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Their chapel caught fire, but Salesian sisters remain thankful

Newark, N.J., May 18, 2018 / 03:30 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- After a fire destroyed their chapel just days before Pentecost, a community of Salesian sisters expressed gratitude for the first responders who extinguished the flames and saved the church’s tabernacle.

“Though our hearts are heavy, we are fortunate to be able to report that no one was harmed and that firemen were able to rescue the most precious item in the chapel: the tabernacle,” the Salesian Sisters of Saint John Bosco reported in a statement on Friday.

At 1:39am on May 18, a fire broke out at the sisters’ school, Mary Help of Christians Academy in North Haledon, New Jersey.

The blaze was a four-alarm fire, meaning at least 168 firefighters were on the scene. Fire departments from four municipalities provided support. The fire was finally snuffed out at 4am. The cause of the fire has not been released.

The chapel is regularly used by the school, and by the sisters residing nearby. The church was expected to be used for the school’s baccalaureate Mass on June 1 and commencement on June 2. The chapel was built in 1976 and renovated in 2016.

“During a morning assembly led by Principal Sr. Marisa DeRose, FMA, our community wept as photos of the charred altar, pews, and melted Peragallo pipe organ were shared, along with a warning to students to keep far from the building,” the statement said.

Despite their sorrow, the community expressed gratitude that the fire did not spread to other areas of the campus, and a donation to rebuild the chapel was received before the school day began.

“The Sisters, students,faculty, and staff of the Academy are devastated by this loss, but remain thankful to the dedicated firemen who contained the fire before it could cause additional damage to our facilities,” the sisters said.

“A testament to the strength of our community, the first donation to help rebuild the chapel was received from a faculty member before the school day had even begun; upon hearing about the blaze on the fire scanner radio, she was immediately moved to help.”

Mary Help of Christians Academy opened its doors in 1924. According to the academy’s website, the school teaches young women in the “charism of reason, religion and loving kindness as inspired by Saint John Bosco and Saint Mary Mazzarello.”

Church in Venezuela rejects snap presidential election

Caracas, Venezuela, May 18, 2018 / 02:38 pm (Aid to the Church in Need).- According to the latest report by Caritas Venezuela, the inflation of food prices exceeded 1,300 percent in the country in 2017. The International Monetary Fund estimates that inflation in Venezuela will reach 13,000 percent in 2018, the highest rate in the world. On May 1, 2018 the minimum monthly wage was increased from 1.3 million bolivars to 2.5 million bolivars, the ninth increase since January 2017 and the third this year alone – and still most everyday purchases are beyond the reach of ordinary citizens.

Now this economic crisis has been exacerbated by a political crisis, the government having suddenly decided to hold presidential elections on May 20, 2018, rather than in October or December as originally planned.

In its most recent communiqué, the Venezuelan bishops’ conference declared that these elections lack legitimacy, because, the statement said, “as conceived, and without the necessary guarantees common to every free, trustworthy and transparent electoral process, and with the innumerable disqualifications of potential candidates, such an election, far from bringing about a solution to the crisis the country is facing, may even aggravate this crisis and lead to a humanitarian catastrophe without precedent.”

Aid to the Church in Need spoke with Cardinal Jorge Urosa, Archbishop of Caracas, about the situation.

Members of the opposition, arguing that there is no time to organize a campaign on such short notice, have called on people to boycott the elections.

This bringing forward of the presidential elections to May 20 is an affront to the political rights of the Venezuelan people. We have the right to elect our leaders in freedom and in an appropriate manner, with the possibility of achieving a viable democratic outcome. This is like playing a game of football, where one team moves up the date of the match by 10 days from the date agreed on, without giving the other team the chance to gather its best players. These elections should be organized for the last quarter of the year, as established in the Constitution.

The press release by the episcopal conference also speaks of the elections as having no legitimacy.

These elections will not resolve the problem of the social crisis, and for that reason they are without legitimacy. These elections should be postponed, because in reality they are neither legal nor democratic.

It appears that the opposition is not very active. There appears to be no real mobilization ahead of the elections. It seems as though Venezuela is in shock. Is that the case?

Last year, 140 people died in the repression of the protest marches. Some victims had absolutely nothing to do with the protests. I saw a video of a woman who was walking down the street; she wasn’t part of the marches, she was in fact walking away from the crowd, and then “bang”—a shot rang out and she fell down, dead. That really shook me. We are all in shock. It seems as though evil is getting the upper hand, and that it doesn’t matter if children die or if someone surrenders and still gets murdered. In the face of so much suffering and without any answer, the people are despairing and discouraged.

Is the Church the only institution in Venezuela to raise its voice in protest?

No. There are many other groups that are not in agreement, and which are speaking out, for example political groups, the National Assembly. But these are very fragmented and weakened, and they are all heavily threatened. The Church is not the only voice, not in the least, but perhaps we have more impact because confidence in the bishops within Venezuelan society is very high. And not just now; this has been the case for many years already.

Some suggest that the elections were moved forward because of the grave economic situation of the country. Is that one of the reasons?

I cannot say. What I do know is that the reality of life in Venezuela is deplorable. The shortage of medicines and medical supplies is extremely serious, including medical care in hospitals; the shortage of basic foodstuffs and the high cost of food, the problem of transport, and the lack of ready cash. A kilogram [2.2 pounds] of meat costs the equivalent monthly minimum wage; the same goes for a 1 kilogram of powdered milk. Who can afford it? How can it be that there is no money available in a country? That’s enough to kill any economy. We in the Venezuelan bishops’ conference have raised our voices to denounce the social emergency and humanitarian crisis which exist in our country. The lack of electricity and water. No one has bothered to look after these structures or maintain the supply systems. It is desperate; it is terrible to see the country in ruins.

Venezuela seems to be bleeding to death. Caritas International speaks in terms of more than 4 million people who having left the country. That is 10 percent of the population!

There is an exodus because there is no future. There are people walking all the way across the border into Cúcuta (Colombia). The situation is critical. At the present time, practically every Venezuelan family has a member who has left the country. This exodus is also affecting the Church; for example, here in the Archdiocese of Caracas, we have already lost four of our permanent deacons. And there are also many religious congregations that are taking their sisters out of the country because they don’t have the resources to feed them or give them medical care.

What needs to be done to get Venezuela out of this crisis?

The situation is difficult to change. How can there be change when the government has occupied every position on the public institutions? There is no one to turn to. We have the National Assembly, but it is practically paralyzed, just as political parties have been effectively side-lined. At the same time, it could be said that Venezuela has been “mortgaged” away in the grand international geo-political game. The country has abandoned cooperation with some nations and established strategic partnerships with others, for example in the exploitation of oil and mineral reserves.

In the south of Venezuela there are diamond mines, gold and coltan reserves. It’s like the famous Eldorado. Certainly, the damage to the environment as a result of the uncontrolled mineral exploitation poses other worrying issues. Today we can say that any conflict in Venezuela is not merely a conflict among Venezuelans. The country is a pawn in the international geo-political and economic game. This makes everything even more difficult. But we must not cease to pray for our country or hoping for a peaceful solution.

 

 

Maria Lozano writes for Aid to the Church in Need, an international papal charity providing assistance to the suffering and persecuted Church in more than 140 countries. www.churchinneed.org

Church leaders offer prayers after school shooting near Houston  

Houston, Texas, May 18, 2018 / 01:22 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Church leaders voiced their closeness to victims of a school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas on Friday, calling Catholics to pray for all those affected.

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston said that he was “deeply saddened” to receive news of the shooting.  

“My prayers, along with the prayers of the faithful of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, are with the victims and families of those killed and injured in this horrific tragedy,” he said in a statement.

“During this most difficult and challenging time, I know the Archdiocesan community will unite to support and offer healing to those affected. As a society, we must strive for a way to end such acts of senseless gun violence in our schools and communities.”

Shortly before 8 a.m. Friday, police were called to respond to a shooting at Santa Fe High School outside of Houston, Texas.

Officials confirmed 10 fatalities in the shooting – nine students and one teacher. At least 13 other people were injured, including at least two law enforcement officers, according to local media reports.

One 17-year-old male suspect is in custody and a second person of interest has been detained. Both are teenagers and are believed to be students at the school.

The Santa Fe Independent School District later reported that possible explosive devices had been found both at the high school and off campus. Law enforcement officials were working to render the items safe, the school district said.

Local officials at a press conference asked for prayers.

In a second statement later in the day, Cardinal DiNardo spoke in his role as president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, lamenting the “ever-growing list of those impacted by the evil of gun violence.”

“Sadly, I must yet again point out the obvious brokenness in our culture and society, such that children who went to school this morning to learn and teachers who went to inspire them will not come home,” he said. “We as a nation must, here and now, say definitively: no more death! Our Lord is the Lord of life. May He be with us in our sorrow and show us how to honor the precious gift of life and live in peace.”

Prayers were also offered by Bishop Gerald R. Barnes of San Bernardino, where in recent years shootings have taken place at both an elementary school and a facility for those with developmental disabilities.

“My prayers for those who died in this morning's tragic school shooting at Santa Fe High School in Texas, their families, those injured and the entire school community,” Bishop Barnes said on Twitter. “May they receive God's strength and His consolation in this time of shock and sadness.”

Bishop David Ricken of Green Bay tweeted that the students and families at the school would be remembered at a previously scheduled Mass taking place Friday morning.

“Our hearts are heavy hearing the news about Santa Fe High School. My prayers are with all those who are impacted by this horrible and senseless act. May the families of the victims experience the healing power of Jesus' love,” said Archbishop Leonard Blair of Hartford.

Bishop Michael Olson of Fort Worth, Bishop Robert Cunningham of Syracuse, Bishop Michael Burbidge of Arlington, Va., and Archbishop Samuel Aquila of Denver also offered prayers on Twitter.

 

UK bishop says rejection of assisted suicide in Guernsey is an answer to prayer

London, England, May 18, 2018 / 01:13 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- After debate this week, the Guernsey legislature has moved to reject a proposed legalization of physician assisted suicide on the island, drawing praise from the local bishop.

“Delighted to learn that Guernsey has rejected the proposals for physician assisted suicide and euthanasia!” said Bishop Philip Egan on Twitter May 18.

“Thanks be to God for answering our prayer during this Great Novena leading to Pentecost,” Egan continued.

Egan is the bishop of nearby Portsmouth, whose diocese encompasses Guernsey. The island is a Crown dependency located off the coast of Normandy and falls under the responsibility of the U.K. Had the island passed the euthanasia measure, Guernsey would have been the first place on the British Isles to allow physician assisted suicide.

On Friday, Guernsey’s government announced their decision to reject a bill proposed by the island’s chief minister, Gavin St. Pier. The proposal was defeated 24-14 after a three-day debate.

Instead, leaders called for focused efforts on palliative and end of life care on the island. These efforts include “measures necessary to improve quality of life and health outcomes for all islanders toward the end of their lives,” according to the BBC.

The British Medical Association expressed approval for that decision, saying that they “welcome the ‘almost’ unanimous decision to look into ways of enhancing end-of-life care in Guernsey,” according to ITV.

“We look forward to working with colleagues, politicians and civil servants on ways in which we can provide the very best care for the people at the end of their lives,” the statement continued.

Groups who opposed the assisted suicide proposal also applauded the final outcome, among them Care for Life Guernsey and Care Not Killing.

During the early stages of the bill’s proposal, a number of Christian leaders voiced their opposition to the measure in a joint letter signed by 53 pastoral ministers and 41 churches.

Advocates for the assisted suicide campaign voiced their disappointment over the May 18 ruling, including Sarah Wootton, the chief executive for Dignity in Dying.

“Many in Guernsey and beyond will be disappointed with today’s result, particularly those who have seen the suffering caused by the current law,” Wootton said, although she noted the decision was not unexpected.

“Regardless of today’s result, it is clear that change must and will come to the British Isles – the only question is ‘when,’” she continued.

The Suicide Act of 1961 forbids assisted suicide in Guernsey.

 

Commentary: The pope’s next steps on sexual abuse in Chile

Denver, Colo., May 18, 2018 / 12:13 pm (CNA).- After meeting with him for three days, and reading his reflections on the problem of clerical sexual abuse in their country, 34 Chilean bishops submitted their resignation to Pope Francis Friday.

The pope is unlikely to accept all their resignations. He is likely to accept resignations from those at the center of Chile’s sexual abuse scandal, and those whom he has accused of destroying documents, mishandling abuse-related investigations, and moving priests accused of malfeasance from parish to parish, rather than handling the problem.

It is, for any Catholic, discouraging to read that shepherds, entrusted with the salvation of souls, would do such things. But to American Catholics it is not surprising- the illusion that bishops are above such things was shattered for most U.S. Catholics by the sexual abuse scandals of 2002.

Sexual abuse is not unique to the Catholic Church. In fact, there is not even evidence that sexual abuse is more likely to occur in a Catholic setting than in another context- in the U.S., children are sexually abused in public schools with startling regularity, and an appalling number of children are sexually abused or assaulted by their own family members.

But when the Church is implicated in a scandal like this, she loses the credibility to decry the evil of sexual assault against children. She also diminishes, to many people, the claim that grace fosters righteousness. Sexual abuse in the Church is a counter-witness to the Gospel’s claims, and a foil to the evangelical witness of Catholics striving for holiness.

Because of what she claims, moral behavior is expected of the Church and her leaders. When those leaders harm children, or fail to take such harm seriously, they give real and dispiriting scandal.

It is refreshing that Francis chastised the Chilean bishops for “serious negligence,” and for the clericalist attitudes that fostered it. Accepting the resignations of negligent bishops, and perhaps subjecting some of them to canonical trials, may begin to restore the credibility of the Church in Chile- a place where parishes have been set to fire and protests outside the apostolic nunciature have been violent.

Accepting some resignations might also help to restore the pope’s credibility on this issue- damaged by years of fervently denying some parts of the problem, by his accusations of “calumny” against victims, and by the revelation that he was informed of credible allegations against a sitting bishop in 2015, and did not act until a media spectacle earlier this year compelled him to.

But accepting resignations won’t solve systemic problems regarding sexual abuse in the life of the Church. Nor, actually, would penal trials, undertaken through a process for allegations of episcopal negligence established by Francis in 2016, and not yet put to use. Such trials might restore justice and repair scandal in individual cases. They might even serve to reform offenders, which is among the purposes of criminal justice. But the issue of clerical sexual abuse is broader than individual cases.

It is encouraging that Francis has called for systemic change for the Church in Chile - a systemic change that is likely needed in many parts of the world. It is particularly encouraging that Francis has noted the role seminaries play in preventing abuse, especially by screening out candidates with immature or gravely disordered sexuality.

The call for change is familiar to Americans, who have become accustomed to measures designed to place child protection at the fore.

In 2002, the U.S. bishops promulgated norms for addressing allegations of sexual abuse, and a “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.”

Those documents emphasized the importance of referring allegations to civil authorities, and  called for background checks for adults in regular contact with children, training designed to promote vigilance about unseemly situations, and lay review boards involved, mandatorily, in the process of investigating allegations that minors or vulnerable adults have been abused.

Of course, such measures are themselves subject to abuse, to overreach, to scapegoating, or to becoming a procedural veneer aimed at restoring credibility, without being taken seriously enough to prevent the scourge of child abuse. The U.S. approach is not perfect, and some parts are in need of rather serious reform.

Nevertheless, without a plan to change the praxis and culture of the Church, replacing negligent bishops won’t prevent the possibility of sexual abuse in Chile, or anywhere. Those Chilean bishops who remain in office must return to their country and begin developing their own plan - it must be thorough, direct, and just - and then they must have the humility to implement it seriously.

Other regions in the Church would be wise to begin doing the same - no place is immune from the problem of sexual abuse.

But the Chilean bishops are not the only ones with work to do after their historic meeting with the Holy Father. In the Church, the pope exercises supreme, full, immediate, and universal power. He is a figure without parallel in any other institution. He always has the authority to act, and the buck usually stops with him.

The pope thus has questions to answer about his own responsibility for the Chilean abuse scandal. Of course, he has apologized for his “serious errors” in judgment, and now he has called for change in Chile. But do victims- and parents- deserve that he account for those serious errors?

Is it yet understood how he could have received credible allegations in 2015, and discounted them until a media scandal in 2018? Was the pope misled? How? What has he learned from his own “serious errors?” How will he ensure they are not repeated?

The pope told the Chilean bishops that “unacceptable abuses of power, of conscience and of sexuality” have diminished the prophetic vigor of the Church in Chile. He’s right. Guilty bishops may never again be credible prophets in their own homelands.

But this scandal, compounded by so many sexual abuse scandals of the past, has diminished the prophetic vigor of the Church globally, and the pope has the responsibility to address that. To do so, he likely needs to address his own role in the scandal, and speak transparently about what happened, and why. He needs to demonstrate more than contrition- he needs to give witness to reform of the judgment that caused “serious errors.”

John Henry Newman wrote that God chose men, not angels, to be his priests and bishops, in part so that the entire world could see grace working through sinners, and transforming them. The Church, and the world, need the witness of God’s grace, and the witness of real and authentic transformation.

May the pope, who prayed that all victims of abuse would encounter Christ’s love, give prophetic witness to his own transformative encounter with the Lord.

 

This commentary reflects the opinions of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Catholic News Agency.