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Peace and the just use of force

In light of the escalation of tensions between the United States and North Korea, Stephen M. Colecchi, director of the U.S. bishops' Office of International Justice and Peace, answered these questions about Catholic Church teaching and war.
 
Q: Does the Catholic Church have any formal criteria for when war is justified?
A: Yes. Over the centuries, since the time of St. Augustine, the Catholic Church has developed a "just-war tradition" that allows for defense. It may be helpful to refer to the "just use of force," since modern wars are so much more destructive due to modern weaponry. We have a prior obligation "to work for the avoidance of war" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2308). The use of force must always be a "last resort."
 
The catechism teaches: "The strict conditions for legitimate defense by military force require rigorous consideration. The gravity of such a decision makes it subject to rigorous conditions of moral legitimacy. At one and the same time: The damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave and certain; all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective; there must be serious prospects of success; the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition. These are the traditional elements enumerated in what is called the 'just-war' doctrine" (2309).
 
Q: According to the Church, are there limits to what is acceptable once war has been declared?
A: Absolutely, the tradition rejects "total war," in which anything goes. The Church lifts up the principles of proportionality and discrimination. The use of armed force must not bring about greater evils than legitimate defense requires, and the use of force must not indiscriminately kill combatants and civilians alike. "Noncombatants, wounded soldiers and prisoners must be respected and treated humanely" (2313).
 
Q: Why doesn't the Church just say that war is wrong?
A: Pope Francis captured the essence of the Church's teaching on war. "War always marks the failure of peace, it is always a defeat for humanity. Let the words of Blessed Pope Paul VI resound again: '... War never again, never again war!'" (Sept. 7, 2016).
 
We must build peace. In the famous words of Blessed Pope Paul VI, "If we want peace, we must work for justice." In a fallen world in which violence occurs, "'governments cannot be denied the right of lawful self-defense, once all peace efforts have failed'" (Catechism, 2308). At the same time, we should not underestimate the power of nonviolence and nonviolent resistance to evil. Pope Francis dedicated his Jan. 1, 2017, World Day of Peace Message to "Nonviolence: A Style of Politics for Peace," a profound challenge in our day.
 
Q: How does the Church's teaching about war apply to nuclear weapons?
A: The use of nuclear weapons is morally problematic due to their disproportionate and indiscriminate destructive power. The Church today is working for a world without nuclear weapons. Quoting the Second Vatican Council, the catechism teaches: "'Every act of war directed to the indiscriminate destruction of whole cities or vast areas with their inhabitants is a crime against God and man, which merits firm and unequivocal condemnation.' A danger of modern warfare is that it provides the opportunity to those who possess modern scientific weapons -- especially atomic, biological or chemical weapons -- to commit such crimes" (2314).
 
Q: Is a government allowed to unleash a pre-emptive military or nuclear strike when it fears attack on itself or an ally is imminent?
A: This question is both simple and complex. The simple part concerns a pre-emptive nuclear strike. The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, quoting Vatican II, declares: "(T)he magisterium has made a moral evaluation of the phenomenon of deterrence. 'The accumulation of arms strikes many as a paradoxically suitable way of deterring potential adversaries from war. ... This method of deterrence gives rise to strong moral reservations. The arms race does not ensure peace. Far from eliminating the causes of war, it risks aggravating them.' Policies of nuclear deterrence, typical of the Cold War period, must be replaced with concrete measures of disarmament based on dialogue and multilateral negotiations" (508). The first use of nuclear weapons is highly problematic. As far back as the 1983 Peace Pastoral, the U.S. bishops raised serious moral questions regarding a first use of nuclear weapons.
 
The more complex question is the use of pre-emptive conventional forces. "Fear" of attack is not enough. There must be concrete evidence of an imminent threat. The "the damage inflicted by the aggressor ... must be lasting, grave and certain" (Catechism, 2309). Given human frailty, e.g. the failures of intelligence prior to the Iraq war, prudence would suggest that we be reticent to launch a pre-emptive attack. It is certainly unjust to launch a "preventive" attack against a gathering or vague threat. As then-Cardinal Ratzinger, now retired Pope Benedict XVI, noted before the Iraq war, the "concept of a 'preventive war' does not appear in the Catechism of the Catholic Church." We must always remember that we have an obligation "to work for the avoidance of war" (Catechism, 2308).
 
 

Hurricane Harvey

Catholic dioceses and charities are quickly organizing to help in the aftermath of a Category 4 hurricane that made landfall with winds of 130 miles per hour late on Aug. 25 into the Rockport, Texas area, northeast of Corpus Christi.
 
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 txcatholic.org/harvey.
 
Because of safety issues, not many emergency teams have been yet able to respond to the aftermath. 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.
 
In the Diocese of Brownsville, Texas, 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."
 
Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, is the head of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, an area declared in a state of disaster.
 
In an Aug. 26 statement published by the Archdiocese, he asked for prayers "for all of those affected by the storm and in need of assistance during this natural disaster."
 
Powerful winds and heavy rainfall have impacted many lives and homes throughout Galveston-Houston, said the cardinal, and many in the southern counties of his archdiocese have already suffered substantial property damage and losses.
 
Many 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 throughout 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."
 
 
 

Bishops form new body to address 'sin of racism' that 'inflicts' nation

Saying there is an "urgent need" to address "the sin of racism" in the country and find solutions to it, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has established a new Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism and named one of the country's African-American Catholic bishops to chair it.

Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, USCCB president, initiated the committee Aug. 23 "to focus on addressing the sin of racism in our society, and even in our church, and the urgent need to come together as a society to find solutions."

He appointed Bishop George V. Murry of Youngstown, Ohio, chairman of the USCCB's Committee on Catholic Education, to chair the new ad hoc committee.

"Recent events have exposed the extent to which the sin of racism continues to inflict our nation," Cardinal DiNardo said in a statement. "The establishment of this new ad hoc committee will be wholly dedicated to engaging the church and our society to work together in unity to challenge the sin of racism, to listen to persons who are suffering under this sin, and to come together in the love of Christ to know one another as brothers and sisters."

The naming of members to serve on the new body will be finalized in coming days, the USCCB said in an announcement. It added that the committee's mandate "will be confirmed at the first meeting, expected very shortly."

"I look forward to working with my brother bishops as well as communities across the United States to listen to the needs of individuals who have suffered under the sin of racism and together find solutions to this epidemic of hate that has plagued our nation for far too long," Bishop Murry said in a statement.

"Through Jesus' example of love and mercy, we are called to be a better people than what we have witnessed over the past weeks and months as a nation. Through listening, prayer and meaningful collaboration, I'm hopeful we can find lasting solutions and common ground where racism will no longer find a place in our hearts or in our society."

The new ad hoc committee also will "welcome and support" implementation of the U.S. bishops' new pastoral letter on racism, expected to be released in 2018. In 1979, the bishops issued a pastoral in racism titled "Brothers and Sisters to Us," in which they addressed many themes, but the overall message then as today was "racism is a sin."

Creation of a new formal body that is part of the USCCB -- formed on the USCCB Executive Committee's "unanimous recommendation" -- speaks to how serious the U.S. Catholic Church leaders take the problem of racism in America today.

It is the first ad hoc committee the bishops have established since instituting the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty in 2011 to address growing concerns over the erosion of freedom of religion in America. The federal governments mandate that all employers, including religious employers provide health care coverage of artificial contraceptives and abortifacients was one of the key issues that prompted formation of the committee.

Chaired by Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori, that body was elevated to full USCCB committee status during the bishops' spring assembly in Indianapolis this past June.

In addition to the Executive Committee's recommendation, the USCCB said, the decision to initiate the new Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism also was made in consultation with members of the USCCB's Committee on Priorities and Plans.

The formation of the ad hoc committee also follows the conclusion of the work of the Peace in Our Communities Task Force. The task force was formed in July 2016 by then-Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, who was then USCCB president. He initiated it in response to racially related shootings in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, as well as in Minneapolis and Dallas.

To head it he named Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory of Atlanta, one of the nation's African-American prelates who was the first black Catholic bishop to be president of the USCCB (2001-2004).

The task force's mandate was to explore ways of promoting peace and healing around the country. Archbishop Kurtz also wanted the bishops to look for ways they could help the suffering communities, as well as police affected by the incidents.

On Nov. 14, 2016, during the USCCB's fall general assembly, Archbishop Gregory told the bishops to issue, sooner rather than later, a document on racism.

"A statement from the full body of bishops on racism is increasingly important at this time," said the archbishop in reporting on the work of the task force.

He said the president of the bishops' conference and relevant committees need to "identify opportunities for a shorter-term statement on these issues, particularly in the context of the postelection uncertainty and disaffection."

He also urged prayer, ecumenical and interfaith collaboration, dialogue, parish-based and diocesan conversations and training, as well as opportunities for encounter.

The bishops' 1979 pastoral, now in its 19th printing, declared: "Racism is a sin: a sin that divides the human family, blots out the image of God among specific members of that family, and violates the fundamental human dignity of those called to be children of the same Father."
 

Eclipse a way to appreciate Creation

A total solar eclipse is a rare event, something to appreciate and enjoy in the mind of Jesuit Brother Guy Consolmagno, director of the Vatican Observatory.

So as the first eclipse crossed the country from coast to coast in 99 years Aug. 21, Brother Consolmagno wasn’t going to do anything but take it in and think about the beauty and mystery of God’s creation.

The astronomer urged an audience in a packed Sts. Peter and Paul Church during a pre-eclipse program in this southwestern Kentucky town near the point of maximum eclipse to take the time to reflect on what the two minutes and 40 seconds of totality means to them.

“Pray for good weather,” he said to laughs. “But also pray for what God wants you to learn from the experience.”

Tens of thousands of people had descended on Hopkinsville, a city of 33,000 an hour northwest of Nashville, Tennessee, by late Aug. 20. Thousands more were expected the morning of the eclipse. Brother Consolmagno said he was as excited as anyone to view the blackening of the sun.

He also said that as a scientist and a person of faith, he is guided by inquisitiveness to explore the heavens and the desire to better understand how God put the universe together. There is no conflict between science the faith, he said.

“Being a scientist can be a way of worshipping God,” he said.

He repeated a similar message to reporters during a news conference before his presentation.

“We’re here not just to remind my fellow scientists who are used to me by now, but also to show religious people how important is it to be able to praise the Creator by studying creation, studying it honestly, finding out how God really created this place. There’s never going to be a shortage of marvels for us to discover or surprises for us to experience,” he said.

“We can come to know the Creator by seeing the things of his creation.”

He said the by understanding the cycle of solar eclipses — occurring about every 18 months and 11 days — people can see the rhythms of the universe and the continuing nature of creation and have an experience “that fills the soul with joy.”

Brother Consolmagno made the trip to Hopkinsville at the invitation of Father Richard Meredith, pastor of Sts. Peter and Paul Church. Father Meredith told Catholic News Service he contacted the Vatican Observatory soon after he learned a few years ago that the eclipse path would pass over the town.

Parishioners prepared for more than a year, having established a committee to welcome visitors and host Brother Consolmagno.

“Being a parish with a parochial school, we stress the unity of truth,” Father Meredith said. “This (eclipse) is a major opportunity to reflect that, as science and faith work together serving to manifest the Lord.

The eclipse is a wonder and these wonders praise the creator. This could very well be the only planet around the only star whose moon is at the right distance and size to give a total solar eclipse,” the priest said.

He introduced Brother Consolmagno with by reading from Psalm 19: “The heavens proclaim the glory of God; the sky proclaims its builder’s craft.”

“This isn’t only Catholic,” he told CNS. “This is a tradition inherited from God’s revelation in the Old Testament.”

Rowing to draw attention to Fatima apparitions

Rowing an 18-foot-long open canoe solo along the Intracoastal Waterway from Miami to New York City, Greg Dougherty hopes to draw attention to the centennial of the Marian apparitions at Fatima, Portugal.
 
The craft named the Santa Maria de Fatima packed with bags of food, clothes, emergency gear and a statue of Our Lady of Fatima looks both cramped and small for such a long voyage.
 
His 1,400-mile nautical pilgrimage began June 13 and as of Aug. 14, he was 10 miles south of Myrtle Beach, S.C., he told Catholic News Service. He also said he hoped to arrive in New York by late September or early October.
 
The Southern Cross, newspaper of the Diocese of Savannah, caught up with Dougherty in early August on the 47th day of his pilgrimage. He had arrived at Thunderbolt Marina in Thunderbolt.
 
Dougherty's canoe outfitted with tandem sliding seats enables him to use his legs and arms as he repeatedly pulls on the oars throughout the day. His planned crewmate for the journey, Gerald Sargent, a member of the British Royal Marines, was called back to active duty leaving Dougherty on his own.
 
Rowing on his own "is exhausting," said Dougherty, "and that is a good thing." At night, he sleeps in the forward section of the two-man canoe.
 
The monotony of rowing all day has become an opportunity for prayer and meditation. "When I'm alone out there I'm praying," said Dougherty, "I say the rosary. I pray the whole time, especially in severe weather."
 
He described getting through a thunderstorm that came through just south of Savannah.
 
"All I could do is to position the boat and aim the bow into the wind. My oars became an anchor, and I just wouldn't let the storm move me, and so I just held my own until it passed," he said. "It's like treading water. Once the storm passed, there was still another storm moving in. So I found my way into some marsh grass and let that storm pass over."
 
In calmer weather, his small craft attracts attention both on the water and when he pulls into a marina to have a hamburger and restock his supplies. Mark Bouy, a member of Blessed Sacrament Church in Savannah, met Dougherty at a marina in St. Augustine, Fla., and offered Dougherty a room, a shower and good food when he dropped anchor in Savannah. He spent three restful days with his host.
 
Dougherty is former president of Our Lady's Blue Army/World Apostolate of Fatima USA in the Diocese of Covington, Ky. The lay group's purpose is to promote the message of Fatima and to encourage the faithful to pray the rosary every day as Mary requested.
 
Mary appeared to three shepherd children -- Jacinta and Francisco Marto and their cousin Lucia dos Santos -- in Fatima in 1917. The apparitions began May 13, 1917, when 9-year-old Francisco and 7-year-old Jacinta, along with their cousin Lucia dos Santos, reported seeing the Virgin Mary. The apparitions continued once a month until Oct. 13, 1917, and later were declared worthy of belief by the Catholic Church.
 
In his interview with the Southern Cross, Dougherty quickly pointed out the purpose of his pilgrimage is to spread awareness of Fatima. He said, "I don't want anyone to heap more onto this trip than what it is -– just a way to lead people to Christ through His mother's message."
 
"I've met so many who have fallen away from the church," Dougherty said. "What's encouraged me on this trip is the curiosity of our Protestant brothers and sisters. I think the ocean or the rowing intrigues them. Often they'll ask me what Fatima is, and I'll explain that just as the Lord sent His angels and prophets, in 1917, He sent His mother to deliver what is known as God's peace plan for the world.”
 
"And don't you know," he added, "the majority of hearts have been opened to that message. Lives have been touched, so this has been a beautiful journey so far."
 

Standing up to 'weisure'

By Carolyn Woo
 
An essay in The New Yorker on workload referenced renowned economist John Maynard Keynes, who, in the 1930s, projected the forthcoming of a three-hour workday due to the rise in living standards and incomes. In 1964, observing unprecedented conveniences in the office, home and on the road, Life magazine presented two reflections titled "Emptiness of Too Much Leisure" and "How to Take Life Easy."
 
Well, the projections got the higher incomes and conveniences right. In fact, they probably undershot the degree of automation as I peruse evaluations of robotic floor cleaners.
 
But something must have gone awry as people in full-time jobs are not working less or enjoying more leisure. Project: Time-Off reports that Americans left 662 million vacation days unused in 2016. Essentially, workers gave up "income" that has been earned.
 
The Internet with its massive connectivity has irreversibly changed the way we work. Benefits attributed to these advances include increased productivity, speed of response, flexibility in when and where we work and the ability to be in many different places at the same time.
 
Yet, whatever freedom and control we are supposed to gain, working less is not part of the parcel. Salon cited findings from different studies noting in one that 65 percent of respondents felt they had to be accessible outside of work; several other reports suggest that smartphones and tablets could add two to five hours of work a day for professionals.
 
One could surmise from the prevalence of sleep disorders that the quality of our rest when we do get it has also been compromised. Forbes reported that less than 50 percent of respondents regularly get a solid night's sleep, and 40 million prescriptions for sleep aid were issued in 2011 to address this problem.
 
The blending of work and personal times is the mode for how we conduct our activities now. Attention to work and personal business is fluid, demarcated by no real boundaries.
 
We check Amazon deals, latest Facebook postings, news alerts and personal messages while at work; the reverse finds us attending to office e-mails, sales results, requests for meetings interspersed with dinner preparation, bath times, morning routines, etc.
 
"Me-time" or the time to slow down and be present to oneself comes in short episodes, punctuated not only by work but also by the worries, conflicts and anxiety that work can trigger. Not only is "me-time" rendered obsolete, "me-space" is similarly colonized with work devices following us in the car, in the mall, in the gym, at kids' sports practice, everywhere in the home, with some people taking their devices to work in bed and others to bathrooms.
 
This blurring of work and leisure is so prevalent that it is given its own term "weisure" by sociologist Dalton Conley. As "weisure" finds its place in our lexicon, what about the words "linger," "savor," "cherish"? When will Beethoven's "Emperor" Concerto have its own 39 minutes of playing time and not just as background for work?
 
In the Third Commandment to keep holy the Sabbath, God mandated a day of rest. Its purpose is not just the cessation of labor but an invitation to imbibe the beauty of God's creation, to mark our freedom from slavery, to be held in God's goodness and unconditional love and to cultivate mindfulness for His presence in our daily existence with its share of joy and toil.
 
Has the speed of the Internet become the modern-day Pharaoh who determines how much and how fast we work? Would today's golden calf the Israelites equated with God look like our mobile devices?
 
How much of "me" does one want to surrender? How worthy is the recipient?

Woo is distinguished president's fellow for global development at Purdue University and served as the CEO and president of Catholic Relief Services from 2012 to 2016. She will be in Vermont to speak at the “Action for Ecological Justice: Celebrating a Year of Creation” conference at St. Michael's College on Sept. 30.
 

Catholic Charismatic Renewal turns 50

Chris Shafer grew up as a "nominal Catholic," and she wasn't even sure she still believed in God in the mid-1970s when she moved to Fort Walton Beach, Fla., where her husband, Doug, was stationed in the U.S. Air Force.
 
"I found that fascinating that anybody believed in God. He was like Santa Claus you believed in childhood," said Shafer, a parishioner at St. Ignatius of Antioch Church in Nashville. "This was no longer relevant."
 
But that began to change after talking with friends from her husband's unit who had become involved in the charismatic movement through their Episcopal church. She decided, "For this God story to survive all these thousands of years, there had to be something more than I knew about God."
 
Shafer found a Catholic Charismatic Renewal prayer group and decided to attend one of their prayer meetings. "I went home thinking, 'I walked in not even believing in God, but now I'm on fire,'" she said. "I sang all the way home."
 
The Catholic Charismatic Renewal marks the 50th anniversary of its founding this year.
 
In 1967, a group of students and professors at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh were on a retreat when they felt engulfed by the fire of the Holy Spirit. Their experience ignited the renewal, which has touched the lives of Catholics around the world.
 
Shafer's been going to prayer meetings for 40 years, including the Glory of Zion prayer group at St. Ignatius, since it was formed in 1980. "Everything I learned about God I learned at charismatic prayer meetings," Shafer told the Tennessee Register, newspaper of the Diocese of Nashville.
 
The movement calls people to experience the same excitement and deep relationship with God that the first Christians experienced at Pentecost.
 
A charismatic gathering in some ways can resemble a Pentecostal service, with an exuberant style of worship including dancing and waving of arms, people praying over others for healing, people speaking in tongues, and others prophesying about God's love for His people and inviting people to be open to that love.
 
"It is definitely exuberant," Shafer said. "You do what the Lord's calling you to."

"We try to present to people first and foremost the idea of God's love and forgiveness," said Teresa Seibert, another charter member of the Glory of Zion prayer group.
 
Although she is a cradle Catholic who grew up with the more traditional style of Catholic worship, Seibert wasn't fazed by the charismatic style.
 
"It didn't scare me," Seibert said. "The first experience of it was a real calming affect for me. I more or less saw this is what I've been looking for."
 
The Catholic Charismatic Renewal is really more about listening to the Holy Spirit, said Father Michael Baltrus, who first got involved in the movement in the 1970s and was a member of the Glory of Zion prayer group before he left for the seminary.
"It helped me listen to God," he said, which is "one of the best aspects" of the charismatic movement.
 
"You become more sensitive to what God is saying, what the Spirit is doing," said Father Baltrus, the new pastor at St Catherine Church in McMinnville and St. Gregory Church in Smithville. Listening to the Spirit "actually sets me free in my worship. That applies to the traditional form of worship and to people that are used to expressing themselves very much."
 
When people let down their defenses and open themselves to the will of the Spirit, Shafer said, they can let the Lord "break into our lives. That's what he wants."
That surrender to God's will helps people develop a personal relationship with God, Shafer said, "which we don't talk about much in the Catholic Church," Shafer said. "It was in the renewal I learned there was a God interested in my life ... who held my hand when I was in trouble."
 
 
 

U.S. Bishops chairman responds to repeal bill defeat

WASHINGTON—In response to last night’s Senate vote on the “skinny repeal” bill, Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, Chairman of the U.S. Bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, has issued the following statement:    
 
“Despite the Senate’s decision not to pass legislation to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act last night, the task of reforming the healthcare system still remains. The current healthcare system is not financially sustainable, lacks full Hyde protections and conscience rights, and is inaccessible to many immigrants.  Inaction will result in harm for too many people.
 
A moment has opened for Congress, and indeed all Americans, to set aside party and personal political interest and pursue the common good of our nation and its people, especially the most vulnerable. In order to be just, any bill for consideration must:
 
  • Protect the Medicaid program from changes that would harm millions of struggling Americans.
  • Protect the safety net from any other changes that harm the poor, immigrants, or any others at the margins.
  • Address the real probability of collapsing insurance markets and the corresponding loss of genuine affordability for those with limited means. 
  • Provide full Hyde Amendment provisions and much-needed conscience protections. 
  • Any final agreement that respects human life and dignity, honors conscience rights, and ensures that everyone can access health care that is comprehensive, high quality, and truly affordable deserves the support of all of us.
 
The greatness of our country is not measured by the well-being of the powerful but how we have cared for the ‘least of these.’  Congress can and should pass health care legislation that lives up to that greatness.”

 

Natural Family Planning Awareness Week

By Maggie Maslak
 
(CNA/EWTN News)--For some, it was a health-conscious decision. For others, it was environmental. For still others, it was faith-based.
 
But no matter the reason, more and more women are ditching the pill and opting for fertility awareness methods as a natural way to achieve or delay pregnancy.
 
“In the U.S., there does seem to be an increase in the interest in fertility tracking and understanding the signs and symptoms of our bodies to plan and prevent pregnancy,” said Dr. Victoria Jennings, director of the Institute for Reproductive Health at Georgetown University.
 
“Our work has shown that simple fertility awareness messages are extremely attractive to a wide range of women and can address their family planning needs,” Jennings told CNA.
 
July 23-29 is national Natural Family Planning Awareness Week, coinciding with the 48th anniversary of Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humane Vitae, which laid out the Church’s long-understood teachings on the sanctity of human sexuality. 
 
The Catholic Church has always taught that contraception is immoral, because it divorces procreation from the sexual act. However, the Church approves of Natural Family Planning (NFP) methods, which allow couples to remain open to life.
 
Through Natural Family Planning, a woman learns to understand her body’s natural monthly cycle. By tracking the signs of her own fertility each day, she is able to determine when she is fertile and infertile. Decisions about whether to engage in sexual activity can then be made, based upon this knowledge, and the couple’s desire to achieve or postpone a pregnancy.
 
While NFP is sometimes mistaken for the primitive “calendar method” of generations past, it is actually an umbrella term for a collection of modern fertility awareness methods. Carefully evaluating each woman’s individual body and cycle, modern methods are rooted in science and are 99.6 percent effective when used correctly – a number that competes with the pill, according to the Couple to Couple League, a group that promotes Natural Family Planning.
 
Additionally, these methods are free from the host of side effects and health risks accompanying hormonal contraception. They don’t pollute the environment. And they can even help women identify underlying health problems that may otherwise go undiagnosed.
 
And Catholics are not alone in their use of Fertility Awareness Methods (FAM). Increasingly, they are being joined by women of various faiths and no faiths at all, as the benefits of natural methods draw new awareness.
 
In recent years, many Evangelicals and other Protestants have started to find fault with artificial birth control and are turning to natural fertility-based methods instead.
 
“All women – Protestant, Catholic, atheists, and nones – can appreciate this hormone-free (and conscience-free) alternative to chemical contraception,” said Chelsen Vicari, the Evangelical program director for the Institute on Religion and Democracy, in an article last year.
 
Meanwhile, a survey conducted by the University of Utah found that more women, religious or not, are seeking alternatives to hormonal birth control without turning to surgery. And a 2015 study from the University of Iowa found that more than 1 in 5 women would be open to using fertility monitoring instead of the pill if they knew how it worked.
 
Methods for understanding fertility are also on the rise, and thanks to the help of modern technology and research, women are able to re-think the long list of side effects that can accompany hormonal contraception, such as depression, increased risk for stroke, and reported lower quality of life.
 
“Specifically in the app world, the use of fertility apps to track cycles or plan/prevent pregnancy is increasing exponentially,” Jennings said, noting that there are more than 1,000 fertility apps available on Apple and Google Play stores.
 
However, Jennings did warn that some of the apps have been proven to be inaccurate or “make claims that are either unsubstantiated or misleading, making it difficult for women to know which apps are most likely to meet their needs.”
 
Among the most well-respected fertility apps is Kindara. Launched in 2012, the iOS app offers charting tools to help women track when they are fertile by highlighting the ovulation period of a woman’s monthly cycle.
 
“Over the past couple of decades, fertility awareness has been studied a lot. We know scientifically, based on evidence now, that it does work, and it works very well if you use it correctly,” says Lauren Risberg, the Content Lead for Kindara.
 
Another fertility app, Natural Cycles, was started by a nuclear physicist in Sweden and was recently approved by the European Union as a certified method of birth control.
 
The growing interest in fertility awareness also comes at a time of concern over false expectations of reliability with artificial birth control.
 
New statistics released this month indicate that more than half (51%) of the abortions performed in the UK last year were due to failed contraception from the pill, implants or patches.
 
In an interview with the Telegraph, chief executive of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service Ann Furedi said that by encouraging women to use contraception, “you give them the sense that they can control their fertility.”
 
“Our data shows that women cannot control their fertility through contraception alone,” Furedi stressed.
 
In contrast, Church teaching surrounding Natural Family Planning emphasizes an openness to life, steering away from the notion that women control their fertility and instead empowering them with the knowledge to understand their bodies and cooperate with them to the fullest possible extent.
 
Emphasizing the gift of fertility and the ability to be co-creators with God to bring about a new human life, the Church teaches that couples should only avoid pregnancy through NFP when they have a just reason to do so.
 
With fertility awareness continuing to grow in popularity, the medical community would do well to pay attention, Jennings told CNA.
 
“Significant numbers of women worldwide don’t use birth control due to fears of side effects, negative beliefs about contraception, and because they don’t think they need it at the time,” she said.
 
“We believe the reproductive health community must take women's concerns seriously – and also take seriously evidence-based methods that rely on people knowing their own fertility.”
 

'Zita the Spacegirl'

As many parents know, all kids come into the world ready to draw, but as the years pass, each child reaches a point where they make a choice -- to draw or not to draw.
 
It was never a question for comic artist and arrow enthusiast Ben Hatke, who doodled his way through many a grade school and high school class, filling the margins with grand adventures.
 
His dad was an architect at Purdue University in Indiana and his mom took him and his two sisters to the library regularly. When the young boy discovered newspaper comics such as Calvin and Hobbes, it was love at first sight.
 
Now, many pounds of pencil lead and paper later, the Christendom College graduate and father of five has made a career out of "drawing in class." For nearly two decades, he has illustrated comics, Seton Home Study School textbooks, children's books and graphic novels.
 
The rights to his first graphic novel, "Zita the Spacegirl," was picked up recently by Fox for a movie, and there is hope that one day Hatke's brave characters will make it to the big screen.
 
"Zita the Spacegirl" chronicles the adventures of young Zita as she braves the unknown in pursuit of her friend who vanished after pushing a mysterious red button. The story, and subsequent trilogy, became a hit with readers who have become big fans of Hatke's work. What many of the fans don't know, however, is that Zita was not Hatke's idea.
 
"I feel like I'm always coming clean when I tell this story," said Hatke, as he sat next to his desk, covered with pens, paper, tiny action figures and a Madonna and Child statue.
 
"I stole the idea from this cute girl I met at Christendom College," he told the Arlington Catholic Herald, newspaper of the Diocese of Arlington. "She had done these series of short little comics when she was in high school about this future girl named Zita so I was like, 'I'm going to develop this character.'"
 
The admirer from Indiana gave Zita a new outfit and added a green cape. He then presented his crush with a whole Zita comic book.
 
"This plan of impressing this girl totally worked because she married me, and here I am with my five daughters; and Anna is still putting up with my crazy artistic ways," he said.
 
According to Hatke, Anna chose the name Zita after St. Zita, who was the patroness of the region where Anna's father grew up in a village in Italy.
 
"(St. Zita) is a beautiful saint because she is not dramatic. She was a serving girl to a wealthy family, and she was just known for being kind to poor people and baking really great bread and giving it away," Hatke said. "In a time period when many of the saints were priests or religious, she was a lay saint. She just lived a really good life."
 
From the very beginning of Hatke's career, C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien have been favorite storytelling influences. But while his style is similar to "The Chronicles of Narnia" by Lewis, Hatke tends to favor the storytelling philosophy of Tolkien, who was against making a story too message driven.
 
"The most important thing is that you are telling a good story, and if you are being honest in your good storytelling then what you think and feel and believe about the world will come out in that story and become apparent."
 
One thing that's become more apparent in Hatke's work is the influence of his family.
 
"I had a reason to look back in my stack of books, and it was shocking just how much of my interior life and psychology life comes out, especially in the Jack books," he said. In his latest graphic novel "Mighty Jack," released in 2016, the main character's house is identical to Hatke's, and the similarities do not stop there.
 
"I grew up with sisters. I now have daughters, and Jack also is surrounded by these different feminine characters who are pulling him in different directions," he explained. "I didn't even notice I was doing it until I read it in a review and then I was like, 'Oh man, this is me.'"
 
Anna and the girls play an important role as his first line of editorial support. The girls like to check on their dad at work and sometimes he will test a joke on them. If it goes over their heads he knows to try again.
 
His book "Little Robot" started out as a series of comic strips that he made during a time when he definitely had more important things to do. It turned into a book and won the 2016 Eisner Award for best publication for early readers.
 
"It has ended up being one of the books that is so important to me and it came because I was just 'goofing-off,'" he said.
 
The rising popularity of his books and the possible movie has reminded Hatke about the responsibility writers have to their young audience. "I'm so thankful and so grateful that I've wandered into this position that I really can share stories with people in this way," he said. "Having a voice and a young audience comes with a lot of responsibility, but also a lot of joy and a lot of excitement. The harder and more contentious times are, the more serious the role of the artist is in the world."
 
 
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