An elderly woman becomes emotional as Pope Francis greets her as he arrives for a May 2014 weekly audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican. Pope Francis wanted the first World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly on July 25 to be inaugurated as the world seeks to recover from a deadly pandemic, calling for the faithful to be “angels,” who care, console and caress. (CNS photo/Tony Gentile, Reuters)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Highlighting the importance and gifts of older people has been a constant refrain throughout Pope Francis’ ministry.

So it seemed only a matter of time before the pope would establish the World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly, which was to be July 25. It comes after he created the World Day of the Poor several years ago, showing how the pope considers these world days to be a powerful and universal reminder to the faithful to rediscover or strengthen their service to and relationships with the forgotten or discarded members of the human family.

But he had a reason for inaugurating the day for elders in 2021: After more than a year of a global pandemic, which left a huge number of older people isolated, hospitalized or dead, there are finally signs in some parts of the world of a new horizon.

“Even at the darkest moments, as in these months of pandemic, the Lord continues to send angels to console our loneliness and to remind us: ‘I am with you always,'” the pope said in his message for the world day.

“That is the meaning of this day, which I wanted to celebrate for the first time in this particular year, as a long period of isolation ends, and social life slowly resumes. May every grandfather, every grandmother, every older person, especially those among us who are most alone, receive the visit of an angel!” he wrote.

The World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly is a call for the faithful to flex their wings and be those “angels,” who care, console and caress.

Respecting, honoring and reaching out to one’s elders is not just for do-gooders checking off their compliance with the Fourth Commandment. According to Pope Francis, it is the only way a society can thrive, and the church can remain faithful.

“In a civilization in which there is no room for the elderly or where they are thrown away because they create problems, this society carries with it the virus of death,” he said in a March 2015 general audience talk dedicated to the elderly.

As with everything Pope Francis highlights, it is a two-way street. Not only must people reach out to and serve their elders, older people have to step up and do their part in living out their vocation in whatever ways they can, adapting to the unexpected limitations and challenges they may face.

It’s a message that dovetails perfectly with the pope’s recent encyclical, “Fratelli Tutti,” which calls everyone to wipe away a tired and cynical view of the world and instead be driven by compassion to take action.

Because “we are all indebted to one another, we are all brothers and sisters,” and no one can be saved or improve the world alone, he said in his world day message, the elderly “are needed in order to help build, in fraternity and social friendship, the world of tomorrow: the world in which we, together with our children and grandchildren, will live once the storm has subsided.”

“You need to show that it is possible to emerge renewed from an experience of hardship” and to “use those experiences to learn how to pull through now,” he told his older peers. In essence, who better to give the world hope than those who have already lived through and endured decades of joys and sorrows.

The pope brought together thousands of older people in September of 2014 for a meeting and Mass in their honor in St. Peter’s Square. Even retired Pope Benedict XVI was in attendance.

There, as elsewhere, he used the metaphor of a tree to describe their role — the elderly are the roots that nourish the tree, helping it bear new fruit.

A connection — dialogue — is essential.

This encounter between the elderly and the young is “for the construction of a society that is more just, more beautiful, more supportive, more Christian,” he said in a talk with members of two Italian associations of seniors in October 2019.

“If grandparents do not dialogue with grandchildren, there will be no future. We are all called upon to counter this poisonous throwaway culture,” he said.

But those conversations must be filled with patience, tenderness and understanding, he said. “Do not berate them. No. Listen to them, and then sow something.”

Or, as he said at an intergenerational meeting presenting the book, “Sharing the Wisdom of Time,” in 2018, even silent witness to one’s faith is enough.

He recalled how his grandmother Rosa wasn’t a big talker, but her deep faith and example still left a huge impression on him.

At that meeting an older couple asked the pope what they should do when, despite all their efforts, their children and grandchildren have not embraced their Catholic faith.

“Faith is shared in dialect,” the pope said, meaning, not with the standardized words of dogma and the catechism, but with the language of love, friendship and encouragement, because faith does not come just from content.

He said they did not fail in their duty, it’s that sometimes life just unfolds that way, with children either unconsciously following current trends or losing their faith because of “terrible witnesses” and scandal by church members.

They must be at peace, he said at that meeting, and they must never argue or debate with their children or grandchildren about the faith but instead listen, show love, understanding, patience, be good witnesses and pray.

He said it gives him strength to remember “when Joseph and Mary took the baby Jesus to the temple where they met the two grandparents, who were the wisdom of the people; they praised God because this wisdom was able to continue with this child. Jesus was received in the temple not by the priest, but by grandparents.”

 

Two religious statues displayed outside Our Lady of Mercy Catholic Church in the Queens borough of New York City are seen destroyed July 17, 2021. The church is in the Diocese of Brooklyn. (CNS photo/courtesy Diocese of Brooklyn)

QUEENS, N.Y. (CNS) – Two religious statues displayed outside Our Lady of Mercy Catholic Church in the New York borough of Queens were destroyed in an act of vandalism in the early morning hours of July 17.

The damaged statues included one of Mary and one of St. Therese Lisieux, known as “the Little Flower.” A news release from the Diocese of Brooklyn said the statues were dragged 180 feet from the church across 70th Avenue, where they were smashed with a hammer.

Earlier in the week, on the evening of July 14, the statues “were toppled over but were not damaged,” the diocese said. “The individual involved in both acts of vandalism is believed to be the same person.”

“Both of these statues have stood in front of the church since it was built” in 1937, said Father Frank Schwarz, pastor.

“It is heartbreaking, but sadly it is becoming more and more common these days,” he said in a statement. “I pray that this recent rash of attacks against Catholic churches and all houses of worship will end, and religious tolerance may become more a part of our society.”

The Brooklyn Diocese said the vandalism was being investigated by the New York City Police Department Hate Crimes Unit and the department’s 112th Precinct.

According to Spectrum News NY1, which covers New York’s five boroughs, police released surveillance video of a woman they said they were looking for. She was described as being in her mid-20s and was dressed all in black. According to police, she used a hammer to break the statues and then dragged them across the street from the church.

Father Schwarz told the news outlet that these attacks seem “to be targeted” not just at Catholic churches but also synagogues and mosques. He attributed the vandalism to “general anti-religious sentiment.”

He also said he urged the faithful at his parish to “pray for this person,” who “clearly” had “rage.” “She deliberately went and destroyed these things. It wasn’t enough to just topple them over, she stomped on them and spit on it,” he said.

Other church property in the Brooklyn Diocese has been the target of vandals, including the grounds of the diocesan administrative offices in the Windsor Terrace section of Brooklyn.

Over the weekend of May 15 and 16, a statue depicting Mary holding the child Jesus was vandalized on the grounds of the diocesan administrative offices in the Windsor Terrace section of Brooklyn. The child Jesus was decapitated.

Before that, in the early hours of May 14, a crucifix on the property of St. Athanasius Catholic Church in Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn, was toppled and damaged. Msgr. David Cassato, the pastor, found it. He called it “truly an act of hatred” and said discovering it was “the saddest day of my 20 years here at this parish.”

With regard to the vandalism at St. Athanasius, New York police May 22 arrested a 29-year-old Brooklyn man, Ali Alaheri, in connection with that crime and an arson the week before. He has been charged with one federal count of criminal mischief as a hate crime.

 

A vandal spray painted the ground in front of St. Patrick Church in Northwest Portland, Ore., lit a fire and performed a dance sometime in June 2021. Parish staff are discussing ways to beef up security measures. (CNS photo/St. Patrick Parish, courtesy Catholic Sentinel)

PORTLAND, Ore. (CNS) – Four Portland Catholic churches have been vandalized in the span of about six weeks.

At least one incident involved a group protesting the recent discovery of unmarked graves at primarily Catholic-run schools in Canada, while other instances appear to be the work of disgruntled teens and individuals with general anger toward the church.

In June, vandals lit fires and wrote graffiti on the grounds at St. Patrick Church in Northwest Portland; a month later additional graffiti appeared on the historic church’s wooden front doors.

On June 26, a stained-glass window was broken at Northeast Portland’s St. Andrew Church and less than a week later, at St. Francis of Assisi Church in Southeast Portland, a group of protesters, including families with children, left red handprints on the church door, columns and steps.

Then late July 11 or early July 12, Holy Redeemer in North Portland had its doors spray-painted with an anarchist symbol and an obscene critique of colonialism.

Throughout the United States this year, there’s been increased vandalism, much of it protesting colonialism and white supremacy. Churches and religious statues have been among the targets.

In Portland, city officials reported complaints about graffiti at various locations were up nearly 400% since the pandemic began in March 2020.

In Canada, dozens of churches have been torched or vandalized this summer following the discovery of more than 1,000 unmarked graves at former residential schools for Indigenous children. Most of the schools were operated by the Catholic Church.

On Canada Day, July 1, when many Canadians opted to replace celebrations with large vigils, one of the vandalism cases in Portland occurred amid an evening protest in the city.

An estimated 200 people gathered to watch a movie, hear speeches and walk through the neighborhood that includes St. Francis at St. Francis of Assisi — a parish that long has ministered to area homeless through its dining hall.

The poster advertising the event described it as a “silent march and vigil to honor the Indigenous children and survivors of the U.S. and Canadian residential/boarding schools.”

At the church, protesters stopped and children were encouraged to dip their hands in red paint and place them on the doors, columns and steps.

Protesters left a sign on the church steps that read: “Your schools had playgrounds, ours had cemeteries.”

Father George Kuforiji, pastor of St. Francis, said he sympathizes with the anguish and sadness the protesters’ expressed but was distressed at their need to vandalize.

“Have your protest, yes, but to vandalize the church, a community that has nothing to do with the graves, that bothered me,” he told the Catholic Sentinel, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Portland. Members of the parish cleaned off most of the paint but some remains.

“Protests are a constitutional right,” but vandalizing property is a crime, said Lt. Greg Pashley, a spokesman with the Portland Police Bureau.

There was no police report for the vandalism at St. Francis, so Pashley could not say if it potentially could be considered a bias crime, also known as a hate crime. In Oregon law such a crime is defined as one motivated by bias against another person’s religion, race, color, disability, national origin, sexual orientation or gender identity.

Early July 12, parish staff of Holy Redeemer discovered painted symbols and messages on their church’s front doors. Phrases included “F— colonizers and their gods” and “land back.”

“It’s disappointing and sad,” said Holy Cross Father Michael Belinsky, parochial vicar. “If someone has an issue, whatever it is, they made the choice not to talk to people face to face but act in the cover of darkness.”

Pashley said the police report for the incident indicates the graffiti at the church possibly could be deemed a bias crime. Yet to charge someone with a bias crime a suspect’s intent must be certain, “and that can be tricky to determine,” said Pashley. “Just words or symbols are not enough for us to know someone’s intent.”

Parishioners and the maintenance staff were able to remove the graffiti hours after it was discovered, and Father Belinsky was quick to say he did not want the incident “blown out of proportion.”

“We are not being persecuted,” he said. “It’s a crime and the police are looking into it,” but it’s not the persistent vandalism that’s occurred nationwide and locally. “We have not been subject to that,” he said, nor to the relentless, violent persecution Christians face in other parts of the globe.

Across the Willamette River from Holy Redeemer, St. Patrick Church near downtown Portland regularly is tagged with minor graffiti due to its urban location.

The recent incidents, however, were more significant and distressing for the parish community, said Samantha Barker, parish business manager. All were recorded on the parish’s security camera.

In early June an individual doused the base of the 132-year-old church’s steps with gasoline and lit the gas on fire. Portland Fire and Rescue was called out to help.

Later in June, a teen or young adult sprayed illegible graffiti on the ground near the front doors of the church and on a concrete column. He also performed an odd dance and started a smaller fire. On July 15, another vandal painted graffiti on the parish’s wooden doors.

“The dance and small fire may have been something satanic,” Barker said, noting the motive for the three incidents have not been officially determined.

St. Patrick staff attempted to remove the paint on the ground using a power washer but the lettering has proved difficult to eradicate. They hesitated to clean the doors for fear of damaging them. The parish now is considering what additional security measures to adopt.

At St. Andrew in late June, an individual or individuals knocked over a ceramic planter on the church’s steps and used a piece of the broken pot to smash in a stained-glass window at the front of the church.

Father Dave Zegar, pastor, estimates the broken window will cost more than $2,000 to repair. The church’s stained glass was installed in 1929, when the church was built.

Father Zegar believes the vandalism likely is the work of a small group of high schoolers who’ve been hanging around parish grounds throwing trash and turning over tables.

 

People in Washington demonstrate near the White House July 19, 2021, following July 11 protests in Cuba against the government and a deteriorating economy. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

WASHINGTON (CNS) – The president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the chairman of the USCCB’s international policy committee expressed their solidarity and that of all the U.S. bishops “with our brothers in the Cuban episcopate, and with all men and women of goodwill in Cuba.”

Released late July 19, the statement acknowledged “the ongoing protests in Cuba and among the diaspora in the United States.”

It was jointly issued by Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles, USCCB president, and Bishop David J. Malloy of Rockford, chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on International Justice and Peace.

“As the Cuban bishops declared in their July 12 statement, ‘A favorable solution will not be reached by impositions, nor by calling for confrontation, but through mutual listening, where common agreements are sought and concrete and tangible steps are taken that contribute, with the contribution of all Cubans without exception, to the building-up of the Fatherland,'” the two U.S. prelates said.

“In the same spirit as the Cuban bishops, we urge the United States to seek the peace that comes from reconciliation and concord between our countries,” Archbishop Gomez and Bishop Malloy said.

Thousands of Cubans in Havana and in 14 other Cuban cities took to the streets July 11 to protest economic hardships, lack of basic freedoms and the Cuban government’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak, making for what some have described as the most significant unrest in decades.

They were mirrored by a vocal street protest in Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood late afternoon July 11. Protests are ongoing in Cuba and in the U.S.

Since July 11, the Cuban government reportedly has responded by arresting people, including clergy, not only on the streets but also in their homes. There was at least one confirmed death after police shot a man taking part in the anti-government protest. The government also has restricted internet and phone services.

Archbishop Gomez and Bishop Malloy said that for decades the USCCB, “in conjunction with the Holy See and the Cuban bishops, has called for robust cultural and commercial engagement between the United States and Cuba as the means to assist the island in achieving greater prosperity and social transformation.”

“We pray that Our Lady of Charity, our mother, watches over her children in Cuba, and that, together, our countries can grow in friendship in the interests of justice and peace,” they said.

On July 20, The Wall Street Journal reported: “The whereabouts of hundreds of arrested demonstrators is unknown and others are being held incommunicado without charges nine days after nationwide demonstrations rocked the Caribbean nation.”

“More than a week after the unprecedented demonstrations, hundreds of people are lining up outside police stations across the island asking about missing relatives,” the newspaper said.

 

Msgr. Jeffrey D. Burrill, a priest of the Diocese of La Crosse, Wis., is pictured at the USCCB headquarters in Washington Nov. 17, 2020, during the bishops’ virtual fall meeting. Msgr. Burrill resigned as USCCB general secretary July 20, 2021, amid “impending media reports alleging possible improper behavior.” In announcing the resignation, Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles, USCCB president, said the claim “did not include allegations of misconduct with minors.” (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

WASHINGTON (CNS) – Msgr. Jeffrey D. Burrill, the general secretary of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops since November, has resigned from the post after the USCCB “became aware of impending media reports alleging possible improper behavior by Msgr. Burrill,” said Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles, USCCB president.

In a July 20 memo to bishops, Archbishop Gomez said he had accepted Msgr. Burrill’s resignation, effective immediately.

“What was shared with us did not include allegations of misconduct with minors. However, in order to avoid becoming a distraction to the operations and ongoing work of the conference, Monsignor has resigned,” the archbishop said.

“The conference takes all allegations of misconduct seriously and will pursue all appropriate steps to address them,” he said.

In a lengthy story posted midday, The Pillar, an online outlet that covers the Catholic Church and provides news and analysis, said Archbishop Gomez’s memo came after it had contacted the USCCB and Msgr. Burrill regarding evidence the news outlet claimed to have “of a pattern of sexual misconduct on Burrill’s part.”

The Pillar claimed it had “found evidence the priest engaged in serial sexual misconduct, while he held a critical oversight role in the Catholic Church’s response to the recent spate of sexual abuse and misconduct scandals.”

“An analysis of app data signals correlated to Burrill’s mobile device shows the priest also visited gay bars and private residences while using a location-based hookup app in numerous cities from 2018 to 2020, even while traveling on assignment for the U.S. bishops’ conference,” it reported.

Commercially available app signal data, The Pillar said, “does not identify the names of app users, but instead correlates a unique numerical identifier to each mobile device using particular apps.”

“Signal data, collected by apps after users consent to data collection, is aggregated and sold by data vendors. It can be analyzed to provide timestamped location data and usage information for each numbered device,” The Pillar added.

In a brief statement released later in the day by its Office of Public Affairs, the USCCB, like Archbishop Gomez in his memo, said it had received “impending media reports alleging possible improper behavior” by Msgr. Burrill and that the priest had resigned, effective immediately, “to avoid becoming a distraction” to the conference’s operations and ongoing work.

“The conference takes all allegations of misconduct seriously and will pursue all appropriate steps to address them,” the statement said.

Archbishop Gomez said in his memo that in consultation with the bishops’ Executive Committee, he was appointing Father Michael J.K. Fuller, associate general secretary, to serve as interim general secretary “until the election of a new general secretary by the body of bishops.”

Father Fuller, a priest of the Diocese of Rockford, Illinois, was named to the associate post Nov. 19. The priest had worked as the executive director of the USCCB’s Secretariat of Doctrine and Canonical Affairs since August 2016.

“I ask for your prayers for Monsignor, and for the conference staff during this difficult time,” Archbishop Gomez said. “We also pray that all those affected might find strength and comfort in our merciful Lord.”

A priest of the Diocese of La Crosse, Wisconsin, Msgr. Burrill was named general secretary after the result of voting by the bishops that was announced Nov. 16, the first day of the USCCB’s annual fall general assembly. He had been the conference’s associate general secretary since March 1, 2016.

The Diocese of La Crosse issued a statement saying Bishop William P. Callahan and diocesan representatives “are saddened to hear the media reports related to Msgr. Burrill. The Diocese of La Crosse pledges its full cooperation with the conference of Catholic bishops to pursue all appropriate steps in investigating and addressing the situation.”

“Please remember Msgr. Burrill and all affected in your prayers so they may find refuge and strength in God’s unfailing love,” it added.

Prior to his USCCB appointment, Msgr. Burrill was pastor of St. Bronislava Church in Plover in central Wisconsin for three years. He was at the Pontifical North American College in Rome from 2009 to 2013, serving originally as director of apostolic formation and subsequently as the Carl J. Peter chair of homiletics, formation adviser and director of media relations.

He was ordained in 1998 for the Diocese of La Crosse. He was pastor of the parishes of St. Mary, in Duran, Holy Rosary in Lima, and Sacred of Jesus in Mondovi, Wisconsin, from 2001 to 2009. He also taught and was chaplain at Regis High School and Middle School in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, for two years prior to his parish assignments.

In addition, he was a regional vicar for six years, served two terms on the diocesan priests’ council and also was the diocese’s ecumenical officer and a member of the seminary admissions board.

A native of Marshfield, Wisconsin, Msgr. Burrill has a bachelor of arts degree from Immaculate Heart of Mary Seminary, adjacent to the campus of St. Mary’s University of Minnesota, in Winona, and a bachelor of sacred theology from Rome’s Pontifical Gregorian University. In 1999, he earned a licentiate in ecumenical theology from the Angelicum, or Pontifical University of St Thomas Aquinas, which also is in Rome.

 

Pope Francis prays in front of the Marian icon “Salus Populi Romani” at the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome July 14, 2021. The pope visited the basilica after his release from Rome’s Gemelli hospital following his recovery from colon surgery. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Ten days after undergoing intestinal surgery, Pope Francis was released from Rome’s Gemelli hospital, the Vatican confirmed.

In a statement released July 14, Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said that after leaving the hospital midmorning, the pope visited the Basilica of St. Mary Major to say a prayer of gratitude before the icon of “Salus Populi Romani” (health of the Roman people).

The pope thanked Mary “for the success of his surgery and offered a prayer for all the sick, especially those he had met during his stay in hospital,” the statement said.

After praying at the basilica, the pope returned to his Vatican residence, the Domus Sanctae Marthae, Bruni said.

The pope was admitted to Gemelli hospital in the early afternoon July 4 to undergo “a scheduled surgical intervention for a symptomatic diverticular stenosis of the colon.”

He underwent a three-hour left hemicolectomy, which is the removal of the descending part of the colon, a surgery that can be recommended to treat diverticulitis, when bulging pouches in the lining of the intestine or colon become inflamed or infected.

Initially expected to remain in the hospital for seven days, the Vatican said July 12 that the pope would “remain hospitalized for a few more days in order to optimize his medical and rehabilitation therapy.”

During his stay, the pope continued working and spent time visiting patients at the hospital.

In his Sunday Angelus address July 11 from the 10th floor balcony of his suite of rooms at the hospital, Pope Francis said his time in the hospital gave him the opportunity to experience “once again how important good health care is” and that free, universal health care, especially for the most vulnerable, is a “precious benefit (that) must not be lost.”

“It needs to be kept,” the pope said. “And for this, everyone needs to be committed because it helps everyone and requires everyone’s contribution.”

The evening before his release, Pope Francis visited Gemelli’s pediatric oncology ward, which also is on the 10th floor, and greeted the young patients, their families and the staff.

While Pope Francis usually takes July as his vacation month, he is scheduled to lead the recitation of the Angelus at noon July 18 and to celebrate Mass July 25, the first World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly.

 

The youth ministry group at St. Joseph Parish in Miami Beach, Fla., host a eucharistic prayer and candlelight vigil for those who have died and who are still missing June 26, 2021, of the nearby partially collapsed condo in Surfside, Fla. The evening included a walkthrough of the neighborhood close to the condo. (CNS photo/Tom Tracy, Florida Catholic)

SURFSIDE, Fla. (CNS) – After girding themselves with eucharistic adoration, rosary, songs and reflections, the teens, young adults and parish community of St. Joseph stepped out into the night air to solemnly walk to Surfside’s new ground zero.

For three hours – and all the way until midnight – the participants in the June 26 prayer vigil, organized in response to the Champlain Towers South partial collapse, turned their thoughts heavenward: 12 parish families were affected by the tragedy, eight of whom remain missing.

As of June 30, 16 people were confirmed dead and about 145 others were still missing as search and rescue efforts entered their seventh day.

The death toll from the tragic collapse could end up on par with that of the 1995 bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City if few or no more victims are rescued from the dismal scene of rubble being televised around the world. In that earlier tragedy, after a two-week rescue effort ended, the fatalities numbered 168.

Fires, winds and intermittent heavy rains have hampered an already logistically challenging rescue effort after the collapsed towers’ floors piled up on themselves in a pancakelike fashion.

On June 27, St. Joseph Parish released a list of registered members who had lived in Champlain Towers South, and church leaders pointed out that many others who lived there were likely informally associated with the parish.

The area is popular with tourists and international visitors to Miami Beach, Florida.

“This was definitely a shock, but it is bringing people together in prayer; there has been a lot of people coming here to donate things,” said George Sanchez, parish youth ministry leader and a resident of the Allapattah neighborhood in Miami.

“Our pastor (Father Juan Sosa) wanted the youth to be present and of course we responded with generosity, and we put together the best we could since this is the parish nearest the disaster and it is a place where people can come and pray and be with others who support them,” Sanchez said. “It is just a space we are creating for anyone who wants to come and pray for their loved ones and to incite hope.”

Judith Montalvan, another of the parish youth leaders and a pilgrim to Panama’s Worth Youth Day event in 2019, said the young people publicized the prayer vigil on Instagram and every other social media platform they could think of “so that it would get to the people who need it most at this time.”

“We do know that families from our parish are (missing), so we are just praying and hoping still to have faith that they might be (OK),” Montalvan told the Florida Catholic, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Miami.

“This is a kind of supervised space for people to come and be with God,” she said. “I think in these moments when disasters happen, the one thing we know for a fact is that God is with us, and providing those spaces for people to come feel closer to him in a moment when we feel so alone and scared and all these negative emotions.”

The youth brought with them items and symbols of the fire and rescue, law enforcement and medical communities and placed them around the altar along with donations of flowers.

Carrie Barillas, a member of the pastoral staff at St. Joseph who helped organize the event, said the parish has been inundated with calls of support and people wishing to assist in some way.

“We have had an outpouring of calls over the last three days of people wanting to know about the families and asking what they can do; the parish community has really responded very well,” Barillas said.

“There is so much chaos, if you will, with so many calls and trying to get everything organized and provide spiritual support for those who need it,” she added. “It is an experience you don’t want to have to go through because it is sad, but at the same time you live the joy that Jesus gives us (and) the strength to console and comfort others.”

St. Joseph Parish’s grounds are serving as a kind of hub for both the media and the emergency crews parking their vehicles here. The area is experiencing a constant and growing presence of the curious passing by outside along with law enforcement trying to manage the situation.

Noting the ongoing outreach of St. Joseph Church and neighboring St. Patrick Church, Miami Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski said June 29 that the Catholic Church is “trying to be a consoling and comforting presence in the midst of great pain.”

Making the comments June 29 on the “Conversation with Cardinal Dolan” show on SiriusXM’s The Catholic Channel, the archbishop said that “funerals are being scheduled even as we speak. … Our Catholic cemeteries are working closely with the parishes and the families.”

He added that one of Miami’s archdiocesan priests who was an EMT with the Miami-Dade Fire Department also was “onsite and visiting with people who were his co-workers at one time.”

The best part of the June 26 prayer vigil was the participation of the parish youth, according to Father Juan Rumín Domínguez, parochial vicar at St. Joseph who helped lead the prayers.

“We want to say to our community that Christ is our light, the light of hope in the middle of this difficult situation,” the priest said. “We will pray for the victims and their families and especially we want to transmit our faith and hope in this situation; it is the thing we have to do as Catholics.”

“The rescue workers are working there but this is our language: prayer, and we are praying for them,” Father Dominguez added.

Deacon John Ermer also helped lead the eucharistic adoration. He gave a reflection in which he said the community should keep in mind those individuals who may question their faith as a result of the tremendous crisis.

“Some will find a loss of faith in the situation, wondering how could God let something like this happen, and that is a natural question for us,” he told the congregation June 26.

“We know that God challenges us with hardships throughout our lives. I think we need to pray twice as hard for people who ask that question because it is times like this, facing such tremendous loss, we have to make a decision,” Deacon Ermer said.

“For those of us who are weak, we may turn away from God and be lost forever,” he said. “Let’s pray especially for those people tonight whose faith is under tremendous pressure and who are questioning their faith.”

 

A priest prepares to distribute Communion during Mass in Washington. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

WASHINGTON (CNS) – The president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has asked the nation’s Catholics to pray for him and his brother bishops “as we continue our dialogues and reflections” in the process of drafting a document on the “meaning of the Eucharist in the life of the church.”

“I pray that this will be a time for all of us in the church to reflect on our own faith and readiness to receive our Lord in the holy Eucharist,” Los Angeles Archbishop José H. Gomez said in a statement released late June 21.

During their virtual spring general assembly June 16-18, the bishops approved in a 168-55 vote, with six abstentions, the drafting of this document. The vote followed a lengthy debate June 17 and the results were announced the following day.

The USCCB’s Committee on Doctrine will draft it and present the document for discussion when the bishops reconvene in person in November for their fall general assembly.

“My brother bishops and I voted overwhelmingly to issue a teaching document on the beauty and power of the Eucharist,” Archbishop Gomez said.

As the committee begins drafting it, “in the months ahead the bishops will continue our prayer and discernment through a series of regional meetings and consultations,” he said, noting they’ll discuss the draft at their fall meeting.

“The Eucharist is the heart of the church and the heart of our lives as Catholics,” he said. “In the holy Eucharist, Jesus Christ himself draws near to each one of us personally and gathers us together as one family of God and one body of Christ.”

“As bishops, our desire is to deepen our people’s awareness of this great mystery of faith, and to awaken their amazement at this divine gift, in which we have communion with the living God,” Archbishop Gomez added. “That is our pastoral purpose in writing this document.”

Before they voted, debate lasted for over two hours, and 43 bishops expressed differing views about drafting such a document. Some stressed the document was necessary to provide clarity about the significance of the Eucharist, while others questioned its timing and if it could be perceived as fracturing the unity of a church already faced with numerous challenges.

Although the bishops reached no consensus during the discussion, most of those who spoke during the comments’ session welcomed the idea of strengthening teaching about the Eucharist.

Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana, chairman of the doctrine committee, presented a proposed outline to the bishops June 17 in a prerecorded message. It would include three parts, subtitled “The Eucharist, A Mystery to be Believed,” “The Eucharist, A Mystery to be Celebrated” and “The Eucharist, A Mystery to be Lived.”

As proposed, each part includes three topics that would be addressed including, respectively, the real presence of the body and blood of Christ in Communion; unity, beauty and identity as the “fount and apex of the whole Christian life”; and moral transformation, eucharistic consistency and missionary discipleship.

Bishop Rhoades said this was developed in light of the decline in Catholics’ belief in the Real Presence in the Eucharist as well as the long absences from regular Mass attendance, which may have led to people placing less significance on the Eucharist in their lives.

He also said the document was never intended to present national norms for the reception of the Eucharist, but to serve as a teaching tool for Catholics about the reception of holy Communion as a grace-filled gift.

 

Abortion demonstrators are seen near the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington March 4, 2020. The Hyde Amendment would prevent federal funding for abortion as a permanent part of the law. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

WASHINGTON (CNS) – House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and several other Republican leaders in the House asked their Democratic counterparts June 22 to take up a measure introduced by Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., that would make the long-standing Hyde Amendment permanent.

Smith’s bill is called the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion and Abortion Insurance Full Disclosure Act of 2021, or H.R. 18. It has 166 co-sponsors.

The Hyde Amendment, which first became law in 1976, prohibits use of federal Medicaid dollars for abortion except in cases of rape, incest or when the life of the woman would be endangered. Named for the late Rep. Henry Hyde, an Illinois Republican, the amendment is renewed every year as part of spending measures.

It was excluded, however, in the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act signed into law March 11 by President Joe Biden, a Catholic. It also was not part of the proposed federal budget Biden released May 28.

A day before the House GOP leaders issued their call for Democrats to make Hyde permanent, a coalition of 22 state attorneys general, led by Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall, asked Congress to keep the Hyde Amendment in the federal budget “after it was conspicuously removed by the Biden administration.”

Joining McCarthy in calling for unanimous consent for H.R. 18 to go forward were House Whip Steve Scalise R-La.; Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., chair of the GOP House Conference; and Smith and the other three co-chairs of the House Congressional Pro-Life Caucus, Reps. Andy Harris, R-Md., Michelle Fischbach, R-Minn., and Kat Cammack, R-Fla.

“Lives have been saved by the Hyde Amendment,” said Smith, a Catholic, who has supported the measure for over four decades. “Over 2.4 million people who would have been aborted instead survived and their mothers benefited from prenatal health care and support.

“Furthermore, polling consistently shows that a majority of Americans oppose taxpayer funding of abortion — early 6 in 10 according to a Marist poll released earlier this year.”

In a statement June 22 and in comments on the House floor June 23, Smith pointed out that years ago, then-Sen. Biden “wrote to constituents explaining his support for the Hyde Amendment and said it would ‘protect both the woman and her unborn child.’ He said: ‘I have consistently — on no fewer than 50 occasions — voted against federal funding of abortions … those of us who are opposed to abortion should not be compelled to pay for them.’ I totally agree.”

Ahead of the November 2020 election, Biden said he no longer supported the Hyde Amendment. He and his running mate, now-Vice President Kamala Harris, also vowed to support congressional efforts to codify Roe in the event that Roe is overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court.

“Growing numbers of Americans continue to be shocked to learn that the methods of abortion include dismemberment of a child’s fragile body including decapitation, and that drugs like RU-486 starve the baby to death before he or she is forcibly expelled from the womb,” Smith said on the House floor.

“The multibillion-dollar abortion industry cleverly markets the sophistry of choice while going to extraordinary lengths to ignore, trivialize and cover-up the battered baby-victim,” he continued.

“By reason of their age, dependency, immaturity, inconvenience, fragility and/or unwantedness, unborn children have been denied justice — and the most fundamental of all human rights, the right to life,” Smith said.

“The right to life is for everyone,” he added, “not just the planned, the privileged or the perfect.”

Harris, who also is Catholic, said in a June 22 statement: “At a time when this commonsense and historically bipartisan amendment faces serious threats from congressional pro-abortion Democrats — with the support of the Biden administration — it is more important than ever to stand up and push back on the radical pro-abortion agenda.”

As a member of the House Appropriations Committee and co-chair of the Pro-Life Caucus, he said he strongly opposes using “taxpayer funding for abortion” and that he “will continue to advocate for protecting the Hyde Amendment.”

Like Smith and Harris, Scalise, Stefanik and Fischbach also are Catholic.

In addition to making the Hyde Amendment permanent, H.R. 18’s provisions also would, among other things:

— Permanently prevent the federal government from funding abortions.

— Ensure the Affordable Care Act conforms with the Hyde Amendment.

— Codify the Smith Amendment, which prohibits federal employee health care plans from funding abortion.

— Prohibit federal funding of abortion in several other federal programs throughout government agencies.

In the June 21 letter addressed to House and Senate leaders and signed by 22 attorneys general, Alabama’s Marshall wrote: “The decision by President Biden to reject the Hyde Amendment and attempt to force states to fund activity that is violative of their own laws and policies is an affront to state sovereignty. … Congress should resist following President Biden down this path and should instead maintain the Hyde Amendment language in the budget it ultimately passes.”

“Fighting for the freedom of conscience has been a hallmark of state attorneys general. We have a unique interest in the Hyde Amendment as an important protection for the consciences of the millions of Americans who oppose public funding of abortion,” he said.

The letter was sent to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Minority Leader McCarthy, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

Tom McClusky, president of March for Life Action, said June 23 that supporting the Hyde Amendment “is not only the right thing to do, but the majority of Americans also support such pro-life protections.”

“We applaud Rep. Chris Smith, Rep. Kat Cammack, Rep. Michelle Fischbach and so many others, who are seeking to make these protections permanent,” he said.

In separate statements issued the day Biden released his budget without the Hyde Amendment, Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, and Mercy Sister Mary Haddad, president and CEO of the Catholic Health Association, acknowledged the president’s budget proposal included several provisions to help vulnerable Americans.

But, they said, it was remiss in leaving out Hyde, which protects the most vulnerable — the unborn.

In March, when Biden signed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act into law, Los Angeles Archbishop José H. Gomez, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and the chairmen of six USCCB committees in a joint statement praised its “positive provisions” to help people in “extremely desperate situations” because of the pandemic.

However, they called it “unconscionable” that Congress passed the bill without the Hyde Amendment.

Diocesan Respect Life coordinators in Catholic dioceses and the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities at the U.S Conference of Catholic Bishops are encouraging Catholics to speak out in support of the Hyde Amendment and to sign a petition at telling Congress to keep the amendment intact. The petition can be found at https://bit.ly/3qnupu8

 

 

An elderly woman reacts as she meets Pope Francis during his general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican in this March 22, 2017, file photo. The pope has chosen the theme “I am with you always,” for the first World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly, to be celebrated July 25. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Writing to his peers, Catholics who have reached a venerable age like he has, Pope Francis told older Catholics that God is close to them and still has plans for their lives.

“I was called to become the bishop of Rome when I had reached, so to speak, retirement age, and thought I would not be doing anything new,” said the pope, who is 84 now and was elected when he was 76.

“The Lord is always – always – close to us. He is close to us with new possibilities, new ideas, new consolations, but always close to us. You know that the Lord is eternal; he never, ever goes into retirement,” the pope wrote in his message for the Catholic Church’s first celebration of the World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly.

The message was released at the Vatican June 22 in anticipation of the celebration July 25, the Sunday closest to the feast of Sts. Joachim and Anne, Jesus’ grandparents.

The Vatican also announced that people who attend a Mass or other celebration for the day, “devote adequate time to actually or virtually visiting their elderly brothers and sisters in need or in difficulty” or join in prayers for the elderly July 25 can receive a plenary indulgence as long as they fulfill the usual requirements of also going to confession, receiving the Eucharist and praying for the intentions of the pope.

The indulgence also is available to “the elderly sick and all those who, unable to leave their homes for a serious reason, will unite themselves spiritually to the sacred functions of the world day, offering to the merciful God their prayers, pains or sufferings of their lives,” the Vatican said.

Pope Francis’ message, which was distributed in writing and on video, acknowledged how much many older people around the world suffered and continue to suffer physically, emotionally and spiritually because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But he also insisted that the Christian call to share the Gospel is as pertinent now for all of them as it ever was.

“Think about it: what is our vocation today, at our age? To preserve our roots, to pass on the faith to the young and to care for the little ones,” he wrote. “Never forget this.”

“It makes no difference how old you are, whether you still work or not, whether you are alone or have a family, whether you became a grandmother or grandfather at a young age or later, whether you are still independent or need assistance,” he said. “There is no retirement age from the work of proclaiming the Gospel and handing down traditions to your grandchildren. You just need to set out and undertake something new.”

Pope Francis said he knew many older people might wonder how they could be called to something new when their “energy is running out” or they cannot even leave the residence where they live. They may even ask, “Isn’t my solitude already a sufficiently heavy burden?”

“You are needed in order to help build, in fraternity and social friendship, the world of tomorrow: the world in which we, together with our children and grandchildren, will live once the storm has subsided,” the pope insisted.

A better future, he said, must be built on the pillars of “dreams, memory and prayer,” pillars that “even the frailest among us” can help erect with God’s help.

While it is true that the energy and enthusiasm of the young is needed to help set the global society on a new path, “our dreams of justice, of peace, of solidarity can make it possible for our young people to have new visions,” the pope wrote. “You need to show that it is possible to emerge renewed from an experience of hardship. I am sure that you have had more than one such experience: in your life you have faced any number of troubles and yet were able to pull through. Use those experiences to learn how to pull through now.”

While many people, young and old, act as if the reminiscences of the elderly are boring, Pope Francis said that “without memory, however, we will never be able to build; without a foundation, we can never build a house. Never. And the foundation of life is memory.”

As examples, the pope cited the experience many older people have had of war or of needing to emigrate.

Sharing “the painful memory of war,” he said, is important “for helping the young to learn the value of peace.”

“I also think of my own grandparents, and those among you who had to emigrate and know how hard it is to leave everything behind, as so many people continue to do today, in hope of a future,” he said. “Some of those people may even now be at our side, caring for us. These kinds of memory can help to build a more humane and welcoming world.”

Turning to the importance of prayer, Pope Francis cited “my predecessor, Pope Benedict, himself a saintly elderly person who continues to pray and work for the church” at the age of 94.

“The prayer of the elderly can protect the world, helping it perhaps more effectively than the frenetic activity of many others,” the pope quoted his predecessor as saying. “He spoke those words in 2012, toward the end of his pontificate. There is something beautiful here.”

“Your prayer is a very precious resource: a deep breath that the church and the world urgently need,” Pope Francis told the elderly. “Especially in these difficult times for our human family, as we continue to sail in the same boat across the stormy sea of the pandemic, your intercession for the world and for the church has great value: it inspires in everyone the serene trust that we will soon come to shore.”

The text of the pope’s message in English is at: https://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/messages/nonni/documents/20210531-messaggio-nonni-anziani.html

The text of the message in Spanish: https://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/es/messages/nonni/documents/20210531-messaggio-nonni-anziani.html