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Wonder at gift of creation opens human hearts to prayer, pope says

IMAGE: CNS photo/Vatican Media

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The mystery and wonder of God's creation can open the hearts of men and women to express their gratitude through prayer, Pope Francis said.

During a live broadcast of his weekly general audience from the library of the Apostolic Palace May 20, the pope said that human beings are "the only creature aware of such a profusion of beauty" and cannot help but "wonder what design of love must be behind such a powerful work."

"The prayer of man and woman is closely linked to the feeling of wonder," he said. "Human greatness is miniscule when compared to the dimensions of the universe. The greatest human achievements seem to be few and far between" when compared to God's creations.

The pope's reflection coincided with the observance of "Laudato Si' Week" May 16-24. The weeklong event was promoted as an occasion for Catholics to look at steps they have taken to protect the environment and assist the world's poor people.

Before concluding his talk, the pope said that in contemplating God's creation, Christians can be inspired to give thanks to God through prayer.

"We are children of the great King, the Creator, capable of reading his signature in all of creation, that creation which we don't care for today. But in that creation, there is the signature of God who made it out of love," he said.

Continuing his series of talks on prayer, the pope said that while one may feel insignificant in the grand scale of the universe, "in prayer, a feeling of mercy is overwhelmingly affirmed" and leads to gratitude to God.

"The relationship with God is the human being's greatness," he said. "By nature, we are almost nothing but by vocation, we are the sons and daughters of the great King!"

"It's an experience many of us have had. If the story of life, with all its bitterness, sometimes risks stifling the gift of prayer in us, it is enough to contemplate a starry sky, a sunset, a flower, to rekindle the spark of thanksgiving," the pope said.

The pope explained that the biblical account of creation was written when the people of Israel were under occupation, and many were deported or forced into slavery in Mesopotamia.

Nevertheless, "just starting from the great story of creation, someone began to find reasons to give thanks, to praise God for existence," he said.

"I would say that prayer opens the door to hope," the pope said. "Because men and women of prayer safeguard basic truths; they are the ones who say -- first to themselves and then to others -- that this life, despite all its labors and trials, despite its difficult days, is filled with a grace for which to marvel."

Pope Francis said that prayer illuminates one's life, "even in the darkest times, even in painful times" and that through it, Christians are called to become "bearers of joy."

"This life is the gift that God has given us, and it is too short to be consumed in sadness, in bitterness," the pope said. "Let us praise God, simply content that we exist. Let us look at the universe, look at its beauty and even look at our own cross and say, 'You exist. You made us this way for you.'"

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Copyright © 2020 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at [email protected]

African church leaders work to curb domestic abuse during lockdown

IMAGE: CNS photo/Philimon Bulawayo, Reuters

By Fredrick Nzwili

NAIROBI, Kenya (CNS) -- On the night of May 9, Edward Okello, an aeronautical engineer, died when a kitchen knife was plunged into his chest. Vigilance Shighi later said she did not know how the weapon hit her boyfriend, who had beaten her.

Such incidents are removing the veil of domestic violence, which church officials and experts say is rising during government-enforced measures to fight COVID-19. Now, African Catholic leaders want the crimes tackled.

"We need to address the matter urgently. I think fear, panic and anxiety related to COVID-19 measures are to blame," Father Josiah Muthee Mugera, executive secretary of the Kenyan bishops' commission for the lay apostolate, told Catholic News Service.

Most African governments announced lockdowns and curfews in March, barred visits to public places and shut places of worship, including churches and mosques. They also confined children at home with their parents after shutting down schools.

Church officials said the measures caught many in the continent by surprise. The confinement has triggered stress among the people while increasing tensions in homes, creating a fertile ground for domestic and sexual violence. At the same time, fears around loss of jobs and financial stress are increasing the likelihood of violent conflicts at home, officials said.

"Many of the couples were not prepared for these changes. They have caused a lot of emotional imbalance and hopelessness. The people are now reacting, instead of acting ... there is a lot of hopelessness," said Father Mugera, who also said churches must work on their marriage formation programs for couples.

Archbishop John Baptist Odama of Gulu, Uganda, who chairs the bishops' justice and peace department, expressed similar sentiments.

"This period of coronavirus has brought members of the family together," he said in a video message. "And this has brought also other effects -- the effects of domestic violence, on (the) increase in some cases."

"My fellow brothers and sisters in the families, stop domestic violence. The unity of the family, the unity of the nation, the unity of the continent, the unity of the world demands us to be together," Archbishop Odama said.

The South African Council of Churches said the cases of domestic abuse in the region had reached frightening levels, with the survivors living in lockdown with their abusers.

On May 9, the council released a pastoral letter in which it urged all its members, including the Catholic bishops' conference, to form ecumenical family support units in all communities.

Bishop Victor Phalana of Klerksdorp said the bishops' justice and peace commission has moved to focus on changing men's behavior in efforts to tame the violence.

In Harare, Zimbabwe, the Jesuits' Silveira House is using national radio to urge an end to domestic violence, said Yvonne Fildah Takawira-Matwaya, who chairs the Zimbabwe bishops' justice and peace commission.

Zimbabwe's lockdown began March 30. In two weeks, more than 800 cases were reported in Harare, the capital. This was way above the normal 500 cases reported in each month, according to the social services organization Musasa Project.

In May, Bishop George Zumaire Lungu, president of the Zambian bishops' conference, urged the country's Christians to shun violence and use the lockdown period to consolidate family ties.

"This is the time when families need to sober up, unite and allow the nation to fight the common enemy, COVID-19," the bishop said.

The bishop was reacting the reports by a national association of women's organizations that, among the increasing cases of violence, three women have been killed by their spouses and one raped by a medical practitioner in the capital, Lusaka.

"Whether or not the advent of COVID-19 in Zambia and the lockdown measures put in place to address the situation have led to ... cases, what is clear is that the nation is recording a surge in cases in the wake of COVID-19," said Mary Mulenga, chairwoman of the Non-governmental Gender Organizations' Coordinating Council.

In the six-week stay-at-home order, Nigeria's National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons has recorded increased cases of rape, incest and domestic abuses.

"I think some men are suffering from cabin fever. They are not used to staying at home with their wives. So, the more their wives are in their faces, the more they get angry and beat them up. We recorded over 30 cases in a certain period," said Julie Okah-Donli, NAPTIP director-general.

Although no public cases of domestic violence have been recorded in Ghana, some experts in the country believe the crimes are occurring.

Miriam Rahinatu Iddrisu, a Catholic sociologist, said the cases are less likely to be reported in the West African country due to the male-controlled Ghanaian society.

"Although there might some cases of domestic violence, the victims might not be willing to make a formal report," she said.

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Contributing to this story were Bronwen Dachs in South Africa, Damien Avevor in Ghana, Mwansa Pintu in Zambia and Peter Ajayi Dada in Nigeria.

 

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Copyright © 2020 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at [email protected]

Extreme caution tops checklists for Catholic colleges to reopen in fall

IMAGE: CNS photo/Jeff Carrion, courtesy DePaul University

By Carol Zimmermann

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Long before graduation ceremonies are over, college administrators usually have an eye on the upcoming fall semester. And this year, even with virtual commencement ceremonies, the look to the next academic year is inevitable.

Except this year is completely different.

Because this fall, unlike any other new college year, a big unknown is the extent the country could still be in the midst of the pandemic that has already upended the nation's health and economy, and going back to business as usual just isn't on any back-to-school checklist.

Colleges nationwide started pulling their students out of study-abroad programs in Europe in late February and early March as the coronavirus hit Italy. By mid-March as the virus spread in the United States, most colleges sent their students home with an indefinite date to resume in-person classes, and then they extended the transition to online education through the end of the spring semester.

And while most summer in-person programs have been canceled, many schools hope to be ready to welcome students back in the fall.

To this end, colleges and universities have put pandemic task force teams in place evaluating every possible measure necessary to ensure the safety of entire school communities.

The Chronicle of Higher Education reported May 18 that 68% of 600 colleges and universities were planning to reopen with in-person education in the fall, while 10% were waiting to decide and another 10% were choosing a range of scenarios. An online format was the choice for 7% of schools and a hybrid model was the choice for 6%.

Catholic colleges and universities primarily fell within the reopening in-person category, while a handful were putting off their final decision until some point in June.

Several college presidents addressed reopening plans in letters to students, faculty members and parents posted on university websites.

A letter to faculty posted May 18 by Holy Cross Father John Jenkins, president of the University of Notre Dame, announced the school would begin classes during the week of Aug. 10 and continue without a fall break in order to end the semester before Thanksgiving. By not having breaks, the school hopes to eliminate students coming back to campus with potential infections.

But for Notre Dame, or any university or college, to open its classrooms and residence halls back to students en masse this fall, or whenever the fall semester starts, involves immense emergency preparation.

As Father Jenkins put it: "Bringing our students back is in effect assembling a small city of people from many parts of the nation and the world, who may bring with them pathogens to which they have been exposed. We recognize the challenge, but we believe it is one we can meet."

A first step outlined by Notre Dame and other schools is to provide testing and to isolate any students who test positive for COVID-19 and then to continue with testing, contact tracing and quarantining protocols throughout the semester.

John Garvey, president of The Catholic University of America, similarly announced plans for the university's reopening in a May 7 announcement that he said will begin with faculty and staff and then students.

"We are taking precautions to keep our campus as safe as possible. These include attention to social distancing, aggressive cleaning protocols, face coverings where appropriate and sneeze guards at various places around campus," he said.

The school president said the university might offer classes in both an in -person and online format to provide flexibility.

Chicago's DePaul University, with more than 25,000 students, plans to reopen this fall for "limited in-person learning and reduced occupancy in on-campus student residences," said the Vincentian university's president, A. Gabriel Esteban, May 15. Although some classes will be held on campus, he said, more classes than usual will continue to take place at least partially online.

Even with all the precautions in place, school officials have expressed, even in online announcements, that this is new turf for all of them.

When Donna Carroll, president of Dominican University in River Forest, Illinois, announced plans to reopen the campus for its 3,000 students in the fall, she said it with "cautious optimism" and also with the caveat it would "not be business as usual." She noted that school officials were looking at the size and number of classes offered at any one time and also residence hall occupancy, dining hall capacity, and numbers allowed at events and gatherings.

"Where appropriate, we will create more intentional distancing in offices and provide protective gear," she said.

Also, many school administrators have acknowledged the mere logistics of reopening brings up layers of questions about how this will work.

Jo Ann Rooney, president of Loyola University Chicago, echoed many of these questions in a May 7 announcement. She said the school's emergency response team of 265 members has been trying to address common questions such as: "How will we conduct classes in the fall -- in person, online or a blend of both? How do we use residence halls safely? When can we return to our offices? How many students will join us for the fall? How will we balance the budget? Will I have a job? How can I feel safe?"

She said the university will answer these questions "based on the evolving data and guidance from public health and government officials" and with the "safety of our staff, faculty, and students at the forefront."

In the meantime, she said the Jesuit university balances commitment to the person and the institution and mission, and said there is a "built-in, healthy tension between caring for both."

She said in the current moment "difficult choices and decisions are made even more challenging by the lingering uncertainly of the nature of the 'changed normal.'" She also placed the task of moving ahead in a spiritual light, saying: "Prayerful discernment is the only way we can do everything possible to care for both our people and our beloved university."

Joseph Nyre, president of Seton Hall University in South Orange, New Jersey, similarly expressed concern and hope amid the health and economic frailty resulting from the coronavirus. In an April 27 letter, he said the "decisions we make and actions we take are guided not only by analysis and consultation, but also by our values and our faith."

"The ultimate goal," he said, "is for Seton Hall to come out on the other side of these dark days shining a bright light on the possibilities for the future, perhaps even discovering new ways to provide a powerful education rooted in our mission and our Catholic intellectual tradition."

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Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim

 

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Copyright © 2020 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at [email protected]

Learn from St. John Paul, pope tells young people

IMAGE: CNS photo/Holy See Press Office

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Young men and women today can learn from the example of St. John Paul II, who proved that life's difficulties are not an obstacle to holiness and happiness.

Despite losing his mother, father and brother at a young age and experiencing the atrocities of Nazism and atheistic communism, St. John Paul passed the "test of maturity and faith" and chose to rely "on the power of Christ, who died and rose again," the pope said in a May 18 video message to young people in Poland.

The message, which was sent to mark the 100th anniversary of St. John Paul's birth, was addressed to young people of the Archdiocese of Krakow, where then-Cardinal Wojtyla served as archbishop from 1964 until his election to the papacy in 1978.

The centennial celebration, the pope said, was a "beautiful opportunity" to address young people whom St. John Paul "loved very much."

"St. John Paul II was an extraordinary gift of God to the church and to Poland, your homeland," he said. "His earthly pilgrimage, which began on May 18, 1920, in Wadowice and ended 15 years ago in Rome, was marked by a passion for life and a fascination for the mystery of God, the world and man."

Recalling St. John Paul's 1980 encyclical "Dives in Misericordia" ("Rich in Mercy"), as well as his canonization of St. Faustina Kowalska and his institution of Divine Mercy Sunday, Pope Francis said he remembered his predecessor "as a great one of mercy."

"In the light of God's merciful love, he grasped the specificity and beauty of the vocation of women and men; he understood the needs of children, young people and adults, taking into consideration cultural and social conditions," he said.

Pope Francis called on young people to use today's technology to learn about St. John Paul, his life and his teachings, and he expressed his hope that, like the Polish saint, they may "enter into Christ with your whole life."

"I hope that the celebrations of the centenary of St. John Paul II's birth will inspire in you the desire to walk courageously with Jesus, who is 'the Lord of risk, the Lord of the eternal 'more,'" the pope said.

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju

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Justice Department urged to aggressively prosecute pornography vendors

IMAGE: CNS photo/Kacper Pempel, Reuters

By Kurt Jensen

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- A former colleague of Attorney General William Barr is backing a letter from three Catholic bishops asking Barr to aggressively pursue anti-obscenity prosecutions in the wake of increased traffic to online pornography sites with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"With five a year, you'd put the porn industry out of business," said Patrick Trueman, president of the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, in a May 15 interview with Catholic News Service. Trueman is a former Justice Department obscenity prosecutor.

On April 30, Archbishops Salvatore J. Cordileone of San Francisco and Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City and Bishop David A. Konderla of Tulsa, Oklahoma, wrote Barr to request stepped-up prosecutions.

"The department rightly pursues human traffickers; however, virtually unchecked proliferation of pornography fuels the demand that frequently results in commercial sexual exploitation. Unprecedented, unlimited, and anonymous access to pornography via modern technology has led users to seek more and more extreme videos," their letter states.

"Thus, nonenforcement or lax enforcement of obscenity laws against producers and distributors may provide a gateway for this demand to metastasize, increasing the incidents of trafficking, child pornography, other abuse, and broader unjust conditions."

The prelates are the chairmen, respectively, of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' committees on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth, Domestic Justice and Human Development, and the Promotion and Defense of Marriage.

The Justice Department did not respond to a Catholic News Service request for comment.

The bishops' letter followed a March 9 request by Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Nebraska, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Oversight, for a federal investigation into Pornhub, one of the largest online porn sites, which is based in Canada and registered in Luxembourg. The site has reported that its traffic was up 22% in April compared to the month before.

The bishops wrote Barr after the site announced "free" subscriptions to its "premium" content -- a common marketing ploy used to hook site users into unexpected monthly payments.

"Pornhub's incredible reach has a much darker side than the image of harmless fun that it tries to project," Sasse wrote. He cited a case from last October in Florida in which the abductor of a 15-year-old girl was charged with uploading more than 60 videos of her exploitation to the site.

"Indeed, the problem of Pornhub streaming content featuring women and children victims of sex trafficking reached the point in November that Paypal cut off services for Pornhub, refusing to facilitate this service any longer," Sasse added.

"I'm so glad that the bishops are encouraged to confront him (Barr) on this," said Trueman. "What the bishops are asking is for the attorney general to do his job. This is a public health crisis, leading to addiction, the breakdown of marriage and abuse of children."

"I know (Barr) believes in doing these cases," he added. "He's been sidetracked with so many political issues."

Last Dec. 4, four members of Congress, including Rep. Mark Meadows, R-North Carolina, who is now White House chief of staff, wrote Barr to complain that they thought President Trump was ignoring the promise he'd made during his 2016 campaign to enforce anti-obscenity laws.

As a result, "the harms of illegal pornography have continued unabated, affecting children and adults so acutely to the point that 15 state legislatures have declared that pornography is causing a public health crisis." Co-signing the letter were Republican Reps. Jim Banks of Indiana, Vicky Hartzler of Missouri and Brian Babin of Texas.

"The current pandemic is exacting a heavy and widespread emotional, social, and financial toll in our communities," the bishops' letter concludes.

"In the face of the pandemic, the church expresses her solidarity with all who are struggling or alone. In a March 27 reflection, Pope Francis affirmed our common 'belonging as brothers and sisters' in the midst of crisis and reminded us that, despite the demands of distancing and isolation, 'we are on the same boat' and are all 'called to row together. ... (S)o we too have realized that we cannot go on thinking of ourselves, but only together can we do this.'"

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Copyright © 2020 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at [email protected]

St. Peter's Basilica reopens to the public

IMAGE: CNS photo/Remo Casilli, Reuters

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Almost 10 weeks after St. Peter's Basilica was closed to the public in cooperation with Italy's COVID-19 lockdown measures, the faithful and tourists were allowed back in May 18.

Pope Francis celebrated Mass at 7 a.m. at the tomb of St. John Paul II to mark the 100th anniversary of the Polish pope's birth. Then, at 8 a.m., the general public was admitted.

The basilica was sanitized May 15 in preparation for the reopening. It had been closed to the public since March 10.

On the edge of St. Peter's Square, a sign advises visitors they must wear a mask and stay 2 meters (6.5 feet) away from others in order to enter the basilica.

The Vatican sanitation service placed hand-sanitizer dispensers at the end of the colonnade surrounding St. Peter's Square. From there, the public finds "keep your distance" labels and tape on the cobblestone path leading to the health and security checks before entering the basilica.

At the end of the path, two members of the Knights of Malta dressed in white, lightweight hazmat suits point a small thermoscanner at the visitor's forehead. If the person does not have a fever, he or she can proceed to the line for the metal detectors.

After the security check and before entering the church, visitors find another hand-sanitizer dispenser.

While many of the people attending the Mass celebrated by Pope Francis were not wearing masks, once the celebration was over, Vatican security began enforcing the face-mask requirement and breaking up any situation where it looked like people were standing close to each other to talk, including journalists trying to interview some of the first people inside.

Vatican Media did not show people receiving Communion at the pope's Mass. For the Masses celebrated later that morning, Communion was distributed only in the hand.

Vatican workers with large spray bottles resanitized the altars and pews where Masses were celebrated with the public.

Except for the expanded space needed for the line for security checks, St. Peter's Square remained closed.

 

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Copyright © 2020 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at [email protected]

Vatican listens to 'cry of poor, cry of the Earth' during pandemic

IMAGE: CNS photo/Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis' vision of "integral human development" and "integral ecology" involves identifying the connections between the condition of human beings and the condition of the environment, said Cardinal Peter Turkson.

While Christians are right to be increasingly focused on "the cry of the Earth" and how environmental destruction impacts human life, with the COVID-19 pandemic "we must listen to the cry of the poor," especially those risking starvation, the unemployed and migrants and refugees, said Cardinal Turkson, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.

Cardinal Turkson is coordinating the work of the Vatican COVID-19 Commission and led an online news conference May 15 to discuss the commission's progress.

"In one of the last meetings we had with Pope Francis, he asked us to 'prepare the future,' not 'prepare for the future,' but prepare it, anticipate it," the cardinal said.

"Hardly any aspect of human life and culture is left unscathed" by the virus and efforts to stop its spread, the cardinal said. "Covid-19 started as a health care issue, but it has affected drastically the economy, jobs and employment, lifestyles, food security, the primary role of Artificial Intelligence and internet security, politics and even governance."

Obviously, providing health care to victims of the virus is an urgent need, said the cardinal and other members of the commission.

Father Augusto Zampini, adjunct secretary of the dicastery, said that is one reason why Pope Francis called for international debt relief -- it would help the world's poorest countries redirect money from interest payments to ramping up their health services.

But another major issue the commission is looking at is the threat of a "hunger pandemic."

At the beginning of 2020, before the coronavirus became a global pandemic, the U.N. World Food Program said 135 million people in 55 countries were facing "acute hunger" as a result chiefly of conflict, the effects of climate change and economic crises.

Now, with people out of work and supply chains interrupted, the WFP is warning that "the lives and livelihoods of 265 million people in low- and middle-income countries will be under severe threat."

Still, Father Zampini said, changes in production and consumption patterns and in private and public actions can still make a difference, for example, by providing incentives to farmers to improve productivity in ways that also protect the environment and by encouraging all nations "to divert funds from weapons to food."

Individuals also can contribute to alleviating food insecurity and protecting the environment by reducing food waste, eating food that is in season and avoiding products and packaging that pollute.

"COVID has shown that we do not need as many things as we think. We can be more with less," he said.

Caritas Internationalis, the umbrella organization of national Catholic relief and development agencies, is part of the Vatican COVID-19 Commission and has created a COVID-19 Response Fund.

Aloysius John, Caritas secretary general, said the fund already has received 32 project requests and already approved and distributed funds to 14 of them, which aim to help 7.8 million people in Ecuador, India, Palestine, Bangladesh, Lebanon and Burkina Faso and eight other countries.

A big concern, which parish, diocesan and national Caritas agencies are responding to, he said, is the provision of basic food assistance, because people will not respect lockdown requirements if they have nothing at home to eat and no way to earn the money to buy it.

John also called on the international community to remove the economic sanctions on Iran, Lebanon, Syria, Libya and Venezuela "so that aid to the affected population can be guaranteed, and Caritas, through the church, can continue to play its role of support for the poor and most vulnerable."

 

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Update: New emergency aid bill would cut most benefits to Catholic schools

IMAGE: CNS photo/Leah Millis, Reuters

By Dennis Sadowski

CLEVELAND (CNS) -- Catholic leaders expressed deep reservations about a new $3 trillion tax cut and spending bill in response to the economic fallout caused by the coronavirus pandemic that would restrict support for Catholic school students.

Unveiled May 12 by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act, or HEROES Act, includes a provision that would rescind funding of equitable services to nonpublic schools, including Catholic schools, that had been established in the CARES Act, an earlier $2.2 trillion emergency aid package.

Other provisions in the Democrats' bill that has rocked the country's private education sector include the lack of direct assistance to families for tuition expenses or tax incentives that can be used for tuition; a measure that cuts out nonpublic schools, except in limited cases for children with disabilities, from $90 billion in school aid; and it rescinds a discretionary fund utilized by the secretary of education established under the bipartisan CARES Act.

Disallowing emergency aid to one part of an affected community and allowing it for another runs contrary to long-held social policy, Catholic education advocates said.

Within days of learning of the bill's content related to nonpublic schools, Bishop David M. O'Connell of Trenton, New Jersey, urged Catholics in the diocese in a post on the website of The Monitor, the diocesan newspaper, to contact members of Congress to express their concern about the legislation.

Saying the bill has "a lot of good things," he cautioned that "some real problematic areas" exist.

"We're trying to urge Congress to maintain equitable access to federal funding for nonpublic schools and their (students') families as they have in previous legislation," Bishop O'Connell told Catholic News Service May 15.

In the first 24 hours after the post, the bishop said, more than 7,000 messages were sent to Congress, including 5,200 from the Trenton Diocese.

"We just want to make sure that as we face the economic difficulties we're all facing, that those who have children in nonpublic or Catholic schools have the equal opportunity to provide what the government offers us. We want to make sure we get our fair share."

Urged on by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, state Catholic conferences have mobilized as well around the bill as well to stop what education advocates consider a major step back from long-established federal policies.

"The key thing to this bill is not that it is an education bill, it's an emergency relief bill. When in history have we excluded those suffering from an emergency from federal relief?" said Jennifer Daniels, associate director for public policy in the Secretariat of Catholic Education at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

"When Congress releases emergency relief bills, it's available to everyone who is suffering form that emergency. All we're saying is that private schools are suffering right next to the public schools, and we should have access to emergency relief funds. All we want is our fair share and for our children to be served in an equal manner, Daniels told CNS.

The private education sector has rallied to oppose the provision specific to school funding.

A May 14 letter to Congress from Michael Schuttloffel, executive director of the Council for American Private Education, expressed "extreme disappointment" with the "unworkable" education provisions in the Heroes Act.

The USCCB is a member of the council, which is known as CAPE.

"If passed, these provisions would eliminate from eligibility for aid almost all students enrolled by their parents in private schools," Schuttloffel wrote, adding, "To approve such policies would be to send a message that the House of Representatives is only concerned with the safety of some of America's students and teachers, not all."

The letter raised concern that the HEROES Act education provisions reopens the CARES Act "to restrict which private school students will be eligible for relief voted on by Congress, and signed by the president, over a month ago."

Presentation Sister Dale McDonald, director of public policy and educational research at the National Catholic Educational Association, said the bill as written would harm nonpublic schools across the country because it "reinterprets" what is emergency aid versus what is traditional education aid.

State Catholic conferences across the country have been alerted to the bill's measures. The conferences have joined a nationwide effort to make sure the provisions are dropped from any final bill.

The bill includes $1 trillion for state, city and tribal governments to avoid layoffs; $200 billion for "hazard pay" for front-line workers; a new round of cash payments for individuals and households; $175 billion in housing assistance for rent and mortgage payments; $75 billion for medical testing; a 15% increase in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program; subsidies for laid-off workers to pay for health insurance premiums and maintain COBRA; an employee retention tax credit for businesses; and $25 billion for the U.S. Postal Service.

The House of Representatives passed the bill May 15 largely along party lines.

However, the likelihood of the Republican-controlled Senate taking up the measure as written is slim. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, told reporters at the Capitol there was no "urgency" to act and that consideration of any relief measure by the chamber would not happen until after Memorial Day.

The long-standing equitable services policy has existed since 1965 with passage of various civil rights laws under President Lyndon Johnson's Great Society campaign. It allows federal funding to be sent to states, which then funnels money to local school districts. In turn, the local districts provide equitable services such as English language training or special education based on the needs of the private school.

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Follow Sadowski on Twitter: @DennisSadowski

 

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St. John Paul was a good shepherd, pope says on saint's birthday

IMAGE: CNS photo/Vatican Media

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- St. John Paul II was a man of deep prayer, who loved being close to people and loved God's justice and mercy, Pope Francis said.

"Let us pray to him today that he may give all of us -- especially shepherds of the church -- but all of us, the grace of prayer, the grace of closeness and the grace of justice-mercy, mercy-justice," the pope said May 18, the 100th anniversary of the Polish pope's birth.

Before releasing a written decree later that day, Pope Francis also announced during the Mass that the Oct. 5 liturgical memorial of St. Faustina Kowalska would no longer be optional but would be an obligatory feast day for the whole church. St. John Paul canonized St. Faustina and promoted her devotion to Divine Mercy.

Pope Francis marked his predecessor's birthday by celebrating morning Mass at the saint's tomb in St. Peter's Basilica.

With just a few dozen people -- most of whom were wearing face masks -- spread out in the pews, it was the first day after almost two months that Masses were open to the public throughout Italy as part of an easing of restrictions to control the spread of the coronavirus. The pope, concelebrants and lectors did not wear face protection, but they did abide by social distancing rules.

In his homily, Pope Francis said that just as the Lord visited his people because he loved them, "today we can say that 100 years ago the Lord visited his people -- he sent a man, he prepared him to be a bishop and to guide the church" as a shepherd.

There were three things that made St. John Paul such a good shepherd: his intense dedication to prayer; his closeness to the people; and his love for God's merciful justice, Pope Francis said.

St. John Paul prayed a lot even with all he had to do as leader of the universal church, he said.

"He knew well that the first task of a bishop is to pray," he said. This teaching wasn't something that came out of the Second Vatican Council, this was from St. Peter, he added, and St. John Paul knew that and prayed.

St. John Paul was close to the people, going out, traveling across the world to find them and be close to them, Pope Francis said.

A priest who is not close to his people is not a shepherd, the pope said. "He is a hierarch, an administrator; maybe he is good, but he is not a shepherd."

The third thing St. John Paul had was his love of justice -- social justice, justice for the people, justice that could eliminate wars, a justice that was complete, which is why he was a man of mercy, the pope said, "because justice and mercy go together."

"They cannot be separated, they are together: justice is justice, mercy is mercy, but one cannot be found without the other," Pope Francis said.

The Polish saint did so much to promote the devotion to Divine Mercy because he knew that God's justice had "this face of mercy, this attitude of mercy."

"This is a gift that he has left us: justice-mercy and just mercy."

The Mass at St. John Paul's tomb was scheduled to be the last of Pope Francis' early morning Masses to be livestreamed online; with churches opening in Italy and elsewhere, the pope encouraged people to attend Mass in their local parish communities while respecting health norms.

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Update: Vatican workers sanitize St. Peter's Basilica

IMAGE: CNS photo/Vatican Media

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- In preparation for the May 18 resumption of public liturgies in Italy and a morning Mass with Pope Francis at the tomb of St. John Paul II, Vatican workers cleaned and sanitized the inside of St. Peter's Basilica May 15.

Vatican workers also will sanitize the other basilicas in Rome: St. John Lateran, St. Mary Major and St. Paul Outside the Walls, according to a communique from the Vatican press office.

An accompanying video showed workers wearing protective masks and clothing, cleaning and disinfecting the floors and various surfaces inside St. Peter's Basilica.

Andrea Arcangeli, vice director of the sanitation department for Vatican City State, told Vatican News in the video that they were using detergent on the floors and a bleach-based solution sprayed onto surfaces.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says evidence suggests COVID-19 may survive for hours to days on surfaces made from a variety of materials, but that it can be easily inactivated by chemical disinfectants.

Arcangeli said they will be able to reduce the viral and bacterial load on the surfaces, but it will never reach "zero," which would require the kind of sterilization practiced in operating rooms.

St. Peter's Basilica has been closed to tourists and visitors since March 10. The Vatican has held a number of private, livestreamed services from the basilica in the presence of a reduced number of faithful and a pool of photographers.

Pope Francis was scheduled to offer his morning Mass May 18 at the tomb of St. John Paul in the basilica in memory of the 100th anniversary of his birth. As of May 15, the Vatican had not given a date for when the basilica would be opened again to the public.

The process of sanitizing all of Rome's parish churches began May 13. Following a request from the Vicariate of Rome, the city of Rome has called on the Italian army and the city sanitation department to sanitize all of Rome's parish churches in preparation for the resumption of public liturgies May 18.

The army has 80 teams of hazardous-material specialists active throughout Italy in decontaminating and sanitizing needed areas, reported SIR, the news agency of the Italian bishops' conference. Nine of those teams will be dedicated to decontaminating all 337 of Rome's parish churches.

The army is disinfecting the outside area of each church and place of worship, while the parish priest will have to request and indicate which areas inside the church they have permission to decontaminate, Brigadier General Giovanni Di Blasi told La Repubblica May 13.

"It is a wonderful example of institutional cooperation for the sake of getting the city back up and running and for the sake of all citizens," said Rome's mayor, Virginia Raggi, who attended the cleaning of the first church, St. John Bosco, in the southeast of the city.

The citywide cleaning came after the Italian bishops and government agreed May 7 on a protocol to allow the public to be present for liturgical celebrations starting May 18.

The protocol specifies the guidelines each church and the faithful will have to follow to help safeguard public health. The restrictions will include wearing facial masks inside the church, social distancing and asking people to not go to church if they are showing flu-like symptoms or know they have been in contact with someone who has recently tested positive for the coronavirus.

"All of us -- priests, especially -- will do everything to guarantee respect for the rules, to guarantee social distancing, safety measures, so that when celebrations begin, they can be done in an orderly fashion," Auxiliary Bishop Gianpiero Palmieri of Rome told La Repubblica.

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