Browsing News Entries

Browsing News Entries

Update: Faith leaders criticize Trump's plan to reject new DACA applicants

IMAGE: CNS photo/Leah Millis, Reuters

By Carol Zimmermann

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Faith leaders and immigrant advocates have denounced the Trump administration's plan to reject first-time applications for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA, and limit DACA renewals to one-year extensions instead of two.

Leaders of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said they were "deeply disappointed" with the administration's action, announced July 28 in a memo issued by the Department of Homeland Security, and Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento, California, described the decision as "irresponsible and recalcitrant."

The memo was written by Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf and issued more than a month after the Supreme Court ruled against efforts by the Trump administration to end DACA.

When the administration failed to move on DACA after this ruling, a federal judge in Maryland July 24 said it had to publicly clarify the status of the DACA program within 30 days.

DACA, a program that was started in 2012 by President Barack Obama with an executive order, has enabled about 700,000 qualifying young people, described as "Dreamers," to work, go to college, get health insurance, a driver's license and not face deportation. These young adults were brought to the U.S. as children by their parents without legal documentation.

Wolf said the administration may try to end DACA by looking at it as a law enforcement issue potentially contributing to illegal immigration. He said the current measure is a temporary change while the federal government takes time to review future actions.

In the memo, Wolf said: "DACA makes clear that, for certain large classes of individuals, DHS will at least tolerate, if not affirmatively sanction, their ongoing violation of the immigration laws."

For now, the biggest impact will be on those who would have been new applicants. Attorneys for the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, known as CLINIC, have said that about 60,000 young people now over age 15 would now qualify for DACA status and had been urging young people to get their paperwork together and to seek legal advice about the program since the Supreme Court ruled in June that DACA would remain in place.

Under the new plan for DACA spelled out in the memo, the government also will deny requests by DACA recipients to visit their home countries except under "exceptional circumstances."

"The new limits outlined in the administration's memorandum directly and negatively impact immigrant youth, their families, and the communities we serve," said a July 30 statement by Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles, USCCB president, and Auxiliary Bishop Mario E. Dorsonville of Washington, who is chairman of the USCCB's Committee on Migration.

The bishops said the Catholic Church in the United States has long advocated for the Dreamers, the term given to DACA recipients, and said they will "continue to stand with them."

They urged the president to "reinstate the original protections that DACA provides to young people currently enrolled in the program" and to accept new DACA applicants. They also urged the Senate to join the House in "passing legislation that provides both certainty and a path to citizenship for Dreamers."

Bishop Soto, chairman of the board of CLINIC, criticized the decision's timing, in the middle of a pandemic, and said it signified a return "to the same callous posture, against which the court has already decided." He also said the move will "aggravate the afflictions of many DACA recipients and aspirants, a significant portion of whom are essential workers" who are keeping vital parts of the economy running during the pandemic.

The bishop went on to say, in a statement, that the directives "make no moral or practical sense" and will "only further cripple the recovery, especially for the vulnerable."

"DACA recipients are vital to their families and to our country, which has become their home. They are our neighbors." He urged the administration not to end DACA and work with Congress to create a path to citizenship for the program's beneficiaries.

Hope Border Institute tweeted July 28 the administration's action, on the heels of the Supreme Court's decision and federal rulings, "touches upon fundamental issues of rule of law and separation of powers. DHS and the President are not above the law."

The Rev. Jennifer Butler, CEO of Faith in Public Life Action Fund, criticized Trump for "using the real lives of young immigrants as bait to lure racist support for his reelection. He should be ashamed. Congress cannot let him get away with this cruel act. They must pass the Dream and Promise Act right now for DACA recipients and others who live in fear of deportation."

And Krish O'Mara Vignarajah, president and CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, said the administration's action is "flouting immigration-related court orders left and right."

She called on Americans to take action in defense of DACA recipients, acknowledging they are "every bit as American as us, and it is well past time we enshrine in law that their home is here."

During a July 28 news briefing, the president said: "We're going to work with a lot of people on DACA."

Without giving any details, he added: "We are going to make DACA happy and the DACA people and representatives happy, and we're also going to end up with a fantastic merit-based immigration system."

- - -

Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim

- - -

Copyright © 2020 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 [email protected]

Update: Faith leaders criticize Trump's plan to reject new DACA applicants

IMAGE: CNS photo/Leah Millis, Reuters

By Carol Zimmermann

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Faith leaders and immigrant advocates have denounced the Trump administration's plan to reject first-time applications for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA, and limit DACA renewals to one-year extensions instead of two.

Leaders of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said they were "deeply disappointed" with the administration's action, announced July 28 in a memo issued by the Department of Homeland Security, and Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento, California, described the decision as "irresponsible and recalcitrant."

The memo was written by Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf and issued more than a month after the Supreme Court ruled against efforts by the Trump administration to end DACA.

When the administration failed to move on DACA after this ruling, a federal judge in Maryland July 24 said it had to publicly clarify the status of the DACA program within 30 days.

DACA, a program that was started in 2012 by President Barack Obama with an executive order, has enabled about 700,000 qualifying young people, described as "Dreamers," to work, go to college, get health insurance, a driver's license and not face deportation. These young adults were brought to the U.S. as children by their parents without legal documentation.

Wolf said the administration may try to end DACA by looking at it as a law enforcement issue potentially contributing to illegal immigration. He said the current measure is a temporary change while the federal government takes time to review future actions.

In the memo, Wolf said: "DACA makes clear that, for certain large classes of individuals, DHS will at least tolerate, if not affirmatively sanction, their ongoing violation of the immigration laws."

For now, the biggest impact will be on those who would have been new applicants. Attorneys for the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, known as CLINIC, have said that about 60,000 young people now over age 15 would now qualify for DACA status and had been urging young people to get their paperwork together and to seek legal advice about the program since the Supreme Court ruled in June that DACA would remain in place.

Under the new plan for DACA spelled out in the memo, the government also will deny requests by DACA recipients to visit their home countries except under "exceptional circumstances."

"The new limits outlined in the administration's memorandum directly and negatively impact immigrant youth, their families, and the communities we serve," said a July 30 statement by Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles, USCCB president, and Auxiliary Bishop Mario E. Dorsonville of Washington, who is chairman of the USCCB's Committee on Migration.

The bishops said the Catholic Church in the United States has long advocated for the Dreamers, the term given to DACA recipients, and said they will "continue to stand with them."

They urged the president to "reinstate the original protections that DACA provides to young people currently enrolled in the program" and to accept new DACA applicants. They also urged the Senate to join the House in "passing legislation that provides both certainty and a path to citizenship for Dreamers."

Bishop Soto, chairman of the board of CLINIC, criticized the decision's timing, in the middle of a pandemic, and said it signified a return "to the same callous posture, against which the court has already decided." He also said the move will "aggravate the afflictions of many DACA recipients and aspirants, a significant portion of whom are essential workers" who are keeping vital parts of the economy running during the pandemic.

The bishop went on to say, in a statement, that the directives "make no moral or practical sense" and will "only further cripple the recovery, especially for the vulnerable."

"DACA recipients are vital to their families and to our country, which has become their home. They are our neighbors." He urged the administration not to end DACA and work with Congress to create a path to citizenship for the program's beneficiaries.

Hope Border Institute tweeted July 28 the administration's action, on the heels of the Supreme Court's decision and federal rulings, "touches upon fundamental issues of rule of law and separation of powers. DHS and the President are not above the law."

The Rev. Jennifer Butler, CEO of Faith in Public Life Action Fund, criticized Trump for "using the real lives of young immigrants as bait to lure racist support for his reelection. He should be ashamed. Congress cannot let him get away with this cruel act. They must pass the Dream and Promise Act right now for DACA recipients and others who live in fear of deportation."

And Krish O'Mara Vignarajah, president and CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, said the administration's action is "flouting immigration-related court orders left and right."

She called on Americans to take action in defense of DACA recipients, acknowledging they are "every bit as American as us, and it is well past time we enshrine in law that their home is here."

During a July 28 news briefing, the president said: "We're going to work with a lot of people on DACA."

Without giving any details, he added: "We are going to make DACA happy and the DACA people and representatives happy, and we're also going to end up with a fantastic merit-based immigration system."

- - -

Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim

- - -

Copyright © 2020 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 [email protected]

Religious brother uses gifts as liturgical artist to heal wounds of racism

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy Oblate Brother Mickey McGrath

By Gina Christian

PHILADELPHIA (CNS) -- As the nation continues to grapple with the issue of racism, an acclaimed liturgical artist and retreat leader is using his gifts to foster healing and justice.

Oblate Brother Mickey McGrath has created a series of images that take a faith-based look at the struggle for racial equality. From his studio in Camden, New Jersey, Brother McGrath has been posting his recent work on Facebook, often in the form of coloring pages that viewers can download and use as meditative art exercises.

One image in particular has received international attention: a striking portrait of Christ falling under the weight of the cross, above which the words "I can't breathe" are painted in red.

The phrase was among the last uttered by George Floyd, who died May 25 after close to nine minutes in a Minneapolis police knee-to-neck restraint. Floyd's killing has sparked global waves of protest, with calls for police reform and a renewed look at race relations.

Brother McGrath, said the depiction was adapted from a set of Stations of the Cross he had completed two years ago in Kenya.

"If we could see Jesus as a Black man falling under a cross, as a man who can't breathe, maybe that will make people see him in others," said Brother McGrath, an Oblate of St. Francis de Sales, who is a former professor at De Sales University.

African American spirituality has had a profound influence on his life and work, he said.

In 1993, while still teaching part time at De Sales, the Philadelphia native traveled back to the city's Mayfair section to visit his dying father. At his parents' house, Brother McGrath came across a magazine article on Sister Thea Bowman (1937-1990), the first African American member of the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, who was 9 years old when she decided to become a Catholic. She's now on the path to sainthood.

"I later saw a video about her life, and it changed me forever," said Brother McGrath. "She unleashed something in me, and my artistic style shifted to something different than anything I'd ever done. She has become my guiding force."

Shortly after discovering Bowman's life and work, Brother McGrath became a full-time artist and received his first commission, painting the encounter between Mary and Elizabeth in Luke 1:39-56 at the request of the Visitation Sisters of Minneapolis.

The work features a joyous embrace between Mary and Elizabeth, who appear as Black and dressed in vivid African-style prints. The title, "Windsock Visitation," recalls the sisters' tradition of hanging windsocks outside of their house on days when they offer afterschool activities for neighborhood children.

Brother McGrath said the women have become his "dearest friends," and like him, they live amid an impoverished but richly diverse urban community, one in which he feels quite at home.

"My studio is my monk's cell," he said, adding that his work is not intended as a pious diversion.

"This is my way of trying to get people to see Christ in each other," Brother McGrath told CatholicPhilly.com, the online news outlet of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

Referencing a coloring page he posted on Facebook for the feast of Corpus Christi, he said that "the idea is not just to go to adoration and come home and feel good about yourself."

"I told my students that all the time," said Brother McGrath. "If you go back to class and don't see Christ in the Black person ... then you've missed the point."

He added that the city of Camden itself has made progress in healing some of the tensions between residents, most of whom are of color, and law enforcement.

Once dubbed the nation's most dangerous city, Camden disbanded and reconfigured its police department in 2012. Although substantial challenges remain, the municipality is now considered a model for others seeking to overcome violence and racial division. A recent anti-racism protest saw Camden police joining demonstrators.

"It was a peaceful rally, full of trust in the police," said Brother McGrath. "It ended on the steps of the police building, around the corner from where I live."

In the coming months, Brother McGrath intends to publish a book of his images, which he often designs using an iPad. He maintains a full schedule, traveling extensively across the globe to lead retreats, workshops and art-themed tours.

He said his life's motto is a quote from Dostoevsky, who wrote that "beauty will save the world," an assertion endorsed by Dorothy Day, co-founder of the Catholic Worker Movement and herself a candidate for sainthood, and cited by St. John Paul II in his 1999 "Letter to Artists."

Along with love, said Brother McGrath, "beauty is our deepest human inclination."

- - -

Christian is a senior content producer for CatholicPhilly.com, the news website of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

- - -

Copyright © 2020 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 [email protected]

Religious brother uses gifts as liturgical artist to heal wounds of racism

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy Oblate Brother Mickey McGrath

By Gina Christian

PHILADELPHIA (CNS) -- As the nation continues to grapple with the issue of racism, an acclaimed liturgical artist and retreat leader is using his gifts to foster healing and justice.

Oblate Brother Mickey McGrath has created a series of images that take a faith-based look at the struggle for racial equality. From his studio in Camden, New Jersey, Brother McGrath has been posting his recent work on Facebook, often in the form of coloring pages that viewers can download and use as meditative art exercises.

One image in particular has received international attention: a striking portrait of Christ falling under the weight of the cross, above which the words "I can't breathe" are painted in red.

The phrase was among the last uttered by George Floyd, who died May 25 after close to nine minutes in a Minneapolis police knee-to-neck restraint. Floyd's killing has sparked global waves of protest, with calls for police reform and a renewed look at race relations.

Brother McGrath, said the depiction was adapted from a set of Stations of the Cross he had completed two years ago in Kenya.

"If we could see Jesus as a Black man falling under a cross, as a man who can't breathe, maybe that will make people see him in others," said Brother McGrath, an Oblate of St. Francis de Sales, who is a former professor at De Sales University.

African American spirituality has had a profound influence on his life and work, he said.

In 1993, while still teaching part time at De Sales, the Philadelphia native traveled back to the city's Mayfair section to visit his dying father. At his parents' house, Brother McGrath came across a magazine article on Sister Thea Bowman (1937-1990), the first African American member of the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, who was 9 years old when she decided to become a Catholic. She's now on the path to sainthood.

"I later saw a video about her life, and it changed me forever," said Brother McGrath. "She unleashed something in me, and my artistic style shifted to something different than anything I'd ever done. She has become my guiding force."

Shortly after discovering Bowman's life and work, Brother McGrath became a full-time artist and received his first commission, painting the encounter between Mary and Elizabeth in Luke 1:39-56 at the request of the Visitation Sisters of Minneapolis.

The work features a joyous embrace between Mary and Elizabeth, who appear as Black and dressed in vivid African-style prints. The title, "Windsock Visitation," recalls the sisters' tradition of hanging windsocks outside of their house on days when they offer afterschool activities for neighborhood children.

Brother McGrath said the women have become his "dearest friends," and like him, they live amid an impoverished but richly diverse urban community, one in which he feels quite at home.

"My studio is my monk's cell," he said, adding that his work is not intended as a pious diversion.

"This is my way of trying to get people to see Christ in each other," Brother McGrath told CatholicPhilly.com, the online news outlet of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

Referencing a coloring page he posted on Facebook for the feast of Corpus Christi, he said that "the idea is not just to go to adoration and come home and feel good about yourself."

"I told my students that all the time," said Brother McGrath. "If you go back to class and don't see Christ in the Black person ... then you've missed the point."

He added that the city of Camden itself has made progress in healing some of the tensions between residents, most of whom are of color, and law enforcement.

Once dubbed the nation's most dangerous city, Camden disbanded and reconfigured its police department in 2012. Although substantial challenges remain, the municipality is now considered a model for others seeking to overcome violence and racial division. A recent anti-racism protest saw Camden police joining demonstrators.

"It was a peaceful rally, full of trust in the police," said Brother McGrath. "It ended on the steps of the police building, around the corner from where I live."

In the coming months, Brother McGrath intends to publish a book of his images, which he often designs using an iPad. He maintains a full schedule, traveling extensively across the globe to lead retreats, workshops and art-themed tours.

He said his life's motto is a quote from Dostoevsky, who wrote that "beauty will save the world," an assertion endorsed by Dorothy Day, co-founder of the Catholic Worker Movement and herself a candidate for sainthood, and cited by St. John Paul II in his 1999 "Letter to Artists."

Along with love, said Brother McGrath, "beauty is our deepest human inclination."

- - -

Christian is a senior content producer for CatholicPhilly.com, the news website of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

- - -

Copyright © 2020 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 [email protected]

COVID pandemic should raise questions about faith, pope says

IMAGE: CNS photo/Isabel Infantes, PA Images via Reuters

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Besides the immediate considerations of trying to stay healthy, to mourn the dead and protect others, the coronavirus pandemic should be prompting Christians to reflect on their faith, Pope Francis wrote.

"The pandemic poses fundamental questions about happiness in our lives and about the treasure of our Christian faith," he wrote in the preface to a short book of initial theological reflections prompted by COVID-19 and its global impact.

Originally published in German with the title, "Being Christians in the Coronavirus Crisis," the book was curated by Cardinal Walter Kasper and Pallottine Father George Augustin, director of the Cardinal Walter Kasper Institute for Ecumenism, Theology, and Spirituality.

The Italian edition, titled "Communion and Hope," was published in late July by the Vatican publishing house. In addition to the preface by Pope Francis and essays by Cardinal Kasper and Father Augustin, the book includes essays by: U.S. Paulist Father Mark-David Janus, who was struck by the virus; the Czech theologian Father Tomas Halik; Swiss Cardinal Kurt Koch, who succeeded Cardinal Kasper as president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity; and Archbishop Bruno Forte of Chieti-Vasto, Italy.

"This crisis represents an alarm that leads to a reflection on where we sink the deepest roots that support all of us in a storm," the pope wrote. "It reminds us that we have forgotten and neglected some of the important things in life and makes us reflect on what is truly important and necessary and what is less important or only apparently so."

While the initial period of lockdown was "a painful time of eucharistic fasting" for many Catholics, it also showed them that Christ is present, as he promised, where two or three gather in his name, the pope said.

As the pandemic continues, he said, Christians should turn more resolutely to God, "our help and our aim," and should listen more carefully to the cry of the poor and of the earth.

Theological reflection on the pandemic and the experience of the past months, he wrote, should give rise to "new hope and new solidarity."

 

- - -

Copyright © 2020 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 [email protected]

COVID pandemic should raise questions about faith, pope says

IMAGE: CNS photo/Isabel Infantes, PA Images via Reuters

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Besides the immediate considerations of trying to stay healthy, to mourn the dead and protect others, the coronavirus pandemic should be prompting Christians to reflect on their faith, Pope Francis wrote.

"The pandemic poses fundamental questions about happiness in our lives and about the treasure of our Christian faith," he wrote in the preface to a short book of initial theological reflections prompted by COVID-19 and its global impact.

Originally published in German with the title, "Being Christians in the Coronavirus Crisis," the book was curated by Cardinal Walter Kasper and Pallottine Father George Augustin, director of the Cardinal Walter Kasper Institute for Ecumenism, Theology, and Spirituality.

The Italian edition, titled "Communion and Hope," was published in late July by the Vatican publishing house. In addition to the preface by Pope Francis and essays by Cardinal Kasper and Father Augustin, the book includes essays by: U.S. Paulist Father Mark-David Janus, who was struck by the virus; the Czech theologian Father Tomas Halik; Swiss Cardinal Kurt Koch, who succeeded Cardinal Kasper as president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity; and Archbishop Bruno Forte of Chieti-Vasto, Italy.

"This crisis represents an alarm that leads to a reflection on where we sink the deepest roots that support all of us in a storm," the pope wrote. "It reminds us that we have forgotten and neglected some of the important things in life and makes us reflect on what is truly important and necessary and what is less important or only apparently so."

While the initial period of lockdown was "a painful time of eucharistic fasting" for many Catholics, it also showed them that Christ is present, as he promised, where two or three gather in his name, the pope said.

As the pandemic continues, he said, Christians should turn more resolutely to God, "our help and our aim," and should listen more carefully to the cry of the poor and of the earth.

Theological reflection on the pandemic and the experience of the past months, he wrote, should give rise to "new hope and new solidarity."

 

- - -

Copyright © 2020 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 [email protected]

Archbishop: Mass burials common as Nigerians face daily violence

IMAGE: CNS photo/Afolabi Sotunde, Reuters

By Bronwen Dachs

Faith communities in Nigeria face daily violence and persecution, a U.S.-based rights group said. It called for U.S. intervention after a terrorist group executed five men abducted while providing assistance in northeastern Nigeria.

While Christians, particularly preachers, "are clearly the targets" of militants in the West African country, Muslims are killed too, said Archbishop Matthew Ndagoso of Kaduna, who chairs the bishops' committee on justice, development and peace.

Militants and also bandits act with impunity, he said, noting that all Nigerian civilians feel vulnerable and "let down by the government."

In its recent report, the U.S.-based International Committee on Nigeria said the United States "needs to send a special envoy for Nigeria and the Lake Chad region, who can coordinate the U.S. response to the crisis."

Nigeria has suffered more than 10 years of killings, abductions and other abuses by armed Islamist groups. In the hardest-hit northeast region of the country, tens of thousands of people have been killed and about 2 million displaced.

The United Nations said it was "utterly shocked and horrified" after a video surfaced July 22 showing five men kneeling and blindfolded. They were then shot. The men -- three were aid workers -- had been traveling in Borno state when they were kidnapped.

With abductions commonplace along Nigeria's roads, people are terrified to use them to go about their daily business, Archbishop Ndagoso told Catholic News Service July 29.

Mass burials have become very common, he said.

In early June, the bishop of Kafanchan had to see to the burial of nine people who had been hacked to death, while "the police were nowhere to be seen," he said. The killings were among assaults on Christian communities in southern Kaduna state by Fulani militia.

Nigeria has a decades-old cycle of conflict between predominantly Christian farmers and ethnic Fulani herdsmen who are Muslim, partly due to competition for arable land.

President Muhammadu Buhari, a Muslim and a former military ruler, won office in a democratic transfer of power in 2015 and is in his second term. In 2018, Nigeria's bishops criticized the president's lack of action against Fulani militia and linked his inaction to his religion.

Perpetrators of terrorist attacks in Nigeria "appear more emboldened as the political will to professionally investigate the crimes and hold perpetrators accountable is grossly lacking," the ICON report said.

"Victims are being forced to convert to Islam or risk being killed, raped, or subjected to gruesome acts of torture," it said, noting that 16-year-old Leah Sharibu has yet to be freed. Leah was taken hostage two years ago with more than 100 girls in the town of Dapchi by Boko Haram insurgents. When the others were freed a month later, she was the only one not released -- reportedly because she refused to renounce her Christian faith.

"Instead of taking action to stop the violence, the country's own government has stood by idly as the blood of innocent Nigerian people has been spilled at the hands of the Islamist terrorists of Boko Haram and Fulani militants," ICON said.

Boko Haram "targets Christians, other non-Muslims, and even Muslims opposed to their ideologies," while attacks by Fulani militants "have repeatedly demonstrated a clear intent to target Christians," it said.

Its report provides data it claims is "evidence that genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity have been and continue to be committed."

From 2000 to 2019, "deaths resulting from Fulani militant attacks include 17,284 across Nigeria and 13,079 in predominantly Christian states (Benue, Kaduna, Plateau and Taraba)," the report said.

In June, the U.S. State Department noted that tens of thousands of civilians have been killed in "violent attacks by terrorist groups or criminal gangs, in intercommunal violence, or due to their religious beliefs" and urged the Nigerian government to do more "to address this violence, hold those responsible accountable, and protect civilians."

Archbishop Ndagoso said Nigerians "see injustices everywhere," with corruption rampant among the country's politicians and traditional leaders.

Twenty people can be killed and there will be no arrests, he said. "Bandits will have cellphones and use them to negotiate ransoms, yet there will be no arrests," he said.

Fulani militants "make their homes on land that they occupy after killing people and burning their houses," he said.

"People feel helpless and frustrated," the archbishop said. "Government says they are doing their best" to fight corruption, but "if that is so, then their best is not good enough," he said.

Nigeria has nearly 196 million people, and about 40% live in poverty, according to its statistics office. Nigeria is Africa's most populous country with its biggest economy.

"Nigeria has an abundance of resources, both human and material," Archbishop Ndagoso said. But its political leaders are "only interested in amassing wealth for themselves and their families. There's no interest in the common good," he said.

"It's planting season now, but people can't go out on their fields for fear of being killed and therefore they can't eat," the archbishop said. "As the saying goes, a hungry man is an angry man."

- - -

Contributing to this story was Peter Ajayi Dada in Lagos, Nigeria.

- - -

Editors: Coverage of international religious freedom issues by Catholic News Service is made possible in part by Aid to the Church in Need-USA (www.acnusa.org).

 

- - -

Copyright © 2020 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 [email protected]

Archbishop: Mass burials common as Nigerians face daily violence

IMAGE: CNS photo/Afolabi Sotunde, Reuters

By Bronwen Dachs

Faith communities in Nigeria face daily violence and persecution, a U.S.-based rights group said. It called for U.S. intervention after a terrorist group executed five men abducted while providing assistance in northeastern Nigeria.

While Christians, particularly preachers, "are clearly the targets" of militants in the West African country, Muslims are killed too, said Archbishop Matthew Ndagoso of Kaduna, who chairs the bishops' committee on justice, development and peace.

Militants and also bandits act with impunity, he said, noting that all Nigerian civilians feel vulnerable and "let down by the government."

In its recent report, the U.S.-based International Committee on Nigeria said the United States "needs to send a special envoy for Nigeria and the Lake Chad region, who can coordinate the U.S. response to the crisis."

Nigeria has suffered more than 10 years of killings, abductions and other abuses by armed Islamist groups. In the hardest-hit northeast region of the country, tens of thousands of people have been killed and about 2 million displaced.

The United Nations said it was "utterly shocked and horrified" after a video surfaced July 22 showing five men kneeling and blindfolded. They were then shot. The men -- three were aid workers -- had been traveling in Borno state when they were kidnapped.

With abductions commonplace along Nigeria's roads, people are terrified to use them to go about their daily business, Archbishop Ndagoso told Catholic News Service July 29.

Mass burials have become very common, he said.

In early June, the bishop of Kafanchan had to see to the burial of nine people who had been hacked to death, while "the police were nowhere to be seen," he said. The killings were among assaults on Christian communities in southern Kaduna state by Fulani militia.

Nigeria has a decades-old cycle of conflict between predominantly Christian farmers and ethnic Fulani herdsmen who are Muslim, partly due to competition for arable land.

President Muhammadu Buhari, a Muslim and a former military ruler, won office in a democratic transfer of power in 2015 and is in his second term. In 2018, Nigeria's bishops criticized the president's lack of action against Fulani militia and linked his inaction to his religion.

Perpetrators of terrorist attacks in Nigeria "appear more emboldened as the political will to professionally investigate the crimes and hold perpetrators accountable is grossly lacking," the ICON report said.

"Victims are being forced to convert to Islam or risk being killed, raped, or subjected to gruesome acts of torture," it said, noting that 16-year-old Leah Sharibu has yet to be freed. Leah was taken hostage two years ago with more than 100 girls in the town of Dapchi by Boko Haram insurgents. When the others were freed a month later, she was the only one not released -- reportedly because she refused to renounce her Christian faith.

"Instead of taking action to stop the violence, the country's own government has stood by idly as the blood of innocent Nigerian people has been spilled at the hands of the Islamist terrorists of Boko Haram and Fulani militants," ICON said.

Boko Haram "targets Christians, other non-Muslims, and even Muslims opposed to their ideologies," while attacks by Fulani militants "have repeatedly demonstrated a clear intent to target Christians," it said.

Its report provides data it claims is "evidence that genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity have been and continue to be committed."

From 2000 to 2019, "deaths resulting from Fulani militant attacks include 17,284 across Nigeria and 13,079 in predominantly Christian states (Benue, Kaduna, Plateau and Taraba)," the report said.

In June, the U.S. State Department noted that tens of thousands of civilians have been killed in "violent attacks by terrorist groups or criminal gangs, in intercommunal violence, or due to their religious beliefs" and urged the Nigerian government to do more "to address this violence, hold those responsible accountable, and protect civilians."

Archbishop Ndagoso said Nigerians "see injustices everywhere," with corruption rampant among the country's politicians and traditional leaders.

Twenty people can be killed and there will be no arrests, he said. "Bandits will have cellphones and use them to negotiate ransoms, yet there will be no arrests," he said.

Fulani militants "make their homes on land that they occupy after killing people and burning their houses," he said.

"People feel helpless and frustrated," the archbishop said. "Government says they are doing their best" to fight corruption, but "if that is so, then their best is not good enough," he said.

Nigeria has nearly 196 million people, and about 40% live in poverty, according to its statistics office. Nigeria is Africa's most populous country with its biggest economy.

"Nigeria has an abundance of resources, both human and material," Archbishop Ndagoso said. But its political leaders are "only interested in amassing wealth for themselves and their families. There's no interest in the common good," he said.

"It's planting season now, but people can't go out on their fields for fear of being killed and therefore they can't eat," the archbishop said. "As the saying goes, a hungry man is an angry man."

- - -

Contributing to this story was Peter Ajayi Dada in Lagos, Nigeria.

- - -

Editors: Coverage of international religious freedom issues by Catholic News Service is made possible in part by Aid to the Church in Need-USA (www.acnusa.org).

 

- - -

Copyright © 2020 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 [email protected]

Update: German bishops continue debate over Vatican document on parishes

IMAGE: CNS photo/Maria Irl, KNA

By

BONN, Germany (CNS) -- The Vatican instruction on the reform of Catholic parishes continues to stir debate in Germany, where some bishops say the current parish model with a priest in charge is no longer sustainable because of a lack of vocations.

Cardinal Walter Kasper defended the paper following widespread criticism, such as by Bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck of Essen, who said: "In no manner does the instruction take note of the fact that we in Germany -- but also in many other countries of the universal church -- can no longer shape church life according to the model of the people's church we have known up till now." Critics especially cited the lack of priests.

The German Catholic news agency KNA reported that, in a guest commentary for the church website domradio.de in Cologne, Cardinal Kasper wrote: "The German criticism completely misses the actual point of the instruction, the pastoral conversion to missionary pastoral work."

Cardinal Kasper, who was responsible for ecumenical relations at the Vatican for many years, said the first chapters of the document and the summary made extensive reference to the common responsibility of the whole congregation. Emphasizing the responsibility of the parish priest was theologically legitimate, he said.

He added that the "perennial debate" over celibacy, the ordination of women priests and management teams was causing uncertainty, which was to blame for the shortage of priests, alongside other factors. The cardinal said the document tied bishops to enforceable criteria if they want to restructure parishes.

Cologne Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki also praised the instruction and thanked Pope Francis for the guidance it provided.

The 22-page document, titled "The pastoral conversion of the parish community in the service of the evangelizing mission of the church," was released by the Vatican's Congregation for Clergy July 20.

While it does not introduce new legislation on pastoral care, the Vatican press office said it was developed by the congregation as a guide related "to the various projects of reform of parish communities and diocesan restructuring, already underway or in the planning process." It also clarifies the role of the deacons, consecrated men and women, as well as the laity, in dioceses where there is a shortage or lack of priests.

Bishop Gregor Maria Hanke of Eichstatt said the instruction provided valuable impetus for a missionary awakening in the parishes.

"The document encourages and supports all those who have already taken such paths," Bishop Hanke said July 28.

"Pastoral conversion as a vitalization of the missionary spirit should renew the local church, the parish with its traditional structures. This renewal process is done through evangelization." Bishop Hanke said the instruction from Rome should not be seen as "a struggle for the roles in the church or being in terms of winners and losers."

By contrast, Bishop Gerhard Feige of Magdeburg criticized the document, reported KNA.

"As learners we gladly accept suggestions," Bishop Feige wrote in pastoral letter to members of his diocese. "As a bishop, however, I won't let myself be paralyzed and blocked by their restrictive orders, since much in it is quite unrealistic -- especially with regard to our extreme diaspora situation, which they evidently cannot imagine -- and since no positive solutions are indicated in view of the mounting lack of priests."

Bishop Feige said the document will demotivate some people from working for the Catholic Church at all. He warned that the structure of the church will change even more dramatically than before.

"It does not help at all just to conjure up noble principles and to refer to canonical guidelines," he said.

Instead, there should be a responsible, sensitive and creative consideration of what form parishes can survive in given the circumstances.

Bishop Franz-Josef Bode of Osnabruck called the instruction "a strong brake on the motivation and the appreciation of the services of laypeople." Bishop Bode is chairman of the forum on the role of women in the church, one of four forums of the Synodal Path reform dialogue in the Catholic Church in Germany, and deputy president of the German bishops' conference.

He said the Vatican instruction had taken the bishops completely by surprise and that he would have expected it to be preceded by an examination of the realities of local parish life on the ground, and to have shown greater respect for the frequently pledged synodality.

Bishop Peter Kohlgraf of Mainz wrote in a statement that he could "not simply accept" what he described as an "interference" in his episcopal office. The pastoral theologian said the instruction left him worried about "the many who are (still) committed." He stressed: "Soon they will have (had) enough if their commitment is only suspiciously watched and evaluated from on high."

He added that he was worried about the priests in his diocese.

"We can't fill vacant positions as it is. Many priests complain that they are overwhelmed by the administration and bureaucracy." He said it also seemed "absurd to have every merging of parishes approved by Rome on a case-by-case basis."

The Vatican instruction bars laypeople from leading parishes and emphasizes the role of priests. It directly opposes efforts to hand over the management of parishes to teams made up of priests and dedicated church members as well as other staff.

Cardinal Beniamino Stella, head of the Vatican's Congregation for Clergy, told KNA he would be happy to speak with the bishops to alleviate their concerns about the document.

Earlier in July, KNA reported that in the Munster Diocese, the pastoral guidance of a Catholic parish is being conducted by a layman and not a priest. The diocese called it an experiment with a new governance model. The parish was to be headed by a pastoral assistant, who has a degree in theological studies. His job is to perform pastoral care, but pastoral assistants are not ordained priests and may marry and have a family.

"There are simply not enough priests around who can assume the duties of a leading pastor," stressed Munster Auxiliary Bishop Christoph Hegge.

Similar leadership models have also been introduced in other dioceses, in some cases with women holding positions. For example, the Osnabruck Diocese appointed a woman as the pastoral envoy for the North Sea island of Langeoog, supported by a "moderating priest" from the diocese.

The Vatican recently stopped plans drafted by the Trier Diocese to establish 38 large-scale parishes to be co-led by a priest and a group of laypeople.

Matthias Kopp, spokesman for the German bishops' conference, said the bishops will carefully study the Vatican document and discuss it at their next meeting.

- - -

Copyright © 2020 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 [email protected]

Update: German bishops continue debate over Vatican document on parishes

IMAGE: CNS photo/Maria Irl, KNA

By

BONN, Germany (CNS) -- The Vatican instruction on the reform of Catholic parishes continues to stir debate in Germany, where some bishops say the current parish model with a priest in charge is no longer sustainable because of a lack of vocations.

Cardinal Walter Kasper defended the paper following widespread criticism, such as by Bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck of Essen, who said: "In no manner does the instruction take note of the fact that we in Germany -- but also in many other countries of the universal church -- can no longer shape church life according to the model of the people's church we have known up till now." Critics especially cited the lack of priests.

The German Catholic news agency KNA reported that, in a guest commentary for the church website domradio.de in Cologne, Cardinal Kasper wrote: "The German criticism completely misses the actual point of the instruction, the pastoral conversion to missionary pastoral work."

Cardinal Kasper, who was responsible for ecumenical relations at the Vatican for many years, said the first chapters of the document and the summary made extensive reference to the common responsibility of the whole congregation. Emphasizing the responsibility of the parish priest was theologically legitimate, he said.

He added that the "perennial debate" over celibacy, the ordination of women priests and management teams was causing uncertainty, which was to blame for the shortage of priests, alongside other factors. The cardinal said the document tied bishops to enforceable criteria if they want to restructure parishes.

Cologne Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki also praised the instruction and thanked Pope Francis for the guidance it provided.

The 22-page document, titled "The pastoral conversion of the parish community in the service of the evangelizing mission of the church," was released by the Vatican's Congregation for Clergy July 20.

While it does not introduce new legislation on pastoral care, the Vatican press office said it was developed by the congregation as a guide related "to the various projects of reform of parish communities and diocesan restructuring, already underway or in the planning process." It also clarifies the role of the deacons, consecrated men and women, as well as the laity, in dioceses where there is a shortage or lack of priests.

Bishop Gregor Maria Hanke of Eichstatt said the instruction provided valuable impetus for a missionary awakening in the parishes.

"The document encourages and supports all those who have already taken such paths," Bishop Hanke said July 28.

"Pastoral conversion as a vitalization of the missionary spirit should renew the local church, the parish with its traditional structures. This renewal process is done through evangelization." Bishop Hanke said the instruction from Rome should not be seen as "a struggle for the roles in the church or being in terms of winners and losers."

By contrast, Bishop Gerhard Feige of Magdeburg criticized the document, reported KNA.

"As learners we gladly accept suggestions," Bishop Feige wrote in pastoral letter to members of his diocese. "As a bishop, however, I won't let myself be paralyzed and blocked by their restrictive orders, since much in it is quite unrealistic -- especially with regard to our extreme diaspora situation, which they evidently cannot imagine -- and since no positive solutions are indicated in view of the mounting lack of priests."

Bishop Feige said the document will demotivate some people from working for the Catholic Church at all. He warned that the structure of the church will change even more dramatically than before.

"It does not help at all just to conjure up noble principles and to refer to canonical guidelines," he said.

Instead, there should be a responsible, sensitive and creative consideration of what form parishes can survive in given the circumstances.

Bishop Franz-Josef Bode of Osnabruck called the instruction "a strong brake on the motivation and the appreciation of the services of laypeople." Bishop Bode is chairman of the forum on the role of women in the church, one of four forums of the Synodal Path reform dialogue in the Catholic Church in Germany, and deputy president of the German bishops' conference.

He said the Vatican instruction had taken the bishops completely by surprise and that he would have expected it to be preceded by an examination of the realities of local parish life on the ground, and to have shown greater respect for the frequently pledged synodality.

Bishop Peter Kohlgraf of Mainz wrote in a statement that he could "not simply accept" what he described as an "interference" in his episcopal office. The pastoral theologian said the instruction left him worried about "the many who are (still) committed." He stressed: "Soon they will have (had) enough if their commitment is only suspiciously watched and evaluated from on high."

He added that he was worried about the priests in his diocese.

"We can't fill vacant positions as it is. Many priests complain that they are overwhelmed by the administration and bureaucracy." He said it also seemed "absurd to have every merging of parishes approved by Rome on a case-by-case basis."

The Vatican instruction bars laypeople from leading parishes and emphasizes the role of priests. It directly opposes efforts to hand over the management of parishes to teams made up of priests and dedicated church members as well as other staff.

Cardinal Beniamino Stella, head of the Vatican's Congregation for Clergy, told KNA he would be happy to speak with the bishops to alleviate their concerns about the document.

Earlier in July, KNA reported that in the Munster Diocese, the pastoral guidance of a Catholic parish is being conducted by a layman and not a priest. The diocese called it an experiment with a new governance model. The parish was to be headed by a pastoral assistant, who has a degree in theological studies. His job is to perform pastoral care, but pastoral assistants are not ordained priests and may marry and have a family.

"There are simply not enough priests around who can assume the duties of a leading pastor," stressed Munster Auxiliary Bishop Christoph Hegge.

Similar leadership models have also been introduced in other dioceses, in some cases with women holding positions. For example, the Osnabruck Diocese appointed a woman as the pastoral envoy for the North Sea island of Langeoog, supported by a "moderating priest" from the diocese.

The Vatican recently stopped plans drafted by the Trier Diocese to establish 38 large-scale parishes to be co-led by a priest and a group of laypeople.

Matthias Kopp, spokesman for the German bishops' conference, said the bishops will carefully study the Vatican document and discuss it at their next meeting.

- - -

Copyright © 2020 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 [email protected]