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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."
 
  • Published in Nation

U.S. Bishops respond to terror attack in New York City

Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), has issued the following statement in response to yesterday afternoon’s deadly attack on innocent people in Manhattan that has left at least eight people dead.  

Cardinal DiNardo’s full statement follows:

“This afternoon we heard of what appears to be a deliberate attack on innocent people in New York City. This horrendous act weighs on all of our hearts. Reports about the attack are too preliminary to understand fully what has happened, but it grieves me deeply that we must again respond to such acts of terror.

To the family and friends of those who have died, please know that you are not alone, and that the prayers of the Bishops and of all the Church are with you and your loved ones. To you and to everyone, I would like to say that the forces of darkness always try to wipe away our hope; but our hope is in the name of the Lord and will always remain firm. Let us remember the words of the Lord to prophet Joshua: be strong and steadfast! Do not fear nor be dismayed, for the Lord, your God, is with you wherever you go.”
  • Published in Nation

St.Therese Digital Academy enrollment increases

Enrollment at the Diocese of Burlington’s St. Therese Digital Academy has grown from four to 52.
 
Principal Lisa Lorenz attributes the growth to several factors including grant money from Our Sunday Visitor and the Catholic Communications Campaign of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, word of mouth, courses for the Lay Formation Program Institute for Missionary Discipleship, the building of the digital academy’s own curriculum and existing brick and mortar schools using its courses.
 
St. Therese Digital Academy is an online diocesan Catholic high school with a rigorous program grounded in the firm foundation of the Catholic faith. The academy works with parents in their role as the primary educators of their children by providing flexible options to assist with the diverse educational needs of students and their families. Its goal is to develop well-grounded disciples of Jesus Christ who possess 21st-century skills, equipping them to fulfill their roles as members of the Body of Christ within society.
 
The digital academy offers high school courses and theology for the Lay Formation Program, with projections for catechetical classes for ongoing professional development.
 
“We are rolling out our own courses. We are beginning our adult theology classes and have projected to roll out courses for the Diocesan Lay Formation Program as part of the Institute for Missionary Discipleship. In addition, our courses are being used in our existing [Catholic] schools now with increasing interest,” said Lorenz, who is also superintendent of Catholic schools for the Diocese of Burlington and principal of Rice Memorial High School in South Burlington.
  • Published in Diocesan

Collection requested for Hurricane Irma relief

The president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington has asked his fellow bishops throughout the country to take an emergency collection in their Dioceses during weekend Masses Sept. 23-24 to help those recovering from devastation wrought by Hurricane Irma in the Caribbean and the southeastern region of the United States.
 
"While emergency outreach was immediate, we know that the road to recovery and the rebuilding of communities will be long and additional support will be needed," said Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston in a statement issued Sept. 14.
 
The funds collected "will be used in the affected areas to support humanitarian aid, assistance with long-term efforts to restore communities after widespread destruction and for the pastoral and reconstruction needs of the Church in U.S. and the Caribbean," he said.
 
Cardinal DiNardo acknowledged that his call "comes on the heels" of the emergency collection for victims of Hurricane Harvey, which hit Texas and Louisiana and held on for days before moving inland.
 
Harvey, too, "caused catastrophic damage and compelled us to respond," he said.
 
"Likewise, Hurricane Irma has been devastating and our brothers and sisters in the Caribbean, especially the Diocese of St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands, and the southern U.S. need our help."
 
The earlier call for a collection came in an Aug. 28 letter from Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles, as USCCB vice president, suggesting funds be collected during Masses the weekend of Sept. 2-3 or Sept. 9-10.
 
Hardly any place in the path of Hurricane Irma was left untouched. Its strength and size, with 120-plus-mph winds stretching 70 miles from its core, leveled entire islands in the eastern Caribbean, brought unprecedented flooding on Cuba's north coast, devastated the Florida Keys, snapped construction cranes in downtown Miami and targeted cities along Florida's Gulf Coast.
 
In the Keys alone, at least 25 percent of the homes were destroyed and 65 percent suffered significant damage, according to Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator Brock Long. "Basically, every house in the Keys was impacted," he told the news media.
 
In a Sept. 12 statement, the U.S. bishops' Executive Committee prayed for "the safety and care of human life" after two catastrophic hurricanes -- Irma and Harvey -- and they urged Catholics around the country to offer their prayers as well as financial support and volunteer help as they can.
 
Irma dwindled to a tropical storm as it neared the Florida-Georgia line early Sept. 11 and had died out over southern states by week's end.
 
"The Church is a channel for grace and solidarity in the wake of natural disasters as it offers solace and support in their aftermath," Cardinal DiNardo said Sept. 14. "However, as is so often the case, the Church itself in these regions is both a long-standing provider of aid and now is in need of tremendous assistance itself."
 
Many church structures "have been damaged and their resources depleted, which makes it even more challenging to provide assistance and pastoral outreach to those in need," he added.
 
 
  • Published in Nation

Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Sirach 27:30 - 28:7; Psalm 103; Romans 14:7-9; Matthew 18:21-35
 
Think of the commandments, hate not your neighbor; remember the Most High’s covenant, and overlook faults (Sirach 28:7).
 
The third Sunday of September has been set aside by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops as Catechetical Sunday. In many parishes, it is the weekend that Catholic youth religious education programs, the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults and other adult education programs begin for another year. It is an exciting time in ministry. Parishes have the opportunity to form their people in the Catholic faith.
 
Second to the celebrations of the sacraments, there is nothing more important. The quote above from the reading from Sirach sums up the goals of Catholic education: think of the commandments, hate not your neighbor, remember God’s sacred covenant, and “overlook faults” or be patient with others. These are four great themes for Catholic education.
 
The commandments and the covenant are closely linked. The covenant is God’s sacred promise to His people: He will be their God; they will be His people. God will love them unconditionally. They will follow God unreservedly by obeying God’s commandments, most notably the Ten Commandments given to Moses. The covenant was sealed forever in the blood of Jesus Christ, the final Lamb of sacrifice.
 
Jesus is the Word made flesh whose passion, death and resurrection together form the defining moment of God’s love for His people. The Eucharist is the memorial of and our participation in the covenant of Jesus Christ.
 
It is imperative that our religious education programs at every level teach this message of God’s covenant and commandments. Our youth especially need to know that God loves them. How do we teach that? We help them realize that God created them in His image and likeness and that He has given each of them talents, gifts and abilities that they are to share with the world.
 
We respond to God’s love in following His commandments and living the life He has placed before us. We teach that the Eucharist is the source and summit of the Catholic faith and of our living of the covenant.
 
Loving one’s neighbor and patience with others are also important themes of Catholic education, for Jesus taught that faith cannot stay bottled up within the person but must reach out in love and service. Faith has an effect on every part of our lives. Upholding the dignity of all human life is an important aspect of what it means to be Christian. Treating others with dignity and respect is integral to Jesus’ message.
 
Overlooking others’ faults through developing patience is also part of what Jesus taught and necessary to living and working with others.
 
Teaching these themes and their connection to faith is a priority in Catholic education. Through His parables, healings and teaching moments, Jesus continually calls upon His disciples to look beyond themselves to the needs of others.
 
Connecting our youth to community service opportunities is one way of showing them the need to help others. However, community service must be connected to the Eucharist and one’s relationship with the Lord.
 
The covenant, commandments, loving one’s neighbor and patience with others are all important themes of Catholic religious education. As another year begins, let’s all pray for those who take up the work of teaching religious education at any level.
 
From personal experience, I know it to be one of the most important and rewarding ministries of the Church. Through it, we are handing on the Gospel, and thus we “make disciples of all nations” which Jesus asked us to do.


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Originally published in the fall 2017 issue of Vermont Catholic Magazine. To receive the magazine at your home, donate $24 or more to the Bishop's Annual Appeal at bishopsappealvt.org/give

Former head of CRS to speak at Vermont conference on "Laudato Si'"

A former head of Catholic Relief Services (CRS) will be in Vermont in September to speak at the “Action for Ecological Justice: Celebrating a Year of Creation” conference at Saint Michael's College on September 30th. The conference will be the main event of the Diocese of Burlington’s Year of Creation, a yearlong, statewide, intentional focus on embracing the message of Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical letter, “Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home.”

Hosted by the Catholic Church in Vermont, sponsors for the event include Catholic Relief Services, Oregon Catholic Press, Saint Michael's College, Sisters of Mercy, Catholic Climate Covenant,  United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Department of Peace, Justice and Human Development, Courtyard Burlington Harbor Hotel, Keurig Green Mountain Coffee, Green Mountain Habitat for Humanity, and Green Mountain Monastery.

General registration is $35 per person and includes morning pastries, lunch and afternoon breakout sessions. Students can register for free.

To register or learn more, visit: vermontcatholic.org/actionforecojustice.
 
Dr. Carolyn Woo, who from 2012-2016 was president and CEO of CRS, the U.S. Catholic Church's official, international humanitarian and development aid agency, will present a personal look at the encyclical she helped Pope Francis present in Rome, at environmental degradation and its effect on the poor and at measures to minimize further environmental harm from carbon emissions and remediate damage already done.
 
With perspectives from scientists, politicians, activists, economists, professionals, academics and people of various faiths, the conference will offer the opportunity for dynamic conversations about the state of creation and how people can work together for a sustainable future.
 
CRS staff “works face to face every day with the effects of climate warming,” Woo said. These include working with farmers whose livelihood is negatively impacted by erratic rainfall, which causes problems like drought on one extreme and soil erosion from deluges of rain on the other.
 
Catholic Relief Services was founded in 1943 by the Catholic bishops of the United States to serve World War II survivors in Europe. Since then, it has expanded to reach more than 100 million people in over 100 countries on five continents.
 
Its mission is to assist impoverished and disadvantaged people overseas, working in the spirit of Catholic social teaching to promote the sacredness of human life and the dignity of the human person. With that mission rooted in the Catholic faith, CRS operations serve people based solely on need, regardless of their race, religion or ethnicity. In the United States, CRS engages Catholics to live their faith in solidarity with the poor and suffering people of the world.
 
The conference at St. Michael’s College will be open to people of all faiths.
 
For more information, call Stephanie Clary at 802-846-5822.

To learn more about the Year of Creation please visit: vermontcatholic.org/yearofcreation.
 

Pro-growth and pro-environment

President Donald J. Trump issued an Executive Order on March 28, 2017 that rescinds and weakens numerous environmental protections, and effectively dismantles the Clean Power Plan (CPP), the national program designed to reduce carbon emissions from power plants by 32% in relation to 2015 levels by the year 2030. Fossil fuel-fired power plants are the largest pollution emitting sector, making up just under one-third of U.S. total greenhouse gas emissions. 

"The USCCB, in unity with Pope Francis, strongly supports environmental stewardship and has called consistently for 'our own country to curtail carbon emissions,'" said Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, in response to the order. "This Executive Order places a number of environmental protections in jeopardy and moves the U.S. away from a national carbon standard, all without adopting a sufficient plan for ensuring proper care for people and creation. Yesterday's action means that, sadly, the United States is unlikely to meet its domestic and international mitigation goals." 

The USCCB has voiced support for a national carbon emission standard in recent years, though the Church does not privilege one set of technical, economic, or political approaches over another.  Bishop Dewane stresses that, although the CPP is not the only possible mechanism for reducing carbon emissions, the lack of a current viable alternative is a serious concern.    

"The EPA Administrator has repeatedly stated that policies must be pro-growth and pro-environment.  An integral approach can respect human and natural concerns and still achieve these aims, if properly done.  Many states have already made great progress toward carbon mitigation goals under the CPP, and this momentum ought to be encouraged and not hindered. Pope Francis' encyclical, Laudato si', focuses on both the 'the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.'  With this recent order, the Administration risks damage to our air, our waters and, most importantly, our people, particularly the poor and vulnerable, without proposing a concrete and adequate approach to meet our stewardship obligations as a nation."
  • Published in Nation

Monitoring needs of migrants, refugees

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is establishing a working group charged with developing spiritual, pastoral and policy advocacy support for immigrants and refugees.

Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, USCCB president, has named members of the working group, with the mandate of closely following developments related to immigrants and refugees in the United States. The USCCB Public Affairs Office announced formation of the group Dec. 16.

Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles, USCCB vice president, will chair the group. Members include the chairmen of USCCB committees and subcommittees involved in immigration concerns: Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, Committee on Migration; Auxiliary Bishop Nelson J. Perez of Rockville Centre, New York, Subcommittee on Hispanic Affairs; Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, Committee on Domestic Social Development; Bishop Joseph J. Tyson of Yakima, Washington, Subcommittee on Pastoral Care of Migrants; and Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, New Mexico, Committee on International Justice and Peace.

The groundwork for the working group was set during the bishops’ annual fall general assembly in Baltimore when several bishops suggested the conference closely monitor actions by the federal government that affect immigrants and refugees.

In announcing the working group, the Public Affairs Office said the bishops and USCCB staff will be ready to respond to any executive orders and legislation that the new Congress and President-elect Donald J. Trump may introduce.

The working group will inform the efforts of individual bishops in their pastoral responses to immigrants and refugees and recommend appropriate additional efforts as needed, such as the recent day of prayer on the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe Dec. 12.

Meanwhile, Cardinal Blase J. Cupich of Chicago outlined some of the responsibilities of the working group in a column in the Dec. 11 issue of the Catholic New World, Chicago’s archdiocesan newspaper.

He said the group will look at what is being done pastorally in U.S. dioceses and will share best practices with bishops.

“Particular attention will be given to addressing the economic struggles, alienation, fear and exclusion many feel, along with the resistance to the church’s message regarding migrants and refugees,” Cardinal Cupich wrote. “Emphasis will be given to ways we can build bridges between various segments of society.”

The working group also will spearhead advocacy, building on existing USCCB efforts, and engage constructively with the incoming administration and Congress, the cardinal said.

The formation of the new entity, which Archbishop Gomez planned to convene weekly, “will send a message to those who live in fear that the Catholic bishops of the United States stand with them, pray with them, offer pastoral support and speak prophetically in defense of their human dignity,” Cardinal Cupich wrote.

He added that the Chicago Archdiocese will continue to “walk with all who, given our broken immigration system, live in the shadows. We will advocate for them as well as for refugees seeking a better life for their families.”

National Migration Week is Jan. 8-14.
  • Published in Nation
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