Friday, February 28, 2014

Five Things To Remember On Feb. 28

1. Catholics can take inspiration from Pope Francis and find advice and ideas for observing Lent on our downloadable calendar.

2. reports, "Pope Francis celebrated Mass in the chapel of the Casa Santa Marta residence in the Vatican this morning. In remarks following the readings of the day, the Holy Father focused on the beauty of marriage and warned that the Church must accompany – not condemn – those who experience failure in married life. He explained that Christ is the Bridegroom of the Church, and therefore you cannot understand one without the Other."

3. More than 1,300 people are attending the Mid-Atlantic Congress in Baltimore, where many are getting a sneak peak at a new USCCB product, MyUSCCB. Follow along on social media at #MACongress

4. This weekend brings the Collection for the Church in Eastern Europe, which will fill essential needs for areas still recovering from Communism.

5. God loves you.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Five Things To Remember On Feb. 27

1. Did you know the Pontifical North American College has a powerhouse soccer team?

2. For some Catholics, it's been a while since their last Confession. Maybe they don't remember what to do. Luckily, we've got a guide in English and Spanish for people.

3.Next Wednesday is Ash Wednesday and Catholics around the U.S. will support Catholics in Central and Eastern Europe through the Collection.

4. Did you see the little boy dressed like Pope Francis yesterday in the Vatican? His reaction to being held by the Pope was priceless.

5. God loves you.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Five Things To Remember On Feb. 26

1. Cardinal Donald Wuerl of the Archdiocese of Washington started his blog two years ago today and he reflects on social communications and the challenges and promise it holds for the Catholic Church.

2. Christian leaders, representing a broad coalition of Christian churches and denominations in the United States, voiced their united opposition to mass incarceration, February 7. Mass Incarceration was the topic of the 2014 annual meeting of Christian Churches Together (CCT), in Newark, February 4-7. The USCCB has taken part in CCT since 2004.

3. USCCB Assistant Director of Media Relations Don Clemmer blogs about one of the 4 million people displaced by the November 2013 typhoon that devastated parts of the Philippines.

4. With Lent just around the corner, it's a good time to learn how Catholic Relief Services' Rice Bowl program can help people live Lent. There's even a new mobile app to help

5. God loves you.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Five Things To Remember On Feb. 25

1. With the theme “Give Up, Take Up, Lift Up,” USCCB Lenten resources include a new series of audio retreat podcasts in English and Spanish for the Sundays of Lent, video reflections on Lenten themes, and a downloadable Lenten calendar with quotes from Pope Francis’ Message for Lent and other teachings and suggestions for taking an active approach to the three traditional pillars of Lenten observance: prayer, fasting and almsgiving.

2. The Catholic Relief Services Collection will take place the weekend of March 29-30. This year’s collection theme is “Help Jesus in Disguise.” The collection provides an opportunity to change the lives of more than 100 million people at home and abroad, particularly families affected by persecution, war and natural disasters.
3. During February,  as we honor the contributions of African Americans, watch the late Sr. Thea Bowman's historic 1989 presentation to the U.S. Catholic Bishops about Black Catholic Spirituality

4. Snow has been steadily falling here at the USCCB, as you can see on our Instagram account.

5. God loves you.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Five Things To Remember On Feb. 24

1. Pope Francis created 19 new cardinals Saturday in the presence of retired Pope Benedict XVI.

2. Catholic News Service reports, "Celebrating Mass with the newest members of the College of the Cardinals one day after their elevation, Pope Francis urged them to regard their new role not as one of worldly honor but of humble service and sacrifice."

3. The Diocese of Gallup is featured in the first issue of the Home Missions newsletter Neighbors. Read about how members of the diocese are living their faith in the arid Southwest and how donations to the Catholic Home Missions Appeal are making a difference.

4. Are you following the USCCB Instagram account yet?

5. God loves you.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Five Things To Remember On Feb. 21

1. Catholic News Service reports: "A day after at least 75 people were reported killed in clashes between police and protesters in Ukraine's capital, Pope Francis asked the College of Cardinals to send a message of support to the two Ukrainian cardinals who are suffering because their people are." You can also see this prayer for the Ukraine as well.

2. The United States should sign and ratify the Convention on the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and Their Destruction, also known as the Ottawa Convention or the Mine Ban Treaty, said the chair of the USCCB's Committee on International Justice and Peace in a letter to National Security Advisor Susan E. Rice.

3. With Lent just around the corner, it's a good time to learn how Catholic Relief Services' Rice Bowl program can help you live Lent. There's even a new mobile app to help.

4. Like millions displaced by Typhoon Haiyan, Rosie Tolibas has survived -- only to have nowhere to go. Read more in Don Clemmer's great blog today.

5. God loves you.

Philippine Notes: As a Country Rebuilds, Rosie Waits

Like millions displaced by Typhoon Haiyan, Rosie Tolibas has survived -- only to have nowhere to go

By Don Clemmer

The orange facade of Our Lady of the Assumption Church in Tanauan, Philippines, stands largely unblemished beneath the now-clear sky. The 300-year-old shrine soaks in the 90-degree morning heat as children run and play. In every direction, buildings bear the marks of Typhoon Haiyan with sheared-off roofs, shattered windows and crumbled walls.

Across the church's driveway, in the shade afforded by a ramshackle structure of wood and tarp, sits Generosa "Rosie" Tolibas. She sits and waits because there is nothing else to do.

Tolibas, 77, is one of the 4 million people displaced by the Nov. 8 storm, called Yolanda in the Philippines. Believed to be the most powerful storm ever to make landfall, it devastated cities including Tanauan, Palo and Tacloban, as well as rural areas all across the island of Leyte.

Tolibas was one of the only people among her neighbors in the coastal community of San Roque to evacuate. The mayor had gone around warning everyone, she says, but her neighbors did not leave because "they did not think it's a strong typhoon."

This reaction was common. "When the warning came that there would be a storm surge, people didn't know what this meant," says Elizabeth Tromans, regional technical advisor for emergencies at Catholic Relief Services. Had the warning been that there would be a large tidal wave or a "tsunami-like wave," she says, people might have evacuated in larger numbers.

An army truck brought Tolibas to a nearby gymnasium, where she stayed overnight. The typhoon hit early in the morning. As the wind rocked the gym and the water of the storm surge reached her waist, she clamored for something to climb onto, but found nothing.

"I prayed to God. I said 'Please help us,'" she recalls. "Everybody was crying."

Someone in the gym died.

The typhoon produced a storm surge of 8-15 feet and crossed the entire country as a category 5 storm, rather than weakening after making landfall. It left more than 6,000 people dead, 1,500 missing and 20 miles of coastal devastation. Tolibas would soon learn her house had been completely destroyed, one of the half million homes damaged or destroyed by the storm.

A few days later, Tolibas had left the gym, which was "already polluted in there, very dirty," and relocated to Our Lady of the Assumption, where many displaced people were also sheltered. When a television news reporter turned up at the church, she insisted on talking to him as a way of asking her five adult kids in Manila to come get her.

A week later, her son Mark arrived to pick her up. Rather than leave with him, however, Tolibas said they should stay, as residents were being relocated to transitional housing. Many of them couldn't return to their destroyed homes because the government had designated a "No Build Zone" 40 meters from the coast. Three months later, Tolibas and her son still wait.

Tolibas brings one human face to the many people in the Philippines in need of more permanent housing after the typhoon. It means long days in close quarters with strangers; 50 other families occupy the tent city across the church driveway. In the absence of a stove, she and her son gather firewood from debris in the area.

"It's very hard because it's very hot in here," she says. "And when the rain comes, we are flooded inside."

"The sad things is everyone is traumatized," says Howard Bacayana, a CRS hygiene promotion officer and native of the island of Mindanao, Philippines. The children in the community show signs of trauma, he says.

"Every time it rains it comes back."
Howard Bacayana of CRS stands next to a fresh water bladder for the residents of the tent city at Our Lady of the Assumption Parish in Tanauan, Philippines. The community goes through one 10,000-liter bladder in two days.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Five Things To Remember On Feb. 20

1. Expressing strong support for the federal Marriage Protection Amendment (H. J. Res. 51) introduced by Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-KS) in the U.S. House of Representatives, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco said, “The amendment would secure in law throughout the country the basic truth known to reason that marriage is the union of one man and one woman.” Archbishop Cordileone , chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage, made the comments in a February 19 letter of support to Rep. Huelskamp.

2. Pope Francis has named Msgr. Carl Kemme, 53, vicar general of the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois, as Bishop of Wichita, Kansas. He also named Msgr. Peter Baldacchino, 53, a priest of the Archdiocese of Newark, as an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Miami.

3. Nineteen prison inmates from Pisa and Pianosa, Italy, were received by Pope Francis on Wednesday morning.

4. The search for Christian unity is an enterprise that has taken the time and energy of scholars and popes. Recently it got a helping hand from an iPhone and YouTube.

5. God loves you.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Five Things To Remember On Feb. 19

1. The For Your Marriage website has a new look, including new bloggers and a Pope Francis corner.

2. During his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square Feb. 19, Pope Francis encouraged pilgrims to go to confession.

3. With Lent just around the corner, it's a good time to learn how Catholic Relief Services' Rice Bowl program can help people live Lent. There's even a new mobile app to help.

4. During February, we honor the contributions of African Americans. Watch the late Sr. Thea Bowman's historic 1989 presentation to the U.S. Catholic Bishops about Black Catholic Spirituality

5. God loves you.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Five Things To Remember On Feb 18

1. The annual Collection to Aid the Church in Central and Eastern Europe will be held in most parishes on March 5, Ash Wednesday. The collection supports pastoral, educational and construction projects in Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia which were formerly under Soviet control.

2. Here's a "Who's who" of papal advisors in Rome this week.

3. Jesus will be on the big screen later this month and the movie has the backing of Touched by an Angel's Roma Downey and her husband, producer Mark Burnett.

4. Can you imagine a papal visit to your parish? That's what happened in Rome Monday and the pontifex asked God to help everyone to love each other.

5. God loves you.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Fortaleciendo el Regalo del Matrimonio

Por Norma Montenegro Flynn
La Conferencia de Obispos Católicos de los Estados Unidos acaba de lanzar un video bilingüe y guía de estudio titulada El Matrimonio: Hecho para el amor y la vida. El video muestra a dos parejas: abuelos que celebran sus 50 años de casados y una joven pareja que no cree en el matrimonio.

El video y guía de estudio abordan varios temas que nuestras familias hispanas enfrentan actualmente: jóvenes adultos cuyas vidas han sido impactadas por el divorcio de sus padres, haber crecido en hogares con solo la madre o el padre, y aquellos que sucumben a la presión de la sociedad de considerar el matrimonio entre un hombre y una mujer como algo pasado de moda.

Hace pocos días mi esposo y yo fuimos a una boda. El sacerdote decía a la pareja que los anillos que estaban por intercambiar eran un recordatorio de la promesa que hacen ante Dios de honrar sus votos matrimoniales. Representan tener a Dios como testigo de esa unión y a la vez es una invitación a decirle "Ayúdame Dios". Ayúdanos en los momentos difíciles para mantener esa promesa viva y respetar, honrar y amar a mi esposo o esposa. Es un mensaje poderoso que muchos olvidan o rechazan cuando llegan los conflictos y dificultades.

La iniciativa El Matrimonio: Único y con Razón invita a la gente a aprender más sobre el significado del matrimonio y la familia para que también tengamos el conocimiento para defenderlo y honrarlo. El video y guía de estudio están disponibles como recursos para diócesis y grupos de parroquias y abordan los cuatro temas de catequesis de la iniciativa El Matrimonio: Único y con Razón que son: la diferencia sexual y complementariedad, el bien de los hijos, el bien común, y la libertad religiosa. Los materiales están disponibles en:

Las diferencias sexuales y complementariedad son importantes. El matrimonio es entre un hombre y una mujer y sus diferencias sexuales complementan el uno al otro y deben ser celebradas. Esta sección también aborda como el matrimonio ha sido debilitado culturalmente en las últimas décadas: “Debido al amplio uso de anticonceptivos, esterilizaciones y la aprobación de leyes de divorcios sin causa demostrable, la fidelidad y el ser fructíferos han sido redefinidos

fuera del matrimonio. Lo único que queda son los dos elementos fundamentales: hombre y mujer, y aun estos están ahora bajo el ataque de la ley y de la cultura. Defender la importancia de la diferencia sexual en el matrimonio es crucial. Pero es aún más crucial presentarle de nuevo a una sociedad hastiada y herida las verdades completas del matrimonio: un hombre y una mujer, abiertos a la vida, comprometidos hasta la muerte,” señala la guía.

El siguiente tema aborda el regalo de los hijos en el matrimonio, y el derecho de cada niño de ser protegido y respetado desde el momento que es concebido. También analiza la importancia de tener un padre y una madre casados y porque el papel que cada uno juega es insustituible.

El Matrimonio y el Bien Común, aborda porque el matrimonio difiere de cohabitar, porque los matrimonios fuertes desarrollan familias unidas, y porque estas benefician a la sociedad.

La última sección, sobre la libertad religiosa, explora como intentos de la sociedad por redefinir el matrimonio en la ley amenaza a nuestra libertad religiosa y tienen un impacto negativo en las familias y la sociedad.

Hace solo dos generaciones atrás, los matrimonios duraban toda la vida. Nuestros abuelos vivían con la idea de que si algo se arruinaba debía de ser arreglado, no desechado. Similarmente, los matrimonios necesitaban ser reparados no desechados. Pero actualmente, la sociedad alaba la “cultura del descarte” que el Papa Francisco nos advierte que rechacemos. Honrar la promesa que hicimos en el altar requiere tiempo y esfuerzo, pero como vemos en esas parejas que han pasado toda una vida juntos, los frutos de ese amor hacen que el esfuerzo valga la pena.


Norma Montenegro Flynn es asistente al director de la oficina de enlace de prensa de la Conferencia de Obispos Católicos de los Estados Unidos.

Strengthening the gift of Marriage

By Norma Montenegro Flynn
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops just launched a bilingual video and study guide titled: Marriage: Made for Love and Life. The video features two couples: grandparents celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary and a young couple who do not believe in marriage.

The video and study guide target many issues our Hispanic families currently face: Young adults whose lives have been impacted by their parents’ divorce, being raised in a household with a single parent, and those who surrender to the pressure from society to view marriage between a man and a woman as something outdated.

Only a few days ago, my husband and I attended a wedding. The priest told the couple that the rings they were about to exchange were a reminder of the promise they make before God to honor their vows. It represents having God as a witness and at the same time it is an invitation to tell God “So help me, God.” Help us in the difficult times to keep this promise alive and respect, honor and love my spouse. It is a powerful message that many forget or reject when conflict and difficulties arise.

The Marriage: Unique for a Reason initiative invites people to learn more about the meaning of marriage and family so we can also have the knowledge to defend and honor it. The video and study guide are available as resources for dioceses and parish groups and address all four catechetical themes of the Marriage: Unique for a Reason initiative: sexual difference and complementarity, the good of children, the common good and religious freedom.

Sexual differences and complementarity matter. A marriage is between a man and a woman and their sexual differences complement each other and should be cherished. This section also addresses how marriage has been culturally weakened in the last few decades: “Due to the widespread use of contraception, sterilization and the approval of no-fault divorce laws, faithfulness and fruitfulness have largely been redefined out of marriage. What’s left are the two essential elements: man and woman, and those are now under attack by law and culture. Defending the importance of sexual difference in marriage is crucial. But even more crucial is presenting again to a jaded, hurt society the full truth of marriage: one man and one woman open to life, committed until death,” the guide reads.

The next chapter addresses the gift of children in a marriage, and the right of every child to be protected and respected from the moment of conception. It analyzes the importance of having a married mother and father and why the roles of each parent are not interchangeable.

Marriage and the Common Good, addresses why marriage differs from cohabitation, why strong marriages develop into strong families and why they benefit society.

The final chapter, on religious liberty, explores how societal attempts to redefine marriage in the law threaten religious freedom and have a negative impact on families and society.

Just two generations ago, marriages lasted for life. Our grandparents lived by the idea that if something is broken it needs to be fixed, not discarded. Similarly, marriages needed to be fixed, not discarded. But nowadays, society praises the “throw-away culture” that Pope Francis warns us against. Honoring the promise we made at the altar takes time and effort, but as we see in those couples that have spent a lifetime together, the fruits of that love are worth the effort.


Norma Montenegro Flynn is assistant director of Media Relations at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Five Things To Remember On Feb. 12

1. Pope Francis says going to Mass should be a life-changing event.

2. During February, as we honor the contributions of African Americans, watch the late Sister Thea Bowman's historic 1989 presentation to the U.S. Catholic Bishops about Black Catholic Spirituality

3. Catholics can mark National Marriage Week by setting aside time for prayer each day for seven days with their spouse thanks to this virtual retreat.

4. The U.S. Catholic Catechism for Adults outlines the faith in several sections: The Creed, Sacraments, Morality and Prayer--giving readers a source of spiritual enrichment. This video illustrates how it can aid individuals, parish groups, and classes in deepening their understanding and practice of their faith.

5. God loves you.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Five Things To Remember On Feb. 11

1. Catholic News Service looks back on this day a year ago, when Pope Benedict XVI announced he would step down from the papacy.

2. Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, president of the USCCB, blogs about what he learned during his trip to the Philippines, which is recovering from a disastrous typhoon.

3. "When Dem Depayso heard that kids across the Visayas in the central Philippines were having nightmares and difficulty focusing on their schoolwork because of vivid scary memories of Typhoon Haiyan, she decided to help."

4. Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Bishop Howard James Hubbard, 75, from the pastoral governance of the Diocese of Albany, New York, and named Brooklyn, New York priest, Msgr. Edward Bernard Scharfenberger, 65, to succeed him. The pope also named Msgr. Andrzej Zglejszewski, 52, to be auxiliary bishop of Rockville Centre, New York, where he has been co-chancellor and Director of the Office of Worship.

5. God loves you.

What I learned in the Philippines

By Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz

Seven cargo ships ran aground in the Anibong region of Tacloban City during Typhoon Haiyan, or Yolanda, as it’s called in the Philippines. Three months later, children run and play around the mud-encrusted rudders of one ship. Wooden poles stick out of the water nearby where now-destroyed houses once sat on stilts. Debris litters the ground for miles. Power lines overhead dangle on patched and broken poles, impossibly tangled.

Anibong was my first encounter with a neighborhood devastated by the typhoon. Our delegation representing the U.S. bishops and Catholic Relief Services could see immediately how great the need for aid remains. Over February 4-6, I also would see the vital work of CRS in the lives of these people, work made possible by the generosity of U.S. Catholics and donors around the world.

Walking among some houses now reduced to rubble, I encountered some young people playing basketball. Children are a great prism to view the life of a community. They reflect the values of their families and conditions at home. Speaking to these young people, I saw something I would see repeatedly: the courage and resiliency of the Filipino people.

Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila had met with us the previous day and cautioned against regarding the Filipino people as victims or ourselves as rescuers. We should be open to learning from the people, he said. What I learned was that, even as they rebuild their homes and struggle for their families’ livelihoods, the Filipino people have real faith and radiate what Pope Francis calls the joy of the Gospel. They have felt Yolanda’s wrath, but they feel God’s love even more.

People in the United States and around the world who have given to typhoon relief efforts don’t get to see the good that their generosity promotes. It was humbling to feel the gratitude of the Filipino people and to see the warmth and emotion in their faces as they greeted us. CRS works with partner Caritas organizations from around the world, and the local Church takes the lead in terms of discerning needs and responding. Together they work on a scale that makes a crucial difference in the lives of individuals and communities.

Four million people were displaced by the typhoon, and CRS has helped repair or build 20,000 shelters. They’ve brought clean water and sanitation services to thousands of displaced people. Farmers and others left jobless by the storm are able to support their families through livelihood recovery programs, clearing debris, planting crops and building homes. Catholics in the United States should know their generosity enables essential work of the Gospel, serving those in need without any thought of repayment.

Dioceses in the United States have the option to specify whether their donations go only to relief efforts, like CRS, or to relief efforts and church rebuilding. The overwhelming majority of churches in the Archdiocese of Palo sustained damage of some kind. This included eight that were completely destroyed and a cathedral that, despite having its newly renovated roof blown completely off, still drew a full house on a Wednesday evening when we celebrated Mass. This experience and others showed the essential role of the Church in the Philippines as a hub of community life. During Yolanda, countless people sought shelter in churches. Following the storm, churches have played a role in storing and distributing supplies. People’s everyday lives and identities are enmeshed in the parish.

As I visited communities, urban and rural, and spoke, listened and prayed with the Filipino people, the sense that we are one Church overwhelmed me. The people of the Philippines are walking a difficult road, but the whole Church walks it together, as we are present in our relief efforts, our friendship and our prayers. I return to the United States filled with joy and gratitude for gift of the Filipino people and with the firm belief that they will continue to overcome.

Archbishop Kurtz is archbishop of Louisville, Kentucky, and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.


Watch this clip from Archbishop Kurtz's homily at the Palo cathedral:

Monday, February 10, 2014

Five Things To Remember On Feb. 10

1. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’(USCCB) Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage has released the third video in its catechetical series for the promotion and protection of marriage as the union of one man and one woman. El Matrimonio: Hecho para el amor y la vida (Marriage: Made for Love and Life) is a 30-minute film in Spanish with English subtitles, accompanied by a bilingual study guide. Watch it here.

2. Tomorrow is the one year anniversary of Pope Benedict XVI announcing that he was stepping down from the papacy.

3. Tomorrow is also World Day of the Sick. Read Pope Francis' message for this observance on February 11 when we remember and pray for all those who are ill and their caregivers.

4. Catholic News Service reports: "An invitation to attend Pope Francis' early morning Mass is a hot ticket in Rome, but the pope said the Mass -- in his residence or anywhere else -- isn't an event, but a time for entering into the mystery of God."

5. God loves you.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Five Things To Remember On Feb. 7

1. Throughout this week, Archbishop Kurtz, USCCB staff and Catholic Relief Services staff have been in the Philippines seeing the devastation of the recent typhoon there. Catholic News Service shares these photos of the locals remembering the dead.

2. This photo made its way around social media during the last day and you have to wonder what Pope Francis was thinking. It's Pope Francis looking at a life-sized replica of himself made entirely out of chocolate in Paul VI Hall at the Vatican Feb. 5. Made of 1.5 tons of cocoa, the chocolate image was given to the pontiff during his general audience, according to Vatican newspape r L'Osservatore Romano.

3. During February, we honor the contributions of African Americans and remember their struggle for civil rights, including four Catholic heroes who are on the road to sainthood. We also are asking people on social media to share their Catholic heroes with #MyCatholicHero.

4. On February 8th, the Church is asking Catholics to join others in prayer for victims of human trafficking and to learn about more ways to help.

5. God loves you.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Five Things To Remember On Feb. 6

1. Catholic News Service reports on the ongoing Philippines trip, "shelters are being built as CRS transitions from emergency to recovery mode three months after the typhoon wrecked a large swath of the Visayas region of the central Philippines. In all, 25 families in Cabarasan Guti will be the beneficiaries of the transitional dwellings. Their homes were among the 551,000 lost or severely damaged in the storm."

2. In her latest blog post, USCCB Media Relations Director Sr. Mary Ann Walsh says the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child's report on the problem of sexual abuse of minors by clergy strayed into the culture wars when it included objections to Catholic teaching on such issues as gay marriage, abortion and contraception.

3. Pope Francis announced Blessed John Paul II will be the patron of World Youth Day upon his canonization.

4. We asked some of our newly professed men and women religious to tell us something about themselves that others might find surprising. Their answers provide some insight to how each discovered their vocational call.

5. God loves you.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The United Nations: Caring for Children or Caring for Culture Warriors

By Sister Mary Ann Walsh

Sexual abuse of a minor is a sin and a crime and no organization can become complacent about addressing it. The Catholic Church has certainly done more than any other international organization to face the problem and it will continue to lead in doing so.

In the United States, the number of cases of sexual abuse of minors by clergy has plummeted. This is in no small part due to the fact that millions of Catholic children have been instructed on safe environments and tens of thousands of adults who work with them in the church have gone through background checks and safe environment education. In 2012, for example, dioceses and religious institutes conducted background checks on 99 percent of clerics, 97 percent of educators, 95 percent of employees, and 96 percent of volunteers. Every diocese has a victim assistance coordinator who assists those who have been abused and a safe environment coordinator who works to prevent abuse from occurring again.

The Vatican also has shown resolve in addressing the issue. Pope John Paul II changed the age of maturity in church law so more abuse cases could be prosecuted. Pope Benedict called on every bishops’conference in the world to develop policies. Pope Francis recently announced a commission to strengthen the church’s handling of sexual abuse.

A report from the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child highlights the problem of sexual abuse of minors by clergy. Unfortunately the report is weakened by including objections to Catholic teaching on such issues as gay marriage, abortion and contraception. This seems to violate the U.N.’s obligation from its earliest days to defend religious freedom. In 1948, the organization adopted its Universal Declaration of Human Rights that declared that "everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion." Certainly the U.N. charge to defend religious freedom includes defending the Church’s right to determine its own teachings. Defense of religious freedom is no small matter in a world where people, including children, get murdered for simply going to church. That’s what happened last September when militants killed 81 people, including children, attending Sunday school at a Christian church in Peshawar, Pakistan.

The Committee on the Rights of the Child is correct to voice concern over sexual abuse and is to be commended for its efforts. It would have credibility, however, if it also worked to protect the most basic right of a child: the right to live. Would that it made headlines because of concern for minors being trafficked in the world’s sex trade and children dying from starvation and dysentery from impure water. When the U.N. committee strays into the culture wars to promote abortion, contraceptives and gay marriage, it undermines its noble cause and trades concern for children to concern for organizations with other agendas. What a lost opportunity.


Five Things To Remember On Feb. 5

Photo by Don Clemmer

1. Archbishop Joseph Kurtz writes, "I have celebrated the Holy Eucharist when it was pouring outside the Church, but yesterday in Santa Niño Church, located in Tacloban, the rain poured into the aisles throughout the Mass. Our team had just come through a downpour in the barangay called Anibong, which is by the sea, and we arrived at the Church where the faithful had gathered for Mass. All through the trip, I have been repeating that we are one church and that our presence is one of a brother and sister in the Lord in partnership with the local church. During the Holy Eucharist I saw it lived out."

2. Watch this short video of Archbishop Kurtz interacting with people impacted by the typhoon.

3. See a gallery of photos from Archbishop Kurtz's visit, along with Catholic Relief Services.

4. Pope Francis talked about the importance of the Eucharist today, saying, "The Eucharist is at the heart of  'Christian initiation', together with Baptism and Confirmation, and it constitutes the source of the Church's life itself. From this Sacrament of love, in fact, flows every authentic journey of faith, of communion and of witness."

5. God loves you.

Philippine Notes: Our Time With Tagle

One early highlight of the USCCB/CRS delegation's time in the Philippines this week was the Monday morning meeting with Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila. Cardinal Tagle, 56, is one of the youngest cardinals in the world, and certainly one of the most aggressive adopters of social media from among the men who elected Pope Francis last year.

"We're used to having typhoons, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. They're part of our daily fare," Cardinal Tagle quipped in his welcome, adding that the two islands hit by Haiyan/Yolanda have been particularly "hospitable to typhoons," but "we have not seen anything like this in terms of devastation." Even the people used to living through over 20 storms a year "were just stunned," he said.

The session with Cardinal Tagle preceded any tours of the areas affected by the typhoon, so it set the framework in many ways for what was to follow.

Cardinal Tagle said one consolation in the midst of the tragedy has been the support of Filipinos abroad and the support of the international community. The visibly moved Cardinal Tagle observed, "For a few days, we knew it was possible for the human family to be together, to be one, to feel for one another..." He expressed the hope that such good will and cooperation be sustained and not sporadic in the future.

He said he warned visitors to the storm-affected areas from viewing themselves as the strong visiting the weak, or helping "victims." His own experience was one of being inspired and filled with hope by the survivors of the storm, he said, and that he was forced to change his perceptions and priorities based on what he learned from the people.

It's a message Archbishop Kurtz has taken to heart and repeated over the last couple days of visiting the people in and around Tacloban. Pope Francis encourages all Christians to go to the margins and find Jesus there, and so, following Cardinal Tagle's logic, it would only make sense that we approach the people we meet as learners.

Rain, Unity, and Hope

Note: This blog first appeared on the Archdiocese of Louisville's site.

By Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, president of the USCCB

I have celebrated the Holy Eucharist when it was pouring outside the Church, but yesterday in Santo Niño Church, located in Tacloban, the rain poured into the aisles throughout the Mass. Our team had just come through a downpour in the barangay called Anibong, which is by the sea, and we arrived at the Church where the faithful had gathered for Mass. All through the trip, I have been repeating that we are one church and that our presence is one of a brother and sister in the Lord in partnership with the local church. During the Holy Eucharist I saw it lived out.

A group of priests and seminarians from the seminary in Palo, as well as a youthful contemporary choir, helped so many of the faithful be joined once again to the one saving act of Jesus Christ, and together we all became one body – the Body of Christ. The 195-mile hour winds had taken a toll on the church roof and some windows, and the rain poured down the aisles. It didn’t dampen the spirit of faith and hope, which we found in our 2- hour interaction with the people in this district, who were devastated by the destruction but were never robbed of their family-like hospitality and joy.

All through the Mass, I could not help but bring forth in prayer those Filipino families we spent time with just before coming to the church. As I mentioned, we went to a completely devastated area. You will see photos of the seven large tankers lifted completely out of the water by the 20-foot surge, resting now about a football field from the water’s edge. Slowly, rubble was being removed. Catholic Relief Services (CRS) has worked heroically to help with shelter, water, and human support to those dislocated. Many have now returned and are piecing together homes and community life.

We spoke for at least 20 minutes to the elected captain of this small region of 1,300 or so residents. We were packed into a concentrated area with children and adults crowding around to hear what was said and to exchange smiles and handshakes. The articulate and caring young woman, Shirley, spoke in a soft voice of the great needs in a very patient, kind but persistent and courageous way. Dennis Sadowski of Catholic News Service captured the interview well and you can read his story here.

This was a scene that teemed with welcome and hope. Like bees, people were using what tools they had to rebuild homes in a make-shift way. It’s not clear that they will be permitted to stay, but this is now their only option. Some even made homes on the ships that had been grounded and would soon be removed. Some were removing rubble, and I was told this is a CRS sponsored “cash for work” project that provides some small return for the work of recovery to those affected. Earlier I had heard that unemployment is now 80% in this affected area and those employed often live on wages of less than a $2 a day.

Like everywhere on the planet, if you want to see signs of hope and joy in the midst of tragedy, look to the children. In fact, we all enjoyed the children and their reactions. Very warm and friendly, many children spoke, and all waved. All human beings just want to be noticed and taken into account – it is about human dignity. Two clear signs of dignity for the children were found in a makeshift basketball court that had been erected in the midst of the rubble and a banner announcing the beginning of school last month.

The basketball court must have been 8 by 16 feet at the most with a rickety backboard and rim rescued from the storm, but play has the capacity to restore hope, and we experienced it here. The large banner on a building announced, “School begins on January 14,” which testified to a blessed new routine. I asked some of the children if they are going to school, and of course, they all said yes. The best sign of normalcy restored in time of tragedy is that return to the routine of school for children and their parents. How moving it is to connect those two scenes – Mass at Santo Nina and life being restored within the seaside rubble.

Pope Francis just released his Lenten message, and it deepens my understanding of what I am experiencing here. He speaks of Christ’s call to be truly rich and provides the great distinction between being poor and being destitute. Of course, Jesus calls each of us to embrace a spirit of poverty that leads to a lasting joy centered in God. The enemy of this path, says Pope Francis, is being destitute, and he outlines three levels of destitution.

The first, not surprisingly, is material destitution. Much of the work of relief workers here in the Philippines seeks to eradicate this destitution that robs people of true dignity. Thus, all of the work to provide clean water, shelter, sanitation, and jobs is all aimed at helping people lift themselves and their loved ones from that material destitution.

The other two levels of destitution are moral and spiritual. Pope Francis calls us to see the trap of moral destitution, with its modern snares of addictions that turn one to selfishness and sin and, yes, an indignity unworthy of the human person. And the spiritual destitution that robs us of the ability to worship and praise God is a profound affront to human dignity.

My experience in Tacloban yesterday afternoon was a celebration of human dignity. How fitting and what a privilege it was to visit with families and to join in the Holy Eucharist in a rainy church interior.


View video of Archbishop Kurtz meeting with people displaced by the typhoon.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Five Things To Remember On Feb. 4

1. Hundreds of leaders in Catholic social ministry from dioceses, parishes, national Catholic organizations and universities of the United States urged their members of Congress to promote peace abroad through negotiations, humanitarian assistance and development and to work against poverty in the United States. The meetings the afternoon of February 4 took place as part of the 2014 Catholic Social Ministry Gathering.

2. Archbishop Kurtz blogs about the "Brave Filipino People of Faith and Hope."

3. Striking images, courtesy of Don Clemmer, of Archbishop Kurtz's tour of the devastated area of Tacloban can be seen on our Facebook and Instagram.

4. Pope Francis' Lenten message focuses on poverty and sacrifice. Ash Wednesday is March 5.

5. God loves you.