Encuentro opens with procession, papal message, prayers for abuse victims

By Norma Montenegro Flynn Catholic News Service

GRAPEVINE, Texas (CNS) - A video message from Pope Francis and a procession of Encuentro crosses representing all of the participating episcopal regions were the highlights during the first day of the National Fifth Encuentro gathering taking place Sept. 20-23 in Grapevine.

With hearts full of excitement and joy, about 3,000 Hispanic ministry leaders cheered as they welcomed representatives for each of the 14 episcopal regions approaching the stage and carrying the same crosses and colorful banners that accompanied their gatherings during the multiyear process of discernment and consultation that began at their parishes. The crosses were placed on the stage by the bishops who served as chairs for each region.

Pope Francis captivated the audience with a video message that was received with a standing ovation. Read more. . .

U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Administrative Committee Statement on Sex Abuse Scandals; Committee Releases Actions to be Taken Within Its Authority

WASHINGTON - The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Administrative Committee has issued the following statement today (Sept. 19) in response to the recent sex abuse scandals. In the statement, the bishops say they pledge to “heal and protect with every bit of the strength God provides us.”

Turning to the Lord

“When each of us was ordained as a bishop, we were told:

‘Keep watch over the whole flock in which the Holy Spirit has appointed you to shepherd the Church of God.’
 

We, the Administrative Committee of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, assembled last week in Washington at this time of shame and sorrow.  Some bishops, by their actions or their failures to act, have caused great harm to both individuals and the Church as a whole. They have used their authority and power to manipulate and sexually abuse others. They have allowed the fear of scandal to replace genuine concern and care for those who have been victimized by abusers.  For this, we again ask forgiveness from both the Lord and those who have been harmed. Turning to the Lord for strength, we must and will do better. 
 

The Administrative Committee took the following actions within its authority:
 

1. Approved the establishment of a third-party reporting system that will receive confidentially, by phone and online, complaints of sexual abuse of minors by a bishop and sexual harassment of or sexual misconduct with adults by a bishop and will direct those complaints to the appropriate ecclesiastical authority and, as required by applicable law, to civil authorities.

 

2. Instructed the USCCB Committee on Canonical Affairs and Church Governance to develop proposals for policies addressing restrictions on bishops who were removed or resigned because of allegations of sexual abuse of minors or sexual harassment of or misconduct with adults, including seminarians and priests.

3. Initiated the process of developing a Code of Conduct for bishops regarding the sexual abuse of a minor; sexual harassment of or sexual misconduct with an adult; or negligence in the exercise of his office related to such cases.


4. Supported a full investigation into the situation surrounding Archbishop McCarrick, including his alleged assaults on minors, priests, and seminarians, as well any responses made to those allegations.  Such an investigation should rely upon lay experts in relevant fields, such as law enforcement and social services.

This is only a beginning.  Consultation with a broad range of concerned parents, experts, and other laity along with clergy and religious will yield additional, specific measures to be taken to repair the scandal and restore justice. We humbly welcome and are grateful for the assistance of the whole people of God in holding us accountable.   

As these initiatives get underway, the Administrative Committee invites each of our brother bishops to join us in acts of prayer and penance.  This is a time of deep examination of conscience for each bishop. We cannot content ourselves that our response to sexual assault within the Church has been sufficient.  Scripture must be our guide forward, “be doers of the word and not hearers only” (James 1:22).

In all of this, we do not want anyone – ourselves included – to lose sight of those who have suffered from those who have acted or failed to act as the Gospel demanded. For survivors of sexual abuse, these days may re-open deep wounds. Support is available from the Church and within the community.  Victims Assistance Coordinators are available in every diocese to help you find resources. We are grateful to hundreds of dedicated people who, since the adoption of the 2002 Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, have been working with the Church to support survivors and prevent future abuse. 

To anyone who has been abused, never hesitate to also contact local law enforcement.  If you don’t feel comfortable for any reason with the Church providing help, your diocese can connect you with appropriate community services. With compassion and without judgement, the bishops of the United States pledge to heal and protect with every bit of the strength God provides us.

Acting in communion with the Holy Father, with whom we once again renew our love, obedience, and loyalty, we make our own the prayer of Pope Francis in his August 20 letter to the people of God, “May the Holy Spirit grant us the grace of conversion and the interior anointing needed to express before these crimes of abuse our compunction and our resolve courageously to combat them.”

Bishop Vásquez, Chairman of the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on Migration Releases Statement on the Setting of the U.S. Refugee Limit for the Year 2019

WASHINGTON—The United States Secretary of State, Michael Pompeo, announced yesterday that the Administration will set the Presidential Determination, the level of refugees allowed into the United States, at 30,000 refugees for 2019.  This is the lowest number set in the history of the U.S. refugee admissions program which was formally created in 1980.

Most Reverend Joe S. Vásquez, Bishop of Austin, Texas, Chair of the of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration, issued the following statement:

“The announcement of the Presidential Determination is deeply disturbing and leaves many human lives in danger. To cut off protection for many who are fleeing persecution, at a time of unprecedented global humanitarian need, contradicts who we are as a nation. Offering refuge to those fleeing violence, torture, or religious persecution is a cornerstone of our history. We as a country are blessed with vast resources making us capable of securely welcoming those fleeing harm. Closing our doors on those seeking such safety is not who we are as a people. In the coming days, we pray that Congress will have the opportunity to engage in the formal consultation process with the Administration that is required by law. During this mandatory consultation process, Congress should strongly urge the Administration to return to a refugee admission level that reflects local community response and support of refugees, global refugee protection needs, and our long history of compassionately welcoming refugees.”

Historic low on US refugee cap lamented as 'deeply disturbing'

Washington D.C., Sep 18, 2018 (CNA/EWTN News).- Catholic leaders have criticized an announcement that the United States will be reducing its refugee cap to historic lows, while global rates of refugees and forcibly displaced persons are at an all-time high.

“To cut off protection for many who are fleeing persecution, at a time of unprecedented global humanitarian need, contradicts who we are as a nation,” said Bishop Joe Vásquez of Austin, Texas, chair of the U.S. bishops’ migration committee.

He said the lowered refugee limit “is deeply disturbing and leaves many human lives in danger.”

On Sept. 17, the Trump administration announced its intention to cap U.S. refugee resettlement at 30,000 next year, the lowest cap since the nation’s refugee program began in 1980.

The announcement comes as the world continues to witness its highest recorded number of forcibly displaced persons – more than 65 million across the globe, according to the United Nations. The number of refugees is also at its highest recorded level at over 22 million, more than half of whom are under age 18.

The lowering of the refugee cap for the 2019 Fiscal Year comes after the Trump administration previously lowered the cap to 45,000 for 2018, although fewer than half that many refugees have been resettled as the fiscal year comes to a close. In the final year of the Obama administration, the U.S. settled nearly 85,000 refugees.

In announcing the change, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo cited the importance of screening for national security, and emphasized that refugee admissions are only one part of the United States’ global humanitarian assistance efforts, which will also include processing a back-logged system of asylum-seekers and providing foreign aid to refugees overseas.

Responding in a Sept. 18 statement, Bishop Vásquez stressed that the United States is a nation built upon a commitment to welcoming those fleeing violence and persecution, and has the resources to continue doing so.

“In the coming days, we pray that Congress will have the opportunity to engage in the formal consultation process with the Administration that is required by law,” the bishop said. “Congress should strongly urge the Administration to return to a refugee admission level that reflects the local community response and support of refugees, global refugee protection needs, and our long history of compassionately welcoming refugees.”

Jesuit Refugee Service / USA, an organization that works with and advocates for refugees, also criticized the announcement.

“With the world’s refugee population at its highest in recorded history, now is not the time to abandon the U.S. resettlement program,” said Giulia McPherson, director of advocacy and operations for Jesuit Refugee Service / USA.

The organization said in a Sept. 18 statement that “lowering the level of admissions to the U.S. will not only have a detrimental effect on thousands of individuals and families, but will also continue to weaken the leadership role that the U.S. has maintained in meeting the needs of suffering people around the world.” 

It called on Congress and the Trump administration to work toward a new goal of at least 75,000 in the coming Fiscal Year.

Pope Francis Accepts Resignation of Bishop Michael Bransfield of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston

Archbishop Lori Instructed to Conduct Investigation into Allegations of Sexual Harassment of Adults

September 13, 2018

WASHINGTON—Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Bishop Michael Bransfield from the pastoral governance of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, West Virginia.  Pope Francis has appointed Archbishop William E. Lori as Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston. He will remain Archbishop of Baltimore. The Holy Father has additionally instructed Archbishop Lori to conduct an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment of adults against Bishop Bransfield.

The resignation and appointment were publicized in Washington, September 13, 2018, by Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States.

Bishop Bransfield was born September 8, 1943, in Philadelphia, PA. He graduated from St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in 1971, where he earned a master's in Divinity. He also earned his Master’s in Philosophy from The Catholic University of America.

He was ordained to the priesthood on May 15, 1971 by Cardinal John Krol for service in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. 

Assignments after ordination included: teacher, chaplain, and Chairman of the Religion Department at Lansdale Catholic High School.  In 1980, Bishop Bransfield went on to serve as  Assistant Director and Director of Liturgy, Director of Finance, and then Rector of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception (1990). 

On December 9, 2004, Pope Saint John Paul II appointed Bishop Bransfield the eighth Bishop of Wheeling-Charleston, West Virginia.   He was ordained a bishop on February 22, 2005.

Bishop Bransfield served as a member of the Communications Committee, the National Collections Committee, and Treasurer of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston is comprised of 24,282 square miles in the state of West Virginia and has a total population of 1,844,128 of which 77,874 or 4 percent, are Catholic.

President of U.S. Bishops Conference calls meeting with pope lengthy, fruitful

Vatican City, Sep 13, 2018 (CNA/EWTN News).- Cardinal Daniel DiNardo has called a Sept. 13 meeting between Pope Francis and leaders from the Church in United States “lengthy and fruitful.”

The cardinal, who is Archbishop of Galveston-Houston and president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, travelled to Rome together with Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles, the vice-president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and USCCB General Secretary Msgr. Brian Bransfield.

Also present at the meeting was Cardinal Séan O’Malley of Boston, who serves as president of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors and is a member of the C9 Council of Cardinals charged with advising the pope on the governance of the universal Church.

DiNardo requested the meeting with Francis to discuss the ongoing sexual abuse scandals which have rocked the Church in America, in particular the case of Archbishop Theodore McCarrick. Cardinal DiNardo had previously pledged to investigate the case of Archbishop McCarrick to “the full extent of the USCCB’s authority.”

Following a private audience with Pope Francis this morning, DiNardo released a brief statement through the U.S. bishops’ conference.

"We are grateful to the Holy Father for receiving us in audience. We shared with Pope Francis our situation in the United States – how the Body of Christ is lacerated by the evil of sexual abuse. He listened very deeply from the heart. It was a lengthy, fruitful, and good exchange.”

The meeting follows a series of calls by commentators for the Pope Francis to release files held on Archbishop McCarrick in Rome and at the apostolic nunciature in Washington, D.C.

While the statement did not specify if McCarrick’s case or Vatican files related to it were discussed during the meeting, DiNardo has previously called for greater transparency by Church authorities on matters of sexual abuse, and especially that case of Archbishop McCarrick.

DiNardo’s statement said he, together with Cardinal O’Malley, Archbishop Gomez, and Msgr. Bransfield, looked forward to continuing to work together with Pope Francis on resolving the crisis facing the Church in the United States.

“As we departed the audience, we prayed the Angelus together for God's mercy and strength as we work to heal the wounds. We look forward to actively continuing our discernment together identifying the most effective next steps.”

Earlier this week, Pope Francis announced a special meeting with all the presidents of the world’s bishops’ conferences to discuss sexual abuse in the Church. That meeting is expected to be held in February of next year.

————————————————————————

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo’s Statement

September 13, 2018

VATICAN CITY — Following a private audience with Pope Francis this morning in Vatican City, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston and President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has issued the following statement regarding the recent moral crisis in the American Catholic Church.

“We are grateful to the Holy Father for receiving us in audience.  We shared with Pope Francis our situation in the United States -- how the Body of Christ is lacerated by the evil of sexual abuse. He listened very deeply from the heart. It was a lengthy, fruitful, and good exchange.

As we departed the audience, we prayed the Angelus together for God’s mercy and strength as we work to heal the wounds.  We look forward to actively continuing our discernment together identifying the most effective next steps.”

Pope calls meeting with heads of all bishops conferences to address abuse crisis

By Hannah Brockhaus

Vatican City, Sep 12, 2018 (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis has called for all the presidents of the Catholic bishops’ conferences of the world to meet at the Vatican in February to discuss the issue of sexual abuse of minors.

A statement from the pope’s cardinal advisory board Sept. 12 said, “The Holy Father Francis, hearing the Council of Cardinals, decided to convene a meeting with the Presidents of the Bishops Conferences of the Catholic Church on the theme of ‘protection of minors.’”

The summit will take place at the Vatican Feb. 21-24, 2019.

According to the website GCatholic, there are 114 Conferences of Bishops and 21 eastern-rite Patriarchal Synods, Councils of Churches, and Assemblies of Ordinaries.

The announcement followed a three-day session of Pope Francis’ Council of Cardinals, commonly called the “C9,” which he created in 2013 to advise him regarding the governance and reform of the Roman Curia.

A major task of the nine cardinals has been revising the 1988 apostolic constitution, Pastor bonus, which regulates the government of the Roman Curia.

In their latest session Sept. 10-12, the Council made final adjustments to the draft of the new constitution, tentatively titled Praedicate evangelium, before turning it over to Pope Francis. It will still undergo a stylistic revision and review of the canonical elements before being published, the Vatican said.

Three members of the C9 were not present during the September meetings: Cardinal George Pell, who has been in Australia since summer 2017 undergoing a trial; and Cardinals Francisco Javier Errázuriz and Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya

Wuerl to meet with Pope Francis to discuss resignation

by JD Flynn

Washington D.C., Sep 11, 2018 (CNA).- The Archbishop of Washington told priests Tuesday that he intends to meet with Pope Francis soon to discuss his resignation from office.

In a letter sent to priests of the Archdiocese of Washington Sept. 11, Cardinal Donald Wuerl wrote that a decision about his future role in the archdiocese is “an essential aspect so that this archdiocesan Church we all love can move forward.

“I intend, in the very near future, to go to Rome to meet with our Holy Father about the resignation I presented nearly three years ago, November 12, 2015.”

Wuerl presented his resignation to the pope in 2015 upon turning 75, the age at which diocesan bishops are requested to submit letters of resignation to the pope.

Calls for Pope Francis to accept Wuerl’s resignation have been frequent in recent months. In June, Wuerl’s predecessor in Washington, Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, was publicly accused of serially sexually abusing a teenage boy in the 1970s. As further accusations were made that McCarrick sexually coerced and assaulted seminarians for decades, questions were raised about whether Wuerl knew about McCarrick’s apparent sexual misconduct.

After the Aug. 14 release of a report from a grand jury in Pennsylvania, calls for Wuerl to be replaced intensified. That report suggested that Wuerl had been negligent in the supervision of priests accused of sexually abusing minors while he was Bishop of Pittsburgh, in one case permitting a priest accused of sexual abuse to transfer from ministry in one diocese to another, and signing off on the priest’s suitability for ministry.

An Aug. 25 letter from a former Vatican ambassador to the U.S., Archbishop Carlo Vigano, raised further questions about Wuerl’s knowledge of McCarrick’s misconduct, and a report that Wuerl permitted McCarrick to have seminarian assistants while under investigation for sexual abuse led to additional criticism.

Wuerl’s Sept. 11 letter noted that he had gathered with priests on Sept. 3, praying with them while trying to “discern the best course of action for me to pursue as we face new revelations of the extent of the horror of clergy abuse of children and the failures in episcopal oversight.”

“At issue is how to begin effectively to bring a new level of healing to survivors who have personally suffered so much and to the faithful entrusted to our care who have also been wounded by the shame of these terrible actions and have questions about their bishop’s ability to provide the necessary leadership,” Wuerl added.

A spokesman for the Archdiocese of Washington, Ed McFadden, told CNA that Wuerl’s letter is “evidence of a serious and constructive discernment process that Cardinal Wuerl went through, and his appreciation to the priests for their support and engagement in the discernment process, to help him work through it.”

“He understands the need for healing, and that he certainly wants to be a part of that and not bring damage or harm to the Church that he clearly loves,” McFadden said.

Wuerl plans to celebrate a Sept. 14 Mass for Healing in Washington. McFadden told CNA that Wuerl sent his letter before that Mass because the cardinal did not want his status to become a distraction to that event.

Wuerl, McFadden said, “wants the focus to be on the survivors and the start of the healing process” during that Mass.

The Archdiocese of Washington would not confirm when Wuerl will meet with Pope Francis.

The brutal, powerful 9/11 stories of Catholic priests

By Adelaide Mena

New York City, N.Y., Sep 11, 2018 (CNA/EWTN News).- On the clear, sunny morning of Sept. 11, 2001, Fr. Kevin Madigan heard an explosion overhead.

He grabbed oils for anointing, ran out the door of St. Peter's parish in New York City, and wandered towards the center of the commotion – the World Trade Center only a block away.

Fifty blocks uptown, Fr. Christopher Keenan, OFM watched with the world as the smoke rising from the twin towers darkened the television screen. Looking to help, he went to St. Vincent's Hospital downtown to tend to those wounded in the attack – but the victims never came.

All the while, he wondered what had happened to a brother friar assigned as chaplain to the firefighters of New York City: Fr. Mychal Judge, OFM, named by some the “Saint of 9/11.”

Seventeen years ago on this day, hijackers flew planes into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, and the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia. In a field in southern Pennsylvania, passengers retook control of the cockpit and crashed the plane before it could reach its intended target, presumed to be in Washington, D.C.  

The consequences of the attacks have rippled throughout the United States as the attacks spurred a new global war on terror and irreversibly changed the country’s outlook on terror, security, and international engagement.

For Fr. Madigan, Fr. Keenan and Fr. Judge, the day changed their own lives and ministries, as a pastor lost nearly his entire congregation, and a friar put himself in harm's way to take on a new position – an assignment he only received because another friar gave the ultimate sacrifice as the Twin Towers came down.

“This experience has seared our soul and our spirit and our life, and it has so seared our spirit and our life that it has penetrated our DNA,” Fr. Keenan told CNA.  

“It has changed our lives and we will never be the same,” he said.

It was like losing a village

On Sept. 11, 2001, Fr. Kevin Madigan had been assigned to St. Peter’s Church in the financial district of Lower Manhattan. The parish is the oldest Catholic church in New York State, “half a block literally from the corner of the World Trade Center,” Fr. Madigan explained to CNA.

“Prior to 9/11 it was a parish that basically serviced the people who came to the neighborhood who came to Mass or Confession, devotions and things like that.” The parish had a full and well-attended schedule of liturgies and prayers, with multiple Masses said during the morning and lunch hour. September 11th changed that.

“Immediately after 9/11, that community was no longer there, because it was like losing a village of 40,000 people next door.”  

Fr. Madigan was leaving the sanctuary that morning, heading back to the rectory when overhead he heard the first plane hit the towers. Immediately he made his way towards the commotion, looking to minister to anyone who had been hurt by what had happened.  

“I took the oils for anointing anyone who was dying – I didn’t know what was going on there,” he said. However, most of those fleeing the building did not need anointing, Fr. Madigan recalled. “Most people either got out alive or were dead. There weren’t that many people who were in that in-between area.”

Then, there was another explosion from the other tower, and an object – the wheel of an airplane, in fact – went whizzing by Fr. Madigan’s head.

“After the second plane hit I went back to the office and made sure all the staff got out of there fast,” evacuating staff who were unaware of the chaos outside.

Fr. Madigan was back on the street when firefighters began to wonder if the towers might fall.

Thinking it ridiculous, Fr. Madigan kept an eye on a nearby subway entrance, which linked to an underground passage north of the towers. Then, a massive cloud of dust swept towards Fr. Madigan and another priest as the towers did collapse; they ducked into the subway station, emerging amidst the thick smoke and dust several blocks away.

After the towers came down, Fr. Madigan made his way first to the hospital for an emergency health screening, then back to check on St. Peter’s. While he was away from his parish, firefighters and other first responders made use of the sanctuary, temporarily laying to rest over 30 bodies recovered from the wreckage.

The death of Father Mychal

In September of 2001, Fr. Christopher Keenan had been assigned to work with a community ministry program near the parish of St. Francis in midtown Manhattan. At St. Francis, he lived in community along with several other Franciscan Friars, including an old friend he had known for years – Fr. Mychal Judge, chaplain for the Fire Department of New York City. Through Fr. Judge, the Friars became especially close with some of their neighbors at a firehouse across the street, who let the friars park their car at the firehouse.

Although the plane flew overhead, Fr. Keenan told CNA that “like everyone else, we found out while watching TV.” As the friars and brothers watched the events unfold on the television, they saw the second plane hit the South Tower; Fr. Keenan decided to go to St. Vincent’s Hospital – one of the closest medical facilities to the Word Trade Center. At the time, he thought there would be injured people who would need to be anointed or would like someone to hear their confession.

However, once he got to St. Vincent’s he found a long line of doctors, nurses and other responders who had come to help: together they “were all waiting for these people to get out who never came.” Victims were either largely able to walk away on their own, or they never made it to the hospital at all.

Instead, Fr. Keenan told CNA, “my responsibility was after people were treated to contact their family members to come and get them.”

As patients began to go home, Fr. Keenan continued to wonder about his brother friar, Fr. Judge, asking firefighters if they knew what had happened to the chaplain. Fr. Keenan left the hospital in the early evening to go hear confessions, but stopped at the firehouse across the street to ask the firemen if they knew where Fr. Judge was: “they told me his body was in the back of the firehouse.”

The mere fact that his body was intact and present at the firehouse that day was in itself a small miracle, Fr. Keenan said. “Mychal's body that was brought out was one of the only bodies that was intact, recognizable and viewable,” he said. Among those that died in the Twin Towers, he continued, “everyone was vaporized, pulverized and cremated” by the heat of the fire in the towers and the violence of the towers’ collapse. “He was one of the only ones able to be brought out and to be brought home.”

That morning, Fr. Judge had gone along with Battalion 1 to answer a call in a neighborhood close to the Trade Center. Also with the battalion were two French filmmakers filming a documentary on the fire unit. When the towers were hit, the Battalion was one of the first to arrive on the scene. In the film released by the brothers, Fr. Keenan said, “you can see his face and you can tell he knows what’s happening and his lips are moving and you can tell he’s praying his rosary.”

The group entered the lobby of the North Tower and stood in the Mezzanine as the South Tower collapsed – spraying glass, debris and dust throughout the building.

“All the debris roared through the glass mezzanine like a roaring train and his body happened to be blown into the escalators,” Fr. Keenan relayed the experience eyewitnesses told him. In the impact, Fr. Judge hit his head on a piece of debris, killing him almost instantly.  

“All of a sudden they feel something at their feet and it was Mychal, but he was gone.“

Members of the fire department, police department and other first responders carried Fr. Judge’s body out of the wreckage, putting his body down first to run as the second tower collapsed, then again to temporarily rest it at St. Peter’s Church. Members of the fire department brought it back to the firehouse where Fr. Keenan saw his friend and prayed over his body.

Fr. Mychal Judge was later listed as Victim 0001 – the first death certificate processed on 9/11.

Despite the sudden and unexpected nature of the attacks, Fr. Keenan told CNA that in the weeks before his friend’s death, Fr. Judge had a sense his death was near.

“He just had a sense that the Lord Jesus was coming.” On several occasions, Fr. Keenan said, Fr. Judge had told him, “You know, Chrissy, the Lord will be coming for me,” and made other references to his death.

“He had a sense that the Lord was coming for him.”

The grueling aftermath

“There was no playbook for how you deal with something in the wake of something like that,” Fr. Madigan said of the aftermath of 9/11. Personally, Fr. Madigan told CNA, he was well-prepared spiritually and mentally for the senseless nature of the attacks.   

“I understand that innocent people get killed tragically all the time,” he said, noting that while the scale was larger and hit so close to home, “life goes on.” For many others that he ministered to, however, “it did shake their foundations, their trust and belief in God.”  

While the attacks changed the focus of his ministry as a parish priest at the time, they also posed logistical challenges for ministry and aid: St. Peter’s usual congregation of people who worked in and around the World Trade Center vanished nearly overnight. Instead, the whole area was cordoned off for rescue workers and recovery activities as the city began the long task of sorting and removing the debris and rubble.

In addition, a small chapel named St. Joseph's Chapel, which was cared for and administered by St. Peter’s, was used by FEMA workers as a base for recovery activities during the weeks after the attack. During that time, the sanctuary was damaged and several structures of the chapel, including the pulpit, chairs and interior, were rendered unusable. According to Fr. Madigan, FEMA denies that it ever used the space.

Still, the priests at St. Peter's saw it as their duty to minister to those that were there – whoever they were.

“The parish, the church building itself was open that whole time,” he said, saying that anyone who had clearance to be within the Ground Zero area was welcome at the church. In the weeks after the attacks, the parish acted as sanctuary, as recovery workers who were discovering body parts and other personal effects “would come in there just to sort of try to get away from that space.”

“Myself and one of the other priests would be out there each day just to be able to talk to anyone who wants to talk about what’s going on,” he added. “We'd celebrate Mass in a building nearby.”

Today, Fr. Madigan has been reassigned to another parish in uptown Manhattan, and St. Peter’s now has found a new congregation as new residents have moved into the neighborhoods surrounding the former World Trade Center site.

Only two months after the attack, Fr. Keenan took on the role of his old friend, Fr. Judge: he was installed as chaplain for the 14,000 first responders of the the FDNY.

Immediately, Fr. Keenan joined the firefighters in their task of looking for the remains – even the most minute fragments – of the more than 2,600 people killed at the World Trade Center. “The rest of the recovery process then was for nine months trying to find the remains.”  

For the firefighters in particular, there was a drive to find the remains of the 343 firefighters killed at the World Trade Center and help bring closure to the family members. “You always bring your brother home, you never leave them on the battlefield,” Fr. Keenan said.

The resulting amount of work, as well as the “intense” tradition among firefighters to attend all funerals for members killed in the line of duty meant that the job became all-consuming, with all one’s spare time spent at the World Trade Center site. Sometimes, Fr. Keenan said, he would attend as many as four, five, or six funerals or memorials a day – and many families held a second funeral if body parts were recovered from the site.

“Here are the guys, overtime, going to all the funerals, working spare time on the site looking for recovery, and taking care of the families,” he said. “I was 24/7, 365 for 26 months.”

In addition, Fr. Keenan and the rest of the FDNY worked inside “this incredible toxic brew” of smoke, chemicals and fires that burned among the ruins at Ground Zero for months.  

“I would be celebrating Mass at 10:00 on a Sunday morning down there,” he recalled, “and just 30 feet from where I’m celebrating Mass at the cross, the cranes are lifting up the steel.”

While both buildings had contained more than 200 floors of offices, there was “not a trace of a computer, telephones, files, nothing. Everything was totally decimated.” Instead, all that was left was steel, dirt and the chemicals feeding the fires that smouldered underground in the footprint of the towers.

“The cranes are lifting up the steel and the air is feeding the fires underneath, and out of that is coming these incredible colors of yellow, black and green smoke, and we all worked in the recovery process.” The experience working the recovery at the World Trade Center site is one that Fr. Keenan considers a “gift” and an “honor.”

“It was an incredible experience really,” he said.

Fr. Keenan recounted a conversation the firefighters had with him a few days after he was commissioned. After pledging to “offer my life to protect the people and property of New York City,” the other firefighters told their new chaplain “we know you’re ours, don’t you forget that every one of us is yours,” promising to stand by their new shepherd. “I’m the most loved and cared for person in the world and who has it better than me?”

While the formal recovery process has ended and a new tower, One World Trade Center, stands just yards from the original site of Ground Zero, the experience – and the chemicals rescue workers came in contact with for months – still affect the firefighters.

In 2016 alone, “we put 17 new names on the wall,” said Fr. Keenan, “who died this past year from of the effects of 9/11.” He explained that in the years following the attack, thousands of rescuers and first responders – including Fr. Keenan himself – have developed different cancers and illnesses linked to their exposure at the World Trade Center site. In fact, at the time of the interview in 2016, Fr. Keenan had just returned from a screening for the more than 20 toxic chemicals the responders were exposed to. He warned that the “different cancers and the lung problems that are emerging are just the tip of the iceberg,” and worried that as time progressed, other cancers and illnesses linked to the attack recovery would emerge.

The first responders are also dealing with the psychological fallout of the attacks among themselves, Fr. Keenan said, though many are dealing with it in their own way, and with one another.

Looking back, Fr. Keenan told CNA he still finds it difficult to express the experience to others or to make sense of what it was like when he would go down into “the pit” to work alongside the firefighters and other first responders. “The only image I had as time went on and I asked ‘how do I make sense of this as a man of faith?’ is that it was like I was descending into hell and I was seeing the face of God on the people that were there.”

The same image had come to his mind to make sense of taking care of patients with AIDS in the 1990s, he said, even though nothing can fully make sense of events like these.

“I was like a midwife to people in their birthing process from life to death to new life,” he recalled. “All I can do is be present there, they have to do the work, I can be present there, I can pray with them.”

“That’s how in faith I kind of sort of comprehended it.”

This article was originally published on CNA Sept. 11, 2016.

President of U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Renews Commitment for Greater Effectiveness and Transparency in Disciplining Bishops

August 27, 2018

WASHINGTON— Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has issued the following statement.

Cardinal DiNardo’s full statement follows:

“In communion with the Holy Father, I join the Executive Committee of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) in taking upon ourselves his exhortation, ‘this open wound [of abuse] challenges us to be firm and decisive in the pursuit of truth and justice.’

“On August 1st, I promised that USCCB would exercise the full extent of its authority, and would advocate before those with greater authority, to pursue the many questions surrounding Archbishop McCarrick.  On August 16th, I called for an Apostolic Visitation, working in concert with a national lay commission granted independent authority, to seek the truth.  Yesterday, I convened our Executive Committee once again, and it reaffirmed the call for a prompt and thorough examination into how the grave moral failings of a brother bishop could have been tolerated for so long and proven no impediment to his advancement.

“The recent letter of Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò brings particular focus and urgency to this examination.  The questions raised deserve answers that are conclusive and based on evidence. Without those answers, innocent men may be tainted by false accusation and the guilty may be left to repeat sins of the past.

“I am eager for an audience with the Holy Father to earn his support for our plan of action.  That plan includes more detailed proposals to: seek out these answers, make reporting of abuse and misconduct by bishops easier, and improve procedures for resolving complaints against bishops.  Inspired by his recent letter to the people of God, and his motu proprio of two years ago, As a Loving Mother, I am confident Pope Francis shares our desire for greater effectiveness and transparency in the matter of disciplining bishops. We renew our fraternal affection for the Holy Father in these difficult days.

“To the survivors of abuse and the families who have lost a loved one to abuse, I am sorry.  You are no longer alone.  Since 2002, hundreds of professionally trained staff across the country have been working with the Church to support survivors and prevent future abuse.  Nationwide, the Church has a zero-tolerance policy toward priests and deacons who abuse, safe environment training, background checks for those working around children, victim assistance coordinators, prompt reporting to civil authorities, and lay review boards in dioceses.

“In other ways, we have failed you.  This is especially true for adults being sexually harassed by those in positions of power, and for any abuse or harassment perpetrated by a bishop.  We will do better. The more she is buffeted by storms, the more I am reminded that the Church’s firm foundation is Jesus Christ.  The failures of men cannot diminish the light of the Gospel.  Lord, by the help of your mercy, show us the way to salvation.”

 

 

Pope calls entire Church to pray and fast after clerical sex abuse revelations

By Hannah Brockhaus

Vatican City, Aug 20, 2018 / 05:55 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis called Monday for every member of the Catholic Church to pray and fast in penance for the evil of clerical sex abuse, and to be involved in needed change within the Church.

“The only way that we have to respond to this evil that has darkened so many lives is to experience it as a task regarding all of us as the People of God,” Francis wrote Aug. 20.

In a letter to the entire Church following widespread revelations of clerical sex abuse in the Church in the United States, the pope invited “the entire holy faithful People of God to a penitential exercise of prayer and fasting, following the Lord’s command.”

“This can awaken our conscience and arouse our solidarity and commitment to a culture of care that says ‘never again’ to every form of abuse,” he said. “Every one of the baptized should feel involved in the ecclesial and social change that we so greatly need.”

In the letter, Francis acknowledged the recent publication of a report detailing abuse in six Pennsylvania dioceses, which included more than 300 priests and 1,000 victims, over a period of around 70 years.

Recognizing the deep pain and suffering endured by many minors who have experienced sexual abuse, or the abuse of power or conscience, at the hands of clerics, he said no effort to seek pardon or to repair the harm will ever be enough.

“Looking ahead to the future, no effort must be spared to create a culture able to prevent such situations from happening, but also to prevent the possibility of their being covered up and perpetuated,” he stated.

He said the words of St. Paul, that “‘If one member suffers, all suffer together with it’… forcefully echo” in his heart.

The pope also emphasized that he thinks a conversion of the Church is “impossible” if it does not include the “active participation” of all the members of the Church, and he criticized the silencing or ignoring of some Catholics through the creation of elitist groups or projects.

In particular, all forms of clericalism should be rejected, he said, because clericalism undervalues baptismal grace and can lead to abuses by Church authority. Clericalism causes “an excision in the ecclesial body that supports and helps to perpetuate many of the evils that we are condemning today.”

Voicing strong support for all the victims of clerical sex abuse and for their families, he said though most of the cases recently come to light, “belong to the past,” as time goes on the pain of the victims has come to be more known.

He said the gravity and extent to which clerical sexual abuse of minors and other abuse has happened takes “coming to grips… in a comprehensive and communal way,” and while conversion requires acknowledgment of the truth, it is “not enough.”

“This change calls for a personal and communal conversion that makes us see things as the Lord does… to be where the Lord wants us to be, to experience a conversion of heart in his presence. To do so, prayer and penance will help,” he stated.

The penitential aspect of fasting will help Catholics to come before the Lord “as sinners imploring forgiveness and the grace of shame and conversion,” so that actions “attuned to the Gospel” can follow, he explained.

He prayed that fasting and prayer will open people’s ears to the pain of children, young people, and the disabled, that it will make Catholics “hunger and thirst for justice,” and impel the Church “to walk in the truth, supporting all the judicial measures that may be necessary.”

“It is essential that we, as a Church, be able to acknowledge and condemn, with sorrow and shame, the atrocities perpetrated by consecrated persons, clerics, and all those entrusted with the mission of watching over and caring for those most vulnerable,” he continued.

“Let us beg forgiveness for our own sins and the sins of others,” he said. “An awareness of sin helps us to acknowledge the errors, the crimes and the wounds caused in the past and allows us, in the present, to be more open and committed along a journey of renewed conversion.”

U.S. Bishops’ Offer Firm Resolve to Address “Moral Catastrophe”

August 16, 2018

WASHINGTON — Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), has issued the following statement after a series of meetings with members of the USCCB’s Executive Committee and other bishops. The following statement includes three goals and three principles, along with initial steps of a plan that will involve laity, experts, and the Vatican. A more developed plan will be presented to the full body of bishops at their general assembly meeting in Baltimore in November.

Cardinal DiNardo’s full statement follows:

“Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Two weeks ago, I shared with you my sadness, anger, and shame over the recent revelations concerning Archbishop Theodore McCarrick.  Those sentiments continue and are deepened in light of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report.  We are faced with a spiritual crisis that requires not only spiritual conversion, but practical changes to avoid repeating the sins and failures of the past that are so evident in the recent report.  Earlier this week, the USCCB Executive Committee met again and established an outline of these necessary changes.

The Executive Committee has established three goals: (1) an investigation into the questions surrounding Archbishop McCarrick; (2) an opening of new and confidential channels for reporting complaints against bishops; and (3) advocacy for more effective resolution of future complaints.  These goals will be pursued according to three criteria:  proper independence, sufficient authority, and substantial leadership by laity.

We have already begun to develop a concrete plan for accomplishing these goals, relying upon consultation with experts, laity, and clergy, as well as the Vatican.  We will present this plan to the full body of bishops in our November meeting.  In addition, I will travel to Rome to present these goals and criteria to the Holy See, and to urge further concrete steps based on them.

The overarching goal in all of this is stronger protections against predators in the Church and anyone who would conceal them, protections that will hold bishops to the highest standards of transparency and accountability.

Allow me to briefly elaborate on the goals and criteria that we have identified.

The first goal is a full investigation of questions surrounding Archbishop McCarrick.  These answers are necessary to prevent a recurrence, and so help to protect minors, seminarians, and others who are vulnerable in the future.  We will therefore invite the Vatican to conduct an Apostolic Visitation to address these questions, in concert with a group of predominantly lay people identified for their expertise by members of the National Review Board and empowered to act.

The second goal is to make reporting of abuse and misconduct by bishops easier.  Our 2002 “Statement of Episcopal Commitment” does not make clear what avenue victims themselves should follow in reporting abuse or other sexual misconduct by bishops.  We need to update this document.  We also need to develop and widely promote reliable third-party reporting mechanisms.  Such tools already exist in many dioceses and in the public sector and we are already examining specific options.

The third goal is to advocate for better procedures to resolve complaints against bishops.  For example, the canonical procedures that follow a complaint will be studied with an eye toward concrete proposals to make them more prompt, fair, and transparent and to specify what constraints may be imposed on bishops at each stage of that process. 

We will pursue these goals according to three criteria.

The first criterion is genuine independence.  Any mechanism for addressing any complaint against a bishop must be free from bias or undue influence by a bishop.  Our structures must preclude bishops from deterring complaints against them, from hampering their investigation, or from skewing their resolution.

The second criterion relates to authority in the Church.  Because only the Pope has authority to discipline or remove bishops, we will assure that our measures will both respect that authority and protect the vulnerable from the abuse of ecclesial power.

Our third criterion is substantial involvement of the laity.  Lay people bring expertise in areas of investigation, law enforcement, psychology, and other relevant disciplines, and their presence reinforces our commitment to the first criterion of independence.

Finally, I apologize and humbly ask your forgiveness for what my brother bishops and I have done and failed to do.  Whatever the details may turn out to be regarding Archbishop McCarrick or the many abuses in Pennsylvania (or anywhere else), we already know that one root cause is the failure of episcopal leadership.  The result was that scores of beloved children of God were abandoned to face an abuse of power alone.  This is a moral catastrophe.  It is also part of this catastrophe that so many faithful priests who are pursuing holiness and serving with integrity are tainted by this failure. 

We firmly resolve, with the help of God’s grace, never to repeat it. I have no illusions about the degree to which trust in the bishops has been damaged by these past sins and failures.  It will take work to rebuild that trust.  What I have outlined here is only the beginning; other steps will follow.  I will keep you informed of our progress toward these goals.

Let me ask you to hold us to all of these resolutions.  Let me also ask you to pray for us, that we will take this time to reflect, repent, and recommit ourselves to holiness of life and to conform our lives even more to Christ, the Good Shepherd.”

Abuse in Ireland: Pressure mounts for pope to address scandal

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pope Francis is traveling to Ireland specifically for the World Meeting of Families, but the sex abuse crisis is dominating headlines before his Aug. 25-26 trip.

While coverage of clerical abuse in the United States, Chile and Australia continues, Irish news media have been filled with articles about how a top Vatican official allegedly tried to get Irish government officials to support deals that would protect church records of abuse allegations and limit the financial liability of the church.

Former Irish President Mary McAleese said Cardinal Angelo Sodano, then the Vatican secretary of state, approached her in November 2003 about an agreement or concordat to protect church records, and Dermot Ahern, Ireland’s former foreign minister, said Cardinal Sodano asked him in November 2004 about the Irish government indemnifying the church against court-ordered compensation for victims. Many of the institutions where the abuse took place were supported by the state or subject to state inspection.

Cardinal Sodano, the now 90-year-old dean of the College of Cardinals, has not responded to the claims, nor has the Vatican press office.

Writing Aug. 7 in the Irish Times, Marie Collins, who had been one of the abuse survivors Pope Francis named to the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, said that in Dublin the pope “should admit the responsibility the Vatican and church leadership hold for past events in Ireland and set out how he is going to deal with the abuses happening today in other parts of the Catholic world.”

Cardinal Angelo Sodano, dean of the College of Cardinals, left, arrives for a consistory at the Vatican June 28. Former Irish government officials allege that Cardinal Sodano asked them to protect church records and limit the financial liability of the church from abuse claims. Also pictured is Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco of Genoa, right. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

“He needs to do more than make promises,” Collins wrote. “He must commit to action.”

(To read more, click here.)

Pennsylvania grand jury says church was interested in hiding abuse

WASHINGTON (CNS) – A Pennsylvania grand jury report issued Aug. 14 paints a picture of a Catholic Church in six of the state’s dioceses that for decades handled claims of sex abuse of minors under its care by hiding the allegations and brushing aside its victims.

More than 300 priests were linked to abuse claims and over 1,000 victims were identified, said Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro in a news conference following the report’s release.

“The main thing was not to help children but to avoid ‘scandal,'” says a biting sentence about the behavior of church leaders and officials in the report, detailing a months-long investigation of clergy sex abuse claims in the dioceses of Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, Allentown, Scranton, Greensburg and Erie.

The report of almost 1,400 pages covers a period of 70 years into the past, including information from the early 2000s, a time when news of the clerical sex abuse scandal erupted in the U.S. Before its release, some urged that the report be read keeping in mind that a lot has changed in the church since then, and also that not all of the report’s claims are substantiated.

(To read more, click here.)

Wednesday, August 15 was a special day for Catholics!

This coming Wednesday, August 15, the Catholic Church will celebrate the Solemnity of the assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Be sure to tune-in to the podcast on Real Presence Radio https://yourcatholicradiostation.com/real-presence-live-podcasts to listen to an interview with Bishop John M. LeVoir talking about why this day is a Holy Day of Obligation and what it means for Mary to have been assumed into Heaven by God.

Real Presence Radio is the only Catholic radio station in the Diocese of New Ulm.

 

President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Issues Statement on Course of Action Responding to Moral Failures of Judgement on the Part of Church Leaders

August 1, 2018

WASHINGTON—Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, Archbishop of Galveston-Houston and President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, has issued the following statement noting the steps the U.S. Bishops Conference will take in addressing the failures of the Church in protecting the people of God.    

Cardinal DiNardo's full statement follows:

“The accusations against Archbishop Theodore McCarrick reveal a grievous moral failure within the Church. They cause bishops anger, sadness, and shame; I know they do in me. They compel bishops to ask, as I do, what more could have been done to protect the People of God.  Both the abuses themselves, and the fact that they have remained undisclosed for decades, have caused great harm to people’s lives and represent grave moral failures of judgement on the part of Church leaders.

These failures raise serious questions. Why weren’t these allegations of sins against chastity and human dignity disclosed when they were first brought to Church officials? Why wasn’t this egregious situation addressed decades sooner and with justice? What must our seminaries do to protect the freedom to discern a priestly vocation without being subject to misuse of power?

Archbishop McCarrick will rightly face the judgement of a canonical process at the Holy See regarding the allegations against him, but there are also steps we should be taking as the Church here in the United States. Having prayed about this, I have convened the USCCB Executive Committee.  This meeting was the first of many among bishops that will extend into our Administrative Committee meeting in September and our General Assembly in November. All of these discussions will be oriented toward discerning the right course of action for the USCCB. This work will take some time but allow me to stress these four points immediately.

First, I encourage my brother bishops as they stand ready in our local dioceses to respond with compassion and justice to anyone who has been sexually abused or harassed by anyone in the Church.  We should do whatever we can to accompany them.

Second, I would urge anyone who has experienced sexual assault or harassment by anyone in the Church to come forward.  Where the incident may rise to the level of a crime, please also contact local law enforcement.

Third, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops will pursue the many questions surrounding Archbishop McCarrick’s conduct to the full extent of its authority; and where that authority finds its limits, the Conference will advocate with those who do have the authority.  One way or the other, we are determined to find the truth in this matter.

Finally, we bishops recognize that a spiritual conversion is needed as we seek to restore the right relationship among us and with the Lord. Our Church is suffering from a crisis of sexual morality. The way forward must involve learning from past sins.

Let us pray for God’s wisdom and strength for renewal as we follow St. Paul’s instruction: ‘Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect’ (Romans 12:2).”

President of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Statement Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Humanae Vitae

July 25, 2018

WASHINGTON — In honor of the 50th Anniversary of Blessed Paul VI’s papal encyclical, Humanae Vitae, Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston and President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), has issued the following statement. Originally published in 1968, Blessed Paul VI's letter promotes the whole human person in the context of marital love that respects both the spiritual and physical dimensions of man and woman, which is faithful, generous, and life-giving.

Cardinal DiNardo’s full statement follows:

“Fifty years ago, today, Blessed Paul VI issued the Encyclical Humanae Vitae. In it, he reaffirmed the beautiful truth that a husband and wife are called to give themselves completely to each other. Marriage reflects the love of God, which is faithful, generous, and life-giving. Through their vocation, spouses cooperate with God by being open to new human life.

Blessed Paul VI, who bore the criticism of Humanae Vitae with charity and patience, courageously affirmed that when we love as God designed, we experience true freedom and joy. He has also been proven correct in his warnings about the consequences of ignoring the true meaning of married love.

On this anniversary, I encourage all to read and prayerfully reflect upon this Encyclical, and be open to the gift of its timeless truths.

We wait in joyful anticipation for the canonization of Paul VI in October.”

For more information and resources on Humanae Vitae, please visit www.usccb.org/HV50.

WATCH VIDEO! Minnesota Knights of Columbus deliver wheelchairs to San Lucas Toliman, Guatemala

SAN LUCAS TOLIMAN, GUATEMALA - The Minnesota Knights of Columbus and the Global Wheelchair Mission have teamed up to help bring wheelchairs to those who lack freedom of mobility.

On May 30, 2018, a small group from the Minnesota Knights of Columbus arrived at the Mission in San Lucas Toliman, Guatemala, to distribute 280 wheelchairs the group had donated. They spent a week distributing wheelchairs at Hospital Monseñor Gregorio Schaffer and made home deliveries to those who were unable to travel to the hospital. 

Group member Joe Konrardy said, "It was an honor to provide these wheelchairs as a gift from the Minnesota Knights of Columbus. We hope that they will allow many people and their families to have a better life through the gift of mobility."

The Global Wheelchair Mission purchases wheelchairs in bulk and delivers them by sea containers around the world.

They are distributed with the help of numerous non-governmental organizations, Rotary, Lions and Kiwanis Clubs, and now the Knights of Columbus.

In 2003, the Knights of Columbus began participating in the Global Wheelchair Mission and sponsored 2,000 wheelchairs to be distributed in Afghanistan. Since then, Knights in the United States and Canada have sponsored the distribution of more than 57,000 wheelchairs in Argentina, Colombia, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Haiti, Jordan, Mexico, Morocco, Oman, Panama, the Philippines, Poland, the United States, Canada and Vietnam.

“It’s not just a matter of politics, it’s a matter of humanity." Bishops sought to share journey with migrants, not join political fray

--------------------------
On July 1, 2018, a delegation of prelates from around the country physically stepped into the ground zero of the immigration debate when they arrived in the Brownsville-McAllen area near the southern border to meet with those affected by the policy.
"This is a sign that the bishops of the United States are concerned about the situation and the circumstances affecting people, not just those who live in Brownsville but all along the border," said the local bishop, Bishop Daniel E. Flores of Brownsville during a July 1 interview with Catholic News Service. "This is a moment to completely understand the reality of the situation, to meet, speak with people who are living this reality. It's a message for the church." Watch video.

By Rhina Guidos
Catholic News Service

MCALLEN, Texas (CNS) — The journey for many of the new migrants entering the U.S. near the border town of McAllen involves a mix of hardship and blessings.

Having made the treacherous trip through the desert landscape and across the border, the lucky ones find themselves welcomed with food, water and human warmth at a Catholic-run humanitarian center in downtown McAllen.

But having just conquered the life-changing crossing, many of the migrants also find themselves immediately facing an unknown world and future ahead.

Though many bishops come to know many immigrants in the dioceses where they serve, except for the bishops along the border, few prelates witness that initial phase of the immigration journey that a group of bishops was privy to in early July.

They fed and spoke with a group of newly arrived immigrants to the U.S. at a Catholic Charities center and visited the controversial facilities where migrant children and teens have gotten their first taste of the U.S. — in detention — while temporarily separated from family. The bishops gave them rosaries and Bibles following a Mass they celebrated at one of the centers.

With their actions of charity and faith, they inserted themselves into the heart of the radioactive immigration debate the United States is experiencing, and one in which some Catholics remain aligned with political party ideology rather than with what the church is saying on the topic.

The way the bishops see it, they were simply answering the call of Pope Francis, to “share the journey,” a campaign started in September 2017 that called on Catholics and people of goodwill around the world to spend time with migrants, to come face to face with them, perhaps serve them in some fashion and hear their story.

Caritas Internationalis kicked off the campaign internationally last year and it is being promoted in the U.S. by groups such as the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services.

“The journey ahead is still a tough journey, a difficult journey,” said Auxiliary Bishop Robert J. Brennan of Rockville Centre, New York, one of the prelates on the trip.

The migrants have to settle in, find work, learn the language and, in some cases, face “the biases,” he said.

“There’s always that fear,” Bishop Brennan said in a July 1 interview with Catholic News Service after the visit to the respite center run by Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley in McAllen. “I know it’s not easy, but I think the people I met today are driven by a sense of a hope-filled future. They want to build their lives up, they want to provide for their families. The children are actually looking forward to school.”

Bishop Brennan, along with USCCB president Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston and Bishop Joseph C. Bambera of Scranton, Pennsylvania, took part in the visit to the center, along with local Bishop Daniel E. Flores of Brownsville and Auxiliary Bishop Mario Aviles, also of the Brownsville Diocese. Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles joined the group July 2 and celebrated Mass at one of the facilities with the children and teens.

To explain the situation to Catholics and others opposed to the presence of the migrants and to how they entered the country, Bishop Brennan said he focuses on the humanity of the situation. But it is important to listen to all sides of the situation, he said.

“Even people who would want to be tougher on the (immigrants), we all share that sense of humanity,” said Bishop Brennan. “I think there is compassion, but we have to acknowledge people’s fears and acknowledge them as valid. We have to start meeting everyone where they are and recognizing those fears and concerns.”

The border between the U.S. and Mexico is divided by this tall fence in Hidalgo, Texas, shown in a July 3 photo. (CNS photo/Chaz Muth)

There are solutions to bring about security at the border in ways that are humane and that’s what Bishop Brennan said he wants to get across. And those who may be voicing their stance against the migrants, “they’re not heartless,” Bishop Brennan said, but they might be reacting to other factors.

“You see chaos in the world around you and that worries you and that’s why the bishops have been so strong about comprehensive immigration reform, it’s not just fancy words,” he said. “We have to look at the whole picture and when we look at the whole picture, it’s not as complicated as it seems.”

Seeing the whole picture involves talking to some of the immigrants, he said.

Bishop Bambera said he heard repeatedly from those he met in Texas about the fear they were facing and the urgency to leave to protect their lives or the lives of their children from imminent danger. It was a story repeated, too, to Cardinal DiNardo, when he spoke with the recent arrivals.

His hope, Cardinal DiNardo said in July 2 interview with CNS, was to “let all Catholics in our country know that we welcome immigrants. … You cannot look at immigration as an abstraction when you meet” the people behind the issue and the church stands with those at the margins.

For the bishops, whose actions and words are amplified and often publicly scrutinized, “sharing the journey” when it comes to immigration meant sharing a story that some in their flock resist hearing because of the political rhetoric surrounding the issue. But the prelates tried to direct the attention away from the politics of it and directed it toward its human cost and why the church cares about it.

“It’s not just a matter of politics, it’s a matter of humanity,” said Archbishop Gomez during a July 2 news conference closing the prelates visit.

The origin of the trip began in early June when Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of Newark, New Jersey, called on his fellow bishops at a meeting in Florida to organize the visit to the border “as a sign of our pastoral concern and protest against this hardening of the American heart,” a phrase he has used to refer to the anti-immigrant atmosphere and harsh sentiments toward immigrants in the country.

At that time, the Trump administration had just implemented a policy separating migrant children from parents, if they were caught crossing the border illegally. The Trump administration has since rescinded the policy but some of those who were separated remain apart and authorities were scrambling to reunite those who were separated.

Regardless of the political implications, some like Kevin Appleby, senior director of international migration policy at the Center for Migration Studies of New York, maintain that the life and death implications and damage to families by the Trump administration’s policies merits the involvement of the church.

“The visit to the border was an important step, but bishops across the country need to be loud and clear that President Trump and his administration should not prosecute asylum-seekers who are fleeing for their lives, detain them indefinitely, and deny them due process protections,” he said. “This is a moment in which the Catholic community should be united in their opposition to the administration’s zero-tolerance policy, as it undermines family unity, a core principle of Catholic teaching.”

Copyright ©2018 Catholic News Service / U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Send questions about this site to cns@catholicnews.com