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Cardinal Tong says opposing Vatican-China deal is 'unreasonable'

Vatican City, Mar 23, 2018 / 05:00 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Cardinal John Tong Hon has voiced support for a proposed deal on the appointment of bishops between the Vatican and China, saying he believes the Chinese government has generally become more tolerant, and an accord would help bring further openness and unity to the Church.

Tong is the Bishop Emeritus of Hong Kong, and spoke at a March 22-23 conference titled “Christianity in the Chinese Society: Impact, Interaction and Inculturation” taking place at Rome's Pontifical Gregorian University.

Tong is one of two Chinese cardinals, the other being his predecessor, Cardinal Joseph Zen. While Zen has consistently been an outspoken critic of the proposed deal, Hon holds a different opinion.

In an interview with a small number of journalists, one of which was CNA, Hon said opposition to the accord is “unreasonable,” because the deal aims at unity. He called the agreement “far-sighted” and said at times, sacrifice is necessary in order for Catholics to become “members of one family.”

The deal – which would allegedly follow the model of the Vatican's agreement with Vietnam, allowing the Holy See to pick bishops from a selection of candidates proposed by the government – is rumored to be “imminent.”

In a recent blog post, Cardinal Zen indicated that the agreement could be signed as early as March 23 (tomorrow) or March 27. If the deal is reached, Zen said he would “retire in silence” and would “hide and pray,” but that he would not oppose the pope.

In his interview with journalists, Cardinal Hon said he didn't want to speculate about when the deal might come, but said he was “optimistic” it would eventually happen.

Below are excerpts of Cardinal Hon's conversation with journalists:

Q: This conference is addressing the presence of Christianity in China. From your perspective, what is the current situation for Christians there? Some say there is persecution and an increase in restrictions for religions, but others say the situation has improved. What is your take?

I am a Hong Kong citizen. Hong Kong belongs to one country, is a part of China, yet Hong Kong, after 1997, is one country run under two systems, meaning Hong Kong still continues to be a capitalistic administration, and China is under the socialist system for 50 years. So we are doing the same things as before. Regarding China, I am also a foreigner, so that means I'm not an insider. I can offer my impression with a limited knowledge of China...In a general picture I think China has already greatly improved, so sometimes you find this tightening in this part or that part, but China is huge. You cannot use this to describe...If we have a very far-sighted vision about China, I think China is [becoming] more civilized, closer to the outside world. And then I think the general situation, in the present, is better. Those would be my remarks.

Q: So your perception is that China is more open to religion, is more tolerant?

In the future also it should be, not the other way. Because the people can come out from China, now most of the people like to come to Hong Kong or outside of China for a week, so their eyes are opened after seeing the outside world. So they of course have higher expectations. And also the officials, knowing, they are not stupid, they know the expectations of most of the common people, and although on one hand they want to exercise their authority over the common people, but at the same time they have to compromise. So from time to time, sometimes [there's] a tightening, but other times [there's] a loosening policy. But in the long run China will be more and wider open, there is no other way. If I were the officials, I would do similar things. So I am optimistic.

Q: In your opening remarks you spoke about the importance of dialogue and communication between Chinese authorities and Christianity. This reminded me of your remarks in February about a deal between the Vatican and China on the appointment of bishops and allowing the Church to be registered in China. You said you were optimistic if it followed the Vietnamese model. Some say it won't follow this model. Are you still optimistic?

Yes, I'm still optimistic, because I always, this is my belief, whatever is reasonable can last for a long time. Whatever is unreasonable will fade out or has to be changed. You can see from the whole of human history, even the history of China. Even Mao, Mao was so cruel, so strong, but finally...and also the cultural revolution created a lot of chaotic situations in China, but finally those situations have been changed. So there is no other way.

Q: So in this case 'reasonable' would be the deal, and 'unreasonable' would be against it?


Q: A lot has been said in the media about your predecessor, Cardinal Zen, who has spoken out a lot against this deal. What is your opinion about this and what it says about the current dynamics in China?

This is a free world, everybody can express their own opinion. Everyone can use their own mind, their wisdom, to discern. So when you open your eyes and also open your ears, you can hear many, many different voices. So this is a free world. What can you say? We, as persons, we respect everybody as a person. So different opinions, up to your own wisdom to discern. That's my [opinion], which I received from my teacher, it's the lesson I learned.

Q: How is Pope Francis received in China? In the West he's very popular even among non-Catholics. Is it the same in China?

Yes. Generally speaking, he's loved by Catholics and non-Catholics.

Q: What's the appeal?

He's a humble person. The first thing is that he is really humble, and a humble person will be loved by many people. If you are proud you get a lot of enemies. This is also biblical teaching by our Lord Jesus. So we have to be humble. Jesus humbled himself and came down to earth and finally received crucifixion, suffering. So humility is important, that's one thing. And second, he has a far-sighted vision. He's not only seeing [now], but how to achieve the reign of God. The reign of God is to make humanity whole, to be one family, and we are all brothers and sisters, the whole world. Also through the negotiations promoted and advocated by the Second Vatican Council...Sometimes we can lose something so we can achieve friendship and set an example for all others and all other people, so finally we become friends, and then eventually we become all members of one family. At that time the reign of God will be implemented on earth...I was trained here 50 years ago at the Urbanianum. At that time the Second Vatican Council was being held, and I witnessed the grand closing ceremony. And right away I was ordained a priest with more than 60 classmates by Pope Paul VI. So that is what we were taught, and we have also what we were taught to believe in. So if you don't believe that, that it's only looking for [certain] things, that's your business, that's not my faith. And finally, we have to pray for the Church in China.

Q: People have been talking about a deal with China for years, and now it seems that is pretty sure...

I don't want to make any guess, it's up to God's will.

Q: But if it does happen, is there something about Francis' pontificate or diplomatic style that would allow the deal to happen? Is there something about the way he does diplomacy that would make the deal more likely than in the past?

If there's any breakthrough, it's God's will, I don't want to make any speculation. I'm not a prophet, I only follow our dogmatic teaching in the Church, and also the teaching of the constitutions issued by the Second Vatican Council. What I have learned in teaching in seminary, we pray for the Church in China, but I don't want to make any speculations...during the year, almost three years ago, during the year of divine mercy, the Church in China, particularly, during that period, was also very happy to respond to the appeal made by the Holy Father. So it shows that they are very positive about the Holy Father because they follow the instructions given by the Holy Father.

Lenten campaign invites fallen-away Catholics back to confession

Pittsburgh, Pa., Mar 23, 2018 / 12:39 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Through an annual initiative called “The light is on for you,” dioceses throughout the U.S. have opened their doors to welcome fallen away Catholics back to the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

“It’s an opportunity to reach out to people who may not be regularly thinking about confession and for it to spark their interest,” said Father Nicholas Vaskov, executive director of communications for the Diocese of Pittsburgh.

“This is sort of the apex of a long journey back to a regular practice with their faith. They’ve come to a point to realize without this it’s not going to be complete, just that desire to be one with God,” he told CNA.

“The light is on for you” is present in dioceses including Arlington, Va., Washington, D.C., Boston, San Jose, and Dallas. Participating dioceses pick a night in Lent when every church has a priest available for confession, some with several nights throughout the Lenten season.  

For at least the sixth year in a row, the Diocese of Pittsburgh has also had one night in Lent when every church is open for confession. Since February, the diocese has promoted the event on radio stations, bus shelter signs, and social media.

As the pastor at St. Mary of Mercy Parish in downtown Pittsburgh, Father Vaskov heard confessions for three hours on March 22. Despite 10 inches of snow, he said people still lined up for the Sacrament of Reconciliation, including both Catholics who frequent the sacrament and those who had not been in years.

“I think it is a powerful experience for many who come… so often, and last night was no different, people who [had been] 10, 20, 30, even 40 years away from the sacraments” returned to confession.

The event is promoted especially as an opportunity for fallen-away Catholics to return to the sacraments without pressure, said Father Vaskov, who worked with radio stations and ad buyers to promote advertisements tailored to this audience.

The ads sought to respond to the reasons that people give for leaving the Church, such as a bad experience with a priest or why confession is necessary for forgiveness.

This opportunity is especially important during the time of Lent, said Father Vaskov, adding that confession nourishes spiritual strength and health all the more when accompanied by the disciplines of Lent.

Additionally, he said, confession accompanies a meditation on Christ’s suffering at the cross and Christ’s conquering of sin to renew our relationship with God.

“We are meditating so much during these days on the passion of Christ. … And the beauty of restoring that relationship of being one with Christ in his suffering and restoring that relationship with God through the sacraments so that there is nothing preventing us from being one with him.”

Bishop David Zubik of Pittsburgh, whose diocese hosts the event twice a year, said one of the greatest joys a priest can experience is the bringing fallen-away Catholics back to fold of the Church.

“We are here to welcome people back, to offer mercy and to help them experience God’s love,” Bishop Zubik said in a 2018 Lenten press release.

“One of the most rewarding experiences that any priest can have is to hear the Confession of someone who may have been away from the Church for decades, and to have a role in lifting that burden of guilt and restoring the person to spiritual wholeness.”


Amid political pressure, Nebraska works to prevent abortion funding

Lincoln, Neb., Mar 22, 2018 / 05:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Following reports that some Title X funds have wrongly gone to abortion-related expenses, Nebraska is considering stronger budget restrictions, but some legislators are resisting.

“It has long been a policy that we do not use taxpayer dollars to fund abortions,” Gov. Pete Ricketts told CNA March 22. “What we have seen in Nebraska is that these Title X dollars, according to a couple of our audits, have been used to fund abortions.”

“Nebraska is a pro-life state, and that our budget ought to reflect that,” Ricketts said. “I believe that abortion is inherently wrong, so personally I do not want to see those dollars to go to that, but in general even those who are pro-choice understand that it’s bad policy to have federal tax dollars fund something that is so controversial and really ought not be funded by fed tax dollars.”

Gov. Ricketts backs proposed budget language that would require clinics that receive Title X funds to be “objectively independent” from abortion providers, meaning they have “legal, physical and financial separation.”

The unicameral legislature narrowly voted to pass the $8.8 billion budget bill, L.B. 944, to the second round of debate, the Omaha World Herald reports. On March 21 a vote for cloture, to end debate on the bill, failed by three votes. Three members of the Appropriations Committee were recorded as “present not voting,” Sens. Kate Bolz, Anna Wishart, and Tony Vargas, who is Catholic.

Under the legislature’s current rules, which legislators may suspend by vote, the budget bill must advance by Friday, March 23.

Tom Venzor, executive director of the Nebraska Catholic Conference, told CNA that some legislators are under political pressure to remove the provision.

“Overall, a majority of Nebraska state legislators have pro-life values, and want to provide support for mothers and protect unborn children,” he said. “As we’ve seen throughout the country, we’ve noticed that some legislators seem to be succumbing to the pressure of abortion lobbyists and special interest groups. That is always a pressure of which to be aware.”

The 2015 and 2016 Nebraska statewide audits found that abortion-related expenses were wrongly funded using taxpayer dollars, according to a summary from Marion Miner, the Nebraska Catholic Conference’s associate director for pro-life and family issues.

The expenses included a nearly $2,000 payment for abortion-related physician fees through Planned Parenthood of the Heartland. Such misappropriations would put federal funding to the state at risk given federal rules against funding abortion, state auditor Charlie Janssen told the Appropriations Committee in Feb. 8 testimony.

Sen. Suzanne Geist of Lincoln has backed the proposed policy, saying it “protects the health clinics’ ability to provide the best healthcare for men and women by ensuring that Nebraska’s Title X dollars are not compromised.”

Ricketts said the state budget rules “can ensure that those health care dollars that we’re getting from the federal government are not being used to provide or subsidize abortion.”

“That is something that is not unwarranted in our budget,” he said, pointing to similar provisions barring funding for biomedical research involving human fetuses.

He compared the limits to other rules like the Mexico City Policy, which bars federal funding for overseas organizations that promote or perform abortions.

Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks of Lincoln, however, objected to the ban on funds for abortion providers and characterized it as a policy statement.

“What social policy is going to be in the budget next?” she said, the Lincoln Journal-Star reports. “We could talk about gambling and helmets and property taxes and environmental issues. Let's just put it all in the budget and then we don't have to have bills or committee hearings.”

About $1.5 million in Title X grants goes through the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, aiming to provide services like well-woman exams, STD testing and treatment, HPV testing and vaccinations, and contraception. The leading grant recipient is Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, which receives about $300,000 per year, according to the Nebraska Catholic Conference.

“Whether it is direct or indirect, tax payer money should not go to abortion services,” said Venzor. “The pro-life provision in the state budget simply keeps these clinics accountable and ensures that taxpayer dollars are not used for the killing of unborn life.”

In January, the Omaha World-Herald said the provision would cut funding from Planned Parenthood.

Planned Parenthood of the Heartland said the money helps its clinics serve about 8,000 patients. Its clinics in Omaha and Lincoln also perform abortions.

Ricketts told CNA it was “absolutely false” to claim the funding rules would limit women’s services.

“The exact same amount of dollars will be spent after we pass this bill, with this budget language in it, as was being spent before,” he said. “Anybody is able to apply for those dollars.”

“The clear majority of legislators want to have this Title X language in there,” Ricketts said. He accused three members of the appropriations committee of voting the bill out of committee then working to undermine it.

“They’re playing reckless games with the budget process. If they had a problem with this bill, they ought to not have voted for it out of committee,” he said. “The legislature still has time to address this. They still have plenty of time to go back and pass this bill.”

Venzor encouraged voters and legislators in other states who want to implement similar restrictions on Title X money to contact the Nebraska Catholic Conference.

“We’re all working hard across the country to defend life and advance the common good, and we should learn from each other,” he said.

US House passes spending bill which continues funding Planned Parenthood

Washington D.C., Mar 22, 2018 / 04:45 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The stopgap omnibus funding bill passed the House of Representatives on Thursday, despite heavy criticism from the US bishops and conservative members over the continued federal funding of Planned Parenthood, among other things.

The bill passed March 22 by a vote of 256-167.

Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) released a scathing letter after the vote.

“This omnibus is nowhere close to what Republicans promised to fight for,” said Meadows.

“When the American people sent us to Congress, their message was loud and their mandate clear: Secure the border, [...] Defund Planned Parenthood; Cut wasteful spending; ‘Drain the swamp and change the unsustainable way Washington, D.C. does business. This budget embraces the polar opposite of these principles.”

Last year, Planned Parenthood received over half a billion dollars in federal funding.

The inclusion of federal funding for Planned Parenthood was not the only controversial thing about the bill. The US Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement saying they were “deeply disappoint[ed]” that the Conscience Protection Act (CPA) was not included in the appropriations bill, and said that members of Congress who did not support the CPA were extremists.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, chair of the conference’s Committee on Pro-Life Activities, and Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, chair of the Committee for Religious Liberty, said that "The CPA is an extraordinarily modest bill that proposes almost no change to existing conscience protection laws on abortion—laws that receive wide public and bi-partisan support.”

“The CPA simply proposes to provide victims of discrimination with the ability to defend their rights in court to help ensure that no one is forced to participate in abortion. Those inside and outside of Congress who worked to defeat the CPA have placed themselves squarely into the category of extremists who insist that all Americans must be forced to participate in the violent act of abortion. We call on Congress not to give up until this critical legislation is enacted."

Prior to the vote, many congressmen took to Twitter to complain about the bill’s large size (over 2,000 pages), the limited amount of time they had to read the bill before they were to vote on it, and specific programs that were still going to be receiving federal funding.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), joked that “It’s a good thing we have Republican control of Congress or the Democrats might bust the budget caps, fund planned parenthood and Obamacare, and sneak gun control without due process into an Omni...wait, what?”


It’s a good thing we have Republican control of Congress or the Democrats might bust the budget caps, fund planned parenthood and Obamacare, and sneak gun control without due process into an Omni...wait, what?

— Senator Rand Paul (@RandPaul) March 21, 2018


Later he tweeted a list of the things the bill funded that he found objectionable, including $51 million appropriated for “international family planning and reproductive health.”

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), speaking on Fox News, said this may be the “worst bill I’ve seen in my time in Congress.”

“I don’t think we told the voters when we were running for the job [...] that we were going to continue to fund Planned Parenthood, we were going to restrict Second Amendment liberties, let some bureaucrats take away your Second Amendment rights, not a court of law.”

The omnibus bill now moves to the Senate, where it must be approved before the end of Friday to avoid a government shutdown.

Police search Michigan bishop’s home, citing lack of cooperation in sex abuse investigation

Saginaw, Mich., Mar 22, 2018 / 03:37 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- On Thursday, police in Saginaw, Michigan raided the home of Bishop Joseph Cistone, as well as the diocesan chancery and its cathedral rectory, as part of an ongoing investigation into sex abuse allegations against several diocesan priests.

CNA has reached out to the Diocese of Saginaw, Michigan for comment but did not receive a response by press time.

Police told local media that they could not reveal what they were searching for or taking from the properties. However, authorities did say that the search warrants were due to a lack of cooperation on the part of the diocese related to an ongoing clerical sex abuse investigation.

"Contrary to the statements of the diocese and the bishop that they would fully cooperate with law enforcement, they did not," Saginaw County Assistant Prosecutor Mark Gaertner told local news source Michigan Live. "Therefore it was necessary for law enforcement to use other investigative tools, including search warrants."

Gaertner told Michigan Live that search warrants were executed on Thursday at Bishop Cistone’s home as well as on the rectory of the diocesan cathedral and on the diocesan offices.

Two priests have been placed on leave from their duties after a recent wave of accusations of sexual abuse against priests in the diocese.

Last month, Fr. Robert Deland, a Saginaw priest and pastor of St. Agnes Parish in Freeland, was charged with one count of second-degree criminal sexual conduct, one count of gross indecency between male persons, and one count of attempted second-degree criminal sexual conduct/personal injury, following the accusations of a 21-year-old man and a 17-year-old high school student.  

DeLand, who also served as judicial vicar for the Diocese of Saginaw, was placed on administrative leave during the investigation. He was also banned from school properties and from presenting himself as a priest.

In February, Bishop Cistone said in a statement that he had “no previous knowledge of the police investigation or of these allegations” against DeLand, and that “the diocese will cooperate fully with law enforcement and their investigation.”

On March 8, the diocese released a statement clarifying that further review of records determined that the diocese had been informed of rumors about DeLand in 1992, and that in 2005, a woman contacted the diocese about the possibility that DeLand might have sexually abused her brother, who since had died, in the 1970s. The diocese said it had contracted an investigator to assess the matter, and that “the independent Diocesan Review Board, Bishop Robert Carlson, who was Bishop of Saginaw at the time, as well as the family agreed that the suspicion against Father DeLand was unfounded.”

Police have told local news sources that they have received numerous tips against other clergy following the arrest of DeLand in February.

The second priest to be placed on leave in the recent investigation is Father Ronald J. Dombrowski, following an accusation that he sexually assaulted a minor. According to the diocese, the alleged victim first brought the complaint to the diocese, which contacted the authorities.

While Dombrowsi, 72, has not been criminally charged, he has also been banned from school properties and from presenting himself as a priest during the investigation. He most recently served as sacramental minister at Holy Family Parish in Saginaw and received “senior priest” status in 2013.

In 2012, Cistone was accused of misleading a grand jury about his compliance in the destruction of documents containing the names of priests suspected of child molestation in 1994, while he was serving as a priest in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Cistone was not criminally charged in the incident.  

In February, Cistone announced that he had been diagnosed with lung cancer.


Death penalty for drug dealers? Catholic group responds to federal memo

Washington D.C., Mar 22, 2018 / 03:30 pm (CNA).- The Trump administration’s call for increased use of the death penalty in drug-related crimes will not address the root causes of the opioid crisis, one Catholic advocate said Thursday.

“To suggest the use of the death penalty as a way to address the opioid epidemic ignores what we know to be true: the death penalty is a flawed and broken system of justice,” said Krisanne Murphy, managing director of the Catholic Mobilizing Network, which opposes the death penalty and promotes restorative justice.

“The opioid epidemic is a public health crisis and it needs to be addressed as such. Suggesting the death penalty as a solution to the opioid epidemic is simply a distraction from dealing with the real problem,” she told CNA.

On Tuesday, the Trump administration released a memo encouraging federal prosecutors to pursue the death penalty for drug traffickers in certain cases.

“The opioid epidemic has inflicted an unprecedented toll of addiction, suffering and death on communities throughout our nation,” said Attorney General Jeff Sessions in a March 20 memo.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drug overdoses claimed the lives of more than 64,000 Americans in 2016, and remains the leading cause of death for Americans under the age of 50.

“To combat this deadly epidemic, federal prosecutors must consider every lawful tool at their disposal…this should also include the pursuit of capital punishment in appropriate cases,” Sessions continued, saying “we cannot continue with business as usual.”

Sessions listed several existing statutes which could warrant capital punishment, including racketeering activities, the use of a firearm resulting in death during a drug trafficking crime, murder in a continuing criminal enterprise, and dealing in extremely large quantities of drugs.

The push for tougher penalties is part of a three-pronged plan to fight the drug abuse crisis within the nation. The plan also includes efforts to reduce demand for and over-prescription of opioids and cut off the supply of illegal drugs, as well as efforts to boost access to treatment for those affected by the opioid epidemic.

While the memo released by Sessions was met with controversy, it does not change what is currently allowable under federal law, Murphy said.

“The suggestion the Trump Administration put forth is nothing new and only reiterated what is currently on the books,” she explained.

Particularly controversial is the recommendation for prosecutors to pursue the death penalty for “dealing in extremely large quantities of drugs.” While federal statutes allow for capital punishment in such cases, the punishment has never before been pursued on these grounds, a Justice Department official said, according to CNN.

Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, told CNA that the “U.S. Supreme Court has categorically stated that the death penalty is unconstitutional for crimes against individuals that do not result in death. That is unequivocal.”

He pointed to a 1977 case, “Coker vs. Georgia,” where the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the death penalty unconstitutional for a rape that did not result in death, and similarly overruled capital punishment in another Georgia kidnapping case.

“Prosecutors are to take a look at the law, which is the same as it has been, and pursue the death penalty when it’s appropriate,” he continued.  

However, he noted the distinction between crimes against an individual versus crimes against the state.

Typically, Dunham said, crimes against an individual would be lower-level drug dealers, in which case, the U.S. Supreme Court has made it clear that capital punishment would be unconstitutional if it is not a crime resulting in death.

In cases of higher-level drug dealing, which is typically international, most treaties and international law will not extradite an individual who may face the death penalty.

“The death penalty is clearly unconstitutional in respect to small-dealers, and it is ineffective with respect to international drug trafficking because no country will turn over any drug trafficker to the United States who may face the death penalty,” Dunham said.

As a result, he does not believe the attorney general’s memo will open the door to capital punishment being used for more non-murder crimes.

Ultimately, Murphy was critical of the use of the death penalty as an effective way to combat the growing opioid crisis within the U.S.

Instead, she suggested transferring the funds which would have been used for the death penalty toward supporting healthcare professionals who provide support and treatment for individuals impacted by drug use.

“Those suffering from addicting, their families, and their communities need healing and restoration,” Murphy noted, saying, “the death penalty does not provide either.”

“Solutions to any instance of harm must be restorative and allow for the flourishing of all people. We must seek resources for prevention, rehabilitation and treatment – not retribution and vengeance.”


New documentary tells the story of L’Arche, Jean Vanier, and friendship

Denver, Colo., Mar 22, 2018 / 12:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The French documentary “Summer in the Forest” depicts the lives of four disabled men and their unlikely friend: a philosopher born into a powerful and distinguished Canadian family, Jean Vanier.

Vanier is the founder of L’Arche, a federation of international communities for people with disabilities.

The film tells the stories of four L’Arche community members, Philippe, Michel, Andre, and Patrick, while asking viewers what it means to be human, and what it means to be happy.

“What is it to be a human being? Is it the power? If it’s power then we would kill each other,” Vanier said in the film, which opens in New York on March 23, and will have select showing across the country.

“See the wise and powerful lead us to ideologies, where as the weak are in the dirt. They’re not seeking power. They’re seeking friendship. It’s a message for all of us. It’s about all of us.”

Founded in France in 1964, L’Arche was among the first residential communities for people with disabilities, who at the time were often placed in insane asylums or other institutions. Today, the organization has 147 residential communities in 35 countries.

The film offers insight into the daily lives of people who were once labeled “idiots,” like Michel, a man wounded from childhood experiences during WWII, and David, a young man with Down syndrome.

Set at a L’Arche community in a forest near Paris, the film invites its viewers to take up the challenge of opening themselves to friendship amidst diversity.

After the completion of the film, Pope Francis sent a personal message to the film’s producers, offering his support for an initiative intended to break down barriers standing between friendship with the intellectually disabled.

“His Holiness Pope Francis wishes to affirm his warm support of all initiatives to foster and integrate at the heart of our societies the mentally disabled.”

Now 89, Jean Vanier was born in Geneva to the Canadian diplomat, Georges Vanier, and his wife, Pauline Vanier. Georges Vanier eventually became Canada’s Governor General.

After serving in the British and Canadian Royal Navies, Vanier took up philosophy studies in 1950. He received a doctorate in philosophy, focusing his thesis on the Aristotelian view of happiness.

According to L’Arche’s website, Vanier focused his research on the experience of “loving and being loved.”

L’Arche began when Vanier was introduced to two men with disabilities through a priest friend, Father Thomas Philippe. Vanier asked the men, Raphael Simi and Philippe Seux, to move from the institution where they were living to his house in Trosly-Breuil, France.

More people came, more homes were established, and as the community grew, the members showed Vanier a beautiful perspective on life: “that strength is revealed through weakness and human vulnerability, which given to grow in trust, creates community.”

US pre-synod delegates: Youth need authentic Catholic witnesses

Vatican City, Mar 22, 2018 / 11:47 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The United States delegates to a pre-synod gathering in Rome this week have said they think young Catholics in the nation need – and desire – faithful and authentic accompaniment in order to live the faith and to form a relationship with Christ.

“The common thread that we kept going back to… was the need for companionship for young people, and how there’s this real desire to meet authentic people who are authentic witnesses,” delegate Katie Prejean McGrady told CNA.

“That word [authentic] came up frequently. And then the whole concept that it didn’t matter where you were from, and it didn’t matter what the state of the Church was, young people respond far better to personal relationships and one-on-one interactions with people of faith.”

Prejean McGrady, a wife, mother, youth minister, and speaker from Louisiana, is one of four representatives – all in their 20s – who were chosen by the U.S. bishops as delegates to the Vatican’s pre-synod gathering happening ahead of the October Synod of Bishops on young people.

Prejean McGrady spoke to CNA March 21 alongside Br. Javier Hansen, FSC, a LaSallian Brother who teaches religion in El Paso; Nick López, a single young adult who is the director of campus ministry for the University of Dallas; and Chris Russo, a Byzantine Catholic who works as a research technologist at a hospital in Boston.

The pre-synod gathering has included discussion among young people from all over the world as they help to prepare and edit a document which will serve as a guide for bishops during the synod. The final document will be presented Saturday, and given to the Pope at Palm Sunday Mass.

Speaking to CNA, all four delegates said that the growing number of young Americans not practicing the faith they were given is one of the major concerns they brought to the meeting, and something they would like to see addressed.

Prejean McGrady said that she thinks one reason for the disaffiliation is that many Catholics in the US were catechized in a way that merely presented “bullet points to learn or these things to do”, rather than integrating these as part of the basis for a relationship with Christ.

She also noted that it is her belief that having “companions on the journey” makes it “much easier to build that relationship.”

Delegates also expressed frustration at feeling that older generations often place the blame of youths' disengagement from the faith on the young people themselves, and do not admit their own share in the responsibility.

Russo said that people to whom he’s spoken are “very distressed about disaffiliation in the Church,” but those “who ask why young people are no longer involved in the Church, are the same people who then criticize, saying, ‘oh, well, you’re too young to understand or to express an opinion.’”

Lopez agreed that it often feels like older generations think young people “don’t care” or are “too distracted,” but he takes hope in the fact that bishops are making an effort to listen to young people. He also expressed his desire that adults outside the hierarchy will also be inspired to listen more.

The four acknowledged that disaffiliation is also a problem in other parts of the world, and that it is not the only challenge young Americans have in common with youth in other parts of the globe.

They noted the increase in mental illness, the effects of media, and pornography use, in particular.

Because the meeting's participants come from different backgrounds, including different religions, Prejean McGrady said that not everyone in attendance has had a positive view of the Church. But in general, the discussions have been instructive and focused on cooperating with the Church, not tearing it down.

She said that she thinks there’s great hope “because we were already brought to the table. I think that’s the bishops appealing to us, saying we want to know how to meet you face-to-face.”

Br. Javier expressed the desire that the same sort of discussions happening at the pre-synod meeting could take place on a national or local level, creating a conduit for communication with young people.

In the end, the delegates all emphasized that young people are both the future of the Church and the Church now.

Russo also requested that the world continue to pray for everyone involved in the Synod. “This is only an initial step – this isn’t the be-all-end-all,” he said. “This isn’t ending, this is something so, so much bigger. We have to talk to our communities… we’re the Church.”

Meet Sister Jean: 98-year-old nun and March Madness Twitter celebrity

Chicago, Ill., Mar 22, 2018 / 10:55 am (CNA).- In the first weekend of the March Madness tournament, the most tweeted-about person might not have been a basketball player, but a 98-year-old religious sister.

Sister Jean Dolores-Schmidt, BVM, is the chaplain of the Loyola University Chicago Men’s Basketball team, and the unlikely breakout star of the college tournament.

Sister Jean burst onto the scene when her beloved Ramblers upset the University of Miami in the first round of the tournament with a down-to-the-wire three-point basket.



— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) March 15, 2018


Following this win, Twitter featured Sister Jean in a Twitter moment, and she received shout outs from high profile accounts including ESPN and former President Barack Obama. The New York Times also ran a profile on her.

Sister Jean leads the team in prayer before each game, and she prays for her players to be safe, for the referees to be fair, and for God’s assistance during the game. She also admitted to praying for the opposing team, but “not as hard.”

Sister Jean provides more than just spiritual support for the team: in 2011, when the Ramblers hired Head Coach Porter Moser, she presented him with a stack of scouting reports for each of his players. She still compiles notes on Loyola-Chicago’s opponents and will warn the team about different players during their pregame huddle. Until she broke her hip this past November, Sister Jean had only missed two home games over the past 23 years--and still followed the team on an iPad while she was recovering from surgery.

The Ramblers proved they weren’t one-and-done when they proceeded to upset the University of Tennessee and move on to the Sweet 16. This is their first time advancing to this round of the tournament since 1985. Sister Jean was thrilled.



— NBC Sports (@NBCSports) March 18, 2018



I’m gonna tell myself that Sister Jean saw this crying girl on the Jumbotron and this was her reaction idc idc

— Clemzingis (@TheClemReport) March 18, 2018


Loyola-Chicago will continue its Cinderella run through the tournament on Thursday night, against Nevada.


Where 'no religion' is default, a look at Europe's young Catholic minority

London, England, Mar 22, 2018 / 03:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Young Catholics in Europe live in a culture where religious affiliation, church attendance, and regular prayer are generally at low levels, according to a sociological study of their demographic across most of the continent.

“Twenty-three percent of French young adults identify as Catholic, compared to only ten percent   in the U.K.,” said the report, which classifies 16- to 29-year-olds as young adults.

“Notably, however, in both France and the U.K. Catholicism is the dominant Christian identity,” the report continued. “Both countries have a significant minority – around one in every ten 16-29 year-olds – of members of non-Christian religions, with Islam being the largest contributor. Yet overall, ‘no religion’ is the default identity of French and British young adults alike, accounting for around two-thirds of each.”

Catholics have a few strongholds in the young adult demographic: they make up 82 percent of young Poles, 71 percent of young Lithuanians, 55 percent of young Slovenians, and 54 percent of young Irish.

The report, “European Young Adults and Religion”, primarily aims to inform the Synod of Bishops, which in October will hold a general assembly on the theme “Young People, the Faith and the Discernment of Vocation.”

Its author is Stephen Bullivant, professor of theology and the sociology of religion at St. Mary’s University in Twickenham, a suburban town of London. He is director of the Benedict XVI Centre for Religion and Society, which issued the report jointly with the Catholic University of Paris.

The report uses data from the European Social Survey to consider religious affiliation and religious practice in 22 countries for those aged 16-29. It considers religious practice and affiliation among Catholics and other young adults across Europe, specifically examining religiosity among young adults in France and the U.K.

Young Polish Catholics report relatively high weekly Mass attendance, with 47 percent of these Catholics going to Mass each week. This compares to 27 percent in Portugal, 24 percent in both the Czech Republic and Ireland, 17 percent in Britain, and seven percent in France. Weekly Mass attendance ranged from 2-6 percent among young Catholics in Belgium, Hungary, Austria, Lithuania and Germany.

In the U.K., 21 percent of young adults identify as Christian, including seven percent who are Anglican. Another six percent are Muslim. In France, 26 percent of young adults identify as Christian, including two percent who identify as Protestant. Ten percent identify as Muslim.

Youth with no religious affiliation make up a super-majority in the Czech Republic, where 91 percent are unaffiliated. In Estonia, the figure is 80 percent, in Sweden 75 percent. U.K. young adults are 70 percent religiously unaffiliated, while in France their proportion is 64 percent.

In Lithuania, only 25 percent state no religious   affiliation, while the figure is 17 percent in Poland and only one percent in Israel.

Among the non-affiliated in France and the U.K., four fifths reported growing up with no religion. Among the 20 percent who grew up with a religion, most come from a Christian background, with former Catholics making up much of this section in France.

French women were significantly more likely to identify with any religion than men, with 55 percent professing no religion; about 72 percent of French men profess no religion. The divide by sex was present in the U.K., but not nearly so significant. Similarly, about 60 percent of young French churchgoers who attend once a month or more are women, while the numbers are somewhat more even in the U.K.

Religious attendance was also considered in the report.
“In only four countries do more than one-in-ten 16-29-year-olds claim to attend religious services on at least a weekly basis: Poland, Israel, Portugal, and Ireland,” said the report. “Our other eighteen countries are distinctive, despite significant variability in their numbers of religious affiliates, by their relative uniformity of (non) practice. All rank in the single digits, within a narrow range between two and nine percent.”

“With only three exceptions, ‘never attenders’ account for between a tenth and a quarter of all Catholic young adults across our sample of countries,” the report continued.

In France, one in four young Catholics say they never attend religious services, compared to one in five for the U.K.

Two-fifths of Spanish Catholic youth do not go to church, a very high proportion compared to self-identified Catholics in other countries. In Belgium, 31 percent of young Catholics never attend church.

The report noted a high level of weekly prayer among young Catholics in the Netherlands and the U.K., about 43 percent of whom reported praying at least once a week—similar figures to those in Ireland. This percentage was exceeded only by Czech and Polish young Catholics.

One third of French Catholics say they never pray, and under 40 percent say they pray once a month or more. In the U.K., only 14 percent never pray, and close to 60 percent say they pray at least monthly.

Affiliated believers are not necessarily the only ones praying. About five percent of the religiously unaffiliated say they pray at least monthly.