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This Spanish prison ministry is helping rehabilitate inmates

Madrid, Spain, Feb 28, 2017 / 03:08 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The prison ministry founded by a Spanish Jesuit in the 1960s has had such fruits as a group of inmates donating their own money to help the needy at Christmas, according to the head of the foundation.

At Christmas of 2015, a group of prisoners in the Estremera prison in Madrid did their own food drive to buy non-perishable food with their own money from the prison store, Lola Navarro, president of the Father Garralda-Horizontes Abiertos Foundation, told CNA.

“All the prisoners who participated agreed to deliver the more than 220 pounds of food to the Fr. Garralda Foundation to help those they were thinking of, because they knew that there are people who needed it more than they did.”

Helping prisoners rebuild their lives, overcome addictions, and re-enter the workforce is a challenge that the Father Garralda-Horizontes Abiertos Foundation has been working toward for 40 years.

Navarro said Fr. Jaime Garralda began to work with prisoners and now serves, through his foundation, more than 200 people in prison, halfway homes for parolees, and with workshops on re-entering the workforce.

“Fr. Jaime Garralda, S.J., lived for 16 years in in a shanty town during the '60s. Many women there wanted to visit their husbands or children who were in prison. Fr. Garralda and some volunteers began to accompany them and began a social action work in the prisons, also addressing all those realities related to the prisons,” Navarro explained.

“We also have the figure of the 'volunteer resident', or prisoners who are at the end of their sentence who help others in the prison achieve their goals so they can set out on an itinerary so their stay in the prison is as bearable as possible.”

She pointed out how this is “beautiful, because that person sees that you have helped them and now they're the ones who get involved with the other prisoners to give back what was given to them, and the horizons that were opened up for them.”

The foundation has a rehabilitation center for prisoners who are addicted to drugs where more than 100 people live, with floors for HIV patients,  and they vouch for prisoners who meet certain requirements so they can request a supervised leave.

“We call this assistance “toward freedom”  because family members or friends need to give guarantees to ensure that the prisoner's leave from prison meets some minimum conditions and also that he will return when his permission to leave expires. We vouch for certain people who have no one to turn to and we help make this transition as good as possible,” Navarro said.

She commented that her favorite program is one they do for the children of mothers who are in prison: “We organize camps for the children, outings with the mothers, workshops to lessen the prejudices created by prison, and we help mothers and children have a little more of a normal life, at least for a few days.”

 

This article was originally published on CNA Jan. 21, 2017.

South Sudanese bishops call for food aid, peace negotiations

Juba, South Sudan, Feb 28, 2017 / 12:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The bishops of South Sudan issued a call last Thursday for dialogue between the warring factions in the country, and international humanitarian aid to alleviate the famine affecting so many in their nation.

“Those who have the ability to make changes for the good of our people have not taken heed of our previous pastoral messages … we intend to meet face to face not only with the President but with the vice presidents, ministers, members of parliament, opposition leaders and politicians, military officers from all sides, and anyone else who we believe has the power to change our country for the better,” the South Sudanese bishops said in a Feb. 23 pastoral message to the faithful and people of South Sudan.

“We intend to meet with them not once, but again and again, for as long as is necessary, with the message that we need to see action, not just dialogue for the sake of dialogue.”

In their meetings with government and opposition leaders, the bishops will take as a model the importunate widow of Christ's parable, they emphasized.

South Sudan has been embroiled in civil war since December 2013, when violence erupted in the capital city of Juba and quickly spread throughout the country. The war has is being fought between forces loyal to the country’s president and those loyal to its former vice president, and is largely drawn along ethnic lines. Peace agreements have been short-lived, with violence quickly resuming.

The bishops' message came at the conclusion of a three-day plenary assembly together with the apostolic nuncio to South Sudan. They said they received “disturbing reports from all seven of our dioceses spanning the whole country.”

“The civil war, which we have frequently described as having no moral justification whatsoever, continues. Despite our calls to all parties, factions and individuals to STOP THE WAR, nevertheless killing, raping, looting, displacement, attacks on churches and destruction of property continue all over the country. In some towns there is calm, but the absence of gunfire does not mean peace has come. In other towns, civilians are effectively trapped inside the town due to insecurity on the surrounding roads.”

The bishops are particulary concerned that alongside fighting between government and opposition forces, “much of the violence is being perpetrated by government and opposition forces against civilians.”

“There seems to be a perception that people in certain locations or from certain ethnic groups are with the other side, and thus they are targeted by armed forces. They are killed, raped, tortured, burned, beaten, looted, harassed, detained, displaced from their homes and prevented from harvesting their crops … Even when they have fled to our churches or to UN camps for protection, they are still harassed by security forces,” they lamented.

They pointed to the famine facing more than 100,000 South Sudanese, saying “there is no doubt” it is “man-made, due to insecurity and poor economic management.”

“Hunger, in turn, creates insecurity, in a vicious circle in which the hungry man, especially if he has a gun, may resort to looting to feed himself and his family. Millions of our people are affected, with large numbers displaced from their homes and many fleeing to neighbouring countries, where they are facing appalling hardships in refugee camps.”

Millions have become refugees or are internally displaced, and some 40 percent of the population is dependent on international aid.

The bishops expressed concern that some government officials seem to be suspicious of the Church.

“In some areas the Church has been able to mediate local peace deals, but these can easily be undermined if government officials are removed and replaced with hardliners who do not welcome Church efforts for peace. Priests, sisters and other personnel have been harassed.”

They detailed that Catholic radio programs have been removed, and churches burnt down. In May 2016, a Slovak nun, Sister Veronika Terézia Racková, was killed by militants; a physician, she had been working at a hospital in Yei.

The bishops also noted that on Feb. 14 “security officers attempted to close down our Catholic bookshop. They harassed our personnel and confiscated several books … We hear people saying that 'the Church is against the government'.”

“We wish to inform all of you that the Church is not for or against anyone, neither the government nor the opposition,” the bishops stressed. “We are FOR all good things - peace, justice, love, forgiveness, reconciliation, dialogue, the rule of law, good governance – and we are AGAINST evil - violence, killing, rape, torture, looting, corruption, arbitrary detention, tribalism, discrimination, oppression – regardless of where they are and who is practising them. We are ready to dialogue with and between the government and the opposition at any time.”

The bishops called on the international community to act to alleviate the country's humanitarian crisis, and said they will continue to make their people's extreme hardships better known across the world.

Speaking to the people of South Sudan, the bishops said: “We call upon you to remain spiritually strong, and to exercise restraint, tolerance, forgiveness and love. Work for justice and peace; reject violence and revenge. We are with you … We wish to give you hope that you are not abandoned and that we are working to resolve the situation at many different levels.”

The bishops concluded by announcing that Pope Francis hopes to visit their country later this year.

“The Holy Father is deeply concerned about the sufferings of the people of South Sudan. You are already in his prayers, but his coming here would be a concrete symbol of his fatherly concern and his solidarity with your suffering. It would draw the attention of the world to the situation here. We call upon you to begin a programme of prayer for this visit to go ahead. Let us use the coming months fruitfully to begin the transformation of our nation.”

Bishop Conley: Mass deportations will not fix our immigration system

Lincoln, Neb., Feb 27, 2017 / 03:24 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Controversial immigration policies issued by United States President Donald Trump’s have thus far prompted numerous critiques from concerned U.S. Catholic bishops.

The most recent order, issued Feb. 20, directed officials to more aggressively find, arrest, and deport illegal immigrants, regardless of whether they have committed serious crimes.

In his most recent column, “Standing in Solidarity”, Bishop James Conley of Lincoln joined other bishops in their criticism of the order, saying it would do “very little to resolve the immigration problems in our country.”

“Nor will it meaningfully impact the security of our nation, or the safety of our citizens,” he said. 

He noted that the previous administration also oversaw numerous deportations, which had little effect on the security of the nation.

“Mass deportation is a panacea: the appearance of an answer without really resolving anything,” he said.

In his column, Bishop Conley explained that the Catholic Church’s teaching on immigration is based on three principles: “(T)hat families have the right to migrate for economic opportunities, for freedom, or for safety; that nations have the right to security, to fixed borders and ordered policies for immigrants; that as an obligation of justice and mercy, nations who can receive immigrants without detriment to the welfare of their citizens should do so.”

Bishop Conley argued that the United States government “does not adequately address its citizens’ right to safety,” nor does it “adequately respect the natural right of families to migration.”

“In short, our immigration system is broken, and that broken system is the cause of serious injustice,” he wrote.

“Whatever the reason for it, our broken immigration system is an injustice to immigrants and to all Americans.  That injustice has tragic consequences in the lives of real families, who reflect the image of the Trinity.”

The state of Nebraska and its capital city of Lincoln, where Bishop Conley is based, are known for being particularly welcoming to refugees. Last year, Nebraska led the nation in resettling the most refugees per capita, according to federal government data. The state is a strong draw for refugees because of its stable economy and accessibility to jobs.

In 2016, Catholic Social Services of Southern Nebraska resettled 231 people (72 families), and placed 47 people in employment within three months of their arrival to the U.S. These refugees were primarily from the countries of Burma, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Sudan, and Afghanistan. Four of these countries – Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Sudan – are Muslim-majority countries listed on the previous visa ban issued by President Trump.

Bishop Conley urged Catholics to remember that nearly 40 percent of Hispanics in the United States are Catholic, and that the Catholic Church in America is an immigrant Church. There was once a time in the history of the nation where Catholic immigrants from Germany, Ireland, Bohemia, Italy, and many other nations were similarly attacked, he said.

He urged the faithful to stand in solidarity with their fellow members of the Body of Christ when they are unfairly stereotyped as “thuggish criminals or economic liabilities,” and encouraged them to “expect better” policies from their government than mass deportations and extreme policies that hurt the vulnerable.

“I stand in solidarity with immigrant families living in fear of what might be coming for them. I stand in solidarity with American citizens, looking for real security, instead of political showmanship and rhetoric. I stand in solidarity with those politicians and law enforcement agents working to find fair and humane solutions to complex problems. I stand in solidarity with those living in poverty or danger, seeking some promise of safety, and opportunity for their children,” he wrote.

“As Catholics, we must continue to call for real, comprehensive, safe, and just immigration reform. But we cannot accept the panacea of mass detention and deportation. Americans, immigrants, and the Church should expect something better than that.”

President Trump is expected to issue a new executive order on immigration this week, after his first executive order on immigration was temporarily blocked by a federal judge Feb. 4.

US bishops denounce rise in anti-Semitic attacks

Washington D.C., Feb 27, 2017 / 02:24 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The U.S. bishops are responding with solidarity and concern for the Jewish community, following a surge in anti-Semitic actions in recent weeks.

“On behalf of the Bishops and people of the Catholic Church, as the Chairman of the Bishops’ Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, I want to express our deep sympathy, solidarity, and support to our Jewish brothers and sisters,” said Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanksi of Springfield in a press release.

“I wish to offer our deepest concern, as well as our unequivocal rejection of these hateful actions,” Bishop Rozanski continued.

On Feb. 20, more than 150 headstones were damaged in University City, Missouri at the Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery. Just a week later, over 100 headstones were found similarly knocked over at the Mount Carmel Jewish Cemetery in Philadelphia.

Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia was "deeply saddened" by the vandalism at Mount Carmel Jewish Cemetery, and called for "prayerful solidarity with the families of those whose final resting places have been disturbed."

"As a community, we must speak out to condemn inflammatory messages and actions that serve only to divide, stigmatize, and incite prejudice," the archbishop continued. "We must continually and loudly reject attempts to alienate and persecute the members of any religious tradition. Rather, as members of diverse faith and ethnic communities throughout the region, we must stand up for one another and improve the quality of life for everyone by building bridges of trust and understanding."

No suspects have been named in either case, but the damage has reached hundreds of thousands of dollars.

More than 50 bomb threats targeting the Jewish community have also been reported across the country since the beginning of the year, including scares at Jewish community centers in Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Milwaukee.  

According to the Anti-Defamation League, violent anti-Semitic actions soared in 2015, and continued into 2016 with increased online anti-Semitic harassment.

Leaders and officials have denounced the surge in anti-Semitic actions, including words from President Donald Trump last week, who said the recent attacks on the Jewish community were “horrible and are a painful and a very sad reminder of the work that still must be done to root out hate and prejudice and evil.”

Mayor Jim Kenney of Philadelphia also spoke out, saying that “hate is not permissible in Philadelphia,” and that the perpetrators “will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” according to the New York Times.

Echoing these sentiments, Bishop Rozanski promised that “the Catholic Church stands in love with the Jewish community in the current face of anti-Semitism.”

Quoting Pope Francis, he pointed to the dangers of the anti-Semitic attacks, linking them to acts of dehumanization, which is most notably seen in hatred towards neighbors.

However, the Springfield bishop also voiced hope that these attacks could be an opportunity for neighborly love to shine brightly.

“But here we also find an opportunity: that the light of the love of neighbor may illuminate the Earth with its stunning brightness like a lightning bolt in the dark; that it may wake us up and let true humanity burst through with authentic resistance, resilience and persistence.”

“I encourage everyone to remember their neighbor, to find the opportunities to be lights of resistance, resilience, and persistence during these contentious times, especially with all our brothers and sisters of faith.”

 

 

Surgeon and father among sainthood causes moving forward

Vatican City, Feb 27, 2017 / 11:03 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis recognized on Monday the heroic virtue of eight persons on the path to canonization, including an Italian surgeon and father of eight who suffered from several painful diseases throughout his life.

The Pope met Feb. 27 with the prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, Cardinal Angelo Amato, giving his approval for the causes to move forward.

Among them is Italian Victor Trancanelli. Born in 1944, he studied and became a talented surgeon before marrying his wife Lia. Together they had one natural son and adopted seven more children over the course of their marriage.

One month before the birth of their son, Diego, Victor developed ulcerative colitis and widespread peritonitis, which created the need for a permanent ileostomy. Only his wife and a few medical colleagues were aware of the ileostomy, which he bore with patience and without complaining.

Always thinking of the sick, after a year he was healthy enough to return to his work as a surgeon.

In the 1980s, he fell in love with Holy Scripture and with the Jewish roots of the Faith, working at the St. Martin Ecumenical Center. During that time, Victor, his wife, and a few friends started the association which is still running, “Alle Querce di Mamre,” to help women and children in difficult situations.

After another serious illness, he died June 24, 1998, at the age of 54. It is said that shortly before his death he gathered his wife and children around him, and said: “For this it is worth living.”

“Even if I had become, who knows who, if I had money in the bank, owned many houses, what would I bring with me now? What have I brought before God? Now I bring the love that we have given.”

Another cause moving forward is that of Fr. Titus Zeman, a priest of the Salesian order who was born in 1915 in Bratislava, Slovakia. He moved to Rome to study at the Pontifical Gregorian University for a period before being ordained in 1940.

He returned to his home country, but in 1950 the Communist regime in then-Czechoslovakia prohibited religious orders, deporting religious men and women to concentration camps. Fr. Zeman organized for young men in the Salesians to travel secretly to Turin, Italy to complete their studies for the priesthood.

He was eventually captured and endured a severe trial, where they called him a traitor and a spy of the Vatican. Narrowly missing the death penalty, he was sentenced to 25 years in prison. He was released in 1964 after 12 years, enduring torture and other deprivation.

Severely weakened by the treatment during his imprisonment, he died only five years later on Jan. 8, 1969. He is considered to have died a martyr for the faith.

Fr. Zeman is known to have said: “Even if I lost my life, I would not consider it wasted, knowing that at least one of those that I helped has become a priest in my place.”

Following an increasing number of canonizations of laypeople in the last few years, another lay person whose cause has moved forward is Pietro Herrero Rubio, who lived 1904-1978.

The other causes are of the Bishop Ottavio Ortiz Arrieta of Chachapoyas (1878-1958); Jesuit priest Antonio Repiso Martínez de Orbe, founder of the Congregation of Sisters of the Divine Pastor (1856-1929); Antonio Provolo, a diocesan priest and founder of both the Society and the Congregation of Mary for the Education of the Deaf and Dumb (1801-1842); Maria of Mercy Cabezas Terrero, foundress of the Religious Institute of the Missionary Workers of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (1911-1993); and Sr. Lucia of the Immaculate (Maria Ripamonti), a member of the Congregation of the Handmaids of Charity (1909-1954).  

African American Catholics discuss path toward unity, respect for all

Los Angeles, Calif., Feb 27, 2017 / 09:55 am (CNA).- They came from across the Archdiocese of Los Angeles to stand together, worship side-by-side and honor their shared history: African American Catholics, a small yet faith-filled community, sang God’s praises as one during this year’s Black History Month Mass on Feb. 18 at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Downtown L.A., which has hosted the annual Mass every year since 2003.

“Black Catholics have always had a very strong faith,” said Andrew Knox, a parishioner at St. Brigid Church, who spoke to Angelus News during the February meeting of the African American Catholic Center for Evangelization (AACCFE), which serves the local African American Catholic community year-round, and helps organize parish and archdiocesan-wide events like the Black History Mass.

“We’re rooted in a strong spirituality and we are always moving forward,” added Knox, a member of the African American Catholic Center for Evangelization council, which represents 25 parishes and meets monthly September through June. “Our faith never fails us … we believe that Jesus is always going to lead us in the right direction. We’re strong believers.”

And they are strong evangelizers, too, noted Anderson F. Shaw, director of the African American Catholic Center for Evangelization. During the Feb. 18 Mass, participating parishes each presented one individual to be recognized as a Keeper of the Flame, which honors those who have “kept the flame of evangelization alive” in their parish communities.

“We want to evangelize and help bring all people into the fold” – including those on the periphery and fallen-away Catholics of all backgrounds, explained Doris Tims, an African American Catholic Center for Evangelization member who attends St. Eugene Church. “We want to reach out and evangelize the whole community, so we can get them back into the Church.”

And those evangelization efforts are ongoing throughout the year, via parish-based ministries and the African American Catholic Center for Evangelization, including regional evangelization task forces, liturgy committees, ethnic ministry groups, music ministries, prayer groups, pro-life committees, supporting deacon and priestly vocations, and much more.

According to Shaw, groups such as the African American Catholic Center for Evangelization and related observances — the Black History Month Mass, Martin Luther King Jr. Prayer Breakfast, National Black Catholic Congress, Black Catholic History Month and others — are particularly essential within such a small community. Based on national demographics, about 76 percent of African American Catholics across the U.S. attend parishes where they make up a very small minority of the community.

In some parishes, there may be only four or five families, noted Shaw.

In the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, the total number of African American Catholics is approximately 70,000. By contrast, an estimated 5 million total Catholics — including all races and ethnicities — make up the local archdiocese.

“Among the reasons we conduct special liturgies and events are [because] we seek to bring all African American Catholics together, so they can share in their common culture and to also demonstrate a more visible presence within the archdiocese,” explained Shaw. “Through these visible presentations, the Church of Los Angeles gets a better picture of the contributions and gifts the African American Catholic community brings to the Church, and it gives confidence to African American Catholics to share their gifts with the Church.

“And with visibility comes a greater voice,” he added.

Terry Dicks of St. Jerome Church also emphasized the importance of promoting both unity and confidence, and also stressed the need to “remember” and to educate younger generations about the realities of “our story.”

“I would say that Black History Month really is more needed now than ever — we have to encourage each other to remember our story,” said Dicks. “Black History Month is a time to not just … remember [our story] and to remember whose shoulders we’re standing on — people suffered and died, and so it’s important to keep reminding ourselves that we’ve come a long way, although there’s always room for improvement — but Black History Month to me is also an opportunity to, as a people, say, ‘This is who we are, this is where we have been.’

“I was raised in New Orleans, where there were ‘colored’ signs and ‘whites’ signs, so it’s important for me to tell my story to my kids and to my parish, so they understand why we’re singing ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing,’” she added. “A lot of times, many teenagers don’t really know our story and they need to know it.”

But, continued Dicks, it’s not enough to just celebrate black history.

“At our parish we have many cultures, so we celebrate each other,” said Dicks. “You have to go to the Filipino celebrations, to the Nigerian, to the Mexican American — you have to go to all of the celebrations. It’s not about dividing [to celebrate different races and cultures]; it’s actually unifying, because we learn to be hospitable to each other.

“What’s the point of being Catholic if it isn’t to support each other?” she asked.

Harry L. Wiley Jr., a knight of Peter Claver and parishioner at St. Raphael Church, shared similar thoughts.

“Pope Francis is a gift to this world. [He] has allowed the Church itself to say that it is with all people who are disrespected, downtrodden, impoverished,” said Wiley. “The leadership of this Church does not want to see people divided.”

Speaking of divisions, he pointed to the recent marches and demonstrations, expressing solidarity with those marching against inhumane policies and in support of safeguarding civil liberties for people of all religions, races and ethnicities.

“As Catholics we can’t stay back; we’ve got to know that Christ gave us an opportunity to see our value as humans, and to recognize that value in others, and to realize that we are no better than anyone else,” said Wiley. “Liberties can be taken away from us, just like they can be taken away from you or anyone else. … As black Catholics, as black [Americans] — from Frederick Douglass to Martin Luther King — we have never supported just black issues; we have been inclusive. … Martin Luther King did not work for black rights; he worked for civil rights, for all.”

Tims agreed wholeheartedly.

“We can’t stand alone, we have to stand together, whether it’s for Black Lives Matter or for immigration, we have to come together,” she said, recounting the despair she felt upon learning about the undocumented Arizona mother of two who was recently deported despite having resided in the United States for decades.

“No one group can do it alone; we need to be unified, otherwise there’s no way we’ll be able to stop this division that’s going on,” said Tims. “We have to love one another.”

 

Republished with permission from Angelus News.

Loving your neighbor means voting wisely, Northern Ireland bishops say

Armagh, Northern Ireland, Feb 27, 2017 / 06:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Ahead of Northern Ireland’s assembly elections, the region’s Catholic bishops have reflected on situation facing voters and the importance of voting with well-formed consciences.

“Far from separating us from concern about society and its development, the Gospel commandment to love one’s neighbor as oneself commits us ‘to work for the good of all people and of each person, because we are all really responsible for all’,” said the bishops, citing the Compendium on the Social Doctrine of the Church.

The Feb. 22 message was signed by Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh, Primate of All Ireland, and other leading Catholic bishops.

Northern Ireland’s Assembly elections will take place March 2. The vote for the region’s legislative body follows political controversies regarding overspending on a renewable energy heating program, which called into question the power sharing agreement between the Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Fein.

Deputy First Minister, Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness, resigned in protest Jan. 10 over allegations that First Minister Arlene Foster of the Democratic Unionist Party mishandled the project. The resignation triggered the elections.

In this climate, the bishops said, “the premature collapse of our political institutions is a serious matter for all of us.” Despite progress towards peace and prosperity in the 20 years since the pivotal Good Friday Agreement, they saw a return of “bitter language and tone of conflict” to political discourse.

They noted the sacrifices political leaders make, but also reflected on politicians’ duties “to help shape a healthy, positive and peaceful society in which there are ample, quality jobs, decent housing, comprehensive healthcare, and first-class education for all.”

Northern Ireland’s bishops encouraged voters to reflect on Catholic social teaching in their decisions.

They stressed the need to build a culture that loves and cares for others, especially the most vulnerable. They cited Pope Francis’ call for a “revolution of tenderness” that replaces hardened hearts with “a sensitivity and active concern to protect all and care for all.”

Noting pressures to introduce legal abortion in Northern Ireland, the bishops rejected a “throwaway culture” that treats human beings as disposable. They said the region’s laws should equally value the life of both mother and unborn child, and not “diminish our humanity by destroying another human life.” They warned against efforts to portray legal abortion as “limited,” as the procedure always intentionally takes the life of an innocent.

“Central to the good news that the Church proclaims is that the life of every person is sacred and inviolable, irrespective of the stage or state of that life,” they said. This is a fundamental principle that every other human right presumes.

The bishops lamented “disturbing levels” of child poverty, with almost 110,000 children in Northern Ireland living below the poverty line. The region has some of the highest levels of the numbers of working poor and the disabled, in addition to other features of income inequality.

The bishops said voters should prioritize “the systemic and comprehensive eradication” of childhood poverty and the provision of other social needs.

They advocated for a constructive political culture based on “a shared commitment to the common good” instead of the constitutional issues that have traditionally played a key role in Northern Irish politics.

Many Catholics have found it increasingly difficult to find a political party for which they can vote in good conscience. The bishops said that in the absence of clear alternatives, Catholics should “maximize the good” and limit any potential harm through their election choices.

Northern Ireland’s bishops stressed the importance of recognizing marriage as the union of one man and one woman. To recognize other relationships equally undercuts the importance of the biological bond and natural ties between parents and children.

They cited Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation Amoris laetitia, which said same-sex unions are in no way similar to marriage and are not analogous to God’s plan for marriage and the family.

The bishops encouraged a welcoming attitude towards refugees who flee dangers including persecution, war, and natural disaster. They advocated an increase in the number of refugees resettled from Syria to Northern Ireland.

Similarly, the bishops voiced concern for the persecution of Christians abroad, as well as “subtle forms of exclusion and discrimination” against Christians in western democracies. They reported that local Christians have described a chilling effect in the region’s law and public policy that excludes church and faith groups from public funding or caricatures them in public debate because of their beliefs regarding marriage or their pro-life stand.

They noted the failure of the Northern Ireland Assembly to protect the right of a Catholic adoption agency to act in accord with its religion and voiced hope that this could change in the future.

They also rejected some views of “integrated” education that suggest Catholic schools do not contribute to reconciliation, tolerance, and understanding. In fact, the bishops contended, these schools have a Christian ethos that is “inclusive, welcoming and tolerant.” Some approaches to education reject parents’ rights to ensure a faith-based education for their children, and even cloak “a deep-seated hostility to the Catholic faith itself.”

Recommendations for voters also drew on Pope Francis’ encyclical on care for creation, Laudato si', points out the challenges of environmental degradation and climate change. Northern Ireland’s bishops said caring for creation is good in itself and something owed to future generations.

They praised Northern Ireland’s leading role in the development of renewable energy technologies, and suggested the next Assembly should focus on further improving this aspect of the economy, while also encouraging protection for natural landscapes, fisheries, and other resources.

Further, the bishops noted the dangers of human trafficking and the “disturbing levels” of homelessness.

They noted the publication of an important report on historical institutional abuse in Northern Ireland and acknowledged that both Church and society failed to protect the vulnerable.

“We apologize unreservedly to all those who suffered from their experience in Church-run institutions, and to their loved ones,” the bishops said, acknowledging the inadequacy of apology while urging the report’s recommendations against abuse be rapidly established.

The bishops concluded their statement with ten questions drawn from Catholic social teaching that voters should ask candidates.

Decrees of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints

On Monday, Pope Francis received in audience Cardinal Angelo Amato, S.D.B., prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, and authorised the promulgation of decrees concerning the following causes:

MARTYRDOM

- Servant of God Tito Zeman, Slovakian professed priest of the Salesian Society of St. John Bosco (1915-1969).

HEROIC VIRTUES

- Servant of God Octavio Ortiz Arrieta, Peruvian bishop, of the Salesians of St. John Bosco (1878-1958);

- Servant of God Antonio Provolo, Italian diocesan priest, founder of the Society of Mary for the Education of the Deaf-Mutes, and the Sisters of the Society of Mary for the Education of the Deaf-Mute (1801-1842);

- Servant of God Antonio Repiso Martínez de Orbe, Mexican professed priest of the Society of Jesus, founder of the Congregation of the Sisters of the Divine Shepherd (1856-1929);

- Servant of God María de las Mercedes Cabezas Terrera, Spanish founder of the Missionary Workers of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (1911-1993);

- Servant of God Lucia of the Immaculate Conception (née Maria Ripamonti), Italian professed religious of the Congregation of the Sisters of Charity (1909-1954);

- Servant of God Pedro Herrero Rubio, Spanish layperson (1904-1978);

- Servant of God Vittorio Trancanelli, Italian layperson and father (1944-1998).

(from Vatican Radio)

Being an Athlete of Christ

Jared Zimmerer has been a noncompetitive body builder and power lifter for more than a decade. What this has given him — besides muscles — is great spiritual insight in the practice of discipline, the sanctity of the body, and the idea that it takes much more than physical strength to achieve fitness goals. He explains today.

Pope Francis ‘studying possibility’ of South Sudan visit

(Vatican Radio)  Pope Francis has said his staff is “studying the possibility” of a visit to South Sudan.

He said the reason was that “the Anglican, Presbyterian, and Catholic” bishops of South Sudan had come to ask him: “Please, come to South Sudan, even for a day, but don’t come alone, come with Justin Welby”, the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury.

“We are looking at whether it is possible, or if the situation down there is too dangerous. But we have to do it, because they – the three [Christian communities] – together desire peace, and they are working together for peace.”

The Holy Father’s words came during his Sunday visit to Rome’s All Saints Anglican Church in a question-and-answer session.

He was responding to a question from an Anglican seminarian from Nigeria, who had asked the Pope about the vitality of churches in the Southern Hemisphere.

Pope Francis said those churches are young and therefore have a certain vitality due to their youthfulness.

He also told an anecdote about Blessed Paul VI to show that “ecumenism is often easier in young churches”.

“When Blessed Paul VI beatified the Ugandan martyrs – a young Church – among the martyrs were catechists, all were young, while some were Catholics and others Anglican, and all were martyred by the same king in hate for the faith, because they refused to follow the dirty proposals of the king. And Paul VI was embarrassed, saying: ‘I should beatify both groups; they are both martyrs.’ But in that moment of the Catholic Church, such a thing was not possible.”

Responding to another question about ecumenical relations between the churches, Pope Francis said, “The relationship between Catholics and Anglicans today is good; we care for each other like brothers!”

He then gave two examples of common ground: saints and the monastic life.

“We have a common tradition of the saints… Never, never in the two Churches, have the two traditions renounced the saints: Christians who lived the Christian witness until that point. This is important.”

“There is another thing that has kept up a strong connection between our religious traditions: [male and female] monks, monasteries. And monks, both Catholic and Anglican, are a great spiritual strength of our traditions.”

(from Vatican Radio)