Father Kevin M. Smith, pastor of Our Lady of the Snow Parish in Blue Point, N.Y., is seen in his office Aug. 25, 2021. Father Smith, a Nassau County, N.Y., fire chaplain, served as a 9/11 first responder in the aftermath of the 2001 terrorist attacks in New York City. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

BLUE POINT, N.Y. (CNS) – Father Kevin M. Smith, a veteran fire chaplain, trauma counselor and loyal friend to scores of active and retired firefighters in the New York metropolitan area, receives more phone calls in early September than any other time of the year.

Most of the calls are from firefighters who served amid the carnage and chaos in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on New York City’s World Trade Center.

A fire chaplain with 30 years of service, Father Smith, 60, is commissioned by Nassau County, New York, to minister to members of the county’s 71 volunteer fire departments, many of whom work full time with the New York Fire Department.

He also is a member of the county’s Critical Incident Stress Management team, which provides support to firefighters and emergency medical services workers who are dealing with trauma associated with their duties as first responders.

Father Smith’s cellphone starts ringing and dinging with calls and texts from firefighters in the days leading up to and including the 9/11 anniversary. They come from front-line heroes who have been emotionally and, in many cases, physically affected by the cataclysmic event.

Father Smith — pastor of Our Lady of the Snow Church in Blue Point in the Diocese of Rockville Centre — can empathize with the callers. He, too, was a first responder at ground zero, arriving near the scene as the World Trade Center’s North Tower was collapsing, completing the total destruction of the two 110-story buildings and resulting in a mountain of crushed concrete, twisted steel and pulverized debris where they once stood in lower Manhattan.

In an interview with Catholic News Service to mark the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania, Father Smith spoke about his role as a chaplain on and after 9/11.

“I can’t believe it was 20 years ago,” he remarked. “There are days when it feels like yesterday.”

For Father Smith, Sept. 11, 2001, began at St. Rose of Lima Church in Massapequa, some 40 miles east of the city. An associate pastor at the time, he had been preparing to celebrate morning Mass when a parish secretary told him to turn on the television where he witnessed the second of two hijacked jetliners crash into the World Trade Center.

Several minutes later, his fire pager chirped, alerting him about the mass casualty incident.

After notifying his pastor that he was responding to the call, Father Smith jumped into his black Chevy Trailblazer — a vehicle with emergency lights and sirens — and headed toward the city. Along the way he picked up his younger brother, Patrick Smith, an off-duty New York City firefighter, and dropped him off at his firehouse in the Bronx.

When he eventually arrived in lower Manhattan, Father Smith encountered a surreal scene. The devastation was overwhelming.

“The whole place was filled with smoke,” he recalled. “There was a lot of stuff coming out of the air. Fire trucks and Emergency Service Unit vehicles were catching fire from the falling debris and exploding.”

Throughout the day and into the early hours the following day, Father Smith — protected by a fire helmet and bunker coat — offered prayers, emotional support and assistance to firefighters and other emergency personnel. A trained firefighter, he also helped search for victims.

As shaken first responders went about their business amid the mayhem, a number of them asked Father Smith to hear their confessions.

“They wanted absolution before heading down to ‘the pile’ because you didn’t know what was going to explode next, what was going to fall down,” he said.

In addition to ministering to the firefighters, the priest blessed the bodies of many of the FDNY’s 343 fallen heroes, including Franciscan Father Mychal Judge, the beloved FDNY chaplain and first certified casualty of 9/11.

For several months following 9/11, Father Smith would commute almost daily from his parish to ground zero, where he continued to offer support to the firefighters, including his brother Patrick, who was among those participating in the recovery efforts.

He said his faith helped sustain him through the difficult work and grueling schedule. “Prayer, adrenaline and the Holy Spirit,” were the emboldening forces, he said, adding: “I had a sense that God was with me.”

Referring to his vocation as “a ministry of presence,” he said he spent time with the firefighters when they were working at ground zero and during their meals and rest breaks.

“I appreciated being a priest and a lot of people appreciated me being a priest. A lot of guys said, ‘Father, thank God you’re down here with us.’ … I felt needed.”

Father Smith was also present to the bereaved members of the fallen firefighters’ families. He estimates that he concelebrated 30 to 40 funeral Masses of firefighters, sometimes two or three in a single day.

“I knew a lot of the guys,” he said.

He also had been friendly with a number of people who worked inside the towers. One of his former parishes, St. Mary Church in Manhasset, lost 22 parishioners and alumni from its elementary and secondary schools, the majority of whom Father Smith had known personally. He concelebrated several of those funeral liturgies.

“I remember a year or two after 9/11 looking at a list of victims to see how many people I actually knew,” Father Smith said. “It was about 60. Sixty friends that I had contact with and knew their families. They were firefighters, guys from Cantor Fitzgerald and the other financial groups at the Trade Center.”

Like many emergency responders who served at the World Trade Center site on 9/11 and post-9/11, Father Smith developed health issues related to the toxic conditions of the environment.

“I have chronic sinusitis. I have sleep apnea. I’ve had some skin cancer,” he said. “All have been certified as 9/11-related.”

His brother Patrick, meanwhile, was forced to retire from the FDNY in 2006 with a 9/11-related respiratory illness.

Father Smith said he has proactively addressed the emotional scars that he bears from his time at ground zero. “I go to counseling,” he said. “It helps, especially on the (9/11) anniversaries. If you’re going to do trauma counseling, it’s not a bad thing to check in with somebody from time to time.

“The first couple of years, I’d have nightmares, flashbacks, a lot of that stuff.”

Father Smith’s 9/11 recollections also include positive memories of a time when people expressed their appreciation for the firefighters, police officers, construction workers and many others who pitched in at ground zero.

“At night, when you left the Trade Center, there would be people on the streets with big signs saying: ‘Thank You.’ They’d hand you a bottle of water or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich made by a school kid in Connecticut.”

Father Smith fondly remembers strangers chatting with and helping one another, a byproduct of the collective pain people shared and their desire for healing in the wake of the catastrophe.

He said he misses the post-9/11 period that was marked by a heightened degree of charity and fellowship, along with intense national pride and unity.

“It petered out over time to the point today where we’re probably yelling and screaming at each other a lot more than we should,” the priest said.

“You wish that some of the lessons we learned from 9/11 would have been passed on, like reaching out to one another, forgiving one another, being a little more patient with one another.”

The most important lesson, he said: “Cherish every single day.”

 

Pope Francis leads his general audience in the Paul VI hall at the Vatican Sept. 8, 2021. At left is Msgr. Leonardo Sapienza, an official of the Prefecture of the Papal Household. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – There is no place for discrimination or divisive distinctions among people who believe in Christ, Pope Francis said during his weekly general audience.

That everyone is made new and equal in Christ overcomes all ethnic, economic and social differences, even between the two sexes, “establishing an equality between man and woman which was revolutionary at the time and which needs to be reaffirmed even today,” he said Sept. 8 to those gathered in the Paul VI audience hall at the Vatican.

“How many times we hear expressions that denigrate women,” he said, adding that even today women experience a kind of slavery in which “women do not have the same opportunities as men.”

The pope continued his series of talks on St. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians by looking at what faith in Christ brings.

With faith and baptism, people become new creatures, “clothed” with Christ and children of God in Christ, the apostle writes. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is no male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

The pope said this shows how “baptism, therefore, is not merely an external rite. Those who receive it are transformed deep within, in their inmost being, and possess new life” with an identity that is so new “that it prevails over the differences that exist on the ethnic-religious level” and social and economic levels.

St. Paul’s teaching was “shocking” and “revolutionary” at a time when distinctions, for example, between slaves and free citizens “was vital in ancient society,” the pope said.

“By law, free citizens enjoyed all rights, while the human dignity of slaves was not even recognized,” he said.

The same thing is happening to many people in the world today, “who do not have the right to eat, who do not have the right to education, who do not have the right to work. They are the new slaves. They are the ones who live on the margins, who are exploited by everyone” and whose human dignity is denied, he said.

“Equality in Christ overcomes the social differences between the two sexes, establishing an equality between man and woman,” he said, calling for a reaffirmation of this truth.

St. Paul “confirms the profound unity that exists between all the baptized, in whatever condition they are bound to, because every one of them is a new creature in Christ. Every distinction becomes secondary to the dignity of being children of God.”

Therefore, “it is decisive even for all of us today to rediscover the beauty of being children of God, to be brothers and sisters among ourselves, because we have been united in Christ, who redeemed us,” he said.

Differences and conflicts caused by separation “should not exist among believers in Christ,” he said, cautioning against creating differences between people, “many times unconsciously.”

“Rather, our vocation is that of making concrete and evident the call to unity of the entire human race.”

“Everything that exacerbates the differences between people, often causing discrimination — all of this, before God, no longer has any meaning, thanks to the salvation effected in Christ.”

At the end of the general audience, the pope marked the day’s feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary by asking people to pray that “our mother help us to rediscover the beauty of being children of God and, overcoming differences and conflicts, to help us live as brothers and sisters.”

The day is also when the people of Cuba celebrate their patroness, Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre, he said. Recalling his visit to her shrine in 2015, “I want to once again present at the feet of the Virgin of Charity the life, dreams, hopes and sorrows of the Cuban people,” so that wherever they find themselves, they may experience the tenderness of Mary be led to Christ.

The pope also greeted all students heading back to school, saying he hoped the coming academic year would be “a time of educational growth and deepening of the bonds of friendship.”

“May the Lord help you safeguard the faith and cultivate science in order to become protagonists of a better future in which humanity may be able to enjoy peace, fraternity and tranquility.”

 

An election worker in San Diego, Calif., places mail-in ballots into a voting box at a drive-through drop off location at the Registrar of Voters for San Diego County Oct. 19, 2020. Polarization in politics, the church and across society has prompted the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to launch an initiative that looks to bring people together to serve the common good through “charity, clarity and creativity.” (CNS photo/Mike Blake, Reuters)

CLEVELAND (CNS) – Polarization across society has prompted the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to launch an initiative that looks to bring people together to serve the common good.

Called “Civilize It: A Better Kind of Politics,” the initiative is designed to “move forward the kind of conversations that we need to be having to overcome our divisions,” said Jill Rauh, director of education and outreach in the USCCB’s Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development, which is coordinating the effort.

The USCCB introduced the initiative Sept. 7.

The effort draws heavily from the teachings of Pope Francis, particularly his call in the third encyclical of his papacy, “Fratelli Tutti, on Fraternity and Social Friendship.”

“We are in a situation where both in society and the church we are experiencing a lot of division and polarization,” Rauh told Catholic News Service. “In Fratelli Tutti, Pope Francis specifically is calling Catholics and all people of goodwill to build a better kind of politics, one at the service of the common good.”

The Civilize It initiative is meant not just for political leaders, but for all people, Rauh added.

A special webpage for the initiative, CivilizeIt.org, has links to a tool kit with resources to help parishes, small groups and individuals address polarization of any kind.

“Pope Francis is very clear in ‘Fratelli Tutti’ and the bishops have been clear in ‘Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship’ that we are called to engage in the public sphere and to do so year-round, to be working together and to try to identify ways to work for the common good,” Rauh said.

“Forming Consciences” is the bishops’ quadrennial document on election participation.

Other USCCB offices also are promoting the initiative, Rauh said. In addition, leaders in at least 45 dioceses are planning to incorporate the initiative in diocesan programs and more are expected to also take part.

Tool kit resources range from a Prayer for Civility that draws from the Peace Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi to a reflection titled “Loving our Neighbor through Dialogue.” Other materials include a study guide and parish bulletin inserts.

Website visitors are invited to sign a pledge saying they will rely on “charity, clarity and creativity” to promote understanding and dialogue over division.

Signers pledge to affirm each person’s dignity, even when they disagree with someone and respectfully listen to others “to understand experiences different from my own.”

The pledge also invites signers to engage in “critical examination to ensure that my perspectives are rooted in truth, that my sources of information are unbiased and that I not open myself to manipulation by partisan interests.”

Other actions listed with the pledge include becoming a “bridgebuilder who participates in constructive dialogue based in shared values” and to see differences in perspectives as “opportunities for creative tension which can yield solutions for the common good.”

The initiative builds on a program with a similar name introduced by the Department of Justice Peace and Human Development for the 2020 election cycle. That effort sought to remind people that civility in political discussions, not rancor, is a virtue.

The idea for “Civilize It” originated in the Social Action Office of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati in 2016. Its success in Ohio caught the attention of the USCCB, which decided that the model, with a few tweaks, could be introduced nationwide in 2019.

 

 

Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston greets newly ordained Deacon Bruce Flagg during an ordination Mass for permanent deacons at the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Houston Feb. 20, 2021. Deacon Flagg, who is deaf, assists with deaf ministry in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston. (CNS photo/James Ramos, Texas Catholic Herald)

WASHINGTON (CNS) – The U.S. Catholic Church in 2020 had 18,075 permanent deacons serving in ministry, a decrease of 118 deacons, less than 1%, from the previous year, according to data collected by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate in Washington.

Despite the slight decline, as shown in information in the Official Catholic Directory, CARA researchers expect the number of permanent deacons to grow to a projected 19,478 based on trends since 2003.

Meanwhile, a total of 124 formation permanent diaconate formation programs in the U.S. reported 2,105 candidates enrolled during the 2020-2021 academic, a decrease of 50 candidates, about 2%, from the previous year, researchers found.

The number of permanent deacons has remained steady in recent years after steady growth with ordinations beginning in 1972. The ministry was reestablished by St. Paul VI in 1967 following the reforms of the Second Vatican Council.

CARA released a report on its findings Sept. 7. The study was completed in July.

A breakdown of the data collected by the center show that the share of candidates in their 30s and 40s stood at 22% in the 2020-2021 academic year. That represents a 50% decline in the share of candidates in the two youngest age groups since 2002.

Nearly half, 45% of candidates, were in their 50s and 33% were age 60 or older in the same academic year.

Canon law requires permanent deacons be at least age 35 to enter formation.

The study reported that the vast majority of candidates, 95%, were married. Another 2% were single, never married and 2% were widowed or divorced.

It appears that the diaconate is become more racially diverse. Looking at data on the racial and ethnic mix of candidates, the study found that 67% of candidates were white. In comparison, during the 2002-2003 academic year 76% of candidates were white.

Meanwhile, 26% of candidate were Hispanic or Latino. CARA projected the share of Hispanic or Latino candidates would grow to 29% in the 2025-2026 academic year.

According to the data: 4% of diaconate candidates were Asian or Pacific Islanders, 2% were Black and 2% were Native Americans, multiracial or another ethnicity. The combined share of candidates in these ethnic groups has remained stable at 6 to 8% of formation classes since 2002-2003, the report said.

The U.S. has 159 confirmed formation programs for the permanent diaconate and an additional 15 programs are “most likely to exist,” CARA said. Overall, 35 programs had no candidates in formation during the 2020-2021 academic year.

The largest formation programs exist in Texas. The Archdiocese of San Antonio reported 74 diaconate candidates while the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston had 71 candidates.

Rounding out the top five were the Archdiocese of Los Angeles with 61 candidates, the Archdiocese of Newark, New Jersey with 54 and the Diocese of Charleston, South Carolina with 49.

The survey of formation programs found that 25% of candidates had a graduate degree and 39% had a bachelor’s degree. Another 14% of candidates had some college education and 22% had a high school diploma or no diploma.

Note: CARA’s full report on the permanent diaconate is available online at cara.georgetown.edu/DeaconFormation2021.pdf.

This is the official logo for the XVI Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops. Originally scheduled for 2022, the synod will take place in October 2023 to allow for broader consultation at the diocesan, national and regional levels. (CNS photo/courtesy Synod of Bishops)

 

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – The Vatican has issued the preparatory document and a “handbook” for dioceses as part of the global church’s preparation for the 2023 assembly of the Synod of Bishops, discussing the theme, “For a synodal church: communion, participation and mission.”

“Pope Francis invites the entire church to reflect on a theme that is decisive for its life and mission: ‘It is precisely this path of synodality which God expects of the church of the third millennium,'” the new document said.

As such, the preparatory document and its questions are “at the service of the synodal journey, especially as a tool to facilitate the first phase of listening to and consulting the people of God in the particular churches in the hope of helping to set in motion the ideas, energy and creativity of all those who will take part in the journey, and to make it easier to share the fruits of their efforts,” it said.

“The purpose of this synod is not to produce more documents. Rather, it is intended to inspire people to dream about the church we are called to be, to make people’s hopes flourish, to stimulate trust, to bind up wounds, to weave new and deeper relationships, to learn from one another, to build bridges, to enlighten minds, warm hearts, and restore strength to our hands for our common mission,” the preparatory document said.

The handbook or “vademecum” offers guidelines for bishops and those helping facilitate the synodal process locally on how they can best listen to and consult with Catholics and the wider community, particularly those on the margins of society, as well as Christians and non-Christians.

The materials were released Sept. 7 at a news conference at the Vatican and online in English and Spanish at the synod’s official website: synod.va/en.html and synod.va/es.html.

Pope Francis is scheduled to formally open the synod process at the Vatican Oct. 9-10, and the bishop of every diocese should open the process in his diocese Oct. 17. The diocesan phase runs until April.

The materials present a number of questions to help prompt reflection, input and ideas from as many people as possible.

The questions fall under 10 general themes, and people can address what is most pertinent to their situation and “share with honesty and openness about their real-life experiences, and to reflect together on what the Holy Spirit might be revealing through what they share with one another,” the document said.

Some suggested questions include: “To whom does our particular church ‘need to listen to'” and “how are the laity, especially young people and women, listened to? How do we integrate the contribution of consecrated men and women? What space is there for the voice of minorities, the discarded, and the excluded? Do we identify prejudices and stereotypes that hinder our listening? How do we listen to the social and cultural context in which we live?”

However, the basic and most fundamental question guiding the whole process is: “How does this ‘journeying together,’ which takes place today on different levels — from the local level to the universal one — allow the church to proclaim the Gospel in accordance with the mission entrusted to her; and what steps does the Spirit invite us to take in order to grow as a synodal church?” the document said.

Speaking at the Sept. 7 news conference, Cardinal Mario Grech, secretary-general of the Synod of Bishops, and others explained the main objectives and characteristics of a synodal process, which is “a spiritual process” that requires listening to the Holy Spirit as well as to each other.

“The synod will succeed or fail to the extent to which we rely on the Holy Spirit,” the cardinal said.

The cardinal urged reporters to offer “correct communication” of what the synod and synodality are about, including not painting it as “a parliament” or as different sides playing against each other “in which the one who has more strength influences or subjugates the other.”

When asked about the possibility of allowing women to vote in a Synod of Bishops, Cardinal Grech said he felt troubled by so much focus being on “the vote,” saying “it is not the vote that matters.”

What matters is the larger process that involves the entire people of God coming together to find common ground, which is not easy, he said. “So perhaps we have to insist more on how we can dialogue, converse, discern together in order to possibly reach this harmony,” find consensus and not depend so much on the votes cast during the later phase of a synod.

Xaviere Missionary Sister Nathalie Becquart, one of two undersecretaries to the Synod of Bishops, will be the first woman with a right to vote at a meeting of the Synod of Bishops. In March, when she was appointed, Cardinal Grech said permitting her to vote in a synod was “a major milestone” and was something that should not be limited to just this one institution or just to voting rights.

Myriam Wijlens, a canon lawyer and Synod of Bishops consultor, told reporters that women need to “present themselves” and speak up “courageously” during this consultation phase. It will also be important to listen to what women from non-Western cultures are saying, she added.

The handbook said even though dioceses will be asked to spend six months doing extensive outreach and consultation with as many people as possible, the synodal process “is not a mechanical data-gathering exercise or a series of meetings and debates.”

“Synodal listening is oriented toward discernment,” in which people listen to each other, to their faith tradition and to “the signs of the times in order to discern what God is saying to all of us,” it said.

Widespread participation is an important part of the diocesan process, the document said, with no one being excluded. “We must personally reach out to the peripheries, to those who have left the church, those who rarely or never practice their faith, those who experience poverty or marginalization, refugees, the excluded, the voiceless, etc.”

This will require creativity, especially in parts of the world where restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19 are still in place, it added.

All the feedback that is generated throughout the listening process should be gathered into a “synthesis” after each gathering, followed by a “synthesis” to be written for each diocese and ultimately for each bishops’ conference.

Bishops’ conferences and the synods of the Eastern Churches will provide a synthesis of all the local feedback to the Synod of Bishops, and all of that material will be the basis for the writing of two working documents. Bishops and auditors will then gather with Pope Francis at the assembly of the Synod of Bishops in Rome in October 2023 to speak and listen to one another on the basis of the process that began at the local level.

The handbook said the synthesis “does not only report common trends and points of convergence, but also highlights those points that strike a chord, inspire an original point of view, or open a new horizon. The synthesis should pay special attention to the voices of those who are not often heard and integrate what we could call the ‘minority report,'” it said.

Bishops have an important role throughout the synodal process as “pastors, teachers and priests of sacred worship,” the handbook said. “Their charism of discernment calls them to be authentic guardians, interpreters, and witnesses to the faith of the church.”

 

A Planned Parenthood exam room is seen in this illustration photo. The Supreme Court took no action Aug. 31, 2021 to block a Texas bill that prohibits most abortions after six weeks of pregnancy. (CNS photo/Liliana Engelbrecht, Reuters)

WASHINGTON (CNS) – In a late-night decision Sept. 1, the Supreme Court ruled against blocking a Texas law banning abortions at six weeks of pregnancy.

The 5-4 vote, issued with a one-paragraph unsigned opinion, said the challengers to the Texas law — which went into effect Sept. 1 — did not adequately address the “complex and novel antecedent procedural questions” in this case.

“This order is not based on any conclusion about the constitutionality of Texas’ law, and in no way limits other procedurally proper challenges to the Texas law, including in Texas state courts,” the opinion said, leaving open the possibility that the state’s abortion providers could challenge it in other ways.

The Texas abortion providers had come to the Supreme Court with an emergency appeal to stop the law, but the court initially did not respond.

Chief Justice John Roberts joined Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and Stephen Breyer in dissenting votes and each of them wrote separate statements expressing their disagreement with the majority.

A key part of the law that the dissenting justices took issue with is its emphasis on private citizens bringing civil lawsuits in state court against anyone involved in an abortion, other than the patient, but including someone who drives the patient to a clinic.

Sotomayor said the majority opinion in this case was “stunning.” She said that when the court examined a “flagrantly unconstitutional law engineered to prohibit women from exercising their constitutional rights and evade judicial scrutiny, a majority of Justices have opted to bury their heads in the sand.”

Kagan similarly called the Texas law “patently unconstitutional,” for its emphasis on encouraging “private parties to carry out unconstitutional restrictions on the State’s behalf.”

Roberts said the “statutory scheme” involving citizens’ enforcement of the law “is not only unusual, but unprecedented.”

“The legislature has imposed a prohibition on abortions after roughly six weeks, and then essentially delegated enforcement of that prohibition to the populace at large. The desired consequence appears to be to insulate the state from responsibility for implementing and enforcing the regulatory regime.”

He also noted that the case is not shut, saying that although the court denied the emergency relief sought by the applicants, its order is “emphatic in making clear that it cannot be understood as sustaining the constitutionality of the law at issue.”

In a statement just after the court’s decision, Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, which represents abortion providers challenging the Texas law, said these challengers would keep fighting.

“We are devastated that the Supreme Court has refused to block a law that blatantly violates Roe v. Wade,” she added.

The law, signed by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott in May, became effective at midnight central time Sept. 1. It is one of the strictest abortion measures in the country, banning abortions in the state after a fetal heartbeat is detectable. The law has an exception for medical emergencies but not for rape or incest.

The night before this took effect, court watchers on both sides of the issue kept vigil at the Supreme Court waiting for an order that never came. Abortion providers in the state had argued that the law would prevent about 85% of abortions in the state and will likely cause many clinics to close.

Currently, at least 12 other states have legislation banning abortions early in pregnancy, but these bans have been blocked by courts.

“Hopefully, this law will begin saving the lives of tens of thousands of Texas babies and we look forward to the day that babies’ lives will be spared across America,” said Carol Tobias, president of National Right to Life.

She also applauded the efforts of the Texas Right to Life and “pro-life Texans who have been devoted to providing a voice for the voiceless. We praise all of our state affiliates who have diligently and tirelessly worked with state legislators to protect unborn babies by passing laws that protect children whose hearts have begun to beat,” she said in a Sept. 1 statement.

Two months after the law was signed, abortion providers challenged it in court, saying it violated patients’ constitutional right to end a pregnancy before viability, when a fetus is said to be able to survive on its own.

The Supreme Court has consistently ruled that states cannot restrict abortion before the 24-week mark. This fall, the court will take up a Mississippi abortion ban after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

Those appealing the state law filed a motion in late August that was denied by the district court. They turned to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, which granted their request to put the district-court proceedings on hold but denied the challengers’ request to expedite the appeal, which led them to seek emergency relief from the Supreme Court Aug. 30.

Scotusblog, which reports on the Supreme Court, said the Texas attorney general and other defenders of the state’s abortion law had urged the Supreme Court to stay out of the dispute, saying the court is limited in its power to grant relief before laws have actually been enforced. They argued that courts can bar people from doing something, but they have no power to “expunge the law itself.”

In late March, the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops, the public policy arm of the state’s bishops, said it was “thrilled to report” Senate passage of pro-life bills supported by the conference and said they were considered top priorities.

 

Pope Francis speaks during his general audience in the Paul VI hall at the Vatican Sept. 1, 2021. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – People should change the way they eat, travel and use natural resources, energy and products so they minimize their harm to the earth, Pope Francis said.

“Let us pray that we all will make courageous choices, the choices necessary for a simple and environmentally sustainable lifestyle, taking inspiration from our young people who are resolutely committed to this,” the pope said.

In a video message released by the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network Sept. 1, the pope offered his prayer intention for the month of September, which he dedicated to “an environmentally sustainable lifestyle.”

Sept. 1 also marked the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation, which also kicks off the celebration of the Season of Creation, which runs to Oct. 4, the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of ecology.

The theme this year is “A home for all? Renewing the Oikos of God,” Pope Francis said during his general audience at the Vatican Sept. 1.

He told those gathered that he, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, an early leader in the Christian ecology movement, and Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury “have prepared a message that will be issued in the coming days.”

“Together with our brothers and sisters of different Christian denominations, let us pray and work for our common home in these times of grave crisis for the planet,” he said at the general audience.

The pope also confirmed that “in principle” he was scheduled to attend the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland, in November, during an interview aired Sept. 1 with COPE, the radio network owned by the Spanish bishops’ conference.

“In principle, the program is that I go. It all depends on how I feel at the time,” he said.

“But, in fact, my speech is already being prepared, and the plan is to be there,” he said, adding that he hoped the summit would increase governments’ commitments “and bring us more in line” with what action is needed to reach the goals of the Paris Agreement on climate change.

The world’s adults need to be inspired by and follow the lead of today’s young people, who are at the forefront of caring for the environment, the pope said in the rest of his video message for the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network.

Speaking about his monthly intention for September, the pope said, “It makes me very happy to see that young people have the courage to undertake projects for environmental and social improvement, since the two go together.”

“We adults can learn much from them, because in all matters related to care for the planet, they are at the forefront. Let us take advantage of their example and reflect on our lifestyle, especially during these moments of health, social and environmental crisis,” he said.

“Let us reflect on how the way we eat, consume, travel, or the way we use water, energy, plastics, and many other material goods, is often harmful to the earth,” he said.

He said, “Let us choose to change. Let us advance with young people toward lifestyles that are simpler and more respectful of the environment.”

Young people “aren’t foolish because they are committed to their own future. This is why they want to change what they will inherit at a time when we will no longer be here,” the pope said.

 

A destroyed car is seen under the debris of a building in New Orleans Aug. 31, 2021, after Hurricane Ida made landfall. (CNS photo/Marco Bello, Reuters)

WASHINGTON (CNS) – Catholic Charities in and around the areas of Louisiana and Mississippi affected by Hurricane Ida — one of the most powerful storms to hit the continental U.S. since Hurricane Katrina in 2005 — are collecting donations as they prepare to help with the yet-unknown damage caused by the late August storm.

In a televised Aug. 30 meeting with President Joe Biden, Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards said he estimated that close to 2 million are without electricity in the region, though news reports said about 1 million were affected.

Many remained without cellphone service and at least four deaths had been confirmed by Aug. 31; a 71-year-old man is missing but presumed dead after his wife reported that he’d been attacked by a large alligator while walking the flood waters surrounding their home in Slidell, Louisiana, the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Office reported Aug. 30.

Houses in Grand Isle, La., are seen flooded Aug. 31, 2021, after Hurricane Ida made landfall. (CNS photo/Marco Bello, Reuters)

The local agency warned those in the affected areas “to be extra vigilant with walking in flooded areas as wildlife has been displaced as well during this storm and alligators and other animals may have moved closer into neighborhoods.”

Edwards said the death toll likely will rise.

Many Masses Aug. 29 had been suspended in the region as residents prepared to ride out the storm or had evacuated.

Edwards said the damage was “catastrophic” as news outlets showed flooded and destroyed homes, torn roofs and water running through Louisiana streets like a rushing river.

Biden said he asked the Federal Aviation Administration to work with electric providers in Louisiana and Mississippi to use surveillance drones “to assess Ida’s damage to energy infrastructure.”

Though the hurricane had torn through much of Louisiana as a Category 4 storm on Aug. 29, the following day it was heading, as a downgraded tropical storm, but still life-threatening, toward Mississippi and then Tennessee, where flooding was the main concern.

As levees in Louisiana seemed to have stood up of Ida’s wrath, many on social media urged the public to keep in mind that help would be needed in small agricultural towns, not just for damage to New Orleans.

Catholic dioceses and organizations said they were mobilizing to help as soon as conditions allowed. Catholic Charities USA is accepting donations to help the hurricane relief efforts at www.catholiccharitiesusa.org.

“Our local #disasterresponse teams will be ready to hit the ground when it’s safe to do so,” tweeted Catholic Charities of Baton Rouge, a few hours after the storm hit New Orleans.

“We are counting our blessings today that our teams are safe and all of our facilities weathered the storm without catastrophic damage,” said Dr. Richard Vath, chief executive officer of Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady Health System in Baton Route.

“We stand ready to support our health care colleagues in southeast Louisiana at the same time we continue providing care in our own communities,” he said in an Aug. 30 statement. “Everyone pulls together in these circumstances, and we are working closely with the state of Louisiana and prepared to receive evacuated patients if necessary.”

The Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux, Louisiana, in an Aug. 30 message on its website and social media channels, said its schools “will be closed until further notice.” The New Orleans archdiocese announced, too, that its schools and main administrative offices, would be closed until at least Labor Day.

In a Facebook video Aug. 30, Peter Finney, editor of the Clarion Herald, newspaper of the Archdiocese of New Orleans, said Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond, who remained at his residence during Ida, was trying to contact pastors to assess the extent of the damage to churches and schools.

“There’s nothing really right now to report, but he’ll have much more of an understanding today,” Finney said. “He asked for prayers for the entire community and please stay safe.”

Catholic Charities of Southwest Louisiana in Lake Charles offered 900 meals for Hurricane Ida evacuees, remembering how they, too, had been helped by neighboring states during last year’s hurricane season.

The Diocese of Beaumont, Texas, which suffered damage from Hurricane Laura in late August 2020 said Bishop David L. Toups “has invited all of our priests and faithful … to pray and intercede for our brothers and sisters in Louisiana. We stand with them in prayer during the storm and will stay by them to assist in recovery.”

It’s hard to know how the hurricane and subsequent storm will affect states in the southern U.S. that already were experiencing a shortage of hospital beds and equipment, including oxygen, because of rising COVID-19 rates.

The day after the hurricane, Lady of the Sea General Hospital in Galliano, Louisiana, reported that part of its roof had been ripped off by Ida’s winds. A highway collapsed in Mississippi as the storm made its way north.

“As the storm moves inland, it continues to hit communities in several states and causing damage” affecting multiple dioceses, said Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, in an Aug. 31 statement.

“I call on people of goodwill to join me in praying for the safety, well-being, and protection of everyone in these impacted areas. We also pray in a special way for the first responders, health care workers, and emergency personnel who bring relief, comfort, and healing.”

The archbishop also encouraged Catholics “and all people of goodwill across the country to stand in solidarity with these impacted communities.”

“We entrust all our brothers and sisters in harm’s way to our Blessed Mother, and we ask for her continued protection and for her intercession in comforting the those who are suffering,” he added.

 

 

A woman wearing a protective mask and face shield prays during Easter Mass in Manila, Philippines, in this April 4, 2021, file photo. In a written message prepared on behalf of Pope Francis, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, reflected on how the the COVID-19 pandemic confirmed changes previously underway in people’s understanding and participation in Sunday Mass. The message was for the 71st National Liturgical Week in Cremona, Italy. (CNS photo/Lisa Marie David, Reuters)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Pope Francis encouraged new courses of action for parishes to help people understand the importance of Sunday Mass and parish ministries, a top Vatican official wrote in a message.

The message was sent on behalf of the pope Aug. 23 to the 71st National Liturgical Week, by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state. The meeting, held Aug. 23-26 in the Italian city of Cremona, brought together pastoral workers, religious and priests to discuss ways to encourage the faithful to attend the Sunday liturgy and participate in other liturgical celebrations, rites and the sacraments.

In the written message, the cardinal said the pandemic and its restrictions, which had prevented the faithful from gathering like before, underlined the importance of the liturgy in Christian life.

But, what happened during the pandemic and the difficulty in resuming liturgical activities, he wrote, “confirmed what was already observed at Sunday assemblies on the Italian peninsula, an alarming indication of the advanced stage of an epochal change.”

It had been noticed, even long before the pandemic, there has been a shift in how people perceive “time” and “space,” which has had repercussions on the meaning of Sunday for most people and how most people experience community and the family, he said.

For this reason, he wrote, the Sunday liturgy, which should be “the true summit” of all parish activities and the source of energy for missionary life, is “off-balanced,” in terms of which age groups normally attend, and in terms of the “difficulty in finding a harmonious integration in parish life.”

Cardinal Parolin wrote, “the Holy Father hopes that the National Liturgical Week, with its proposals for reflection and moments of celebration … may identify and suggest some liturgical pastoral care guidelines to offer parishes, so that Sunday, the eucharistic assembly, ministries and the rites may emerge from the margins, from which they seem inexorably to be falling, and regain their centrality in the faith and spirituality of believers.”

 

The U.S. Supreme Court in Washington is seen June 24, 2021. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

WASHINGTON (CNS) – The U.S. Supreme Court late Aug. 24 said the Biden administration must restore a Trump-era immigration policy known as “Remain in Mexico.”

The Migration Protection Protocols policy, or MPP, as it is is formally known, was first implemented in 2019 and required asylum-seekers be returned to Mexico to await adjudication of their cases.

Critics of the policy said these migrants regularly faced dangerous and inhumane conditions in Mexico.

The high court, in an unsigned order, declined to block an Aug. 13 ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk reinstating the policy.

He blocked Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas of the Department of Homeland Security from implementing a June 1 memo that formally ended the Migration Protection Protocols.

Kacsmaryk, a judge of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, whose jurisdiction is the Amarillo division, stayed his decision for seven days to allow the Biden administration to file an appeal.

The stay expired at midnight Aug. 24, legally mandating the Biden administration to reinstate the policy Aug. 25.

The administration said it will follow the law, while appealing Kacsmaryk’s ruling.

DHS said in an Aug. 24 statement that it “respectfully disagrees with the district court’s decision and regrets that the Supreme Court declined to issue a stay. DHS has appealed the district court’s order and will continue to vigorously challenge it.”

“As the appeal process continues, however, DHS will comply with the order in good faith,” it said. “Alongside interagency partners, DHS has begun to engage with the government of Mexico in diplomatic discussions surrounding the Migrant Protection Protocol. DHS remains committed to building a safe, orderly and humane immigration system that upholds our laws and values.”

The Biden administration had sought emergency action from the high court to stay the judge’s ruling, but the high court said the administration “failed to show a likelihood of success on the claim that the (Mayorkas) memorandum rescinding the Migrant Protection Protocols was not arbitrary and capricious.”

President Joe Biden had called a halt to the protocols Jan. 20, Inauguration Day. The Mayorkas June memo formally ended the policy and allowed applicants with open cases to enter the United States.

An earlier challenge to this memo, filed by the states of Texas, Missouri and Arizona, was dismissed by the U.S. Supreme Court June 21.

Kacsmaryk’s 53-page ruling came in a different lawsuit filed by Texas and Missouri. He said that in terminating the policy, the Biden administration had violated the Administrative Procedure Act, a law that dictates what procedures agencies must go through to implement certain policies.

Anna Gallagher, executive director of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network Inc., or CLINIC, said the Supreme Court’s order will “deepen human suffering and continue to erode U.S. law and values at the U.S.-Mexico border.”

“‘Remain in Mexico’ is an assault on human rights and U.S. asylum law,” she said in an Aug. 25 statement. “Both are already under attack due to the Biden administration’s decision to keep Title 42 in place.”

Title 42, is a provision of U.S. public health law that was activated by the Trump administration to expel migrants at the border, with the exception of minors, over COVID-19 concerns.

“Our message to the Biden administration at this critical moment is clear: We will hold you to your promise to restore the soul of America. To do so, you must take immediate action to end ‘Remain in Mexico,'” Gallagher added.

CLINIC cited a February 2021 study by Human Rights First documenting over 1,500 cases of asylum-seekers and migrants — including 350 cases of children — who it said were “murdered, raped, tortured, violently assaulted or kidnapped due to forcible return to Mexico under this policy.”

“The full picture of the human devastation caused by this inhumane policy is unknown, as the overwhelming majority of the tens of thousands of people affected have not been interviewed or been able to share their story,” according to CLINIC.

In his ruling, Kacsmaryk, an appointee of President Donald Trump, said the states of Texas and Missouri are being harmed by Biden’s reversal of the policy because when migrants are released into the U.S., they are using health care services, and because their children must be enrolled in U.S. schools, they are straining educational resources.

He also said that in his memo, Mayorkas did not acknowledge the rise in border crossings. According to The Texas Tribune, U.S.-Mexico border apprehensions for the fiscal year surpassed 1 million in June.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said in an Aug. 14 statement that “dangerous criminals are taking advantage of the lapse in law enforcement and it’s resulting in human trafficking, smuggling, a plethora of violent crimes, and a massive, unprecedented burden on state and federal programs for which taxpayers must foot the bill.”

He said Biden must act to end the “lawlessness” that he said is destroying our communities.