VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Pope Francis said he intends to declare as a doctor of the church St. Irenaeus of Lyon, the second-century theologian known for his defense of orthodoxy amid the rise of gnostic sects.
During a meeting Oct. 7 with members of the St. Irenaeus Joint Orthodox-Catholic Working Group, the pope praised the group’s efforts in creating a space for dialogue between Catholics and Orthodox Christians, much like their namesake.
“Your patron, St. Irenaeus of Lyon – whom I will soon declare a doctor of the church with the title, ‘doctor unitatis’ (‘doctor of unity’) – came from the East, exercised his episcopal ministry in the West, and was a great spiritual and theological bridge between Eastern and Western Christians,” he said.
According to its website, the purpose of the St. Irenaeus Joint Orthodox-Catholic Working Group is “to investigate the profound differences in mentality, ways of thinking and of doing theology which are related to current problems in Orthodox-Catholic dialogue, to understand their character, and to try to see how both traditions can enrich each other without losing their own identity.”
St. Irenaeus, the group’s website said, “is revered as a patristic father in both the Eastern and Western churches” and “thus represents an example of the spiritual connection between the churches in East and West, which the working group seeks to promote through its discussions.”
Born in Smyrna, Asia Minor – now modern-day Turkey – St. Irenaeus was known as a staunch defender of the faith.
Concerned about the rise of gnostic sects within the early Christian church, he wrote “Adversus haereses” (“Against Heresies”), a refutation of gnostic beliefs which emphasized personal spiritual knowledge over faith in Christian teachings and in ecclesiastical authority.
During their 2019 fall assembly, the U.S. bishops’ conference added their assent to a motion made by the Archdiocese of Lyon, France — the region where St. Irenaeus ministered — to have the second-century bishop declared a doctor of the church.
Once declared, St. Irenaeus would be the second doctor of the church named by Pope Francis after St. Gregory of Narek, who was given the designation in 2015. He would bring the total number of doctors of the church to 37.
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – The Catholic Church’s inability to make victims of abuse their top concern is a cause for intense shame, Pope Francis said.
In the wake of a major report investigating the extent of sexual aggression and abuse against minors in the church in France, the pope said, “I wish to express to the victims my sadness, my grief, for the traumas they have endured, and also my shame.”
This deep sense of shame, “our shame, my shame,” he said, was for “the too lengthy inability of the church to put (victims) at the center of its concerns.”
The pope made his remarks at his general audience in the Vatican’s Paul VI hall, in the presence of a group of bishops and a cardinal from France who had been in Rome for their “ad limina” visit. Just before the audience, the pope and four of the bishops gathered privately for a moment of silent prayer for victims.
After delivering his main catechesis, the pope highlighted a recent report published by an independent body commissioned by the French bishops’ conference.
According to the four-year investigation, an estimated 216,000 children were abused by priests since 1950, and more than 100,000 others were abused by lay employees of church institutions.
The pope commented on the “considerable number” of known victims revealed in the report.
Assuring victims of his prayers, the pope asked everyone to pray with him: “To you, Lord, the glory; to us, the shame. This is the moment of shame.”
He encouraged the country’s bishops and superiors general of religious orders “to continue to do their utmost so that similar tragedies are not repeated.”
Pope Francis also expressed his closeness to the priests in France, assuring them of his “paternal support before this ordeal, which is arduous but beneficial.”
He invited the nation’s Catholics to take on their responsibility for guaranteeing that “the church be a safe home for everyone.”
Meanwhile, the president of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, U.S. Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley, welcomed the publication of the final report of the “Independent Commission on Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church in France” (www.ciase.fr/).
The report “is an indictment of the failures of leadership in the church and those holding responsibility for the care and protection of the faithful,” the cardinal said in a written statement Oct. 6.
“This history of unchecked abuse extending over the course of generations challenges our comprehension of how innocent persons could have suffered so terribly and their voices been ignored for so long,” he wrote.
Working with government officials and law enforcement, he said, the church “must not fail in the commitment to seek healing and justice for the survivors.”
The cardinal welcomed and encouraged the implementation of new measures outlined by church leaders in France earlier this year, and said they show how the “cruel indifference” that survivors experienced in the church “can be turned into care and protection.”
“The church in France has taken the necessary first steps for dealing with the scourge of sexual abuse by commissioning this report,” Cardinal O’Malley said. “We must all adhere to Pope Francis’ directive, ‘there is absolutely no place in ministry for those who abuse minors or vulnerable adults.'”
On behalf of the papal commission, he wrote, “I express our profound sorrow and humbly ask forgiveness on the part of all those harmed by these crimes and reprehensible violations of human dignity.”
“This report is yet another clarion call to the church throughout the world to hold the safeguarding and protection of children and vulnerable adults as our highest priority,” he said.
Matteo Bruni, director of the Vatican press office, told reporters Oct. 5 that Pope Francis was praying for the tens of thousands of victims of clerical sexual abuse in France and urged the Catholic Church in the country to “undertake a path of redemption.”
Pope Francis learned “with sorrow” of the contents of the report and his “thoughts go first of all to the victims, with great sorrow for their wounds and gratitude for their courage in reporting” their abuse, Bruni said in response to reporters’ inquiries in the wake of the report’s release.
The pope also prayed that the Catholic Church in France, “in the awareness of this appalling reality” of the suffering of vulnerable children, would trace out a path of repentance and reform.
“With his prayer, the pope entrusts to the Lord the people of God in France, particularly the victims, that he may give them comfort and consolation, and with justice may the miracle of healing come,” Bruni said.
The report, released Oct. 5, was written by an investigating commission led by Jean-Marc Sauvé, a senior civil servant.
Before the report was published, he told reporters the inquiry found evidence of between 2,900 and 3,200 abusive priests out of a total of about 115,000 who had served in France since 1950.
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – High-level representatives of the world’s religions came together with Pope Francis at the Vatican to show their joint commitment to caring for the Earth and to appeal to world leaders to deepen their commitments to mitigating climate change.
To the strains of Antonio Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons” and surrounded by potted greenery and the colorful frescoes of the Hall of Benedictions, nearly 40 faith leaders signed a joint appeal that Pope Francis then blessed and gave to Alok Sharma, president-designate of COP26, and to Luigi Di Maio, Italy’s foreign affairs minister.
“Future generations will never forgive us if we miss the opportunity to protect our common home. We have inherited a garden: We must not leave a desert to our children,” said the written appeal, signed Oct. 4, the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, patron saint of ecology.
The appeal urged world leaders, who will meet at the 26th U.N. Climate Change Conference of Parties – COP26 – in Glasgow Nov. 1-12, “to take speedy, responsible and shared action to safeguard, restore and heal our wounded humanity and the home entrusted to our stewardship.”
Participants included top scientists and major religious leaders including: Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople; Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury, England; Russian Orthodox Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, representing Patriarch Kirill of Moscow; Sheikh Ahmad el-Tayeb, grand imam of Al-Azhar; Rabbi Noam Marans of the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations; and top representatives of other Christian denominations, Sunni and Shi’a Muslim communities, Judaism, Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, Zoroastrianism and Jainism.
The appeal called on nations to: increase their levels of commitment and international cooperation; meet net-zero
carbon emissions as soon as possible as part of efforts to mitigate rising global average temperatures; step up climate action at home and financially assist more vulnerable countries in adapting to and addressing climate change; increase their transition to cleaner energy and sustainable land use practices; and promote environmentally friendly food systems and the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities.
The religious leaders also pledged that they themselves would promote ecological education; advocate for a “change of heart” in their own communities concerning caring for all of creation; encourage sustainable lifestyles; take part in public debates on environmental issues; and support “greening” their institutions, properties and investments.
They symbolically marked their personal commitment by pouring a cup of soil onto a potted olive tree that will be planted in the Vatican Gardens.
The representatives took to the floor with a brief speech, commentary or declaration, with many detailing what their faith tradition teaches about the moral imperative of caring for humanity’s common home. At the end of the ceremony, recorded messages and appeals were played from those religious leaders that could not attend the event due to pandemic restrictions.
Saying he wanted to leave more time to hear from everyone, Pope Francis chose to skip reading his speech aloud since everyone had a written copy.
In the full text, the pope said COP26 “represents an urgent summons to provide effective responses to the unprecedented ecological crisis and the crisis of values that we are presently experiencing, and in this way to offer concrete hope to future generations.”
He proposed “three concepts” to guide their joint efforts: “openness to interdependence and sharing; the dynamism of love; and the call to respect.”
“Recognizing that the world is interconnected means not only realizing the harmful effects of our actions, but also identifying behaviors and solutions to be adopted, in an attitude of openness to interdependence” and sharing the responsibility and ways to care for others and the environment, he wrote.
Religious and spiritual traditions can help promote love, which “creates bonds and expands existence, for it draws people out of themselves and toward others,” especially the poor, he wrote.
Faith traditions, he said, can help break down “barriers of selfishness,” counter today’s “throwaway culture” and combat the “seeds of conflict: greed, indifference, ignorance, fear, injustice, insecurity and violence,” which harm people and the planet.
“We can face this challenge” with personal examples, action and education, the pope wrote.
Finally, the pope wrote, there must be respect for creation, respect for others, “for ourselves and for the creator, but also mutual respect between faith and science.”
Respect, he wrote, is “an empathetic and active experience of desiring to know others and to enter into dialogue with them, in order to walk together on a common journey.”
The meeting, “Faith and Science: Toward COP26,” was organized by the embassies of the United Kingdom and Italy to the Holy See, together with the Vatican. The U.K. and Italy were co-chairing the summit in Glasgow, where parties from 197 nations are meant to find agreement on how to tackle the threat of climate change.
The appeal of religious leaders and scientists came after months of dialogue and agreement that there is a common moral duty to tackle climate change.
The COP26 co-chairs wanted to include the voices of religious leaders given the moral and ethical imperative of environmental protection, but also because of their global reach and authority as they represent an estimated 84% of the world’s population who identify with a faith.
WASHINGTON (CNS) – As part of the Year of St. Joseph declared by Pope Francis, the U.S. Catholic Church’s annual Respect Life Month celebration in October “highlights the example of that great saint” as protector of life, said the chairman of the U.S. bishops’ pro-life committee.
“As the faithful protector of both Jesus and Mary,” St. Joseph is “a profound reminder of our own call to welcome, safeguard and defend God’s precious gift of human life,” said Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas.
“Despite the mysterious circumstances surrounding Mary’s pregnancy, St. Joseph took her into his home at the word of the angel,” and like the saint, “we are also called to care for those God has entrusted to us — especially vulnerable mothers and children,” the archbishop said.
The prelate, who is chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, made the comments in a Sept. 27 statement.
During October, Respect Life Sunday is observed on the first Sunday of the month, which this year is Oct. 3.
Various resources for celebrating Respect for Life Month — including dozens of articles, prayer cards, prayers for life, a toolkit for parish pro-life leaders, homily helps and other resources can be found online at https://www.respectlife.org/respect-life-month.
As the Holy Family’s protector, St. Joseph “guided their journey to Bethlehem, found shelter and welcomed the infant Jesus as his son,” Archbishop Naumann said. “When Herod threatened the life of the Christ Child, St. Joseph left his homeland behind and fled with Jesus and Mary to Egypt.”
“We can follow in the footsteps of St. Joseph as protector by advocating against taxpayer-funded abortion, which targets the lives of millions of poor children and their mothers here in the United States,” he continued.
“We can imitate his care and provision by helping to start Walking with Moms in Need at our parishes, ‘walking in the shoes’ of mothers experiencing a difficult pregnancy, especially low-income mothers in our communities,” he said.
In March 2020, the USCCB’s pro-life committee asked all U.S. Catholic bishops to invite the parishes in their dioceses to join a nationwide effort called “Walking With Moms in Need: A Year of Service,” which began March 25 of that year.
But “like everything else, the roll out of Walking with Moms in Need was dramatically impacted by COVID-19,” Archbishop Naumann noted in a Sept. 21 address to a Nebraska pro-life conference.
He said the pro-life committee “is renewing our efforts to encourage every diocese and parish to implement the Walking with Moms in Need process.”
Walking with Moms in Need asks every diocese and parish to make an assessment of the resources available to assist mothers experiencing a difficult pregnancy.
The program seeks to identify gaps in available services and then encourage dioceses and parishes to find ways to fill those gaps. Walking with Moms in Need also includes efforts to communicate better available resources and to encourage every Catholic to support Pregnancy Resource Centers.
The program has its own website, www.walkingwithmoms.com, with resources, outreach tools and models to assist parishes in this effort.
Also, Archbishop Naumann in his Sept. 27 statement urged Catholics to learn more about preventing taxpayer-funded abortion by visiting www.notaxpayerabortion.com.
“At times, we may feel uncertain of our ability to answer the Lord’s call. But he invites us to faithfully respond, despite our own fears or weaknesses: ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness’ (2 Cor 12:9),” the archbishop said.
“May we imitate St. Joseph’s faithful trust and courage as we work to uphold the dignity of every human life,” he added. “St. Joseph, defender of life, pray for us!”
WASHINGTON (CNS) – The leaders of three U.S. Catholic organizations hope to have a million people pray and promote the daily rosary during the month of October for “the end to legal abortion in America and an outpouring of support for expectant mothers,” according to their announcement on the joint effort.
The three leaders – Michael Warsaw, CEO of EWTN; Father Francis J. Hoffman, CEO of Relevant Radio; and Tim Busch, CEO of Napa Institute – launched the joint effort on their organization’s respective websites.
In the U.S. Catholic Church, October is observed as Respect Life Month and the first Sunday of the month is Respect Life Sunday, which this year is Oct. 3.
In addition, the month of October each year is dedicated to the rosary. The feast of Our Lady of the Rosary is celebrated Oct. 7.
“With the Supreme Court of the United States taking up the Dobbs case in December that could lead to overturning Roe v. Wade, the justices will need the grace of wisdom and courage to confront the issues honestly,” said the announcement from Warsaw, Father Hoffman and Busch.
On Dec. 1, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in an appeal from Mississippi to keep its ban on abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, and supporters of the law are urging the court to reexamine its previous abortion rulings, including 1973’s Roe v. Wade ruling legalizing abortion nationwide.
The CEOs said they hope many other Catholic organizations “will join this effort by praying and promoting the daily rosary in October for this intention, and thus mobilize millions of Americans in prayer.”
This year’s Respect Life Month, promoted by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, highlights the example of St. Joseph as part of the Year of St. Joseph declared by Pope Francis.
“As the faithful protector of both Jesus and Mary,” St. Joseph is “a profound reminder of our own call to welcome, safeguard and defend God’s precious gift of human life,” said Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, who is chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Pro-Life Activities.
For more information on the effort to have a million people pray the rosary, go to EWTN.com, RelevantRadio.com, and Napa-Institute.org.
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Visitors, tourists and employees who want to enter Vatican territory will be required beginning Oct. 1 to show proof of vaccination, recovery from the coronavirus or a negative COVID-19 test.
The anti-COVID ordinance, which was approved by Pope Francis and signed by Cardinal Giuseppe Bertello, president of the commission in charge of Vatican City State, was released by the Vatican press office Sept. 20.
The only exemption in the order is for people entering Vatican territory for the sole purpose of attending a liturgical celebration; in that case, they will have access only “for the time strictly necessary” for the liturgy and if they follow the health measures already in force: mandatory masking, temperature checks and social distancing.
The ordinance did not specify whether the pope’s weekly general audiences on Wednesdays or his midday recitation of the Angelus on Sundays would be treated like a liturgy or like entrance to the Vatican Museums, which has been requiring proof of vaccination for admittance since early August. Even with the vaccination proof, visitors undergo a temperature check before admittance and are required to keep a mask over their nose and mouth throughout the visit.
The Vatican police, known as the gendarme, will be charged with checking the documentation.
The ordinance specified that it applies to all Vatican “citizens, residents of the state, personnel in service at any level in the governorate of Vatican City State and in the various organisms of the Roman Curia and the institutions tied to it, to all visitors and beneficiaries of services.”
Italy requires foreign visitors to have vaccination proof and a negative COVID-19 test to enter the country. The vaccination pass or a negative test are required to enter restaurants, museums, gyms, indoor pools, cinemas, theaters and to visit patients in a hospital or nursing home. Beginning Oct. 15, Italy also will require the pass to fly or take long-distance trains or buses and to enter workplaces.
WASHINGTON (CNS) – The chairman of the U.S. bishops’ migration committee and the head of Catholic Charities USA issued a joint statement Sept. 22 urging humane treatment of Haitians and other migrants as their numbers grow in southern Texas at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Thousands of Haitians have made their way across the Rio Grande from Mexico and illegally entered the United States at the Del Rio Sector of the border, roughly 145 miles west of San Antonio.
The Haitians and other migrants have been living under the Del Rio International Bridge awaiting processing, while coping with temperatures exceeding 100 degrees and limited access to food, water and shelter.
“We call on the U.S. government to reassess its treatment of migrants in Del Rio and elsewhere along the U.S.-Mexico border, especially Haitians, who face life-threatening conditions if returned to Haiti and possible discrimination if expelled to third countries,” said Auxiliary Bishop Mario E. Dorsonville of Washington and Dominican Sister Donna Markham.
The bishop is chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration and Sister Markham is president and CEO of Catholic Charities USA.
“As a church at the service of all God’s people, we embrace Christ’s call to welcome the newcomer and accompany them wherever they may be,” they said.
During this National Migration Week, observed Sept. 20-26, “we are especially mindful of that obligation and saddened to see such a disregard for human dignity,” the two Catholic leaders said. “It is in the face of each migrant that we see the face of Christ.”
The Biden administration announced Sept. 18 it would quickly begin deporting the Haitians back to Haiti, even though a majority of them did not arrive at the border recently from their homeland. News reports said many have been living in or traveling through Latin America for varying periods of time after fleeing widespread violence, political turmoil, natural disasters and economic stagnation in Haiti.
The Biden administration has been deporting asylum-seekers using Title 42, despite criticism for doing so from advocates for migrants and a court battle over it.
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.
Bishop Dorsonville and Sister Markham criticized policies such as Title 42 and expedited removal because “all too often” they “deny the reality of forced migration, disregard the responsibilities enshrined in domestic and international law, and undermine the vulnerability of those against whom they are applied.”
“These are not hallmarks of a ‘fair, orderly and humane’ immigration system,” they said.
Other groups calling for humane treatment of Haitians and other migrants by the Biden administration include the Sisters of Mercy and Network, a Catholic social justice lobby.
“The Sisters of Mercy of the Americas join with people worldwide in expressing outrage over the shocking treatment of Haitian asylum-seekers trying to enter the United States in Del Rio, Texas,” the religious order said in a Sept. 22 statement. “Haitian women, children and men are among our most vulnerable sisters and brothers.”
“We call on the Biden administration to immediately end deportation flights to Haiti and to undertake measures to assure that all Haitian asylum-seekers have the right to make their case. This right is guaranteed under both domestic and international law,” it said.
The Sisters of Mercy noted Haiti in recent months “has experienced a political assassination, a massive earthquake and a fierce hurricane.”
“These catastrophic events further burden a nation with a long history of political upheaval and widespread, grinding poverty, conditions often exacerbated by U.S. policy over the years,” the statement said.
The executive director of Network, Mary J. Novak, accused the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents and the Biden administration of abusing Haitian asylum-seekers, calling it “unacceptable.”
Novak didn’t describe the abuse, but news reports claimed Border Patrol officers on horseback were whipping some of the Haitians as they tried to control the crowd. CBP’s Office of Professional Responsibility was investigating the incident, but agents said they were using long reins to control their horses as they tried to control the crowd.
She also criticized “the continued misuse of Title 42,” saying it “relies on the false idea that we have to choose between welcoming people fleeing violence and protecting communities from the pandemic. We can do both.”
“The Biden administration must end Title 42 immediately and welcome immigrants and asylum-seekers with dignity,” she said.
In May, those Haitians who currently reside in the United States under Temporary Protected Status were told they could apply for an 18-month extension of that status so long as they meet eligibility requirements.
TPS grants a work permit and reprieve from deportation to certain people whose countries have experienced natural disasters, armed conflicts or exceptional situations so they can remain temporarily in the United States.
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.”
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.”
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.