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'Crown jewel' of national shrine dedicated

The overflowing congregation at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception hardly needed reminding to raise their "eyes to the heavens" during a dedication of the Trinity Dome Mosaic Dec. 8.
 
Before Mass began, all eyes were already on the newly completed gold dome above the front central section of the Upper Church.
 
When it was blessed during Mass, incense rose above the congregation and bright lights were turned on to give a better view of the newly finished dome that includes the words of the Nicene Creed encircling the base and a depiction of the Holy Trinity, Mary, the four Evangelists, angels and more than a dozen saints connected to the United States or the shrine.
 
During the blessing and before and after Mass, phones and cameras were held aloft to capture the completed work more than two years in the making. But it would take more than a few pictures to capture the details in this majestic work of art described as the "crown jewel" of the national shrine during introductory remarks by Msgr. Walter Rossi, the rector.
 
The dome mosaic is composed of more than 14 million pieces of Venetian glass covering more than 18,300 square feet of the dome's surface. Its completion marks the final step in finishing the work of the Upper Church that began in 1955.
 
The dome was dedicated, fittingly, on the feast of the Immaculate Conception, reflecting the basilica's namesake. The dedication Mass was celebrated by Washington Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl and Cardinal Kevin J. Farrell, prefect of the Vatican's Dicastery for Laity, the Family and Life, who was named by Pope Francis to be his special envoy at the dedication Mass.
 
Other cardinals concelebrating the Mass included Cardinals Theodore E. McCarrick, retired archbishop of Washington and Justin Rigali, retired archbishop of Philadelphia, along with Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. They were joined by more than two dozen bishops and 90 priests.
 
Cardinal Wuerl pointed out in his homily that the mosaic tiles in the dome are symbolic of the living body of Christ regularly filling the pews of the shrine and reflecting the Church's diversity.
 
He urged the congregation of families, women religious, students and people of all ages and ethnic backgrounds who filled the pews, the side chapels and stood in the back at the dedication Mass to always look to this "great majestic dome mindful of our prayer to Mary" and ask for her intercession.
 
He said Mary is the model of "what our faith should be" because she believed that nothing was impossible with God.
 
The cardinal said he remembered coming to the shrine when he was a student at The Catholic University of America in the 1960s when the walls were simply brick except for the mosaic image of the Risen Christ at the front of the church.
 
He also noted that the completion of the dome finishes a work that began nearly 100 years ago when the shrine's cornerstone was placed in 1920.
 
As construction began on the National Shrine, as it was then called, Catholics throughout the country were invited to contribute however they could. Some donated pieces of gold jewelry and even precious stones, the cardinal said, which were fashioned into what came to be known as the "first chalice of the National Shrine" and was used at the Dec. 8 mosaic dedication.
 
When Pope Francis was at the shrine in 2015 to celebrate Mass and canonize St. Junipero Serra, he also blessed a piece of the mosaic: the words for the beginning and end of the Nicene Creed: "I believe in one God" and "Amen."
 
At the end of the dedication Mass, Msgr. Rossi thanked the artists and workers, some of whom were seated at the front of the church, for their work on the mosaic, which was done in Italy and shipped in 30,000 sections weighing 24 tons. He pointed out that no one was injured and no damages occurred in the installation.
 
He also thanked the many donors who contributed to the dome work and gave to the shrine's one-time national collection for the project on Mother's Day.
 
"This crown jewel of Mary's shrine is really your work, your gift to the Blessed Mother," he said.
 
 
 

Living by Church's calendar at home

Growing up in St. Louis, Susanna Spencer loved her family's Advent tradition of adorning a Jesse Tree with Old Testament symbols leading up to Christ's birth.
 
She continued the tradition while in college at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, where she met her husband, Mark.
 
"After seeing (Advent traditions) in my childhood, I thought, I want to do this the whole year, not just for the short four weeks before Christmas," said Spencer, 31.
 
Even before they were married, Susanna and Mark both felt "drawn to liturgical life" and began incorporating more aspects of the Catholic Church's calendar into their daily lives, from praying the Liturgy of the Hours to observing saints' feast days.
 
Now parents of four, ages 2 to 8, and parishioners of St. Agnes in St. Paul, the Spencers are intentional about shaping their home with the rhythm of the Church seasons.
 
"A lot of the things that we've done are taking the Advent wreath idea and conforming it to the other liturgical seasons," Susanna said.
 
The first Sunday in Advent marks the beginning of a new Church year, and for some Catholic families, the liturgical "New Year" is tied to special traditions at home. This year the first Sunday is Dec. 3.
 
While enhancing a family's "domestic church" through aspects of the liturgical calendar is nothing new, Catholics who are interested in liturgical home practices can find an increasing wealth of information online, where Catholics share ideas on blogs dedicated to the practice, such as Carrots for Michaelmas, carrotsformichaelmas.com, and Catholic All Year, catholicallyear.com.

Spencer noted that Sts. Louis and Zelie Martin, the parents of St. Therese of Lisieux, used a set of 15 books dedicated to the annual cycle of feasts and fasts in their 19th-century French home; Spencer has an edition on a shelf in her own living room.
 
In the Spencer's West St. Paul home, the Church's season is regularly reflected in two spots: the dining room table centerpiece and the family's small prayer table. The latter contains candles and a few icons, statues and artworks of saints and devotions, some of which change to reflect certain feasts or seasons.

The family prays there together daily, often noting that day's saint or memorial. Sometimes, they mark a saint's feast by attending daily Mass, where the saint is commemorated in the liturgy.
 
The Spencers' centerpieces range from an Advent wreath, to a crown of thorns during Lent, to fresh flowers during ordinary time. Susanna anticipates feast days while meal planning, serving spaghetti on an Italian saint's memorial or a blueberry dessert on days honoring Mary, which the Church traditionally symbolizes with blue.
 
"One of the ways that you can learn about holiness is living with the saints," she told The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. "If we never think of them, we … can't benefit from their intercession."
 
She realizes that observing the Catholic Church's calendar can feel like another task on the to-do list, and therefore potentially overwhelming or discouraging. She encourages Catholics who want to try it to keep it simple.
 
In West St. Paul, Heidi Flanagan's family has developed an Advent tradition that has connected its members more intimately to the communion of saints.
 
On the first Sunday of Advent, Heidi; her husband, John; and their six children -- ages 2 to 12 -- select a slip of paper from a shoebox. On that paper is the name of a saint who becomes their patron for the liturgical year.
 
Heidi, 43, received the box -- and the idea -- about eight years ago from a friend who does something similar in her home. The Flanagans say a small litany of the saints daily, asking each member's patron saint for that year to pray for them. They also celebrate their feast days throughout the year.
 
"I feel like it's given them this buddy in heaven -- this sense of security -- that we're not alone, that they have these superheroes rooting for them and praying for them in heaven," Flanagan said of her children. "They develop friendships with these saints."
 
The tradition has provided an opportunity to learn more about the saints' lives, and the saints have helped all of the Flanagans grow in their spiritual lives. Before they select their saints, the Flanagans also pray that the saints selected would also "choose" them.
 
"It' s been so cool how often we look back at the year and say, 'Oh, I can totally see how this saint chose me,'" because different challenges or opportunities seemed suited to that saint's intercession.
 

Bishop Coyne: Strong net neutrality protections critical to faith community

The chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Communications has urged the Trump administration to keep current net neutrality rules in place because an open internet, he said, is critical to the nation's faith communities and how they interact with their members.
 
"Without open internet principles which prohibit paid prioritization, we might be forced to pay fees to ensure that our high-bandwidth content receives fair treatment on the internet," said Burlington Bishop Christopher J. Coyne.
 
"Nonprofit communities, both religious and secular, cannot afford to pay to compete with profitable commercialized content," he said in a Nov. 28 statement.
 
The concept of an open internet has long been called "net neutrality," in which internet service providers neither favor nor discriminate against internet users or websites. Neutrality means, for example, providers cannot prioritize one type of content over another, nor can they speed up, slow down or block users’ access to online content and services.
 
On Nov. 21, the current chairman of the Federal Communications Commission announced his proposal to roll back rules on neutrality put in place in 2015 by the Obama administration.
 
Bishop Coyne urged that the current rules remain in place. "Strong net neutrality protections are critical to the faith community to function and connect with our members," he said.
 
These protections are "essential to protect and enhance the ability of vulnerable communities to use advanced technology and necessary for any organization that seeks to organize, advocate for justice or bear witness in the crowded and over-commercialized media environment," Bishop Coyne said.
 
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said in a statement that under his plan, "the federal government will stop micromanaging the internet. Instead, the FCC would simply require internet service providers to be transparent about their practices."
 
Bishop Coyne said: "Robust internet protections are vital to enable our archdioceses, dioceses and eparchies, our parishes, schools and other institutions to communicate with each other and our members, to share religious and spiritual teachings, to promote activities online, and to engage people -- particularly younger persons -- in our ministries."
 
The FCC is scheduled to vote on Pai's proposal at its monthly hearing Dec. 14. Observers predict the vote will fall along party lines. Chairman Pai is Republican as are Commissioners Brendan Carr and Michael O'Rielly. Commissioners Mignon Clyburn and Jessica Rosenworcel are Democrats.
 
 

Thanksgiving: A unique holiday for a uniquely diverse nation

What does Thanksgiving really mean to you? Is it just a really big dinner, or is there something more about it that maybe you've forgotten?
 
It is unique among American holidays in that it is both civic and religious in its origins. It is unlike Christmas and Easter which are, strictly speaking, religious holy days that were adopted by the general culture as holidays, or Independence Day which is completely civic.
 
There is a bit of controversy as to where the holiday began. New Englanders say it was started as a harvest feast attended by both settlers and Native Americans in thanksgiving for the Plymouth colony's first harvest. Virginians point to celebrations a bit earlier in Berkley Hundred and Jamestown.
 
In both cases there was reason to be thankful and not just for food but for being alive. Within a year of their arrival half of the New England colonists were dead as were three quarters of the original Virginia colonists, either from starvation or disease.
 
Of all American holidays, Thanksgiving is a celebration of immigrants because it traces back to our immigrant forefathers and foremothers who at great sacrifice laid the foundation of a new nation.
 
The tradition continues as recent immigrants also pause to thank God for his blessings and enjoy a feast usually including that peculiar American fowl, a turkey.
 
Lan-Huong Lam, a member of the Vietnamese community at South Philadelphia's St. Thomas Aquinas Parish, has been in America for 10 years. Although her family still celebrates traditional Vietnamese holidays, especially for the New Year, they also have embraced Thanksgiving in a way that is strikingly American.
 
"My family will come to my father's house this year, (and) next year we will all go to my uncle's house," she told CatholicPhilly.com, the news website of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
 
And yes, they will have dishes such as turkey and mashed potatoes, but along with that they will have traditional Vietnamese foods for those members who prefer them.
 
Reyna Mota, who is a member of the Dominican Republic community that worships at St. Leo Church in Philadelphia, really buys into the true meaning of Thanksgiving as a way to give thanks to God and celebrate our blessings.
 
While she and her husband are immigrants, "our kids were born here," she said. Like many other Americans new or old, she and her husband and children were hitting the road to travel to Salisbury, Maryland, for an extended family get-together.
 
The traditional turkey, cranberry sauce and all the fixings will be on the table as well as chicken because turkey is not something their family is used to. Of course, one of the desserts will be flan, a staple in Central America.
 
If a number of the relatives prefer chicken it had better be more than one bird because "we will have about 30 people there," Mota said.
Samuel Abu, a Liberian native who works for Philadelphia's archdiocesan Catholic Social Services, is a member of Divine Mercy Parish in West Philadelphia and he has 12 years in the U.S.
Thanksgiving is a national holiday in Liberia also, probably because the country was founded by former American slaves who returned to Africa after the Civil War. But it is just a day off there, with no special traditions. He was surprised when he came to the U.S. and found what a big deal it is here.
 
"When we came here we didn't like turkey," he confessed, and his family would go out to eat. Now he and his wife have four kids and they all love turkey.
 
Abu's wife loves to prepare the Thanksgiving dinner, and in that tradition the whole family gathers around the table for the feast. But in his household they don't do stuffing and they eat the turkey in gravy as in a stew.
 
Another dish they favor which most Americans would not connect with Thanksgiving is the root vegetable that is much more familiar in the tropics than the potato: cassava.
 
But whatever they eat or don't eat, "We are thankful to God that we are able to live this life and pray for the families who are not able to do this, especially my father and my mother," Abu said. "We thank God for our jobs and our children and the opportunity to own our home."
Hari Chan, who has been in America for 15 years, is a member of the Indonesian community that worships at St. Thomas Aquinas Parish. On Thanksgiving his family will probably gather for Mass in the chapel at their parish.
 
Then the Indonesian community members will all get together at the adjacent Aquinas Center for a potluck meal. It will include turkey of course, but also Indonesian favorites.
 
While they don't have Thanksgiving in Indonesia there are other holidays, mostly Muslim, because most Indonesians are Muslim. But just as in America where non-Christians celebrate Christmas, "there we celebrate the Muslim holidays too," Chan said.
 
Maguy Jean Baptiste is part of the Haitian community at St. Cyril Parish in East Lansdowne and she has made America her home for 10 years. People do eat turkey in Haiti Jan. 1, which is both New Year's Day and Independence Day, she said.
 
As in so many American households on Thanksgiving Day, her sons will watch football, something that is not played in Haiti.
 
It will be a big meal because not just her husband and their five kids but also her sister's family with four kids will gather around the table. As an extra she always invites someone from the neighborhood who is alone for the holiday.
 
As part of the festivities the family members will draw names for gifts for the Pollyanna at Christmas. Also the family will take up a collection to send back to Haiti to help their struggling families there.
 
Maria Alvin, a member of Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish in Southampton, was born in Portugal but her family came to America when she was 7, and now she is married with a family of her own.
 
"My parents are still alive and we will all get together at my house," she said. "There will be about 12 people." It will be a traditional turkey dinner, but since her dad still doesn't like turkey, she will probably prepare a chicken and maybe some pork.
"Thanksgiving means freedom, the family all getting together, being thankful for what you have," she said.
 
A member of the French-speaking community at St. Cyprian Parish in Philadelphia named Dosse came to America 13 years ago from Togo. He and his wife have three kids, all born in the USA
 
In Togo the main holidays are Christmas and New Year's Day, but other than that there are no holidays with a long weekend. Dosse and his family will celebrate the same way many other people here do.
 
Most important, he told CatholicPhilly.com, "Thanksgiving is the time to thank God for everything, for his support in our lives."
 

Thanksgiving Day Appeal for Protection of the Vulnerable

Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), offers a Thanksgiving Day message to the nation with special gratitude for the gift of immigrants and refugees. 

Full statement follows:

“As we do every year, we will pause this coming Thursday to thank God for the many blessings we enjoy in the United States. My brother bishops and I, gathered last week in Baltimore, were attentive in a special way to those who are often excluded from this great abundance—the poor, the sick, the addicted, the unborn, the unemployed, and especially migrants and refugees.

My brothers expressed a shared and ever-greater sense of alarm—and urgency to act—in the face of policies that seemed unthinkable only a short time ago: the deportation of Dreamers, young hard-working people who should be the lowest priority for deportation; the anxiety and uncertainty of those with Temporary Protected Status from countries like Haiti, El Salvador, and Honduras, which are still recovering from natural disasters and remain ill-equipped to humanely receive and integrate them; and an unprecedented reduction in the number of people we will welcome this year into our country who seek refuge from the ravages of war and religious persecution in their countries of origin. 

One common feature of all these developments is their tendency to tear apart the family, the fundamental building block of our, or any, society. These threats to so many vulnerable immigrant and refugee families must end now. My brothers have urged me to speak out on their behalf to urge the immediate passage—and signature—of legislation that would alleviate these immediate threats to these families.

Another common feature of these policies is that they are symptoms of an immigration system that is profoundly broken and requires comprehensive reform. This is a longer-term goal, one that the bishops have advocated for decades to achieve, and one that must never be overlooked. Only by complete reform will we have the hope of achieving the common goals of welcoming the most vulnerable, ensuring due process and humane treatment, protecting national security, and respecting the rule of law. We are committed to such reforms and will continue to call for them.

So this year, I give thanks for the gift and contributions of immigrants and refugees to our great nation. I also pray that next year, families now under threat will not be broken and dispersed, but instead will be united in joy around their tables, giving thanks for all the blessings our nation has to offer. 

Have a Happy Thanksgiving all!”

National Catholic Youth Conference

The sound of more than 20,000 teens screaming and singing along with racuous music of Christian hip-hop band TobyMac was loud.
 
The sound of the same number of youths in silent prayer was deafening.
 
These external and internal forms of praise formed bookends to the opening general session of the National Catholic Youth Conference Nov. 16 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
 
After two hours of music, entertainment -- including cultural dancing by the Vietnamese Eucharistic Youth Movement -- and an entrance procession of banners from each Diocese present, the participants were greeted by Indianapolis Archbishop Charles C. Thompson.
 
Although each person came "from many dioceses, many states … and with many titles," he said, "we are first and foremost children of God. And that God who knows us desires to be known by us. … God wanted us to know him ... through a personal relationship with a human being, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
 
"We are beloved children of God, called by name, claimed by Christ," he continued, referring to the conference theme of "Called." "We begin this NCYC weekend by embracing that reality of who we are."
 
Chris Stefanick, an internationally acclaimed author, speaker and founder of Real Life Catholic, used humor and life experience to speak about the reality of who we are and of God's love for each person.
 
He spoke of the "love story" upon which the Catholic faith is founded.
 
"When you remove the love story, what are you left with?" he asked. "Rules that we have to follow. Rituals that we're not sure why we keep them alive but they take a lot of time. Doctrines that have nothing to do with your life. That's how the world has come to see Catholicism. … The world has forgotten the love story, and so often we've forgotten the love story."
 
That story, he said, "begins very simply with the words '(I) believe in one God.'"
So many youths today chose not to believe, he said, including an atheist who once told him that belief that God created the universe "is as stupid as a kid coming down on Christmas morning and, seeing presents under the tree, thinks, 'There are presents, therefore there must be a Santa.'"
 
"You say there's no God?" Stefanick asked. "That's like a flea not believing in the dog. That's like a kid coming down on Christmas morning and seeing presents under the tree and saying, 'Oh look! Presents! They must have exploded themselves here!' … Just so, the universe did not put itself here, and the more we learn about the universe, the more it shouts to us about the existence of God."
 
And because God's love created us, he said, no other form of love will satisfy.
 
"We feel so small in this world," he told the crowd that came from as far away as Hawaii and Alaska. "We feel so insignificant in this universe.
 
"I think God looks down from heaven and says, 'You are huge next to all this.' As big as a mountain is, can it know someone? As big as an ocean is, can it make a choice? As big as a galaxy is, can it choose to love? No, but you can. ... You're a huge deal!"

But because of human rejection of God, Stefanick continued, sin and brokenness entered the world. To applause and shouts of "Amen!" he modified the words of John 3:16 to note that therefore, "'God so loved you that he gave his only Son.' Whoa. …"
 
 

Museum of the Bible

Hey, Smithsonian, there's a new kid on the block.
 
It's the Museum of the Bible, just a few blocks from the National Mall in Washington.
 
With its opening to the public Nov. 18, it tells visitors how the Bible -- both Old Testament and New Testament -- has intersected society and at times even transformed it.
 
The people behind the museum say that if visitors were to read the card behind every artwork, saw every video, heard every song and took part in every interactive experience -- including a Broadway-style musical called "Amazing Grace" about the song's writer, John Newton, and the biblical inspiration behind the abolitionist movement -- it would take them 72 hours to do it all.
 
But visitors can take their time, because there is no admission charge to the museum.
 
The museum was the brainchild of Steve Green, chairman of the museum's board of directors and president of the Hobby Lobby chain of arts and crafts stores. It was Hobby Lobby that successfully argued before the Supreme Court in 2014 that, as a closely held company, its owners based on their religious beliefs should not have to comply with a federal mandate to cover all forms of contraceptives because some act as abortifacients.
 
"It's exciting to share the Bible with the world," Green said at a Nov. 15 press preview of the museum, which is just one block from a subway stop serving three of the Washington-area subway system's six lines.
 
The $500 million museum had its coming-out party in 2011 at the Vatican Embassy in Washington before a gathering of business, government, academic and religious leaders.
 
Museum backers found a circa-1923 refrigeration warehouse that had been repurposed for other uses, bought the building and set about expanding it, adding two stories and a skylight to the top of the structure and a sub-basement for storage space.
 
The result: six floors of exhibits, not to mention the theater, gift shop and restaurants.
 
 
Most of the exhibits, when necessary, use the designations "B.C." and "A.D." -- Before Christ and Anno Domini, Latin for "year of the Lord" -- to refer to the timeline of civilization marked by Jesus' birth. Museum brass had discussions on the topic, Susan Jones, curator of antiquities for the museum, told Catholic News Service.
 
"They decided that's the way they wanted to go," she said.
 
Most researchers, Jones noted, prefer the designations "B.C.E" and "C.E." -- Before the Common Era and Common Era -- because "they're more neutral." Also preferring the latter names is the Israeli Association for Antiquities, which has a 20-year deal with the museum to supply artifacts in a fifth-floor exhibit space. "You're in Israel now," she told a visitor as a tour guide was boasting that he had his hand on a rock from the Western Wall in Jerusalem in the exhibit.
 
There are a number of items on loan to the museum from the Vatican Museums and the Vatican Library. They're in a tiny space on the museum's ground floor -- relatively speaking, since the museum totals 430,000 square feet. What can't be seen in person can be accessed by two dedicated computers in the exhibit area, one for the museums and one for the library.
 
Brian Hyland, an associate curator for medieval manuscripts at the museum, told CNS the Vatican donations will be around for six months, then replaced by other artifacts. One of his favorite items currently in the exhibit space is the first volume of a facsimile of the Urbino Bible, which dates to the 15th century; the second volume will replace the first volume at some point in 2018.
 
Despite the Bible's status as the best-selling and most-read book in history, one exhibit speaks of "Bible poverty," and the fact that roughly 1 billion people have never read the Bible in their native tongue.
 
An organization called IllumiNations, a collaborative effort by Bible translation agencies, is trying to change that. The aim is to have, by 2033, 95 percent of the world's peoples with access to the full Bible, 99.9 percent with at least the New Testament, and 100 percent with at least some parts of the Bible translated into what museum docent William Lazenby called "their heart languages."
 
The exhibit space touting this endeavor is stocked with Bibles and New Testaments in various languages. Hardcover books with blank pages in the exhibit represent the untranslated languages. Wholly untranslated languages are represented by yellow covers, and partially translated tongues are represented by covers with a redder hue.
 

Civility must guide debate on social challenges, USCCB president says

BALTIMORE (CNS) -- Acknowledging wide divisions in the country over issues such as health care, immigration reform, taxes and abortion, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops called for civility to return to the public debate.
 
Contemporary challenges are great, but that they can be addressed without anger and with love Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston said in his first address as USCCB president during the bishops' fall general assembly.
 
"We are facing a time that seems more divided than ever," Cardinal DiNardo said. "Divisions over health care, conscience protections, immigration and refugees, abortion, physician-assisted suicide, gender ideologies, the meaning of marriage and all the other headlines continue to be hotly debated. But our role continues to be witnessing the Gospel."
 
He explained that the National Catholic War Council, created by the U.S. bishops in 1917 in the response to the world refugee crisis that emerged from World War I and the forerunner to the USCCB, was formed to address great national and international needs at a time not unlike today.
 
He said the history of the American Catholic Church is full of examples of the work of "holy men and women" responding to social challenges. He particularly mentioned Capuchin Franciscan Father Solanus Casey, who ministered alongside homeless and poor people in Detroit and who will be beatified Nov. 18.
 
"The history of Christianity is also the story of reconciliation. In 2017, we mark the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Begun as a moment of painful division, it stands as a journey toward healing, from conflict to communion," Cardinal DiNardo said.
 
He continued, "Civility begins in the womb. If we cannot come to love and protect innocent life from the moment God creates it, how can we properly care for each other as we come of age? Or when we come to old age?"
 
The cardinal lamented that abortion continues despite the existence of alternatives to save the life of unborn children.
 
Cardinal DiNardo also laid out several policy stances for the country to pursue.
He said hospitals and health care workers "deserve conscience protections so they never have to participate in the taking of a human life."
The cardinal called for "good and affordable health care" for poor people and action to address the country's opioid abuse epidemic.
 
To applause, Cardinal DiNardo urged lawmakers to enact comprehensive immigration reform and protections for the country's 800,000 young adults who have been protected from deportation under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
 
President Donald Trump in September called for an end to the program, handing off the solution to the immigration status of young adults brought to this country illegally as children to Congress and giving the lawmakers a six-month window to act.
 
Acknowledging that a country has the right to defend its borders, Cardinal DiNardo reminded the country's leaders that it should be done in a humane way. "We join our Holy Father in declaring that a pro-life immigration policy is one that does not tear families apart, it protects families," he said.
 
Racism, too, has risen to become a major challenge for the country, the USCCB president said.
 
"In our towns and in our cities, as civility ebbs, we have seen bolder expressions of racism, with some taking pride in this grave sin. Sometimes it is shocking and violent, such as in Charlottesville (Virginia, in August). More often it is subtle and systematic. But racism always destroys lives and it has no place in the Christian heart," he said.
 
The cardinal called for a "bold national dialogue ... a frank and honest commitment to address the root causes of racism."
 
"Americans don't like to talk about it. Nonetheless, it is time to act. Our common humanity demands it of us. Jesus demands it of us," Cardinal DiNardo said.
 
He discussed the work of Bishop George V. Murry of Youngstown, Ohio, chairman of the bishops' new Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism. The committee will meet with people throughout the country to learn how the best can best respond "in ending this evil," he added.
 
Beyond such challenges, Cardinal DiNardo said, society has had to respond to a series of natural disasters including hurricanes in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, wildfires in California and earthquakes in Mexico.
 
Such tragedies have brought the church in America together, he said, "and has reminded me of how wonderful the gifts of faith, hope and love truly are."
 
"We need to constantly put forward these virtues, especially in light of violence from what is a long and growing list of mass shootings in our schools, offices, churches and place of recreation," he explained.
 
"The time is long past due to end the madness of outrageous weapons, be they stockpiled on a continent or in a hotel room," the cardinal said.
 
Cardinal DiNardo said the love of Jesus is "stronger than all the challenges ahead."
 
"My brothers, let us follow our Holy Father ever more closely, going forth to be with our people in every circumstance of pastoral life. Drawing strength and wisdom from these past hundred years, let us sound our hands and voices joyfully. And let us always remind our people, and ourselves, that with God, all things are possible."
 

U.S. Bishops urge extension of Temporary Protected Status for Haiti

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Office of Migration and Refugee Services (USCCB/MRS), released its report today, entitled Haiti’s Ongoing Road to Recovery: The Necessity of an Extension of Temporary Protected Status, recommending the U.S. government extend Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Haiti. 

Bishop Joe S. Vásquez of Austin, Texas, Chairman of the USCCB Committee on Migration, in a letter introducing the report, states: “[W]hile conditions in Haiti are improving, the country is not yet in a position where it can adequately and safely accept return of the estimated 50,000 Haitian nationals who have received TPS.”

A delegation from USCCB/MRS traveled to Haiti, from September 4-7, 2017, to examine the progress Haiti had made since its initial designation for TPS in 2010 and the challenges that remain. The delegation also assessed the ability of the country to safely accept and reintegrate returned nationals should TPS for Haiti be terminated. USCCB/MRS Committee Member, Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami, Florida, led the delegation and was accompanied by Bishop Launay Saturné of Jacmel, Haiti, as well as staff from MRS and the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc.

Currently, there are an estimated 50,000 Haitians living in the U.S. with TPS. Through its work in Haiti and in the United States, the Catholic Church knows these individuals to be hardworking contributors to American communities, Catholic parishes, and our nation. Unfortunately, Haitian TPS recipients are living in a state of uncertainty and flux as Haiti’s current TPS designation is set to expire on January 22, 2018, with the Administration required to make a decision to extend or terminate the status by November 23, 2017.

Bishop Vásquez states in his introductory letter: “We urge the Administration to provide an 18-month extension of TPS for Haiti to ensure recipients’ continued protection while their country rebuilds. We further urge Congress to work in a bipartisan manner to find a legislative solution for TPS recipients who have been in the United States for many years.”

This report and other resources related to TPS are available on the Justice for Immigrants website. Resources include a backgrounder on TPS, a toolkit for Catholic leaders that offers ideas on how to show their support and solidarity with TPS recipients, and the USCCB/MRS report on TPS for El Salvador and Honduras.

Read the full text of the Haiti report.

 

Statement of Bishop Christopher J. Coyne on the shooting at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas

My brothers and sisters, once more we stand on the fortunate periphery in absolute horror as another mass shooting occurs in our country. I say, “fortunate periphery” because this could happen here in Vermont some day. We are fortunate it has not. Last month a mass shooting happened in Las Vegas, where 59 were killed and 441 were wounded.  Yesterday, it happened during a church service, on a Sunday morning, in rural Texas. Twenty-six people are dead, 20 are wounded. The victims ranged in age from 5 to 72, and among the dead were several children, a pregnant woman and the pastor’s 14-year-old daughter. The numbers and the details are staggering.  
 
I find my horror at the actions of these murders is mixed with frustration and guilt: frustration that we as a country cannot seem to come together to do anything about this evil plague and guilt that I bear for being part of a culture that fosters such violence. I find myself praying in the words of the song, “Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned.”
 
I invite all of us to prayer and contrition. First, prayers for our brothers and sisters who were murdered at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, prayers for those who are recovering from their wounds, and prayers for the families and friends who have lost loved ones and are caring for the wounded.
 
But also prayers for ourselves that we may as a country somehow find a way to have a meaningful dialogue about what is to be done to stop these mass shootings, with an openness to hear each other and to seriously consider new policies and laws to protect people from this horror. Each of us must search our own heart and ask, “Lord, what must I do?”
 
Finally, I ask my fellow Catholics to join me in prayer and fasting out of contrition for the collective guilt we bear for the violence that is so pervasive in our society.  May we ask the Lord to be merciful on all of us and to help us find our way more deeply into Him who is “the way, the truth, and the light.”
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