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Benefit concert for Notre Dame Cathedral to end with Resurrection piece

IMAGE: CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn

By Carol Zimmermann

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- An organist from Notre Dame Cathedral -- performing an April 26 benefit concert in Washington for the reconstruction of the iconic Parisian church -- will end his program, fittingly, with a piece about Christ's resurrection.

The concert at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception is free and open to the public with a freewill offering to help repair the cathedral that was severely damaged in the April 15 fire.

Funds from the concert will be added to donations that began immediately pouring in from around the world, boosted by large contributions from billionaires. French President Emmanuel Macron had said the cathedral could be reconstructed in five years.

Msgr. Walter Rossi, rector of the basilica, told reporters April 25 that the day of Notre Dame's fire, basilica officials were talking about how to help and set up an online collection that night on the basilica's website.

The benefit concert was organized by the basilica and the French Embassy, in partnership with the Friends of Notre Dame and the French American Cultural Foundation. It will be broadcast live on Eternal Word Television Network.

The concert will feature the basilica's choir and organ pieces played by Johann Vexo, a Notre Dame organist who was playing when the fire began.

Vexo spoke to reporters the day before the concert in the basilica's choir loft, sharing his relief that the cathedral's Grand Organ with about 8,000 pipes and five keyboards was reported to be undamaged from the massive fire.

"We still have to switch it on to make sure that everything is OK," he added, with caution.

He also spoke lovingly of the cathedral's ancient and historic instrument, noting that it is both powerful and poetic and that there is not another organ like it.

Vexo said he had been playing the organ for daily Mass when the fire began but didn't know what was happening. After an alarm sounded, the priest said he would finish the Mass without music, urging the organist and cantor to leave, which Vexo did, only to realize later what was happening.

Vexo has been pleased by the outpouring of support for Notre Dame's rebuilding, but he is not entirely surprised, saying he knows how much the historic cathedral means to both Parisians and the world.

When asked what Notre Dame means to him, he spoke of its beauty and cultural and historical significance, but he also spoke of his familiarity with it, noting that he spends more time there than in his apartment.

"It's like a second home to me," he told Catholic News Service, and to prove his point, he said he has the keys to it.

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Editor's Note: The website set up by Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception for online donations for the Paris cathedral's reconstruction is

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Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim


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Church needs joyful disciples, pope tells young people, deaf association

IMAGE: CNS photo/Vatican Media

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- In back-to-back audiences with a group of French young people and an Italian association for deaf people, Pope Francis cited personal example and witness as a vital piece in the church's evangelization mission.

Meeting with young people from the Diocese of Aire et Dax in southwestern France April 25, the pope encouraged them to remain united with Christ through the sacraments and the example of the saints so that they can spread the message that "God wants to give to the world through your lives."

"Yes, let yourselves be transformed and renewed by the Holy Spirit to bring Christ to every environment and give witness to the joy and youthfulness of the Gospel," he said.

The pope told the young men and women their pilgrimage to Rome was an opportunity to reflect on the lives of the martyrs who remained faithful to Christ until the end.

The martyrs' example, he added, is important now more than ever "because many people today think it is more difficult to call themselves Christians and live their faith in Christ."

"The current context isn't easy, especially due to the painful and complex issue of abuse committed by members of the church," the pope said. "Still, I would like to tell you once again that it isn't more difficult than in other eras of the church: It is only different."

Pope Francis said that the youthfulness and enthusiasm of young people in the church is a visible sign that Jesus "does not abandon his church" and continues to entrust the church's renewal to younger generations.

"I am counting on you," the pope said. "The church needs your impulse, your intuition and your faith!"

Immediately after, the pope made his way to the Clementine Hall and met with members of the Italian Federation of Associations for the Deaf. Founded in 1920, it is the oldest organization in the country representing the Italian deaf community.

Acknowledging the prejudice people who are deaf experience, "at times even within Christian communities," Pope Francis urged them to overcome "the barriers that do not allow you to seize the potential of your active presence and go beyond your disability."

"You teach us that only by taking on our limitations and frailties can we become builders -- together with leaders and members of the civil and ecclesial communities -- of a culture of encounter, in opposition to widespread indifference."

Catholics who are deaf, he continued, are called to play an active role in evangelization and "place the fruits of the talents the Lord gave you at the benefit of families and all the people of God."

"God's presence isn't perceived through the ears, but through faith," Pope Francis said. "For this reason, I encourage you to revive your faith so that you may feel God's closeness more and more."

In this way, he added, "you can help those who do not 'hear' God's voice to be more attentive to it. This is a significant contribution that deaf people can make to the vitality of the church."

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju

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As refugee child, she knew no English; now as teen, she's poetry champ

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy Oregon Arts Commission

By Katie Scott

PORTLAND, Ore. (CNS) -- Belise Nishimwe remembers what it's like to feel voiceless.

Born in a refugee camp in Tanzania, she came to Portland at age 5 unable to speak or understand English. She couldn't pass her first year of kindergarten.

"But wow, she found her voice at a young age," said Erin Weisensee, an Oregon Catholic who helped the family resettle in the United States and remains a close friend. "She's powerful, articulate and unafraid."

At the end of April, Nishimwe will share her vocal and inner power at a national poetry competition in Washington. It will be livestreamed online at

The St. Mary's Academy sophomore month was named Oregon's Poetry Out Loud champion in March, beating about 8,000 high school contestants in the state, according to the Oregon Arts Commission. The commission organizes the state contest in collaboration with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation.

"Other students gave beautiful recitations -- performances -- but Belise does not perform her poems; she speaks them as though they were her words; she inhabits them," said Ellie Gilbert, an English teacher at St. Mary's who coached the 17-year-old for the competition.

Poetry Out Loud competitors select poems, then study, memorize and recite them.

Nishimwe won first place for her recitation of "Love's Philosophy," by Percy Bysshe Shelley, an English Romantic poet; "If We Must Die," by Jamaican-born Claude McKay, a key figure in the Harlem Renaissance; and "Worth," by Marilyn Nelson, whose work examines race, feminism and the ongoing trauma of slavery in America.

"Belise's background makes her particularly passionate about issues people face who live in the margins," said Sara Salvi, a creative writing instructor at St. Mary's who also helped prepare Nishimwe for Poetry Out Loud. "I believe that comes through in her poems; it gives her an authenticity."

Two of the poems are by black activists, and Nishimwe wanted Shelley's piece in the mix to show a different part of herself.

"People often have labels tied to them -- 'refugee,' 'immigrant,' 'woman' -- and others don't think about their ability to love. This poem was to show that I can be playful and loving," she told the Catholic Sentinel, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Portland.

"If We Must Die" is a call to act against oppression. "I imagined making a speech like MLK," said Nishimwe, referring to slain civil rights leader the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. "It exemplifies using my voice to empower others to do good."

She was drawn to the title of "Worth," a poem that addresses being black and a woman. "I tell myself that I'm worth something, and others in situations like mine that they are worth something."

Nishimwe's family escaped genocide in Burundi and spent about 10 years in a refugee camp. They resettled in the United States in 2007 with help from Oregon Catholic Charities and parishioners of Holy Redeemer Church in North Portland.

"They made it possible to keep my family together and get my entire family to America," said Nishimwe, who has seven siblings. "I know many refugee families are separated."

Salvi said the support the family received is an inspiring expression of community and faith.

Holy Redeemer parishioners helped find the family an apartment, taught them how to ride the bus, and provided everything from furniture and clothes to utensils.

Weisensee met the family hours after they got off a plane. "It was love at first sight," she said. That love and her family's assistance have endured for years. The mother of four even taught Nishimwe and her sisters how to read and speak English.

Once she knew the language, Nishimwe began writing poetry and dreamed of being an author. But she stopped composing pieces in middle school when it became increasingly difficult to juggle homework and responsibilities at home.

Like her older siblings before her, Nishimwe helps her parents, who speak little English, navigate life in the United States. She fills out forms for insurance and taxes and writes checks and permission slips.

"It's been hard a lot of times taking on these parental roles," said Nishimwe. "Sometimes I'm frustrated or angry and have to come to school happy and willing to learn. I can't always talk to my peers about it because they aren't going through the same thing."

She said the Poetry Out Loud competition "felt like a door back into writing poetry" and the joy it brings.

Nishimwe believes studying other poets' works challenges her to think critically about how to construct her own poems and strengthens her ability to communicate boldly. She eventually wants to study law and international affairs and hopes the skills she's gained help her "speak up for and lift up those who have been put down."

Gilbert said the teen's recent success sometimes has overwhelmed her.

"Belise's story is compelling; in many ways it's the American dream," said the teacher. "My hope is that Belise holds on to her own dreams -- that her heart remains clear ... so she can continue to follow it."

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Scott is special projects reporter at the Catholic Sentinel, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Portland.

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Jesus replaced law of revenge with law of love, pope says

IMAGE: CNS photo/Yara Nardi, Reuters

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The scales of justice cannot solve everything, especially when it comes to stopping a cycle of evil vengeance, Pope Francis said.

"Evil knows revenge and if it is not halted, it risks spreading, suffocating the whole world," he said April 24 during his weekly general audience.

Christians must forgive and love others even beyond what is due to stop the cycle of evil and to start things anew, he told thousands of people gathered in St. Peter's Square, which was still decorated with bright yellow, red and other colorful flowers from his Easter celebrations.

Pope Francis continued his audience talks about the Lord's Prayer by looking at how people ask God to "forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us."

The use of the word "trespasses" in the original Greek of the Gospel means "being in debt," so this part of the prayer recognizes how much people are in debt to God, especially for the gift of life and his infinite love and mercy, the pope said.

The so-called "'self-made man' doesn't exist in the church," he said, because Christians recognize the divine gifts and graces bestowed on them and the "beneficial conditions in life" they received from others.

"Those who pray, learn to say, 'Thank you.' Many times, we forget to say, 'Thank you.' We are selfish."

Those who seek to live a Christian life also realize "there always will be something" for which they will need to ask God's forgiveness, for example, for being too lazy or letting rancor take over one's heart, he said.

It would have been wonderful, the pope said, if the prayer only asked God to forgive one's debts to him, however, God asks for more.

"God's grace, so abundant, is always challenging" because God asks people to do unto others, what he has done for them. "God, who is good, invites all of us to be good," the pope added.

"Whoever has received a lot must learn to give a lot and not keep it all for oneself," Pope Francis said. God always offers his infinite love, mercy and forgiveness "vertically," from heaven to earth, and he expects it to be redistributed and given anew, "horizontally," among his children.

People are called to reflect that divine love and forgiveness onto others, he said, and create "a new relationship with our brothers and sisters," with one's friends, family, neighbors and even those "who have done something that is not wonderful."

The pope explained how this could be seen in the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant (Mt. 18:21-35), in which a king forgave his servant's enormous debt, but the same servant refused to forgive a much smaller debt he was owed by another. The king punished the servant for not showing the same pity and compassion he had received.

The parable shows, the pope said, "If you do not push yourself to forgive, you will not be forgiven; if you do not push yourself to love, you will not be loved" at the final judgment.

Jesus shows the power of forgiveness, he said.

"Not everything in life is resolved with justice. No. Especially where a counterweight to evil must be placed, someone must love beyond what is due, to rebegin a story of grace."

Jesus replaces the law of revenge with the law of love: "What God has done for me, I return to you," he said.

In the days after Easter, the pope asked people reflect on whether they are able to forgive, and if they feel they can't, "ask the Lord for this grace because it is a grace" to be able to forgive.

"With a word, a hug, a smile, we can share with others that which we have received" -- the even more precious gift of God's forgiveness, the pope said.

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Update: Volunteer gardener at crisis maternity home provides balm for the wounded

IMAGE: CNS photo/John Farmer de la Torre, Catholic Charities of Southern Missouri

By Dennis Sadowski

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Outside of a week or two in the darkest days of winter, it's always gardening season for Jana Hukriede.

A key volunteer at Catholic Charities of Southern Missouri's LifeHouse Crisis Maternity Home in Springfield, Hukriede finds that hardly a day passes in which she is not organizing volunteers, looking for bargains on gardening supplies and planning which vegetables to plant when in the numerous raised beds at the home's 11-acre property.

Hukriede, 69, a retired Catholic school teacher, has been at it for seven years and has seen her involvement grow into one that the women who live at the maternity home have come to appreciate and welcome.

Catholic Charities USA recognized Hukriede's commitment as its 2019 volunteer of the year. She will be honored during the agency's annual gathering Sept. 25-27 in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She kidded that she hopes the ceremony won't interfere with her garden schedule.

Hukriede said she started volunteering after seeing an invitation in her parish bulletin at Holy Trinity Church because she "felt moved by the Spirit."

"I thought, 'Well, gosh, what can I do to help?'" she recalled.

Joined by the dozens of volunteers she has recruited -- mostly retirees, but occasionally the group includes a few strapping college students who stop by to aid with a major project -- Hukriede has helped create a caring community focused on meeting the needs of pregnant women and young mothers challenged by homelessness, domestic violence or addictions.

Her efforts have led to a gradual expansion of the garden. The harvest of kale, broccoli, onions, green beans, tomatoes, potatoes and squash has increased enough to become a significant source of healthy food for LifeHouse residents. Not only does Hukriede's team grow and harvest the food, but they have helped the women get involved in weeding, harvesting and canning the produce that is grown.

There's now a greenhouse on site so that vegetables can be grown year-round and Hukriede is eyeing the eventual installation of a water irrigation system.

"It's just so gratifying, too, to get other people involved and work as a team for a common goal," Hukriede told Catholic News Service. "We all know we are doing a great service for Catholic Charities and the women at LifeHouse."

Michele Marsh, LifeHouse director, described Hukriede as motivated to serve women who have had more than their share of hardship in life.

"She a joyful person. She's dedicated. Really, she's inspired so many people. And she's a good role model," Marsh said.

It's more than the garden to which Hukriede has committed her time. She continues as an on-call substitute teacher, is a lector and extraordinary minister of holy Communion at Holy Trinity, and helps prepare meals after funerals for parishioners.

She said her husband of 34 years, Malcolm, supports her effort. The couple's son John, 36, is married and has a 3-year-old son with wife Linsey. Their son Stephen was born with cerebral palsy and died in 2010 at age 24.

Hukriede said she is pleased to be recognized for her volunteerism, but that awards are not why she has devoted so much time to gardening at LifeHouse.

"It's about giving service," she said. "That's what Jesus modeled."

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Follow Sadowski on Twitter: @DennisSadowski


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Update: Bishop says 'love of Christ' compels him to proclaim Gospel of life

IMAGE: CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn

By Kurt Jensen

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Preservation of the family, marriage and the unborn were the main themes of the annual National Catholic Prayer Breakfast at the Marriott Marquis hotel in Washington April 23.

"Faith in the crucified and risen Christ shields us from two cold and deadly sins: arrogant presumption and cynical despair," said Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted of Phoenix, the guest speaker. "Neither of which are appropriate in a Christian leader. The enemy of our souls does not care which we prefer."

Bishop Olmsted, who is a consultant to the pro-life committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the matter of legal abortion has defined his ministry, since he was ordained a priest in Lincoln, Nebraska, in 1973, the year of the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision, which legalized abortion on demand.

"It is my pastoral duty to proclaim the Gospel of life and the protection in law of the most vulnerable among us. The love of Christ compels me."

Bishop Olmsted also recalled the words of St. John Paul II at a Mass on the National Mall in October 1979: "We will stand up and proclaim that no one ever has the authority to destroy unborn life."

Speaking of the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, recently blocked by House Democrats, Bishop Olmsted asked, "Where does blatant disregard for a child's life come from? From hardened hearts. A child demands love, and love costs."

"Any rejection of bodiliness," he added, "will immediately target two beautiful but demanding and sometimes inconvenient realities: marriage and the human child." Marriage, he said, "stands now in the way of the gender ideology. We Christians will stand for the reality of marriage today in our homes and the public square, even when facing persecution today."

A rapidly lowering birth rate in the United States, he said, means that the warning about contraception in St. Paul VI's 1968 encyclical, "Humanae Vitae," has come true, and "the disaster invited by theologians, bishops, priests and laity who protested Paul VI's prophetic letter is upon us," with sexual pleasure separated from procreation. "Enough!"

"Christians are called not to complacency, but to greatness, to have hearts great enough to be filled with God," Bishop Olmsted concluded.

Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff and director of the Office of Management and Budget, spoke briefly about President Donald Trump's commitment to religious liberty.

"The president has allowed us Christians, of all denominations, to be very vocal about their faith and to prioritize our faith," he said. "Over the past two-and-a-half years, I think you can see the principles of our faith being manifested." Trump has addressed the annual March for Life rally via a video hookup the past two years.

"I can assure you," Mulvaney added, that he has sat in the Oval Office many times when Trump has admonished foreign leaders and diplomats in saying, "You're not doing enough to take care of the Christians in your country," or has praised them with "thank you for taking care of the Christians in your country."

"I won't lie to you, that that's pretty powerful stuff. To be able to be there, to be part of that, has been very invigorating," said Mulvaney, a member of Opus Dei and a graduate of Georgetown University.

"I'm comfortable as a Catholic, even though I'm working for a president who is not Catholic, that the principles of our faith are alive and well and well respected in this administration and driving many of our policies," he added.

The 1,400 attendees gave a standing ovation to Ted and Julie Sandmann, parents of Nick Sandmann, the Covington (Kentucky) Catholic High School student who was thrown into the center of a national spotlight in January when videos of him and his classmates interacting with Native Americans and others near Washington's Lincoln Memorial went viral.

Also garnering a loud ovation was Abby Johnson, the pro-life activist who runs And Then There Were None, a ministry to former abortion clinic workers, who was recently portrayed in the film drama "Unplanned," which proved to be successful at the box office.

"The critics, they thought we'd make 40 bucks, and we're sitting on $17 million right now," she said. The film, which cost $6 million to make, is her story as a former director of a Planned Parenthood clinic who eventually rejected abortion to join the pro-life movement.

"I'm waking up every day getting emails from people; who told me they walked into the film pro-choice and walked out pro-life. This is why we decided to do 'Unplanned' -- for the conversion of hearts."

Also speaking were Sister Bethany Madonna, vocations director of the Sisters of Life, and Curtis Martin, the founder and CEO of the Fellowship of Catholic University Students.

The breakfast has been held annually since 2004. The event was established in 2004 in response to St. John Paul's call for a new evangelization. George W. Bush has the only president to address the gathering, doing so from 2005 to 2008. Vice President Mike Pence addressed the breakfast in 2017.

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Curia reforms put priority on evangelization, synodality, cardinals say

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Carol Glatz

ROME (CNS) -- The proposed apostolic constitution for reforming and governing the Roman Curia is expected to emphasize the church's missionary mandate with the creation of a "super-dicastery" merging two offices dedicated to evangelization.

"The main point of the new apostolic constitution is that the church's mission is evangelization. It puts it at the center of the church and of everything the Curia does," Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Mumbai, India, told Vida Nueva, a Spanish weekly publication dedicated to news about the Catholic Church.

Cardinals Gracias and Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, both members of Pope Francis' Council of Cardinals, spoke to the Spanish weekly about the final draft of reforms the council approved at its previous meeting in early April. Vida Nueva provided Catholic News Service with an advance copy of the Spanish-language article, which was to be published April 27.  

The provisional title of the new constitution, "Praedicate Evangelium" ("Preach the Gospel"), "shows that evangelization is the number one goal, ahead of anything else," Cardinal Gracias told Vida Nueva.

"Pope Francis always emphasizes that the church is missionary," Cardinal Rodriguez Maradiaga said, which is why the new dicastery will supersede the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in importance.

The new Dicastery of Evangelization will be a consolidation of the current Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, which coordinates the church's missionary activities, and the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization, which aims to promote a renewal of the faith in countries where Christian vitality has been waning.

Other major changes expected, the cardinals said, include: merging the Pontifical Council for Culture with the Congregation for Catholic Education; transforming the current Papal Almoner's office, which is charged with coordinating Pope Francis' acts of charity, into a Dicastery for Charity; and granting greater authority to the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors.

Cardinal Gracias said it was important the papal commission remain independent from the Roman Curia in order to maintain its credibility; however, "if you are not part of the Curia, you have no power over it."

He said, "It's necessary to strike a balance between credibility and effectiveness" for the commission, whose mandate has been advising the pope and helping local churches understand and utilize best practices when it comes to safeguarding minors from abuse.

A major focus of the constitution is to create a change in mentality and in the relationship between the Holy See and the local churches, represented by the world's bishops, Cardinal Rodriguez Maradiaga said.

The constitution places the Vatican dicasteries at the service of both the pope and the bishops, who are "successors of the apostles" and "are not in an ecclesiological position below those who work in the Roman Curia," the Honduran cardinal said.

Cardinal Gracias said, "The pope wanted a mindset of service to prevail and that the Curia also be directly available to the bishops" in order to help them.
The various Vatican offices, therefore, are not meant to be something placed between the bishops and the pope nor are they to be just an "instrument" the pope uses to "supervise" the bishops; the curia is meant to be at the service of both the bishops and the pope, the Indian cardinal said.

The constitution also will include reforms that have already gone into effect, such as the creation of the Dicastery for Laity, the Family and Life, the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development and the Dicastery for Communication.

Cardinal Rodriguez Maradiaga said the new offices and upcoming reforms not only streamline the Curia, but also "emphasize the importance of the laity in the church and for the church" by allowing the possibility for a layperson to head a dicastery. Traditionally, congregations have a cardinal as prefect and pontifical councils have had either a cardinal or an archbishop as president.

The constitution's prologue will emphasize the missionary role of all baptized men and women, not just those who have been ordained or consecrated, the Honduran cardinal added.  

The draft has been sent to the dicasteries of the Roman Curia, the leaders of world's bishops' conferences, the synods of the Eastern Catholic churches, the conferences of major superiors of men and women religious and some pontifical universities for their observations and suggested improvements.  

The two cardinals said they do not expect major changes to come out of the consultative phase since the five-year process of drafting the constitution involved gathering the ideas and concerns of the local churches and the various Vatican offices.

It is hoped each "overall assessment" will be handed in before the end of May -- in time for the six-member Council of Cardinals to study the suggestions and have an amended draft to give to the pope to sign June 29, the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul. If the suggestions do not come in time, the constitution's publication would most likely be delayed until after the summer, the cardinals said.

The apostolic constitution will replace "Pastor Bonus," St. John Paul II's 1988 constitution reforming the Curia.

The new constitution was not going to be a mere "cosmetic change but will promote the change in mentality that has already started," Cardinal Gracias said.

"The Roman Curia will never be the same anymore," Cardinal Rodriguez Maradiaga added.

The Council of Cardinals has been advising the pope on the reform of the Curia and church governance in general since Pope Francis created the body soon after his election in 2013.

The council currently has six members: Cardinals Rodriguez Maradiaga; Gracias; Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state; Sean P. O'Malley of Boston; Reinhard Marx of Munich and Freising, Germany; and Giuseppe Bertello, president of the commission governing Vatican City State.

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Update: Sri Lankan attacks are the latest in series of Easter-related incidents

IMAGE: CNS photo/Athit Perawongmetha, Reuters


COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (CNS) -- More than 300 people were killed and more than 500 injured in Easter attacks on three churches and three hotels in Sri Lanka. The bombings were the latest in a string of Easter season bombings by extremists.

The others:

April 2, 2018: Four people were shot dead in an attack targeting Christians in the southwestern Pakistani city of Quetta on Easter Monday.

April 9, 2017: Bombings at two Coptic Orthodox churches in Egypt on Palm Sunday saw 45 people killed.

March 27, 2016: 75 people died and more than 300 were injured after bombs exploded in a park in a Christian neighborhood of Lahore, Pakistan, as people celebrated following Easter services; the Taliban claimed responsibility.

April 2, 2015: Christian students were targeted as the University of Garissa, Kenya, was attacked on Holy Thursday; 148 people died.

April 8, 2012: A suicide car bombing at Easter church services in the Nigerian city of Kaduna killed at least 38 people; the Islamist group Boko Haram claimed credit.


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Encore: Argentine martyrs' road to beatification recalls period of military rule

IMAGE: CNS photo/David Agren

By David Agren

LA RIOJA, Argentina (CNS) -- Bishop Enrique Angelelli Carletti traveled to a rural corner of his diocese in July 1973 to celebrate the feast of San Antonio. He was run out of town instead.

A mob organized by wealthy landowners pelted him with stones. It was their response to his promotion of worker cooperatives at a time when such concepts were criticized as communist, and anything emphasizing the "social" was seen as subversive.

Bishop Angelelli's pastoral approach was inspired by the Second Vatican Council and Young Christian Workers Movement, but the resistance became more brazen in the ensuing years. He was murdered in a mysterious car crash in July 1976 -- a crime carried out by the then-ruling military dictatorship.

The bishop's murder followed the slayings of two priests -- Conventual Franciscan Father Gabriel Longueville and Father Carlos de Dios Murias -- and Wenceslao Pedernera, a pastoral worker.

The four churchmen are collectively known as the Martyrs of La Rioja. They will be beatified April 27 at a ceremony in La Rioja, 700 miles northwest of Buenos Aires in the arid Andean foothills.

Their road to beatification recalls the troubled period of military rule and church acquiescence as abuses occurred. But it also vindicates a pastoral approach since championed by Pope Francis, who, while Jesuit provincial, befriended Bishop Angelelli.

The La Rioja martyrs "are the first victims of the military dictatorship to be declared martyrs by the church," said Mariano de Vedia, author of a biography on Bishop Angelelli. "It's a gesture showing Francis' commitment to the church that's close to the poor."

The beatifications have been greeted with muted enthusiasm in La Rioja and Argentina, however. Many locals in La Rioja still know little of the martyrs' legacy, let alone their names.

Such is the controversy still clinging to Bishop Angelelli's legacy and the country's difficulties confronting the atrocities of the 1976-1983 military dictatorship, which some in the church hierarchy supported and many more did not actively oppose.

"Argentina is a country looking more at the past than to the future and more open to controversies than agreements," said Jose Maria Poirier, publisher of the Catholic magazine Criterio.

"He is considered a socially minded bishop, very concerned with people's issues, very critical of the military dictatorship and, with few exceptions, the Argentina episcopate didn't defend him," said Poirier.

Bishop Angelelli was born in Cordoba, 250 miles southeast of La Rioja, in 1923. He entered the minor seminary at age 15, studied in Rome and was elevated to bishop by St. John XXIII in 1960.

He participated in the sessions of the Second Vatican Council and the 1968 Latin American bishops' council meeting in Medellin, Colombia, where the bishops proposed "a preferential option for the poor," a principle unpopular with Argentina's hierarchy, according to observers.

After Vatican II, the bishop returned to Cordoba, where he was an auxiliary, to implement new pastoral approaches, though his archbishop was not on board.

Bishop Angelelli "understood the Vatican II and its challenges," said Delfor Brizuela, a former priest and current human rights director in La Rioja's provincial government. "But he didn't really fulfill a bishop's role" in Cordoba, where "they sent him to a parish like any other priest, but (as) a bishop."

The bishop was appointed to La Rioja in 1968. He was sent there "as if it were the end of the world," Brizuela said, as the province was one of the poorest and least influential in Argentina, while social conditions were "semi-feudal." But he embraced the appointment and saw it as an opportunity to put the preferential option for the poor into practice.

Some of the changes were symbolic: He removed the names of the wealthy from the pews they reserved for themselves in the cathedral, where many poor Catholics preferred not to attend. He embraced popular piety, celebrated Christmas Eve Mass in poor pueblos and did not mind churchgoers not wearing their Sunday best.

Bishop Angelelli criticized injustices, but also promoted ministries for young people and for improving women's equality in a bastion of machismo, said Sister Maricarmen Paruas, who worked with the late bishop.

"He valued women and valued women religious," Sister Maricarmen said. "As women, as religious, he gave us opportunities to work in his pastoral projects as equals."

His pastoral approach attracted priests and religious wanting to put Vatican II into practice. Sister Maricarmen, 87, arrived in La Rioja from Spain in 1970 with the Religious of the Assumption congregation.

"When we came here, we saw the possibility of living a different church with a different bishop. We saw the prospect of working in barrios, in the midst of the people, and we stayed," she said.

"We established a presence of walking together, of listening and learning," she added. "We learned a lot from the people. He learned a lot from the people. He told us, 'Listen a lot before speaking. Drink lots of mate,'" an infusion popular in Argentina.

Though denounced as communist by the gentry and attacked mercilessly in the press, Bishop Angelelli "received the rich, the same as the poor," and "was able to forgive his worst enemy," Sister Maricarmen said.

Many of the bishop's conflicts with the wealthy stemmed from his promotion of worker-run co-ops.

Rafael Sifre, a collaborator in the rural movement supported by Bishop Angelelli, recalls an attempt to form a co-op to work the land of a vineyard owner, who had died. But resistance from local landowners was ferocious, to the point Sifre was kidnapped three times and the bishop was pelted with stones and accused of storing explosives in the local parish, he said.

Pedernera worked in the cellar of winery in Mendoza province, but moved to La Rioja to join Bishop Angelelli's rural movement. He also tried to form a co-op -- The Lucky Star to grow crops such as melons, tomatoes and peppers -- but also encountered resistance from landowners and the military dictatorship.

Susana Pedernera, one of his three daughters, recalls constant harassment and espionage -- to the point vehicles, driven by spies dressed as women, would pass by the family's farm. Wenceslao Pedernera was a catechist in the local parish and would "read a page from the Gospel after work," his daughter recalled.

But when he read the Bible, "People distanced themselves" and called him "communist" and "extremist," she said. "That's when problems started."

On the night of July 24, 1976, gendarmes pulled Wenceslao Pedernera from his home, at gunpoint, and beat him badly. He died of his injuries.

Six days earlier, Fathers Longueville and Dios Murias also were taken violently as they ate supper with a congregation of women religious. Their bodies were found beaten by railway workers.

"They tried to silence the bishop by killing those close to him," said Sifre, who was sent to Europe for his own safety. "He was persecuted for a church that tried to live the Gospel."

Few in the Argentine bishops' conference backed Bishop Angelelli. The Jesuits -- whose Argentine provincial was then-Father Jorge Mario Bergoglio -- held a retreat in La Rioja and, when the seminarians were sent away to study for their safety, the Jesuits welcomed them at their school in suburban Buenos Aires.

On Aug. 4, 1976, Bishop Angelelli was returning to La Rioja after celebrating a novena as part of the funerals for Pedernera and the two priests. His vehicle was run off the road by assassins in what was supposed to look like an accident. In 2014, two military commanders were found criminally responsible for his death.

Sister Maricarmen recalls Bishop Angelelli telling her on the eve of his murder, "They're closing in." She urged him to leave, but he refused.

"My place is here alongside my people," he said. "How can I leave my flock without a shepherd?"


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Update: Church, agency, union leaders on fact-finding trip to Central America

IMAGE: CNS photo/Adrees Latif, Reuters

By Christie L. Chicoine

NEW YORK (CNS) -- A delegation that includes the head of Catholic Charities of the New York Archdiocese, union leaders, state officials and representatives of humanitarian aid agencies are visiting the three Central American nations that now face a cutoff of U.S. aid ordered by President Donald Trump.

During the April 22-26 fact-finding trip, the delegation planned to assess conditions in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador that have sparked years of migration northward to the U.S.

Msgr. Kevin Sullivan, executive director of Catholic Charities of the New York Archdiocese, told reporters during a news conference April 11 at the agency's Community Services - Immigration Legal Center in lower Manhattan that the delegation wanted to better understand the on-the-ground conditions people face daily in the Northern Triangle countries.

Joining Msgr. Sullivan on the fact-finding mission were New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, other Catholic Charities representatives and officials from Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. bishops' overseas relief and development agency.

Briefing participants fielded questions related to immigration and border issues, unaccompanied minors and the impact of U.S. policies on families at the border and in New York.

"We are very, very pleased that so many of our Catholic Charities partners are here today," Msgr. Sullivan said, "because when we are at our best as a country, and as a city and as a state, we don't do things alone. We do them in partnership with those of goodwill who want to make our city, our state, our nation, a more compassionate, a more fair place."

Msgr. Sullivan acknowledged the concern and care New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan has "for immigrants, particularly unaccompanied minors," throughout the years, "but especially last summer when we had the crisis of separated children."

The number of those who continue to come to the United States is increasing, Msgr. Sullivan said. "The partners that we have in New York City and New York state, although stretched, continue to provide compassionate, high quality care," through housing, social and legal services, and counseling.

"Today," Msgr. Sullivan said, "we want to say that as New Yorkers, that we continue to be the city that welcomes and ... encourages newcomers because we're stronger when we welcome and we open our doors to them."

Cardinal Dolan attended the news briefing along with David Hansell, New York City commissioner of the Administration for Children Services, New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and other legal and social service providers.

in response to a reporter's question about whether there is a limit to how many people can come into the country, cited some compelling statistics, Msgr. Sullivan said the archdiocese believes in secure borders as well as "a generous, legal, immigration policy."

"We also believe that there is a need for people to earn a way to remedy a situation that they may have gotten themselves into," he said.

Msgr. Sullivan said in traveling clinics Catholic Charities conducts throughout the New York metropolitan area, staffers see about 100 immigrants on a given day "who don't have the right documents. At the end of the day, 25 of those 100 really just were unaware that they could have the right documents."

He also shared a table listing the population densities of 225 countries. "The United States, on that list, is 175th from the top of dense countries," he said.

DiNapoli anticipated the trip would yield information "from the ground" to share with policymakers in New York state as well as some national leaders.

Cardinal Dolan said that for more than a century Catholic Charities has welcomed, helped and encouraged immigrants and refugees.

"We're going to keep doing it, but we can't do it by ourselves," the cardinal said. "And that's why the wisdom of a morning like this shows me the magnificent choreography of all the different partnerships that we have. So I thank our partners. Do we ever need you and do we ever appreciate you."

Bitta Mostofi, commissioner of the city's Office of Immigrant Affairs, said the "false narrative of people just coming here for no reason, or that they're not children, or that they're not fleeing extreme violence, is just that -- it's false."

"And it's each and every one of our jobs," she said, "to ensure that we're telling the truth about why people are coming, that we're telling the truth about what it means if we leave people behind."

Appelbaum, the union president, said the trip to the Central American nations could not have come at a more appropriate time. "We are leaving the day after Easter, which is also the middle of Passover.

"Passover was the story of a migration of people from their homes leaving in desperation. What happened so long ago should resonate with all of us in terms of what is happening today," he added.

To be true "to our faiths" and "to our city," Appelbaum said, "we have to be speaking out at this time."

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Chicoine is news editor of Catholic New York newspaper of the Archdiocese of New York.


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