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Rev. Graham dies; world famous evangelist was admired by most Americans

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MONTREAT, N.C. (CNS) -- The Rev. Billy Graham, a fiery Baptist preacher who was easily the most famous evangelist of the 20th century and for decades one of the world figures most admired by Americans, died early Feb. 21 at his home in Montreat, according to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. He was 99.

He had suffered from Parkinson's disease for many years, although he continued to lead crusades until 2005, when he held his last one in New York. In recent years, he also suffered from cancer, pneumonia and other ailments.

Rev. Graham welcomed representatives of other denominations, including Catholics, to attend his crusades. In many places local Catholic authorities welcomed him and formed pastoral follow-up programs to welcome lapsed Catholics who were prompted by the preacher to return to the church.

In 1964, Cardinal Richard J. Cushing of Boston said that no Catholic who heard Graham preach "can do anything but become a better Catholic."

At his final crusade, for example, Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn, in whose diocese the crusade was held, said: "As a fellow Christian, I pray that the Lord will continue to bless him in his ministry to preach the Gospel to all who are willing to listen." 

He noted that Rev. Graham encouraged church members who make commitments during a crusade to return to their own churches, and his evangelization office scheduled listening sessions, revival missions and other forms of pastoral outreach in parishes.

Rev. Graham -- who preferred to be called Mr. Graham -- was sometimes regarded as a pastor to presidents because he was known as a spiritual adviser to 13 U.S. presidents, from Harry S. Truman to Donald Trump. He delivered the invocation at eight presidential inaugurations.

He was best known in the United States and worldwide, however, for his crusades -- revival meetings, often held in large stadiums -- that took him to more than 185 countries to preach the message of Jesus Christ and invite people to accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior. In 1957, he filled New York's Madison Square Garden for 16 consecutive weeks.

He preached the Gospel in person to more people than any other evangelist in history -- he reached at least 210 million through his personal appearances and through his radio and television ministries. In 1950, he launched his weekly "Hour of Decision" radio program that became a staple of Christian broadcasting for 60 years.

He reached many more through his films, more than two dozen books, an internationally syndicated newspaper column, "My Answer," and a monthly magazine, Decision, which comes out in six languages and has more than 2 million subscribers.

His 1975 book, "Angels: God's Secret Agents," sold more than a million copies in three months. He wrote more than 30 books, starting in 1947 with "Calling Youth to Christ" and ending in 2015 with "Where I Am: Heaven, Eternity and Our Life Beyond."

When he first met with St. John Paul II in 1981, it was a meeting that had been delayed three years. In 1978, Rev. Graham, on a crusade in Poland, preached at the Catholic cathedral in Krakow and was to have dined with Krakow's Cardinal Karol Wojtyla. But the cardinal had been called out of town on short notice for important business in Rome -- attending the conclave at which he was elected pope.

In an interview with Catholic News Service after a meeting with St. John Paul in 1990, Rev. Graham said being known as an evangelical is misunderstood in some parts of the world.

"Some think in terms of extreme fundamentalism," he said. "But an evangelical is a person who believes in the authority of the Bible, the atonement of Christ on the cross for our sins, of course the virgin birth of Christ, the Resurrection and the need to respond to the good news of the Gospel by repentance and faith."

He praised the pope for his Bible-based vision and message and said the pontiff's homily at the inauguration of his ministry "was a straight evangelistic address."

"Of course Protestants cannot accept everything (the Catholic Church teaches), but they're beginning to find out that we have a great deal in common, and perhaps far more in common than we have differences," he said.

Rev. Graham made common cause with popes later in his life on matters of morality, but in August 1960, he played a role -- though behind the scenes -- in the efforts of a group of Protestant ministers, most of them Baptists, to oppose on religious grounds the election of the Catholic Democratic nominee, John F. Kennedy. The ministers made the decision because, as one of them said: "I fear Catholicism more than I fear Communism."

Reports about how involved Rev. Graham was in this effort are mixed. An associate evangelist of his stated that the preacher had rejected a request from Kennedy that he sign a pledge not to make religion an issue in the campaign. Some accounts say that while he refused to issue such a pledge, he would not come out "publicly" against a Catholic candidate as some Protestants leaders urged him to do. After the election, Rev. Graham and Kennedy were cordial to each other.

He was a friend of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., held integrated rallies beginning in 1953 and was considered a major influence in the civil rights movement. Rev. Graham appeared on the Gallup list of world's most admired men 60 times in his life -- every single year the polling company asked the question.

He founded the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association in Minneapolis in 1950 after a photo in what is now The Atlanta-Journal Constitution daily newspaper showed an usher counting a $16,000 "love offering" from a crusade in Atlanta.

Ashamed at the insinuation that he was making a fortune through his ministry, he formed the association and made it the recipient of crusade offerings as well as all his speaker's fees and book royalties. In 2003, the association was moved to North Carolina to be based in Charlotte, Rev. Graham's hometown.

He received from the association the salary of a community pastor. Today the association, run by his son, William Franklin Graham III, has about $300 million in assets and a yearly budget of more than $100 million. The younger Graham has stirred controversy for the ministry with his criticism of Islam in recent years created controversy for the ministry. Rev. Graham's grandson Will also preaches, and he saw Will preach via a television feed during an August 2012 hospital stay for bronchitis.

With his reputation for integrity and simplicity of life, the sex and money scandals that rocked the ministries of the Rev. Jim Bakker and the Rev. Jimmy Swaggart in the 1980s had no effect on Rev. Graham's organization or ministries.

William Franklin Graham Jr. was born in Charlotte Nov. 7, 1918, and raised on a dairy farm in a strict Presbyterian family. At age 16 he attended a revival meeting led by the Rev. Mordecai Fowler Ham. It led him to commit himself to Christ.

Another conversion experience in college led him to commit his life to preaching the Gospel.

He was ordained a Southern Baptist minister in 1939, graduated from Wheaton College in Illinois in 1943. After two years as a pastor in a Chicago suburb, he began working as a traveling tent evangelist.

From 1945 to 1948, he was first vice president of Youth for Christ International, and from 1947 to 1952, he was president of Northwestern College in Minneapolis, dividing his time between those duties and preaching at revivals.

He formed a lasting partnership with singer George Beverly Shea and song leader Cliff Barrows to lead the revival meetings, which he came to describe as crusades. They came to national attention in 1949, when a meeting in Los Angeles, expected to draw about 3,000 people, attracted 10,000.

Among the many awards Rev. Graham received over the years were numerous honorary doctorates and a wide range of religious, humanitarian and broadcasting honors. They included the prestigious Templeton Foundation Prize for Progress in Religion, the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal, one of the nation's highest civilian honors.

The Billy Graham Library was dedicated in Charlotte May 30, 2007, just two weeks before the death of Ruth Graham, his wife of 64 years. Rev. Graham was to be buried alongside her on the library grounds.

He is survived by two sons and three daughters, 19 grandchildren and 41 great-grandchildren.

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Pope reassures foster kids, says life events can make adults 'fragile'

IMAGE: CNS photo/Mohammed Badra, EPA

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- When people are unable to love or accept a child with problems or illness, many times it's because they are too weak themselves to be able to bear someone else's vulnerabilities, Pope Francis told a group of children and young people who are wards of the state.

"If I have a giant rock, I can't put it on top of a cardboard box because the rock will crush the box," he said, explaining how some adults "don't have sufficient strength to bear fragility because they themselves are fragile."

The pope met with the group, which included minors living in foster care or receiving other forms of support and help from the Romanian-based NGO, called "FDP: Protagonists in Education." The Vatican released Feb. 19 a written transcript of the meeting, which was held at the Vatican Jan. 4.

The pope said he received the group's questions beforehand so he could better prepare to answer them. One question in particular, he said, had made him cry.

The question, which the young man read aloud at the audience, was why his mother didn't want or accept him. He said he was given up when he was 2 months old and when he turned 21 he got in touch with his birth mother and even stayed with her for two weeks; but he said it didn't go well and he was forced to leave.

"My father is dead. Am I at fault if she doesn't want me? Why doesn't she accept me?" the unidentified man asked the pope.

"Your mother loves you, but she doesn't know how to, she doesn't know how to express it. She can't because life is hard and unjust, and that love that is trapped inside her, she doesn't know how to say it or how to caress you," the pope said.

He urged the young man not to despair or become cynical, but to hold on to hope. "I promise to pray that one day she can show you that love."

These terrible situations have nothing to do with anyone's fault, the pope said. "It's a question of the immense fragility in adults, due to, in your case, much poverty, many social injustices that crush the smallest and the poorest."

"Spiritual poverty," too, is to blame, he said, because it leads to "hardened hearts, and it causes what seems impossible: a mother who abandons her own child. This is fruit of material and spiritual poverty, fruit of a mistaken, inhuman social system that hardens hearts, that leads to mistakes, makes it so we cannot find the right path."

This question, the pope said, was much like another question from another young person who asked, "Why are there parents who love healthy children and not those who are sick or have problems?"

"When facing other people's fragilities, such as illnesses, there are some adults who are weaker, who don't have enough strength to bear fragility and this is because they themselves are fragile," Pope Francis said.

Some parents are fragile or weak because they are human beings with their own limitations, sins and vulnerabilities, he said.

"And perhaps they were not lucky to be helped when they were young" to find a person who could take them by the hand and help them grow, become strong and overcome their weaknesses, he added.

"It's difficult to get help from fragile parents and sometimes it's us who has to help them" and not blame life for how it turned out, he said, but use one's own strength so "the rock doesn't crush the cardboard box."

Another young person asked, "Why did we end up with this destiny" or lot in life?

While no one knows "the why" or reason that allows these situations or suffering to happen, the pope said, Christians do know "the why, in the sense of the ending God wants to give" to each person's destiny -- that is, healing and new life.

No one knows why things start out a certain way, he said, but there is no doubt where people should be headed: finding and experiencing Christ who always loves and heals; "that's the why."

Another young person said that when a friend of theirs at the orphanage had died, the priest told them the boy died a sinner and would not go to heaven.

The pope said no one can ever claim someone -- even Judas -- has not gone to heaven. "God wants to bring all of us to heaven, nobody excluded."

God doesn't just sit around waiting for things to happen, he said. He is the Good Shepherd who is always searching for the lost sheep and is never upset when he finds them, even if they are "dirty with sin" or have been abandoned their whole lives.

"He embraces them and kisses them," puts them on his shoulders and brings them home, the pope said, adding that according to what he knows about Jesus, "I am sure this is what ... the Lord did with your friend."

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U.S. bishops declare national call-in day to urge Congress to save DACA

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WASHINGTON (CNS) -- After the Senate failed Feb. 15 to garner the 60 votes needed to move a bill forward to protect the "Dreamers," officials of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops announced a "National Catholic Call-In Day to Protect Dreamers" Feb. 26.

"We are deeply disappointed that the Senate was not able to come together in a bipartisan manner to secure legislative protection for the Dreamers," the USCCB officials said in a joint statement Feb. 19.

"With the March 5th deadline looming, we ask once again that members of Congress show the leadership necessary to find a just and humane solution for these young people, who daily face mounting anxiety and uncertainty," they said.

The joint statement was issued by Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, USCCB president; Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles, USCCB vice president; and Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Migration.

"We are also announcing a National Catholic Call-In Day to Protect Dreamers," the three prelates said. They asked U.S. Catholics "to call their members of Congress next Monday, Feb. 26, to protect Dreamers from deportation, to provide them a path to citizenship, and to avoid any damage to existing protections for families and unaccompanied minors in the process."

They added: "Our faith compels us to stand with the vulnerable, including our immigrant brothers and sisters. We have done so continually, but we must show our support and solidarity now in a special way. Now is the time for action."

By day's end Feb. 15, members of the U.S. Senate had rejected four immigration proposals, leaving it unclear how lawmakers will address overall immigration reform and keep the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in place.

Needing 60 votes for Senate passage, a bipartisan measure that included a path to citizenship for an estimated 1.8 million Dreamers -- those eligible for DACA -- and $25 billion for a border wall failed by six votes. The final vote was 54-45. A bill the Trump administration was supporting was defeated 39 to 60. Two other bills also failed.

The U.S. House was pressing on with its own bill, which by mid-day Feb. 16 was not yet up for a floor vote. Described as "hard line" by opponents, it includes keeping DACA in place, funding a border wall, ending the Diversity Immigrant Visa program, limiting family-based visas, requiring employers to verify job applicants' immigration status and withholding federal grants from so-called "sanctuary" cities.

The U.S. House and Senate will be in recess for a week following the Presidents Day holiday.

The bishops and countless other immigration advocates have urged members of Congress to preserve DACA and protect the programs beneficiaries by passing the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, or DREAM Act, which has long been proposed. The bill is what gives DACA recipients the "Dreamer" name.

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Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Reverend Paul Ward

Reverend Paul Ward has been released to serve as Chaplain at Wyoming Catholic College for a period of three years, effective July 1, 2018.  Father Ward is currently pastor of Sacred Heart Parish, Imlay City.

Update: Catholics urged to appeal to lawmakers in Congress to pass DACA bill now

IMAGE: CNS photo/Jim Lo Scalzo, EPA

By Julie Asher

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- By day's end Feb. 15, members of the U.S. Senate had rejected four immigration proposals, leaving it unclear how lawmakers will address overall immigration reform and keep the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in place.

Late that afternoon, Archbishop John C. Wester of Santa Fe, New Mexico, issued an urgent alert to Catholics in his archdiocese to raise their voices "to support the 'Dreamers'" and contact their senators and representatives to vote for a bipartisan measure to preserve the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, which is set to expire March 5.

"Time is running out for them," he said in a statement. "Congress must pass bipartisan legislation that would provide urgently needed relief for Dreamers."

Needing 60 votes for Senate passage, a bipartisan measure that included a path to citizenship for an estimated 1.8 million Dreamers -- those eligible for DACA -- and $25 billion for a border wall failed by six votes. The final vote was 54-45. A bill the Trump administration was supporting was defeated 39 to 60. Two other bills also failed.

The U.S. House was pressing on with its own bill, which by mid-day Feb. 16 was not yet up for a floor vote. Described as "hard line" by opponents, it includes keeping DACA in place, funding a border wall, ending the Diversity Immigrant Visa program, limiting family-based visas, requiring employers to verify job applicants' immigration status and withholding federal grants from so-called "sanctuary" cities.

"As Catholics, we believe the dignity of every human being, particularly that of our immigrant and refugee children and youth, must be protected," Archbishop Wester said in his statement. "The sanctity of families must be upheld. The Catholic bishops have long supported undocumented youth brought to the United States by their parents, known as Dreamers, and continue to do so."

Other Catholic leaders decried lawmakers' failure to provide protections for DACA recipients.

Dominican Sister Donna Markham, president and CEO of Catholic Charities USA, called it "deeply heartbreaking."

"While thankful for the bipartisan majority support for protecting DACA youth, it is unconscionable that nearly 800,000 will continue to live in fear and uncertainty," she said Feb. 15.

"As it has for more than 100 years, Catholic Charities will continue to stand with and advocate on behalf of migrants and others in need. Not because they are migrants but because they are children of God," she said.

Holy Cross Father John I. Jenkins, president of the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, echoed that disappointment, saying: "These young women and men have done nothing wrong and have known life only in the United States. The Dreamers who are enrolled at Notre Dame are also poised to make lasting contributions to the United States.

"We pray that our leaders will end the cruel uncertainty for these talented and dedicated young people who have so much to offer our nation," he said. "Regardless, Notre Dame will continue to support them financially, maintain their enrollment, provide expert legal assistance should that become necessary and do everything it can to support them."

Even if the legislation seems to be stalling, some like Kevin Appleby, senior director of international migration policy at the Center for Migration Studies of New York, still see hope.

"This is a setback, but the game is not over," he told Catholic News Service Feb. 16. "The silver lining is that the president's framework was roundly rejected, which could clear a path for a narrower bill that provides citizenship to undocumented youth without decimating the family immigration system. The U.S. bishops and the Catholic community can take the lead moving forward by continuing to highlight the moral necessity of offering protection to these young people."

Since September, when President Donald Trump announced he was ending the Obama-era program and told Congress to come up with a legislative fix, the U.S. Catholic bishops individually and as a body have been urging Congress to protect DACA.

Since 2012, DACA has allowed some individuals brought as minors to the United States by their parents without legal permission to receive a renewable two-year period of protection from deportation and to be eligible for a work permit. As of 2017, approximately 800,000 individuals had DACA status.

Since Trump rescinded the program, many immigration advocates have urged members of Congress to pass the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, or DREAM Act, which has long been proposed. The bill is what gives DACA recipients the "Dreamer" name.

In Arizona in late January, Bishop Edward J. Weisenburger of Tucson and his predecessor, now-retired Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas, urged passage of a "clean" bill, like the DREAM Act, to preserve DACA. Their commentary was posted on the diocesan Facebook page.

"While all would agree that reasonable border protection is needed and while clearly countries have a right to protect their borders, it is wrong to barter the lives of these young people by making their protection contingent on a wall or stringent border protection that is unreasonable and a waste of taxpayer's money. Congress should pass the DREAM Act as a stand-alone bill," they said.

"We are at a moment in our nation's history that could define who we are as a people. Traditional American values of fairness and compassion are in conflict," they wrote. "This is a situation that is a moral test for our society; we must not fail."

In a Feb. 2 letter to Arkansas' senators and representatives in Congress, Little Rock Bishop Anthony B. Taylor called for grass-roots bipartisan support for "a just and humane solution for the Dreamers whose fate is in your hands." He, too, urged they pass a narrowly focused bill to save DACA.

"If enough members of Congress commit to focusing on a narrowly-tailored bipartisan solution, DACA-only legislation is possible (to) provide urgently needed relief for Dreamers," he wrote. "They and their families who have worked hard and made valuable contributions to our country deserve certainty and compassion. Dreamers should not be used as a political bargaining chip for other legislative proposals."

In a Feb. 2 op-ed in the Daily News, Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn, New York, struck the same tone, predicting that if Congress tied the fate of these young people to a broader immigration reform measure backed by Trump, it would be "a recipe for getting nothing done, at least in the short term."

"There are times that our elected leaders must act because it is the right thing to do as human beings. This is one of those times," he said. "If the Dreamers are left unprotected, it will leave a stain on our nation's character for years to come. If we pursue justice and welcome them as full Americans, it would be one of our finest hours."

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Rhina Guidos contributed to this story.

 

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Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Nuns withdraw from ministry in Mexican city wrought by violence

IMAGE: CNS photo/Francisca Meza, EPA

By David Agren

MEXICO CITY (CNS) -- An order of nuns has withdrawn from an especially violent city after the parents and sister of one of the women religious were kidnapped and killed.

The Diocese of Chilpancingo-Chilapa, where two priests were murdered Feb. 5, said in a statement that the nuns from the "Comunidad Guadalupana" (Guadalupe Community) had withdrawn because of a lack of security, leaving a school it operated in the city of Chilapa without staff.

Schools in Chilapa had suspended classes from September to December because of the insecurity, the statement said.

The nuns' withdrawal from Chilapa is but the latest hardship for the Diocese of Chilpancingo-Chilapa, which serves parts of southern state of Guerrero, where the heroin trade has exploded in recent years. At least six priests have been murdered there since 2009.

Two priests, Fathers Germain Muniz García and Ivan Anorve Jaime, were shot dead as they drove back from Candlemas celebrations with four other passengers, three of whom were injured.

State prosecutor Xavier Olea Pelaez said originally that the priests had attended the celebrations, where there were armed individuals from three states and that a criminal group and a neighboring state had shot the priests. Olea also said a photo, showing Father Muniz holding an assault rifle and posing with masked men, prompted confusion.

Bishop Salvador Rangel Mendoza of Chilpancingo-Chilapa, who has had a tense relationship with the state government, rejected the prosecutor's version of events as a "fairy tale," saying the photo was at least a year old and likely taken with members of a community security force in Father Muniz's hometown. The bishop said after speaking with survivors, who included Father Muniz's sister, that there had been an "incident" on the highway coming back from the celebrations.

"What they're trying to do is blame us," Bishop Rangel said of the prosecutor's statements. "According to them, we move among narcotics traffickers, hence the murdered priests."

In a Feb. 15 statement, the state government said the priests were not members of a criminal group and confirmed details voiced by the bishop.

The priests' murders highlighted a continuing dispute between the state government and Bishop Rangel, who has sought out cartel bosses for dialogue to calm the state and to allow his priests to serve poor and isolated communities sustained by planting opium poppies.

He also has spoken critically of alleged collusion between the cartels and politicians, the police and the army.

"All of Guerrero is controlled by narcotics traffickers. This is a fact," Bishop Rangel told Catholic News Service. "The authorities themselves have been displaced."

Chilapa has turned especially violent as drug cartels fight over the city, which is considered strategically important for transporting heroin to the United States.

At least 15 drug cartels are operating in Guerrero, according to state government spokesman Roberto Alvarez Heredia, who attributed the rising violence over territory and a burgeoning illegal heroin-supply business. He said the cartels engage in kidnapping and extortion because it provides quick cash to cover the "payrolls" for their foot soldiers.

Alvarez said the authorities "did not share" Bishop Rangel's opinions and did not look well on his meeting with criminal groups, but they did "respect" the bishop and his office.

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Update: Florida school shooting an act of 'horrifying evil,' says Miami archbishop

IMAGE: CNS photo/Carlos Garcia Rawlins, Reuters

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MIAMI (CNS) -- Miami Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski urged community members to come together "to support one another in this time of grief" after a shooting rampage Feb. 14 at a Broward County high school left at least 17 people dead and at least 14 injured.

"With God's help, we can remain strong and resolute to resist evil in all its manifestations," the archbishop said in a statement. "May God heal the brokenhearted and comfort the sorrowing as we once again face as a nation another act of senseless violence and horrifying evil."

In a late-night telegram to Archbishop Wenski, Pope Francis assured "all those affected by this devastating attack of his spiritual closeness."

"With the hope that such senseless acts of violence may cease," he invoked "divine blessings of peace and strength" on the South Florida community.

Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, called for prayer and healing. He urged all unite their "prayers and sacrifices for the healing and consolation" of those affected by the violence in South Florida and for a society "with fewer tragedies caused by senseless gun violence."

Law enforcement officials identified the shooting suspect as 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, who had been expelled for disciplinary reasons from the school where he opened fire -- Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

On the afternoon of Feb. 14, Cruz allegedly went on the shooting rampage shortly before school was to let out for the day. He was apprehended about an hour after shots were reported at the school. He is being held without bond on 17 counts of first-degree premeditated murder in the attack.

The suspect carried an AR-15 rifle and had "countless magazines," Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel said. He also told reporters that of the 17 fatalities, "12 people died in the school, two were killed outside the school, one died on the street and another two died at the hospital." Several others were transported to the hospital. Details about the shooter's motive were still being pieced together.

Thousands of mourners remembered the victims at a candlelight vigil held near the high school the evening of Feb. 15. Still others attended a prayer service at Mary Help of Christians Catholic Church in Parkland.

Earlier in the day Broward County Superintendent Robert Runcie called the school shooting "a horrific situation. It is a horrible day for us." Florida Gov. Rick Scott said, "This is just absolutely pure evil."

Pope Francis was "deeply saddened to learn of the tragic shooting," Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state said in telegram he sent to Archbishop Wenski on behalf of the pope. "He prays that Almighty God may grant eternal rest to the dead and healing and consolation to the wounded and those who grieve."

"We are deeply saddened by the shootings in Broward County, Florida, and by the needless and tragic loss of life," Cardinal DiNardo said in his statement. "May the mercy of God comfort the grieving families and sustain the wounded in their healing.

"Catholics and many other Christians have begun the journey of Lent today," he said. "I encourage us to unite our prayers and sacrifices for the healing and consolation of all those who have been affected by violence in these last weeks and for a conversion of heart, that our communities and nation will be marked by peace. I pray also for unity in seeking to build toward a society with fewer tragedies caused by senseless gun violence."

Archbishop Wenski added in his statement: "This Ash Wednesday, we begin our Lenten Season that calls us to penance and conversion. With God's help, we can remain strong and resolute to resist evil in all its manifestations."

Via Twitter, various U.S. bishops offered condolences and urged for something to be done to stop the violence.

"We must prevent those who are mentally ill from access to deadly firearms," said Boston Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley. "We can and must do better for each other by coming together as a society with the resolve to stop this senseless violence."

News reports said the suspect had been in treatment for depression but had stopped seeking help.

Bishop Richard J. Malone of Buffalo, New York, via Twitter reminded others of St. John Paul II's warning 25 years ago that Western society is becoming a "culture of death."

"Sadly, he was right. Can we join together and reverse this?" he asked.

U.S. President Donald Trump via television Feb. 15 urged children who feel "lost, alone, confused or even scared" to seek help.

Various reports said the suspected shooter had recently lost his mother and was living with a friend's family while dealing with depression.

Trump also expressed condolences to families whose children died in the massacre.

"To every parent, teacher and child who is hurting so badly, we are here for you, whatever you need, whatever we can do, to ease your pain. We are all joined together as one American family and your suffering is our burden also," Trump said. "No child, no teacher should ever be in danger in an American school. No parent should ever have to fear for their sons and daughters when they kiss them goodbye in the morning."

Amid the outpouring of sympathyand calls for gun control and other action to stop mass shootings was a statement from the Sisters of Mercy. The community said its members were united in prayer and expressed grief, sympathy and love for "the victims, the families and the witnesses whose sense of safety in their schools has been irrevocably broken."

"However, we acknowledge that our prayer alone is not enough. Our faith and mercy tradition call us to unceasingly decry the industries, systems and culture that enable this terrible hate and violence," the sisters said in a statement.

They questioned how the more than 300 school shootings reported since Sandy Hook in 2012 could occur "when the entire country was outraged" following that horrific massacre in Connecticut.

"When will this stop?" they asked. "We will raise our individual and collective voices to speak out against legislation, the gun lobby, industry and organizations that promote and perpetuate a culture of hate and violence."

In Pennsylvania, Greensburg Bishop Edward C. Malesic said: "Prayers are powerful, and prayers are a necessary part of any Christian response to evil. But we have to start taking action to stop this carnage."

"Pray to God that in addition to helping the victims and their families heal from this unimaginable tragedy, that he burn in your heart the courage to stand up and combat this problem," he continued, "whether it is by advocating for better mental health services, working to help end bullying in our schools, responding to the needs of boys and young men so they don't see a gun massacre as a solution to their problems, working to promote respect for life, and, yes, advocating for common sense gun laws."


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St. Mary Church in Wayne announces closure of school

On behalf of St. Mary Catholic Church (34530 W. Michigan Ave. in Wayne), the Archdiocese of Detroit relays the enclosed letter from parish administrator Bishop Walter Hurley, announcing the decision to close St. Mary School in Wayne following years of enrollment decline and financial struggles. Also enclosed is a letter to parents from school principal, Mrs. Kathy J. Sparks.

Letter from Bishop Walter Hurley
Letter from Mrs. Kathy J. Sparks

The Archdiocese joins the St. Mary Parish community in prayer for the students and families most affected by this difficult decision.

Please direct media inquiries to Holly Fournier at (313) 237-5802.

Updated: Pope told Jesuits he regularly meets abuse survivors, journal reports

IMAGE: CNS photo/Vatican Media

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis told a group of Jesuits in Peru that he often meets on Fridays with survivors of sex abuse.

The meetings, which he said do not always become public knowledge, make it clear that the survivors' process of recovery "is very hard. They remain annihilated. Annihilated," the pope had told the Jesuits Jan. 19 in Lima.

The scandal of clerical sexual abuse shows not only the "fragility" of the Catholic Church, he said, "but also -- let us speak clearly -- our level of hypocrisy."

The director of the Vatican press office Feb. 15 confirmed that the pope's meetings with abuse survivors is regular and ongoing.

"I can confirm that several times a month, the Holy Father meets victims of sexual abuse both individually and in groups," said Greg Burke, the director. "Pope Francis listens to the victims and tries to help them heal the serious wounds caused by the abuse they've suffered. The meetings take place with maximum reserve out of respect for the victims and their suffering."

On his trips abroad, Pope Francis usually spends time with local Jesuit communities and holds a question-and-answer session with them. Weeks later, a transcript of the exchange is published by Civilta Cattolica, a Jesuit journal in Rome.

The transcribed and translated texts from Pope Francis' conversations with Jesuits in Chile Jan. 16 and in Peru three days later were released in Italian and English by Civilta Cattolica Feb. 15 with the pope's approval, the journal said.

The Jesuits in Chile had not asked the pope about the abuse scandal, even though the scandal was in the news, particularly because of ongoing controversy over the pope's appointment in 2015 of Bishop Juan Barros of Osorno, who had been accused of covering up the abuse committed by his mentor, Father Fernando Karadima.

Pope Francis met with the Jesuits in Santiago at the end of his first full day in Chile. Earlier that day he had met with "a small group" of people who had been abused by Chilean priests, according to the Vatican press office.

The meeting with the survivors and with the Chilean Jesuits took place days before Chilean reporters asked Pope Francis about the accusations against Bishop Barros and he replied, "The day they bring me proof against Bishop Barros, I will speak. There is not one piece of evidence against him. It is calumny. Is that clear?"

The pope later apologized for the remark and, soon after returning to Rome, sent Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta, an experienced investigator, to Chile to conduct interviews.

After the pope left Chile and flew on to Peru, the topic of abuse was even more pressing. In the context of a discussion about spiritual "consolation" and "desolation," one Jesuit told the pope, "I would like you to say something about a theme that leads to a lot of desolation in the church, and particularly among religious men and women and the clergy: the theme of sexual abuse. We are very disturbed by these scandals."

Abuse, Pope Francis replied, "is the greatest desolation that the church is suffering. It brings shame, but we need to remember that shame is also a very Ignatian grace." In his Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, encouraged people to contemplate Jesus' goodness and their own wickedness, asking for the grace to be ashamed.

The pope told the Peruvian Jesuits that it is a temptation for people in the church to seek a "consolation prize" by comparing statistics about abuse within the church and abuse within families or in other organizations.

But even if the abuse rate is lower in the church, the pope said, "it is terrible even if only one of our brothers is such! For God anointed him to sanctify children and adults, and instead of making them holy he has destroyed them. It's horrible! We need to listen to what someone who has been abused feels."

At that point the pope told the Jesuits in Peru, "On Fridays -- sometimes this is known and sometimes it is not known -- I normally meet some of them. In Chile I also had such a meeting."

The abuse scandal is "a great humiliation" for the Catholic Church, he said. "It shows not only our fragility, but also -- let us say so clearly -- our level of hypocrisy."

Pope Francis also told the Jesuits in Peru that "it is notable that there are some newer congregations whose founders have fallen into these abuses." He did not specify which congregations, however.

In the "new, prosperous congregations" where abuse has been a problem, he said, there is a combination of an abuse of authority, sexual abuse and "an economic mess. There is always money involved. The devil enters through the wallet."

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Regarding the funeral service for Art Van Elslander

The funeral service for Art Van Elslander will take place at 11 a.m. Friday, February 16 at the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament, 9844 Woodward Ave., Detroit 48202.