Pope Francis refuses bullet-proof vehicle for Egypt trip

Vatican City, Apr 25, 2017 (EWTN News) - Pope Francis will not use a bulletproof vehicle during his trip to Egypt this weekend, despite recent terror attacks against Christians in the country, according to Reuters.  

"The Pope will use a closed car to move around, but not an armoured one," Vatican spokesman Greg Burke confirmed yesterday. "That's how he wanted it."

This is not the first time Pope Francis has done so - he typically prefers to travel in more open vehicles, or ones that are not bulletproof, because he feels that allows him to better interact with the people on the streets.

Pope Francis will be traveling to Cairo, Egypt, April 28-29 for his first international trip of the year. Interfaith dialogue with Muslims and showing solidarity with persecuted Christians will be main priorities of the trip.

His trip comes after several recent attacks on Christian in the country.

In December, a bombing at Cairo's main Coptic cathedral killed at least 25 people and wounded dozens of others, most of them women and children.

On Palm Sunday, the bombing of two Coptic churches killed 43 and injured more than 100 others.

Last week, gunmen attacked security forces near the famous St Catherine's Monastery in the Sinai desert, killing a police officer and injuring three others. This attack and the church bombings were all claimed by ISIS.

Egypt’s president has declared a three-month state of emergency in the country following the Palm Sunday attacks. Despite the risk, the Vatican announced earlier this month that the Pope’s trip to Egypt would continue as planned.

Pope Francis was invited to visit Egypt by Coptic Catholic bishops during their visit at the Vatican Feb. 6. The Pope had also received an invitation to visit Egypt from the country’s president and from the Grand Imam of al Azhar, Ahmed el-Tayyeb, after his visit to the Vatican in the spring of 2016, making a thaw in Vatican-Muslim relations in Egypt.  

During his trip, Pope Francis will meet with the Grand Imama state officials, leaders of Egypt’s Catholic Coptic and Orthodox Coptic churches, and Catholic priests and religious of the country. 

It's official: Pope Francis to canonize Fatima visionaries during May visit

by Elise Harris

Vatican City, Apr 20, 2017 (CNA/EWTN News) - During his trip to Portugal for the centenary of the Fatima Marian apparitions next month, Pope Francis will canonize visionaries Francisco and Jacinta Marto, making them the youngest non-martyrs to ever be declared saints.

                                                                                  Blessed Francisco and Jacinta Marto. Public Domain.

                                                                                  Blessed Francisco and Jacinta Marto. Public Domain.

The children will be canonized during Pope Francis' May 13 Mass in Fatima. The decision for the date was made during a April 20 consistory of cardinals, which also voted on the dates of four other canonizations, in addition to that of Francisco and Jacinta, that will take place this year.

Some martyrs who will soon be saints are diocesan priests Andrea de Soveral and Ambrogio Francesco Ferro, and layman Matteo Moreira, killed in hatred of the faith in Brazil in 1645; and three teenagers – Cristóbal, Antonio, and Juan – killed in hatred of the faith in Mexico in 1529, who will be canonized October 15.

Bl. Angelo da Acri, a Capuchin priest who died in October 1739, and Faustino Míguez, a Piarist priest who founded the Calasanziano Institute of the Daughters of the Divine Shepherd, will also be canonized October 15.

Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins, the Prefect Emeritus of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, is the man who was largely responsible for advancing the visionaries’ cause, paving the way for them to become the first canonized children who were not martyred.

Previously, the Portuguese cardinal told CNA, children were not beatified, due to the belief “that children didn’t yet have the ability to practice Christian heroic virtue like adults.”

But that all changed when the cause for Francisco and Jacinta Marto arrived on his desk.

Francisco, 11, and Jacinta, 10, became the youngest non-martyr children in the history of the Church to be beatified when on May 13, 2000, the 83rd anniversary of the first apparition of Our Lady at Fatima, Pope John Paul II proclaimed them "Blessed," officially showing that young children can become Saints.

The brother and sister, who tended to their family’s sheep with their cousin Lucia Santo in the fields of Fatima, Portugal, witnessed the apparitions of Mary now commonly known as Our Lady of Fatima.

During the first apparition, which took place May 13, 1917, Our Lady asked the three children to pray the Rosary and make sacrifices for the conversion of sinners. The children did this and were known to pray often, giving their lunch to beggars and going without food themselves. They offered up their sacrifices and even refrained from drinking water on hot days.

When Francisco and Jacinta became seriously ill with the Spanish flu in October 1918, Mary appeared to them and said she would to take them to heaven soon.

Bed-ridden, Francisco requested and received his first Communion. The following day, Francisco died, April 4, 1919. Jacinta suffered a long illness and was eventually transferred to a Lisbon hospital, where she underwent an operation for an abscess in her chest. However, her health did not improve and she died Feb. 20, 1920.

Francisco and Jacinta “practiced Christian virtue in a heroic way,” Cardinal Martins said, explaining that among other things, one of the most obvious moments in which this virtue was apparent for him was when the three shepherd children were arrested and intimidated by their mayor on August 13, 1917.

Government stability in Portugal was rocky following the revolution and coup d’état that led to the overthrow of the monarchy and subsequent establishment of the First Portuguese Republic in 1910.

A new liberal constitution separating Church and state was drafted under the influence of Freemasonry, which sought to omit the faith – which for many was the backbone of Portuguese culture and society – from public life.

It was in this context that, after catching wind of the Virgin Mary’s appearance to Francisco, Jacinta and Lucia, district Mayor Artur de Oliveira Santos had the children arrested on the day Mary was to appear to them, and threatened to boil them in hot oil unless they would confess to inventing the apparitions.
At one point in the conversation at the jailhouse, Jacinta was taken out of the room, leaving Francisco and Lucia alone. The two were told that Jacinta had been burned with hot oil, and that if they didn’t lie, the same would happen to them.

However, instead of caving to the pressure, the children said: “you can do whatever you want, but we cannot tell a lie. Do whatever you want to us, burn us with oil, but we cannot tell a lie.”

“This was the virtue of these children,” Cardinal Martins said, noting that to accept death rather than tell a lie is “more heroic than many adults.”

“There’s a lot to say on the heroicness of children,” he said, adding that “because of this I brought their cause forward.”

Cardinal Martins was also the one to bring Lucia’s cause to the Vatican following her death in 2005. The visionary had spent the remainder of her life after the apparitions as a Carmelite nun.

Typically the must be a five-year waiting period after a person dies before their cause can be brought forward. However, after only three years Martins ask that the remaining two be dismissed, and his request was granted.

Although the diocesan phase of the cause has already been finished, Cardinal Martins – who knew the visionary personally – said Lucia’s process will take much longer than that of Francisco and Jacinta not only due to her long life, but also because of the vast number of letters and other material from her writings and correspondence that needs to be examined.

The cardinal, who will be present in Fatima with the Pope during his May 12-13 visit for the centenary of the apparitions, said he views the occasion as the conclusion of a process that began with him changing a norm regarding the view of children "and their heroic virtue.”

This process is important, he said, because it means there could be other children who practiced heroic virtue that can now be canonized, so “it’s certainly something important.”

“It needs to be seen that (children) are truly capable of practicing heroic virtue,” not only in Fatima, but “in the Christian life,” he said.

Although canonizations, apart from a few exceptions, are typically held in Rome, it was only recently that beatifications began to be held outside of Rome, in the local Church which promoted the new Blessed's cause.

This change was made by Cardinal Martins in September 2005, after receiving the approval of Benedict XVI.

In the past, a beatification Mass in Rome would be presided over by the Cardinal-Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints during the morning, with the Pope coming down to the basilica to pray to the new Blessed in the afternoon. Cardinal Martins said he decided to change this because the beatification and the canonization “are two different realities.”

“While the canonizations had a more universal dimension of the Church, the beatifications have a more local dimension, where they (the Blessed) came from,” he said, noting that this is reflected even in the words spoken during the rites for each Mass.

“Because of this, I made a distinction: the beatification in their (the Blessed’s) own church, in their diocese, and the canonizations in Rome.”

The result was “a fantastic revolution,” he said, explaining that while maybe 2-3,000 people would participate in the beatification ceremonies in Rome, hundreds of thousands started to come for the local beatification Masses of new Blessed in their home dioceses.

The cardinal said that “it’s beautiful” to see people – many times including friends and family members of new Blessed – join in honoring their countryman, asking for their intercession, and seeking to follow their example.

He believes the custom will remain like this, adding that it is beautiful particularly from the standpoint of evangelization.

“The new Blessed says to their brothers, many of whom they knew, ‘I am one of you, one like you, so you must follow my path and live the Gospel in depth’,” the cardinal said, explaining that this is “a formidable act of evangelization, and with everyone happy about the new Blessed, they’ll immediately do what they say!”

Cardinal Martins said the decision was also prompted by the emphasis placed on local Churches during the Second Vatican Council.

“I thought, one of the most effective ways to highlight the importance of local Churches is to conduct in the local diocese the beatification of one of their sons,” he said.

2017 Bishop Lucker Lecture presentation now online!

“The Rise of Sexual Expressionism in the Law” by Prof. Helen Alvaré

REDWOOD FALLS - The 2017 Bishop Lucker Lecture, sponsored by the Diocese of New Ulm, was held March 23 at the Church of St. Catherine in Redwood Falls.

The evening’s presenter was Helen Alvaré, professor of law at George Mason University School of Law in Arlington, Va., where she teaches family law, law and religion, and property law. She has also taught law at the Columbus School of Law at the Catholic University of America and the John Paul II Institute of Marriage and Family, both in Washington, D.C.

Alvaré’s talk was entitled “The Rise of Sexual Expressionism in the Law.”

To view Alvaré's presentation, click here.



USCCB Administrative Committee issues pastoral reflection in solidarity with those forced to flee their native lands

WASHINGTON - The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Administrative Committee has issued the following pastoral reflection in solidarity with those who have been forced to flee their homes due to violence, conflict or fear in their native lands. In the statement, the bishops encourage each of us to do what we can to accompany migrants and refugees who seek a better life in the United States.

The full text of the Bishops' Administrative Committee statement can be found below:

The word of God is truly alive today. "When an alien resides with you in your land, do not mistreat such a one. You shall treat the alien who resides with you no differently than the natives born among you; you shall love the alien as yourself; for you too were once aliens in the land of Egypt" (Lev. 19:33-34).

To live as a people of God is to live in the hope of the resurrection. To live in Christ is to draw upon the limitless love of Jesus to fortify us against the temptation of fear. Pray that our engagement in the debate over immigration and refugee issues may bring peace and comfort to those most affected by current and proposed national policy changes.

Let us not lose sight of the fact that behind every policy is the story of a person in search of a better life. They may be an immigrant or refugee family sacrificing so that their children might have a brighter future. As shepherds of a pilgrim Church, we will not tire in saying to families who have the courage to set out from their despair onto the road of hope: "We are with you." They may also be a family seeking security from an increased threat of extremist violence. It is necessary to safeguard the United States in a manner that does not cause us to lose our humanity.

Intense debate is essential to healthy democracy, but the rhetoric of fear does not serve us well. When we look at one another do we see with the heart of Jesus? Within our diverse backgrounds are found common dreams for our children. Hope in the next generation is how the nation will realize its founding motto, "out of many, one." In doing so, we will also realize God's hope for all His children:  that we would see each other as valued sisters and brothers regardless of race, religion or national origin.

Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh (Jn. 1:14), strengthens us to bring our words to life. How might we, as Catholics and in our own small way, bring our words of solidarity for migrants and refugees to life?

1.      Pray for an end to the root causes of violent hatred that force mothers and fathers to flee the only home they may have known in search of economic and physical security for their children.

2.      Meet with members of your parish who are newcomers, listen to their story and share your own. Hundreds of Catholic parishes across the country have programs for immigrants and refugees both to comfort them and to help them know their rights. It is also important to reach out in loving dialogue to those who may disagree with us. The more we come to understand each other's concerns the better we can serve one another.  Together, we are one body in Christ.

3.      Call, write or visit your elected representative and ask them to fix our broken immigration system in a way that safeguards both our security and our humanity through a generous opportunity for legal immigration.

As Pope Francis said, "To migrate is the expression of that inherent desire for the happiness proper to every human being, a happiness that is to be sought and pursued. For us Christians, all human life is an itinerant journey towards our heavenly homeland."

Lay leaders recognized for their outstanding service to the Diocese of New Ulm

REDWOOD FALLS – Bishop John M. LeVoir (right) poses with recipients of the 2017 Diocesan Distinguished Service Award following the March 23 Bishop Lucker Lecture at the Church of St. Catherine in Redwood Falls. From left are Arch Mrkvicka of Owatonna, Pamela Osborne of Winthrop, Kris Anderson of Morgan, and Jan Noyes of Marshall. The Diocesan Distinguished Award is presented annually to select lay leaders who are recognized for their outstanding service to the Diocese of New Ulm in a leadership capacity. To read about the good works of each recipient, see the March 2017 issue of The Prairie Catholic.                                                                                    (Photo by Chris Clancy/The Prairie Catholic)

REDWOOD FALLS – Bishop John M. LeVoir (right) poses with recipients of the 2017 Diocesan Distinguished Service Award following the March 23 Bishop Lucker Lecture at the Church of St. Catherine in Redwood Falls. From left are Arch Mrkvicka of Owatonna, Pamela Osborne of Winthrop, Kris Anderson of Morgan, and Jan Noyes of Marshall. The Diocesan Distinguished Award is presented annually to select lay leaders who are recognized for their outstanding service to the Diocese of New Ulm in a leadership capacity. To read about the good works of each recipient, see the March 2017 issue of The Prairie Catholic.

                                                                                   (Photo by Chris Clancy/The Prairie Catholic)

The Most Reverend John McRaith, bishop emertus of Owensboro and native priest of diocese, dies at age 82

Most Reverend John Jeremiah McRaith, Bishop of the Diocese of Owensboro from 1982 to 2009, died the morning of Sunday, March 19, 2017 at the age of 82.

Bishop McRaith was ordained a priest for the Diocese of New Ulm on Feb. 21, 1960, at the Church of St. Mary in Sleepy Eye, by Bishop Alphonse J. Schladweiler.

Following ordination, he served in the following parishes in the Diocese of New Ulm: Church of St. Mary, Sleepy Eye, serving as superintendent of St. Mary Catholic School; Church of St. Michael, Milroy; and Church of St. Leo, St. Leo.

During his time in the Diocese of New Ulm, he also served the diocesan offices in the following capacities: Director of Rural Life; Vicar General, Chancellor, Coordinator of Diocesan Staff, and Director of the Pastoral Office for Personnel.

He was appointed third bishop of the Diocese of Owensboro, KY on Oct. 26, 1982.

To read more about Bishop McRaith visit https://owensborodiocese.org/

Catholics at the Capitol highlights and next steps

ST. PAUL - Just one week ago, over 1,000 Catholics gathered in St. Paul for Minnesota's first-ever Catholics at the Capitol.

The day was an incredible success. Minnesota Catholics were informed about key issues facing our state, equipped to effectively engage with their lawmakers, and inspired to live out their call to faithful citizenship.

The Minnesota Catholic Conference, the public policy voice of the Catholic Church in Minnesota, has compiled  coverage and highlights from Catholics at the Capitol on one easily accessible webpage. Some of the day's highlights include:

Visit the Catholics at the Capitol recap page for all of the highlights and coverage. 

**The Minnesota Catholic Conference will also have a special highlights video from the day available within the next week.** Follow MNCC on Facebook to make sure you don't miss it!

Clearly, Catholics at the Capitol was a momentous day. But the action that was taken on Thursday, March 9, to protect life and human dignity doesn't have to end there.

Let's continue to make Catholic voices count!

Whether you attended the event or not, you can make your voice count now by continuing to advocate for issues Catholics at the Capitol participants spoke about with their lawmakers. 

Follow the links below to the Catholic Advocacy Network's
Action Center to send a quick and simple message to our elected officials!

Law professor Helen Alvaré to present Bishop Lucker Lecture March 23

Alvaré's talk to address role of government, law in promoting unconstrained sexual expression

NEW ULM – What is the government doing in the arena of human sexuality? How does it come to tell us philosophically, theologically, and practically what sex means? How did the federal government get into this business? Why?

These are some of the questions that presenter Helen Alvaré plans to answer in her upcoming Bishop Lucker Lecture. The Diocese of New Ulm’s annual event will begin at 7 p.m. on Thursday, March 23 at the Church of St. Catherine in Redwood Falls. A reception will follow the event. The public is welcome to attend.

No one disputes the fact that the government is promoting a certain view of sexuality, she says. From Supreme Court decisions legalizing artificial contraception, abortion, and same-sex marriage, to the President draping the White House in the rainbow flag and talking about the necessity of transgender surgery, the evidence is plain.

The question is why.

Furthermore, “why are they causing so much misery for women and children, especially the poor?” she asks rhetorically.

“We’ve got far more unintended, non-marital pregnancy, and the feminization of poverty. How come they still get to do this? It’s a complete failure.”

The title of Alvaré’s talk is “The Rise of Sexual Expressionism in the Law.” She will provide an expanded treatment of the topic in a forthcoming book, “Putting Children’s Interests First: U.S. Family Law and Policy,” due out from Cambridge University Press this fall.

Alvaré is currently a professor of law at George Mason University School of Law in Arlington, Va., where she teaches family law, law and religion, and property law. She has also taught law at the Columbus School of Law at the Catholic University of America and the John Paul II Institute of Marriage and Family, both in Washington, D.C.

To whet people’s appetite for her talk, Alvaré agreed to do an interview for The Prairie Catholic. Following are quested posed to Alvaré and her answers.

Q. How did you become interested in this topic?

I have been struck by two things for a long time. First, the oddity that federal actors (the Supreme Court, President, etc.) would, in law, instruct Americans about the meaning of sex, which is not a legal question. It’s pre-legal. It’s human and divine.

Second, that when they did instruct, they taught that sex is important for its affective, communicative meanings between the couple, and for its “identify-formation” properties,  unrelated to the fact that it is the place children are conceived, and unrelated to the fact that it therefore, per se, tends toward being associated with ideas like union, family, kin, and future.

Q. What were the events in society that led to the valorization of adult consensual sex in the law? What role did the general acceptance of artificial contraception play?

There is interplay among social, cultural, technical, and legal factors. Sex is naturally valorized because of its power to communicate love and to bond a couple, and because it is the only spot where God himself chose to “locate” conception. That’s powerful stuff.

What the government, culture, and technology did was to tease these elements out from one another artificially. Even before the pill, the rise of the separation of sex from children occurred in the early 20th century when writers predicted that birth control would improve marital sex and overall happiness because it would focus sex on the happiness of the couple alone.

Everything from the rise of individualism to the American cult of happiness to the rise of youth culture to the sexualization of consumption (via advertising) contributed to the further separation of sex from all of its meanings.

Contraception technology was the most recent and powerful blow to integral sexuality. Catholic teaching aside, many non-Catholic commentators have pointed out that when you remove even the idea of children from sex, and set it off as about nothing more than physical pleasure and maybe couple bonding, you do things to sex which redound to the disadvantage of men, women, and children.

Sex is asked to bear more importance than it can bear. Infidelity and non-marital sex increase rapidly; non-marital children are born more frequently; women’s and men’s happiness declines as there is no open-ended commitment “necessary” any longer, etc.

Q. What do you mean that sex is asked to bear more importance than it can bear?

There’s two sides. On the one side, we say that when you drag out of sex the fact that it creates new life, it becomes, in the words of this one philosopher, “unbearably light.” So that’s one side of it, that you’ve just taken away the fact that it is the source of the creation of all human life. You’ve removed something really significant ….

The other side is when you take that out of it, what is left is this communication between men and women, which is in the movies and ads and discussions of modern romance. Now this is supposed to be all there is.

This is all the weight it has, and it is supposed to be sublime. It is not just supposed to be for pleasure, but it is supposed to communicate precisely what you want it to communicate, no more and no less. It is now supposed to fill all the space that all the meanings of sex used to have, of unity, kin, family, future, plus intimacy, plus the bond, plus the kids.

Q. When you talk about sexual expression, you do not describe it in terms of freedom like many people would. Why?

Freedom means becoming who God intends us to be. We are most free when we are most “human in the image of God.” Sex serves freedom then, when it is what it really is as God created it – when its actions and meanings are not artificially severed.

I say this as a person who did not accept the Church’s teachings axiomatically on this subject when I was younger. I believed the Church to be sexist and physicalist on this point.  I grew, not only through my reading of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, but also by reading the great philosophers and sociologists of the 20th century, who understood what happens to sex when it is made “unbearably light” by the divorcing of sex from its factual realities.

Q. Why did you think the Church’s teaching was sexist? Physicalist? How was your thinking transformed?

I thought it was sexist because I thought they really weren’t considering the burdens on women of being pregnant, giving birth, and taking care of children. They simply didn’t care. They just thought, “Sorry, you’re just going to have to face more children than you want, and more child care, and we’re just not highly concerned about it. We are older men, making the rules, and we don’t really understand where you’re coming from. Nor do we wish to.” That was really my perspective in my teens and early twenties.

Physicalist, in the sense that … I had the position very much of the dissenters of “Humanae Vitae,” which was, “Isn’t the real question whether you generously welcome children, not in every act, but really?” …

I guess what changed me was the actual experience of marriage combined with the fact that this issue bothered me since I was a kid. …

You know, the best way to understand something is to think about its opposite by distinction, not description, right? And the opposite is, what if sex is divorced from the fact of its being the place of new life? What will happen? What does it do to the relationship between men and women? What does it do to people’s thinking about children? …

I became persuaded in my own marriage that the openness to children, the rejection of contraception, actually laid the groundwork for a happier, more integrated, more natural, more holistic appreciation of the union that I have promised my husband and the welcome that I wanted to extend to my children.

Q. Why are women and children hurt by a society that values unconstrained sexual expression?

Women are more oriented toward wishing sex to be associated with commitment, and toward accepting children. They will be more disappointed and even depressed when sex is not so associated. And they will be in 86 percent of all single parent households and 100 percent of abortion clients. They are also the bodies harmed by various forms of contraception. But don’t be fooled. Men need stable, long-term, healthy relationships with women and their children too. They are emotionally scarred – but not in the same visible ways.

You have said that most prominent federal and state government policies are all about “self-empowerment” and birth control, not about stable marital and parenting communities. How has this negatively affected poor women?

Life is relational even more than it is individual. We are vulnerable for a great deal of our lives. We want to love and give love. When the government frames the human person as an individual first and foremost, it forgets this.

Well off women and men, with the same preferences as the poor for marriage and marital parenthood, will fare better than the poor. The well-off have more opportunities for marriage partners and have prospects for better jobs and education. They will less likely exercise their need to be “a gift to someone” by having a non-marital birth; but for poorer women and men, without the trade-off or opportunity cost of a good education or job, will more likely fall into that pattern of life.

Q. Why will well-off women less readily exercise their need to be a gift to someone than poor women by having a non-marital birth? Is it because of their need to have someone to depend on them, to love them unconditionally?

Every person, anthropologically, is a gifted giver. We have gifts, and we are called as part of being human to give them. We’re not happy if we cannot be in relationship and give the gifts that we’ve been given.

Poor women, like advantaged women, have this – every woman, every man. The constraint that every woman has is that you’re only fertile for so long. … The preferences that poor women and well-off women have is most of them want to have kids. Most of them wind up with children in their lives, between 80 and 90 percent of women.

But there are different constraints and opportunity costs for the poor woman, and this is what I mean. In her community, she is very unlikely to have as many opportunities for marriage. There are drastically more men who are incarcerated; there are drastically more men with past criminal records; there are drastically more men who cannot get a job, which people have come to believe is a prerequisite for marriage.

The other thing a poor woman is facing is what we call lower opportunity costs. If a middle class or wealthy woman, an educated woman, has a child, the opportunity she is giving up is to finish college and to have a good job.

If the poor woman has a child, she is not trading off a good job or a good education. Her opportunity for achieving those is quite low. … They are facing a situation where having a child is a narrative of success in their community: “I can be a mother” – “I can be a good mother” – “I can face the odds.”


USCCB Chairmen call on Congress to consider moral criteria during debates on health care policy

March 8, 2017

WASHINGTON —As Congress prepares to discuss possible changes to the Affordable Care Act, the chairmen of four United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committees called on lawmakers to consider important moral criteria, especially pertaining to the most vulnerable among us, including the unborn and those experiencing deep poverty. The Bishops of the United States have consistently advocated for a health care system in which—as the late Cardinal Francis George used to say—everyone should be cared for and no one should be deliberately killed.

In a letter from March 8, 2017, Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Pro-Life Activities, Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, chairman of the USCCB Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, and Bishop Joe S. Vásquez of Austin, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Migration, urged Congress: to respect life by preventing the use of federal funds to facilitate abortion or purchase health care plans that provide abortion; to honor conscience rights; and to ensure access for all people to comprehensive, quality health care that is truly affordable.

The Bishops called on Congress to ensure coverage for those who now rely upon it after the passage of the Affordable Care Act, and expressed concern about any structural changes to the social safety net that could impact access to health care for millions. Noting that the Catholic Church "provides health care, purchases health care and helps to pick up the pieces for those who fall through the cracks of the health care system when it fails," the bishops urged "a new spirit of cooperation for the sake of the common good" on this vital concern during the debates ahead.

The full letter is available at: www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/health-care/upload/Joint-Letter-to-Congress-ACA-Principles-03-07-2017.pdf.

Pope Francis has a special message this Lent, and here it is

Vatican City, Mar 1, 2017(CNA/EWTN News) -  In his message for Lent 2017, Pope Francis reminded the faithful that they should heed the Scriptures and treat each human person they encounter as a gift.

“Lent is the favorable season for renewing our encounter with Christ, living in his word, in the sacraments and in our neighbor,” he said. “May the Holy Spirit lead us on a true journey of conversion, so that we can rediscover the gift of God’s word, be purified of the sin that blinds us, and serve Christ present in our brothers and sisters in need.”

Scripture is also a gift, the Pope said in his message, which was released last October to help Catholics across the globe prepare for the 2017 Lenten season.

In his message, Pope Francis reflected on the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. In that story, a poor man named Lazarus lives on the doorstep of a wealthy man who ignores him. When they die, Lazarus rests in paradise, while the rich man suffers.

Although Lazarus is “practically invisible to the rich man,” Pope Francis said, we should see him as a concrete person, whom God views as a priceless treasure.

“Lazarus teaches us that other persons are a gift,” the pontiff said. “A right relationship with people consists in gratefully recognizing their value. Even the poor person at the door of the rich is not a nuisance, but a summons to conversion and to change.”

In this way, the parable invites us to see each person as a blessing, he said, and Lent is a particularly fitting time to open our door to all those in need and the face of Christ in them.

“Each life that we encounter is a gift deserving acceptance, respect and love. The word of God helps us to open our eyes to welcome and love life, especially when it is weak and vulnerable.”

Another important lesson from the parable is how sin can blind us, Pope Francis said. He pointed to the rich man’s ostentatious displays of wealth, saying, “In him we can catch a dramatic glimpse of the corruption of sin, which progresses in three successive stages: love of money, vanity and pride.”

“Money can come to dominate us, even to the point of becoming a tyrannical idol,” the Pope warned. “Instead of being an instrument at our service for doing good and showing solidarity towards others, money can chain us and the entire world to a selfish logic that leaves no room for love and hinders peace.”

“For those corrupted by love of riches, nothing exists beyond their own ego,” the Holy Father warned.

“The result of attachment to money is a sort of blindness. The rich man does not see the poor man who is starving, hurting, lying at his door.”

The end of the parable offers an additional lesson, the Pope continued. In the afterlife, the rich man calls out to Abraham from his place of torment. This is the first mention of the fact that he belongs to the people of God, for during his life, “his only God was himself.”

When the rich man asks Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his brothers, who are still living, Abraham responds, “They have Moses and the prophets, let them listen to them…If they will not listen either to Moses or to the prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone should rise from the dead.”

Thus, we ultimately see that the problem of the rich man is a “failure to heed God’s word,” Pope Francis said. “As a result, he no longer loved God and grew to despise his neighbor.”

“The word of God is alive and powerful, capable of converting hearts and leading them back to God. When we close our heart to the gift of God’s word, we end up closing our heart to the gift of our brothers and sisters.”

As we start the journey of Lent, with its emphasis on fasting, prayer, and almsgiving, we have a chance at a new beginning in our own lives, the Pope noted.

“This season urgently calls us to conversion. Christians are asked to return to God with all their hearts, to refuse to settle for mediocrity and to grow in friendship with the Lord,” he said, adding that Christ waits for us patiently, ready to forgive us when we fall short.

“Let us pray for one another so that, by sharing in the victory of Christ, we may open our doors to the weak and poor,” he concluded. “Then we will be able to experience and share to the full the joy of Easter.”

‘Catholics at the Capitol’ aims to inspire public policy participation

by Maria Wiering
The Catholic Spirit

ST. PAUL – Minnesota’s Catholics have a new opportunity to join their bishops and learn how to approach key policy areas through the lens of faith.

The Minnesota Catholic Conference is hosting the first Catholics at the Capitol event March 9 at the St. Paul RiverCentre and State Capitol Building in St. Paul.

The event is intended to be more than an issue lobbying day, said Jason Adkins, MCC executive director. He hopes participants gain a deeper understanding of how Catholic teaching can shape their approach in the public square.

“What we need to do is inspire, engage and equip Catholics as Catholics to participate in the public policy process, and that’s what this day is meant to do,” Adkins said.

Scheduled from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., the day will include speakers Bishop James Conley of Lincoln, Neb., and Gloria Purvis Scott, a commentator for the Eternal Word Television Network and chairwoman for Black Catholics United for Christ.

The event will also include prayer, as well as issue and advocacy training on education, anti-poverty efforts, and defense of life. All of the state’s active bishops plan to attend.

The initiative is the first of its kind for MCC, the public policy arm of the Catholic Church in Minnesota. The organization has long participated in advocacy days including the March for Life and the annual Joint Religious Legislative Coalition Day on the Hill, but never before has it brought together people solely because of their shared Catholic faith.

“A lot of our bread-and-butter issues were covered by other advocacy coalitions or advocacy partners that we could funnel Catholics into,” Adkins said. “What changed is that not only do we need a distinctly Catholic and faith voice at the Capitol, but we (also) need to equip Catholics to engage the political process.”

After the morning program at the RiverCentre, participants will go to the State Capitol to meet in groups with their legislators. Adkins hopes that encounter is the basis for ongoing relationships between the lawmakers and constituents.

“There are so many barriers to participation in the public policy process: ‘I don’t know what to say; I don’t know who to contact,’” Adkins said. “Most Catholics don’t know who their state legislators are, so what we’re really trying to do here is not just to go and tell legislators what the Church thinks about an issue, but really help Catholics – on whatever issue they’re concerned about – be better public servants and faithful citizens.”

Adkins expects participants to be well-received by their lawmakers.

“Legislators want to hear from their constituents because they want to know what their constituents are thinking,” he said. “Sometimes issues are not on their radar, and their constituents bring those issues to their attention.

“This isn’t about pressuring legislators or imposing our will on them,” he added. “It’s actually a service to legislators … (to offer) our perspective as Catholics, as a member of a particular parish, of a particular community, about what serves the common good. And it’s definitely important for Catholics like anyone else in society to offer that perspective.”

Early bird registration is $20. Youth ages 22 and younger are free. Registration includes continental breakfast and a box lunch. Catholics interested in serving as district leaders are encouraged to contact the MCC. For more information, visit http://www.catholicsatthecapitol.org.


Who took religious vows last year? Over 200 Americans.

Washington D.C., Feb 4, 2017(CNA/EWTN News) - There were 216 Catholic women and men religious who took perpetual vows in the U.S. in 2016, and an annual survey has aimed to take their pulse.

Of the more than 200 who made perpetual vows, 81 sisters and nuns and 96 brothers and priests responded to the survey of the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University. The center analyzed the results in a report for the U.S. bishops' Secretariat of Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations.

Among those who responded, the median age of newly professed men and women religious is 36, with the youngest at 26 and the oldest at 86. About half of respondents reported that they were under age 18 when they first considered a vocation to the religious life.

Among the questions answered were those about their devotional life. About 66 percent of the profession class named Eucharistic Adoration as one of their prayer practices before entering a religious institute, while a similar percentage named the Rosary or retreats. Almost 60 percent underwent spiritual direction, almost 50 percent took part in faith sharing or Bible study groups, while about one-third practiced the Lectio Divina devotional.

Almost 90 percent were Catholic since birth and 81 percent had two parents with a Catholic background.

About 66 percent of the newly professed identified as white, 16 percent as Asian/Pacific Islander/Native Hawaiian, and 4 percen t as African/African-American/Black.

Another 67 percent were American-born, followed by those born in Asia then Latin America.

Sources of encouragement and discouragement were also examined in the survey. About half said a parish priest encouraged their vocation, while over 40 percent said their friends encouraged their vocation.

However, about half reported that some people in their lives discouraged a vocation, including parents, other relatives, or friends or classmates.

Only four percent reported that they had educational debt before entering religious life, averaging about $29,100. It took these vowed religious an average of four years’ delay to pay down there debt.

Overall, the CARA survey secured responses from 80 percent of religious institutes. Of these, 80 percent reported no perpetual professions, 12 percent reported one perpetual profession of vows, and only eight percent reported that two or more members made perpetual vows.

National Marriage Week USA, World Marriage Day Celebrate Gift of Marriage

January 31, 2017

WASHINGTON — National Marriage Week USA and World Marriage Day are opportunities “to celebrate the gift and blessing of marriage,” said the chairman of the Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). 

“Promoting and strengthening marriage remains a pastoral priority of our Conference,” wrote Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia, in a letter to his brother bishops. “Marriage, both as a natural institution and as a Christian sacrament, is an irreplaceable good for society and all people.”

National Marriage Week USA is celebrated each year February 7-14, and World Marriage Day is celebrated on the second Sunday of February, this year February 12.

The USCCB provides numerous resources in promoting, strengthening, and defending the gift of marriage as the lifelong union of one man and one woman, including the websites For Your Marriage, Por Tu Matrimonio, and Marriage: Unique for a Reason. Archbishop Chaput of Philadelphia and chairman of the Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life, and Youth encouraged participation in the “Call to Prayer for Life, Marriage, and Religious Liberty,” an invitation to prayer and sacrifice for the protection of life, marriage, and religious liberty in the country. His letter and additional resources, including a homily resource and bulletin insert, are available online: www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/marriage-and-family/national-marriage-week.cfm.  

A daily virtual marriage retreat for National Marriage Week is also available through Facebook: www.facebook.com/foryourmarriage. This year’s retreat draws from both Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia (2015) and the USCCB pastoral letter Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan (2009).

The celebration of National Marriage Week in the U.S. began in 2002, originating from Marriage Week International. World Marriage Day, held the second Sunday of February each year, was started in 1983 by Worldwide Marriage Encounter.

President Donald J. Trump Recognizes National Catholic Schools Week

Today, the President issued a letter recognizing National Catholic Schools Week.


February 3, 2017

In recognition of National Catholic Schools Week, I want to extend my heartfelt appreciation to all of the dedicated Catholic school administrators, teachers, priests, and support organizations who work tirelessly to build and sustain quality Catholic schools across the Nation. 

The theme of this year’s National Catholic Schools Week is “Catholic Schools: Communities of Faith, Knowledge, and Service.”  I appreciate the many ways in which Catholic schools nurture devotion, impart wisdom, and minister to the 2 million students who enter their halls every day.  and to the diverse communities they serve. 

Congratulations for the tremendous work you have done to educate our Nation’s youth each and every day. Your continued and sustained efforts are vital to our success and prosperity as a country.



President and Vice President of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Stand in Defense of All Faiths in Response to Executive Order on Refugees

“When did we see you a stranger and welcome you?”

Matthew 25:38

WASHINGTON—Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), and Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles, vice president of the USCCB, have issued the following joint statement regarding the recent executive order on the new refugee policy announced by President Trump this past Friday. President Trump’s executive order suspends the entry of refugees into the United States for 120 days. The order also indefinitely stops the admission of Syrian refugees and for 90 days, bars individuals from seven predominantly Muslim countries.

Full joint statement as follows:

Over the past several days, many brother bishops have spoken out in defense of God’s people. We are grateful for their witness.  Now, we call upon all the Catholic faithful to join us as we unite our voices with all who speak in defense of human dignity.

The bond between Christians and Muslims is founded on the unbreakable strength of charity and justice.  The Second Vatican Council in Nostra Aetate urged us to sincerely work toward a mutual understanding that would “promote together for the benefit of all mankind social justice and moral welfare, as well as peace and freedom.” The Church will not waiver in her defense of our sisters and brothers of all faiths who suffer at the hands of merciless persecutors.

The refugees fleeing from ISIS and other extremists are sacrificing all they have in the name of peace and freedom.  Often, they could be spared if only they surrendered to the violent vision of their tormentors.  They stand firm in their faith.  Many are families, no different from yours or mine, seeking safety and security for their children. Our nation should welcome them as allies in a common fight against evil.  We must screen vigilantly for infiltrators who would do us harm, but we must always be equally vigilant in our welcome of friends.

The Lord Jesus fled the tyranny of Herod, was falsely accused and then deserted by his friends. He had nowhere to lay His head (Lk. 9:58). Welcoming the stranger and those in flight is not one option among many in the Christian life.  It is the very form of Christianity itself.  Our actions must remind people of Jesus. The actions of our government must remind people of basic humanity.  Where our brothers and sisters suffer rejection and abandonment we will lift our voice on their behalf. We will welcome them and receive them. They are Jesus and the Church will not turn away from Him.

Our desire is not to enter the political arena, but rather to proclaim Christ alive in the world today.  In the very moment a family abandons their home under threat of death, Jesus is present.  And He says to each of us, “whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me” (MT 25:40).


USCCB Committee on Migration Chair Strongly Opposes Executive Order Because It Harms Vulnerable Refugee and Immigrant Families

WASHINGTON (Jan. 27, 2017) — President Donald J. Trump issued today an Executive Order addressing the U.S. refugee admissions program and migration to the United States, generally. The executive order virtually shuts down the refugee admissions program for 120 days, reduces the number of refugees to be admitted to the United States this year from 110,000 to 50,000 individuals, and indefinitely suspends the resettlement of Syrian refugees. In addition, it prioritizes religious minorities suffering from religious persecution, thereby deprioritizing all other persons fleeing persecution; calls for a temporary bar on admission to the United States from a number of countries of particular concern (all Muslim majority); and imposes a yet-to-be determined new vetting process for all persons seeking entry to the United States.

Regarding the Executive Order’s halt and reduction of admissions, Bishop Joe S. Vásquez of Austin, Texas, chairman of the Committee on Migration, stated:

“We strongly disagree with the Executive Order’s halting refugee admissions. We believe that now more than ever, welcoming newcomers and refugees is an act of love and hope. We will continue to engage the new administration, as we have all administrations for the duration of the current refugee program, now almost forty years. We will work vigorously to ensure that refugees are humanely welcomed in collaboration with Catholic Charities without sacrificing our security or our core values as Americans, and to ensure that families may be reunified with their loved ones.”

Regarding the Executive Order’s ban on Syrian refugees, the prioritization of religious minorities suffering from religious persecution, Bishop Vásquez added:

“The United States has long provided leadership in resettling refugees. We believe in assisting all those who are vulnerable and fleeing persecution, regardless of their religion. This includes Christians, as well as Yazidis and Shia Muslims from Syria, Rohingyas from Burma, and other religious minorities. However, we need to protect all our brothers and sisters of all faiths, including Muslims, who have lost family, home, and country. They are children of God and are entitled to be treated with human dignity. We believe that by helping to resettle the most vulnerable, we are living out our Christian faith as Jesus has challenged us to do.”

Moving forward after the announcement, Bishop Vásquez concluded:

“Today, more than 65 million people around the world are forcibly displaced from their homes. Given this extraordinary level of suffering, the U.S. Catholic Bishops will redouble their support for, and efforts to protect, all who flee persecution and violence, as just one part of the perennial and global work of the Church in this area of concern.”


Archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis Offers Message on Immigration Orders

By Maria Wiering - The Catholic Spirit

“I know that many in our archdiocese are experiencing fear and anxiety after President Trump’s recent executive orders implementing his plans to expand and fortify the existing wall between the United States and Mexico, to increase immigration deportation and detention, and to punish cities and counties that choose not to cooperate with federal deportation efforts,” Archbishop Hebda said in a statement.

“This is clearly a moment for continuing our prayers not only for the immigrants and refugees who call our Archdiocese home, but also for our parishes who are discerning ways of responding to this situation and for our government leaders at all levels who are called to work for the common good,” he said.

Trump issued two executive orders Jan. 25. The first withholds federal funding from “sanctuary jurisdictions” that “attempt to shield aliens from removal from the United States,” the order states. It also orders that other efforts are made to ensure the deportation of immigrants without documentation, starting with those who have been convicted of “any criminal offense.” The second order is for the building of a physical wall on the U.S.-Mexico border to prevent illegal immigration. News reports say that Trump is also expected to sign a temporary ban on refugees from some predominantly Muslim countries.

“The Catholic bishops of the United States have recognized that this is a moment for comprehensive immigration reform and have repeatedly called for collaboration between the White House and our lawmakers in the House and Senate to work together to this end,” Archbishop Hebda said. “While recognizing the right of countries to protect their borders and to regulate immigration in a way that is fair and promotes public safety, the Church has repeatedly underlined the importance of treating our undocumented brothers and sisters with the dignity that is theirs as children of God.”

He pointed to the words of Pope Francis, who “has repeatedly called for all people of the world to welcome the migrant and refugee, who are often fleeing violence and impossible living conditions.”

Archbishop Hebda also pointed to Pope Francis’ message for the 2017 World Day of Migrants and Immigrants Jan. 15, in which the pope “articulated that migrants need to ‘cooperate ever more closely with the communities that welcome them, for the good of their own children.’”

“We join the Holy Father in reaffirming our Catholic teaching on the dignity of each human life and commit ourselves not only to prayer but alsoto supporting efforts for those of various viewpoints to  come together to work for the common good, to make sure that our laws are just, fair and enforceable as well as compassionate, and to do all that we can to make sure families are kept intact, recognizing that families are the principal building blocks of a civilized society,” Archbishop Hebda said.

Archbishop Hebda's full statement.


Committee on Migration Chair Strongly Opposes Administration’s Announcement to Build a Wall at U.S.-Mexico Border, Increase Detention and Deportation Forces

January 25, 2017

WASHINGTON—President Donald J. Trump today issued an executive order to construct a wall at the U.S./Mexico border, to significantly increase immigrant detention and deportation, andto disregard/preempt/overrule the judgment of state and local law enforcement on how best to protect their communities.

The U.S./Mexico border, spanning approximately 2000 miles, already has roughly 700 miles of fencing and barrier that was constructed under the George W. Bush administration.  In response to the decision to build a wall on the U.S./Mexico border, Bishop Joe Vasquez, Chair of the Committee of Migration and Bishop of the Diocese of Austin, stated:

“I am disheartened that the President has prioritized building a wall on our border with Mexico. This action will put immigrant lives needlessly in harm’s way. Construction of such a wall will only make migrants, especially vulnerable women and children, more susceptible to traffickers and smugglers. Additionally, the construction of such a wall destabilizes the many vibrant and beautifully interconnected communities that live peacefully along the border. Instead of building walls, at this time, my brother bishops and I will continue to follow the example of Pope Francis. We will “look to build bridges between people, bridges that allow us to break down the walls of exclusion and exploitation.’”

In regards to the announcement of the planned surge in immigrant detention and deportation forces, Bishop Vasquez added:

“The announced increase in immigrant detention space and immigration enforcement activities is alarming. It will tear families apart and spark fear and panic in communities. While we respect the right of our federal government to control our borders and ensure security for all Americans, we do not believe that a large scale escalation of immigrant detention and intensive increased use of enforcement in immigrant communities is the way to achieve those goals. Instead, we remain firm in our commitment to comprehensive, compassionate, and common-sense reform. We fear that the policies announced today will make it much more difficult for the vulnerable to access protection in our country. Everyday my brother bishops and I witness the harmful effects of immigrant detention in our ministries. We experience the pain of severed families that struggle to maintain a semblance of normal family life. We see traumatized children in our schools and in our churches. The policies announced today will only further upend immigrant families.”

Moving forward after the announcement, Bishop Vasquez noted:

“We will continue to support and stand in solidarity with immigrant families. We remind our communities and our nation that these families have intrinsic value as children of God. And to all those impacted by today’s decision, we are here to walk with you and accompany you on this journey.”


Diocese represented at annual March for Life in St. Paul

St. Paul - Bishop John LeVoir and hundreds of pilgrims from the Diocese of New Ulm were part of the several thousand people who descended on the grounds of the state Capitol on Sunday, Jan. 22 to protest abortion and urge lawmakers to protect unborn children.

The 44th annual MCCL (Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life) March for Life marked the anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Jan. 22, 1973, Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton decisions that have resulted in the deaths of more than 625,000 unborn Minnesota children (Minnesota Department of Health), and more than 59 million unborn babies nationwide.

During the brief program on the steps of the Capitol, MCCL Treasurer Cathy Blaeser announced MCCL’s 2017 legislative agenda which is: ban taxpayer funded abortions; defund Planned Parenthood, the state’s largest abortionist; require licensing and inspection of abortion facilities; and end abortions at the point when the unborn child is able to feel pain, which experts estimate conservatively at 20 weeks of development.

Legislative leaders in attendance addressed the large crowd and pledged their support for pro-life efforts. “Your pro-life majority in the Minnesota Senate will work with MCCL to bring about the day when abortion is unthinkable in Minnesota, and mothers and their babies are protected,” said Senate President Michelle Fischbach.

Speaker of the Minnesota House Kurt Daudt stated, “With your prayers and your work, I am confident that this year we can end taxpayer funding of abortion, we can defund Planned Parenthood, and we can provide the most basic protections for women by making sure that abortion clinics are licensed and inspected.”

“We must remain strong and we must never, never give up the fight for life,” declared House Majority Leader Joyce Peppin. “We must be unyielding, unwavering and unafraid to continue our work to end abortion.”

Minnesota’s pro-life Members of Congress Jason Lewis, Erik Paulsen, Tom Emmer, and Collin Peterson sent written greetings to the March.

Click here for photos of the day.