USCCB President Condemns Threat of Widespread Enforcement Actions and New Rule Drastically Limiting Asylum

WASHINGTON — Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, President of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, made the following statement in response to the climate of fear created by the Department of Homeland Security’s announced immigration enforcement actions and the Administration’s new Interim Final Rule to drastically limit asylum, which was published today:

“Enforcement actions like those anticipated this week by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency separate families, cause the unacceptable suffering of thousands of children and their parents, and create widespread panic in our communities. I condemn such an approach, which has created a climate of fear in our parishes and communities across the country. I recently wrote the President asking him to reconsider this action. 

A stated intent of these actions is to deter Central Americans fleeing for their lives from seeking refuge in the United States. This is both misguided and untenable.  It is contrary to American and Christian values to attempt to prevent people from migrating here when they are fleeing to save their lives and to find safety for their families.

And, in addition to this climate of fear, we have seen the Administration today take further unacceptable action to undermine the ability of individuals and families to seek protection in the United States. The Administration’s new rule on asylum eligibility presents a similar enforcement-only immigration approach. The rule adds further barriers to asylum-seekers’ ability to access life-saving protection, shirks our moral duty, and will prevent the United States from taking its usual leading role in the international community as a provider of asylum protection. Further, while still reviewing the rule, initial analysis raises serious questions about its legality.

I urge the President to reconsider these actions, the new rule, and its enforcement-only approach.  I ask that persons fleeing for their lives be permitted to seek refuge in the U.S. and all those facing removal proceedings be afforded due process.  All who are at or within our borders should be treated with compassion and dignity. Beyond that, a just solution to this humanitarian crisis should focus on addressing the root causes that compel families to flee and enacting a humane reform of our immigration system. 

Pope Francis, in his message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees 2019, reminds us that ‘the presence of migrants and refugees – and of vulnerable people in general – is an invitation to recover some of those essential dimensions of our Christian existence and our humanity that risk being overlooked in a prosperous society.’” 

Pope Releases New Video Ahead of World Day of Migrants and Refugees

‘It is not just about migrants. It’s about not excluding anyone.’

The Holy Father “does not exclude anyone” in a just-released video made to prepare for the next World Day of Migrants and Refugees (WMRD), on Sunday, September 29, 2019.

The theme is “It is not just about migrants” which, this month, has the sub-theme “It’s about not excluding anyone”.

Each month, the communication campaign of the Migrants and Refugees Section of the Vatican will offer reflections, insights, and resources for the promotion of pastoral activities on the themes of WMRD, addressing the various sub-themes with different texts and images.

The Holy Father on May 27, released his message for WMRD. In memory of the 6th anniversary of his visit to Lampedusa, on Monday, July 8, Pope Francis, will celebrate a Mass for Migrants, at 11:00 a.m., in St Peter’s Basilica.

Following is the text of the video just released:

Today’s world is increasingly becoming more elitist and cruel towards the excluded.

Developing countries continue to be drained of their best natural and human resources for the benefit of a few privileged markets.

Wars only affect some regions of the world, yet weapons of war are produced and sold in other regions which then refuse to accept the refugees produced by these conflicts, are unwilling to take them in.

Those who pay the price are always the little ones, the poor, the most vulnerable, who are prevented from sitting at the table and are left with the “crumbs” of the banquet.

The Church which “goes forth” can move forward, boldly take the initiative, go out to others, seek those who have fallen away, stand at the crossroads and welcome the outcast whom we ourselves as a society are excluding.

Real development is fruitful and inclusive, oriented towards the future.

Blessed John Henry Newman to be canonized October 13

Vatican City, (CNA) - The Vatican announced Monday July 1 that Blessed Cardinal John Henry Newman will be canonized on October 13 in Rome.

During a consistory of cardinals July 1, Pope Francis decreed that Newman and four other blesseds will be canonized together in St. Peter’s Square.

Indian Sister Marian Thresia, founder of the Congregation of the Sisters of the Holy Family; Italian Sister Giuseppina Vannini; Brazilian Sister Dulce Lopes Pontes, and Marguerite Bays, a Swiss consecrated virgin of the Third Order of St. Francis will be canonized alongside Newman.

Their canonizations will take place during the 2019 Special Synod of Bishops from the Pan-Amazonian region to be held at the Vatican Oct. 6-27.

Newman was a 19th century theologian, poet, Catholic priest and cardinal. Originally an Anglican priest, he converted to Catholicism in 1845 and his writings are considered among some of the most important Church-writings in recent centuries.

Ordained a Catholic priest in 1847, he was made a cardinal by Pope Leo XIII in 1879, although he was not a bishop. Newman’s conversion to the Catholic faith was controversial in England, and resulted in him losing many friends, including his own sister who never spoke to him again.

The British cardinal founded the Oratory of St. Philip Neri in England, and was particularly dedicated to education, founding two schools for boys. He died in Birmingham in 1890 at the age of 89.

In October, Cardinal Newman will become Britain’s first new saint since the canonization of St. John Ogilvie in 1976.

At Newman’s beatification Mass in Birmingham, England in Sept. 2010, Pope Benedict XVI said that Newman’s “insights into the relationship between faith and reason, into the vital place of revealed religion in civilized society, and into the need for a broadly-based and wide-ranging approach to education were not only of profound importance for Victorian England, but continue today to inspire and enlighten many all over the world.”

“What better goal could teachers of religion set themselves than Blessed John Henry’s famous appeal for an intelligent, well-instructed laity: ‘I want a laity, not arrogant, not rash in speech, not disputatious, but men who know their religion, who enter into it, who know just where they stand, who know what they hold and what they do not, who know their creed so well that they can give an account of it, who know so much of history that they can defend it,” Pope Benedict said.

The first miracle attributed to Newman’s intercession involved the complete and inexplicable healing of a deacon from a disabling spinal condition.

His second miracle concerned the healing of a pregnant American woman. The woman prayed for the intercession of Cardinal Newman at the time of a life-threatening diagnosis, and her doctors have been unable to explain how or why she was able to suddenly recover.

“God has created me to do Him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission. I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons,” Blessed John Henry Newman wrote.

“He has not created me for naught. I shall do good; I shall do His work. I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place, while not intending it if I do but keep His commandments,” he said.

“Therefore, I will trust Him... If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him, in perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him... He does nothing in vain... He may take away my friends. He may throw me among strangers. He may make me feel desolate, make my spirits sink, hide the future from me. Still, He knows what He is about.”

Bishops return home following June USCCB General Assembly; 'Job begun' not 'job done' in Baltimore

BALTIMORE, MD., (CNA) - On Friday, June 14, the bishops of the United States returned home after the USCCB General Assembly.

After a week’s worth of meetings and votes, they can point to real steps taken towards healing the breach of trust between the hierarchy and the faithful. But the passage of several worthy policy documents to one side, there is much work left for the bishops to do.

After a year marked by one episcopal scandal after another, the message the bishops take back to their diocese is more “job begun” than “job done.”

Four key measures were approved by overwhelming majorities during the sessions in Baltimore.

An independently administered, national reporting mechanism is to be set up, to ensure that complaints against bishops can be processed in a clear and credible way.

Directives for applying the pope’s new universal law Vos estis lux mundi were approved, laying out a clear role for lay involvement in the implementation of the “metropolitan model” for investigating allegations.

The weight of the last year’s scandals was addressed with an “Affirmation of Our Episcopal Commitments” by all the bishops: “Because of these failures, the faithful are outraged, horrified, and discouraged,” they wrote, while rededicating themselves to their core mission as shepherds and the high standards the people pews had every right to expect of them.

The bishops also passed, virtually without comment, a set of protocols explaining how a diocesan bishop can restrict the ministry of his retired predecessor when necessary, and made clear that the USCCB president could formally disinvite retired or resigned bishops from attending conference meetings.

By passing these four reforms, the bishops have given themselves a considerable amount of homework.

Contracting a vendor for the independent national reporting line has been left to the conference leadership, and will take some time to put in place – though it will be up and running no later than May next year. But once a complaint is made, the hotline will have to alert the appropriate metropolitan archbishop or senior suffragan -as well as the competent lay person each has designated to help in such cases.

Accounting for every metropolitan and senior suffragan, this means that for the national reporting mechanism to come online, 64 lay people have to be identified, trained, and put in place across the country – no small task. The USCCB have promised a set of guidelines to help with this process by Labor Day.

The question of lay involvement also carries over to the directives implementing Vos estis. During a closed meeting this week of the country’s 32 metropolitans, there was, according to more than one archbishop, unanimous agreement about the “indispensable” role of independent lay experts. But ensuring that each archbishop– and each senior suffragan bishop – can put in place an expert suitably qualified to add value to the process of evaluating allegations will not be done overnight.

Much work is still needed on the standards against which allegations are to be assessed.

The affirmation of episcopal responsibility commits every bishop to publish “clear explanations as to what constitutes sexual misconduct with adults, as well as what constitutes sexual harassment of adults.” Set within the wider question of what constitutes the sexual abuse of a “vulnerable” adult raised by Vos estis, every bishop in the country is now committed to drawing “clear” lines against which to measure the often very messy facts of individual cases, a legal and pastoral challenge the size of which many might not yet fully appreciate.

On Thursday, Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark told CNA that there would necessarily be different definitions of misconduct and harassment in different dioceses, because each had to reflect civil laws in each state. Thirteen states plus the District of Columbia have laws criminalizing sexual contact between a religious minister and a congregant. But how such distinctions will play out canonically could prove problematic – few will likely be impressed if a bishop in one diocese can escape unpunished for behavior that would be termed serious misconduct in another.

Technical questions like these went largely undiscussed on the assembly floor in Baltimore, with debate finishing nearly two hours ahead of schedule – something which many of the bishops may yet come to see as a missed opportunity.

It is possible that having had to wait since their last meeting in November to pass measures aimed at showing substantive progress in response to scandals like that of former cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the U.S. bishops were in a hurry to cast their votes. But in their haste, the bishops may also have passed up a pastoral opportunity to speak directly to the faithful.

While acknowledging the “outrage and horror” of the faithful at the behavior of some bishops, few in the assembly hall expressed those emotions at the microphone.

While passing the protocols to limit the ministry of retired or resigned bishops under clouds of serious scandal, there was no debate or conversation about the clear cases to which they could be usefully and immediately applied.

While the president of the conference can now formally disinvite retired bishops from future meetings, no bishop rose to suggest this be extended immediately to cover, for example, Cardinal Roger Mahony, who attended the last session in November; Bishop Robert Finn, who was in Baltimore this week; Archbishop John Neinstedt; or Bishop Michael Bransfield, who was at the center of a damning report released just prior to the June meeting.

Seeing the bishops overcome their squeamishness at calling out their scandalous brethren is, to many faithful, more than just an exercise in catharsis.

Anonymous votes may signal unity, but they are unlikely to displace McCarrick as the image that comes to mind for many when they think of the American bishops; individual bad cases may be the small minority, but the majority remain essentially faceless for many ordinary Catholics. For all the solidarity behind the reforming measures in Baltimore, the assembly lacked a clear, urgent, moral voice denouncing the sins of the few and sharing the anger, not just the sadness of the faithful.

As they return to their dioceses, the bishops have considerable work still to do before they meet again. Much of that essential work will take place in chancery offices, but the more urgent – and likely more fruitful – work will be in the pulpit.

U.S. Bishops Vote in Favor of Three Additional Bishop Accountability Measures During Baltimore General Assembly

BALTIMORE — Today, U.S. Catholic Bishops have approved three additional measures to address abuse and bishop accountability during their annual Spring General Assembly in Baltimore.  The measures expand upon the Pope Francis’s Motu proprio and the U.S. Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.

The reforms are designed to hold bishops accountable for instances of sexual misconduct against minors and vulnerable adults.

The first vote, Protocol Regarding Available Non-Penal Restrictions on Bishops, passed by 212 to 4 with 1 abstention. This form of accountability provides protocols for imposing limitations on former bishops who were removed from office for grave reasons. It also empowers the USCCB president to restrict bishops removed or resigned for reasons related to sexual abuse or abuse of power.

A second vote, Acknowledging Our Episcopal Commitments passed by 217 to 1 with 2 abstentionsThis accountability measure implements a bishop code of conduct, including the affirmation that the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People is expanded to include bishops as well as priests and deacons.

The third vote, Directives for the Implementation of the Provisions of Vos estis lux mundi Concerning Bishops and their Equivalents, presents a plan for optimal implementation of Pope Francis’s recent Motu proprio in the United States, including an outline for lay involvement.  It passed by 218 to 1 with 2 abstentions. 

Yesterday, the body of bishops passed another bishop accountability reform, voting for the establishment of a Third-Party Reporting System for receiving confidentially, by phone and online, reports of possible violations by bishops of Vos estis lux mundi. The action item commits to activating the system no later than May 31, 2020.

To view the full action item documents pertaining to bishop accountability voted on yesterday and today, please visit: www.usccb.org/meetings

U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops release 2018 Annual Report on the Protection of Children and Young People

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Secretariat of Child and Youth Protection has released their 2018 Annual Report – Findings and Recommendations on the Implementation of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.

The report is based on the audit findings of StoneBridge Business Partners, a specialty consulting firm headquartered in Rochester, New York, which provides forensic, internal, and compliance audit services to leading organization nation-wide.

A survey on allegations conducted by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate is also included as part of the report. The 2018 report for audit year July 1, 2017 – June 30, 2018 states that 1,385 adults came forward with 1,455 allegations. Compared to 2017, the number of allegations has increased significantly due to the additional allegations received in five New York State dioceses as a result of the implementation of their Independent Reconciliation and Compensation programs.

Additional data on allegations provided by CARA’s annual survey shows that more than nine in ten alleged offenders (92 percent) identified during the survey year were already deceased, already removed from ministry, already laicized or missing. Most abuse reported occurred between 1960 and 1990, with a peak in the 1970's.

Twenty-six new allegations involving current minors were reported during the audit period. As of June 30, 2018, three were substantiated and the clergy were removed from ministry.  These allegations came from three different dioceses. Seven allegations were unsubstantiated as of June 30, 2018. Three were categorized as "unable to be proven" and investigations were still in process for six of the allegations as of June 30, 2018.  For the remaining seven allegations involving minors, two were referred to a religious order, two were reported as unknown clerics, and three were not claims of sexual abuse, but were boundary violations.

During the audit period, dioceses and eparchies provided outreach and support to 472 victims/survivors and their families who reported during this audit period.  Continued support was provided to 1,542 victims/survivors and their families who reported abuse in prior audit periods.  Support may include counseling, spiritual assistance, support groups, and other social services.

The report also notes the ongoing work of the Church in continuing the call to ensure the safety of children and vulnerable adults. In 2018, over 2.6 million background checks were conducted on Church clerics, employees, and volunteers. In addition, in 2018 over 2.6 million adults and 3.9 million children and youth have also been trained on how to identify the warning signs of abuse and how to report those signs.

Regarding Charter Compliance, the report noted the following:

  • StoneBridge Business Partners, the auditor, visited 72 dioceses/eparchies and collected data from 122 others.

  • All dioceses/eparchies were found compliant except for the Diocese of Lincoln, who was found non-compliant with Article 7 of the Charter.

  • Three eparchies did not participate including the Eparchy of St. Mary Queen of Peace, the Eparchy of St. Peter the Apostle, and the Eparchy of Phoenix

The Committee on the Protection of Children and Young People continues to emphasize that the audit and maintaining zero-tolerance policies are two important tools in the Church's broader program of creating a culture of protection and healing that exceeds the requirements of the Charter.

This is the sixteenth such report since 2002 when the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops approved the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, making a promise to protect and a pledge to heal.

The full Annual Report can be found here: http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/child-and-youth-protection/child-abuse-prevention/upload/2018-CYP-Annual-Report.pdf

The Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People can be found here: www.usccb.org/charter

Additional information on diocesan requirements can be found here:

http://www.usccb.org/about/communications/bishops-resources/upload/cyp-norms-bulletin-insert.pdf

U.S. Bishops’ Chairman Expresses Sorrow, Urges Prayers and Support for Recovery, After Deadly Tornadoes Hit Missouri and Storms Damage Other States in the Midwest

WASHINGTON — After tornadoes killed three people in Missouri and storms brought devastation to parts of the Midwest and areas from Texas through Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa and Illinois, Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida and Chairman of the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, expressed grief over the lives lost and damage threatened by the tornadoes and storms, and offered prayers for recovery.

The full statement follows:

“I am profoundly saddened by the loss of life and the damage caused by the tornadoes and storms throughout the Midwest and related regions these past few days. As of this writing, millions of people in at least seven states have been affected by the powerful winds, rainfall and rising water levels caused by these conditions. Seven people have been killed in Missouri, Iowa and Oklahoma. Severe weather continues to be expected in this devastated area through the rest of this week.

A call is made to all for prayers for the victims and their grieving families and communities. Further, now is the time to offer assistance to those facing this great loss. We are grateful that Catholic Charities and other organizations are in place working to provide for emergency needs and to help rebuild.

Learn more about Catholic Charities’ efforts at https://catholiccharitiesusa.org.

President of U.S. Bishops’ Conference Issues Statement on Pope Francis’s Motu Proprio Ordering Worldwide Response to the Evil of Sexual Abuse

WASHINGTON—Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, Archbishop of Galveston-Houston and President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, has issued the following statement regarding the release of Pope Francis’s Motu Proprio earlier today. The Motu Proprio, Vos estis lux mundi (“You are the light of the world”), is a worldwide order to the Church from the Pope, in response to the evil of sexual abuse. The new law comes after a meeting in Rome that brought together all episcopal conference presidents from across the globe to discuss the Church sex abuse crisis.

Cardinal DiNardo’s full statement follows: 

“Today, Pope Francis ordered a worldwide response to the evil of sexual abuse. It calls for the establishment of easily accessible reporting systems, clear standards for the pastoral support of victims and their families, timeliness and thoroughness of investigations, whistleblower protection for those making allegations, and active involvement of the laity. It also leaves latitude for national bishops’ conferences, such as the USCCB, to specify still more to account for their local circumstances. We receive the Motu Proprio Vos estis lux mundi (‘You are the light of the world’) as a blessing that will empower the Church everywhere to bring predators to justice, no matter what rank they hold in the Church. It also permits the Church the time and opportunity to bring spiritual healing.

The Holy Father said a ‘continuous and profound conversion of hearts is needed, attested by concrete and effective actions that involve everyone in the Church.’ Pope Francis was clear that this responsibility ‘falls, above all, on the successors of the Apostles.’ As part of this responsibility, bishops also will be held accountable under the authority of this Motu Proprio, which covers sexual abuse of minors or vulnerable persons, sexual acts compelled through the abuse of authority, and any coverup of such crimes. 

In publishing this new law, which is applicable to the Church throughout the world, Pope Francis has made clear that protection and healing must reach all of God’s children. Following on the meeting just two months ago of all episcopal conference presidents, the Motu Proprio shows Pope Francis expects swift and comprehensive progress. For the Church in the United States, the task before us now is to establish whatever is necessary to ensure the effective implementation of the Motu Proprio. Our committees have already begun the work of preparing implementation measures for deliberation at the USCCB Plenary Assembly in June. 

I am grateful for the opportunity to build upon the excellent foundation of the USCCB’s Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, the Essential Norms for Diocesan/Eparchial Policies Dealing with Sexual Abuse of Minors by Priests or Deacons, and the Statement of Episcopal Commitment, all of which date back to 2002. The existing framework in the United States including victim outreach, zero tolerance, reporting allegations to civil authorities, and lay expertise on review boards, among other measures - positions us readily to bring the Holy Father’s instructions to action. By embracing the painful experience of survivors and working on these new protections, let us pray we continue to grow into a stronger Church.”

Click here for a Q & A regarding Pope Francis’s Motu Proprio.

JUST IN: Pope Signs Motu Proprio ‘Vos Estis Lux Mundi’ (New Norms for Whole Church Against Those Who Abuse or Cover Up)

New Law Goes Into Effect June 1, Which Includes Legal Obligation for Clerics and Religious to Report Abuse, as Well as Its Cover up

(ZENIT NEWS AGENCY) - Pope Francis has signed ‘Vos Estis Lux Mundi’, new norms for the whole Church against those who abuse or cover up, which mark the second important step following the February 21-24 Summit in the Vatican on the Protection of Minors.

The Summit had brought together the presidents of the national bishops’ conferences worldwide, and had anticipated three immediate action steps: (1) the publishing of a motu proprio on the protection of minors for the Vatican City State (that was published a month after the Summit, (2) an anti-abuse ‘vademecum’ for the Universal Church, to explain to bishops clearly how to address cases of abuse and react accordingly, and (3) to create ‘task forces’ to help dioceses around the world that may need help in implementing the appropriate measures to protect minors.

The first step taken a month after the Summit involved the publishing of legislation regarding the Vatican City State. Three documents – the laws on the protection of minors in Vatican City State, the Motu proprio which applies the norms to the Roman Curia, and the Guidelines for the Vicariate of Vatican City –, were acts to “reinforce the protection of minors by strengthening the normative framework.”

Today’s document establishes new procedures for reporting abuse and violence, ensures bishops and religious superiors are held accountable for their actions, and includes the obligation for clerics and religious to report abuse.

It mandates that each diocese must have a system set up that allows the public to submit reports of abuse easily.

Below is the statement of the Holy See on the motu proprio.

***

STATEMENT:

Pope Francis has promulgated the Apostolic Letter in the Form of Motu proprio “Vos estis lux mundi” concerning new measures to be adopted to prevent and fight sexual abuse committed against minors, against vulnerable persons or abuses carried out with violence, threat or abuse of authority.

This Motu proprio, the product of reflection and collaboration during and after the meeting of the Presidents of Episcopal Conferences and Supreme Moderators of the main religious Institutes held last February, represents a further commitment of the Church in this area.

“Vos estis lux mundi” contains several innovative elements that aim to improve coordination between the dioceses and the Holy See. In particular, within a year all dioceses must establish stable and publicly accessible systems to report cases of sexual abuse and their cover up.

Furthermore, this Motu proprio obliges all clerics, as well as men and women religious, to report to the competent ecclesiastical authorities the abuses of which they become aware. The reported cases must thereafter be promptly verified and handled in accordance with canon law. As for reports regarding Bishops, the Motu proprio introduces procedural measures that, as a rule, charge the Metropolitan of the pertinent ecclesiastical Province with verifying what has been reported. Also established for the first time are time restrictions within which investigations must be carried out, as well as the procedures to be followed by the Metropolitan, who can make use of the specific professional contributions of the lay faithful.

Finally, the Motu proprio emphasizes the care of people harmed and the importance of welcoming them, listening to them and accompanying them, offering them the spiritual and medical assistance they need.

It is our profound desire that this new Motu proprio, accompanied by prayer and animated by conversion, will contribute to eliminating the scourge of sexual abuse of minors and the vulnerable.

Read the full  Vatican -provided text of the motu proprio:

Pope Francis Exhorts Young People to Be Courageous; Encounter Christ on the 56th Annual World Day of Prayer for Vocations

WASHINGTON - The 56th annual World Day of Prayer for Vocations will be celebrated by the Catholic Church on the Fourth Sunday of Easter, May 12, 2019, a day which is also commonly referred to as Good Shepherd Sunday.  Inspired by the Lord’s instruction in the Gospels of Matthew 9:38 and Luke 10:2, in which Jesus exhorts the people to “ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest,” World Day of Prayer for Vocations unites the faithful together in praying for the fostering of all vocations, particularly those of ordained ministry and consecrated life. 

In his Message for the 2019 World Day of Vocations, Pope Francis reflected on the reality that all men are made “bearers of a promise” and are asked to have the “courage to take a risk” with Jesus and for Jesus.  The Holy Father emphasized that just as the Lord beckoned Simon and Andrew to leave their nets and follow him, he also asks the same of us.  He encounters each of us personally and uniquely, and it is in the midst of this encounter with Christ that Pope Francis says we are granted “the promise of a joy capable of bringing fulfillment to our lives.”  The Holy Father also urged those discerning to remember that “the Lord’s call is not an intrusion of God in our freedom; it is not a “cage” or a burden to be borne.  On the contrary, it is the loving initiative whereby God encounters us and invites us to be part of a great undertaking.” 

Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin, C.Ss.R., Chairman of the Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations, stated that it is precisely because of this encounter with Christ that we are given the courage to leave the security of our daily routines and decisively embark on the path the Lord has for us.  “To have courage does not mean that we suddenly have no fear or uncertainty,” Cardinal Tobin said.  To be courageous means to know with confidence that Jesus is walking with us and in challenging us to take a risk, intends only our greatest joy.” 

Closing his Message for the 2019 World Day of Vocations, Pope Francis beseeched young people to realize that following Jesus is always worth the risk.  “Do not be deaf to the Lord’s call,” he urged.  “If he calls you to follow this path, do not pull your oars into the boat, but trust him.  Do not yield to fear, which paralyzes us before the great heights to which the Lord points us.  Always remember that to those who leave their nets and boats behind, and follow him, the Lord promises the joy of a new life that can fill our hearts and enliven our journey.

More information on the World Day of Prayer for Vocations and resources for its celebration, including Pope Francis’ full message, Prayers of the Faithful, a bulletin quote, and prayer card, can be accessed online at: http://www.usccb.org/beliefs-and-teachings/vocations/world-day-of-prayer-for-vocations.cfm

Scientific photos of Shroud of Turin published

Denver, Colo. - A new website aims to make available to Catholics and researchers a collection of photographs of the Shroud of Turin by a scientific photographer who was part of a research project that spent more than one hundred hours conducting tests on the shroud.

The Shroud of Turin is a linen cloth 14 feet 5 inches long by 3 feet 7 inches wide, which shows the image of a man tortured and crucified. It is held by many Catholics to be the burial cloth that wrapped the body of Jesus after his death on the cross.

From 1977 to 1981, a team of physicists, chemists, pathologists, and engineers from universities and U.S. government laboratories conducted the Shroud of Turin Research Project, which concluded that “the shroud image is that of a real human form of a scourged, crucified man. It is not the product of an artist. The blood stains are composed of hemoglobin and also give a positive test for serum albumin. The image is an ongoing mystery and until further chemical studies are made, perhaps by this group of scientists, or perhaps by some scientists in the future, the problem remains unsolved.”

The project’s final report added that “no pigments, paints, dyes or stains” were found on the shroud’s fibers, adding that “it is clear that there has been a direct contact of the Shroud with a body, which explains certain features such as scourge marks, as well as the blood. However, while this type of contact might explain some of the features of the torso, it is totally incapable of explaining the image of the face with the high resolution that has been amply demonstrated by photography.”

“The scientific consensus is that the image was produced by something which resulted in oxidation, dehydration and conjugation of the polysaccharide structure of the microfibrils of the linen itself. Such changes can be duplicated in the laboratory by certain chemical and physical processes. A similar type of change in linen can be obtained by sulfuric acid or heat. However, there are no chemical or physical methods known which can account for the totality of the image, nor can any combination of physical, chemical, biological or medical circumstances explain the image adequately.”

Vernon Miller was the official scientific photographer of the Shroud of Turin Research project. His photographs, and magnified micrographs of various aspects of the shroud, are now freely available to view or download at shroudphotos.com. Photographs taken under ultraviolet light are also available for download. Organizers of the site say that it was Miller's wish that his photograph's be digitized and made available to those who have never seen them. The site is the first place to publish a digitized and organized catalog of Miller's work.

Miller recognized the power of images of the shroud.

“Worldwide interest in the Shroud of Turin was stimulated by the first photographs of it in 1898 when photography was in its infancy. Up to that time, people who looked at the cloth found it faint. It took the camera, with its negative image [of the man], to appreciate it,” he said after the research project was completed.

The shroud has been in Turin, Italy since 1578, has been the subject of thousands of scientific investigations from diverse specialties, and more than 32,000 photographs have been taken of it. The Church’s official position on the shroud is one of neutrality.

Saved from the flames: The treasures that survived the Notre Dame fire

Paris, France (CNA) - When the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris caught fire Monday, most predicted the worst. It seemed unlikely the structure could survive, or that some of the treasures inside might be saved.

Indeed, a full two-thirds of the cathedral’s roof was destroyed in the blaze, as was the famous spire. But despite the images of devastation, the cathedral’s main structure has been saved, along with many of its most priceless contents.

Even as firefighters worked to extinguish the last of the flames early Tuesday morning, there was already a massive commitment of resources dedicated to the rebuilding of one of the world’s most recognizable churches.

Before the fire was out, French president Emmanual Macron committed himself and the nation to rebuilding Notre-Dame, and he announced a fundraising effort to ensure its success. In response, by Tuesday afternoon more than 700 million euros had been pledged to the project.

Bernard Arnault, CEO of luxury fashion company LVMH and the third richest man in the world, has pledged 300 million euros in support, with other major figures in business and finance making similar commitments.

President Macron has said that he hopes that work can begin as soon as possible, offering the possibility of some kind of reopening in as soon as five years. While talk of a reopening appeared unthinkable to many just hours ago, Paris firefighters are now confident that the main cathedral structure has been saved, and the stonework remains sound.

While the images of the exterior suggested nearly total devastation, inside the cathedral’s vaulted stone ceiling mostly held, and protected many of the cathedral's religious and historical treasures from the flames.

Notre-Dame de Paris is home to several irreplaceable relics, most notably the crown of thorns, a piece of the true cross, and one of the nails used in the crucifixion. There are also many relics of French saints.

While a final inventory of what survived the fire may take weeks to compile, much good news has already been announced.

Relics and art were saved

Despite the speed with which the fire appeared to spread across the cathedral, a standing emergency plan was in place to save the most important relics and artwork in case of a disaster, and it appears as though that plan was largely executed effectively.

The majority of the relics were rescued from the fire in what the Paris mayor described as a “formidable human chain.”

Fr. Jean-Marc Fournier, the chaplain of the Paris Fire Department, accompanied firefighters into the cathedral to rescue the crown of thorns and the Blessed Sacrament from the tabernacle.

There were, however, several relics stored in the spire of the cathedral, including one of the thorns from the crown of thorns. These are believed to have been destroyed along with the spire.

The Rose Windows survived

As images of the fire spread, many assumed to worst for the cathedral’s three stained glass gothic rose windows. Dating from the 1200s, the windows are some of the most recognizable images not just of Notre-Dame but of Gothic architecture, still containing some glass from their original construction.

Initial reports all but assumed their destruction severe damage in the fire, with many fearing that the lead used to set the windows must melted due to the heat, or that the glass would have been shattered by the water pumped in to try to control the blaze.

Despite these fears, pictures published Tuesday appear to show all three windows are intact. They will be inspected for any damage, but appear to be relatively unscathed.

The organ was untouched

The cathedral’s grand organ, which was built in the fifteenth century, was not touched by the flames. While it is not yet known if it remains in playable condition, it may have been damaged by the firefighting efforts, hopes for restoration were given a significant boost by the news.

The altar and cross are still standing

In what has become one of the more breathtaking images of the cathedral’s destruction, the gold cross behind the main altar remained standing throughout the inferno. The area around the altar appears to be relatively untouched, and some photos even show rows of chairs still neatly stacked.

The bells and bell towers are intact

As emergency responders worked to fight the blaze, firefighters warned that there was an imminent risk that fire could compromise the north belfry of Notre-Dame’s historic front edifice. The overwhelming danger, they warned, was that the main bell could crash through the body of the building, fatally compromising the stonework.

At one point, officials said there was only a 90 minute window to save the towers. These efforts were successful.

The main bell, dubbed “Emmanuelle,” has served as a national punctuation for historic moments. It has rung to mark the coronation of kings and emperors and the end of two world wars.

Despite the outpouring of support and public commitment of political will, there is not yet a timetable or cost estimate for the extensive repairs. However, with the entire cathedral feared to be a loss just hours ago, the amount that was saved is being hailed as victory and progress in itself.

‘Unplanned’ premieres in US theaters March 29, 2019

LOS ANGELES — UNPLANNED: THE TRUE STORY OF ABBY JOHNSON — in theaters nationwide March 29, 2019 — is the dramatic account of a former Planned Parenthood superstar. Johnson was one of their greatest allies as the youngest director of a clinic in the nation, until she walked out after assisting in an abortion of a 13-week-old fetus.

Johnson worked for the abortion industry for eight years and was awarded the 2008 Employee of the Year at Planned Parenthood. She became a national headline when she walked out and even though Planned Parenthood tried to silence her, no court found their arguments credible.

CLICK HERE TO VIEW TRAILER

“I thought I was helping women,” said Abby Johnson, founder and director of And Then There Were None,  the only group in the country that helps abortion workers exit the industry and find them new jobs. “But I was doing more harm than good. It wasn’t until I saw a child fight for its life that my world came crashing down and I understood the enormity of my actions. I had to leave. No one will be able to walk away after seeing this movie and say ‘I didn’t know.’”

During her time as director of Planned Parenthood in Bryan, Texas, Johnson facilitated over 22,000 abortions. Since leaving, she has helped nearly 500 former abortion workers, including seven doctors, leave their jobs and find fulfilling careers outside of the abortion industry.

Bringing to life this powerful real-life story of redemption and love, UNPLANNED stars Ashley Bratcher (WAR ROOM, 90 MINUTES IN HEAVEN) as Johnson; Brooks Ryan as her husband, Doug; Robia Scott (CSI, BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER) as Abby’s superior at Planned Parenthood ; Emma Elle Roberts (HUNGER GAMES: MOCKING JAY, I AM NOT ASHAMED, ) as Marilisa Carney, Kaiser Johnson (LITTLE BOY, VAMPIRE DIARIES, SLEEPY HOLLOW); and Jared Lotz (OF LITTLE CONVENIENCE, THANKSGIVING) as Shawn Carney.

Actress Ashley Bratcher was nearly aborted by her own mother, which she didn’t find out until filming began. “I was born for this role,” said Bratcher.

Written, produced and directed by Cary Solomon and Chuck Konzelman, (GOD’S NOT DEAD, GOD’S NOT DEAD 2, DO YOU BELIEVE) and produced by Daryl Lefever (I CAN ONLY IMAGINE), UNPLANNED puts the story of the Abby Johnson, the most prominent defector from the abortion industry, on the big screen at a time when the life issue is hanging in the balance amidst a divided political landscape.

“This is the most important movie anyone will ever see on the most controversial issue of our time,” said Solomon and Konzelman. “When UNPLANNED comes to theaters, this movie will make abortion unpopular.”

With nearly one million abortions that take place each year in the United States, and public opinion evenly split on the topic, UNPLANNED shows what life is like on both sides of the fence.

During the March for Life Vigil Mass at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City and the head of the U.S. Bishops Committee on Pro-Life Activities, gave the film a rousing endorsement during his homily, “If you see one film this year, see UNPLANNED … I warn you, UNPLANNED is graphic, it’s painful, but at the same time, inspiring …”

For more information on UNPLANNED, visit www.unplanned.com. For key art and images, see this link.