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Common dreams, diverse backgrounds

The U.S. bishops in a pastoral reflection released March 22 called all Catholics to do what each of them can "to accompany migrants and refugees who seek a better life in the United States."

Titled "Living as a People of God in Unsettled Times," the reflection was issued "in solidarity with those who have been forced to flee their homes due to violence, conflict or fear in their native lands," said a news release from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

"To live as a people of God is to live in the hope of the Resurrection," said the reflection, which was approved by the USCCB Administrative Committee on the first day of a two-day meeting in Washington.

The 37-member committee is made up of the executive officers of the USCCB, elected committee chairmen and elected regional representatives. It acts on behalf of the nation's bishops between their spring and fall general meetings.

"To live in Christ is to draw upon the limitless love of Jesus to fortify us against the temptation of fear," it continued. "Pray that our engagement in the debate over immigration and refugee issues may bring peace and comfort to those most affected by current and proposed national policy changes."

The bishops urged Catholics to pray for an end to the root causes of violence and other circumstances forcing families to flee their homeland to find a better life; to meet with newcomers in their parishes and "listen to their story, and share your own"; and to call, write or visit their elected representatives to ask them to fix our broken immigration system" in a way that would safeguard the country's security and "our humanity through a generous opportunity for legal immigration."

The statement opened with a passage from Chapter 19 of the Book of Leviticus: "The word of God is truly alive today. When an alien resides with you in your land, do not mistreat such a one. You shall treat the alien who resides with you no differently than the natives born among you; you shall love the alien as yourself; for you too were once aliens in the land of Egypt."

The bishops urged Catholics to "not lose sight of the fact that behind every policy is the story of a person in search of a better life. They may be an immigrant or refugee family sacrificing so that their children might have a brighter future."

"As shepherds of a pilgrim church," they wrote, "we will not tire in saying to families who have the courage to set out from their despair onto the road of hope: "We are with you."

Those families could include "a family seeking security from an increased threat of extremist violence," they said, adding that "it is necessary to safeguard the United States in a manner that does not cause us to lose our humanity."

The bishops said that "intense debate is essential to healthy democracy, but the rhetoric of fear does not serve us well."

"When we look at one another, do we see with the heart of Jesus?" they asked.

Their pastoral reflection comes at a time when the Trump administration's rhetoric and its policies on national security, refugees and immigration are in the headlines almost daily. Those policies have sparked almost nonstop protests in various parts of the country since President Donald Trump's Jan. 20 inauguration. In some cases, the anti-Trump demonstrations have turned violent.

The latest action on the refugee issue came March 16 when two federal judges blocked Trump's new executive order banning for 90 days the entry into the U.S. of citizens from six Muslim-majority nations and suspending for 120 days the resettlement of refugees. Two federal judges, one in Hawaii and one in Maryland, blocked the order before it was to take effect March 16 at midnight.

The Department of Justice announced March 17 it will appeal the Maryland ruling in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, which is based in Richmond, Virginia.

In their reflection, the bishops said that all in this country find "common dreams for our children" in their "diverse backgrounds."

"Hope in the next generation is how the nation will realize its founding motto, 'out of many, one,'" they said. "In doing so, we will also realize God's hope for all his children: that we would see each other as valued sisters and brothers regardless of race, religion or national origin."

Christ, as the word made flesh, "strengthens us to bring our words to life," they said, and suggested three ways Catholics, "in our own small way," can "bring our words of solidarity for migrants and refugees to life": by praying, welcoming newcomers and writing to their elected representatives urging them to support humane immigration policies.

"Pray for an end to the root causes of violent hatred that force mothers and fathers to flee the only home they may have known in search of economic and physical security for their children," the bishops said.

They asked Catholics to meet with newcomers in their parishes, and to "listen to their story and share your own." The bishops noted parishes across the country have programs for immigrants and refugees "both to comfort them and to help them know their rights."

They also urged Catholics to "to reach out in loving dialogue to those who may disagree with us. The more we come to understand each other's concerns the better we can serve one another. Together, we are one body in Christ."

Finally, Catholics should call, write or visit their elected officials urging they "fix our broken immigration system in a way that safeguards both our security and our humanity through a generous opportunity for legal immigration."

The reflection ended with a quote from Pope Francis: "To migrate is the expression of that inherent desire for the happiness proper to every human being, a happiness that is to be sought and pursued. For us Christians, all human life is an itinerant journey toward our heavenly homeland."

Full text of the Bishops' Administrative Committee statement, Living As A People Of God In Unsettled Times
 
  • Published in Nation

Bishops: Congress must consider budget's moral dimensions

The chairmen of six U.S. bishops' policy committees March 3 told members of the House and Senate that every decision they will make on the federal budget "should be assessed by whether it protects or threatens human life and dignity."

"A central moral measure of any budget proposal is how it affects 'the least of these' (Matthew 25). The needs of those who are hungry and homeless, vulnerable and at risk, without work or in poverty should come first," the six chairmen said.

They pointed out that the government and other institutions have "a shared responsibility to promote the common good of all, especially ordinary workers and families who struggle to live in dignity in difficult economic times."

The letter said the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops supports the goal of reducing future unsustainable deficits and believes the country has an obligation to address their impact on the health of the economy but that a "just framework for the federal budget cannot rely on disproportionate cuts in essential services to poor and vulnerable persons."

They also warned that cuts to domestic and international poverty-reducing and refugee-assisting programs would "result in millions of people being put in harm's way, denying access to life-saving and life-affirming services."

The bishops said they have devoted their efforts to addressing the "morally problematic features of health care reform while insuring that people have access to health care coverage."

They noted that the Catholic Church -- in its work across the country caring for the poor, homeless, the sick and refugees -- often partners with the government. "Our combined resources allow us to reach further and help more," they said.

The bishops urged federal lawmakers to recognize that the "moral measure of the federal budget is not which party wins or which powerful interests prevail, but rather how those who are jobless, hungry, homeless, exploited, poor, unborn or undocumented are treated."

"Their voices are too often missing in these debates, but they have the most compelling moral claim on our consciences and our common resources," they said.

The letter was signed by: New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, chairman of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities; Bishop Christopher J. Coyne of Burlington, Vermont, chairman of the Committee on Communications; Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development; Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, New Mexico, chairman of the Committee on International Justice and Peace; Bishop George V. Murry of Youngstown, Ohio, chairman of the Committee on Catholic Education; and Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, chairman of the Committee on Migration.
  • Published in Nation

US bishops support Conscience Protection Act

Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan and Archbishop William E. Lori – as chairmen of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities and Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, respectively – wrote to both Houses of the United States Congress on February 8, urging support for the Conscience Protection Act of 2017 (H.R. 644, S. 301).

The Conscience Protection Act, they wrote, is “essential legislation protecting the fundamental rights of health care providers…to ensure that those providing much-needed health care and health coverage can continue to do so without being forced by government to help destroy innocent unborn children.”

“While existing federal laws already protect conscientious objection to abortion in theory, this protection has not proved effective in practice,” the bishops noted, citing recent examples in which the federal government has refused to enforce these laws.  “The Conscience Protection Act will address the deficiencies that block effective enforcement of existing laws,” they said, “most notably by establishing a private right of action allowing victims of discrimination to defend their own rights in court.”

Cardinal Dolan and Archbishop Lori recalled the Hippocratic oath’s rejection of abortion in the profession of medicine, indicating that the Act will benefit not only Catholic medical professionals but “the great majority of ob/gyns [who] remain unwilling to perform abortions.”

Finally, they explained that conscience protection facilitates access to life-affirming health care: “When government… mandates involvement in abortion as a condition for being allowed to provide life-affirming health care services, it not only undermines the widely acknowledged civil rights of health care providers but also limits access to good health care for American women and men.”

The full text of their letter to the Senate.
More information on the bishops’ promotion of conscience rights.
 
  • Published in Nation

U.S. bishops call for pursuit of peace

In a letter issued yesterday congratulating Secretary Rex Tillerson on his confirmation as Secretary of State, Bishop Oscar Cantú, chair of the Committee on International Justice and Peace of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), called on the Secretary to work for peace in Israel and Palestine.

Bishop Cantú, who recently participated in a solidarity visit to Israel and Palestine, enclosed a joint communiqué by bishops from Europe, Canada, South Africa and the United States. The bishop notes that “2017 marks the fiftieth anniversary of a crippling occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza, crippling for both peoples.”  Quoting the joint communiqué of the bishops, he goes on to state that “[t]he occupation violates ‘the human dignity of both Palestinians and Israelis.’  Settlement expansion on occupied Palestinian lands undermines a two-state solution, destroying the homes and the livelihoods of Palestinians as well as the long-term security and future of Israelis.”

Decrying “egregious injustices and random acts of violence,” Bishop Cantú expressed the opposition of U.S. and international bishops to Israeli settlement expansion and confiscation of Palestinian lands. In addition, he implored the Secretary to maintain the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv. He wrote, “Moving the embassy to Jerusalem would erode the U.S. commitment to a two-state solution, and is a threat to pursuing peace and ending conflict. Its impact would incite and destabilize the area, compromising U.S. security. As Pope Francis declares, ‘the two-state solution must become a reality and not merely a dream.’”

Bishop Cantú called on Secretary Tillerson to work “to end fifty years of occupation and build a brighter future for both Israelis and Palestinians.” He concluded, “[T]he United States has always provided leadership and support to the peace process. We continue to profess hope for a diplomatic solution that respects the human dignity for both Israelis and Palestinians and advances justice and peace for all.”

Read the full text of the bishops’ joint communiqué and Bishop Cantú’s letter to Secretary Rex Tillerson.
  • Published in Nation

Executive order harms vulnerable families

President Donald J. Trump issued today an Executive Order addressing the U.S. refugee admissions program and migration to the United States, generally. The executive order virtually shuts down the refugee admissions program for 120 days, reduces the number of refugees to be admitted to the United States this year from 110,000 to 50,000 individuals, and indefinitely suspends the resettlement of Syrian refugees. In addition, it prioritizes religious minorities suffering from religious persecution, thereby deprioritizing all other persons fleeing persecution; calls for a temporary bar on admission to the United States from a number of countries of particular concern (all Muslim majority); and imposes a yet-to-be determined new vetting process for all persons seeking entry to the United States. 

Regarding the Executive Order's halt and reduction of admissions, Bishop Joe S. Vásquez of Austin, Texas, chairman of the Committee on Migration, stated:

"We strongly disagree with the Executive Order's halting refugee admissions. We believe that now more than ever, welcoming newcomers and refugees is an act of love and hope. We will continue to engage the new administration, as we have all administrations for the duration of the current refugee program, now almost forty years. We will work vigorously to ensure that refugees are humanely welcomed in collaboration with Catholic Charities without sacrificing our security or our core values as Americans, and to ensure that families may be reunified with their loved ones."

Regarding the Executive Order's ban on Syrian refugees, the prioritization of religious minorities suffering from religious persecution, Bishop Vásquez added: 

"The United States has long provided leadership in resettling refugees. We believe in assisting all those who are vulnerable and fleeing persecution, regardless of their religion. This includes Christians, as well as Yazidis and Shia Muslims from Syria, Rohingyas from Burma, and other religious minorities. However, we need to protect all our brothers and sisters of all faiths, including Muslims, who have lost family, home, and country. They are children of God and are entitled to be treated with human dignity. We believe that by helping to resettle the most vulnerable, we are living out our Christian faith as Jesus has challenged us to do."

Moving forward after the announcement, Bishop Vásquez concluded:

"Today, more than 65 million people around the world are forcibly displaced from their homes. Given this extraordinary level of suffering, the U.S. Catholic Bishops will redouble their support for, and efforts to protect, all who flee persecution and violence, as just one part of the perennial and global work of the Church in this area of concern."
  • Published in Nation

On building a wall at U.S.-Mexico border

President Donald J. Trump issued an executive order Jan. 25 to construct a wall at the U.S./Mexico border to significantly increase immigrant detention and deportation and to disregard/preempt/overrule the judgment of state and local law enforcement on how best to protect their communities.

The U.S./Mexico border, spanning approximately 2,000 miles, already has roughly 700 miles of fencing and barrier that was constructed under the George W. Bush administration. 

n response to the decision to build a wall on the U.S./Mexico border, Bishop Joe Vasquez, chair of the Committee of Migration and Bishop of the Diocese of Austin, stated: “I am disheartened that the president has prioritized building a wall on our border with Mexico. This action will put immigrant lives needlessly in harm’s way. Construction of such a wall will only make migrants, especially vulnerable women and children, more susceptible to traffickers and smugglers. Additionally, the construction of such a wall destabilizes the many vibrant and beautifully interconnected communities that live peacefully along the border. Instead of building walls, at this time, my brother bishops and I will continue to follow the example of Pope Francis. We will “look to build bridges between people, bridges that allow us to break down the walls of exclusion and exploitation.’”

In regard to the announcement of the planned surge in immigrant detention and deportation forces, Bishop Vasquez added: “The announced increase in immigrant detention space and immigration enforcement activities is alarming. It will tear families apart and spark fear and panic in communities. While we respect the right of our federal government to control our borders and ensure security for all Americans, we do not believe that a large scale escalation of immigrant detention and intensive increased use of enforcement in immigrant communities is the way to achieve those goals. Instead, we remain firm in our commitment to comprehensive, compassionate, and common-sense reform. We fear that the policies announced today will make it much more difficult for the vulnerable to access protection in our country. Everyday my brother bishops and I witness the harmful effects of immigrant detention in our ministries. We experience the pain of severed families that struggle to maintain a semblance of normal family life. We see traumatized children in our schools and in our churches. The policies announced today will only further upend immigrant families.”

Moving forward after the announcement, Bishop Vasquez noted: “We will continue to support and stand in solidarity with immigrant families. We remind our communities and our nation that these families have intrinsic value as children of God. And to all those impacted by today’s decision, we are here to walk with you and accompany you on this journey.”
  • Published in Nation

Report commissioned by bishops finds diversity abounds in U.S. church

BALTIMORE (CNS) -- The Catholic Church is one of the most culturally diverse institutions in the United States and Catholic institutions and ministries need to adapt and prepare for growing diversity, said a report presented to the country's bishops Nov. 15.

The report, by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University, was commissioned by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Cultural Diversity in the Church in 2013 to help identify the size and distribution of ethnic communities in the country. 

Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller of San Antonio, chairman of the committee, called the study "groundbreaking" because he said it combined, for the first time all available data from Catholic and non-Catholic sources and mapped the multicultural and ethnic diversity of the church nationwide.

Of the world's estimated 1.3 billion Catholics, the study found, less than 6 percent live in the United States.

Of the U.S. Catholic population: 42,512,591, are white (non-Hispanic); 29,731,302 are Hispanic or Latino; 2,905,935 are Asian, Native Hawaiian; 2,091,925 are black, African-American, African, Afro-Caribbean; and 536,601 are American Indian or Alaskan Native. 

"The Catholic Church in the United States has always been a very diverse entity, but it is the first time that all available data was brought together to map this diversity nationwide in remarkable detail," said Archbishop Garcia-Siller. "It is also the first time that parish life was looked at from the point of view of the experience of diversity. Multicultural parishes are a growing phenomenon in the United States. This is what makes this study so fascinating and groundbreaking."

To arrive at the numbers, Archbishop Garcia-Siller said, it identified 6,332 parishes with "particular racial, ethnic, cultural and or linguistic" communities, about 36 percent of U.S. parishes. In 2014, CARA says it began conducting "in-pew surveys" at those parishes and by May 2016, surveys had been completed at most of those parishes

Of those who responded to the survey, the median age was 52 and considerably higher, 62, for non-Hispanic white Catholics. Latino Catholics conversely had a median age of 39.

Another distinction in the report: Catholics born before and after the Second Vatican Council.

The report said three-quarters of those U.S. Catholics born before the Vatican II are non-Hispanic white Catholics. And more than half, 54 percent, of what it calls the millennial-generation Catholics (born 1982 or later) are Hispanic or Latino.

"The thought and behavior of today's millennial Catholics will likely have a profound effect on the future of the church in the United States," said CARA in a statement., given that millennials are "removed from pre-Vatican II Catholicism." 

Many of those have Catholics parents with "little or no experience with the traditional Catholic practices and catechesis," the CARA statement said, adding that this doesn't mean they are "anti-religious" yet.

Archbishop Garcia-Siller asked the bishops to look at the data, see how it speaks to their regions, and said it could help dioceses plan, set priorities and allocate resources.
  • Published in Nation

Together we pray: A day of prayer for peace is set in September

In light of recent incidents of violence and racial tension in communities across the United States, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops invited all dioceses throughout the country to unite in a Day of Prayer for Peace in Our Communities and appointed a special task force to support bishops in marking that Day of Prayer and promoting peace and healing.

In his initial and immediate response to the racially related shootings in Baton Rouge, Minneapolis and Dallas, Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., noted the need to look at ways the Catholic Church can walk with and help these suffering communities, according to the USCCB.

“I have stressed the need to look toward additional ways of nurturing an open, honest and civil dialogue on issues of race relations, restorative justice, mental health, economic opportunity and addressing the question of pervasive gun violence,” Archbishop Kurtz said. “The Day of Prayer and special task force will help us advance in that direction. By stepping forward to embrace the suffering, through unified, concrete action animated by the love of Christ, we hope to nurture peace and build bridges of communication and mutual aid in our own communities.”

The Day of Prayer for Peace in Our Communities will be celebrated on the Feast of St. Peter Claver, Sept. 9, and will serve as a focal point for the work of the task force.

According to Phil Lawson, director of evangelization and catechesis for the Diocese of Burlington, parishes are encouraged to pray for peace in all communities at Mass that day. “Where the rosary is prayed before or after Mass, peace can be the particular intention that day. A Holy Hour in adoration is also a good option,” he suggested. “Still further, as we are called to take the peace of the Lord out into our communities, why not offer a free noontime cookout on the front lawn of the parish and invite the neighboring families, businesses, churches and workers to come together in fellowship?  Or an evening ice cream social open to the whole community?  The possibilities are unlimited.” 

Asked why parishes should join in this effort, he quoted Blessed Teresa of Calcutta: “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”

The purpose of the task force is to help bishops engage the challenging problems directly by gathering and disseminating supportive resources and best practices, actively listening to the concerns of members in troubled communities and law enforcement and building strong relationships to help prevent and resolve conflicts. 

The task force will conclude its work with a report on its activities and recommendations for future work to the November General Assembly.

Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory of Atlanta, former USCCB president, will chair the task force.  

“At every Mass, we ask the Lord for His peace, we receive it in our hearts, and we go forth to share it with others. What a world we could have!” Lawson said.  

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