the priesthood or religious life. More than 25 men and women attended a discernment retreat in February.

Aasen said it has been inspiring to be around other young people at the center, who all have so much going on in their lives.

"Yet their main focus is their Catholic life, their spiritual life, figuring out how to be a better Catholic, how to be a better daughter or son of God," he said.

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Golden is a staff writer at The Georgia Bulletin, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Atlanta.

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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.

Where to give to assist with Hurricane Harvey recovery

August 29, 2017 - 1:17pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Rick Wilking, Reuters

By

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Several organizations have established emergency relief operations for the thousands of people affected by Hurricane Harvey and the floods in Texas and Louisiana.

Contributions can be made to:

-- Catholic Charities USA: online at https://catholiccharitiesusa.org; telephone at 800-919-9338; mail to P.O. Box 17066, Baltimore, Maryland, 21297-1066 and write "Hurricane Harvey" in the memo line of the check.

-- Texas Catholics Conference is coordinating emergency services. A listing by diocese of where to give has been posted online at https://txcatholic.org/harvey/.

-- Local dioceses are expected to initiate special collections during weekend Masses Sept. 2-3 or Sept. 9-10. Funds will benefit Catholic Charities USA's disaster relief efforts as well as pastoral and rebuilding support through the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

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USCCB leader invites bishops to take up collection for storm recovery

August 29, 2017 - 11:42am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Darren Abate, EPA

By

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles, vice president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, asked bishops across the country to consider a special collection to assist victims of Hurricane Harvey along the Gulf Coast.

He suggested in an Aug. 28 letter to bishops that the collection be taken during Masses the weekend of Sept. 2-3 or Sept. 9-10.

"Our hearts and prayers go out to the families that have lost loved ones and to all who have lost homes and businesses along with their sense of normalcy. We also stand with our brother bishops in the region who have the difficult task of providing pastoral care in these most trying times while managing their own losses. Our prayerful and financial support is urgently needed," he wrote.

Funds collected will support emergency aid and recovery efforts under Catholic Charities USA and pastoral and rebuilding support to the affected dioceses through the bishops' conference.

The storm has dumped as much as four feet of rain on some areas of Texas and Louisiana, weather observers have reported. Thousands of people have evacuated flooded homes and communities and remained in emergency shelters across the region.

Among the most affected areas are the Diocese of Victoria and the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, which Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, USCCB president, oversees. Numerous parishes and schools have been flooded while others have offered facilities as shelter. Parishes have also helped distribute food and emergency supplies to storm victims.

"Together with Cardinal DiNardo and the bishops throughout the affected region, I express deep gratitude to the first responders and countless volunteers who are assisting the Gulf Coast region in countless ways," Archbishop Gomez wrote.

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Pope: Catholic social teaching can contribute to building just society

August 29, 2017 - 11:20am

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Catholic politicians should be guided by the church's moral and social teachings when crafting legislation, Pope Francis said.

Meeting with participants in the annual meeting of the International Catholic Legislators Network Aug. 27, the pope said that church teaching can contribute to a more humane and just society, but only if the church is allowed a voice in answering "the great questions of society in our time."

"The laws that you enact and apply ought to build bridges of dialogue between different political perspectives, also when responding to precise aims in order to promote greater care for the defenseless and the marginalized, especially toward the many who are forced to leave their countries, as well as to promote a correct human and natural ecology," the pope said according to Vatican Radio.

Founded in 2010 by Austrian Cardinal Christoph Schonborn of Vienna and British parliamentarian Sir David Alton, the Catholic Legislators Network meets annually "to discuss the promotion of Christian principles in the political arena," according to the organization's website.

"Every year, the network brings together about 120 people, including top-level politicians from a wide range of countries spanning all continents, to discuss urgent policy issues in different regions of the globe," the website said.

In an Aug. 26 interview with Vatican Radio, Cardinal Schonborn said that although Catholic politicians "are a minority," they raise important arguments and values, and "intend to serve as Catholics."

Cardinal Schonborn told Vatican Radio that among the issues discussed during the four-day meeting was the persecution of Christians, which "unfortunately has become a phenomenon on a global scale."

Both Pope Francis and retired Pope Benedict XVI, he added, have supported the organization and "have always encouraged us."

"These Catholic parliamentarians find great encouragement from the church's approval of their commitment, because many times they feel quite alone in their parliaments and find themselves in difficult situations. Thus, they feel encouraged by these annual meetings both in personal faith and political action," Cardinal Schonborn said.

Among the participants was U.S. Rep. Alex Mooney, R-West Virginia, who told Vatican Radio he was encouraged to "see faithful Catholics from every country promoting the values of the church."

"We have an opportunity to meet here with other Catholic legislators and elected officials from other parts of the world and to discuss common concerns, problems and opportunities for our faith, and how to work together and support each other," he said.

Before concluding his speech, Pope Francis prayed that in the midst of people's sufferings, Catholic legislators would "look to Christ" so that they may be "led ever more toward the truth and goodness."

The pope also urged the lawmakers to make sure their actions always reflect the teaching of Jesus that "no one is insignificant, that no one should be discarded at any stage of life."

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Texas parishioners shocked by devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey

August 28, 2017 - 3:00pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Nick Oxford, Reuters

By James Ramos

HOUSTON (CNS) -- With floodwater as high as 20 feet from swelling bayous and waterways, thousands of homes in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston flooded as Tropical Storm Harvey continued to batter southeast Texas Aug. 28.

Bishops from dioceses along the mid-Texas Gulf Coast, including Victoria and Galveston-Houston, granted dispensations from regular Mass Sunday obligations Aug. 27.

The storm, which made landfall a day earlier as a Category 4 hurricane, was downgraded to a tropical storm and claimed at least four lives. The record-breaking rainfall, as much as 28 inches over 24 hours in four counties in the archdiocese, was "unprecedented" and "catastrophic," according to the National Hurricane Center. The region typically sees about 49 inches of rain in a year.

In southeast Houston, Father David Bergeron, a member of the Companions of the Cross order, spent Saturday night in his truck on a highway because of rising floodwater. The next morning, he kayaked the flooded streets to try to find wine to celebrate Sunday Mass for nearby stranded neighbors.

Sitting atop his red kayak, Father Bergeron told a local TV reporter on a live broadcast that he was trying to return home to celebrate Mass. He had visited Galveston for a kayak trip the previous day.

"I tried to go back home for Mass and ... I didn't make it," Father Bergeron said.

The priest used his kayak to visit a nearby convenience store for supplies as well as wine to celebrate Mass for nearby stranded neighbors.

"I even tried to buy wine right now to say Mass with some of the people who are stranded here, but that didn't happen because it's not noon yet," Father Bergeron said. Texas liquor laws prevent alcohol sales on Sundays before noon. "It's not that I usually buy alcohol that early in the morning, but I had wanted to say Mass with the few people who are stranded."

He said he was praying for everyone in need, reflecting on America's first evangelizers who came by boat.

"I guess this is how the Americas were evangelized as well, with a canoe, and this is a kayak," Father Bergeron said. "I hope that can bring a smile to a few people."

"The Lord is alive and the Lord is always with us as well, so I really pray for the protection of all the people. ...There are a few psalms that implore for the grace of God and the washing and the rain, but now we have enough rain."

Thirty miles north of Houston, 29-year-old Eric Robinson spent the morning of Aug. 27 walking three miles in floodwater to morning Mass at Sts. Simon and Jude Catholic Church in The Woodlands even though a dispensation had been given.

"I made it in time for the 9:30 a.m. Mass," he said. "It's normally a crowded Mass, but there were about 100 people."

In his homily, Father Pat Garrett, pastor, encouraged people to pray for flood victims and first responders. After Mass, Robinson trekked back to his apartment, wading through waist-deep water.

The situation was not the first time the parish has seen floodwater come close to church grounds. In April 2016, the church's center served as a Red Cross shelter. Activated again as Harvey pounded the state, at least 22 people took shelter at the church by the evening of Aug. 27, parish staff said.

Sacred Heart Church in Rosenberg, 35 miles southwest of Houston, also served as a Red Cross shelter.

Elsewhere, Danielle Noonan walked through her Sienna Plantation neighborhood southwest of Houston Aug. 27, observing the damage caused by a tornado that ripped through area the previous evening. "I feel like I'm still in shock," she said.

No sooner than her husband Chris told her to get into the closet where her two sons already were hiding, the tornado touched down a quarter-mile away, damaging at least 50 houses, shredding roofs and windows, snapping hallowed oak trees "like toothpicks" and flipping fences.

The next day, the community tried to recover quickly, but strong rains hampered efforts. Not until a trip to the grocery store for more supplies did Noonan see how shaken by the tornado her two children were.

One of them "was really scared," she said. "It was hard for him to see his friends' homes just destroyed. He didn't want to leave the safety of his home."

Noonan saw it as a good teaching moment about how to live a life of true prayer and love in the community. In an effort to rally the local churches in prayer, Noonan joined her parish, St. Angela Merici in nearby Missouri City, in hosting the Chaplet of Divine Mercy and praise and worship session on Facebook.

Noonan and her family evacuated to central Texas Aug. 28 under orders of local officials because of rising waters in the Brazos River.

Meanwhile, a social media post about storm damage caused Ashley Ben-David's jaw to drop.

Scrolling through Twitter, the Houston St. Francis de Sales Catholic School fourth grade teacher saw images of hurricane-ravaged Rockport. The seaside city 30 miles northwest of Corpus Christi was among the first to see major damage from the storm. A photo showed a storied home in the Ben-David family decimated by Harvey; the two-story structure painted in friendly yellow and white was cut in half by winds that topped 130 miles per hour.

At first she denied what she saw in disbelief. "The stairs aren't in the right spot," she thought. However, after sending the picture to her two siblings, they confirmed the worst: It was the family home, only Harvey had moved the stairs and trees.

"We've had that house in our family for so long," said Ben-David in the safety of her Sugar Land, Texas, residence. The home belonged to her grandparents in the 1960s, and for the next half-century, played host to "countless summers, vacations, Christmases and Easters," for the family.

"It's ... heartbreaking because there's so many memories," she said. "It was our go-to place to be by the sea."

The Texas Catholic Conference said the bishops of the state's 15 dioceses are coordinating relief efforts. The conference requested "people join in prayer for the coastal and inland areas being affected, and consider donating money to local dioceses and Catholic Charities."

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Information about contributing to storm relief efforts is available at the Texas Catholic Conference website, https://txcatholic.org/harvey/. Catholic Charities USA also is accepting contributions at https://app.mobilecause.com/vf/CCUSADISASTER.

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Ramos is a staff writer and designer for the Texas Catholic Herald, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.

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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.

Top Vatican official discusses terrorist threat, immigration debate

August 28, 2017 - 10:40am

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Vatican obviously is concerned about terrorist threats, "especially for the senseless hatred" it represents, and will continue to remain vigilant, said Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state.

Speaking to reporters Aug. 26, Cardinal Parolin said he had seen the most recent video attributed to Islamic State in which the pope and Vatican are threatened, and "one cannot help but be concerned." However, he said, he did not believe the video prompted extra security measures beyond those that have been in place for some time.

For the Year of Mercy 2015-2016, the main boulevard leading to St. Peter's Square was closed to traffic; it never reopened. But while pilgrims approaching St. Peter's Square for Pope Francis' weekly general audience on Wednesdays and his Angelus address on Sundays had already been subjected to security checks, Italian police seemed to take more time doing the checks after the terrorist attack in Barcelona Aug. 17.

Cardinal Parolin spoke to journalists in Rimini, Italy, where he was addressing a large summer meeting sponsored by the lay movement, Communion and Liberation.

L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, published a long section of the cardinal's speech, looking specifically at the phenomenon of anti-migrant sentiment.

Cardinal Parolin expressed surprise at how much of the current debate in many countries "is focused on defending ourselves from migrants."

The public discussions and arguments show a "sharp division between those who recognize God in the poor and needy and those who do not recognize him," the cardinal said.

Government leaders certainly have an obligation to find alternatives to "massive and uncontrolled migration, (and) to establish programs that avoid disorder and the infiltration of the violent," he said. In addition, they should be looking for ways to promote development in migrant-sending countries so that people can survive and thrive in their homelands. "But this will take decades to bear fruit."

The anti-immigrant sentiment, he said, "often is generated by fear" and accompanies a general sense of disorientation and confusion about the changes caused by globalization, especially in economic matters.

People have to realize that "it's been a long time since any modern nation-state fully and exclusively controlled its national economy," he said. In the absence of complete control over one's national economy, "it is not surprising that there is a general tendency, especially in authoritarian countries, but also by many 'populist' leaders and movements -- of the right and left -- to declare one's national sovereignty in terms of cultural supremacy, racial identity and ethnic nationalism and to find in these a reason to repress internal dissent."

The economy is now global, he said, and there is no single nation that can fix the problems of the economy alone. "Various aspects of globalization need to be governed," which must be done through international diplomacy and a joint commitment to promoting the common good.

"On this point, where more profound values like justice and peace are at stake, realities like the United States and the European Union have a decisive role and responsibility," he said. "But too often their absence is felt."

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Vatican confirms pope's visit to Myanmar, Bangladesh in late November

August 28, 2017 - 10:10am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Lynn Bo Bo, EPA

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- A day after appealing for an end the violent persecution of the Rohingya people, a Muslim minority in Myanmar, the Vatican announced Pope Francis will visit the country in late November.

After the visit Nov. 27-30 to the cities of Yangon and Naypyitaw in Myanmar, the pope will travel on to Dhaka, Bangladesh, Nov. 30-Dec. 2, the Vatican said Aug. 28.

After praying the Angelus with pilgrims gathered in St. Peter's Square Aug. 27, Pope Francis said he was saddened by the news "of the persecution of a religious minority, our Rohingya brothers and sisters."

News media reported violent clashes Aug. 25-26 after Rohingya fighters attacked 30 police stations. More than 100 people, mostly insurgents, have been reported killed, according to the BBC.

Most of the Rohingya population in Myanmar's Rakhine state have been denied citizenship in Myanmar, which is predominantly Buddhist. About 120,000 Rohingya are trapped in internally displaced person camps near the state capital, Sittwe. A further 400,000 live in the state's north, which is currently under martial law.

Media are forbidden to travel to the region, but reports of atrocities by the military, including rape, murder and burning villages, have leaked over the past year. The United Nations says more than 170,000 Rohingya have fled to neighboring countries, including Bangladesh, in the past five years.

"I would like to express my full closeness to (the Rohingya)," the pope said. "Let us ask the Lord to save them, and to raise up men and women of goodwill to help them, that they may be given full rights."

The pope also prayed for the victims of monsoon floods in Nepal, India and Bangladesh. The devastating floods have claimed the lives of over 1,200 people and displaced millions, the Arabic news channel Al-Jazeera reported.

"I express my closeness to all the affected populations and I pray for the victims and for all who suffer due to this calamity," Pope Francis said.

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

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Catholic groups are mobilizing to help in Hurricane Harvey's aftermath

August 28, 2017 - 9:35am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Rick Wilking, Reuters

By Rhina Guidos

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Catholic dioceses and charities are quickly organizing to help in the aftermath of a Category 4 hurricane that made landfall with heavy rains and winds of 130 miles per hour late Aug. 25 into the Rockport, Texas area, northeast of Corpus Christi. The National Weather Service said in a tweet Aug. 27 that the rainfall expected after the hurricane and storm are over "are beyond anything experienced before."

The hurricane, named Harvey, is said to be the strongest one to hit the United States in more than a decade and perhaps the strongest one to make landfall in Texas.

Catholic Charities USA, as well as the Society of St. Vincent de Paul Disaster Services, announced early on Aug. 26 that they're mobilizing to help an as-yet-unknown number of persons affected by the hurricane. The Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops has a list of charities helping with the disaster listed on its website at https://txcatholic.org/harvey.

Authorities reported at least five casualties as of Aug. 27, but because of safety issues, not many emergency teams have been yet able to respond to the aftermath and much of the damage is unknown. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott declared the state a disaster area, which will allow federal money to help in reconstruction. Catholic groups said they want to help with the immediate needs of the communities affected.

"We will be sending in rapid-response teams to help our impacted St. Vincent de Paul councils and we are coordinating nationally with the Knights of Columbus, Knights of Malta and (Catholic Charities USA)," said Elizabeth Disco-Shearer, CEO of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul USA.

Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, on Aug. 27 urged "all people of goodwill to closely monitor future calls for assistance for victims and survivors in the days ahead."

The cardinal also is the head of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, one of the hardest-hit areas.

"Hurricane Harvey hit the Gulf Coast in a catastrophic and devastating way this weekend, bringing with it severe flooding and high winds which have taken human life, caused countless injuries, and severely damaged homes and property throughout the region," said the cardinal in an Aug. 27 news release. "The effects of this storm continue to put people in harm's way, with horrific scenes playing out all around, such as those of people trapped on their rooftops as water continues to rise around them. Many dioceses of the church in the United States have been affected; many others will be as the storm continues."

He asked for prayers but also for assistance for those affected. One of the first to pledge help was the Diocese of Brownsville, Texas, where Bishop Daniel E. Flores authorized a second collection to be taken up at the diocese's local churches on the weekend of Aug. 26-27 to send to Catholic Charities in nearby Corpus Christi and "other places hardest hit by loss of power, storm damage, flooding."

It's been hard to communicate with other areas, said Bishop Flores in an Aug. 26 interview with Catholic News Service, so it's hard to gauge the extent of the damage. But he said his diocese wanted to get a head start to quickly divert help where it is needed and as fast as possible.

If the Rio Grande Valley, where Bishop Flores' diocese is located, was spared the major impact of Hurricane Harvey, then the diocese had a duty to help their neighbors to the north, in the coastal areas of Corpus Christi and Galveston-Houston, which seemed to be hit hardest, he said. Hurricane Harvey seemed to enter near Corpus Christi and affected seven coastal counties in Texas and one Louisiana parish.

"We continue to pray for every for everyone affected by the hurricane and those who are at risk as the storms continue," said Bishop Flores in a statement.

Though the brunt of the hurricane's winds has passed and Harvey was downgraded to a tropical storm hours after landfall, heavy rains and "catastrophic flooding" are expected for days, said the National Hurricane Center.

"We have to remember ... the families affected by flood damage in the next few days in other parts of the state will be in need of relief," said Bishop Flores. "We will assess better how we can help as we get further information about the needs from the (Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops) and Catholic Charities."

In an Aug. 26 statement published by the Galveston-Houston archdiocese, Cardinal DiNardo said powerful winds and heavy rainfall have already impacted many lives and homes throughout the region, and many in the southern counties of his archdiocese have already suffered substantial property damage and losses

In Houston, the country's fourth largest city with 6.6 million residents, many struggled seeking safety in flooded residential streets, which are expected to get up to 50 inches of rainfall by the time the rain stops sometime at the end of August.

"Numerous homes in these communities are currently without power. Several forecasts anticipate additional storm damage and flooding in the coming days, along with high winds and tornado activity," Cardinal DiNardo said.

Up to 250,000 have been reported without power in Texas, a number that's expected to rise.

San Antonio Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller said in a statement that the archdiocese pledged its support to recovery efforts that will start after the rain and wind subside. 

"My thoughts and prayers are with the people of the dioceses of Corpus Christi and Victoria, as well as the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, as they cope with the damaging effects of Hurricane Harvey," he said. "The people of San Antonio have opened their arms to welcome evacuees of this historic hurricane, and Catholic Charities of the archdiocese has been assisting and will continue to assist in a variety of ways those impacted by this natural disaster."

Bishop W. Michael Mulvey, of the Diocese of Corpus Christi, said he was grateful to the bishops who reached out to him and to his diocese. He said the true damage around the diocese still is not known and officials are waiting for conditions that will allow a better assessment of the damage.

In his statement, Cardinal DiNardo asked for prayers for emergency personnel and volunteers who are out and about in dangerous conditions and also "for those residing in our archdiocese, in Texas and along the Gulf Coast, be safe and may God have mercy on those affected by Hurricane Harvey."

 

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Galveston-Houston readies for historic hurricane, first in 10-plus years

August 25, 2017 - 5:45pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Darren Abate, EPA

By James Ramos

HOUSTON (CNS) -- Hurricane Harvey's pending landfall is bringing up memories of the last major storm that aimed for the Texas Gulf Coast.

Almost 12 years ago, Hurricane Rita churned through the Gulf of Mexico, aiming straight for the Texas coastline. While Houston escaped most major damage after landfall, the massive Category 3 storm brought weeks without electricity, winds more than 100 mph and mass evacuation headaches for the Greater Houston area, including Carla Martin.

"During Rita, evacuation was a nightmare on roadways," Martin, office administrator at Mary Queen Catholic Church in Friendswood, told the Texas Catholic Herald, the Galveston-Houston archdiocesan newspaper. "(That experience) lends me to start preparations much earlier." Mary Queen Catholic Church is located 33 miles from the Gulf of Mexico.

Like Martin, the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston is preparing for Hurricane Harvey, as well as a number of other incidents that the Catholic community in Houston may face. Hurricane Harvey was expected to make landfall on the mid-Texas coast the night of Aug. 25, then stall and drift over the weekend of Aug. 26 and 27, according to the National Weather Service. By late afternoon Aug. 25, it was upgraded to Category 3.

The storm is estimated to bring 10 to 20 inches of rain to the Texas coastline, and winds up to 110 miles per hour. The National Hurricane Center said the historic storm will bring "catastrophic and life-threatening flooding" with "heavy rainfall of 15 to 25 inches, with isolated amounts as high as 35 inches, through Wednesday" and a "life-threatening storm surge" of 6 to 12 feet.

On Aug. 23, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott declared a state of disaster for 30 Texas counties, including Austin, Brazoria, Fort Bend, Galveston and Harris counties -- each located in the archdiocese -- due to the threat of imminent disaster posted by Hurricane Harvey. Grocery stores throughout the region were slammed with shoppers gathering last-minute basic supplies in anticipation of the worst.

Dozens of parochial schools and parishes closed early or suspended classes Aug. 25. The archdiocesan chancery offices also closed early that day in preparation for Hurricane Harvey.

Elsewhere in the state, the Diocese of Brownsville, in the southernmost tip, announced via Twitter that Catholic schools in the Rio Grande Valley were closed Aug. 25 in anticipation of the storm. It also published an emergency plan, in English and Spanish, for families in the path of the storm.

"Praying for the safety of everyone as storm makes landfall," the diocese tweeted.

Bishop Daniel E. Flores of Brownsville said in a late afternoon interview Aug. 25 with Catholic News Service that the diocese took precautions, such as closing schools and other buildings, so people could prepare. Catholic organizations are communicating so they can respond to emergencies depending on what happens, but, at the moment, there are a lot of unknowns.

The biggest worry at the diocese, said Bishop Flores, are the populations in places called colonias, spontaneous subdivisions of makeshift homes on the outskirts of cities or towns, where the poor establish homes. Many are in low-lying areas, have weak infrastructure and the subdivisions may not have a sewer system, all which will become problematic should flooding and strong winds occur, he said.

"We have a plan to immediately coordinate our resources where they're most needed," after the storm, he said.

Catholic organizations, however, were on standby and planned to communicate with one another to help, he said. "We're praying," he said.

The Harris County Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management was calling the storm a "dangerous flooding event for most of (Harris) county, if the forecast holds." Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner posted on Twitter: "It never hurts to say a prayer for our city and for those in the path of the storm."

To prepare for events like Harvey, parishes were invited to experience a hurricane scenario and explore their own policies and procedures step by step at workshops throughout the year.

Archdiocesan offices, including the Offices of Risk Management and Human Resources, as well as emergency officials from around the Greater Houston area, were on hand to provide resources and help parishes identify weaknesses and develop strengths of parish emergency plans. These meetings happen annually to help Catholic communities prepare for the unexpected.

Focusing on continuous improvement, Kirk Jenings, the director of Risk Management and Emergency Operations, said, "the key point of this exercise is that it is a great opportunity to learn about our (emergency operations) plan and develop our strengths in planning and communication."

Hosted by Mary Queen Catholic Church in Friendswood, the workshop was facilitated by the Texas A&M Engineering Extension. Many parish staff, pastors and parishioners, from across the Archdiocese from parishes on Galveston Island and Bolivar Peninsula and Houston's suburbs in every direction attend the regular trainings.

Delivered through a media presentation featuring a series of hurricane graphics provided by the National Weather Service, the scenario depicts the storm's path, size and intensity. The presentation helped Martin gain a better understanding of her staff's readiness for a hurricane and how to better prepare for the next one.

"The old plan did not start early enough in the process," she said. "We must start earlier in the process, identifying needs to be done prior to evacuation." Parishes in close proximity to the coastline, like Mary Queen, can be especially vulnerable to severe weather patterns.

The archdiocesan action plan for natural disasters encourages parishes and parishioners to actively prepare for any natural disaster.

"We encourage parishes with well-developed disaster committees and plans to share their knowledge with parishes that seek to improve their organization and plans," Jenings said. "Our goals are two-fold. We desire to reach an optimal level of preparedness at both the parishes, schools and the chancery, and we want to resume normal operations as soon as possible following and event.

"Everyone in our local community, including our parishioners," he continued, "needs to understand the potential impact a hurricane or other similar event will have upon the community and them as an individual."

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Ramos is a staff writer and designer for the Texas Catholic Herald, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston. Rhina Guidos in Washington contributed to this story.

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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.

Oklahoma set to welcome world for beatification of 'ordinary' native son

August 25, 2017 - 2:45pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Daniel LeClair, Reuters

By Rhina Guidos

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Catholics in Oklahoma have been preparing for a long time for this moment. Many, like Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City, had faith it would come, but there's still a sense of awe, to think that a farm boy, one of their own, is about to take a step toward official sainthood.

On Sept. 23, Oklahomans will get a front row seat to the beatification of Father Stanley Rother, an ordinary man from an ordinary town, who died extraordinarily as a martyr in Guatemala while serving in a mission. He knew well the dangers of the Guatemalan highlands, where government forces tortured and killed anyone suspected of dissent during the most politically tumultuous moments in the country's history.

However, Father Rother refused to abandon the community he so loved from 1968 until his 1981 assassination. Like many of the poor and persecuted he served, he died long before he had to at age 46, shot in the head in the parish rectory.

"People are justly proud of this native son, but one wouldn't expect something like this, such a recognition to be accorded to somebody from Okarche, Oklahoma," said Archbishop Coakley in a phone interview with Catholic News Service.

Okarche (pronounced oh-car-chee) is a small farming town with a lot of windmills, said Archbishop Coakley, and one that's increasingly receiving visitors and pilgrims wanting to learn more about the tranquil setting that was home to Father Rother. He left it behind because he wanted to serve the church in a place where priests were needed and, in the late 1960s, priests were needed in the remote highlands of Guatemala, where the Oklahoma City Archdiocese had a mission in the town of Santiago Atitlan.

"We weren't talking about the peripheries 30, 35 years ago when Father Rother was killed but certainly he had that missionary spirit," said Archbishop Coakley. "He had a heart for the people there. He recognized their dignity, he recognized that they were precious in the Lord's sight."

Some say Father Rother arrived "knowing 10 words in Spanish," but the agricultural skills he imported from Okarche and his kindness endeared him to the locals. Archbishop Coakley has visited Santiago Atitlan on a couple of occasions, once during a pilgrimage and also for an event honoring Father Rother.

"The devotion of the locals to Padre Aplas, as they call him, is amazing," he said. "He's venerated and honored as the beloved shepherd who laid down his life for them. We were there for the very special day of the anniversary of this death so there was a large festive Mass, a colorful event, processions.

"For many, many years, his heart has been enshrined in the back of the church, where people approach reverently and pray ... evidence of their esteem for him, their appreciation for him. Their devotion to him is really everywhere."

Though his heart, physically and otherwise, was left in Guatemala, the rest of his remains returned to Okarche. For years, people stopped by to pray at his grave at the Holy Trinity Cemetery in town, said Archbishop Coakley, even before he was declared a martyr by the Vatican in late 2016. His remains have since been exhumed as part of the beatification process and moved to a chapel in Oklahoma City, where the ceremony declaring him Blessed Stanley Rother will take place.

Though Oklahoma is not a predominantly Catholic state, there's a lot of interest outside of Catholic circles, particularly with the upcoming beatification. Archbishop Coakley said he has tried to meet with local groups eager for information about the event and recently gave a presentation to religious leaders of various faith traditions who wanted to know more about the priest and the significance of his beatification.

"Some of them undoubtedly plan to attend the beatification," he said. "It's touching people well beyond our Catholic community."

Two of Father Rother's siblings as well as a delegation from Guatemala will attend the ceremony at the Cox Convention Center. Guatemalans from Santiago Atitlan will participate in the liturgy, which will include the prayers of the faithful in their local dialect. A large banner that will be unveiled at the time of the beatification will display elements of Guatemalan culture, said Archbishop Coakley.

He said he wants Catholics to understand that a martyr and a holy person such as Father Rother can come from an ordinary beginning.

"There was nothing exceptional about him," said the archbishop about Father Rother. "But he was extraordinarily faithful to his calling, to his vocation, to grace. He's a witness to all of us that God chooses the humble, the lowly, as he always does, to accomplish great things for those who allow themselves to be used by God."

And God gave him the extraordinary gift of martyrdom because of Father Rother's fidelity and generosity, the archbishop said.

"Ultimately, if God calls a young man from Okarche, Oklahoma, to be a saint, to be beatified, to be a martyr, it reminds us that all of us, no matter our beginnings, our circumstances, are called to holiness as well," he said.

Because of Father Rother's sacrifice, Guatemala no longer needs help from Oklahoma, Archbishop Coakley said.

"In the aftermath of Father Rother's death, the church's holy words proved to be true, that the blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians," said Archbishop Coakley. "The church (in Santiago Atitlan) really began to flourish after Father Rother's death and they've seen a number of vocations from the parish and, ultimately, the local diocese thanked us for our service there but said that they could now staff the parish."

In addition to the beatification, the archdiocese also is in the midst of its first capital campaign, which includes raising $55 million -- half will go toward a shrine honoring Father Rother.

"We have a master plan, an architect, we have a conceptual design. ... We're just beginning our fundraising for it," said Archbishop Coakley.

For now, the archdiocese is squarely focused on the September beatification, which has interest beyond Oklahoma, the archbishop said.

"He is being lifted up and being offered to the whole church as a witness of holiness and fidelity to the Gospel, a witness to pastoral charity, to inspire all people," he said. "We need these kinds of heroes in light of the many challenges that priests have had to deal with the last 15 years or so. This is good news that we have a holy heroic priest being lifted up and honored to remind us that all of us are called to holiness."

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Follow Guidos on Twitter: @CNS_Rhina

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'We are with you,' says Pence during Florida visit with Venezuelan exiles

August 25, 2017 - 1:30pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Joe Skipper, Reuters

By Ana Rodriguez-Soto

DORAL, Fla. (CNS) -- They called Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro a dictator and a gangster. They recounted personal experiences of torture, beatings and intimidation at the hands of government thugs and jailors.

They told of blatant disregard for the rule of law and the will of the people. A mother held up photos of her 22-year-old daughter, killed by a bullet to the head after a protest march.

About a dozen exiles of Venezuela's "Bolivarian revolution" sat around a table in the rectory of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church Aug. 23 telling Vice President Mike Pence sad tales of their country's 18-year tailspin, from democracy to dictatorship, from oil riches to widespread misery.

"I ask for all those who have fallen," said an emotional Maria Eugenia Tovar, mother of Genesis Carmona, a university student and beauty queen killed during protests in 2014 in Valencia, in the state of Carabobo.

Tovar and other witnesses say the bullet came from government-sanctioned mobs -- "colectivos" -- who appeared after the military corralled the protesters and left. Feeling persecuted since then, Tovar and her family sought refuge in Miami.

So did Francisco Marquez, 30, an activist with Voluntad Popular (the will of the people) who became a political prisoner for four months in 2016. He recalled how his jailors forced him to march naked and "run under gunfire in handcuffs just to mess with my head."

"I don't think governments realize how much torture is done in Venezuela," said Marquez, whose dual U.S.-Venezuela citizenship probably expedited his release. He noted that "to stay on the front page means a lot, more than you could possibly know, to people who are still in jail."

Ramon Muchacho, the mayor of Chacao, a district of Caracas, escaped the country after being stripped of his position and sentenced to 15 months in prison for failing to halt anti-government protests.

"There is no democracy in Venezuela. There is a dictatorship in Venezuela," Muchacho said, adding that he also sees no peaceful way to change it. "It is not possible for us, the Venezuelan people by ourselves, to bring back democracy and freedom to Venezuela. We need help."

The exiles agreed that sanctions must be placed upon individuals who collaborate with the Maduro regime, including many who have fled with their wealth to South Florida. They added that other nations in Latin America, and especially the European Union, also need to impose sanctions and stop supporting the regime financially.

"We need more sanctions. We need to stop the enemy in Venezuela so they cannot buy tools for repression," said Ernesto Ackerman, founder of a grass-roots group called IVAC, which stands for Independent Venezuelan-American Citizens.

Several of the exiles compared Venezuela's situation to Cuba's, but not because of ideology -- although Venezuela has copied Cuba's model for repression since the days of Maduro's predecessor, Hugo Chavez. A number of top officials in the regime, including Maduro's vice president, have been accused of narco-trafficking.

"We are fighting against gangsters," said Warner Jimenez, a businessman and mayor of Maturin in the state of Monagas. His businesses confiscated, his family persecuted, he hid from the authorities for three weeks before making his way to South Florida earlier this year.

"Please don't allow Venezuela to become another Cuba," Jimenez said.

Carlos Vecchio, another activist with Voluntad Popular who spent three months in hiding before leaving his homeland, thanked the Cuban community already here for making exile "easier, because your family, without knowing, set the flag of freedom in South Florida."

He was specifically addressing U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, who sat in on the meeting along with U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, and Florida Gov. Rick Scott. The stories were not new to them. But the exiles were buoyed by the fact that the vice president of the United States, fresh from a tour of Latin America, had asked specifically to come to Doral and listen to them in person.

"This room is a testament to the brutality of the Maduro regime," said Pence. "I am deeply moved, and frankly deeply humbled, by the courage around this table."

He promised to "convey your stories back to the president of the United States."

Sitting in the church next door, waiting for the same politicians to speak to them, were about 1,000 more people, many of them members of the parish that has become the "spiritual home" of South Florida's Venezuelan diaspora; a parish led by a Venezuela native, Father Israel Mago.

Those gathered in the rectory and in the church heard hopeful words from the vice-president regarding the current administration's attitude toward Venezuela's government.

"President Trump has made it clear that the United States of America will not stand by as Venezuela crumbles," Pence told those gathered.

The Trump administration, he assured them, will work with other nations in this hemisphere to continue slapping meaningful sanctions against individuals in the Maduro regime -- including Maduro himself, who already is one of only four heads of state directly sanctioned by the U.S. government.

It's a short list populated by Bashar Assad of Syria, Kim Jong Un of North Korea and Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, noted Diaz-Balart.

The Trump administration "will continue to bring the full measure of American economic and diplomatic power to bear until democracy is restored in Venezuela," promised Pence. "There's more to come," he added, avoiding specifics other than to say the U.S. seeks "a peaceable solution" to Venezuela's woes.

He urged the countries of the region "to do more, much more," but promised the Venezuelan community: "We are with you and we will stand with you ... America first does not mean America alone ... The birthright of freedom belongs to all of our people in this New World."

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Rodriguez-Soto is on the staff of the Florida Catholic, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Miami and the dioceses of Orlando, Palm Beach and Venice.

 

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Dublin archbishop outlines themes to prepare for World Meeting of Families

August 24, 2017 - 12:32pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy John McElroy

By Sarah Mac Donald

KNOCK, Ireland (CNS) -- The president of the 2018 World Meeting of Families stressed that "there is no such thing as the ideal family" but that "there is an ideal of family," which is what the church is seeking to promote through the international gathering of families in Ireland.

In his homily delivered to a packed basilica at Knock Shrine in County Mayo, Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin said while there is no family that is ideal, there are "families who struggle, at times heroically."

He also asked, "How do we help our young people to encounter the path of faithful love as the only truth path toward human happiness? How do we teach fidelity in a world where everything is disposable?"

Speaking to media at the launch of the yearlong lead-in program of catechesis on "Amoris Laetitia," Pope Francis' postsynodal apostolic exhortation on the family, Archbishop Martin said the program was about long-term renewal, and that the international gathering, which up to 5,000 families from overseas are expected to attend, would not be "a seven-day wonder." The meeting is scheduled Aug. 21-26, 2018.

On the challenge of speaking to young people about lifelong fidelity, he commented, "They may say I'm getting married for life, but their understanding of for life maybe very different. It is one of the big challenges that we face, and there is no magic answer."

He said the church must witness within society to what fidelity means and "show young people that long-term fidelity leads to a deep fulfillment, and that there is real value in that." He also mentioned a theme of families and technology.

Referring to Pope Francis' gestures of loving care and constant talk of God's mercy he said, "There are even some who feel that he is in danger of reducing the significance of God's law. Pope Francis is certainly not betraying God's law, but he is reminding us that we -- as individuals and as church -- can only be messengers of God's law if we reflect God's love and mercy."

Asked by Catholic News Service why he felt it was necessary to state that Pope Francis was not betraying God's law, the Dublin archbishop said, "Because some people say he has." He would not elaborate.

Father Timothy Bartlett, secretary-general of the 2018 World Meeting of Families, told CNS it was "critically important" for people to understand that "none of the truths of the church, the ideals of the church or the Gospel in which it is rooted, have changed" in "Amoris Laetitia."

He said he hoped families would use the preparation program to become familiar with what Pope Francis is saying about "the joys and challenges of being a family in the world today."

"If I had one fundamental hope for this World Meeting of Families and its preparations, it would be precisely those families who feel burdened by all of the pressures of life, feel distant from the church, either through sheer distraction, or through anger and hurt with the church or disillusionment -- that they would hear us say that this is also about you," he said.

During the ceremony in Knock basilica, Archbishop Martin unveiled and blessed a specially commissioned icon of the Holy Family by Romanian icon writer Mihai Cucu, with the assistance of the Redemptoristine Sisters in Dublin. The icon will be taken around the Irish church's 26 dioceses to raise awareness of "Amoris Laetitia" and World Meeting of Families.

Of Pope Francis' visit to Ireland for the closing Mass Aug. 26, 2018, Archbishop Martin said the Argentine pontiff had told him of his wish to come to Dublin for the gathering, which has the theme, "The Gospel of the Family: Joy for the World."

But he stressed that the visit would be very different from when St. John Paul II came to Ireland as pope in 1979.

"Pope John Paul came to Ireland when he was 60; when Pope Francis comes, he will be over 80. So, I think we have to look at a very different style and scale." He also stressed that Pope Francis "will come to a very different Ireland than Pope John Paul."

Anne Griffin, general manager of World Meeting of Families 2018, said the event was aiming for a minimum daily participation of at least 15,000 people. Though registrations had opened just a few weeks ago, there were already double the number of registrations for the International Eucharistic Congress in 2012 at the same stage.

"We have a lot of interest from large groups that are coming from North America and from Europe," she said.

Organizers also announced there will be no entry fee for people under the age of 18.

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Imprisonment without hope for the future is torture, pope says

August 24, 2017 - 12:05pm

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Although prisoners must pay a price for their crimes, incarceration must not be used as a method of torture but rather an opportunity to become contributing members of society, Pope Francis said.

Punishment can be fruitful only when inmates are helped to look toward the future rather than only back at a past lived out in shame, the pope said in a video message Aug. 24 to inmates at the Ezeiza federal penitentiary in Argentina.

"Let us not forget that for punishment to be fruitful," the pope said, "it must have a horizon of hope, otherwise it remains closed in itself and is just an instrument of torture; it isn't fruitful."

The pope's video message was addressed to inmates taking part in the prison's university studies program, which he said was one of many programs that provide "a space for work, culture, progress" and are "a sign of humanity."

He thanked prison administration officials for allowing the program as well as the inmates in charge of the student center -- Marcelino, Guille and Edo -- who he said he "knew by phone."

"What is happening among you in prison is a breath of life. And life -- as you know -- is a gift, but a gift that must be conquered daily. It is given to us, but we must conquer it every day. We must conquer it in every step of our life," the pope said.

Prisoners must be given the hope of social reintegration and empowerment, Pope Francis said. And the prison's educational studies program will give inmates a chance to be productive members of society despite their crimes.

"It is shame with hope, a punishment with a horizon," the pope said. "I'll say it again: There are and will be problems, but the horizon is greater than problems; hope overcomes all problems."

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

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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.