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In Syria, Caritas works to promote understanding among neighbors

IMAGE: CNS photo/Muhammad Hamed, Reuters

By Dale Gavlak

RAMTHA, Jordan (CNS) -- As Syria's civil war enters its ninth year, citizens in and outside the country find themselves in limbo. Catholic and other aid agencies are urging a swift resolution to the crisis.

Caritas Syria is campaigning for "an immediate end to the violence and suffering" and calling for "all sides of the conflict to come together to find a peaceful solution," chiefly through reconciliation work.

"We are initiating reconciliation among the various communities to correct misconceptions in the minds of those living in Damascus, Ghouta, Aleppo and elsewhere about people outside their religious community," said Sandra Awad, communications director for the Catholic aid agency Caritas Syria.

Caritas Syria is the country's branch of Caritas Internationalis, the Catholic Church's international network of charitable agencies.

Awad told Catholic News Service by telephone from Damascus that a meal involving Christians, Alawites and Muslims brought about a wonderful understanding and compassion for the suffering shared by all.

She said a Christian woman told her at the start of the lunch that she did not want to sit next to a woman wearing a headscarf because Muslims had kidnapped her son. Militants had entered her home and beat her son, resulting in psychological problems for him. They shot another son's legs, leaving him paralyzed. The militants kidnapped the third son with his wife and child.

But Awad said she told her, "This woman with the headscarf lost her husband from mortar shelling, and her 15-year-old son lost his legs. She is taking care of her children by herself without any income."

The Christian woman then responded: "Yes, all of us have suffered."

"I could see her ideas begin to change," Awad said. "The people spoke about the pain they experienced during the war. They began to feel that people have suffered as much as themselves and perhaps even more," she said and, as a result, they got along together.

During a Caritas-sponsored visit to the Damascus suburb of Ghouta, a Muslim man questioned why militants were calling for people to be killed, rather than supported.

"Let them see who is helping us," he said. "A Christian organization is helping us now."

Caritas' reconciliation efforts underline the practical support it provides to thousands of Syrians by distributing food baskets, clothes and blankets as well as medical assistance and psychosocial support.

Pope Francis has been closely engaged with the Syrian crisis, consistently calling for an end to the fighting. He has acknowledged the assistance Caritas gives to Syrians regardless of their ethnic or religious affiliation as the best way to contribute toward peace.

Syria's war has killed more than 400,000 people and forced more than 6 million Syrians out of their homes inside Syria; 5.5 million have fled to neighboring countries since the outbreak of the conflict in 2011.

CAFOD, the Catholic international development charity in England and Wales, and Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. bishops' international aid and development agency, are part of the Caritas network.

In a statement provided to Catholic News Service, CAFOD said it "believes that until a political process addresses the underlying issues that led to the Syrian war, there will be no safe future in Syria for the millions of Syrians caught up in this conflict.

Syrian refugees sheltering in neighboring Jordan and Lebanon, many for longer than they ever imagined, have expressed concern for their future.

"My family believes that we cannot return to Syria because our home was destroyed, so there is nothing to go back to," Um Mohamed, using her familial name in Arabic, told CNS in the northern Jordanian border town of Ramtha, which abuts Syria. "But we're also finding it impossible to stay in Jordan because there is no work, my husband is sick, and our savings are running out."

Another Syrian refugee at the large Zaatari camp, also near the border, said she is worried about her son left behind in Syria.

"He was living in an area controlled by the rebels, although he didn't fight with them. But because of being in that place, he and other young Syrian men have turned themselves into the Syrian authorities in the hopes of getting a lesser jail term," Um Sami told CNS, saying the Syrian government views them with suspicion.

"But the fear is that the government will forcibly conscript these men into the Syrian military and put them in frontline positions without any training. Or, what if my son is never seen again?" she said, her eyes welling with tears.

Other Syrian refugees are fearful that the regime considers them "traitors."

"A lot of young men left Syria because they didn't want to fight in the conflict," Maha Yahya, director of the Carnegie Middle East Center, told CNS.

"A lot of refugees said to me, 'I left so I don't kill, and I don't get killed.' Even if they go back today, there is a new amnesty law, but there are no guarantees that they won't be thrown into prison or sent to the frontline," she explained.

Other refugees around Zahle, near the Syrian border in Lebanon, said they, too, fear a return, but for some there is no other choice.

A Christian aid worker told CNS about a Syrian widow who died unexpectedly in March. She left behind three young children who must go back to Syria to join relatives to care for them. But these family members live in the militant stronghold of Idlib in Syria's north, making their fate uncertain.

Eight million Syrian children are now in need of assistance, including psychosocial support, according to the U.N. children's agency, UNICEF.

"Every single Syrian child has been impacted by violence, loss, displacement, family separation and lack of access to basic services, including health and education. Grave violations of children's rights -- recruitment, abductions, killing and maiming continue unabated," UNICEF said March 6.

Syrians live without "peace or war," Maronite Archbishop Samir Nassar of Damascus, told the Vatican news agency, Fides, March 11. "It's an uncertain and difficult situation, which is becoming unsustainable for the weakest," he said.

Archbishop Nassar warned that Syria's historic Christian population has decreased in some areas by 77 percent, compared to the time before the conflict.

 

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Copyright © 2019 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]

Cardinal Parolin celebrates 150th anniversary of children's hospital

IMAGE: CNS photo/Vatican Media

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Vatican-owned Bambino Gesu Children's Hospital in Rome is a sign of the Catholic Church's commitment to caring for and protecting the dignity of the sick, said Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican secretary of state.

Commemorating the hospital's 150th anniversary March 19, Cardinal Parolin said that the identity of Bambino Gesu Hospital is rooted in Jesus' call to care for the ever-evolving needs of the sick in a "prophetic" way.

"Even if the situation has radically changed since the time of its first pioneering experiences, the church will never stop paying attention to the sick with that look of love and with that 'prophetic' attitude," Cardinal Parolin said.

Founded in 1869 by Duchess Arabella and Duke Scipione Salviati, it became the first pediatric hospital on the Italian peninsula.

In an effort to guarantee the hospital would have a secure future, in 1924 the Salviati family donated it to Pope Pius XI.

Over time, the hospital added new pavilions, new operating rooms and new outpatient departments. Today, with two branches outside Rome, Bambino Gesu Children's Hospital is one of the most modern and well-equipped pediatric facilities in the country.

Among those present at the 150th anniversary celebration were Italian President Sergio Mattarella, Rome Mayor Virginia Raggi and various local officials as well as hospital staff.

Cardinal Parolin said that church-run hospitals like Bambino Gesu are a sign of the Catholic Church's "constant attention to the human person."

Love, he said, is not only demonstrated in the effectiveness of the hospital's assistance to patients but also "in the ability to be close in solidarity with those who suffer."

"Putting the sick at the center means, among other things, knowing how to combine the action of curing the disease with that of taking care of the whole patient, of his or her person and of his or her emotional, relational, psychological and even spiritual world," the cardinal said.

Although Bambino Gesu Hospital carries out its mission in Italy, Cardinal Parolin said it also shares the universal mission of the Catholic Church to proclaim God's love in the farthest corners of the world.

The commitment of Bambino Gesu Hospital to expanding and training staff at a pediatric hospital in Bangui, Central African Republic, he said, "is a testimony that for Bambino Gesu Hospital, there are no walls or boundaries, nor race or religious affiliation that separate it from charity."

"With great passion," the cardinal said, "we want to continue our great task of taking care of sick children, including those who in their countries do not have the possibility, as a sign of the charity of Jesus Christ and his church and to open up and embrace with hope the future that lies before us."

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju

 

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Copyright © 2019 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]

U.S. Bishops’ Chairman Offers Prayers for Recovery, After Flooding in the Midwest

WASHINGTON—After historic flooding brought devastation to parts of the Midwest, Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida and Chairman of the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, expressed grief over the lives lost and threatened by the floods and offered prayers for recovery.

The full statement follows:

“We are deeply saddened by the loss of life and the damage caused by the flooding throughout the Midwest these past few days. As of this writing, at least nine million people in fourteen states have been affected by rising water levels along rivers and creeks in the central United States. Four people have been killed by swift currents and rising floodwaters. Heavy rainfall and melting snow from this winter’s powerful storms continue to threaten the lives and livelihoods of many as the floodwaters are not expected to recede until later this week.

It is our prayer that those affected by the floods will find the strength to rebuild. We trust that the Lord will console them in their suffering. Let us answer the Lord’s call to love one another and generously support our neighbors in this time of need.”
Donations can be made to Catholic Charities USA at https://catholiccharitiesusa.org.

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Keywords: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, USCCB, Bishop Frank Dewane, Nebraska, Iowa, Wisconsin, Missouri, Kansas, Midwest, Missouri River

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Media Contact:
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202-541-3200

 

Counselors offer 'loving sources of hope' for women seeking abortions

IMAGE: CNS photo/Natalie Hoefer, The Cr

By Natalie Hoefer

INDIANAPOLIS (CNS) -- Two women stood near the busy road on a chilly February morning in Indianapolis. A steady, penetrating mist -- and sometimes an icy splash from a speeding car -- made for a dampness that digs deep and lingers despite layers of clothes. The temperature hovered just above freezing.

"It's always 10 degrees colder here than anywhere else," Sheryl Dye said with a patient grin. Her companion, Ann Clawson, nodded in agreement.

By "here" she meant the entrance of the driveway of the Planned Parenthood abortion facility on the northwest side of Indianapolis. It is the state's largest abortion provider.

Dye and Clawson are committed to standing, praying and hailing approaching cars with a wave and a smile for at least two hours there every Wednesday morning.

They are members of the Indianapolis North chapter of Sidewalk Advocates for Life. Per its website, the organization's mission is to train and support volunteers "to be the hands and feet of Christ, offering loving, life-affirming alternatives to all present at the abortion center, thereby eliminating demand and ending abortion."

Dye and Debra Minott established the chapter in 2016 and currently serve as its coordinators.

Sidewalk counselors have been there for 13 years, since the facility opened in 2006, said Dye, 54. "It started as a grass-roots effort. ... Deb and I used to counsel together. We started talking about the need for more comprehensive training and getting more people involved. Sidewalk Advocates has a great training program."

Each chapter designates the abortion facility it will cover. A chapter also exists in Bloomington, covering the Planned Parenthood abortion center near Indiana University.

Being a sidewalk counselor does not require any kind of degree or persuasive ability, said Minott, 63, told The Criterion, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

"First and foremost (it requires) a very strong faith," she said. "Because to be successful, you need to recognize you are an instrument of the Holy Spirit, and it's not anything you're doing.

"Second is a passion for life. If you're not there believing that this is a life to be saved, it's going to come through to the person you're talking to."

Having "thick skin" is needed, too, "because some of the things people say aren't very nice," admitted Minott, a member of St. Marie Goretti Parish in Westfield, Indiana, in the Diocese of Lafayette.

Both agree on several misconceptions about what sidewalk counselors do -- that they are there to yell and protest against the abortion center, or there to shame the women as they drive in.

"No matter what is said to us, no matter what goes on, we are peaceful, loving sources of hope," said Dye, a member of St. John the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis. "Our goal is to let (the women) know there's help, that there's pain that can come with abortion, and that they're better than that and don't have to experience that."

One might say the counselors' first goal is to get a car to stop.

"We just wave and offer a big smile and make eye contact," Dye said of the counselors' approach to cars entering the drive.

"There are times when you get no one to stop, then sometimes you get eight cars to stop" during the two- to two-and-a-half-hour shifts, Minott added.

When a car does stop, a counselor offers the driver brochures and information on alternative pro-life organizations that will help them at no charge. For instance, 1st Choice for Women is a pregnancy clinic less than a mile from the abortion center. It is a ministry of Great Lakes Gabriel Project, which also sponsors the north Indianapolis Sidewalk Advocates chapter.

Counselors also offer to walk over immediately and meet the woman at the Women's Care Center that abuts the north boundary of the Planned Parenthood property.

"Even if I talk to someone for a minute -- and that's really about all the time you have -- and they still go in (to the abortion center), I believe my prayers have an impact," Minott said of what counselors spend most of their time doing by the drive: praying.

Counselors often use a rosary booklet with tailor-made intentions Minott designed. But with volunteers from different faith backgrounds, any and all prayers are welcome, she said.

"If I didn't have faith that being there praying was having an impact, I couldn't go on doing it because there's just not enough tangible rewards coming back to you," Minott said.

Occasionally there are tangible rewards, though. Dye told the story of a woman who stopped not long ago to talk to a specific counselor.

"This woman said she had been driving up and down Georgetown Road for a year trying to find the counselor," Dye said. "She wanted her to know that even though she went on in for her abortion after the counselor talked with her, she changed her mind, and she was now the mother of a healthy baby boy."

At 69, Larry Clark has been a sidewalk counselor at the Planned Parenthood abortion center in Indianapolis for about 10 years. He, too, knows the joy of seeing a woman choose life for her baby.

"I've got to be here -- it's the right thing to do," said Clark, a member of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish in Carmel, Indiana, in the Lafayette Diocese. "(The clients) need somebody -- not only the children, but the moms and dads need us, too. ... There's nothing more cheering and exciting than when someone chooses life here in this driveway."

Dye and Minott agree the mission of sidewalk counselors has become more urgent.

Dye said that in the six years since she's been a counselor outside the abortion facility, "it's getting harder to get (the women) to see that it's something that could potentially cause harm to them. It's hard because society tells them it's no big deal."

And with only 13 full-time sidewalk advocates, about 10 part-time and substitute volunteers, and the need to always have two counselors on each shift, the task is even more challenging, said Minott.

There is no "typical" counselor, said Dye, who is the mother of two grown children and a teacher at Lumen Christi Catholic School in Indianapolis.

"We have women and men, people who are outgoing and people who are more quiet, people who work and people who don't work or are retired," she said.

Minott also is married with two grown children. She is retired, running for the Carmel City Council, and has "a lot of other things going on."

Clawson, a retiree in her mid-60s who also worships at St. Maria Goretti, is in her third month of volunteering.

She had a "save" on her first day of counseling -- a woman she spoke with who decided to go to the Women's Care Center instead of Planned Parenthood.

"That's like being on cloud nine," she said with a smile. "Those are the things that keep you coming."

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Hoefer is a reporter at The Criterion, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

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Copyright © 2019 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]

For Chaldeans who fled Iraq, New Zealand attacks brought back memories

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy NZ Catholic

By Michael Otto

AUCKLAND, New Zealand (CNS) -- The St. Addai Chaldean Catholic community in suburban Auckland felt the impact of the Christchurch mosque killings with a special poignancy, because many members have experienced the sufferings inflicted by terrorism.

"There is a lady in my community -- they beheaded her son in front of her," Chaldean Father Douglas Al-Bazi told NZ Catholic. "Another man, they killed his parents in front of him."

Father Al-Bazi, who was kidnapped for nine days by Islamic militants in 2006 in Iraq, suffering serious injuries -- including being shot in the leg by an assailant wielding an AK-47 -- said that when he heard of the events in Christchurch, he was "really angry."

"There were thousands of questions in my head, and also for my people," he said.

He said he told his parishioners that "we fully understand as Iraqi people, especially Christian, we really understand" the pain, "because we are survivors of genocide, systematic genocide."

"I am still shocked, me and my people, how this could happen here in New Zealand," he added.

Father Al-Bazi said people at his church have said they are scared in the wake of the events in Christchurch, fearful of revenge attacks.

"I told them, no, this is not the time to be scared. It is the time to be united. So, show your happiness, show we are brave, and we have to tell the people how to be calm. Because already, we have had that experience. So, we have to guide people to tell them."

Parishioners placed a floral tribute with a message of support in Arabic outside a local mosque the day after the shootings.

Father Al-Bazi said most of his community came to New Zealand seeking a safe place, and the violence that happened in Christchurch is unacceptable.

"I don't know what we can do for those survivors, for those relatives, the only thing we can do is pray for them and say, 'This is not New Zealand.'"

At the end of Mass March 18, everyone at St. Addai Church sang the national anthem, "God Defend New Zealand" in Maori and in English.

Police were stationed outside the church and told Father Al-Bazi, "It is for your protection." The priest said he asked the officers to park a little down the road, so as not to alarm Massgoers.

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Otto is editor of NZ Catholic.

 

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Copyright © 2019 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]

Pope leads pilgrims in prayer for victims of mosque attack

IMAGE: CNS photo/Vatican Media

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis called on Christians to unite in prayer for the victims of two mosque attacks in Christchurch, New Zealand, that left 50 people dead and dozens wounded in one of the worst mass shootings in the country's history.

"I am close to our Muslim brothers and sisters and their entire community. I renew my invitation to unite with them in prayer and gestures of peace to counter hatred and violence," the pope said March 17 during his Sunday Angelus address.

Around the world, thousands have joined in praying for the victims of the March 15 attack. The gunman, Brenton Tarrant, left a 74-page manifesto posted on social media, identifying himself as a 28-year-old Australian and white nationalist who wanted to avenge attacks in Europe perpetrated by Muslims.

After condemning the attack, Pope Francis bowed his head as he led the thousands of pilgrims gathered in St. Peter's Square in silent prayer for the dead and the wounded.

In his main address, the pope reflected on the Sunday Gospel reading from St. Luke in which Jesus was transfigured before Peter, James and John, thus granting them "a taste of the glory of the resurrection, a glimpse of heaven and earth."

Christ's transfiguration, the pope said, occurred at a pivotal moment in his mission after revealing to his followers that he must suffer and die on the cross.

Knowing that his disciples "do not accept this reality," Jesus is transfigured before them "so that they may know that this is the way by which the heavenly father will bring his son to glory, raising him from the dead," the pope said.

"No one can reach eternal life except by following Jesus, who carried his cross in his earthly life," he said. "Each of us has our own cross. The Lord shows us the end of this journey, which is the resurrection, beauty, by carrying his own cross."

The Christian understanding of suffering, he continued, is not a form of "sadomasochism" but accepts suffering as a transitional step toward heaven where one experiences "salvation, bliss, light, the unlimited love of God."

During Lent, he said, Christians should try to be like the disciples, to "remain for a few moments in recollection, every day a little bit" and to "fix our inner gaze on his face and let his light pervade us and radiate in our lives."

"Let us continue our Lenten journey with joy. Let us give space to prayer and to the word of God, which the liturgy abundantly proposes to us in these days," the pope said. "Because only by remaining with him will we see his glory."

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju

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Copyright © 2019 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]

Pope encourages South Sudan peace process, hopes to visit

IMAGE: CNS photo/Vatican Media

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- As the process to implement a peace accord in South Sudan continues, Pope Francis met March 16 with South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and expressed the hope that, finally, he would be able to visit the country.

During the meeting in the papal library, the Vatican said, the pope and president discussed "matters regarding the implementation of the agreement recently reached by various political actors with a view to a definitive solution to the conflicts, the return of refugees and displaced persons, and the integral development of the country."

South Sudan gained its independence from Sudan in mid-2011 after years of fighting. But in December 2013, tensions between political factions erupted and civil war broke out. Tens of thousands of people have died in the past year and millions have been displaced.

In the context of the discussions about implementing the September peace agreements, the Vatican said, Pope Francis "expressed the wish to ascertain the conditions for a possible visit to South Sudan, as a sign of closeness to the population and of encouragement for the peace process."

In late 2017, Catholic Archbishop Paulino Lukudu Loro of Juba, Episcopal Archbishop Daniel Deng Bul Yak of South Sudan and Sudan and the Rev. Peter Gai Lual Marrow, moderator of the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan, visited the Vatican to explain the situation in their country to the pope.

They invited Pope Francis and Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury to visit South Sudan together to bring a message of peace directly to the country's leaders and citizens; despite the willingness of the pope and the head of the Anglican Communion to make the visit, the lack of security has delayed the trip.

 

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Copyright © 2019 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]

Collection to Help Serve Vulnerable and Marginalized People to Be Held on March 31

WASHINGTON— The annual Catholic Relief Services Collection will be held in many dioceses across the country on Laetare Sunday, March 31.

The Catholic Relief Services Collection supports the work of several Catholic organizations serving some of the most marginalized communities in the world. Programs include relief and resettlement for victims of persecution, war, and natural disasters; development projects to improve living conditions for people in poverty; pastoral services for rural workers and legal support services for poor immigrants in the United States; peace and reconciliation work for people suffering from violence and religious persecution; and advocacy on behalf of the powerless.

“This Lent we pray that our eyes are opened to see Christ, our redeemer, standing before us. This special collection is a way for us to see Christ in the face of those in need — people who are in poverty, suffering, vulnerable, and marginalized. I thank the faithful for their steadfast support of those in need and for answering Christ’s call to help them,” said Archbishop Paul D. Etienne of Anchorage, Alaska, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' (USCCB) Committee on National Collections.

Funds donated to the special collection are provided to six Catholic groups that share in the Catholic mission of promoting the sanctity of human life and the dignity of the human person. These include the USCCB Secretariat of Cultural Diversity in the Church, the USCCB Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development, and the USCCB Department of Migration and Refugee Services, as well as Catholic Relief Services, the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc., and the Holy Father's Relief Fund. The USCCB Administrative Committee is responsible for grant-making from this national collection.

More information about the collection, including detailed information about who it supports and how the funds are distributed, can be found at www.usccb.org/catholic-relief. People who live in dioceses that do not participate in the collection can learn more online.  
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Keywords: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, USCCB, Catholic Relief Service, Collection, Archbishop Paul D. Etienne, poverty, pastoral services, legal services, immigrants,

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Media Contact:
Judy Keane
202-541-3200

 

President of U.S. Bishops Conference Suffers Mild Stroke

WASHINGTON—The following statement has been issued by the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston regarding Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, Archbishop of Galveston-Houston and Presidentof the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. We join with the archdiocese in praying for the Cardinal’s quick recovery.  

Archdiocesan Statement re: Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo:

Cardinal DiNardo was taken to a Houston hospital last night after experiencing the symptoms of what tests today have confirmed was a mild stroke. The Cardinal is resting comfortablyand conversing with associates, doctors and nurses. It is expected that Cardinal DiNardo will remain hospitalized for a few more days of testing and observation, followed by a transfer to another facility for rehabilitation. He is grateful to the doctorsand nurses for their wonderful care and for continued prayers during his recovery. Cardinal DiNardo said, "With so much to do, I am looking forward to getting back to work as soon as possible."

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Keywords: Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, USCCB, Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston

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Media Contact:

Judy Keane

202-541-3200

 

Worn marble steps of Holy Stairs to be uncovered for public to climb

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- For the first time in 300 years, the marble steps of the Holy Stairs will be free from the thick wooden panels installed in 1723 to protect the stairs and left uncovered for the public.

For at least 40 days, people will be able to touch and climb the bare stones that, according to tradition, are the ones Jesus climbed when Pontius Pilate brought him before the crowd and handed him over to be crucified.

The soon-to-be cleaned steps and newly restored frescoed stairway will be unveiled April 11, the week before Holy Week, during a special blessing ceremony at the Sanctuary of the Holy Stairs. The marble steps were going to be left open to the public temporarily before the original and restored wooden panels would be put back on.

The decision was made during one of the final phases of the sanctuary's restoration -- a 20-year-long project overseen by the Vatican Museums and funded with the help of private donors, foundations and the Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican Museums.

Paolo Violini, the Vatican Museums' head fresco restorer, and his team were so astonished and moved when they saw the degree to which the stone steps had been worn away, he felt this hidden testimony of faith had to be seen and experienced -- even just temporarily -- by today's faithful.

"It's an extraordinary occasion to touch the same steps as Jesus and witness the faith of all the other people who came before us," the sanctuary's rector, Passionist Father Francesco Guerra, told Catholic News Service March 15.

"And it is a concrete way to become linked with those who came before us in history and the faith, who passed on the faith to us," he said.

Tradition holds that St. Helen, mother of the Emperor Constantine, brought the stairs to Rome from Jerusalem in 326 A.D.

The sanctuary, whose walls and ceilings are covered with newly restored decorative paintings and frescoes depicting Christ's passion and events of the Old Testament, was built specifically for the stairs to be venerated by the public in the late 1580s, by order of Pope Sixtus V.

Since then, millions of people climbed the steps on their knees, slowly and unintentionally digging deep undulating ruts and furrows into the soft stone. One of the 28 steps was so worn away by people's shoe tips, a hole had been bored straight through the thick slab of stone.

That happened, Violini said, because that was the step where pilgrims lingered longer, to lean down and kiss "the most important step" above, which is cracked down the middle and adorned with a metal cross and a raised metal grate. According to tradition, Jesus fell at the 11th step, cracking it with his knee. The cross marks the point of impact, Violini said, and the open grate covers what was said to have been a spatter of his blood.

A worker stuck his finger through the grate to scoop out some debris and show just how much stone had been rubbed away by centuries of people touching the spot. A cross also marks another step at the top of the staircase, indicating where, tradition said, had been another drop of blood.

Up until now, people had only been able to see -- not touch -- these areas through small glass panels in the wooden treads.

A few steps were still being uncovered March 15. Two workers chipped away some pieces of brick along the staircase walls to free the rusty metal hooks securing the 300-year-old walnut wood treads in place.

Handwritten notes, holy cards, colored photographs, small coins, buttons and mounds of black dust spilled out from under the heavy plank, which was peppered with woodworm holes and stuck with wisps of spider silk.

Workers carefully bagged the written prayer requests and mementos, which had been stuck into the open slats in the stair risers. They were to be given to the Passionist Fathers in charge of the sanctuary for cataloging and study. The objects date back to no earlier than the 1950s, Violini said, which has led the restorers to believe the stairs had probably been cleaned for the Jubilee Year of 1950.

Mei Wen, a member of the Vatican Museums' Patrons of the Arts, came from her home in Perth, Australia, to see the steps being revealed.

She told CNS she became a major donor to the stairs' restoration after she and her husband first climbed them in 2013.

"That year what we prayed for and reflected on sort of came true so, because of that, I made a commitment that I should donate to the restoration of this project, for the faithful who want to climb the stairs for whatever reasons, for spiritual or family reasons," she said.

Restoring such "a special place," she said, "is also for the art and the history of it."

She said she was moved by seeing and touching the mementos and grooves in the marble "made by people climbing on their knees. It's very real and it's history made centuries ago, how could you not feel something?"

 

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