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Cardinal DiNardo: This Thanksgiving, I am grateful for immigrants and refugees

Washington D.C., Nov 23, 2017 / 05:00 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In his Thanksgiving message, Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said he is grateful for the gifts and contributions of immigrants and refugees in the United States.

"As we do every year, we will pause this coming Thursday to thank God for the many blessings we enjoy in the United States,” DiNardo said.

“My brother bishops and I, gathered last week in Baltimore, were attentive in a special way to those who are often excluded from this great abundance—the poor, the sick, the addicted, the unborn, the unemployed, and especially migrants and refugees.”

Following the lead of Pope Francis, as well as the election of U.S. President Donald Trump, the U.S. Bishops have been increasingly vocal about their concerns regarding immigration reform and policies, particularly those that harm families or endanger the safety of immigrants.

The U.S. bishops have expressed “a shared and ever-greater sense of alarm—and urgency to act—in the face of policies that seemed unthinkable only a short time ago,” DiNardo said.

These policies include the ending of DACA, which benefited hundreds of thousands of young people who entered the U.S. as migrants, as well as the ending of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for people of several Central American countries, who have sought refuge from violence and natural disasters in the United States.

Earlier this month, the U.S. bishops recommended that the government extend TPS status for tens of thousands of Haitians, who came to the United States after a 2010 earthquake devastated their country.

The bishops, who sent a delegation to assess Haiti’s capability to accept returned nationals, found that the country would not be capable of supporting tens of thousands of people who would be forced to return home. Earlier this week, the Trump administration announced that TPS status would end for Haitians in the United States by July 2019.

“One common feature of all these developments is their tendency to tear apart the family, the fundamental building block of our, or any, society,” DiNardo said.

“These threats to so many vulnerable immigrant and refugee families must end now. My brothers have urged me to speak out on their behalf to urge the immediate passage—and signature—of legislation that would alleviate these immediate threats to these families,” he added.

These current issues are symptomatic of a broken immigration system that has long been in need of comprehensive reform, a process which will take years but to which the bishops are committed, in order to ensure that the United States is “welcoming the most vulnerable, ensuring due process and humane treatment, protecting national security, and respecting the rule of law,” DiNardo said.

“So this year, I give thanks for the gift and contributions of immigrants and refugees to our great nation,” he said.

“I also pray that next year, families now under threat will not be broken and dispersed, but instead will be united in joy around their tables, giving thanks for all the blessings our nation has to offer.”

 

A Seminarian Thanksgiving in Rome

Vatican City, Nov 22, 2017 / 03:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Seminarians studying at the Pontifical North American College in Rome have a lot to be thankful for come Thanksgiving Day. Among them is their community, and also for home-baked pumpkin pie, made by their fellow students, the fifth-year student priests of the college.

Fr. Kevin Ewing, a newly-ordained priest of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, is the leader of this year’s seven intrepid volunteers, who during two afternoons before Thanksgiving will assemble and bake 90 pumpkin pies, to be eaten at the NAC’s annual Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday.

Situated atop Janiculum hill overlooking the Vatican, the campus is home to roughly 250 seminarians and priests studying in Rome for the Church in the U.S., Canada and Australia, as well as numerous faculty members and graduate students.

Since the students aren’t able to return home for the holiday, they try to make it a big community event, especially for seminarians who may be experiencing their first time away from home for a holiday.

Fr. Daniel Hanley, a priest of the Diocese of Arlington, VA and the director of admissions for the college, told CNA that his favorite part of the festivities “is the spirit that's engendered here among the men.”

During a time usually associated with family, it can be difficult for some students to be away from home, he said, but “the whole spirit of the house is a desire to make the day good for each other.”

And the fifth-year students baking the pies? That’s gone on a long time, something Hanley remembers as already a part of long-established tradition when he was a student in Rome in the early 2000s.

This year’s seven priests have limited baking acumen, but “as long as there’s enough people there willing to lend a hand and follow the recipe and watch the oven it’ll come out alright,” Ewing said.

Part of the tradition also includes the fifth-year priests, and transitional deacons not returning to Rome the following year, serving the dinner, Ewing explained: “It’s a way of giving back to the community in a way that we’ve received now for four or five years.”

On Thanksgiving, the day’s festivities will begin around 6 am with a newer development, the NAC’s very own 5k “Turkey Trot,” which starts at the college, and winds around the outside of the Vatican, before returning, uphill, to the seminary.

“Its claim to fame is it's the only Turkey Trot to go around a sovereign nation,” joked third-year seminarian Michael Buck.

An Australian, studying for the Archdiocese of Melbourne, Buck will be celebrating only his third Thanksgiving this year. He said that “discovering the tradition” has definitely been one of the great joys of being at the seminary.

Following the run, seminarians will meet back in their halls to enjoy a leisurely breakfast together before preparing for the noon Mass, which is “the center of our day,” stated Hanley.

The big meal will follow, including guests and friends from around Rome, especially American expats. Another tradition is for seating to be arranged according to home state, tables adorned with state-themed décor, such as sports jerseys or a papier-mâché cactus.

The Australian students – there are five – usually sit at a table together, but have decided this year to spread themselves out among the Americans, Buck said, as a way of more fully integrating into the holiday.

The dinner, which “captures most the festive atmosphere of the day,” according to Buck, will be a traditional American dinner in most ways – complete with turkey and mashed potatoes with gravy. But because they’re still in Rome, a dish of ravioli will provide an Italian twist.

After dinner there will be some free-time, and students often use that opportunity to make video calls home to their families.

Fr. Hanley noted that one of his favorite memories of Thanksgiving Day was walking into the chapel after dinner one year to offer a personal prayer of thanksgiving, and finding more than 100 seminarians praying before the Blessed Sacrament.

“It wasn’t an event, it was just that all these other men decided to go in and pray… and give thanks on Thanksgiving,” he said.

The final event of the holiday weekend will be the “Spaghetti Bowl,” an annual flag football match between a team of “new men” of the seminary, first-year and new transfer students, and a team of upperclassmen, nicknamed the “old men.”

A lot of the weekend is designed, Hanley said, to strengthen “the bond of the new men class – with each other – and then to strengthen their bond as members of this community.” Though most people would want to be home for Thanksgiving if they could, he noted that most seminarians seem to look forward to the weekend.

“There is certainly an atmosphere of thanksgiving and an atmosphere of taking stock” over the day’s celebrations, Buck explained, as well as joy for getting to spend the day together.

As an Aussie, Buck also wanted to offer his own gratitude for the holiday and getting to participate, saying he shares his own “thanksgiving for being able to share in Thanksgiving.”

 

Catholics encounter the homeless on the streets of Hollywood

Los Angeles, Calif., Nov 22, 2017 / 02:21 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A Eucharistic procession is not the first thing people expect to see on the streets of Hollywood, California.

But last Saturday, that’s what happened, with hundreds of people taking part in an evening of prayer and encounter with the homeless.

Nathan Sheets, executive director of The Center, a group that works to fight isolation among the homeless, told CNA that the event provided “an opportunity for individuals from the community, and outside the community, to have a [long-lasting] encounter.”

“Seeing the common humanity in other individuals can only happen with these types of encounters, and I believe that from those types of experiences ... our imaginations for how we can help can be spurned to more than just on one night.”

The Center is one of the homeless advocacy groups that make up the “Beloved Movement,” the coalition that organized the Nov. 19 event, which took place on the first World Day of the Poor.

The event started with Sunday Vigil Mass at Blessed Sacrament parish, followed by a Eucharistic Procession through downtown Hollywood. About 800 attendees proceeded in song or silent prayer, encountering those they met on the streets, and then returned to the parish for adoration and testimonies.

Deacon Spencer Lewrence, another organizer for the event, said a woman named Diane shared her past experiences of addiction and prostitution along Hollywood Boulevard, but how she now returns with her kids to the same street to aid the homeless.

She also recited a poem called the “Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” he told CNA, including the line, “We all have wounds big or small, but joined with Christ we share them all.”

Deacon Lewrence said the event helps Catholics realize that we share a common human dignity with the poor and discover Christ’s constant love even in times of weakness.

“We see Beloved as a movement to get out of ourselves and get close to those who are homeless or who just feel homeless inside for whatever reason. We can recognize that we feel that way too. We see ourselves in each other,” he said.

The Center’s mission is to extend this shared experience to more than one night, said Sheets, adding that long-term community is the best means to create true change.  

In addition to addressing housing, health care resources and other issues faced by the homeless, The Center also works to fight isolation. Its day program, called the Wellness Program, invites individuals to participate in “trauma-informed groups, and community activities to build trust and rapport” while providing a healthy meal.

“About 25 percent of the individuals we see each day have gotten into housing in the time they have become part of our community at The Center, and yet they still come for the community-building groups and our 9 a.m. Monday to Thursday Coffee Hour,” Sheets said.

Encountering more than 200 people per week, the organization will engage its clients in poetry, short stories, and other artistic endeavors.

Sheets said creating this safe place allows the homeless to experience a rich community that encourages change while being given the freedom to improve on their own time.

“We worked to help find housing for a guy who moved in last week, who spent more than 10 years coming into The Center before he articulated a desire to get an ID, turn on his Social Security and then look for housing.”

Having witnessed many long-lasting relationships like these, Sheets said one of his favorite parts of Friday’s event is watching parishioners begin to build this community with the homeless.

“At the end of the day, I think the most important work happens through long-term relationship building, and I think this was the start of something like that for a group of Catholics who may not have had this experience before.”

 

Day of Prayer for Persecuted Christians to be observed this Sunday

Washington D.C., Nov 22, 2017 / 11:31 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has announced Sunday, Nov. 26 as a Day of Prayer for Persecuted Christians.

“On the solemnity of Christ the King, I ask that the entire church in the United States come together in a special way for a day of prayer for persecuted Christians to express our solidarity with those who are suffering,” says Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. bishops’ conference.

“To focus attention on the plight of Christians and other minorities is not to ignore the suffering of others,” he said. “Rather by focusing on the most vulnerable members of society, we strengthen the entire fabric of society to protect the rights of all.”

The bishops’ conference made the announcement in collaboration with Aid to the Church in Need, Catholic Relief Services, the Knights of Columbus, and the Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA).

In a statement announcing the day of prayer, the bishops’ conference said that the Nov. 26 “Solemnity of Christ the King is a fitting time to reflect on religious freedom and Christians around the world who are being persecuted in unheard of numbers.”

The day of prayer also begins a week of awareness and education, entitled “Solidarity in Suffering.” The week will run Nov. 26-Dec. 3 and will use the social media hashtag #SolidarityinSuffering.
 
Parishes and other groups participating in the day and week of prayer can find resources at www.usccb.org/middle-east-Christians. Resources include education materials, suggested Mass intercessions and homily notes, logos for local use, and recommended aid agencies.

Also available at the website is Aid to the Church in Need’s executive summary of “Persecuted and Forgotten? A Report on Christians Oppressed for their Faith 2015-2017.”

 

Pope: Ideological colonization is 'blasphemy' that leads to persecution

Vatican City, Nov 22, 2017 / 11:22 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Tuesday, Pope Francis blasted what he has often referred to as “ideological colonization,” which he said is a sin against God that leads to persecution.

This persecution can have both spiritual and cultural elements, and can have both religious and political motives, he said. Cultural persecution occurs when a new culture comes in and wants “to make everything new and to make a clean break with everything” that was there prior, wiping away “the cultures, the laws and the religions of a people.”

In the past, Francis has often used the term “ideological colonization” in describing what he views as the oppression of developing nations by more powerful ones, particularly in the West, who seek to impose their values on poorer countries by making the adoption of these values a condition for humanitarian aid or development money.

Two examples of this “ideological colonization” Francis has spoken of frequently are the distribution of condoms in developing nations and the promotion of gender theory.

Speaking from the chapel of the Vatican's Saint Martha guesthouse during his daily homily Nov. 21, the Pope centered his reflection on the martyrdom of Eleazar in the day's first reading from the Second Book of Maccabees.

Eleazar, a wise elderly man who was well respected by his peers, was forced by the king, Antiochus Ephiphanes, to eat pork, which the Jews considered unclean and forbidden for consumption. Under penalty of death, Eleazar refused to eat it, even when friends urged him to substitute the pork with another meat, pretending to eat it while really consuming something acceptable.

To do this, Eleazar argued, would not only be dishonest and go against his own life's convictions, but could also cause scandal for the youth, who would think that he had violated the law and may be tempted to do so as well.

He was then tortured and killed for choosing to remain faithful to God's law, which Pope Francis said was the result of a cultural persecution.

Francis said the persecution that eventually led to Eleazar's martyrdom began in the previous day's reading, also from Maccabees, when some of the people, after seeing the Antiochus Ephiphanes' power and beauty, asked the king to give them the faculty to “introduce the pagan institutions of other nations.”

Yet while many people left tradition behind and accepted the pagan way of doing things, there were some, like Eleazar and other martyrs spoken of in the Book of Maccabees, who sought to defend the “true traditions” of the people.

Francis called King Antiochus Epifanes the “perverse root” that gave birth to this persecution through a desire to cling to power.

“And this is the path of cultural colonization that ends up persecuting believers too,” he said, adding that “we do not have to go too far to see some examples: we think of the genocides of the past century, which were a new, cultural thing: 'Everyone equal, and those who don't have pure blood, out.'”

With this mentality, “there is no place for differences, there is no place for others, there is no place for God,” he said.

Pointing to how Eleazar died saying he wanted to leave the youth with a good example to follow, the Pope said Eleazar gave his life for love of God and of the Law, and so became “a root for the future.”

Faced with the perverse root that leads to this ideological and cultural colonization, “there is this other root that gives (his) life for the future to grow.”

Not everything new is bad, Francis clarified, pointing to the novelty of Jesus' message in the Gospel. Because of this, he stressed the importance of knowing how to discern, asking, “Is this new thing from the Lord, does it come from the Holy Spirit, is it rooted in God? Or does this newness come from a perverse root?”

In an apparent reference to abortion, the Pope noted how in the past “it was a sin to kill children,” but now “it is not a problem, it is a perverse novelty.”

God's novelty, he said, never “negotiates,” but rather, grows and looks toward the future, whereas ideological and cultural colonizations “only look to the present; they deny the past, and do not look to the future. They live in the moment, not in time, and so they can’t promise us anything.”

This attitude of trying to make everyone equal and eradicate differences, he said, is “a blasphemy against God the Creator,” because each time an ideological or cultural colonization comes along, “it wants to change Creation as it was made by (God).”

In the face of this, Pope Francis said there is only one remedy: “bearing witness; that is, martyrdom” of people such as Eleazar.

“Yes, I dialogue with those who think otherwise, but my testimony is thus, according to the law of God,” he said, noting that Eleazar doesn't think about money or power, but looks to the future and “the legacy of his testimony” for the youth.

Eleazar's witness, then, becomes a root that gives life to others, Francis said, and voiced his hope that this testimony “will help us in moments of confusion in the face of the cultural and spiritual colonization that is being proposed to us.”