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Groups settle in lawsuit against HHS contraceptive mandate

IMAGE: CNS photo/Aaron P. Bernstein, Reuters

By Carol Zimmermann

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Dozens of Catholic groups that challenged the contraceptive mandate of the Affordable Care Act have reached a settlement with the U.S. Justice Department, they announced late Oct. 16.

The groups, including the Archdiocese of Washington and the Pennsylvania dioceses of Greensburg, Pittsburgh and Erie, were represented by the Cleveland-based law firm Jones Day.

Washington Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl wrote an Oct. 16 letter to archdiocesan priests saying the "binding agreement" ends the litigation challenging the Health and Human Services' mandate and provides a "level of assurance as we move into the future."

The Washington Archdiocese was one of dozens of groups challenging the mandate, which went to the Supreme Court last year in the consolidated case of Zubik v. Burwell. Although it was most often described as the Little Sisters of the Poor fighting against the federal government, the case before the court involved seven plaintiffs and each of these combined cases represented a group of schools, churches or church-sponsored organizations.

Pittsburgh Bishop David A. Zubik, whom the case is named for, said he was grateful for the settlement, which he described as an "agreement with the government that secures and reaffirms the constitutional right of religious freedom."

In an Oct. 17 statement, the bishop said the diocese's five-year-long challenge to the mandate "has been resolved successfully" allowing Catholic Charities in the diocese and other religious organizations of different denominations to be exempt from "insurance coverage or practices that are morally unacceptable."

He said the settlement follows the recent release of new federal regulations that provide religious organizations with a full exemption from covering items that violate their core beliefs.

On Oct. 6, the Trump administration issued interim rules expanding the exemption to the contraceptive mandate to include religious employers who object on moral grounds to covering contraceptive and abortion-inducing drugs and devices in their employee health insurance. The same day, the U.S. Department of Justice issued guidance to all administrative agencies and executive departments regarding religious liberty protections in federal law.

Cardinal Wuerl said in his letter to priests that the new guidelines and regulations were extremely helpful but that the "settlement of the Zubik litigation adds a leavening of certainty moving forward. It removes doubt where it might otherwise exist as it closes those cases."

"The settlement adds additional assurances," he added, "that we will not be subject to enforcement or imposition of similar regulations imposing such morally unacceptable mandates moving forward."

The cardinal thanked the Jones Day law firm for its legal representation in the case and thanked Catholics for their prayers and support for the petitioners in the long legal fight.

Thomas Aquinas College of Santa Paula, California, one of the groups that fell under the Washington Archdiocese's challenge of the HHS mandate to the Supreme Court, similarly thanked the law firm Jones Day for representing the school pro bono.

The school's president, Michael McLean, said in an Oct. 16 statement that as part of the settlement, the government will pay a portion of the legal costs and fees incurred by the law firm.

He said the college welcomed the broadening of the exemption from the HHS mandate by the Trump administration in early October but he similarly said the settlement of the case provides "something even better: a permanent exemption from an onerous federal directive -- and any similar future directive -- that would require us to compromise our fundamental beliefs."

"This is an extraordinary outcome for Thomas Aquinas College and for the cause of religious freedom," he added.

The school's statement said according to the terms of the settlement, the government concedes that the contraceptive mandate "imposes a substantial burden" on the plaintiffs' exercise of religion and "cannot be legally enforced" under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

The contraceptive mandate, in place since 2012, required all employers to provide contraceptive coverage in their employer insurance. Last year when opposition to this mandate came to the Supreme Court, the justices unanimously returned the case to the lower courts with instructions to determine if contraceptive insurance coverage could be obtained by employees through their insurance companies without directly involving religious employers who object to paying for such coverage.

Erie Bishop Lawrence T. Persico, representing one of the groups that challenged the mandate, said in an Oct. 17 statement that it has been "difficult for people to understand that this lawsuit was not just about contraceptives.

"The real issue," he said, "was the government attempting to narrow the definition of freedom of religion, using the HHS mandate to exempt only a small subset of religious employers. Churches were declared exempt, but their hospitals, Catholic Charities agencies, schools, and universities were not."

The bishop said he was pleased with the settlement particularly because the church continues to assert that all of its ministries "are inextricably tied to the practice of our faith."

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Mark Zimmermann, editor of the Catholic Standard, newspaper of the Washington Archdiocese, contributed to this report.

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Follow Carol Zimmermann on Twitter:@carolmaczim.

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Copyright © 2017 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.

Senate confirms Callista Gingrich as U.S. ambassador to the Holy See

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WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The Senate confirmed Callista Gingrich as the new U.S. ambassador to the Holy See.

Voting late Oct. 16, senators approved her nomination 70-23. More than 20 Democrats joined Republicans in supporting Gingrich, the wife of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a vocal ally of President Donald Trump.

Gingrich, 51, a lifelong Catholic and a former congressional aide, has been president of Gingrich Productions, a multimedia production and consulting company in Arlington, Virginia, since 2007.

She was expected to present her credentials at the Vatican in the coming weeks.

Gingrich's associates welcomed the vote. Among them was Msgr. Walter R. Rossi, rector of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, where Gingrich has been a longtime member of the choir.

"Callista has been part of our shrine family for two decades and so, as any family rejoices when good news arrives, we rejoice with Callista," Msgr. Rossi said in an Oct. 17 statement. "Both Callista and Speaker Gingrich are wonderful supporters of our ministry here at Mary's shrine, most especially our music program.

"More importantly, Callista has a great love for the church and our country," he added. "Her faith is an integral part of her life and I am confident that her faith will be her solid foundation as she enters a new service to church and nation."

The Bethlehem University Foundation wished Gingrich "great success in her new role." The Gingrichs have been foundation patrons, serving as advisers to its executive director and donors.

During her confirmation hearing July 18, Gingrich emphasized her desire to work with the Vatican to protect religious freedom and human rights, fight terrorism and human trafficking, and seek peaceful solutions to international crises.

Gingrich also explained under sharp questioning that the U.S. wanted to be a leader in addressing environmental issues despite initiating efforts to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement. She said the White House was committed to sustaining "our clean air and our clean water."

"We are all called to be stewards of the land," she said, echoing a common theme expressed by Pope Francis.

In 2010, Gingrich's company released the film "Nine Days That Changed the World" about St. John Paul II's nine-day pilgrimage to Poland in 1979 and how it played a part in the fall of communism in Europe. She also has written the "Ellis the Elephant" children's American history series and co-authored "Rediscovering God in America."

Gingrich graduated from Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, in 1988, majoring in music, a passion that has remained with her throughout life. She served as a congressional aide for more than 30 years.

She is the third woman to serve as ambassador to the Holy See after Lindy Boggs, who held the post from 1997 to 2001, and Mary Ann Glendon, who served in 2008-2009. Gingrich succeeds Ambassador Ken Hackett, who retired in January.

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Copyright © 2017 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.

Pope on interviews: Church must listen, respond to people's questions

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By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Replying to questions and giving interviews are a "pastoral risk" Pope Francis said he is prepared to take, because it is the best way to know and respond to people's real concerns.

"I know this can make me vulnerable, but it is a risk I want to take," the pope wrote in the introduction to a new book collecting transcripts of question-and-answer sessions he has held all over the world.

The collection in Italian, "Adesso Fate le Vostre Domande" ("Now, Ask Your Questions"), was edited by Jesuit Father Antonio Spadaro and scheduled for release Oct. 19. The pope's introduction was published Oct. 17 in the Italian newspaper La Repubblica.

"I want a church that knows how to enter into people's conversations, that knows how to dialogue," Pope Francis wrote.

The model is the Gospel account of the risen Lord's meeting with the disciples on the road to Emmaus. "The Lord 'interviews' the disciples who are walking discouraged," he said. "For me, the interview is part of this conversation the church is having with men and women today."

The interviews and Q&A sessions "always have a pastoral value," Pope Francis said, and are an important part of his ministry, just like inviting a small group of people to his early morning Mass each day.

The chapel of the Domus Sanctae Marthae, where he lives, "is, let's say, my parish. I need that communication with people."

And, in interviews, the journalists often ask the questions that are on the minds of the faithful, he said.

The most regular appointment he has for responding to questions is on the flights back to Rome from his foreign trips when he holds a news conference with the journalists who travel with him.

"There, too, on those trips, I like to look people in the eye and respond to their questions sincerely," he wrote. "I know that I have to be prudent, and I hope I am. I always pray to the Holy Spirit before I start listening to the questions and responding."

His favorite interviews, he said, are with small, neighborhood newspapers and magazines. "There I feel even more at ease," the pope said. "In fact, in those cases I really am listening to the questions and concerns of common people. I try to respond spontaneously, in a conversation I hope is understandable, and not with rigid formulas."

"For me," he said, "interviews are a dialogue, not a lesson."

Even when the questions are submitted in advance, the pope said he does not prepare his answers. Watching the person ask the question and responding directly is important.

"Yes, I am afraid of being misinterpreted," he said. "But, I repeat, I want to run this pastoral risk."

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Catholic group will accept Scouts' decision to allow girls to join

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IRVING, Texas (CNS) -- The leaders of the National Catholic Committee on Scouting, which has its headquarters in the Dallas suburb of Irving, said they "accept and work with the new membership policy of the Boy Scouts of America" to admit girls.

"We were informed this morning" of the policy change, said an Oct. 11 statement by George Sparks, the national chairman of the group, and the committee's national chaplain, Father Kevin Smith, a priest of the Diocese of Rockville Centre, New York.

"Once we have had more time to review the policy and a chance to consult our national membership, we will be able to comment further about how this new policy will reflect changes in the makeup of Catholic-chartered units," they said.

Sparks told Catholic News Service in an Oct. 13 telephone interview that a member of the Scouts' executive board came to the Catholic Committee's meeting shortly after the board vote "and brought us up to speed on it."

Afterward, "we took an informal straw poll, and everybody at our meeting -- there were about 18 people at our meeting -- thought this was the right thing to do," Sparks said.

The Boy Scouts currently have 2.3 million members, less than half than the 5 million the organization had at is peak in the 1970s.

The vote to accept girls as members was unanimous, according to a spokeswoman for the Boy Scouts.

The Boy Scouts allowed gay members in 2015, gay troop leaders in 2015 and transgender members last January.

Admitting girls to the Scouts has "really been an issue that's been there, although it hasn't been on the top of the list because of the other membership-related issues the Boy Scouts of America has faced. But it was an issue that was definitely brought up at the Boy Scouts' executive meeting in May of 2017, and it was carried forth to this board meeting," Sparks said.

"It is the mission of the National Catholic Committee on Scouting to utilize and ensure the constructive use of the program of the Boy Scouts of America as a viable form of youth ministry with the Catholic youth of our nation," said the Oct. 11 statement from Sparks and Father Smith.

"The National Catholic Committee on Scouting seeks to sustain and strengthen the relationship between the Boy Scouts of America and the Catholic Church and to work cooperatively with the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry and various other groups involved in youth ministry in the United States."

Girl Scouts leaders expressed displeasure over the summer when the Boy Scouts sought advice from its 270 councils on whether to accept girls. Girl Scouts of the USA's president, Kathy Hopinkah Hannan, in a letter to her Boy Scouts counterpart, Randall Stephenson, said the Boy Scouts should stick to recruiting "the 90 percent of American boys not currently participating in Boy Scouts."

Joseph Carballo, 70, a member of St. Helena Parish in the Bronx, New York, has two grown sons who were both Eagle Scouts. "And we all have the same view: no girls," he told The New York Times Oct. 11.

"Boys and girls should have separate organizations for activities," Carballo added. "There is an organization for girls. It's called the Girl Scouts."

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Contributing to this story was Mark Pattison in Washington.

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Copyright © 2017 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.

Pope announces Synod of Bishops dedicated to people in Amazon

IMAGE: CNS photo/Fernando Bizerra Jr., EPA

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Addressing the challenges of evangelization in one of the world's most remote areas and the connection between faith and environmental concern, Pope Francis announced a special gathering of the Synod of Bishops to focus on the Amazon region.

"Accepting the wish of several episcopal conferences of Latin America as well as the voice of pastors and faithful from other parts of the world, I have decided to convene a special assembly of the Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazonian region, which will take place in Rome in October 2019," Pope Francis announced Oct. 15.

Speaking at the end of a Mass in St. Peter's Square, the pope said the synod would seek to identify new paths of evangelization, especially for indigenous people who are "often forgotten and left without the prospect of a peaceful future, including because of the crisis of the Amazon forest," which plays a vital role in the environmental health of the entire planet.

The Amazon rainforest includes territory belonging to nine countries in South America and has experienced significant deforestation, negatively impacting the indigenous populations in the area and leading to a loss of biodiversity.

The pope prayed that the synod would highlight the beauty of creation so that "all the people of the earth may praise God, the Lord of the universe, and, enlightened by him, may walk along paths of justice and peace."

The pope had spoken about a possible synod with a variety of bishops from South America, who have been making their "ad limina" visits to Rome this year. The groups included the bishops of Peru; about 60 percent of the country is in the Amazon.

In an interview published May 16 in L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, Archbishop Salvador Pineiro Garcia-Calderon of Ayacucho, president of the Peruvian bishops' conference, said one of the primary challenges of evangelization in the Amazon is the difficulty in physically reaching the native populations.

For example, he said, although they are in the same church province, one bishop is five hours away and another is 17 hours away.

"It's easier to meet in Rome," he told L'Osservatore Romano. "It isn't an easy area and the pope is very concerned."

The church, he said, has been the only voice speaking out in defense of the indigenous people of the Amazon. In the early 1900s, St. Pius X strongly denounced the mistreatment of the native population in the rubber plantations of Peru, Archbishop Pineiro said.

A synod, he said, would expand that message and strengthen current efforts to evangelize.

"It is difficult to evangelize the native population," Archbishop Piniero said. "Recently, the seeds have begun to be sown. Some of my brother bishops who are in that area have learned to speak the native language in order to draw closer to the population."

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

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Christian life is a love story with God, pope says at canonization

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Like the Catholic Church's newest saints, Christians are called to live their faith as a love story with God who wants a relationship that is "more than that of devoted subjects with their king," Pope Francis said.

Without a loving relationship with God, Christian life can become empty and "an impossible ethic, a collection of rules and laws to obey for no good reason," the pope said during Mass Oct. 15 in St. Peter's Square.

"This is the danger: a Christian life that becomes routine, content with 'normality,' without drive or enthusiasm, and with a short memory," he said during the Mass.

At the beginning of the Mass, Pope Francis proclaimed 35 new saints, including: the "Martyrs of Natal," Brazil, a group of 30 priests, laymen, women and children who were killed in 1645 during a wave of anti-Catholic persecution; and the "Child Martyrs of Tlaxcala," three children who were among Mexico's first native converts and were killed for refusing to renounce the faith.

Tapestries hung from the facade of St. Peter's Basilica bearing images of the martyrs as well as pictures of Sts. Angelo da Acri, an Italian Capuchin priest known for his defense of the poor, and Faustino Miguez, a Spanish priest who started an advanced school for girls at a time when such education was limited almost exclusively to boys.

An estimated 35,000 pilgrims -- many of them from the new saints' countries of origin -- attended the Mass, the Vatican said Oct. 15.

In his homily, Pope Francis reflected on the day's Gospel reading from St. Matthew in which Jesus recounts the parable of the wedding feast.

Noting Jesus' emphasis on the wedding guests, the pope said that God "wants us, he goes out to seek us and he invites us" to celebrate with him.

"For him, it is not enough that we should do our duty and obey his laws," Pope Francis said. "He desires a true communion of life with us, a relationship based on dialogue, trust and forgiveness."

However, he continued, Jesus also warns that "the invitation can be refused" as it was by those who "made light" of the invitation or were too caught up in their own affairs to consider attending the banquet.

"This is how love grows cold, not out of malice but out of preference for what is our own: our security, our self-affirmation, our comfort," the pope said.

Despite constant rejection and indifference, God does not cancel the wedding feast but continues to invite Christians to overcome "the whims of our peevish and lazy selves" and to imitate the church's new saints who, he said, not only said yes to God's invitation, but wore "the wedding garment" of God's love.

"The saints who were canonized today, and especially the many martyrs, point the way," Pope Francis said. "The robe they wore daily was the love of Jesus, that 'mad' love that loved us to the end and offered his forgiveness and his robe to those who crucified him."

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

 

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To fight hunger and forced migration, end war, arms trade, pope says

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- It makes no sense to lament the problems of hunger and forced migration if one is unwilling to address their root causes, which are conflict and climate change, Pope Francis said.

"War and climate change lead to hunger; therefore, let's avoid presenting it as if it were an incurable disease," and instead implement laws, economic policies, lifestyle changes and attitudes that prevent the problems in the first place, he told world leaders at the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization.

Pope Francis received a standing ovation after he addressed the assembly at FAO's Rome headquarters to mark World Food Day Oct. 16, the date the organization was founded in 1945 to address the causes of poverty and hunger. The FAO was holding a conference on the theme "Changing the future of migration."

Food insecurity is linked to forced migration, the pope said, and the two can be addressed only "if we go to the root of the problem" -- conflict and climate change.

International law already has all the instruments and means in place to prevent and quickly end the conflicts that tear communities and countries apart, and trigger hunger, malnutrition and migration, he said.

"Goodwill and dialogue are needed to stop conflicts," he said, "and it is necessary to fully commit to gradual and systematic disarmament" as well as stop the "terrible plague of arms trafficking."

"What good is denouncing that millions of people are victims of hunger and malnutrition because of conflicts if one then does not effectively work for peace and disarmament?" he asked.

As for climate change, he said, scientists know what needs to be done and the international instruments -- like the Paris Agreement -- are already available.

Without specifying which nations, the pope said, unfortunately "some are backing away" from the agreement. U.S. President Donald Trump announced in June that the United States would withdraw from the accord as a way to help the U.S. economy.

"We cannot resign ourselves to saying, 'Someone else will do it,'" he said. Everyone is called to adopt and promote changes in lifestyle, in the way resources are used and in production and consumption -- particularly when it comes to food, which is increasingly wasted.

Some people believe reducing the number of mouths to feed would solve the problem of food insecurity, but, the pope said, this is "a false solution" given the enormous waste and overconsumption in the world.

"Cutting back is easy," he said, but "sharing requires conversion and this is demanding."

"We cannot act only if others are doing it or limit ourselves to having pity because pity doesn't go beyond emergency aid," the pope said.

International organizations, leaders and individuals need to act out of real love and mercy toward others -- particularly the most vulnerable -- in order to create a world based on true justice and solidarity.

Arriving at the FAO headquarters, Pope Francis presented a gift of a statue depicting the tragic death of Alan Kurdi (also known as Aylan), the 3-year-old Syrian boy whose body washed up on the shore of Turkey when a small inflatable boat holding a dozen refugees capsized in 2015. The statue, made of pure white Carrara marble, depicts a child-like angel weeping over the boy's lifeless body.

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Victims of Las Vegas shooting remembered at funeral Masses, vigils

By Carol Zimmermann

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Immediate makeshift memorials in Las Vegas to the 58 victims killed during the Oct. 1 outdoor country music concert are being replaced by memorial services, vigils and Catholic funerals at the victims' hometowns across the country and in Canada.

Many of the services are taking place in California since 33 of the victims, more than half of those killed at the Route 91 Harvest Festival, were from the Golden State.

Bakersfield, California, two hours north of Los Angeles, was home to three victims of the shooting. A memorial service was held there Oct. 6 at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church for Jack Beaton, a 54-year-old father of two who worked with a roofing company.

More than 800 people attended the service where Beaton was remembered as a fun-loving friend, a hard worker, a kindhearted neighbor and a devoted husband and father of an 18-year-old daughter and 20-year-old son. He and his wife, Laurie, attended the concert to celebrate their 23rd wedding anniversary. He died in her arms after putting his body on top of hers to protect her.

"I knew every day that he would protect me and take care of me and love me unconditionally, and what he did is no surprise to me," Laurie Beaton told The Associated Press before the service, adding: "He is my hero."

In San Francisco, a funeral Mass was celebrated Oct. 12 at St. Mary's Cathedral for Stacee Etcheber, a 50-year-old hairstylist and mother of two children, 10 and 12, who was attending the Las Vegas concert with her husband, Vince, a San Francisco police officer.

At the funeral Mass, so close to where the devastating wildfires are happening, the San Francisco Chronicle said it was not lost at anyone that Etcheber was exactly the kind of person the area needed at this time.

She was described as someone who wouldn't have thought twice about volunteering and doing what she could for the thousands affected by the fires. She also would have been the "the incident commander" getting horses to safety, Father Michael Quinn, pastor of St. Mary Star of the Sea in Sausalito, California, told the congregation.

The Etchebers had been separated during the chaos of the shooting. Her husband, who survived, was helping many of the wounded at the concert.

Although Stacee was not a member of the San Francisco Police Department, her funeral included many of the honors of an officer's funeral. Bagpipers played as officers with the department's mounted unit stood their horses at attention outside the cathedral.

Some of those in attendance wore orange ribbons for Stacee's favorite color.

The same day, a funeral Mass was celebrated for 28-year-old Christopher Roybal, a 10-year veteran of the U.S. Navy at St. Matthew's Church in Corona, California.

Roybal had gone to the concert with his mother, and like many others, they were separated in the confusion during and after the shooting took place.

"He always made me feel so beautiful, so amazing, and I'm sure that a lot of you in here understand exactly what I'm saying because he was such an amazing soul," his mother said at the funeral, according to the local ABC news affiliate KABC, which also reported that the priest encouraged the congregation to sing Roybal a country song as a final goodbye.

Roybal's father said his son's Navy training immediately kicked in when the gunfire started.

He suspected that his son "immediately went into that mode of protecting everybody around him like he did in Afghanistan -- the sound nobody will understand -- Christopher just started saving lives and not for one second thought about his own life," he said.

In Alberta, Canada, a candlelight vigil took place just two days after the Las Vegas shooting at St. Rita's Catholic Church in Valleyview for Jessica Klymchuk, a 34-year-old mother of four and educational assistant at St. Stephen's Catholic School, across the street from the church.

"I just really, really miss her," said a 10-year-old at the vigil. An 11-year-old described her as the kindest person he knew, reported CBC News in Canada.

Klymchuk, one of four Canadians killed in the mass shooting, attended the festival with her fiance. She wore several hats at the school where she was a bus driver, a classroom aide and librarian.

"She had this heart of gold," said Christine Ikonikov, a friend of who organized the vigil, and described her to a reporter as a "wonderful woman, strong, always put other people first."

A celebration of life for Sandy Casey, a newly engaged 35-year-old resident of Redondo Beach, California, was scheduled to take place Oct. 17 at the United Church of Dorset and East Rupert in Dorset, Vermont, where her family lives.

Casey, who was a special education teacher at Manhattan Beach Middle School near Los Angeles, attended the College of St. Joseph in Rutland, Vermont, and received a master's degree in special education in 2005 from Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts.

The Massachusetts Catholic college is planning to hold a memorial for Casey. The school's president, Francesco Cesareo, said in a statement that the mass shooting is a "harsh reminder of the darkness that attempts to consume the world in which we live."

"Despite that darkness," he said, "the light of hope can be found illuminating such tragedies in the selfless actions of those that put their own lives in jeopardy assisting others."

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Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim.

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Copyright © 2017 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.

New saints inspire Christians to build peaceful world, bishop says

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The church's newest saints represent a diverse group of people who offer encouragement and hope to Christians today through their example, a Brazilian bishop said.

Saints like the "Martyrs of Natal," Brazil, offer a "new opportunity, hope and a renewal of faith" that can bring peace to a world battered by injustice, war and violence, Archbishop Jaime Vieira Rocha of Natal told journalists Oct. 13 during a press briefing.

"The grace of their canonization will certainly help create a society that is less vengeful, less violent, more fraternal," and encourage Catholics to stand up "for the dignity of the people," he said.

Ornate tapestries depicting each of the soon-to-be canonized saints -- who hail from Brazil, Italy, Mexico and Spain -- draped the facade of St. Peter's Basilica as workers busily prepared the square for the Oct. 15 Mass to be presided over by Pope Francis.

The "Martyrs of Natal" -- Blessed Andre de Soveral, a Jesuit priest; Blessed Ambrosio Francisco Ferro, a diocesan priest; Blessed Mateus Moreira, a layman; and 27 others -- were killed in 1645 in a wave of anti-Catholic persecution carried out by Dutch Calvinists in Natal, Brazil.

Father Julio Cesar Souza Cavalcante, an expert on their cause, told journalists that the 30 Brazilian martyrs -- which included priests, laymen and laywomen, families, husbands, wives, children and youth -- are models for all Catholics, especially in Brazil today, who want to follow the pope's call for a "church on the move" that goes out and gives public witness to their faith.

"Martyrdom is always this witness. And to give this witness of faith in a country that today is in an economic, security and health crisis, it is a witness that it is possible to go forward, it is possible to do more," Father Souza said.

The "Child Martyrs of Tlaxcala," Mexico -- Blesseds Cristobal, Antonio and Juan -- will also be declared saints by Pope Francis at the Mass.

The children, whose ages range from 12 to 13, were among the first native converts in Mexico and were killed between 1527 and 1529 for refusing to renounce the faith and return to their people's ancient traditions.

Msgr. Jorge Ivan Gomez Gomez, vicar general of the diocese of Tlaxcala, Mexico, told Catholic News Service that despite their age, the young martyrs proved that "grace acts and that not everything relies on human effort."

With a Synod of Bishops focusing on young people taking place in 2018, the child martyrs "are a motivation so that young men and women may be agents of the evangelization in their own families" and confront the idols of the modern world.

"Young people are immersed in a series of idolatries, which they sometimes passively accept," Msgr. Gomez said. "The martyrs, at their age, had the capacity to confront idolatries that were common in so many places" at the time.

The pope will also canonize Blessed Angelo of Acri, an Italian Capuchin priest who was born Luca Antonio Falcone. He died in 1739 and was beatified by Pope Leo XII in 1825.

A famed preacher, Blessed Angelo proclaimed the good news of the Gospel "in a simple, concrete way and not just by saying words," Capuchin Brother Carlo Calloni, postulator of Blessed Angelo's cause, told CNS.

He was also known for his defense of the poor and "knew how to raise his voice against the powerful of that time," Brother Calloni said.

However, he added, Blessed Angelo combined his sharp wit and intelligence with mercy when it came to the confessional, often spending long hours listening to repentant men and women seeking forgiveness.

Brother Calloni said the Capuchin priest's zeal for saving souls can serve as an example for the church's mission in reaching out to those who have become distant from their faith.

"Blessed Angelo can be the model for those who seek a new way to bring the proclamation (of the Gospel) to the world and that it may be heard by the people," he said.

Pope Francis will also canonize Blessed Faustino Miguez, a Spanish priest and a member of the Piarist Fathers born in 1831. He started an advanced school for girls at a time when such education was limited almost exclusively to boys.

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Copyright © 2017 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.

In Holy Land, Franciscan finds peace in prayer, ministering to pilgrims

IMAGE: CNS photo/Debbie Hill

By Judith Sudilovsky

JERUSALEM (CNS) -- On his first pilgrimage to the Holy Land just at the outbreak of the intifada, Franciscan Father Wladyslaw Brzezinski was awed by the quiet contemplation with which a fellow friar was able to pray under a sprawling sabra cactus in the courtyard of the Church of the Visitation.

Little did he know that his life's path would eventually lead him back to this Franciscan shrine which, according to Christian tradition, marks the home of Elizabeth and Zachariah and commemorates the meeting between Mary her cousin, Elizabeth, when Mary recited the Magnificat as Elizabeth announced she was pregnant.

Father Brzezinski, who wanted to be sent as a missionary to Africa, followed his vow of obedience and remained in Poland. In 2003, his superiors sent him to the Holy Land, where the Franciscan custos and his staff serve as guardians of the Catholic holy places and welcome pilgrims.

Upon his arrival, Father Brzezinski, now 53, spent seven months serving at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and four years at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, three of them as the superior. But for the past 10 years, he has been superior at the Church of the Visitation.

Nestled at the top of a steep stairway in the sleepy Jerusalem neighborhood of Ein Karem, on the outskirt of the southern part of the city, the shrine where he and one other Franciscan live is far from the local Christian community.

"The Church of the Nativity and the Holy Sepulcher are very important for Christians," said Father Brzezinski. "In the Holy Sepulcher, (religious) life is 24 hours a day ... it is very special for this, but it is also a very difficult life."

Working as superior at the Holy Sepulcher, with its rigorous prayer schedule and hundreds of daily visitors, can be very trying, he said, noting that while other friars have a week off every five weeks, the superior does not.

Coming to serve at this smaller shrine was like coming to a "sanatorium," he said, where he now has time for his own prayers and to pray for others who have asked for his prayers. He also has time to spend a few moments with some of the pilgrims who visit the shrine.

"When I am looking at people, 70 years old, going up those stairs slowly -- those are holy people, they want to touch these stones, the story of the New Testament," he said.

As the Franciscans celebrate the 800th year anniversary of their presence in the Holy Land, the sacred role the 300 friars from 34 countries continue to play is a blessing, he said.

"We are continuing our mission until now. We have never followed the politics (of the time) but we have always been here for the holy sites and the pilgrims and (local Christians) who need us. It is a very important mission," he said.

The Church of the Visitation is one of 29 shrines in the care of the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land. On a busy day, the church receives up to 20 pilgrimage groups, he said, though some days there are none. Father Brzezinski and the other friar have begun to work on the garden to make it more inviting for pilgrims and visitors, so they will stay for a bit longer than the average half-hour visit and contemplate the miracle of the place, he said. Many of the Jewish neighbors also come to visit and, often on Saturdays, Jewish Israelis from around the country are among the visitors.

"They are very kind people, very gentle people," he said. "We have the occasion to have a meeting here, like Mary and Elizabeth. It is a very good occasion to be together."

In this way, he said, the shrine seems to still reflect the meeting between Mary, representing the New Testament, and Elizabeth, representing the Old Testament.

In a crypt below the modern day church, the "rock of concealment" marks the spot where tradition holds St. John and Elizabeth were hidden from Herod's soldiers. The compound also consists of Byzantine-era ruins and a well-preserved Crusader hall.

Following the Muslim defeat of the Crusaders, the church fell into disrepair, though it was under the care of Armenian monks for a time. The Franciscans, who returned to the Holy Land in 1217, purchased the property from an Arab family in the mid-16th century

Recently, a group of Polish-American pilgrims admired the mosaic verses from the Magnificat on a wall of the courtyard. One woman from the group spied Father Brzezinski and asked him for his blessing, and others in her group quickly formed a line behind her.

The priest said it is these moments that are most precious to him.

"I want to understand their life, why they are asking for a blessing. Sometimes they tell me, sometimes it is between them and God," he said.

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Copyright © 2017 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.