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To understand Pope Francis, you have to understand the Jesuits

Rome, Italy, Jun 25, 2017 / 04:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Discernment is one of the words Pope Francis repeats most, especially when speaking to priests and seminarians.

He often expresses his desire for greater formation in discernment – a concept that may seem obscure without an understanding its importance to the Pope's Jesuit formation.

“When a Jesuit says 'discernment,' they’re employing a term that has a very rich spiritual tradition within the Society of Jesus, so you can presume a lot in that,” Fr. Brian Reedy, SJ, told CNA in an interview.

Fr. Reedy is a US Navy Reserve chaplain and is pursuing a doctorate in philosophical theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University. He holds a licentiate in theology from Boston College.

He explained that discernment is something St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus, emphasized profoundly in his Spiritual Exercises, which form the “backbone” of Jesuit spirituality.

In fact, St. Ignatius twice in the spiritual exercises has an extended discourse on how to carry out discernment properly: what it means, what its limitations are, and the rules that govern it.

“One of the things that’s very interesting about discernment is that while it does have a very polyvalent meaning, you can usually presume that when a Jesuit uses the term, when they launch it, it has these rules at least playing the background in their mind,” Reedy said.

So when it comes to Jesuits and discernment, what are the governing rules, and how can we use them to understand Pope Francis?

Rules of Ignatian discernment

One of the first things to keep in mind when it comes to discernment is St. Ignatius' distinction between  categories of people, Fr. Reedy said, explaining there are different rules for people take the faith seriously, and those who do not.

“If you are somebody who is living a life where God is not really on the scene and the teachings of the Church aren’t really important you have one set of rules. But the reverse situation for somebody who does take their faith life very seriously and God is at least sought after … then we have a completely different set of rules,” he said.

Another distinction, he said, is between proper and improper objects of discernment, meaning that “some things you can discern and other things you can’t.”

When it comes to the current discussion on marriage, Fr. Reedy noted that in his spiritual exercises, St. Ignatius himself speaks specifically about discerning marriage after you have contracted marriage “as an example of one of the things you can’t legitimately discern.”

This, he said, is because “after you are married, you can no longer legitimately discern being married or not, because you’ve made the decision; it’s not a proper object.”

What can be discerned, by a tribunal, is whether or not the marriage is valid.

“That’s a different question than discerning whether you want to be in a marriage still,” Fr. Reedy said. “For Ignatius that question doesn’t make any sense; in fact, it’s offensive to the process that you would discern changing a state of life that you have already committed yourself to.”

The same thing goes for priesthood and the religious life, he said, explaining that St. Ignatius uses that example because “once you’ve made that commitment, what you discern is how to live the commitment.”

“That’s what you would actually be discerning, because discernment is, fundamentally in Jesuit spirituality, the application of doctrine and teaching to the practical applications in somebody’s life. So it’s making practical that which is theoretical.”

There are then certain “guiding rules” that help in the carrying out of proper discernment.

One of St. Ignatius' rules Fr. Reedy cited is that sin can never be discerned, using the example of committing murder.

“You can’t discern to murder,” he said. “In fact, it’s offensive to the process that you are pretending to discern choosing an absolute evil.”

What can be legitimately discerned is whether or not to kill, because “if you and your family were under immediate threat from somebody, then the father could in the moment discern whether it was possible for him to take lethal action. That’s permitted.”

In terms of Catholic moral theology, Fr. Reedy said it exists between the camp of what is “permitted” and what is “transformative,” and that beyond the permitted sign lies what is “forbidden.”

Things that are forbidden cannot be discerned, and “you only ask to be free from them,” he said. From there, the spectrum goes from what is simply permissible on one side, all the way to what is deeply transformative and engages the world like Christ on the other.

“In that realm, between what is permitted to what is transformative, there’s a lot of discernment of legitimate possibilities of things that are not against reason or against God or the Church,” he said, adding that one can never really discern between good and evil, but “only between relative goods.”

One key rule of discernment that is often forgotten is the guiding principle of “thinking with the Church,” Fr. Reedy said. This means that “whatever you discern, you’re not only thinking about the moral law and how that functions, but also specifically thinking with the Church.”

Francis is a man 'steeped' in Jesuit tradition

Pope Francis “is completely steeped in Jesuit tradition and is a man completely of the exercises,” Fr. Reedy said, explaining that one of the first things he tells people when he speaks about the Pope is that “you can hear the spiritual exercises active in what he says.”

In listening to Pope Francis “you can hear a Jesuit who has contemplated the life of Jesus,” the priest said, noting that Francis' pedagogical or didactic style “is very much patterned on Jesus’, who often gave very oblique and obscure answers to questions.”

Christ did this, he said, “to specifically avoid a kind of legalism that just wants a solid answer that can then be manipulated in some way,” whereas true discernment means “you’re not interested in rules for the sake of rules, (or) tools that can be manipulated or used as weapons; what you’re interested in is finding the best, the truest, the most holy, the most transformative.”

In essence, “you’re always looking for what is the spirit of the law: why does the law exist, what it is, what is it trying to do?”

What can be done is to “have people trained in what the rules are, why they exist, and how to help these people engage that system in a way that can contribute toward their holiness, to their growth in conforming to Christ.”

Fr. Reedy said that for him, one problem he sees in the Church right now is that some people, in their interpretation of the Pope's actions, are “trying to put on the table, calling under the umbrella of discernment, the actual consideration of sins, of evils.”

“I’ve never gotten the sense that that is what Francis is saying,” he reflected, explaining that in his view, given Francis' background, what he is is trying to do is to “train people in this: in the proper camp of moral reasoning, which extends from permitted all the way to transformative, how to help people function there in a way that can be messy, but also prevent them from crossing the line into what is forbidden.”

But what about Francis' ambiguity? Is that a Jesuit thing?

Part of the confusion surrounding Pope Francis' sayings and writings is that his language can frequently be ambiguous and imprecise, leaving people scratching their heads trying to figure out what he actually meant.

But for Fr. Reedy, this isn't a Jesuit quality so much as it is a personal limitation of the Vicar of Christ.

“Francis is a complicated character. He’s not a precise theologian, so I think some of the ambiguity and imprecision just comes from his own training and background, which the Church just has to be patient with,” he said.

Secondly, the priest said that if we reflect on scripture, we see that the Pope uses a style that is very similar to what Christ himself often used, especially when he senses a “Pharisaical attitude.”

“When he senses that somebody’s asking a question in order to pin something down in a way he fears is going to hurt somebody else” Francis gets obscure, he said, explaining that the Pope is “very sensitive” to having doctrine “turned into a weapon of sorts.”

And so was Christ, he said, noting that “Jesus had very harsh words for those people.” Even though the Pharisees were technically faithful, upstanding Jews, “they also had a problem in the way that the viewed law; they saw the law first and the needs of the people second, and Jesus challenged that and so is Pope Francis.”

“I think people should stop pretending that Jesus was crystal-clear when he said things all the time,” Fr. Reedy said, noted that Christ “specifically said at times that he was intentionally being confusing. He would say that he was using parables so those other people over there wouldn’t understand – he would say that.”

However, even though Christ could at times speak cryptically, he was clear when pressed on important topics, such as the Eucharist and the meaning behind his words “this is my body,” and that to enter eternal life his disciples must “eat my flesh and drink my blood.”

So when it comes to Pope Francis, Fr. Reedy said people have to take into account “the Jesus-like way he teaches,” which he said is often at play in the Pope's speeches.

But there is also an element of manipulation when it comes to the Pope's ambiguity which must be addressed.

“I think (the Pope's) ambiguity is being manipulated,” Fr. Reedy said, explaining that in these cases, “I think we need to continue to push for greater clarity.”

This doesn't mean we'll get the clarity immediately, he said, but when it comes to particularly problematic issues “we need clarity. We need a line to be drawn saying we’re not talking about Catholic divorce.”

This isn't referring to somebody “who was in a valid marriage just rupturing that marriage, pretending it’s dissolvable against the explicit words of Jesus, and just starting a new one and saying that’s okay.”

“We’re not talking about that … I don’t think we are, I don’t think the Pope is,” he said, because if we look to the rules of discernment of St. Ignatius of Loyola, “I don’t think we can legitimately discern that.”

“So I’m confident that that’s not what the Pope is saying and I think that we should continue to ask for clarity, but not rush to clarity so that we can feel good about ourselves.”

What is needed, he said, is “to defend the truth so that we can become good.”

Christ doesn’t promise freedom from difficulties, Pope says

Vatican City, Jun 25, 2017 / 11:38 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In his Angelus address on Sunday, Pope Francis reminded the faithful that following Christ does not mean our lives will be free from all earthly troubles.

“There is no Christian mission in the name of tranquility,” the Pope said, speaking to those gathered in St. Peter’s Square on June 25. “Difficulties and tribulations are part and parcel of evangelization.”

Pope Francis reflected on the day’s Gospel, in which Jesus instructs his followers not to be afraid.

“Jesus’ mission did not guarantee the disciples success, nor did it shield them from failure or suffering,” the Holy Father said.

But Christ did promise them that he would always be with them as they faced the trials that were ahead.

The same is true for us today, the Pope said. We should expect suffering and even persecution if we follow in the path of the crucified Christ, but at the same time, we can take comfort in knowing that “God does not abandon his children during the storm.”

Sometimes this storm comes not in the form of active persecution, but in indifference, through “people who do not want to be awakened from a worldly numbness, who ignore the truth of the Gospel message and build their own ephemeral truth.”

Regardless of the form that trials may take, we should persevere in faithfulness, he said, also reminding those gathered in the square to pray for those facing serious persecution. 

“Jesus does not leave us alone because we are precious to Him.”

Following the Angelus, the Pope offered prayers for landslide victims in southwestern China. He also offered a message to members of the Greek-Catholic Ukrainian Church on the 150th anniversary of the canonization of St. Josaphat, as well as to Lithuanians celebrating Blessed Theofilius Matulonius. 

The tale of Fr. Brochero: Gaucho priest, devil's worst nightmare

Vatican City, Jun 25, 2017 / 02:03 am (CNA/EWTN News).- If Jose Brochero doesn't sound like a Gaucho name, nothing does.

Last year, Pope Francis canonized Saint Brochero, a fellow countryman from Argentina also known as the “Gaucho priest.”

He was beatified in Sept. 2013 by Pope Francis, who said Fr. Brochero was a priest who truly “smelled of his sheep.” He was canonized Oct. 16, 2016.

Saint Brochero was born Jose Gabriel del Rosario Brochero in Argentina in 1840, the fourth of ten children to Ignacio Brochero and Petrona Davila.

St. Brochero entered seminary at the age of 16, and was ordained a priest at the age of 26 for the Archdiocese of Cordoba.

As a priest, after teaching philosophy at a seminary for a few years, Fr. Brochero was assigned to the large diocese of St. Albert – 1,675 square miles with 10,000 far-flung parishioners in the rural, Great Highlands region of Argentina.

Not deterred by altitude, distance or bad weather, Fr. Brochero was known for riding throughout the countryside of his parish on the back of a mule to bring his people the sacraments, always wearing a poncho and sombrero in the style of a gaucho, or Argentinian cowboy.

On muleback, he carried an icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary, his Mass kit and a prayer book on his travels so that he was always prepared to offer the sacraments. He established a House of Exercises where his people could participate in spiritual exercises, and helped found a school for girls.

He is also credited with building post and telegraph stations, for building nearly 125 miles of roads, and for helping plan the railroad in the area.

“Woe if the devil is going to rob a soul from me,” he is held to have said, capturing his determined spirit to be close to his people no matter what.

Fr. Brochero was known for being particularly close to the poor and the sick, and helped care for those who contracted cholera during the epidemic in 1867. Eventually, he contracted leprosy from a leper in his parish, causing him to eventually become blind and deaf and to relinquish his parish duties, spending his last few years living with his sisters at home.

Fr. Brochero died on Jan. 26, 1914. His last words were: “Now I have everything ready for the journey.”

A few days after his death, the Catholic newspaper of Cordoba wrote: “It is known that Father Brochero contracted the sickness that took him to his tomb, because he visited at length and embraced an abandoned leper of the area.”  

In 2012, Pope Benedict XVI approved a healing miracle attributed to Fr. Brochero, in which 13-year-old Nicolas Flores, who was in a vegetative state after a car accident, was cured through the intercession of the gaucho priest.

 

An earlier version of this article was published on CNA July 14, 2016.

This beautiful church was a gift from Slovakia to Icelandic Catholics

Reykjavik, Iceland, Jun 24, 2017 / 04:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Bishop David Tencer of Reykjavik last week consecrated a new wooden church building, a gift from the Slovak Catholic Church.

The church is a tribute to Bishop Tencer, who is a Capuchin Franciscan and a native of Slovakia.

Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico and two other members of the Slovak government joined Bishop Tencer for the June 17 consecration of the church in Reyðarfjörður, more than 400 miles northeast of Reykjavik, Iceland's capital.

Wood is scarce in the volcanic, rocky country of Iceland, so the church was made of Slovakian wood, then disassembled and shipped to Iceland for reassembly.

“You will not find a single house or church of this type in Iceland,” Bishop Tencer told The Slovak Spectator.

The church is in the shape of a St. Damian Crucifix, an eastern-style icon sometimes called a Franciscan crucifix because St. Francis of Assisi prayed before a cross of this style when he received a commission from God to rebuild the Church.

Icelandic sources report that the new church doubles the seating capacity of the previous chapel of the Capuchin friars from 25 to 50, allowing them to accommodate the growing number of people who come from all regions of the country to attend Mass with the friars.

Iceland’s population is mostly Lutheran, with the country’s 13,000-some Catholics making up only 3-4 percent of the country’s 350,000 population. Many of Iceland’s Catholic population are Polish immigrants who moved to the country for work.

Most of the country’s priests also come from elsewhere, including Poland, Slovakia, Ireland, France, Argentina, Britain, and Germany. The orders of religious sisters with a presence in the country include The Servants of the Lord and the Virgin of Matará, The Mexican sisters from Guadalajara, the Missionaries of Charity, and two Carmelite orders.

The country is divided into six parishes, and the single Diocese of Reykjavik is immediately subject to the Holy See.

But the small size of the Church in Iceland is part of its charm, Bishop Tencer told The Spectator, because this means, “I know many of its members in person.”

It is also a result of a turbulent history of Catholicism in the country, which was nearly wiped off the island during the reformation and the rule of a harsh Danish king in the 16th century. Bishop Jon Arason, the island's last Catholic bishop until 1929, was executed in 1550 for his refusal of the reformation.

The Slovak prime minister said he was happy to be a part of the project of providing a church building to Iceland, an initiative of the Church in Slovakia, because it paid tribute to the service that Slovaks are doing in Iceland.

“So, I’m happy that a piece of Slovakia from Hrinyová, and the bishop, who is also from Slovakia, are representing our country in Iceland,” he told Slovakian media.

What does it mean to be a 'pro-life' police officer?

Washington D.C., Jun 24, 2017 / 03:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- “Ultimately, this report is about the sanctity of all human life.”

This remarkable line opens up an international police group's flagship document on how to improve incidents of officer-involved shootings and the kinds of non-armed crisis situations that take place regularly across the United States.

“The essence of policing is the preservation of life,” Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum in Washington, D.C., told CNA.

“That's why we exist; life is very precious, and we have to remind ourselves of that.”

This ethic of protecting human life extends even to the use of force in responding to incidents, Wexler argued: “Everything should be what we have to do to preserve human life – especially in the area of use of force.”

This principle, that human life is sacred has found itself at the core of PERF's work as an independent research and policy organization that looks at best practices in policing, as well as assistance, education and advice for law enforcement agencies.

With the idea that “the sanctity of human life should be at the heart of everything an agency does” at the center of the organization's 30 Guiding Principles on the Use of Force and training guide, the group is already revolutionizing the way police departments approach policies on force and the response to crisis situations.

Keeping everyone safe

The pro-life approach to police work is part of a years-long project undertaken by PERF, which has more than 2500 members from around the globe.

Wexler explained that the organization was inspired to readjust their recommended policies and training after high-profile cases of police violence in Ferguson, Mo., and elsewhere sparked a national conversation on the appropriate force.

“We needed to take a hard look at what we were doing,” he said.

It's hard to capture the scope of the issue of police-involved shootings in the United States, because there is no data or source of official reports that's collected on a national level.

FBI Director James B. Comey explained in a 2015 speech at Georgetown University that the federal agency can't even investigate the issue because “reporting by police departments is voluntary and not all departments participate. That means we cannot fully track the number of incidents in which force is used by police, or against police, including non-fatal encounters, which are not reported at all.”

This means that any information available is at best unreliable, and hampers both investigating and addressing the issue, the director said.

In its report, PERF pointed to attempts by journalists at the Guardian and the Washington Post to help fill this void of data by documenting the number of people killed in officer-involved shootings in the United States. The Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank in Washington, D.C., also collects data on allegations of police misconduct, including shootings, at the National Police Misconduct Reporting Project.

PERF furthermore noted that according to the data collected by the Washington Post, nearly one-third of fatal police-involved shootings in 2015 could have a significant potential for de-escalation, either because the subject killed was mentally ill, unarmed, or armed with a weapon that was not a firearm.

Wexler was assisting colleagues in Scottish police departments when these issues rose to public prominence in 2014. It occurred to Wexler that these colleagues – most of whom are not armed in departments in the United Kingdom – still must respond to and stay safe when dealing with incidents involving weapons like bats or knives, without the option of deadly force.

“For me it was an epiphany,” Wexler said. He asked himself, “If they can do it, why can't we?”

PERF had researchers spend time studying police tactics in Scotland as well as in special emergency units in New York City and other departments around the United States. While the organization’s later research made a point not to blame most of the officers at the center of these events, PERF reassessed the training and policies surrounding the use of force in challenging situations.

“It really got us to think about how to re-engineer use of force policy and training,” Wexler said.

The result of their research was a document outlining guiding principles on the use of force and a training guide to teach officers how to better diffuse situations where de-escalation is possible. The guiding principles document notes that in most non-firearm cases “the threat is not immediate and the officers will have options for considering a more methodical, organized approach,” and many lives have the potential to be saved.

All of this is about trying to de-escalate a situation, giving officers the tools they need to do that.

It is this potential for saving lives – and not only the lives of civilians who interact with the police – which is the focus of the revised guidelines and tactics. PERF's research states that changing approaches to incidents can increase officer safety, too.

“Rather than unnecessarily pushing officers into harm's way in some circumstances, there may be opportunities to slow those situations down, bring more resources to the scene, and utilize sound decision-making that is designed to keep officers safe, while also protecting the public,” the report states.

In its findings, the document emphasizes the sanctity of human life as well as administering life-saving aid, transparency in reporting officer-involved shooting, use of less lethal options, and promoting effective means of managing mental illness in crisis situations.

The documents also criticize “line in the sand” policies and other training and field tactics which they found escalated, rather than calmed, crisis situations not involving firearms.

Wexler also said the principles of proportionality and effective communication are key to protecting the lives of all involved.

“All of this is about trying to de-escalate a situation, giving officers the tools they need to do that,” emphasizing the importance of teamwork, tactical skills and crisis intervention. “What's really important is the safety of the officer and the safety of the person you're dealing with.”

From the church to the streets

These policies aimed at respecting the dignity of life are not just formulated in an abstract environment, but with feedback from around the world.

“We have consulted with literally hundreds of police officers and police departments. We met and studied best practices around the country,” Wexler said.  

The research organization consulted with hundreds of police chiefs for over two years, and looked at countless case studies and reports to put together their findings and then their training program.

“We would not be recommending something if we didn't think it would work, and we've seen enough cases in the United States and in other countries where some may already be doing it or are in the process of implementing it.”

One of the other sources Wexler and PERF president, Scott Thompson, consulted in putting together the report was the archbishop of the largest city in the United States, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York.

“The person who we thought would really be interested in this concept was Cardinal Dolan in New York,” Wexler recalled. “We went to see Cardinal Dolan because we thought our principles, and in particular that principle, would be very significant to him.”

Cardinal Dolan was elected as the chairman-elect of the U.S. Bishops' Committee on Pro-Life activities beginning his term as chair in 2015.

“We had a really good meeting and he really understood and embraced” the core principle of protecting life, Wexler said. “It was something he could be very supportive of.”

There has been pushback from a lot of the major organizations.

PERF mentioned that Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago has also lent his support in helping the group's training programs for the Chicago Police Department.

While the police policy guidelines have been met with support among the hundreds of departments who worked with PERF, the organization’s focus on prioritizing the sanctity of the lives of all persons involved in police incidents has not been without controversy.

“There has been pushback from a lot of the major organizations,” Wexler acknowledged.

When PERF first released its guidelines in March 2016, it was met with harsh criticism from both the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the Fraternal Order of Police.

“We cannot reasonably expect law enforcement officers to walk away from potentially dangerous situations and individuals in the hope that those situations resolve themselves without further harm being done,” the organizations said in a joint response to PERF’s initial report.

A year later, however, national police organizations have started to adopt consensus principles that echo many of the ideas emphasized by PERF.

In a document laying out “National Consensus Policy” on the use of force, released in January 2017, 11 national police organizations – including the FOP and IACP – emphasized the importance of de-escalation policies, “reasonably prudent” responses, and less-lethal force. The policy also asks that departments around the country openly state that the “policy of this law enforcement agency is to value and preserve human life.”

While Wexler said he could not comment on these adaptations, he did say the shift in focus to emphasize the dignity and value of all lives – even in the most challenging situations – is a “difficult” shift in perspective: “The changes we're recommending are probably some of the biggest changes in police tactics that we’ve seen in 25 years.”

And the size of the policing community in the United States – more than 18,000 departments – only adds to the challenge.

Still, while the values and emphasis in police policy might still face some debate, PERF's training and concrete policies have met with wide acceptance.

“We've had no pushback from our training,” he said, pointing to the hundreds of departments who have come to their training workshops in New Orleans, Baltimore, and Los Angeles.

With this support in the year since putting out the guidelines and what they've seen in the research process, Wexler is confident that they can create a culture that defends the sanctity of human life in all aspects of its police work.

“I'm optimistic that in five years, this will no longer be controversial,” Wexler said. “This will be the way people handle these situations.”

 

This article was originally published on CNA April 7, 2017.

Judge halts deportations of Chaldean Christians to Iraq

Detroit, Mich., Jun 23, 2017 / 03:26 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A district court judge on Thursday halted the deportation of more than 100 Iraqis, including many Chaldean Christians, who were recently picked up by immigration officers and detained.

“We are thankful and relieved that our clients will not be immediately sent to Iraq, where they face grave danger of persecution, torture or death,” Michael Steinberg, legal director of the ACLU of Michigan, which represented the Iraqi nationals, stated in response to the ruling.

On Sunday, June 11, U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement began picking up Iraqi nationals in the Detroit metropolitan area who had previous criminal records.

Ultimately, 114 Iraqis were picked up, some reportedly at their homes in front of their families and others in public places like restaurants. They were detained and informed of their immanent deportation.

Many of the detainees were Chaldean Christians, and members of the local Chaldean Church were dismayed at the arrests.

ICE stated that the detainees had criminal records and although they had entered the U.S. legally and had not yet become citizens, they were no longer eligible for full citizenship. Furthermore, they had been ordered for removal by a federal judge, although in some cases the orders were reportedly decades old.

Iraq had previously refused to accept the Chaldeans, “in some cases, for humanitarian reasons,” Thursday’s decision read.

However, they recently agreed to accept them as part of a deal with the U.S. that removed Iraq’s place on a list of countries where foreign nationals were barred from traveling to the U.S., except in special cases, as part of President Donald Trump’s immigration executive order.

Bishop Francis Kalabat of the Chaldean Catholic Eparchy of St. Thomas the Apostle of Detroit insisted that many of those who were detained were responsible residents since they had served their time in prison, and that many of the crimes had been committed decades prior to the June 11 arrests.

Pleas to stay the deportations reportedly reached the highest levels of government. The ACLU represented the Chaldeans in court, filing a habeas corpus action petition on their behalf, while the Knights of Columbus and members of Congress wrote Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly.

Leading U.S. bishops also wrote Secretary Kelly, advocating for a stay on the deportations until Iraq could guarantee the safety of religious minorities.

“Returning religious minorities to Iraq at this time, without specific plans for protection, does not appear consistent with our concerns about genocide and persecution of Christians in Iraq,” a letter by Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Houston-Galveston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, along with Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, chair of the U.S. bishops’ international justice and peace committee, and Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin, chair of the bishops’ migration committee, stated.

“The persecution that the Christian and Chaldean Catholic community has faced in Iraq is well- documented,” they added. “The deportations to this same country, under such scrutiny for abuse and genocide of Christian and other minorities, seems to run counter to what is happening in other parts of our government.”

Lawyers for the detainees insisted that under the Convention Against Torture they should not be sent back to a country where they have a reasonable expectation of persecution.

Furthermore, since the detainees have already served their prison sentences for their previous crimes, “we believe it would not be just or humane to deport a person who has integrated into American life and poses no evident risk to the local community,” the bishops continued.

This past week, Bishop Kalabat noted in a Facebook post that Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Sako was also involved in the efforts to halt the deportations, and “spoke with an international Catholic organization that are in contact with Vice President Pence directly.”

Bishop Kalabat also said he had appealed to Michigan Governor Rick Snyder to pardon all those who had state felonies.

Then on June 22, Judge Goldsmith granted a two-week stay on the deportations of the Iraqi nationals “within the jurisdiction of the Detroit ICE Field Office with final orders of removal, who have been, or will be, arrested and detained by ICE.”

“In light of these complex jurisdictional issues, and the speed with which the Government is moving to remove Petitioners, it is necessary to stay Petitioners’ removal pending the Court’s determination regarding its jurisdiction,” Judge Goldsmith stated.

He also cited the threat of “irreparable harm” claimed by the detainees through the “significant chance of loss of life and lesser forms of persecution” if they were to be deported to Iraq, as well as “the public interest” in due process that their requests for relief be heard by a federal court before their deportation.

“The court took a life-saving action by blocking our clients from being immediately sent back to Iraq,” Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, stated. “They should have a chance to show that their lives are in jeopardy if forced to return.”

Francis urges Serrans to 'keep moving forward' promoting vocations

Vatican City, Jun 23, 2017 / 02:42 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis offered encouragement Friday to members of Serra International, which promotes religious vocations, urging them to persevere in their “beautiful vocation of being laity who are friends to priests” and to “(k)eep moving forward!”

Pope Francis said June 23 that friendship “is central to the experience of faith.”

Serra International is a lay apostolate dedicated to promoting vocations to the priesthood and religious life, and does this by both prayer and assistance to discerners.

Serra’s conference is taking place from June 22-25 in Rome under the theme Siempre Adelante, “keep moving forward.” Friday’s papal audience was open to all attendees after a Mass in St. Peter’s.

Reflecting on friendship, Francis said that “the word ‘friend’ has become a bit overused.”

“But, when Jesus speaks of ‘friends,’ he points to a hard truth: true friendship involves an encounter that draws me so near to the other person that I give something of my very self. Jesus says to his disciples: ‘No longer do I call you servants… but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you’. He thus establishes a new relationship between man and God, one that transcends the law and is grounded in trust and love.”

Friends accompany us, he said. “They stand at our side, gently and tenderly, along our journey; they listen to us closely, and can see beyond mere words.”

He linked this Christian idea of friendship to Serra’s work in promoting vocations and helping priests. They are “(f)riends who share the wonder of a vocation, the courage of a definitive decision, the joy and fatigue of ministry. Friends who can offer priests support and regard their generous efforts and human failings with understanding and tender love.”

He compared their work to the home of Mary and Martha in the gospel, which Christ frequently visited and where he “was able to find rest and refreshment.”

He then offered his reflections for the convention’s theme of Siempre Adelante.

“Like you, I believe that this is a synonym for the Christian vocation,” he said. He compared the phrase to Christ's call to his disciples to go forward in their ministerial journey, and he cautioned against giving into fear on this journey.

“Of course, we cannot make progress unless we take a risk,” he said. “We do not advance toward the goal if, as the Gospel says, we are afraid to lose our lives. No ship would ever set out into the deep if it feared leaving the safety of the harbour.”

“On the other hand,” he said,” when Christians go about their daily lives without fear, they can discover God’s surprises.”

He referenced the example of St. Junipero Serra, whom he canonized in Washington, D.C. in 2015, who, despite a limp, proceeded on his pilgrimage. He also warned against “museum Christians” who fear change.

“It is better to go forward limping, and even at times to fall, while always trusting in the mercy of God,” he said.

He concluded his speech by instructing them to not be afraid of changing the structures of their organization, humbly renouncing old roles and practices in favor of living their vocation.

“So you too, siempre Adelante! With courage, creativity, and boldness,” he said.

“The Church and priestly vocations need you. May Mary Most Holy, Mother of the Church and Mother of priests, be with you every step of the way And I ask you, please, pray for me!”

How Catholic culture can thrive on the internet

Quebec City, Canada, Jun 23, 2017 / 01:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Social media can be difficult to navigate, but Catholics can reach out with a content-savvy approach that can truly engage people, young social media professionals told Catholic media leaders on Thursday.

“The internet and particular our social media environment have created new genres,” Brantly C. Millegan, founder and editor-in-chief of ChurchPop, said June 22. “ChurchPop was dedicated to zeroing in on these genres.”

Millegan was among several panelists speaking at the Catholic Media Conference held in Quebec City this week. He said ChurchPop aims to respond to the dynamism of the social media age.

“What works in one media form does not necessarily work in another,” he explained.

ChurchPop’s content ranges from substantive articles to collections of pictures and memes.

“Catholic culture is very wide and our faith touches all aspects of life,” Millegan told CNA, voicing confidence that the truth of the Catholic faith can be expressed in a multi-faceted internet culture.

“The mission of ChurchPop is to spread Catholic culture to as many people as possible,” he said.

On the internet, success is hard to predict. Millegan said he was surprised by the success of a ChurchPop post about how all the apostles died and where one can find their remains today. That was by far ChurchPop’s most successful content across all languages.

Another unexpected success? A collection of pictures of beautiful churches.

The article was a very simple list that could be replicated using a different series of churches.

Just one picture in the series, a beautiful Lithuanian church, drew some unusual fans.

“Somehow the Lithuanian government started sharing it,” Millegan said. “It went huge in Lithuania.”

The panel on which Millegan spoke was organized by the Association of Roman Catholic Communicators of Canada.

Another panelist, Jasmin Lemieux-Lefebvre, communications director of the Archdiocese of Quebec, stressed the power of videos on social media.

“The conversion stories are the one stories that bring us the most attention,” he said.

Lemieux-Lefebvre suggested professional Catholic communicators should regularly ask one simple question to judge the quality of their content: “Are you willing to share it on your personal social networks?”

Samantha Wallace, a social media specialist with the Knights of Columbus, stressed the importance of listening to everyone who engages with one’s organization: every Facebook comment and Twitter reply. Monitoring what kind of content is successful helps an organization modify and improve its strategy.

She found that Knights of Columbus social media followers and their friends started responding well to faith formation and spiritual content once the organization began to create and share it. Experimentation with Facebook Live, despite initial setbacks, also proved fruitful.

Vicki McEachern of Catholic Christian Outreach, a Canadian campus missionary ministry, stressed the importance of authenticity in speaking to people on social media.

“Truly trust your audience,” she said.

Success on social media shows that when content is appealing, the number of people sharing it can grow exponentially.

“What this means is that if you have a piece of content that reaches many people, the content doesn’t do 10 percent better or 40 percent better,” Millegan said. It can do 40,000 times better.

“One really good piece of content can be worth more than a huge number of okay pieces of content,” he said, adding that the changing nature of social media platforms requires some flexibility.

“It’s easy to have success in one medium and get complacent. Then the world changes around us and we’re left behind. Always have humility and try new things,” said Millegan.

US Senate healthcare bill 'unacceptable as written', bishops warn

Washington D.C., Jun 23, 2017 / 11:10 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The U.S. bishops' conference has warned that the proposed Senate health care bill will put serious burdens on poor families and is “unacceptable as written.”

After the draft of a Senate health care bill was finally released on Thursday, Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice, chair of the U.S. bishops’ domestic justice and human development committee, stated that “this proposal retains many of the fundamental defects of the House of Representatives-passed health care legislation, and even further compounds them.”

He had previously explained, in a March letter to members of Congress, how the House bill was problematic for vulnerable populations such as the poor, the seriously ill, and the elderly.

After the Senate draft, known as the Better Care Reconciliation Act, was released June 22, he reiterated that “it is precisely the detrimental impact on the poor and vulnerable that makes the Senate draft unacceptable as written.”

After the House narrowly voted May 2 to pass its own version of a health care reform bill, the US bishops wrote to Senators urging them to reject the “grave deficiencies” of the American Health Care Act.

The bishops had asked the Senate to reject major changes to Medicaid, to retain protections for human life, to increase tax assistance for those with low-income and the elderly, to retain a cap on health care plan costs for the elderly, to protect immigrants, and to add health care protections.

Senate Republicans released the draft version of their bill after weeks of anticipation and controversy that the draft was being worked on behind closed doors. The bill would repeal much of the Affordable Care Act.

A major sticking point for pro-life groups and the U.S. bishops was Hyde Amendment-language protecting taxpayer subsidies from being used to pay for abortions.

However, pro-life leaders are concerned – or are even certain – that the pro-life language will be removed by the Senate Parliamentarian before the bill reaches the Senate floor.

This could happen because the language might be determined to be not pertaining to the rules of budget reconciliation. Since the bill may be passed through the budget reconciliation process – thus requiring a simple majority vote, rather than the normal 60 votes needed to bring it to the floor for a vote – its measures would need to be ruled as pertaining to the budget.

Senate Republicans can also afford no more than two members of their party voting against the bill, as no Democrats are expected to support it. Several moderate Republicans in the chamber have voiced concern about the bill, and four conservatives have said the draft does not go far enough in repealing the Affordable Care Act.

The draft also strips Planned Parenthood of taxpayer funding and redirects that funding to community health centers which do not provide abortions.

Jeanne Mancini, president of March for Life, approved of the Planned Parenthood language but added that “the reality is that necessary pro-life protections in this bill will be stripped by the Senate Parliamentarian, as we have now publicly heard from two Senators.”

The Washington Examiner reported Wednesday that Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) both admitted that the Senate Parliamentarian would not approve of the pro-life language being used in a bill passed by reconciliation.

“If this happens, one of the most egregious aspects of Obamacare – tax credits for plans covering abortion – will continue under this Administration and Congress,” Mancini continued.

Pro-life groups have insisted that the Affordable Care Act ushered in a massive expansion of abortion funding through tax credits paying for abortions and federally-subsidized plans offering abortion coverage, without sufficient guarantees that the subsidies were not being used themselves to pay for the abortion coverage.

While President Obama issued an executive order forbidding taxpayer dollars from funding abortions under the health care law, many – including then-president of the U.S. bishops, the late Cardinal Francis George of Chicago – insisted that would not offer sufficient guarantee against taxpayer dollars funding abortions.

A 2014 GAO report found that in five states, all the taxpayer-subsidized plans offered on the health exchanges covered abortions, thus leaving no choices for those who wanted a health plan on the exchanges which did not include abortion coverage.

Furthermore, the report found that 15 insurance issuers and one state exchange were not billing abortion coverage separately from other coverage in federally-subsidized plans, thus leaving open the possibility that federal dollars were going to fund abortion coverage.

“The expectations of the pro-life movement have been very clear: The health care bill must not indefinitely subsidize abortion and must re-direct abortion giant Planned Parenthood’s taxpayer funding to community health centers,” Susan B. Anthony List president Marjorie Dannenfelser and Family Research Council president Tony Perkins said in a joint statement released Friday.

“The Senate discussion draft includes these pro-life priorities, but we remain very concerned that either of these priorities could be removed from the bill for procedural or political reasons,” they added.

“We are working closely with our pro-life allies in the Senate to prevent this from happening as it could result in our opposition.”

Bishop Dewane echoed those concerns that the pro-life language could be stripped from the bill. He insisted as well that “full Hyde protections are essential and must be included in the final bill.”

Moreover, there are other serious problems with the Senate draft legislation that carry over from the House bill, he maintained.

Changes to Medicaid could cut vital coverage for low-income families; conscience protections for everyone in the health care system are lacking; and access for immigrants to health care would not be furthered, he said, which the bishops pointed out as one of the problems in the Affordable Care Act when it was passed in 2010.

The “per-capita cap” on Medicaid dollars to states would limit Medicaid funding based on the populations of the states themselves, “and then connects yearly increases to formulas that would provide even less to those in need than the House bill,” the bishop stated.

“These changes will wreak havoc on low-income families and struggling communities, and must not be supported,” he stated.

While efforts to assist people “living at an above the poverty line” are laudable, he continued, the proposed bill “stands to cause disturbing damage to the human beings served by the social safety net.”

The bill would phase out the expansion of Medicaid more gradually than did the House's version, but the program would see larger cuts in the long run under the Senate's plan.

Bread for the World, a social welfare organization of Christians that advocates for the ending of hunger the US and abroad, was also critical of the Senate bill's changes to Medicaid, saying it will increase hunger and poverty domestically.

“Rolling back the Medicaid expansion at a slower rate still means that millions of vulnerable Americans will lose their health care coverage,” said David Beckmann, Bread for the World's president. “Without health insurance, people must often choose between putting food on the table and receiving the medical care they need.”

He charged that “any senator who supports this bill will be voting to take away health insurance from the elderly, people with disabilities, and children.”

Bishop Dewane also said the bill “fails, as well, to put in place conscience protections for all those involved in the health care system, protections which are needed more than ever in our country's health policy,” he stated.

For instance, the bill could set up conscience protections for religious organizations that refuse to comply with previous mandates that coverage for sterilizations and contraceptives be provided in their employee health plans, the bishop noted. Or doctors who conscientiously refuse to perform abortions or gender-transition procedures could be protected against federal or state mandates that they do so.

“The Senate should now act to make changes to the draft that will protect those persons on the peripheries of our health care system,” Bishop Dewane stated.

How the Church is helping Christians return to Aleppo

Aleppo, Syria, Jun 23, 2017 / 10:06 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Christians who fled Aleppo because of the four year battle for the city are now returning, and in the face of such challenges as poverty, destruction, and a shortages of basic goods, they persevere with the help of the local Church.

Fr. Ibrahim Alsabagh, a Franciscan priest in the city, told CNA that between January and June, 18 Catholic families have returned to Aleppo from places like Armenia, France, Germany, and Venezuela. In addition, 400 Christian families of the Armenian community returned to the area.

He said these families have decided to return because in their host countries “they live in poverty and feel like foreigners. Also because they miss the warmth of the Christian community that welcomes, heals, and accompanies each family with all its needs.”

“When they see they aid that we give to the Christians in Aleppo, they say, ‘Why don’t we return home, to our culture, to our society when the bombings have ceased?’” he said.

Syria's largest city before the country's civil war began in 2011, control of Aleppo was divided among government and several rebel groups from July 2012 until the Syrian government recaptured the metropolis in December 2016.

The Franciscan said that while rebels have been expelled from the city, unfortunately "living conditions have not improved in Aleppo. The only thing that has improved is that there are no more bombings, thank God, but there is still insecurity."

In addition, “it is difficult to work because there are few hours in which there is electricity. There is also a small labor force because many young people are gone.There is food, but high prices,” he added.

He explained that the economic situation in Aleppo is so difficult that "even if the both parents work, it is impossible to get ahead without the help of the Church. There are many needy people and we trust in divine providence."

On the other hand, he indicated that only a third of the Christians have stayed in the city. He stated that the Christians who remained were the poorest. There are also some families who had the firm conviction that "what the Lord wants them there because they must fulfill the mission of being a bridge of reconciliation and of bearing witness to Jesus Christ in this land.”

Fr. Ibrahim stressed that in the midst of this difficult situation "the key is the community that comes out to give people a sign of hope and remains a beacon. They are a very strong support to the family, especially when people feel alone and have left everything to return to their country. "

He commented that the Franciscans have developed a project to help Christians rebuild their homes. Since 2016 the order has rebuilt some 470 homes, and this year they have created an office where nine engineers evaluate the cases of families whose houses were damaged in the war.

Fr. Ibrahim added that there are several families who, despite having their homes destroyed, are still required to pay the mortgage on their home to the bank. The church also helps them.

The priest said that the money with which he supports the families comes from "many of the people and the families around the world who pray for us and send donations. Even if they are modest, it shows how the Lord works miracles with them."

"As St. Francis of Assisi said, we depend on the generosity, the divine providence from which our aid comes. Every day we see this miracle and we thank those who help us with our whole heart.”

In addition, the priest said that there are 30 couples who will get married soon, and said that this aid is also for them.

"This is a great joy for us, to see that young people get married and say yes to the gift of life. This gives us great consolation,” he said. “It means that there is a future in Aleppo and a desire for life to conquer death.”