Young Catholic Women invited to conference

Washington D.C. – The Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious (CMSWR) announced a first-of-its-kind leadership event for young Catholic women, to be held June 7 – 12, 2016, at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
Officially named GIVEN: the Catholic Young Women’s Leadership Forum, the event will be a week-long immersion in faith formation, leadership training, and networking. The GIVEN Forum will provide a platform for what St. John Paul II called “the feminine genius,” and a response to Pope Francis’ plea for a deeper understanding and activation of the unique gift of women in the Church and the world.
Throughout the week, young Catholic women will engage three principal themes, which include receiving the gift you are, realizing the gifts you’ve been given, and responding with the gift only you can give.
The event will feature many distinguished women leaders as speakers. The keynote speakers include Dr. Carolyn Woo, the President and CEO of Catholic Relief Services, Sister Prudence Allen, R.S.M., and Helen Alavaré. Helen Alvaré is currently a Professor of Law at George Mason University School of Law, a prominent news consultant, and advisor to various Catholic organizations and United Nations conferences concerning women and the family.
Ms. Alvaré looks forward to the event, stating, “The GIVEN Forum is exactly what young women need today in the Francis era – a place to discover that every woman is called by God to contribute, a place to learn to overcome the fear of speaking out, and a place to be inspired to get to work.”
The Forum is open to all young women between the ages of 20 and 30 who are vibrantly living their Catholic faith. Attendees must apply on the GIVEN Forum’s website,, by the deadline of February 2, 2016. Women who are accepted to attend GIVEN will receive a scholarship covering the full cost of the Forum, including food, lodging, and travel.
The CMSWR, the host of the GIVEN Forum, is located in Washington, D.C. The CMSWR was founded in 1992 with the canonical approval of St. John Paul II, and the sisters of the CMSWR communities represent more than 120 communities nationwide with approximately 6,000 sisters. For more information, including application links for the GIVEN Forum, visit

30,000 American Catholics expected at World Youth Day

By Dennis Sadowski
BALTIMORE (CNS) — The American contingent to World Youth Day in Krakow, Poland, in July is expected to top 30,000 pilgrims.
Bishop Frank J. Caggiano of Bridgeport, Connecticut, in a Nov. 17 presentation during the U.S. bishops’ fall general assembly in Baltimore, that the U.S. delegation of young people is expected to be the largest outside of North America.
He said that about 13,000 people already were registered for the event.
Pope Francis, in inviting young people and young adults to the celebration, connected World Youth Day with the Year of Mercy, which is set to open Dec. 8. The event in the southern Polish city will become a “youth jubilee,” Bishop Caggiano said.
The bishop, who is working with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat of Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth, said people of all ages are invited to attend the weeklong World Youth Day, set for July 25-31.
“If everyone can be a pilgrim, where will you celebrate and how will you embark on this pilgrimage?” Bishop Caggiano asked.
He urged his fellow bishops to consider heading their local contingent, saying the deadline for prelates to register was Dec. 4.
While not all young people will be able to travel to Poland, Bishop Caggiano urged the bishops to plan events in their diocese to coincide with World Youth Day.
“World Youth Day is not simply an event that happens every three years. It is not limited to those who have the means to travel. Rather, World Youth Day is an opportunity for encounter, transformation and conversion offered for every youth and young adult in all of our dioceses and eparchies,” he said.
World Youth Day activities, locally or in the host country, provide an opportunity for young people to discern their call to a priestly or religious vocation, the bishop added.
“So many hear God’s word at an event like this to priesthood, religious vocation or consecrated life,” he said. “We’ve found that World Youth Day plays an indispensable role in young priests, sisters and brothers and lay leaders.”
Already the secretariat is preparing catechetical resources and other materials for bishops and diocesan staff preparing for the celebration. He said opportunities for Americans to meet in Poland for prayer, tours and other activities. Two particular events are being planned, including a gathering of pilgrims July 27 and a concelebrated Mass will all U.S. pilgrims July 30. Details will be announced in the future.
Bishop Caggiano also said that precautions are being taken to assure the safety of Americans making the journey. He said the bishops’ World Youth Day staff is working with the U.S. Department of State, the Polish embassy in Washington and the U.S. Consulate in Krakow on security measures.
“We will continue to be diligent and proactive in all of these matters,” he said.
(Editor’s Note: Information about World Youth Day is available at and

Pornography, political statements take center stage at USCCB

By Catholic News Service
BALTIMORE (CNS) – The U.S. bishops approved a formal statement on pornography and additions to their quadrennial statement on political responsibility at their Nov. 16-19 fall general meeting in Baltimore.
The votes were made during the public portion of the meeting, which ran Nov. 16-17. The bishops met in executive session Nov. 18-19.
The 2015 version of political responsibility document, “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” passed 210-21 with five abstentions, and a separate vote on the statement’s introductory note passed 217-16 with two abstentions; two-thirds of diocesan bishops, or 181 votes, were needed for passage.
Additions to the document were made to reflect the teachings of Pope Francis and the later encyclicals of Pope Benedict XVI. But some bishops said the document does not adequately address poverty, as Pope Francis has asked the church to do.
The most vocal critic was Bishop Robert W. McElroy of San Diego, who said he was concerned that because poverty and the environment did not receive the same priority as abortion and euthanasia, that some people “outside of this room” would “misuse” the document and claim other issues did not carry the same moral weight.
The pornography statement, “Create in Me a Clean Heart: A Pastoral Response to Pornography,” says that “producing or using pornography is gravely wrong” and is a “mortal sin” if committed with deliberate consent and urges Catholics to turn away from it. Approval of the statement came on a vote of 230-4 with one abstention, with 181 votes needed for passage.
Bishop Richard J. Malone, of Buffalo, New York, chair of the bishops’ Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth, described pornography as a “dark shadow in our world today.” He added pornography is a “particularly sinister instance of consumption” where men, women and children are “consumed for the pleasure of others.”
The bishops approved a budget for the work of their national conference in 2016, but their vote was inconclusive on a proposed 3 percent increase in 2017 to the assessment on dioceses that funds the conference.
The bishops approved priorities and strategic plans for 2017-20 in a 233-4 vote Nov. 17. The document emphasizes five major areas: evangelization; family and marriage; human life and dignity; religious freedom; and vocations and ongoing formation.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops met in the shadow of the Nov. 13 terror attacks in Paris. Auxiliary Bishop Eusebio Elizondo of Seattle, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Migration, issued a statement Nov. 17 from the floor of the meeting.
“I am disturbed,” Bishop Elizondo said, “by calls from both federal and state officials for an end to the resettlement of Syrian refugees in the United States” in the wake of the attacks. “These refugees are fleeing terror themselves – violence like we have witnessed in Paris.”
He added, “Moreover, refugees to this country must pass security checks and multiple interviews before entering the United States – more than any arrival to the United States. It can take up to two years for a refugee to pass through the whole vetting process. We can look at strengthening the already stringent screening program, but we should continue to welcome those in desperate need.”
In his USCCB presidential address Nov. 16, Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, called on his fellow bishops Nov. 16 to imitate the “pastor’s presence” exhibited by Pope Francis during his recent U.S. visit, “touching the hearts of the most influential, the forgotten and all of us in between.”
Noting the upcoming Year of Mercy that begins Dec. 8, Archbishop Kurtz said a ministry of “presence means making time and never letting administration come between me and the person. It’s seeing the person first.”
CRS Rice Bowl for families, student ambassador programs for high school and college students and a fledgling parish ambassador program can help U.S. Catholics “deepen their commitment to an essential dimension of their faith,” a Catholic Relief Services official told the U.S. bishops Nov. 17.
“I just wish that every Catholic knew about and could be proud of the wonderful works of mercy and justice they are part of” through the official humanitarian agency of the U.S. Catholic Church, said Joan Rosenhauer, CRS executive vice president for U.S. operations.
Citing young altar servers’ weak arms and older priests’ weak eyes, the U.S. bishops approved an adapted version of the Roman Missal to be used during the times at Mass when the celebrant is seated, subject to Vatican approval. The bishops endorsed “Excerpts from the Roman Missal: Book for Use at the Chair” by a 187-27 vote, with three abstentions.
On Nov. 16, the bishops discussed how the U.S. Catholic Church can move forward in response to the Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage this year. To that end, the bishops are planning to develop a pastoral plan for marriage and family life. The pastoral plan, according to Bishop Malone, will seek the bishops’ input.
“Witnesses to Freedom” will be the theme of the 2016 observance of the Fortnight for Freedom, Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, told the assembly. The two-week event will include a nationwide tour of first class relics of St. Thomas More and St. John Fisher. Archbishop Lori said details of the tour have yet to be arranged.
(Contributing to this roundup were Nancy Frazier O’Brien, Dennis Sadowski and Carol Zimmermann in Baltimore, and Mark Pattison in Washington.)

Missionary priest in Georgia honored with Lumen

CHICAGO  – Father Fredy Angel, a dynamic Colombian-born missionary priest is the recipient of Catholic Extension’s 2015-2016 Lumen Christi Award.
Father Angel has transformed a previously dispersed and struggling Catholic community in rural southern Georgia into a vibrant and growing parish of African American, Caucasian, Latino and Asian American Catholics. These different groups have come together into one family, one “body of Christ” and are setting an example for the larger community. To accommodate and further spur its growth, the recently renamed St. Anthony of Padua Parish, under Father Angel’s leadership, has embarked on the ambitious construction of a large new church outside Ray City in the Diocese of Savannah, Georgia. Scheduled for dedication in March 2016, the new church, much of it being built with volunteer labor, has already instilled new pride among the area’s dedicated Catholics and resulted in a more prominent and visible Catholic presence in an area where they are only a small minority.
Bishop Gregory Hartmayer of Savannah, who nominated Father Angel for the award, said, “Father Fredy was named properly in having been given the family name ‘Angel,’ because he is an ‘angel,’ a messenger of God to the people he serves. He brings them hope, joy and the presence of Christ in the sacraments, so he is truly a light of Christ.”
Bishop Hartmayer was in the gathering of the U.S. bishops Pope Francis addressed on Sept. 23 during his visit to Washington, DC. “Toward the end of the pope’s address,” the bishop remembered, “he spoke to us about both the challenge and the enriching gift of diversity. ‘Do not be afraid to welcome people,’ the pope said. ‘Offer them the warmth of the love of Christ, and you will unlock the mystery of their heart.’ I think that is precisely what Father Fredy has done in bringing together the many diverse people that make up his wonderful parish.”
“Here in southern Georgia, a lot of people have that division,” said parishioner Ana Beltrán. “The Latinos hang out more with the Latinos, and the Anglos with the Anglos, and the African Americans with the African Americans. But once we come through that church door, we are one, we are family, just one Catholic community.”
At Queen of Peace-now St. Anthony of Padua-Father Angel has been the energetic, tireless and enthusiastic shepherd, teacher, motivator and guiding force behind what another parishioner called a “revival” among Catholics there.
“It’s been a ‘revival’ of eight years,” said Chris Chammoun. “We’ve been reviving our spirit and bringing in new people who are excited about coming to church. Father Fredy was really the driving force. Since he’s been leading us on this new journey, we’ve seen a lot of growth. Sunday Mass here is overflowing. People have to sit outside, which can be rough in the 100-degree weather. But people still do it and sweat because they want to be here for Mass.”
The Diocese of Savannah’s Bishop Emeritus Kevin Boland has called the community’s transformation a “miracle in the South.” He said, “The reason why the Church there is able to accomplish this-with the help of Catholic Extension and others – is the vibrancy of the faith of the Catholic people.”
Father Angel is a missionary pastor in the Pope Francis mold, a charismatic and compassionate shepherd who, in the pope’s memorable expression, is “living with the smell of his sheep.” At 41 years young, he is the second youngest of the so-far 38 recipients of the Lumen Christi Award and the youngest priest recipient.
The Diocese of Jackson had two connections to the award process this year. The Redemptorist community serving in the Delta represented this diocese as a nominee. While the Guadalupan Missionary Sisters of the Holy Spirit serving in Birmingham, Ala., do not serve here, several members of their community do so they had lots of support during the nomination and voting process.

Vocation Awareness Week offers opportunity to support those discerning

WASHINGTON—The Catholic Church in the United States will celebrate National Vocation Awareness Week, November 1-7. This observance, sponsored by the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations, is a special time for parishes in the U.S. to foster a culture of vocations for the priesthood, diaconate and consecrated life.
Pope Francis, in his message of April 26, on the 52nd Day of World Prayer for Vocations states; “Responding to God’s call means allowing Him to help us leave ourselves and our false security behind, and to strike out on the path which leads to Jesus Christ, the origin and destiny of our life and our happiness.” The Holy Father stresses, “The Christian vocation, rooted in the contemplation of the Father’s heart, thus inspires us to solidarity in bringing liberation to our brothers and sisters, especially the poorest.”
National Vocations Awareness Week is designed to help promote vocation awareness and to encourage young people to ask the question: “To what vocation in life is God calling me?” Parish and school communities across the nation are asked to include, during the first week in November, prayer and special activities that focus on vocation awareness.
“The epistolary readings at Sunday Mass recently have been from the Letter to the Hebrews, expounding on the priesthood of Jesus Christ. Priests are beset by weaknesses and so need the prayers of the faithful. That the faithful pray for priests is humbling to the priest but certainly a blessing,” said Father Matthew Simmons, vocations director for the Diocese of Jackson. “Please pray for priests and seminarians that they be conformed to the likeness of Christ the Shepherd. Also, actively encourage those men whom you would like to see conformed to the likeness of Christ for service in the Diocese,” added Father Matthew.
“Encouraging others to recognize the promptings of the Holy Spirit and to follow Christ without reservations are key elements in supporting a culture of vocations,” said Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of Raleigh, North Carolina, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations.
“With God’s grace, we can have a positive impact on others who may be open to considering a vocation to priesthood or religious life, by simply inviting them to think and pray about it. Our enthusiasm and willingness to speak directly to others about vocations just might be the conversation someone need to respond to God’s call.”
A 2012 study, “Consideration of Priesthood and Religious Life Among Never-Married  U.S. Catholics,” conducted by the Georgetown University-based Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA), highlighted the role community encouragement plays in the discernment process. Find the full study online:
“Over and over again when asked, newly ordained priests and newly professed men and women religious, credit the encouragement of family members, coworkers, friends and clergy, as being a significant factor in their pursuing a vocation.” said Fr. Ralph O’Donnell, USCCB’s executive director of Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations.
Observance of Vocation Awareness Week began in 1976 when the U.S. bishops designated the 28th Sunday of the year for the celebration. It was later moved to Feast of the Baptism of the Lord in January. The Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations moved the observance of National Vocation Awareness Week to November to engage Catholic schools and colleges more effectively in this effort.
More information and resources for National Vocations Awareness Week, including a prayer card, suggested prayers of the faithful and bulletin-ready quotes are available online at
(Copyright © 2015 Catholic News Service/United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. The CNS news services may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or otherwise distributed, including but not limited to, such means as framing or any other digital copying or distribution method in whole or in part, without prior written authority of Catholic News Service.)

Pontiff prays with bishops, calls on them to embrace role as pastors

By Mark Pattison
WASHINGTON (CNS) — Pope Francis had much to say to the U.S. bishops during his remarks at a midday prayer service at St. Matthew Cathedral in Washington Sept. 23, the first full day of his U.S. apostolic journey.
Because of that, different bishops could take away different things. Bishop Joseph Kopacz put his reaction to the prayer and the Canonization Mass in his column this week, found on page 3.

The Pope arrives at St. Matthew Cathedral for Midday prayer with members of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Sept. 23 in Washington. Bishop Kopacz was on hand for the service. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

The Pope arrives at St. Matthew Cathedral for Midday prayer with members of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Sept. 23 in Washington. Bishop Kopacz was on hand for the service. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

What resonated most for Bishop Daniel E. Flores of Brownsville, Texas, was the pope’s remarks about immigration.
“It’s a historical legacy but also something very, very real” today, Bishop Flores told Catholic News Service after the prayer service had ended.
“I liked how Pope Francis saw the immigrant as a gift, and how we are called to love one another,” Bishop Flores added. “In the Rio Grande Valley, that means a lot. It was beautiful, beautiful.”
Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore took heart in what Pope Francis said to bishops about “the encouragement he gave to the episcopacy. He cares to see us express discipleship in our roles as pastors. That, and the care of the poor and the immigrants. It was a beautiful address.”
Retired Bishop William K. Weigand of Sacramento, California, echoed the points made by Archbishop Lori and Bishop Flores.
Pope Francis “wants us to be pastors, shepherds for other people,” Bishop Weigand said. “I worked 10 years in Latin America with the poor. In my experience, that’s exactly what a priest needs to do. And bishops more so.”
Bishop Weigand also liked how Pope Francis told the U.S. bishops to “not fear what we love to do, and to stay close to his people. Ask God to give his light and his strength. He has a very simple way of focusing on what to do: Feed the people, give them Jesus. He takes a complex example and boils it down.”
For others in attendance at the cathedral, the takeaway may have come just in being there.
Margarida Alves, a Brazilian immigrant who came to the United States 31 years ago, got her ticket, she said, because as a member of the cathedral parish she has been volunteering at St. Matthew since she retired two years ago.
“I help them to clean and polish and wash for the service. Everything they need me to do.” Now that she is retired, “I have time for my church now,” Alves added.
Sabrina Gallego, another cathedral parishioner, was there with her mother. “Just being here, I feel blessed,” she said. “My mother was worried we wouldn’t make it in time. So she woke up at six-thirty in the morning. I woke up at seven” for a service that started at 11:30 a.m. (EDT)
Gallego added, “We’re just lucky the Metro didn’t have any problems.” Even before the sun was up, Metro, Washington’s subway system, was reporting delays on five of its six lines, including the Red Line closest to the cathedral. They got lucky in another way: “We won the holy lottery” for tickets, Gallego said.
One attendee who didn’t have to worry about the commute was Father Rafael Barbieri. Although he hails from Brazil, he is parochial vicar at St, Matthew.
“We are all really excited about him coming here to the cathedral,” Father Barbieri said. “This pope has said and done many, many good things. He’s a definite inspiration to all of us priests.”
His position at the cathedral, though, was no guarantee that Father Barbieri would get to shake Pope Francis’ hand. “Only when he goes down the aisle will I have a chance to say hi,” he said.
Father Barbieri’s boss – Msgr. W. Ronald Jameson, the cathedral rector – was busy greeting parishioners who were filtering into St. Matthew well before the 300 or so bishops arrived.
Asked if he were fairly bursting with excitement, Msgr. Jameson pointed to his combination belt and sash tied around his cassock. “I have to be careful about that,” he said. “If I get too excited I might pop my Velcro.”
(Copyright © 2015 Catholic News Service/United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. The CNS news services may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or otherwise distributed, including but not limited to, such means as framing or any other digital copying or distribution method in whole or in part, without prior written authority of Catholic News Service.)

In address to Congress Holy Father addresses need for collaboration to protect most vulnerable

By Cindy Wooden
WASHINGTON (CNS) – The past, the promise and the potential of the United States must not be smothered by bickering and even hatred at a time when the U.S. people and indeed the world need a helping hand, Pope Francis told the U.S. Congress.
Making history by being the first pope ever to address a joint meeting of Congress, Pope Francis was introduced to the legislators by the House sergeant at arms Sept. 24 as: “Mr. Speaker, the pope of the Holy See.”
The pope introduced himself, though, as a son of the American continent, who had been blessed by the “new world” and felt a responsibility toward it.

Pope Francis addresses a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress in the House Chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington Sept. 24. (CNS photo/Joshua Roberts)

Pope Francis addresses a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress in the House Chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington Sept. 24. (CNS photo/Joshua Roberts)

Pope Francis condemned legalized abortion, the death penalty and unscrupulous weapons sales. He called on Congress to “seize the moment” by moving forward with normalizing relations with Cuba. And, again referring to himself as a “son of immigrants” – and pointing out that many of the legislators are, too – he pleaded for greater openness to accepting immigrants.
“I would like to take this opportunity to dialogue with the many thousands of men and women who strive each day to do an honest day’s work, to bring home their daily bread, to save money and – one step at a time – to build a better life for their families,” the pope said.
“These are men and women who are not concerned simply with paying their taxes, but in their own quiet way sustain the life of society,” he said. “They generate solidarity by their actions, and they create organizations which offer a helping hand to those most in need.”
Showing he had studied the United States before the visit – something he said he would do during the Rome August break – he used four iconic U.S. citizens as relevant models of virtue for Americans today: Abraham Lincoln, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton.
“A nation can be considered great when it defends liberty as Lincoln did; when it fosters a culture which enables people to ‘dream’ of full rights for all their brothers and sisters as Martin Luther King sought to do; when it strives for justice and the cause of the oppressed as Dorothy Day did by her tireless work; the fruit of a faith which becomes dialogue and sows peace in the contemplative style of Thomas Merton,” the pope said.
Describing political service with the same tone used to describe a vocation to religious life – “you have been invited, called and convened by those who elected you” – the pope recognized the weighty responsibility of being a member of the U.S. Congress.
Dialogue, he said, is the only way to handle the pressure and fulfill the call to serve the common good, promoting a culture of “hope and healing, of peace and justice.”
For the speech, Pope Francis stood in the House chamber in front of Rep. John Boehner, speaker of the House and a Republican from Ohio, and Vice President Joe Biden, president of the Senate. Both men are Catholics. Besides the senators, representatives and their invited guests, the attendees included members of the U.S. Supreme Court and members of President Barack Obama’s Cabinet.
Tens thousands of people watched the speech on giant screen from the Capitol’s West Lawn. Gathered hours before the pope’s morning visit, they were entertained by military bands.
In his speech, Pope Francis gave strong support to several concerns of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Catholic faithful, including defending the right of people to publicly live their faith and join political policy debates from a faith-based perspective.
“It is important that today, as in the past, the voice of faith continue to be heard, for it is a voice of fraternity and love, which tries to bring out the best in each person and in each society,” he said. The dialogue the country needs must be respectful of “our differences and our convictions of conscience.”
“Every life is sacred,” he insisted, calling for the “global abolition of the death penalty” and the “responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development.”
Some U.S. politicians and pundits have expressed confusion or even anger over Pope Francis’ teaching about the damage provoked when money becomes a god and profits count more than people. The pope insists his words are straight out of Catholic social teaching.
His speech to Congress included more of that teaching, delving deeper into the positive aspects of a market economy – as long as it is ethical and includes controls, solidarity and a safety net for the poorest and weakest members of society.
“The creation and distribution of wealth” obviously is important for continued efforts to reduce poverty in the United States and around the globe, he said. “The right use of natural resources, the proper application of technology and the harnessing of the spirit of enterprise are essential elements of an economy which seeks to be modern, inclusive and sustainable.”
“Business is a noble vocation” when it seeks the common good, Pope Francis said. And today, he told legislators, the common good includes protecting the environment and taking bold steps “to avert the most serious effects of the environmental deterioration caused by human activity.”
The pope then proceeded to the West Portico of the Capitol, where tens of thousands of people with tickets had waited for hours.
“Good morning, everyone,” he said in Spanish, then blessed the crowd.
“I am so grateful for your welcome and your presence here, especially for the most important ones here – the children. I will ask God to bless you. ‘Lord, father of all, bless this people, bless each one of them, bless their families, give them what they need most. And I ask you all please to pray for me. And if there are among you any who do not believe or cannot pray, I ask you please to send good wishes my way. Thank you. Thank you very much. And God bless America.”
(Copyright © 2015 Catholic News Service/United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. The CNS news services may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or otherwise distributed, including but not limited to, such means as framing or any other digital copying or distribution method in whole or in part, without prior written authority of Catholic News Service.)

American Parish: CNS reporter features Greenwood communities

By Patricia Zapor
GREENWOOD (CNS) – Franciscan Father Gregory Plata is the key to one example of how Catholic parishes are dealing with the decline in the number of priests.
He’s pastor of two small, geographically close, but vastly dissimilar parishes in Greenwood. Three missions and a struggling school also are his responsibility. Combined they serve 2,385 square miles of the Mississippi Delta, where Catholics have always been few and scattered.
As part of a look at how different types of parishes handle contemporary challenges, Catholic News Service reporters visited churches around the United States over the past few years. This package of stories, American Parish, presents a glance at some of the kinds of communities that Pope Francis might see if he had the time to visit a variety of parishes on his visit to the United States.
Workloads like Father Plata’s, with responsibilities for multiple parishes and missions, are one way U.S. dioceses have adapted to deal with a 35 percent decline in the number of priests since 1965.
Fifty years ago, the nation’s 17,637 parishes and 49 million Catholics were served by 58,632 priests. Today, nearly the same number of parishes – 17,458 – accommodate 31 million more Catholics, with 38,275 priests.
Until last summer when some Redemptorist missionaries came to do Hispanic outreach in the Greenwood area, it was just Father Plata and a retired priest covering the four weekend and five weekday Masses, and all pastoral needs for hospital and home visits and sacraments at two parishes and three missions scattered across Leflore County.
Three miles across town at Immaculate Heart of Mary, the older of the two churches in Greenwood where Father Plata also is pastor, a paid staff of three manages day-to-day functions. That includes a joint religious education program for both parishes. About 300 families are in Immaculate Heart Parish and 200 at St. Francis.
Volunteers in the two parishes and the missions make nearly everything else possible.
At St. Francis School, thin resources mean the teachers are mostly retired public school employees, who can only afford to work there because they have pensions to supplement their low pay, acknowledged the principal, Franciscan Sister Mary Ann Tupy.
As when the Franciscans opened the St. Francis Mission – first a school and then the church – as an outreach to impoverished African-Americans at the height of civil rights tensions, the order’s missionary commitment continues. Besides Father Plata and Sister Mary Ann, Franciscan Brother Craig Wilking, development director, finds the school grants and other forms of financial support. A retired military chaplain, Franciscan Father Adam Szufel, is in residence at St. Francis, celebrating Mass and helping ensure the mission churches get regular visits from a priest.
In the past year, the Redemptorists established a presence in the county, primarily to serve the growing population of Hispanic immigrants. One has been living at St. Francis and joining Father Plata and Father Szufel in pastoral services.
The ongoing commitment of the Franciscans to Greenwood was further stretched a few years ago, when Father Plata was asked to also serve as pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary because of a shortage of priests in the Diocese of Jackson.
The two parishes traditionally have been home to distinct communities. Although the days have passed when blacks were pointedly told they were unwelcome at Immaculate Heart, few African-Americans worship there regularly.
On the other hand, the formerly all-black congregation of St. Francis includes a handful of white regulars, who either find the Mass schedule suits them better or, as several said, they appreciate the more multicultural community and lively liturgies. St. Francis’ growth in the last decade has come largely from Hispanics, leading Father Plata to schedule a weekly Spanish Mass, which is generally better attended than the English one.
Marc Biggers, a lifelong Immaculate Heart parishioner, said that since his childhood the black and white communities of Greenwood have come a long way toward being comfortable with each other.
“The last 10 to 15 years we’ve really mingled a lot better,” he said. Sharing a pastor has helped. “At first the transition to having a Franciscan was kind of awkward,” he said. “But I think it’s working.”
Katherine Fisher a parishioner at St. Francis, said she does not go to Immaculate Heart for Mass primarily because she has so many obligations at St. Francis. But she and other African-Americans expressed some lingering discomfort with their Catholic counterparts across town, largely dating to the racial tensions of decades ago.
A cracked blue window pane above the front door at St. Francis has intentionally been left unrepaired since someone shot a gun at the church in the 1960s, a pointed reminder of the struggles faced by the Franciscans and the parishioners.
Father Plata described the sentiments within the two parishes toward each other as “not exactly a division, but more that people are more comfortable in their own cultures.”
Immaculate Heart parishioner Dave Becker is among those who recognized that while the two churches have quite different cultures, they will need more and more consolidation if the Catholic presence in Greenwood is to survive.

Cardinal, other leaders advocate for prison reform in advance of papal visit

By Richard Szczepanowski
WASHINGTON (CNS) – As part of the Walk With Francis Pledge campaign to benefit the local community and reach out to those in need in the days leading to Pope Francis’ Sept. 22-24 visit to Washington, a group of Christian leaders is advocating for “a fair and more welcoming” criminal justice system in this country.
Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington joined with other Christian leaders Sept. 11 to advocate for a criminal justice system that “aids those who have paid their debt (to society) and are ready to rejoin us.”
“Criminal justice reform is something that we’ve talked about. It’s been on our radar screen for a while,” the cardinal said. “We want a system that says, ‘We welcome you back into our society. We welcome you back into our community. We welcome you back to be a productive member of society.’”
The Christian leaders, in a news conference organized by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said Pope Francis’ visit to the United States is an opportune time to advocate for sentencing reform laws and laws to counter recidivism. Pope Francis is a frequent visitor to those in prison, and will visit prisoners at a Philadelphia correctional center Sept. 27.
“During this momentous visit, we will walk with Francis when he speaks to Congress, visits the White House and addresses the United Nations,” said Jonathan Reyes, executive director of the USCCB’s Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development. “We will also Walk with Francis when he visits Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility in Philadelphia.”
Reyes noted that the United States – with its estimated 2.3 million people in prison – represents 5 percent of the world’s population and 25 percent of the world’s prison population. He added that one in three African-American males will at one time or another be incarcerated.
“There is currently an active debate on (criminal justice) reform that is bipartisan and interreligious,” Reyes said. He said that as lawmakers consider reform legislation, “this is a great moment to walk with Francis.”
The Walk With Francis Pledge campaign – jointly sponsored the Archdiocese of Washington and its Catholic Charities arm – invites people to serve others in their community and then share their pledge on social media. The pledge involves three ways to “Walk with Francis” – through prayer and learning about the faith; through charitable service to others; and through taking action to spread the Gospel in families, workplaces and public policy.
“Pope Francis gives us a very visible sign how to care for those incarcerated. His is a pastoral approach,” Reyes said.
Msgr. John Enzler, the president and CEO of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington, pointed out that Catholic Charities has for nearly two decades run a Welcome Home Program to assist those how have formerly been incarcerated.
“This is an effort to say, ‘We are here to greet you; we are here to welcome you,’” the priest said. He said the program offers former prisoners a variety of assistance, including mentoring, and support with employment, housing, health issues and counseling. He said the program assisted 1,100 people last year.
“We are not huge, but we are effective,” he said.
Rudolph Washington, who is currently in the Welcome Home Program, said his participation “has given me a new lease on life and helped me learn about myself. I am grateful.”