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Pope Francis asks prayers for relatives killed in car accident

Catholic News Agency/EWTN News — The Holy See announced Tuesday that Pope Francis has asked that the faithful join him in praying for the repose of the souls of three members of his family who have been killed in a car accident.

“The pope was informed of the tragic accident in Argentina involving some of his family, and is profoundly saddened,” said Father Federico Lombardi, Holy See press officer, Aug. 19.

“He calls upon all who share in his grief to be united with him in prayer.”

Pope Francis’ nephew, Emanuel Horacio Bergoglio, 38, was returning to Rosario from a weekend with his family in the mountains near Cordoba, in central Argentina.

Their Chevrolet Spin hit a truck carrying corn.

Emanuel is in the hospital of Villa Maria in critical condition. His wife, Valeria Carmona, 39, died, along with their children, Jose, 2, and Antonio, 8 months.

The pope’s nephew is the son of his late brother, Alberto.

Catholic groups unite to help Iraqis ousted by extremists

Andrea Gagliarducci/Catholic News Agency — Catholic Relief Services and Caritas have agreed to a common plan to help those who have fled from their homes in the portions of northern Iraq now controlled by the Islamic State.

The militant organization Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant was among the rebels fighting in the Syrian civil war; this spring it spread its operations to Iraq, taking control of Mosul and swaths of territory in the country’s north and west. It has now declared a caliphate, and calls itself the Islamic State.

Credit: R. Nuri UNHCR-ACNUR via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
A man leaves his car and packs his bag at the Khazair checkpoint after fleeing from Mosul, Iraq on June 11, 2014. Credit: R. Nuri UNHCR-ACNUR via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

All non-Sunni persons in the Islamic State have been persecuted – Christians, Yazidis and Shia Muslims have all fled the territory.

In response to the crisis, Catholic Relief Services – the U.S. bishops’ international charity arm – and Caritas have identified short- and medium-term priorities to help minorities, most of them Christian, who have fled the Islamic State, after conducting a survey of 25 displaced families staying in schools, churches, empty houses, with host families, and in rental accommodations.

“Most are uncertain about the future but do not see themselves returning home any time soon,” said Kris Ozar, head of programming for CRS Egypt, in an Aug. 4 interview with CNA.

“The level of psychological trauma is high, especially among minorities, who were more directly targeted by the violence.”

Thousands of Christians and other minorities fled Mosul after a July 18 ultimatum demanding they convert, pay jizya or be killed. They went to other towns in Nineveh province and in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Many were stripped of their possessions at Islamic State checkpoints, escaping with nothing but the clothes on their backs.

“Many of these families had first fled Mosul in June but recently returned under the impression that it was safe to do so, making the latest displacement even more traumatic,” Ozar said.

“Humanitarian conditions in the country continue to deteriorate,” he said, adding that “population displacement is widespread but highly fluid, with little reliable data on overall numbers at any time.”

“With CRS and Caritas Germany co-funding, Caritas Iraq responded to the Mosul crisis by distributing essential food and non-food items to 2,000 displaced families by the end of June,” Ozar said.

The package included 10 days worth of food and essential bedding and hygienic supplies.

“In response to the new wave of displacement from Mosul in mid-July, Caritas Iraq distributed a similar package of food and non-food assistance to another 400 newly displaced partners.”

As a result of the survey of displaced families, CRS and Caritas decided to focus immediately on education and psychosocial activities for internally displaced children, in addition to ongoing relief for new arrivals.

“The Ministry of Education requested immediate assistance to ensure that all children are able to take their end of year exams in mid-August” since many children have “missed weeks or months of school and need help to catch up on their classes,” Ozar said. “So CRS and Caritas will help students at grades 9 and 12 to catch up on their classes before the exams.”

The assistance to children will also include psychosocial support and healing, given the scale of emotional trauma suffered.

In the heavily affected areas of Nineveh province, CRS and its partners are working to reach as many as 3,500 families with food, water and essential living supplies.

“With people on the move and robbed of their belongings, many have no means to purchase the basics just to get by.”

Caritas and CRS are also preparing to support longer-term resettlement with winterization, shelter and livelihood support.

In addition to the assistance offered by CRS and Caritas, Aid to the Church in Need has donated $134,000 to the church in Iraq; the Congregation for the Oriental Churches has sent $50,000; and the Pontifical Council Cor Unum gave $40,000.

Inhabitants of Mosul who have fled to other locations in Nineveh province, such as Bakhdida, lack drinking water, electricity and medicine, the Islamic State having cut off their supplies.

On Aug. 3, the Islamic State took control of Sinjar, a Yazidi-majority town fewer than 80 miles west of Mosul. The Yazidi are an ethno-religious minority, most of whom live in Nineveh province. Much of the town’s population of 20,000 have abandoned their home for Dohuk province, part of Kurdistan.

New deacon leader knows his way around program

Deacon John WeiskeBy Kyle Eller/The Northern Cross — For the first time in about three decades, there is a new face at the helm of the deacon formation program for the Diocese of Duluth. Deacon John Weiske took over the role this summer after Deacon David Craig retired from the position July 1. Read more >>

Bishop Paul Sirba: A lost sense of responsibility?

Bishop Paul Sirba

Congress is nearing the end of its term and, as of yet, has not enacted a comprehensive immigration reform package that creates a roadmap to citizenship for the nearly 11 million undocumented people in the U.S. Compounding the issue is the current humanitarian crisis at the U.S./Mexican border with the influx of unaccompanied children, some as young as 5 years old, in search of safety from the violence plaguing their countries of origin.

I urge the northeastern Minnesota community to join me in a passionate plea to our elected officials for reasoned, compassionate action. We must remind them that fixing the U.S. immigration system, as well as the border crisis, is a moral imperative that is immediately necessary to meet the needs of our country and the needs of our aspiring citizens. Read more >>

Video: Catholic schools — now more than ever

Catholic schools are communities of the New Evangelization and partners with parents in a child's education.

Consider a Catholic school for your child. For information about a Catholic school near you, please access the diocesan web page and its section on Catholic schools. (USCCB)

 

Amid Iraqi suffering, Chaldean Catholics urged to keep focus on Jesus

By Mike Stechschulte / Catholic News Service — Standing in the sanctuary of Mother of God Chaldean Cathedral, flanked by an empty cross and two ominous red symbols, Chaldean Bishop Francis Kalabat led more than 1,000 people Aug. 1 in an earnest prayer for peace and a plea for help.

The bright red symbols were the Arabic letter that stands for “Nassara” or “Nazarene” — meaning Christian, and they were ominous because Islamic militants have used the symbol to identify some 200,000 Iraqis singled out for an ultimatum: Convert to Islam, pay a tax or be killed.

Painted on the targets’ houses, the symbol is intended by the militants to be a derogatory term. But Bishop Kalabat said he wears it with honor.

“This is the latest image today of what has been endured for us as the cross,” he said, pointing to the wooden crucifix behind him. “This is just a new manifestation. A new way of attacking us, a new way of persecuting us.”

Bishop Kalabat, who in June was ordained the second bishop of the Southfield-based Chaldean Eparchy of St. Thomas the Apostle, urged those in attendance to keep their focus on Jesus, and to unite their sufferings with him.

“That’s the suffering that we Christians have endured for 2,000 years, and will continue to endure until the end of time,” he said. “We Christians will be persecuted and crucified. Why? Because our beloved Jesus, the one we are anointed in, was crucified.”

The prayer vigil at Mother of God Cathedral followed a rally and march earlier in the day in downtown Detroit, which was attended by about 150 mostly young Chaldean Christians. After the prayer vigil at the cathedral, Bishop Kalabat led a eucharistic procession and rosary outside the church.

In a powerful address to the overflowing congregation, which included several local media outlets, Bishop Kalabat acknowledged the difficulty in forgiving those who unjustly persecute and kill Christians in the Middle East and elsewhere.

“I know I cannot forgive these people who keep hurting us,” he said. “But I know what Jesus said on the cross: ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they have done.’ And I know that he can give me that grace, but we need to ask.”

But the bishop said forgiveness does not mean Christians should not also pray and ask for justice, including from elected leaders. He called on the United Nations and international community to condemn the violence as genocide and said humanitarian aid was badly needed for Iraqi refugees, many of whom have found temporary protection from the Kurdish army after fleeing their homes in northern and central Iraqi cities such as Mosul.

Bishop Kalabat had especially pointed words for President Barack Obama, whom he said has not done much to address the problem.

“I don’t understand President Obama’s words, ‘The situation is an Iraqi problem.’ Since when? How many thousands of American soldiers were sacrificed? Bloodied, lost limbs, lost their souls, lost their lives. How is this not an American problem?” Bishop Kalabat said.

He said the inaction by the White House has prompted the Chaldean community to pursue direct humanitarian aid instead, including via bills currently before Congress.

“This community, you have responded in the most beautiful way,” he said, referring to a $60,000 collection taken up by local Chaldean parishioners about a month ago. “It was a drop in the bucket [compared to what’s needed], but it did help.”

He thanked the senators and representatives who traveled to Iraq to visit with refugees, especially from Michigan and San Diego, where the two largest concentrations of Chaldeans exist in the United States.

The bishop said advocacy groups were in the works, and a website will be created at www.HelpIraq.net to keep the community informed about ways to help, donate and get involved.

“We’re trying to bring the community together to be one voice. Not different organizations doing different things, but one voice, one community, one action,” he said.

Stechschulte is managing editor of The Michigan Catholic, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Detroit.

CRS official: Gaza a ‘complete catastrophe’ on ‘brink of collapse’

By Dale Gavlak / Catholic News Service — A top Catholic charity official described Gaza as a “complete catastrophe” after nearly four weeks of fighting between Israel and the Palestinian militant Hamas.

“Gaza is on the brink of collapse at this point,” said Matthew McGarry, who directs the Catholic Relief Services’ operations in Gaza, the West Bank and Jerusalem. He spoke to Catholic News Service in a phone interview from Jerusalem, describing the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip, a coastal strip subject to Israeli airstrikes and artillery fire.

Despite the “extremely dangerous and challenging situation” in Gaza, CRS humanitarian aid is being still delivered to thousands, McGarry said Aug. 4.

Several calls for humanitarian cease-fires have largely gone unheeded by both sides, while at least six U.N. facilities sheltering Palestinians were shelled.

More than 1,800 Palestinians, most of them civilians, have been killed and more than a quarter of the impoverished enclave’s 1.8 million residents displaced, according to Gazan officials. More than 60 Israeli soldiers have been in the Israeli operation, dubbed “Protective Edge,” seeking to destroy underground tunnels built by Hamas to carry out terrorist attacks in the Jewish state.

“Humanitarian workers are at risk. We had to limit our movements quite a bit,” McGarry said of the bombardments. Despite the constraints on movement, he said, “our teams have been able to move a good deal of humanitarian assistance.”

Distribution of 2,500 household emergency kits were underway to 15,000 people around the Gaza City area, including the heavily bombarded Gaza district of Shijaiyah, less than a mile from the Israeli border, and other northern cities, such as Beit Lahiya.

In addition, CRS has distributed “household kits, hygiene items, kitchen sets and some water storage containers to 500 households, a little over 1,000 people at this point,” McGarry said.

CRS, the U.S. bishops’ international relief and development agency, also helped facilitate the delivery of three truckloads of medical supplies, equipment and some medicines to the Anglican Al-Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza.

McGarry said plans included distributing additional medical supplies and equipment to the Caritas clinics and to Al-Ahli hospital.

Often, reaching out to assist people has been at enormous risk to the CRS staff, he said.

“It’s truly difficult. We have 15 Gazan staff. Half had to flee their homes because of damage and the high volume of airstrikes,” McGarry said.

“It’s extremely dangerous. It’s very stressful. It’s a very hard time. We have great, heroic staff but the situation has placed tremendous demands on them — on their personal and professional lives,” he added. “We have staff whose relatives have died from debris and shrapnel from airstrikes.”

Often the teams work under extremely difficult conditions with little access to drinking water or power in Gaza. The only electric power plant in the strip was disabled in late July.

McGarry said once a calmer environment settles on Gaza and people start to move, CRS plans to assist with badly needed water and sanitation work at centers for displaced families.

“If the conditions in Gaza become slightly favorable, we will scale up accordingly,” he said.

“In the last weeks, there were expectations that things would get better but those expectations have been consistently disappointed with the situation getting worse, to the point that Gaza is on the brink of collapse,” he said.

Gaza has been subject to a seven-year economic blockade, which Israel imposed after Hamas took over the Gaza Strip from the Palestinian Fatah party.

Vatican seeks more restrained sign of peace at Mass

Catholic News Agency/EWTN News—The Congregation for Divine Worship, in a recent circular letter, announced that the placement of the sign of peace within Mass will not change, though it suggested several ways the rite could be performed with greater dignity.

“The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments ... pronounced in favor of maintaining the ‘rite’ and ‘sign’ of peace in the place it has now in the Ordinary of the Mass,” Father Jose Maria Gil Tamayo, secretary general of the Spanish bishops’ conference, related in a July 28 memo.

Credit: Joseph Shaw via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).
The sign of peace is exchanged at a Mass said at Holywell, Wales, on July 6. Credit: Joseph Shaw via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

He noted that this was done out of consideration of the placement of the rite of peace as “a characteristic of the Roman rite,” and “not believing it to be suitable for the faithful to introduce structural changes in the Eucharistic Celebration, at this time.”

The sign of peace is made after the consecration and just prior to the reception of Communion; it had been suggested that it be moved so that it would precede the presentation of the gifts.

Father Gil’s memo was sent to the Spanish bishops and prefaced the Congregation for Divine Worship’s circular letter, which was signed June 8 by Cardinal Antonio Canizares Llovera, its prefect, and its secretary, Archbishop Arthur Roche. The circular had been approved and confirmed the previous day by Pope Francis.

The letter made four concrete suggestions about how the dignity of the sign of peace could be maintained against abuses.

Father Gil explained that the circular letter is a fruit of the 2005 synod of bishops on the Eucharist, in which the possibility of moving the rite was discussed.

“During the Synod of Bishops there was discussion about the appropriateness of greater restraint in this gesture, which can be exaggerated and cause a certain distraction in the assembly just before the reception of Communion,” Benedict XVI wrote in his post-synodal apostolic exhortation “Sacramentum caritatis.”

He added, “I have asked the competent curial offices to study the possibility of moving the sign of peace to another place, such as before the presentation of the gifts at the altar ... taking into account ancient and venerable customs and the wishes expressed by the Synod Fathers.”

An inspiration for the suggested change was Christ’s exhortation, in Matthew 5:23, that “if you remember that your brother has anything against you, leave your offering before the altar, and go be reconciled first.” It would also have brought the Roman rite into conformity, in that respect, with the Ambrosian rite, celebrated in Milan.

The Neo-Catechumenal Way, a lay movement in the church, has already displaced the sign of peace in its celebration of the Roman rite to before the presentation of the gifts.

The Vatican congregation’s decision to maintain the placement of the sign of peace was the fruit of dialogue with the world’s bishops, which began in 2008, and in consultation with both Benedict XVI and Pope Francis.

The Congregation for Divine Worship said it would “offer some practical measures to better express the meaning of the sign of peace and to moderate excesses, which create confusion in the liturgical assembly just prior to Communion.”

“If the faithful do not understand and do not show, in their ritual gestures, the true significance of the rite of peace, they are weakened in the Christian concept of peace, and their fruitful participation in the Eucharist is negatively affected.”

On this basis, the congregation offered four suggestions which are to form the “nucleus” of catechesis on the sign of peace.

First, while confirming the importance of the rite, it emphasized that “it is completely legitimate to affirm that it is not necessary to invite ‘mechanistically’ to exchange (the sign of) peace.” The rite is optional, the congregation reminded, and there certainly are times and places where it is not fitting.

Its second recommendation was that as translations are made of the third typical edition of the Roman Missal, bishops’ conference should consider “changing the way in which the exchange of peace is made.” It suggested in particular that “familiar and worldly gestures of greeting” should be substituted with “other, more appropriate gestures.”

The congregation for worship also noted that there are several abuses of the rite which are to be stopped: the introduction of a “song of peace,” which does not exist in the Roman rite; the faithful moving from their place to exchange the sign; the priest leaving the altar to exchange the sign with the faithful; and when, at occasions such as weddings or funerals, it becomes an occasion for congratulations or condolences.

The Congregation for Divine Worship’s final exhortation was that episcopal conferences prepare liturgical catechesis on the significance of the rite of peace and its correct observation.

“The intimate relation between ‘lex orandi’ and ‘lex credendi’ should obviously be extended to ‘lex vivendi,’” the congregation’s letter concluded.

“That Catholics are today faced with the grave commitment to build a more just and peaceful world, implies a more profound understanding of the Christian meaning of peace and of its expression in liturgical celebration.”

USCCB officials respond to executive order

The bishop-Chairmen of two USCCB Committees responded with great concern to President Obama’s July 21 executive order to prohibit federal government contractors from what the Administration deems “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” discrimination and to forbid “gender identity” discrimination in the employment of federal employees. The problems the bishops identify in the order relate both to the flaws in its core prohibitions, and to its lack of religious freedom protection. (USCCB) Read more >>

Archbishop calls slated black mass offensive, horrendous

By Carl Bunderson / Catholic News Agency-EWTN News—Archbishop of Oklahoma City Paul Coakley called a black mass scheduled to take place in the city’s civic center an “obviously horrendous” act meant to offend much of the state’s community.

“There are common standards of decency that civic-minded people uphold that are necessary for constructive public discourse, and this violates all of those standards,” he told CNA July 16. “This is a mockery of one faith, a hostile act toward a significant faith community, the Catholic community.”

It would be “truly offensive to a significant segment of their population, that is the Catholic, and the Christian community at large,” the archbishop said.

“Oklahoma is a very church-minded community; there are not many Catholics here, but a great majority are Christian, and this is really an affront to all Christian believers, and I think the more people are recognizing that, the more they’re willing to speak up.”

The occult group Dakhma of Angra Mainyu has scheduled to hold a black mass at the Oklahoma City Civic Center Music Hall Sept. 21. A black mass is a sacrilegious ceremony that invokes Satan and mocks the Mass, involving the desecration of the Eucharist, generally by stealing a consecrated host from a Catholic church and using it in a profane, sexual ritual.

“I give the benefit of the doubt to those who allowed this civic center to be booked by a satanic group for the purpose of a black mass, because my suspicion is that whoever booked it had no idea what a black mass is, how offensive such a thing is,” Archbishop Coakley said. “Initially there was ignorance, I think, about what they were getting into.”

When CNA spoke on July 3 with Jennifer Lindsey-McClintock – the music hall’s public information manager – about the nature of the event, she cited the hall’s neutrality policy saying it’s “not for us to judge ... whether it is appropriate or not.”

Archbishop Coakley said that “my hope is that through prayer, and through continued communication with the civic officials here, they will come to recognize this is not a prudent course, not a good course, for the city.”

He said that he supposes “that if someone desired to rent the civic center to have a public burning of a Quran, or a blatantly anti-semitic sort of program, that the city would rightly find some way to prevent that from happening. And they should. That would be very clear.”

“My question is why can’t they recognize that this is equally offensive to the Catholic community, and act accordingly to prevent such a black eye on the community, such an affront to the Catholic and to the Christian community?”

Lindsey-McClintock, however, said that as a city-funded facility, they must “operate in a position of neutrality.” She said that this policy would mean the center would host racist or anti-Jewish events “as long as it was not hosting something specifically illegal in nature, or that during the production they were taking part in illegal activities .... We do not discriminate against any group based on the content of their message.”

“I think the more people here in Oklahoma, as well as around the country, have heard about this, and reflected upon what exactly it entails, the more outraged, and upset, people have become,” Archbishop Coakley said.

Black masses, he said, are a “grievous sacrilege and blasphemy of the first order, ... taking what is most sacred to us as as Catholics and mocking it, desecrating it, in vile, often violent and sexually explicit ways.”

“It’s obviously horrendous, ... what they intend to do with that consecrated host is offensive beyond description.”

Archbishop Coakley called it a “terribly disturbing development in our community, and I think one of the things people need to realize is this is inviting very dark and evil forces into our community. I think I have an obligation, we have an obligation, to do what we can do to prevent that from happening — unleashing spiritual influences which are harmful and destructive.”

Noting the recently planned black mass at Harvard, another satanic group’s attempt to place a satanic monument at the Oklahoma capitol and this planned black mass, the archbishop said that “perhaps if anything, it’s a manifestation that these kinds of groups are becoming emboldened because of a certain kind of increasing tolerance for an increasingly outrageous mode of conduct in our culture.”

“I hope to be meeting in the near future with civic officials,” he added, saying “we’ll continue to explore ways of dialoguing with civic officials.”

“Obviously for us as people of faith, as Catholics, we’re praying for a change of heart, that something will shift, and that there will be a change of direction and a recognition that this cannot be allowed.”

He noted that there have been a number of petitions against the event on Facebook and other sites, not organized by the archdiocese, but “very much a grassroots thing.”

“My role in this,” Archbishop Coakley said, “is simply to provide a voice and leadership, drawing attention to it and encouraging people to pray and to voice their concern to civic officials.”

Should the black mass not be canceled, the archbishop said the Catholic community will “find a way to lift up the Eucharist in a way that shows our love for Christ in the Eucharist, our respect and honor for the gift of the Blessed Sacrament.”

Whether through Masses of reparation, holy hours or processions, “we will do what we can do to bear witness to our faith in the true presence of Christ in the Eucharist.”