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Pentecost: God's goad

Scripture for Life: Pentecost challenges us to ask ourselves if we are courageous enough to harbor the open-ended expectations demanded of anyone who prays, "Lord, send out your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth."

Archbishop Romero, martyr, to be made saint at Vatican ceremony Oct. 14

After a 38-year-wait, it is now official. Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero, murdered in 1980 for speaking out against military oppression, will be made a saint of the Roman Catholic Church at a Vatican ceremony Oct. 14.

Pope Francis, the first pontiff from the Americas, announced the decision May 19 during a meeting with cardinals based in Rome.

Title X restrictions on Planned Parenthood a 'major victory'

Washington D.C., May 18, 2018 / 04:57 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Pro-life advocates lauded a federal government proposal that aims to remove Title X funding from programs and facilities that promote and perform abortions.

“For too long, Title X has been used to subsidize the abortion industry. We need to draw a bright line between what happens before a pregnancy begins and what happens after a child has been created,” said Cardinal Timothy Dolan, chair of the U.S. bishops’ pro-life committee.

In a May 18 statement, Dolan called the proposal “greatly needed and deeply appreciated.”  

“Abortion always takes the life of a child and often harms the mother, her surviving children, and other family and friends as well. Most Americans recognize that abortion is distinct from family planning and has no place in a taxpayer-funded family planning program,” he said.

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, hailed the move as “a major victory” for the pro-life movement that helps “disentangle taxpayers from the abortion business.”

“The Protect Life Rule doesn’t cut a single dime from family planning,” she said. “It instead directs tax dollars to Title X centers that do not promote or perform abortions, such as the growing number of community and rural health centers that far outnumber Planned Parenthood facilities.”

The Health and Human Services Department on Friday filed a proposal with the Office of Management and Budget to ensure that abortion is not treated as a method of family planning under Title X.

While federal law currently prohibits money received through the Title X Family Planning Grant Program from being used for abortion, pro-life advocates have long voiced concern that this regulation is not always enforced.

The proposal will require a “bright line” of physical and financial separation between Title X programs and any program or facility that performs abortion, or supports or refers for abortion as a family planning method.

It will not decrease the amount of Title X funding, which annually provides $260 million for “family planning” purposes, including contraception, pregnancy testing, and infertility treatments.

Abby Johnson, a pro-life advocate who previously worked as a Planned Parenthood director, said in a statement that there was “never any separation of funds,” and that all money the clinic received, regardless of source, went into one account.

“It was all about the bottom line,” she said.

Title X funds make up a small percentage of Planned Parenthood’s funding, money that Johnson believes the organization will recoup through its network of high-profile donors and supporters.

"They should have no problem making up those taxpayer dollars though with the support of celebrities, the fashion and tech industries, and Hollywood icons,” said Johnson. “But I’m grateful that my tax dollars will not fund Planned Parenthood.”

Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement that the proposal “is an attempt to take away women’s basic rights.”

“Under this rule, people will not get the health care they need. They won’t get birth control, cancer screenings, STD testing and treatment, or even general women’s health exams.”

Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, called the proposal a “dangerous rule” that “should send shivers down the spine of everyone who ever wanted to know the facts and the truth about their own healthcare.”

However, Congressman Chris Smith (R-N.J.), stressed that Planned Parenthood would not explicitly be defunded under the new proposal. Instead, it would be required to separate abortion from its services in order to continue receiving Title X funds.

“The Protect Life Rule is about choice. Planned Parenthood can stop performing abortions or stop receiving family planning funding,” Smith said. “For too long the abortion giant has utilized Title X funding—up to $60 million annually—to further their core mission of destroying unborn human life. The 1970 program is in dire need of reform, and today’s actions lead the way in redirecting the same amount of taxpayer dollars from the abortion industry to actual health care providers.”

Rep. Smith, the co-chair of the Congressional Pro-Life Caucus, was one of more than 150 members of Congress who sent a letter to the Health and Human Services Department in April, asking that Title X dollars be prohibited from going to organizations that perform abortions.

Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Missouri), another signatory of the letter, also applauded the proposal.

“The abortion industry should not be the recipient of taxpayer funded family planning programs,” she said. “This proposed rule will distinguish between health care facilities that provide family planning services and clinics whose business models promote, facilitate, and perform the inhumane act of abortion.”

While the new proposal could lead to Planned Parenthood losing about $60 million annually from Title X funding, the organization is still eligible to receive some $400 million from Medicaid reimbursements annually. Federal Medicaid funds are prohibited from going toward elective abortions, although pro-life advocates have also questioned how thoroughly that regulation is enforced.

The new HHS rule is based off a regulation issued by President Ronald Reagan, which was upheld by the Supreme Court, but was later reversed by President Bill Clinton. The new regulation differs from that of the Reagan era in that it will not ban Title X recipients from counseling clients about abortion.

Last year, Trump signed a repeal of an Obama-era regulation which had prohibited states from denying federal funds to health clinics solely on the grounds that they provided abortions.
 

How Meghan Markle's Catholic school is celebrating the Royal Wedding

Los Angeles, Calif., May 18, 2018 / 04:25 pm (CNA).- Flash mobs, sparkling lemonade, and video toasts to the happy couple are just some of the ways that a Catholic high school in California is celebrating their most popular alumna, soon-to-be royal Meghan Markle.

An American actress best known for her role on the T.V. series “Suits,” Markle attended middle school and high school at Immaculate Heart Catholic school outside of Los Angeles.

The school has taken the highly-anticipated wedding as a chance for celebration, including an outdoor pre-wedding celebration on Tuesday, complete with a group dance, fancy hats, toasts to Markle and both American and British flag-waving.  

Current Immaculate Heart students told media that they take inspiration from the fact that one of their own, who is a U.N. advocate for women and known for her humanitarian work, is being celebrated on the world stage.

“The idea that someone like her, who has had an upbringing so similar to ours, will now be able to voice her concerns on a global platform as an internationally recognized figure is a story that impacts so many young women, especially the young women at our school,” student Mia Speier said in a toast to Markle at the Tuesday event.

“She is from Los Angeles, she's half black, so I feel like no matter what ethnicity you are, no matter where you're from, you could actually make a big change in the world,” Immaculate Heart senior Chloe Hightower told "Good Morning America."

While teachers at the school recalled Markle as a bright and compassionate student with a knack for remembering names and stories, Markle says the teachers made a lasting impression on her as well.

Maria Pollia is an Immaculate Heart theology teacher whom Markle remembers especially fondly. In a recent interview, Markle recalled how Pollia inspired her when she said that “life is about putting others' needs above your own fears.”

“Yes, make sure you are safe and never, ever put yourself in a compromising situation, but once that is checked off the list, I think it's really important for us to remember that someone needs us, and that your act of giving/helping/doing can truly become an act of grace once you get out of your head,” Markle recalled in an interview for the book “The Game Changers: Success Secrets from Inspirational Women Changing The Game and Influencing The World.”

Pollia said she was humbled and proud to hear of her impact on Markle, whose humanitarian work since high school has impressed her former teacher.

“This is something that I think really fuels her, her joy and her heart. And I think it's wonderful to know that she is still that person, and that now with her place in the world, she'll be able to do that on an even greater scale,” Pollia told CNN. “I think that they are both very aware of that. And I think it's wonderful that they will be companions to each other on that journey.”

“She's bringing not just beauty and grace and smarts, but she's bringing this world consciousness,” Christine Knudsen, another former teacher of Markle's, told ABC News.

Markle’s engagement to Prince Harry has raised eyebrows not only for her Catholic ties, but also for her being half black, divorced, and an American, obstacles which just a few years ago may have disqualified the couple from ascending to the throne.

Father James Bradley, a Catholic priest in the U.K. and a former Anglican, told CNA in November that the excitement surrounding royal weddings “shows that even when, in some sense, the marriage isn’t everything we would want it to be, society as a whole has a natural inclination towards the good and towards what marriage represents.”

“So people see the goodness of marriage, even people who are opposed to the institution of marriage will cheer when a couple like this get married, or get engaged, because it takes a very hardened heart not to be happy that two people are seeking this good.”

Prince Harry and Markle will be married in St. George's Chapel at Windsor Castle on Saturday.

Immaculate Heart will be hosting a (early) watch party for students and their families - most coverage of the event begins between 1-2 a.m. Pacific time.

 

Empty cradle, empty pews? What the low birth rate means for Catholics

Washington D.C., May 18, 2018 / 04:15 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Demographic reports indicate that the U.S. birth rate is at a 40-year low, with significant declines among Hispanic women. That low birth rate could mean declining Mass attendance because couples with children are more likely to attend church, one demographer says.

“It is the case that Catholics, Hispanic or not, tend to become more active in their faith when they marry and have children,” said Dr. Mark Gray, senior research associate at the Georgetown University-affiliated Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate.

“Thus, going to Mass frequently may not necessarily make a couple more open to having more children. Instead, having children may encourage parents to incorporate their faith in their family life more and thus lead to higher levels of attendance.”

Hispanic Catholics who attend Mass weekly on average have 2.89 children, compared to non-Hispanic Catholics who have 2.35, said Gray, citing General Social Survey figures.

“So it is accurate to say that more frequently Mass attending Catholics have more children,” Gray told CNA. “Hispanics who are not Catholic have 1.8 children, on average. Nearly half of Hispanic adults are not Catholic, 46 percent.”

At the same time, there are other aspects of the birth rate to consider.

“A growing rate of disaffiliation from Catholicism among Hispanics along with slightly lower rates of Mass attendance among Hispanic Catholics over the last decade could be having an effect on fertility decisions,” Gray added. “The economy is also important.”

The U.S. reached a 40-year low in the fertility rate, according to the Centers for Disease Control provisional estimate for 2017. There were about 3.85 million births last year, a total fertility rate of about 1.76 births per woman.

By comparison, the total fertility rate in 2007 was 2.08 children born per woman, with total births numbering as high as 4.31 million.

Lyman Stone, a research fellow at the Charlottesville, Va.-based Institute for Family Studies, said the Hispanic birth rate appears to have declined the most.

“Solidly half of the missing kids over the last decade would have been born to Hispanic mothers, despite the fact that Hispanics only make up about a quarter of fertility-age women,” Stone said at the Institute for Family Studies website.

From 2008-2016, Hispanic women’s age-adjusted fertility rate fell from 2.85 births per woman to 2.1. They had about 19 percent fewer babies than they were on pace to have before 2008. This numbers about 2.2 million “missing births,” according to Stone.

By comparison, non-Hispanics’ fertility rate fell from 1.95 births per woman to 1.72. About 2.3 million “missing births” would be from these mothers.

Stone credited the birth rate decline among all groups mostly to changes in marriage and marital status.
“Births to never-married women are down more than births to ever-married women,” he said.

Since 2007, the age-adjusted fertility rate for married women is down 14 percent, while the never-married fertility rate is down 21 percent.

The statistics indicate the birth rate is falling more slowly for women with graduate degrees than women with bachelor’s degrees, while the birth rate is falling most for women with no bachelor’s degrees.

“Fertility declines are most strongly associated with factors that are race- or region-specific, not broadly class-specific, as different economic classes appear to have quite similar trends,” Stone said. “This doesn’t rule out all economic causes: there are important interactions between race and socioeconomic class.”

He suggested that economically-oriented solutions may have only “modest direct effects” on the birth rate.

The CARA research blog, edited by Gray, took a look at a similar time period, 2010-2016. It found a net loss in the U.S. Catholic population of 0.9 percent.

“This is a dynamic that is happening at the level of the family where it meets the parish community. Something is disconnected,” Gray said in a March 12, 2018 post.

Decline in marriage rates between Catholics and non-Catholics also mean a decline in non-Catholic spouses who convert to Catholicism. In 1996, 31 percent of all marriages were between Catholics and non-Catholics, compared to only 23 percent in 2015, Gray said.

“The most common reason given by adults converting to Catholicism for switching their religion is that they are marrying a Catholic. Fewer marriages in the Church between Catholics and non-Catholics will result in fewer adult entries into the faith.”

The retention rate among Hispanic Catholics appears to be slipping.

In 2010, 77 percent of Hispanics who were raised Catholic remained Catholic when surveyed, compared to 64 percent of non-Hispanic Catholics. By 2016, only 69 percent of Hispanic Catholics remained Catholic, compared to about 63 percent of non-Hispanic Catholics.

In 2010, 63 percent of all Hispanic adults in the U.S. self-identified as Catholic, compared to 54 percent six years later.

“Declining affiliation among Hispanic Catholics should be of great concern to the Church because a majority of Catholics under the age of 18, those of the iGen, are Hispanic,” said Gray, referring to the generation after the Millennials as “iGen.”

He suggested that descendants of immigrants from predominantly Catholic countries often show diminishing religious affiliation over time.

“Coming from a very Catholic country to one with abundant religious pluralism … is a dramatic cultural change,” he said.

The numbers could also reflect differences among Hispanics by national origin.

“In the United States, majorities of self-identified Mexicans, Dominicans, and Salvadorans self-identify their religion as Catholic,” said Gray. “However, minorities of Cubans, Guatemalans, and Nicaraguans say they are Catholic.”

More Mexican residents of the U.S. are returning to Mexico than entering, with a net population decline of about 140,000 U.S.-residing Mexicans from 2009 to 2014.

Catholic immigrants’ numbers are also on the decline compared to other immigrants.

Vatican's financial critique failed to address structural flaws, systemic rewards

Commentary: Oeconomicae et pecuniariae quaestiones is a sharp and pointed rebuke to the excesses of the "free" market, but it fails to address how engaging in market activity changes the way we think or to admit the system, not just individuals, is sinful.

Their chapel caught fire, but Salesian sisters remain thankful

Newark, N.J., May 18, 2018 / 03:30 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- After a fire destroyed their chapel just days before Pentecost, a community of Salesian sisters expressed gratitude for the first responders who extinguished the flames and saved the church’s tabernacle.

“Though our hearts are heavy, we are fortunate to be able to report that no one was harmed and that firemen were able to rescue the most precious item in the chapel: the tabernacle,” the Salesian Sisters of Saint John Bosco reported in a statement on Friday.

At 1:39am on May 18, a fire broke out at the sisters’ school, Mary Help of Christians Academy in North Haledon, New Jersey.

The blaze was a four-alarm fire, meaning at least 168 firefighters were on the scene. Fire departments from four municipalities provided support. The fire was finally snuffed out at 4am. The cause of the fire has not been released.

The chapel is regularly used by the school, and by the sisters residing nearby. The church was expected to be used for the school’s baccalaureate Mass on June 1 and commencement on June 2. The chapel was built in 1976 and renovated in 2016.

“During a morning assembly led by Principal Sr. Marisa DeRose, FMA, our community wept as photos of the charred altar, pews, and melted Peragallo pipe organ were shared, along with a warning to students to keep far from the building,” the statement said.

Despite their sorrow, the community expressed gratitude that the fire did not spread to other areas of the campus, and a donation to rebuild the chapel was received before the school day began.

“The Sisters, students,faculty, and staff of the Academy are devastated by this loss, but remain thankful to the dedicated firemen who contained the fire before it could cause additional damage to our facilities,” the sisters said.

“A testament to the strength of our community, the first donation to help rebuild the chapel was received from a faculty member before the school day had even begun; upon hearing about the blaze on the fire scanner radio, she was immediately moved to help.”

Mary Help of Christians Academy opened its doors in 1924. According to the academy’s website, the school teaches young women in the “charism of reason, religion and loving kindness as inspired by Saint John Bosco and Saint Mary Mazzarello.”

Church in Venezuela rejects snap presidential election

Caracas, Venezuela, May 18, 2018 / 02:38 pm (Aid to the Church in Need).- According to the latest report by Caritas Venezuela, the inflation of food prices exceeded 1,300 percent in the country in 2017. The International Monetary Fund estimates that inflation in Venezuela will reach 13,000 percent in 2018, the highest rate in the world. On May 1, 2018 the minimum monthly wage was increased from 1.3 million bolivars to 2.5 million bolivars, the ninth increase since January 2017 and the third this year alone – and still most everyday purchases are beyond the reach of ordinary citizens.

Now this economic crisis has been exacerbated by a political crisis, the government having suddenly decided to hold presidential elections on May 20, 2018, rather than in October or December as originally planned.

In its most recent communiqué, the Venezuelan bishops’ conference declared that these elections lack legitimacy, because, the statement said, “as conceived, and without the necessary guarantees common to every free, trustworthy and transparent electoral process, and with the innumerable disqualifications of potential candidates, such an election, far from bringing about a solution to the crisis the country is facing, may even aggravate this crisis and lead to a humanitarian catastrophe without precedent.”

Aid to the Church in Need spoke with Cardinal Jorge Urosa, Archbishop of Caracas, about the situation.

Members of the opposition, arguing that there is no time to organize a campaign on such short notice, have called on people to boycott the elections.

This bringing forward of the presidential elections to May 20 is an affront to the political rights of the Venezuelan people. We have the right to elect our leaders in freedom and in an appropriate manner, with the possibility of achieving a viable democratic outcome. This is like playing a game of football, where one team moves up the date of the match by 10 days from the date agreed on, without giving the other team the chance to gather its best players. These elections should be organized for the last quarter of the year, as established in the Constitution.

The press release by the episcopal conference also speaks of the elections as having no legitimacy.

These elections will not resolve the problem of the social crisis, and for that reason they are without legitimacy. These elections should be postponed, because in reality they are neither legal nor democratic.

It appears that the opposition is not very active. There appears to be no real mobilization ahead of the elections. It seems as though Venezuela is in shock. Is that the case?

Last year, 140 people died in the repression of the protest marches. Some victims had absolutely nothing to do with the protests. I saw a video of a woman who was walking down the street; she wasn’t part of the marches, she was in fact walking away from the crowd, and then “bang”—a shot rang out and she fell down, dead. That really shook me. We are all in shock. It seems as though evil is getting the upper hand, and that it doesn’t matter if children die or if someone surrenders and still gets murdered. In the face of so much suffering and without any answer, the people are despairing and discouraged.

Is the Church the only institution in Venezuela to raise its voice in protest?

No. There are many other groups that are not in agreement, and which are speaking out, for example political groups, the National Assembly. But these are very fragmented and weakened, and they are all heavily threatened. The Church is not the only voice, not in the least, but perhaps we have more impact because confidence in the bishops within Venezuelan society is very high. And not just now; this has been the case for many years already.

Some suggest that the elections were moved forward because of the grave economic situation of the country. Is that one of the reasons?

I cannot say. What I do know is that the reality of life in Venezuela is deplorable. The shortage of medicines and medical supplies is extremely serious, including medical care in hospitals; the shortage of basic foodstuffs and the high cost of food, the problem of transport, and the lack of ready cash. A kilogram [2.2 pounds] of meat costs the equivalent monthly minimum wage; the same goes for a 1 kilogram of powdered milk. Who can afford it? How can it be that there is no money available in a country? That’s enough to kill any economy. We in the Venezuelan bishops’ conference have raised our voices to denounce the social emergency and humanitarian crisis which exist in our country. The lack of electricity and water. No one has bothered to look after these structures or maintain the supply systems. It is desperate; it is terrible to see the country in ruins.

Venezuela seems to be bleeding to death. Caritas International speaks in terms of more than 4 million people who having left the country. That is 10 percent of the population!

There is an exodus because there is no future. There are people walking all the way across the border into Cúcuta (Colombia). The situation is critical. At the present time, practically every Venezuelan family has a member who has left the country. This exodus is also affecting the Church; for example, here in the Archdiocese of Caracas, we have already lost four of our permanent deacons. And there are also many religious congregations that are taking their sisters out of the country because they don’t have the resources to feed them or give them medical care.

What needs to be done to get Venezuela out of this crisis?

The situation is difficult to change. How can there be change when the government has occupied every position on the public institutions? There is no one to turn to. We have the National Assembly, but it is practically paralyzed, just as political parties have been effectively side-lined. At the same time, it could be said that Venezuela has been “mortgaged” away in the grand international geo-political game. The country has abandoned cooperation with some nations and established strategic partnerships with others, for example in the exploitation of oil and mineral reserves.

In the south of Venezuela there are diamond mines, gold and coltan reserves. It’s like the famous Eldorado. Certainly, the damage to the environment as a result of the uncontrolled mineral exploitation poses other worrying issues. Today we can say that any conflict in Venezuela is not merely a conflict among Venezuelans. The country is a pawn in the international geo-political and economic game. This makes everything even more difficult. But we must not cease to pray for our country or hoping for a peaceful solution.

 

 

Maria Lozano writes for Aid to the Church in Need, an international papal charity providing assistance to the suffering and persecuted Church in more than 140 countries. www.churchinneed.org

Farm bill with cuts to federal food program falls flat in the House

The bill, opposed by numerous faith groups, would have attached stricter work requirements to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and slashed funding by as much as $20 billion.

Church leaders offer prayers after school shooting near Houston  

Houston, Texas, May 18, 2018 / 01:22 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Church leaders voiced their closeness to victims of a school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas on Friday, calling Catholics to pray for all those affected.

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston said that he was “deeply saddened” to receive news of the shooting.  

“My prayers, along with the prayers of the faithful of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, are with the victims and families of those killed and injured in this horrific tragedy,” he said in a statement.

“During this most difficult and challenging time, I know the Archdiocesan community will unite to support and offer healing to those affected. As a society, we must strive for a way to end such acts of senseless gun violence in our schools and communities.”

Shortly before 8 a.m. Friday, police were called to respond to a shooting at Santa Fe High School outside of Houston, Texas.

Officials confirmed 10 fatalities in the shooting – nine students and one teacher. At least 13 other people were injured, including at least two law enforcement officers, according to local media reports.

One 17-year-old male suspect is in custody and a second person of interest has been detained. Both are teenagers and are believed to be students at the school.

The Santa Fe Independent School District later reported that possible explosive devices had been found both at the high school and off campus. Law enforcement officials were working to render the items safe, the school district said.

Local officials at a press conference asked for prayers.

In a second statement later in the day, Cardinal DiNardo spoke in his role as president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, lamenting the “ever-growing list of those impacted by the evil of gun violence.”

“Sadly, I must yet again point out the obvious brokenness in our culture and society, such that children who went to school this morning to learn and teachers who went to inspire them will not come home,” he said. “We as a nation must, here and now, say definitively: no more death! Our Lord is the Lord of life. May He be with us in our sorrow and show us how to honor the precious gift of life and live in peace.”

Prayers were also offered by Bishop Gerald R. Barnes of San Bernardino, where in recent years shootings have taken place at both an elementary school and a facility for those with developmental disabilities.

“My prayers for those who died in this morning's tragic school shooting at Santa Fe High School in Texas, their families, those injured and the entire school community,” Bishop Barnes said on Twitter. “May they receive God's strength and His consolation in this time of shock and sadness.”

Bishop David Ricken of Green Bay tweeted that the students and families at the school would be remembered at a previously scheduled Mass taking place Friday morning.

“Our hearts are heavy hearing the news about Santa Fe High School. My prayers are with all those who are impacted by this horrible and senseless act. May the families of the victims experience the healing power of Jesus' love,” said Archbishop Leonard Blair of Hartford.

Bishop Michael Olson of Fort Worth, Bishop Robert Cunningham of Syracuse, Bishop Michael Burbidge of Arlington, Va., and Archbishop Samuel Aquila of Denver also offered prayers on Twitter.