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Confessional not a 'dry cleaner,' says Pope

Vatican City, Apr 29, 2013 / 09:46 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis said the Sacrament of Confession does not work like a dry cleaner but is a moment in which Jesus imparts his peace.

“Jesus in the confessional is not a dry cleaner, it is an encounter with Jesus but with this Jesus who waits for us just as we are,” said Pope Francis.

“Many times we think that going to confession is like going to the dry cleaner to clean the dirt from our clothes,” he observed during his April 29 homily.

But what really happens is that Jesus “donates to us the peace that only he gives,” he said.

The Pope usually invites different groups to attend his daily Mass in the chapel of Saint Martha’s residence, where he lives.

Today, the personnel from the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See were among the congregation.

“We are often ashamed to tell the truth, but shame is a true Christian virtue, and even human,” he commented.

“I do not know if there is a similar saying in Italian, but in our country those who are never ashamed are called ‘sin vergüenza,’” he said in his April 29 homily.

“This means ‘the unashamed’ because they are people who do not have the ability to be ashamed. And to be ashamed is a virtue of men and the women who are humble,” he added.

Pope Francis taught that being ashamed of sins is “not only natural, it’s a virtue that helps prepare us for God's forgiveness.”

He underscored that confession is not “a torture session” and that God is not waiting “to beat,” but is instead “always waiting for us, with tenderness to forgive.”
 
“It is going to praise God, because I, a sinner, have been saved by Him,” said Pope Francis.

“And if tomorrow I do the same?” he asked. “Go again, and go and go and go.”

The Pope encouraged the congregation to “never masquerade before God.”  

“Jesus Christ is the righteous (one) and supports us before the Father," he said.

“He defends us in front of our weaknesses, but you need to stand in front of the Lord with our truth of (being) sinners, with confidence, even with joy, without masquerading,” he remarked.

The Holy Father also noted that walking in darkness means being “overly pleased with ourselves and believing that we do not need salvation.”

“That is darkness!” he exclaimed. “When we continue on this road of darkness, it is not easy to turn back.”

“We all have darkness in our lives, moments where everything, even our consciousness, is in the dark, but this does not mean we walk in darkness,” said the Pope.
 

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Bishop Rey reflects on Pope's liturgy, evangelization connection

Vatican City, Apr 29, 2013 / 07:17 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis understands the important role the liturgy plays in the New Evangelization and combines it with his own style to communicate the grace of God, says Bishop Dominique Rey.

“I think each Pope arrives at his own charism, his own personality. And the personality of Pope Francis is a sense of freedom, simplicity, (an awareness) of context,” Bishop Rey observed in an April 23 interview with CNA.

And the way the faith is conveyed during the liturgy, he said, “is very important.”

Pope Francis, he noted, “speaks each day in the homily, for all the services of the Vatican, and he develops a very strong and simple homily.

“I think many persons are touched by these thoughts, and many persons receive the Holy Father and his teaching as the grace of God,” he said.

Bishop Rey, who heads the Diocese of Fréjus-Toulon in France, came to Rome last week to prepare for the June 25-28 summit on the Sacred Liturgy and the New Evangelization, which will be held at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross.

The international gathering is intended to underscore the “central place” of the liturgy in “the mission of the Church,” he said, adding that the “source and the goal of the New Evangelization is the adoration and the contemplation of God.”

The conference will feature talks on celebrating the Mass in both the ordinary and extraordinary form, which will be given by Cardinals Antonio Cañizares Llovera and Walter Brandmüller, respectively.

Other liturgy-related topics that will be addressed include, sacred architecture, music, new ecclesial movements, academic formation, catechesis, the bishop’s role as guardian of the liturgy, and liturgical law in the Church’s mission.

As for Pope Francis, Bishop Rey thinks his reflections and Magisterium enter into “the traditional sense of the liturgy; there is no change.”

For more information on the conference, please visit http://sacraliturgia2013.com.

Alan Holdren contributed to this report from Rome.

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New film shows dramatic revival of Omaha parish

Omaha, Neb., Apr 28, 2013 / 04:05 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A new documentary tracks the gripping journey of how a priest and his community – through fidelity to Church tradition and Vatican II – turned a church with dwindling numbers into a thriving parish.

“We're trying to do everything as faithfully as we can, as beautifully as we can, to what the Church has given us,” Father Damien Cook, pastor of St. Peter Catholic Church in Omaha, told CNA April 24.

St. Peter's is “dedicated to the restoration of the sacred,” he said, with Masses sung with Latin and chant, liturgies celebrated both facing the people and facing the altar, altar boys, Eucharistic adoration, evening prayer sung every day, processions, and distribution of Communion at the altar rail.

“This is what we should do, if we're going to be a fully faithful church according to Vatican II and the whole tradition of the Church,” said Fr. Cook.

“Where Heaven Meets Earth” is a 30 minute documentary produced by the StoryTel Foundation, which will be premiered on EWTN on Tuesday, April 30. A DVD of the documentary is also available for pre-order at the foundation's website.

Don Carney, the director of StoryTel Foundation, told CNA that his family began attending St. Peter's in 2006 because “we were completely blown away by Fr. Cook and his approach to the liturgy...the music really grabbed us.”

“I had no plans to do a story on this place, but as we attended Mass, and then they had their annual Corpus Christi procession, I was so amazed by this huge outpouring of people...it's a really beautiful thing,” Carney said.

St. Peter's Corpus Christi procession attracts over 1,000 people, including for the second year in a row, Omaha's archbishop, George J. Lucas. The procession goes through the parish's downtown neighborhood, which has drawn people back to the Catholic Church.

“If the truth is the truth...we want everyone to find and embrace that truth. It does them no act of kindness to keep the very truth that will free them, from them,” Fr. Cook explains in the documentary.

St. Peter's was founded in 1886 and did well until the 480 freeway was constructed within a block of the church in the early 1960s. The construction razed many homes and businesses, and Omaha experienced a massive population move to the suburbs and west Omaha.

The parish was impoverished and experienced dwindling attendance until Fr. Cook was assigned as pastor in 2004.

Fr. Cook says he didn't come to St. Peter's with a program or plan to bring more people in. Instead, he asked the question of himself: “What do I think it means to be a priest, and a pastor?”

Although this includes “all components of charity and catechesis,” he said, “first and foremost it has to start with the liturgy...it's the source and summit. So the first thing that happened, that I could do, was liturgical formation.”

The decisions Fr. Cook made “drew a lot of people back to the Church, which in turn re-vitalized our ministries, so now we've got all kinds of outpourings.”

The parish is home to a vibrant Catholic culture, with a St. Vincent de Paul society, a food pantry, Boy Scouts, music ministry, four choirs, lay Carmelites, and a host of other organizations.

“People get drawn by the liturgy, and they've then given back to the Church in terms of evangelization, charity, and fraternity...it's beautiful to behold.”

“It's been a real blessing. I always pinch myself that I'm here, because I keep thinking God must not love me very much because there's very little suffering,” Fr. Cook jested. “The people are really nice, and very passionate about their faith.”

The beauty Fr. Cook has brought to the liturgy at St. Peter's is not about “spectacle for its own sake, but to convey the grandeur of God.”

“We can only desire to give God our best. So it's not so much to give back to us, in the sense of that's a nice concert or that's so pretty, but what can we give back to God,” he said.

“This is the worship of Jesus to God the Father...so it deserves that our display be its best with our meager resources, to convey what's happening invisibly.”

“That is absolutely beautiful, and liturgical rites are ordered towards truth, so there's a goodness and symmetry to them.”

Fr. Cook believes beauty is particularly important in our age, because “we've lost so much in this very functional age, in terms of idolizing efficiency.” He said the Gregorian chant sung at the parish transcends cultures and “brings people back to beauty.”

Between the chanted psalms at the Mass and the gorgeous stained glass windows made in Germany in the 1920s, at St. Peter's “everything goes together to make this beautiful symphony of truth, of goodness.”

The adoption of chant has even affected the reverence of parishioners at St. Peter's. “I'm blessed with the congregation that comes,” Fr. Cook said. “We have a lot of big families, in both the English and Spanish-speaking communities, so they make noise, but I don't have to get up and remind them after Mass to be quiet.”

“They stay in the pew for their thanksgiving, and go outside to the vestibule to talk. And even the dress, what people wear has really changed. Guests comment on how nicely people dress for Sunday Mass.”

Fr. Cook reflected that “you never realize how much one person affects the person next to them, and we can bring each other down or really raise each other up.”

“Even if we're not physically talking to someone, but just by what we wear and by deciding to stay after and pray at the altar rail or in our pew, it really reminds people. It really has helped here.”

Each Sunday, the parish has two Masses in English and two in Spanish, before and during which confessions are heard, with the assistance of Fr. Cook's parochial vicar, Fr. Rheo Ofalsa.

St. Peter's is also host to a Vietnamese community which has a Mass there each Sunday. Were the parish more than its 1.6 miles away from a church dedicated to the celebration of the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite – how the Mass was said prior to 1962 – Fr. Cook would be offering that as well.

Some parishioners attend Mass at both parishes, he said, and his people appreciate that he celebrates the ordinary form by “following Vatican II as best we can – still using Latin, chant, organ, the communion rail, all those kind of things, even ad orientem. I think people do experience beauty in that.”

Fr. Cook also made a conscious decision to allow altar serving to be done by boys, in an effort to provide the young boys of the parish with “some solidarity” and to promote vocations. From the nine altar servers the parish had when he arrived in 2004, the parish is now served by 75 altar boys.

The altar boy program is divided into degrees, so the children can experience accomplishment and progress in their time there. The boys start out wearing albs, and once they have proved themselves as reliable, they receive a “Seraph Server” award and they are allowed to wear cassock and surplice.

Some of these then become masters of ceremonies and take on responsibilities in training the younger boys. The ethos at St. Peter's has already inspired one parishioner, already an adult, to pursue a consecrated vocation. Nathan Hall is a seminarian of the Omaha archdiocese now studying theology.

Fr. Cook also wanted a “motherly role” at the parish, and said God granted him two religious sisters, who are beginning an order of “active Poor Clares,” in the Franciscan tradition.

The Seraphic Sisters of the Eucharist bring the “poverty, joy, and love” of Saint Clare to St. Peter's. The sisters serve as sacristans, teachers, give retreat days, and do counseling work with the parish's Latino population.

“It's great to actually have two sisters here who day in and day out are praying for the parish and working with the youth,” said Fr. Cook. “Even if they don't have vocations here to the Seraphic Sisters, I know it's inspiring the girls to look for consecrated life in a particular way.”

StoryTel Foundation's mission is to create compelling films which tell of those who work to restore the sacred in their communities, and their goal with “Where Heaven Meets Earth” was to share how establishing reverence for God has helped a parish that was going under to now do well.

“If your parish is suffering in any way, maybe you might try some of the things that Father's doing here that might help the parish, and bring people closer to their faith,” Carney said.

The non-profit spent $100,000 producing the documentary, which shows in its high quality. Carney said that a positive message is not sufficient for Catholics to make a great film. Quality imagery, sound, and story, still matter.

StoryTel strives to produce excellent documentaries because “everything you put on the screen is in competition with everything a viewer has seen on the screen. So you're competing with Lincoln, and with Lawrence of Arabia, so you need to take that into account,” Carney explained.

“What's really good, true, and beautiful is timeless, so it's always new.” He said Fr. Cook's restoration of the timeless elements of the Church's tradition is “like rediscovering buried treasure of the Church.”

St. Peter's church building is in the process of being restored. It suffered damage in its years of dwindling parishioners and money, and Fr. Cook has already had the roof replaced.

The parish is in the process of further restoration, switching from carpet to marble flooring, getting new pews, painting and brightening the church, and getting new lighting, all to “make a vision of heaven,” Fr. Cook said.

All the efforts made at St. Peter's have been in conformity with the heritage of the Church and with Vatican II.

Fr. Cook explained, “I've done nothing that wasn't prescribed in Sacrosanctum concilium (the council's constitution on liturgy) and the documents since. It's not because of me, because I like it...but this is what the documents say.”

He would like to see the reforms made at the church “in any parish. St. Peter's shouldn't be unique.” The priest added that he is glad that the people of St. Peter's have been open to the beauty that was asked for by the Second Vatican Council.  

They didn't condemn the changes, or have preconceptions about it such as “this is old, or won't be interesting,” he said,“but they let themselves experience what this creates in the Church – the music, the altar rail, the incense, all these things – you do really do associate them with reverence and the sacred.”

“The experience itself teaches people,” Fr. Cook reflected, “if they allow themselves to experience the beauty, and be open to it.”

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Pope stresses workers' dignity after Bangladesh factory collapse

Vatican City, Apr 28, 2013 / 01:27 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis offered condolences and prayers, along with calls for worker safety, after a factory collapsed and killed more than 350 people in Bangladesh.

“I express my solidarity and deepest sympathy to the families mourning their loved ones,” he said at Saint Peter's Square on April 28.

In his Regina Caeli address, the Holy Father offered prayers “for the many victims” of the tragedy.

On April 24, an eight-story building collapsed in the Rana Plaza complex in Savar, just north of Dhaka, killing at least 352 people.

Around 30 survivors were found yesterday, but police say nearly 1,000 are still missing, trapped under the building's remains.

Rescue teams were still searching for survivors on the night of April 27, using electric drills, shovels and their bare hands.

Police have detained two of the factory's owners as well as two engineers involved in issuing the building's permits.

The building collapsed just a day after warnings had been given saying it was unsafe. A petition has been launched calling for compensation to be given the victims and their families.

A demonstration outside a Primark retail store was held in London after it was revealed that the company had used a floor of the building that collapsed.

Pope Francis appealed in his address for “the dignity and safety of the worker” to always be respected.

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Pope confirms young people, calls them to be 'steadfast'

Vatican City, Apr 28, 2013 / 09:33 am (CNA/EWTN News).- At a Mass where he confirmed 44 young people, Pope Francis encouraged the youth of the world to persist in their faith even in the midst of obstacles.

“Remaining steadfast in the journey of faith, with firm hope in the Lord, is the secret of our journey,” he told over 70,000 young people gathered in St. Peter’s Square.

“There are no difficulties, trials or misunderstandings to fear, provided we remain united to God as branches to the vine, provided we do not lose our friendship with him, provided we make ever more room for him in our lives,” he said during the 10:00 a.m. Mass on April 28.

The Mass marked the ending of a two-day celebration as part of the Year of Faith, which gathered thousands of youths from around the world.

The day before, the young people had met with teachers of faith, or catechists, at Saint Peter's Square for a pilgrimage to the tombs of Saint Peter and Blessed John Paul II.

The Eucharistic celebration was dedicated to the 44 young people from around the world to whom the Pope imparted the sacrament of Confirmation, and to those who had already received the sacrament earlier this year.

“To go against the current, this is good for the heart, but we need courage to swim against the tide,” Pope Francis noted.

“Jesus gives us this courage,” he stressed.

Examining the day's Gospel reading, the Pontiff observed that the Holy Spirit “makes all things new” and “changes us.”

“The Holy Spirit is truly transforming us, and through us he also wants to transform the world in which we live,” explained the Pope.

“How beautiful it would be,” he said, “if each of you, every evening, could say: Today at school, at home, at work, guided by God, I showed a sign of love towards one of my friends, my parents, an older person!”

He noted that when God makes all things “new,” they are not like “the novelties of this world, all of which are temporary,” but are “lasting, not only in the future but today as well.”

Pope Francis also explained that “we must undergo many trials if we are to enter the Kingdom of God.”

“To follow the Lord, to let his Spirit transform the shadowy parts of our lives, our ungodly ways of acting, and cleanse us of our sins, is to set out on a path with many obstacles, both in the world around us but also within us, in the heart,” he said.

He explained that trials are “part of the path that leads to God's glory” and told the pilgrims that they will always encounter difficulties in life.

“Do not be discouraged,” the Pope emphasized. “We have the power of the Holy Spirit to overcome these trials!”

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Church commemorates Pope St. Pius V on April 30

Denver, Colo., Apr 28, 2013 / 06:06 am (CNA).- A defender of Catholic doctrine and Christian civilization during the tumultuous 16th century, Pope Saint Pius V has his liturgical memorial on April 30.

The Dominican Pope is known for implementing the reforms of the Council of Trent, and for organizing the “Holy League” that defeated the Turkish naval fleet at the 1571 Battle of Lepanto.

Though St. Pius V’s pontificate was not extremely lengthy, it was a turning point in the history of the Church. In a 2004 letter for the fifth centenary of his predecessor’s birth, Blessed John Paul II mentioned some of St. Pius V’s groundbreaking achievements, which have continued to shape the liturgical and devotional life of the Christian West:

“He strove to apply faithfully the decrees of the Council of Trent: in the liturgical field, with the publication of the renewed (Tridentine) Roman Missal and the new Breviary; in the area of catechetics, by entrusting to parish priests in particular the ‘Catechism of the Council of Trent’; and as for theology, it was he who introduced St. Thomas' ‘Summa' into the universities,” Bl. John Paul II recalled in his tribute to St. Pius V.

“Conscious of the mission he had received from Christ the Good Shepherd, he devoted himself to tending the flock entrusted to him, encouraging daily recourse to prayer and making Marian devotion a priority. He contributed significantly to spreading it by giving strong encouragement to the practice of praying the Rosary, and he himself would recite the whole of it every day, despite his many exacting tasks.”

Born in the Italian region of Alessandria on Jan. 17, 1504, Michael Ghislieri belonged to a family that was living in poverty despite its distinguished past. He was taught by members of the Dominican Order, and chose to join them when he was only 14. After a decade of further study and formation, he became a priest in 1528.

In keeping with the Dominican tradition, Michael combined intense prayer and penance with intellectual rigor. He taught philosophy and theology, helped form new recruits, and led several houses of the order. His personal holiness and orthodoxy were acknowledged by Pope Paul IV, who made him a bishop in 1556 and a cardinal in 1557. During the same year he assumed leadership of the Holy Office of the Inquisition in Rome.

Against his own wishes, Michael was elected Pope in 1566. Taking the name of Pius V, the new Pope set an example for the faithful through acts of humility and charity. He visited the sick, washed the feet of the poor and suffering, and adopted a stripped-down lifestyle in accordance with his Dominican formation.

At the same time, the Pope had to address grave internal and external threats to the Church. Protestant forces had gained state support and were taking steps to extinguish the Catholic faith in some countries. Meanwhile, the Turks – having conquered Constantinople just over a century before – were advancing westward and asserting their sea power in the Mediterranean. Turkish forces attacked Malta in 1565, and conquered Cyprus in 1570.

While counteracting Protestantism through the Tridentine reforms, Pius also took steps to stop the spread of militant Islam. He brought together Spanish and Italian naval forces, together with those of the Papal States, under the command of Don John of Austria. Though seriously outnumbered, the “Holy League” won a dramatic and decisive battle against the Turkish fleet at Lepanto on Oct. 7, 1571.

Aided by the prayers of the Church, and particularly by the prayer of the Rosary, the Holy League’s victory secured Western Europe against Islamic domination for many centuries. Pius V instituted the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, each year on Oct. 7, to commemorate the victory and give thanks for the Blessed Virgin Mary’s intercessory role.

During 1572 Pope Pius V was working toward a new and broader alliance of Western Christian powers against expansionist Islam. The Pope did not live to carry out this plan, however, as he became ill and died on May 1 of that year.

Pope St. Pius V was canonized in 1712. Since that time, only one other Pope – St. Pius X – has been declared a saint.

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Worldliness poses danger to priestly identity, Pope says

Denver, Colo., Apr 27, 2013 / 04:05 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The biggest threat to priests is the temptation to be more immersed in the world than the Gospel, says Pope Francis in his newly translated book.

“For then-Cardinal Bergoglio, narcissism and worldliness are completely self-defeating to the purpose of why a priest becomes a priest,” the book's translator, Alejandro Bermudez, told CNA April 23.

“It's a total rejection of the reason why he decided to become a priest, and therefore these are some of the most destructive and damaging problems in priestly formation.”

The new book, “On Heaven and Earth,” is a conversation between Pope Francis and Abraham Skorka, a rabbi and scholar from Buenos Aires. It was originally published in Spanish in 2010, when the Pope was still Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, archbishop of Buenos Aires.

The book covers numerous topics touching on priesthood in today's world, including vocation, celibacy and the sex abuse crisis.

Bermudez, who is executive director of Catholic News Agency, said that though Pope Francis warns against worldliness in all Christians, “he makes a much more important point regarding the priests, because they have the duty to lead the Catholic community, and lead it in a completely selfless manner.”

“One might think that having a woman on the side is being worldly, but that is only one of the double lives that are usually mentioned,” Pope Francis said in the book. “There are those that seek to compromise their faith for political alliances or for a worldly spirituality.”

Pope Francis noted the 20th century theologian Henri de Lubac's comment that to be worldly is “the worst that can happen” to a priest. “If this were to happen throughout the Church, the situation would be much worse than those embarrassing periods with libertine pastors,” he said.

“Worldliness and the narcissism can become not only an attitude of individuals but of the whole community, and therefore you can have the whole leadership of Catholics – bishops, priests and lay leaders – involved,” said Bermudez.

This would “basically turn the Church into a narcissistic worldly operation, and it would be completely neutralized of any capacity to transform persons and the world,” he explained.

In “On Heaven and Earth,” Pope Francis discusses priestly celibacy with such phrases as “for now” and “for the time being.” This has led some to speculate that he will bring to an end to the Latin Church's tradition of unmarried priests.

However, Bermudez asserted that Pope Francis will do “absolutely nothing” to change the rules on married priests.

“That doesn't mean at all that he is soft on this, or even contemplating the possibility of not continuing the tradition of priestly celibacy,” the translator said. “The book in itself, his pastoral practice and his homilies all speak to the great appreciation he has of priestly celibacy.”

Pope Francis also said that “we can rule out that celibacy carries pedophilia as a consequence.” He noted that most sex abuse occurs in families and neighborhoods by those who have not taken a vow of celibacy.

“Now, when this happens, you can never turn a blind eye. You cannot be in a position of power and destroy the life of another person,” the Pontiff stressed.

“I do not believe in the positions that some hold about sustaining a certain corporate spirit so as to avoid damaging the image of the institution … Recently, in Ireland they uncovered cases that occurred for twenty years, and the current pope (at the time Benedict) clearly said: 'Zero tolerance with this crime.' I admire the courage and the straightforwardness of Benedict XVI on this point.”

Since his election as Bishop of Rome, Francis has reaffirmed the Vatican process established by Benedict for handling instances of sexual abuse by priests.

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Survey finds strong Catholic support for immigration changes

Washington D.C., Apr 27, 2013 / 01:09 pm (CNA).- A survey commissioned by the U.S. bishops finds that almost 80 percent of Catholics support legal changes that allow immigrants to gain “earned citizenship” through meeting certain requirements.

“It is clear that Catholics understand the importance of this issue,” Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles, who chairs the U.S. bishops’ migration committee, said April 19 in response to the poll.

“As an immigrant church, Catholics from all walks of life understand the migration experience and accept the Gospel’s call to welcome the stranger.”

The survey, commissioned by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Office of Migration Policy and Public Affairs, found that 77 percent of U.S. Catholics support citizenship for immigrants who fulfill requirements like registration, paying a fine, paying taxes, and taking English classes.

Eighty-four percent of respondents agree that requiring immigrants to register with the government in order to remain in the country would improve national security.

Another 75 percent of respondents said immigration law enforcement should be focused on “humane values” that deport violent criminals but “finds ways to work with people who have come to find a better life.”

Most respondents said that border security and humane treatment of illegal immigrants are compatible and most agree that the Church has an obligation to help those in need, even if they are illegal residents. Additionally, most believe that immigrants are good for the economy, and most thought that enforcement-only policy focused on deportations is bad for family unity.

Sixty percent of Catholics who attend Mass weekly or more said that the immigration issue is very important to them.

The Catholic bishops have endorsed changes to immigration law, such as allowing an expansive “path to citizenship” for undocumented immigrants and expanding legal migration for low-skilled migrant workers.

Archbishop Gomez encouraged Catholics to ask their legislators to support “humane” immigration reform, saying this would “help our brothers and sisters come out of the shadows and become full members of our communities.”

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Society president sees Pope Francis, Chesterton link

St. Paul, Minn., Apr 27, 2013 / 06:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The American Chesterton Society's thrilling experience of being in Rome during Pope Francis' election has led the group's leader to reflect on the connections between the Pope, G.K. Chesterton and St. Francis.

Pope Francis has “that Franciscan humility and he’s not afraid to do things that the world may consider foolish,” president Dale Ahlquist told CNA April 24.   

“Even certain people in the Church are surprised by the things he's doing,” he added, citing Pope Francis’ washing the feet of prisoners and his decision not to move into the papal apartments.

Ahlquist said this similarity between Pope Francis and St. Francis is clear in Chesterton's biography of the saint, which presents him as “someone willing to be a fool for Christ, but also willing to be a mirror of Christ.”

He said he sees this characteristic “absolutely” reflected in the first month of Pope Francis’ papacy.

Ahlquist noted that he considers Chesterton “one of the great English writers of the 20th century” who was “very prolific and very profound.”

“He was an important Catholic convert who turned a lot of heads, being a major literary figure who converted to the Catholic faith.”

“I think his importance is as a defender of the faith and as someone who articulates traditional values in a very witty, and certainly appealing way,” Ahlquist said. “There’s something about Chesterton that just draws in his own enemies.”

Ahlquist recalled that he knew immediately that Pope Francis was “a Chestertonian Pope,” a reaction later supported by Pope Francis’ history.

As archbishop of Buenos Aires, Pope Francis was a member of an honorary committee of a conference for the Argentine Chesterton Society and celebrated a Mass for the conference. He owns several books by Chesterton.

Pope Francis’ March 13 election to the papacy coincided with the beginning of the American Chesterton Society’s March 13-23 pilgrimage to Rome. They followed in the footsteps of G.K. Chesterton, who made a three-month visit to Italy in 1929 for the beatification of the English Martyrs.

About 70 students and society members made the trip, which included an international conference with the Italian Chesterton Society.

“We had planned the conference and the pilgrimage for months ahead of time. It just so happened that we landed in Rome right in the midst of the new Pope,” Ahlquist said. “Everyone was thrilled.”
 
Students from Chesterton Academy, a private Catholic high school near Minneapolis and St. Paul, had a “once-in-a-lifetime experience” attending the new Pope’s installation Mass.

“They got to see the Pope from just a few feet away. They were absolutely thrilled,” said Ahlquist, a co-founder of the academy.

One girl said being in Rome was “the first time she had really internalized her faith...Coming to Rome was like coming home, but it also brought the faith itself home to them,” Ahlquist said of the students.

The International Chesterton Conference March 16 hosted about 150 people, mostly Italian. It focused on Chesterton’s writings on Rome and Italy as well as his past and present influence in the country, where there is “growing enthusiasm” for the writer.

Ahlquist suggested that this interest is rooted in the same features of Chesterton that have helped revive interest in the U.S., such as his “prophetic qualities”

“He seems to be describing exactly the problems that our modern society is going through, with a greater accuracy than some of the present commentators are,” Ahlquist said

He said Chesterton was a critic of “the attack on the family” and the “runaway big business and big government oppression of the common man.”

Chesterton also created “surprising interest” in the Catholic faith in “a world that is always ready to dismiss it.”

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Diocese affirms need for Catholic fidelity after teacher fired

Columbus, Ohio, Apr 26, 2013 / 05:20 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Following controversy over the firing of a Catholic school gym teacher who was in a homosexual relationship, the Diocese of Columbus, Ohio has said that educators must respect Catholic teaching and morals.

The Diocese of Columbus said that personnel matters are confidential under diocesan policy and cannot be discussed specifically.

Speaking “in general terms,” the diocese said in a statement, all Catholic school personnel agree at the beginning of their employment to “abide by the rules, regulations, and policies of the Catholic Diocese, including respecting the moral values advanced by the teachings of Christ.”

“The Catholic Church respects the fundamental dignity of all persons but also must insist that those in its employ respect the tenets of the Church,” the diocese continued. “Personnel who choose to publicly espouse relationships or principles that are contrary to the teachings of the Catholic Church cannot, ultimately, remain in the employ of the Church.”

The diocese’s statement comes after media controversy surrounding the firing of Carla Hale, a former physical education teacher who had taught for 19 years at Bishop Watterson High School in Columbus.

The teacher was fired after a parent noticed her same-sex relationship listed in her mother’s obituary and reported it to the diocese.

Hale told the CBS TV affiliate WBNS she was “shocked” that she has been fired over her relationship.

“I don’t think I’m immoral, I don’t think I've done anything that’s unethical,” she said.

Her attorney has said they will file a civil rights complaint with the City of Columbus’ community relations committee.

In 2008, the city passed an ordinance barring discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. However, according to the NBC TV affiliate WCMH, the school’s principal explained to Hale that her termination was not due to the fact that she was a lesbian, but because she had was a relationship with another woman, an action that violates Church teaching.

Morals clauses have been invoked to end the employment of heterosexual teachers at Catholic schools as well. In 2009, Xavier High School in Appleton, Wisc. declined to renew the contract of a male physical education teacher and baseball coach, reportedly after it learned he spent the night at a girlfriend’s house.

The Columbus city ordinance lacks an exemption for religious organizations, but present jurisprudence might protect the diocese from legal action.

It is not clear how the diocese would be affected if it is not exempt from the law. Violators of the ordinance can be criminally prosecuted for a first-degree misdemeanor and can face up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine, the National Catholic Register reports.

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