Sister Josephine Uhll dies

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – A Mass of Christian Burial for Sister Josephine Therese



was celebrated Tuesday, April 12, at Sacred Heart Convent in Springfield. Sister Uhll died on April 9. Her legacy of service is the 40 years she gave to healthcare administration at St. Dominic Health Services in Jackson.
She retired in 1995 from her role as president and board chair, having overseen the growth of St. Dominic’s from a small hospital to a multi-institutional health system that remains today the only Catholic health system in Mississippi. One of her most cherished accomplishments was the development of St. Catherine’s Village, a life care retirement facility in Madison.
A memorial service to honor the life of Sister Uhll will be held at the St. Dominic Chapel in Jackson Tuesday, April 26, at 7 p.m.
She was born in Morrisonville, Ill., in 1918. Her earliest years of religious life were spent in elementary school education in Illinois and Minnesota. She made her profession of vows in 1937 at Sacred Heart Convent, Springfield.
Sister Uhll was a Fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives. Sister Josephine Therese was preceded in death by her parents, sister Mary Jo Figueira and brothers Roy B., and James D. Uhll. She is survived by her Dominican Sisters; nephews James D. (Mary Ann) Uhll, David (Dena) Uhll, Robert (Debbie) Uhll, Thomas (Shirley) Uhll, and nieces Nancy Hay, Barbara (Connie Joe) Mason, and Sharon Therese (Joe) Bencze.
In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to the St. Catherine’s Village Dominican Fund, 200 Dominican Drive, Madison, MS 39110 or Dominican Sisters Retirement Fund, 1237 W. Monroe St., Springfield, IL 62704.

Year of Mercy: Ministry of Mercy tackles suicide epidemic

ROSEBUD, S.D. (CNS) – A sad reality on a number of Native American reservations is the high suicide rate. That is especially true on the Rosebud Reservation in south central South Dakota.
In 2007 – at the height of an ongoing suicide epidemic – the number of deaths by suicide on Rosebud was roughly 13 times the national average, making it, according to one report, the highest in the world.
To help address this crisis, St. Francis Mission, a Jesuit ministry on this Lakota reservation, has started a suicide and crisis hotline.
For Geraldine Provencial, its director, her work has a strong personal motivation: “What inspires me to work with the suicide and crisis hotline is the experience I have had with suicides in my own immediate family. I lost a sister to suicide, a brother to suicide and my grandson’s mother to suicide, which has resulted in my taking care of my grandson today, who is 11 years old. He is my inspiration.”
Not having had support when she herself had to deal with these suicides is what spurs Provencial today to reach out to others on the reservation who are experiencing these difficulties.
“To work with this type of program takes courage because there is a lot of sadness that is part of the suicide crisis,” she told Catholic Extension magazine. “The hurt and pain that people are carrying within themselves does not go away when they take their lives. The pain just gets passed on to us family members, and we feel that for the rest of our lives.”
She relies on her faith to carry her through and help her find hope, so that, in turn, she can help others and “be there for them when those kinds of thoughts cross their minds.” She also has found that “faith is a huge piece in people’s recovery and helps them to find what they are seeking. The Catholic faith can give a person something they can lean on to find direction in their lives and better their lives.”
On the 24/7 hotline, she and her trained volunteers talk both with individuals who are contemplating suicide and with family members concerned that someone may be thinking about ending his or her life. “The hotline is providing that last grasp of hope. Some of the individuals will ask for prayers for strength to help them get through their most difficult time, which is part of the reason why they reach out to us.”
In emergency situations, “the main priority is to keep the person on the line and talking. This could mean being on the phone for a couple of hours,” she said. The responders work to identify the caller’s location and to get the tribal police to get him or her to the local Indian Health Services emergency room for mental health and support services.
“When people in crisis call,” Provencial said, “we never know what type of call it is going to be. Some of the callers just need someone to listen to them.”
Provencial also directs the Icimani Ya Waste’ (Lakota for “Good journey”) Recovery Center, where she facilitates a monthly, four-day program to tackle the family dynamics involved in addiction and holds recovery-related meetings and 12-step programs.
Drug and alcohol abuse, 10 times the national rate, is a major contributing factor to the reservation’s high suicide rate, and both are rooted in a larger bleak socioeconomic reality. The Rosebud Reservation has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country –  about 83 percent – and Todd County, where Rosebud is located, is the third poorest county in the United States. Domestic violence, sexual assault and gang violence also have been identified as major factors contributing to despair and suicide on the reservation.
Provencial is part of the first group of people whose salary Chicago-based Catholic Extension is helping to pay through a new Health Ministry Salary Subsidy Initiative. Started last fall, the initiative was made possible by an anonymous gift from a foundation.
Catholic Extension, an organization that supports the work and ministries of U.S. mission dioceses, has had a long-standing relationship with St. Francis Mission, going back to helping build the mission in 1910.
According to its president, Jesuit Father John Hatcher, the mission’s strong focus on healing ministries has come from asking the question, “Where are people hurting, and how can the church minister to them?” Addressing alcoholism and the suicide epidemic are top priorities.
“Through the hotline, we’ve been able to intervene with people who are in extreme danger of killing or hurting themselves or being hurt by someone else,” Father Hatcher said. “Once we’ve sent out emergency vehicles, we can follow up with them and continue the healing.”
(Editors Note: This article is one in a series by Catholic Extension to highlight some of the many corporal and spiritual works of mercy carried out in U.S. mission dioceses during the church’s Jubilee Year of Mercy.)

Mother Angelica, EWTN founder, evangelist, dies

Irondale, AL (EWTN) – Mother Mary Angelica of the Annunciation, P.C.P.A., known to millions around the world as Foundress of the EWTN Global Catholic 040116motherangelicaNetwork, died peacefully at 5 p.m., Easter Sunday, March 27, surrounded by the Poor Clare Nuns of Perpetual Adoration of Our Lady of the Angels Monastery in Hanceville, Ala.
Known commonly as Mother Angelica, the nun started the network with $200 and no experience in television. It grew to be the largest Catholic media network in the world. Mother Angelica suffered a stroke in 2009, leaving her unable to speak. Her final years were spent in prayer with her fellow Poor Clares. A Mass of Christian Burial was set for Friday, April 1, at 11 a.m. at the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Hanceville.

Supreme Court hears oral arguments in HHS mandate case

By Carol Zimmermann
WASHINGTON (CNS) – During oral arguments March 23 at the Supreme Court, attorneys on both sides of the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive requirement examined how the mandate either violates or strikes a balance with religious freedom.
Lawyers representing the seven groups of plaintiffs said the federal government’s so-called accommodation for religious employers to arrange for a third party to provide contraceptive coverage in health plans was inconsistent because the government already had been able to provide churches an exemption from the requirement.

Women religious lobby against the Affordable Care Act's contraceptive mandate March 23 on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court ahead of oral arguments in Zubik v. Burwell in Washington. (CNS photo/Jim Lo Scalzo, EPA)

Women religious lobby against the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate March 23 on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court ahead of oral arguments in Zubik v. Burwell in Washington. (CNS photo/Jim Lo Scalzo, EPA)

Paul Clement of the Washington-based Bancroft firm, who was one of two lawyers representing the plaintiffs, argued that religious freedom was at stake in the federal government’s accommodation because even though the contraceptive coverage would be supplied by a third party, the religious employers would still be complicit in providing something that goes against their beliefs.
“The problem is we have to fill out a form, and the consequence of us filling out that form is we will be treated very differently from those other religious employers” that are exempt, he said.
U.S. Solicitor General Donald Beaton Verrilli Jr., in defending the federal government, argued that the government’s accommodation struck the necessary balance required by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993.
RFRA says that if a law restricts the free exercise of religion guaranteed by the Constitution, there must be a compelling government interest to do so and it must not place an unreasonable burden on the religious exercise.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg stressed that “no one doubts for a moment the sincerity” of the religious employers that object to providing contraceptive health care coverage, but she and other justices indicated that such a belief goes up against the compelling interest of the government’s plan to provide health coverage for women, and the accommodation sought to find that balance.
Clement argued that an accommodation isn’t “immune from RFRA analysis” and that the problem is giving an accommodation to some religious groups, but not all.
Noel Francisco of Jones Day, arguing on behalf of the dioceses who are plaintiffs, also noted that if the government is willing to address the contraceptive coverage in some ways for groups that meet the accommodation standard, than they should look to other ways for other religious groups to be exempt as well.
There was a fair amount of back and forth on where the government should draw the line and if it draws it one place, should it draw it again, or should it never have drawn the line in the first place?
Verrilli said the government’s line has not always been perfect, but it did try to try to strike a balance. There is an objective limit to what RFRA can do, he added.
He said the government’s solution was the least restrictive approach, and he also did not think the plaintiffs, by using third parties, were complicit in what they disagreed with, even though they have stated again and again they feel that way.
As the discussion centered on health exchanges, grandfathered clauses and exemptions, Chief Justice John Roberts summed up the argument with Verrilli as the government’s desire for a “seamless” health care package versus the religious objections of the plaintiffs.
The Little Sisters of the Poor, Priests for Life and the dioceses of Pittsburgh and Erie, Pennsylvania, and the Archdiocese of Washington are among numerous plaintiffs around the country consolidated into Zubik v. Burwell.
The case is named for Pittsburgh Bishop David Zubik and Sylvia Mathews Burwell, the current secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services.
Under the Affordable Care Act of 2010, most religious and other employers are required to cover contraceptives, sterilization and abortifacients through employer-provided health insurance. Refusal to comply subjects nonexempt employers to heavy fines.
A very narrow exemption for churches and religious orders was permitted from the start, but several Catholic and other religious institutions and ministries that were not exempted – such as colleges, hospitals and charitable providers – said they could not participate in providing contraceptives without violating their beliefs.
The Obama administration then created its accommodation, or “work-around,” that allows objecting employers to acknowledge their opposition to the contraceptive coverage by notifying HHS in a letter. This triggers an arrangement for a third party to provide the coverage. These employers still found the “opt-out” provision objectionable.
Five years later, several circuit courts of appeal ruled that religious entities, such as the Denver-based Little Sisters of the Poor, were not substantially burdened by the opt-out procedures. Only one such court, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in a September ruling, accepted the nonprofits’ argument that complying with the opt-out provision violates their religious beliefs.
In the 2014 Hobby Lobby case, the Supreme Court relied on RFRA to rule in favor of two family-owned private businesses, Hobby Lobby Stores and Conestoga Wood Specialties, who argued that providing contraceptives in health care coverage to employees was contrary to the owners’ Christian beliefs.
(Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim.)
(Copyright © 2016 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.)

St. Joseph Abbey seeks recovery help

COVINGTON – In Louisiana, the Northshore was hard hit. St. Joseph’s Abbey had to cancel Abbey Fest, their annual youth gathering in anticipation of storms. A day later, almost every building at the abbey took more than two feet of water. The monks and the almost 140 seminarians were trapped by the quickly-rising floodwaters and had to spend one night on the second floor of whatever building they were in. No one was hurt, but the Abbey had no flood insurance.

A photo from Friday, March 11, shows water creeping up the steps of the church at St. Joseph’s abbey. The water has dropped, but damage remains. (Photo courtey of Rhonda Bowden)

A photo from Friday, March 11, shows water creeping up the steps of the church at St. Joseph’s abbey. The water has dropped, but damage remains. (Photo courtey of Rhonda Bowden)

“Almost every building on St. Joseph Abbey and Seminary College campus was inundated with about two feet of water, including the classrooms, residence hall, library, woodworks, gift shop, monastery, monastery refectory, and the basement of the Abbey church, which houses all the electrical work and air conditioning equipment. It’s going to be a long recovery. The outpouring of support from the community has been overwhelming,” said Abbot Justin Brown, OSB.
Photos posted on social media also showed most of the cars flooded as well. This flood was the worst in the seminary’s history, topping the 1927 flood by several inches.
Three men from the Diocese of Jackson are studying at St. Joseph’s this year. The seminary is accepting donations on its website,

Little Sisters of the Poor become face of HHS opposition

WASHINGTON (CNS) – Visuals often are much easier to grasp than a complicated thicket of issues. That may be why the Little Sisters of the Poor have become the public face of Zubik v. Burwell, which goes before the U.S. Supreme Court March 23.
Zubik is not just about the religious order’s legal challenge of the Obama administration’s contraceptive mandate for employers. It is a consolidated case also involving East Texas Baptist University, Southern Nazarene University and Geneva College, which is a Presbyterian institution, as well as Catholic entities, including the Archdiocese of Washington, the dioceses of Pittsburgh and Erie, Pennsylvania, and Priests for Life.
Both sides on the mandate issue have been working to attract public support. The Little Sisters, like Priests for Life, have launched a website explaining their side of the issue, and of any of the cases the Little Sisters suit has received the most attention, media and otherwise. They are receiving help from The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a non-profit, public-interest legal and educational institute with a mission to protect the free expression of all faiths. To rally support for their efforts, the Little Sisters and the Beckett Fund are offering buttons which read “I’ll have nun of it,” available on the order’s website
In January, two Little Sisters sat in the House Chamber for the State of the Union address, invited by House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin. The religious order also has been invoked on the campaign trail for the Republican presidential nomination by U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. Rubio and Bush, who is now out of the race, pointed to the order’s mandate suit as part of the ongoing fight for religious liberty.
Pope Francis met with some of the sisters in Washington last September during his apostolic visit.
Once the high court hears oral arguments in Zubik v. Burwell, a decision is expected before the court term ends in June.
With the death of Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, it is widely predicted the result will be a 4-4 tie. In the 2014 Hobby Lobby case, Scalia provided the deciding vote in a 5-4 decision, and two private, for-profit companies that objected to the mandate on moral grounds prevailed in their argument that complying placed an undue burden on their religious freedom. The court ruled that closely held companies – meaning, with limited shareholders – are exempt.
Refusing to comply with the mandate means substantial fines, which in the case of the Little Sisters have been estimated at $70 million a year. According to the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represents the religious order, the fines range depending on the nursing facility run the order, which has close to 30 homes for the elderly. Some fines could run $2,000 per employee per year or amount to $100 per employee per day.
The USCCB brief argues that the Little Sisters order would face “financial ruin” as a result. “No one benefits from such an outcome – not the organizations, their donors, their clients, or their employees.”
As for “substantial burden,” the amicus brief from former state attorneys general in support of HHS maintains that the onus does not exist, since religious organizations would not even be informed of which of their employees are receiving contraceptive coverage.
What happens if the Supreme Court deadlocks 4-4? The rulings of the lower courts would be affirmed or the court may set the case aside for re-argument when Scalia’s seat is filled, predicted Rienzi, an attorney for the Little Sisters. If so, “we can come back in a year,” he told CNS.
(Copyright © 2016 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.)

Diocese of Lafayette welcomes new bishop from Dallas

WASHINGTON (CNS) – Pope Francis has accepted the resignation Bishop C. Michael Jarrell of Lafayette, Louisiana, and named Auxiliary Bishop J. Douglas Deshotel of Dallas as his successor.



Bishop Jarrell is 75, the age at which canon law requires bishops to turn in their resignation to the pope. Bishop Deshotel, 64, has been a Dallas auxiliary since 2010.
The changes were announced in Washington Feb. 17 by Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, apostolic nuncio to the United States.
Both bishops are natives of the Lafayette Diocese; Bishop Jarrell was born in Opelousas; Bishop Deshotel was born in Basile.
Dallas Bishop Kevin J. Farrell said the pope “has made an excellent decision” in naming the Dallas auxiliary “to lead the Catholic faithful in Lafayette.”
“Bishop Deshotel’s knowledge of the diocese and the wonderful Cajun culture there will be a tremendous asset as he returns as the chief shepherd,” he said in a statement. “Bishop Deshotel is extremely well thought of by parishioners and his brother priests alike. His pastoral manner and deep devotion to our church will certainly be missed by all in our diocese.
“I wish him many blessings in this new chapter of his ministry and I am certain he will be a tremendous blessing to the people of the Diocese of Lafayette.”
Bishop Deshotel said he was surprised by the news but grateful to Pope Francis, adding that while he looks forward to serving his home diocese, he will miss Dallas.
“I entered the seminary here in Dallas in 1972. This has been my home for 43 years. I have loved Dallas and the Church of Dallas and the many dear friends I have made here,” he said in a statement.
“But, when I was ordained, I promised my life to God in service to his church,” he added. “The Holy Father has told me he needs me to lead Lafayette and I accept this call as a new opportunity to show my love and fidelity to Christ.”
Born Jan. 6, 1952, John Douglas Deshotel attended the Catholic-run University of Dallas, where he earned a bachelor of arts degree. In 1972 he entered Holy Trinity Seminary in Irving, Texas, completing his seminary studies in 1978. That same year he obtained his master’s in divinity degree at the University of Dallas. He was ordained to the priesthood May 13, 1978.
After ordination, he had a number of assignments as parochial vicar at parishes in Dallas and Longview. He also was a popular pastor at parishes in Greenville, Ennis, Irving and Dallas.
From 2001 through 2006, he was the vice rector of Holy Trinity Seminary. In 2008, he was appointed vicar general and diocesan moderator of the curia. He also was the ecumenical officer for the Dallas Diocese.
Born May 15, 1940, Charles Michael Jarrell was ordained a priest of the Lafayette Diocese June 3, 1967. He has been bishop of Lafayette since 2002.
The Diocese of Lafayette was established in Louisiana in 1918 and is located in southwest Louisiana between the Atchafalaya and Sabine rivers. The diocese serves more than 291,000 Catholics and is made up of 121 parishes.

Families flee war and violence to start over in Tennessee

Theresa Laurence
Tennessee Register
When visitors enter the home of Iraqi refugees Yassir Khattab and Mays Alsaman, they are welcomed with a spread of snacks and hot tea. As the couple shares their story of leaving war-torn Iraq and settling in the United States, it quickly becomes clear that theirs was an emotionally wrenching journey.
“It was very difficult to leave Iraq,” said Khattab, who resettled in Nashville in 2014 with the help of Catholic Charities of Tennessee. Leaving his parents and other family members behind, as well as his homeland and culture, was tough but necessary.
“There is no safety for anyone” in Iraq, Khattab said. “You can’t move freely, it is too dangerous.”
Khattab, who comes from a Shiite family, and Alsaman, who comes from a Sunni family, could not cross into each other’s Baghdad neighborhoods without fear. With no strong central government or criminal justice system in Iraq, extremist militant groups have taken control of many areas.
“If they catch me they will kill me,” Khattab said. “Sometimes people will kidnap you for the ransom money,” he added, which happened to his brother-in-law twice. “There is no safety place in Iraq,” he repeats.
Khattab and his family are just one example of the millions of people, Muslims and Christians alike, who have been forced to flee their homes in the Middle East to escape civil war or personal threats of violence in recent years. They were among the fraction of a percent of refugees worldwide chosen to resettle in the United States in 2014. Like many refugees in their situation, Khattab and Aslsaman, resilient and strong-willed, have adjusted quickly to their new life.
“I feel sad when I hear talk about no Muslims, no refugees,” said Khattab, referring to the current rhetoric from local and national politicians seeking to ban refugees from entering the U.S. While he has not personally felt any backlash because of his ethnicity, he knows some Americans are wary of refugees like him. “I’ve never held a gun in my life,” he said. “I’m just here to find a good future for my family.”
Khattab, 33, was raised Muslim, but attended Catholic and Christian schools in Baghdad. He is angry that the terrorist group ISIS aligns itself with Islam. “ISIS doesn’t belong to a religion. It’s a business. It’s a mafia,” he said. It is groups like ISIS, and al-Queda before them, that forced Khattab and his family to flee, he said.
Khattab and Alsaman left Iraq in 2005, passing through Jordan, Libya and Syria before settling in Malaysia, where he eventually got a job in the Iraqi embassy there. He applied as a refugee with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in 2007 and began the long process to come to the United States. It wasn’t until 2014 that Khattab, Alsaman, and their two young children were approved to resettle in the U.S. “I’m very happy when I get a chance to come to the United States,” he said.
While in Malaysia, Khattab lived a comfortable life, learned English and met people from a wide range of nationalities and religions, so adjusting to life in Middle Tennessee has not been too difficult, he said. After initially moving into a Nashville apartment complex with the help of Catholic Charities’ Refugee Resettlement Office, Khattab and his family wanted to move to a quieter and safer neighborhood.
They settled in Murfreesboro because of the highly rated public schools in the area and access to Khattab’s job at the Nissan manufacturing plant. In the future he hopes to utilize his background in computer science; Alsaman, who is a software engineer, wants to work once her 3-year-old son starts school.
If there was any doubt about refugees assimilating quickly to American life, Khattab said his 6-year-old daughter “enjoys every single moment in school,” and has decided she wants to be a dentist and get a dog. She is already losing the ability to understand and speak Arabic, her parents’ first language, even though they still speak it at home.
Many Iraqi nationals, who account for the fourth largest group of refugees worldwide, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, are fleeing indiscriminate violence at the hands of extremist and terrorist groups like ISIS. Others have faced more direct threats.
Ahmed, who worked as a translator for the U.S. Army, was targeted as a traitor by al-Queda and his family was threatened. “It was dangerous for him to drive place to place. Many interpreters covered their faces, but he didn’t. He didn’t want to be a coward,” his wife Raya said. “He was proud of what he was doing even though the enemy knew his name and face.”
“It was very common at that time” for interpreters to face death threats, said Raya, and their family took the threat very seriously. “We had to pack small bags and leave without anyone knowing,” said Raya, who asked that their last names not be used.
Ahmed also had two sisters who worked as translators for the Army. They escaped to Jordan and were not in touch with the rest of their family for two years. “We were terrified, we didn’t know what happened,” Raya said.
Ahmed and Raya fled Iraq in 2008 for Turkey, where they applied for refugee status. They were quickly approved for resettlement and in 2010 arrived in Nashville. They came with few material possessions, but did bring with them a fierce work ethic. “If you’re a hard worker and don’t mind working you can find a job,” said Raya, whose family was also resettled by Catholic Charities.
When they first arrived, “we qualified for food stamps, but we didn’t like the idea. We’re young and we can work and do something,” she said.
Within three months of their arrival, Raya and Ahmed were both working at a printing company, where they proved themselves and gained several promotions. However, the company closed last April and they both lost their jobs.
Since then, Ahmed worked for Uber, and at a driving instruction school. Raya is currently staying home to care for their 2-year-old son. She has a law degree from Iraq, but wants to return to school in the new year to study computer science. “We are hard workers,” she said.
As refugees like Khattab, Alsaman, Ahmed and Raya continue to find their place in America, and forge ahead making a better path for their children, the hardest thing may be the powerlessness they feel as they watch the news unfold in the Middle East. While both families hope to be reunited with separated family members one day, they know it may not be for many years.
(Editor’s note. This story, reprinted with permission from The Tennessee Register, and the stories on page 9 are part two of a two part series on refugee resettlement in the South. )

Mission dioceses minister to Catholics scattered across great distances

By Chaz Muth
WASHINGTON (CNS) – Catholic missionaries played a large role in bringing European values and religion to North America in the 18th century. The role of the Franciscans, Jesuits, Dominicans and other Catholic religious orders was to set up missions that became economic, political and religious centers.
The mission church hasn’t gone away. It’s a vibrant part of the U.S. Catholic fabric. It’s just evolved during the course of the past few centuries. The primary function of the 21st-century mission church no longer includes proselytizing the indigenous people, but is aimed at bringing Catholicism to populations throughout the land, regardless of the challenges to do so.
Catholics living in most of the territory of the U.S. are actually shepherded by a Catholic home mission diocese.
So, what is a Catholic home mission? The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops defines a home mission as a “diocese or parish that can’t provide the basic pastoral services to Catholics without outside help.”
Those basic pastoral services include Mass, the sacraments, religious education, and ministry training for lay ministers, deacons, religious sisters and priests.
“Most of the mission dioceses, if you look at the map it will tell you that they are very rural, very large usually, do not have the resources that our more urban … dioceses like New York or Los Angeles would have, so we make ends meet with very little,” said Bishop Peter F. Christensen, who heads the Diocese of Boise, Idaho, which is a mission diocese.
“That ‘little’ is subsidized by the work of Catholic Home Missions, which is subsidized by the generosity of our people throughout the country,” added the bishop, who is the former chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Subcommittee on Catholic Home Missions.
The U.S. bishops established the Catholic Home Missions Appeal in 1998. It’s a national collection taken up in parishes throughout the country, usually in April, to help fund the pastoral outreach in the mission dioceses in places such as Alaska, New Mexico, Idaho, the Marshall Islands, Puerto Rico and parts of Texas.
The U.S. Catholic Church has a long history of sending missionaries to serve people in Africa, Asia, Latin America and Oceania, Bishop Christensen said.
Home mission dioceses in the U.S. are in need of the same kind of care, which is why the grants that come from the annual appeal are so vital to Catholics in the mission dioceses, which also include Gallup, New Mexico, and Little Rock, Arkansas, he said.
Salt Lake City, another U.S. mission diocese, consists of 85,000 square miles, which is the entire state of Utah, and some of the Eastern Catholic eparchies, which also are considered Catholic home missions, cover the entire U.S. and consist of millions of square miles.
Bishops, priests, deacons, religious sisters and dedicated lay ministers can put 50,000 miles a year on their cars just to reach the Catholics they are charged with providing pastoral care to, Bishop Christensen told Catholic News Service during an interview in Boise.
The ministry of Father Adrian Vazquez, a priest in his diocese, illustrates the situation. He is charged with the pastoral care of four Catholic communities in eastern Idaho, a parish in St. Anthony and three mission stations located in Rexburg, Driggs and Island Park.
He divides his time between all those locations, driving hundreds of miles a week.
“The travel can be a real challenge, especially in the winter when there is a lot of snow,” said Father Vazquez, a native of Mexico. “My parishioners have to be patient with me sometimes if I’m running behind and we just start when I arrive.”
The U.S. mission church of the 21st century faces some of the same challenges 18th-century missionaries encountered in that the faith remains poorly established in several parts of the country, including the Rocky Mountain states, the South, areas along the Mexican border and in the Pacific islands, Bishop Christensen said.
In 2014, the national Catholic Home Missions Appeal raised more than $9.3 million and gave out more than $9.1 million in grants and donations to fund programs in the mission dioceses, according to the subcommittee’s annual report.
The dioceses received money for programs involving faith formation, cultural diversity, strengthening marriage, repairs to churches, evangelization, prison outreach, as well as priestly and religious vocations.
In recent years, the mission dioceses have seen an increase in religious vocations, which is desperately needed, but that too brings its own set of challenges for financially strapped institutions in those areas.
“To educate a seminarian today costs an average of $37,000,” Bishop Christensen said. “That’s not small change for a diocese that can’t support that.
“There’s a (mission) diocese in Texas that has 23 seminarians,” he said. “Multiply that out by $37,000 and that gets into some pretty amazing figures.”
The Diocese of Juneau, Alaska, has a total of 10 priests who serve a geographic region that is about the size of the state of Florida, said Juneau Bishop Edward J. Burns.
“The communities are small,” Bishop Burns told CNS during an interview in Juneau. “We can have just a handful of people who gather for Mass at the kitchen table, because we don’t have a chapel or church in some of our villages.”
The priests, deacons, religious sisters and lay ministers say it’s important to get into the small communities in the far reaches of these mission dioceses, not only to bring them the sacraments, but to help them prepare for marriage, strengthen their relationships, sometimes cope with poverty, morn the dead and become positive models for their children, he said.
Like the missionaries of the 18th century, Bishop Christensen said much of the work in a mission diocese is evangelization.
When he was first appointed bishop of Juneau in 2009, Bishop Burns learned that 10 percent of the mission diocese’s population was Catholic and 60 percent didn’t identify with any religion.
“I thought to myself, ‘What a wonderful challenge this is going to be,'” he said. “It’s an opportunity for us to engage in the new evangelization, because it’s not like these people have never heard of Jesus Christ, or the Gospel message, or that they’ve never been in contact with the church. It’s just that they choose to be secularists. They have chosen to step aside from their religion or faith.
“For us, it’s a wonderful challenge,” Bishop Burns said, “to awaken in them a relationship with Jesus Christ.”
(Editor’s note: The Diocese of Jackson is a Home Mission diocese which receives grant money from this collection.)
(Copyright © 2016 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.)

Tennessee office works to dispel refugee myths

Theresa Laurence
NASHVILLE – Since its founding in 1962, Catholic Charities of Tennessee has assisted refugees and asylum seekers and helped them assimilate to American culture and the local community.
Today, the plight of refugees has moved to center stage as people fleeing violence and persecution in the Middle East flood into Europe. Meanwhile, the millions of refugees around the world wait and hope to be resettled in a more stable and secure country. Those who work with refugees in Tennessee are taking steps to clear up misconceptions about who refugees are and the rigorous process they must undergo to reach the United States.
“This is my 41st year on the job and I’ve never seen so much misinformation circulating about refugees,” said Bill Sinclair, executive director of Catholic Charities of Tennessee. He first joined the organization more than 40 years ago to help launch a more formalized refugee resettlement program, welcoming refugees from Southeast Asia to Middle Tennessee.
While millions of refugees are fleeing their home countries fearful for their own lives, Americans have become more afraid of refugees. That fear stems from not understanding the screening and resettlement process, which can be long and complicated, Sinclair said. Once people learn the facts, “it dispels the myth” that refugees are here to cause harm, he added. “People have stereotyped anyone from the Middle East as a bad guy, and that’s not true.”
“The misinformation is much louder than the facts right now,” said Holly Johnson, director of the Tennessee Office for Refugees, a department of Catholic Charities of Tennessee. “The individual families who are struggling are getting lost in all this noise.”
Terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, California, late last year left Americans on high alert, and some Tennessee state legislators reacted by calling for swift and harsh action against refugees. Rep. Glen Casada (R-Franklin) proposed that the National Guard round up all Syrian refugees and move them out of state; Sen. Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro) urged Gov. Bill Haslam to sue the federal government so Tennessee could block future refugees from settling in the state.
About 58,000 refugees live in Tennessee, which is less than one percent of the state’s population; only 30 Syrian refugees were resettled in the entire state last year. Almost all refugees that come to Tennessee are resettled in the four major cities: Nashville, Memphis, Knoxville and Chattanooga.
On Dec. 9, legislators held a joint state and local government committee hearing focused on refugees. Johnson, who was among those called to testify before the committee, saw it as an opportunity to educate lawmakers about refugees and how they are resettled in the state. She also spoke about the role of her office, Tennessee Office for Refugees, its function and its relationship with the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement and with local resettlement agencies like the Catholic Charities Office of Refugee Resettlement.
The refugee program “is the longest and hardest way to come to the U.S.,” Johnson told the committee hearing.
Refugees must undergo a rigorous screening process that takes at least 18 months. Due to the high number of refugees worldwide, it is not uncommon for them to live in camps for a decade or more while they await one of the few spots available for resettlement. Less than one percent of refugees worldwide are ever resettled.
Refugees are defined as individuals who have had to leave their home country because of a well-founded fear of persecution. They are targeted because of their religious or political beliefs, or membership in a particular social class.
The process for a refugee to come to the United States begins after a refugee reports to a representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. If a refugee is seeking entry into the U.S., they will undergo vetting from the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, and the State Department. This involves extensive interviews and background checks, with a particular focus on any signs of radicalization or connection with a terrorist group, which would immediately disqualify that person from entry into the U.S.
While many people have concerns about the screening process – that it can’t be adequately done in a country like Syria where the information infrastructure is in shambles – “those who do the job of vetting are used to checking into people who don’t have all their documents in a nice, neat folder,” Johnson said. “I understand that people are scared, but they should not be scared of refugees, because the process works well.”
There have been no instances of terror attacks by refugees carried out on American soil; the San Bernardino or Chattanooga shooters did not come to the U.S. as refugees, neither did the Boston Marathon bombers, Johnson noted.
If a refugee meets all the guidelines and is chosen to resettle in the U.S., officials at the U.S. State Department, with input from non-government organizations that work with refugees, determine where new refugee arrivals will live. They then notify the local resettlement agency, such as Catholic Charities Refugee Resettlement Office, which will meet them at the airport, help them move into a new apartment, and provide the necessary cultural orientation.
In 2013, state legislators called for a fiscal review to determine the economic impact of refugees, and the study concluded that refugees contribute twice as much money to the state than they take.
In 2015, Catholic Charities of Tennessee helped resettle 375 refugees from Afghanistan, Bhutan, Burma (Myanmar), Burundi, Congo, Cuba, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Iran, Iraq, Somalia and Sudan. Altogether, about 1,600 refugees were resettled statewide.
(This is an excerpt of a story from the Jan. 1 Tennessee Register, reprinted with permission.)