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.)

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.)

Irish priests, gathered for reunion, remember their lost brothers

BY TERRY DICKSON
LONG BEACH – Although he’s only been the bishop of Jackson for two years, Bishop Joseph Kopacz is well versed on the annual reunion of priests from St. Patrick College Seminary in Carlow, a gathering which has recently expanded to include Irish priests from throughout the United States and abroad.
“I know that the Carlow Reunion is a spirited event that certainly embodies the Joy of the Gospel that Pope Francis asks of us,” Bishop Kopacz said, during the annual memorial Mass for deceased Irish priests, which was celebrated on Jan. 5 at St. Thomas the Apostle Parish, in conjunction with the 2016 reunion. “(Pope Francis) has admonished us, as Christians, not to look like we have just returned from a funeral. But, we can say, he’s probably never been to an Irish wake or memorial gathering because that’s a very spirited gathering, not one that’s overly dour.”
Bishop Kopacz said he accepted the invitation to preach at the Memorial Mass on behalf of the deceased priests of Carlow Seminary as “a good omen, especially after reading that a thousand priests in Ireland signed a document of protest over the process of selecting bishops.”
“I took this as a good omen and it looks like Bishop Morin and I have survived the purge and can continue to serve,” he added. Bishop Kopacz said the Eucharistic celebration was the perfect opportunity to express thanksgiving on behalf of the deceased priests from the seminary of Carlow, who have served throughout Mississippi and the English-speaking world.
Alluding to the missionary spirit so often mentioned by the Holy Father, Bishop Kopacz said, “Pope Francis wants the Church to get out of itself and go to those on the outskirts of existence and that could be someone right around the corner from where we live or across the ocean.
“(Pope Francis) says, “With loving contemplation of Jesus Christ, the whole Church is to become an evangelizing community of missionary disciples, avoiding a posture of maintenance, embracing a permanent state of mission.’ That’s our call in every age. Certainly, that is the gift I believe Pope Francis is bringing to the Church – renewing that call and, also, this evening, celebrating that call in the lives of so many dedicated priests who have served.”
Bishop Kopacz said the seminary in Carlow embodied that spirit of evangelization throughout its 200-year existence.
“From 1793 to 1993, over 3,100 priests were ordained out of the seminary, many of them from 1892 to 1989, when it was exclusively a seminary,” he said.
“Many set forth on a mission to bring the Joy of the Gospel to the English-speaking countries in our world.
“Those numbers are well documented,” Bishop Kopacz added. “It’s also well-documented that the most zealous and brightest of these priests were sent to Mississippi.” In his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), Pope Francis writes, “Missionary disciples or evangelizers must be those who wish to share their joy, who point to a horizon of beauty and who invite others to a delicious banquet.”
That passage, Bishop Kopacz said, perfectly captures the missionary spirit of the priests who came to Mississippi from Carlow.
The papal mandate to embrace the world with the Light of the Gospel is not just bishops and priests, Bishop Kopacz said.
“This invitation, this mandate, is for all of us,” he said. “All of us must go forth to draw near to those who don’t know or live the Gospel by building bridges, supporting others, taking on the smell of the sheep and patiently seeking to accompany them on their journeys to free them and free us from all unworthy chains of the idolatry of money and the arrogance of power, the culture of indifference, the tyranny of relativism, from violence, power, greed, drug addiction and the insatiable hunger of the arms merchants drenched in blood. Our time certainly has its challenges and, yet, we have the Light of the Gospel where the mercies of the Lord are renewed each day.”
Bishop Kopacz told all gathered that, “Each of us is a mission to be salt, light and leaven in a world that is immersed or inclined toward darkness.”
“We walk with God each day in the land of the living and we know that the Light of the Gospel continues to burn bright – dimmer in certain areas and certain times but certainly, through suffering and martyrdom and sacrifice and loving dedication, the Lord is very much present,” he said.
“For nearly 200 years, Eucharist – the Blood of the Covenant – has been our source and summit, the fountain of God’s mercy that endures forever. The deceased priests of Carlow have their chapter in the Lord’s demand to ‘Go and make disciples of all the nations.’ May they have the rewards of their labors in the Father’s rest.”
In 2014, Carlovians Father Gerard Cleary of the Diocese of Biloxi and Father Martin Ruane of the Diocese of Jackson were called home to God. The Memorial Mass is the highpoint of the three-day reunion, which also includes a golf tournament and a few celebratory meals.
Carlow Alum Father Liam Kelleher has been coming to the reunion for 15 years.
“I make this a part of my vacation, said Father Kelleher, a priest from Cobh in County Cork, who was ordained in 1978 for the Diocese of Cloyne.
“I take the month of January off because the weather is very bad in Ireland and it’s nice to get away and get to where the sunshine is. Father Jim Fennessy (of Atlanta) and I are the only two here from the Class of 68 but it’s great to see all the others and play a game of golf I want to thank the people here because this is a marvelous church, a marvelous community and it is absolutely wonderful to be here.”

Biloxi program settled thousands

BILOXI – The Office of Migration Refugee Resettlment for the Catholic Charities for the Catholic Diocese of Biloxi has resettled more than 7,000 people along the coast since it opened in 1977. The first refugees came from Vietnam and settled nicely into the fishing communities of the coast.
Maggie Leleaux, program director, helps each family find housing and jobs and then starts working on residency or citizenship. She mostly accepts families and adults, but has worked with some young people until they could reunite with their families.
She said many of her families were forced to go to Texas or Florida when Hurricane Katrina destroyed their homes and businesses, but are returning every day and want to be a part of the rebuilding efforts in their communities.
In a few weeks she will meet with the East Biloxi Asian Community Collaborative, a group with grants from the Department of the Interior and EPA who have plans to revitalize their town with help from all the residents and community members. She said these former refugees are thankful for the new start they got on the coast and want to give back. They have raised their children here and know the value of community.
Her office has settled families from Eastern Europe, Africa, Russia and Cuba, among other nations.
Leleaux said she has gotten calls from people concerned about refugee resettlement, but she points to the many success stories in her community.
“The United States is a country of immigrants. We should treat people who are seeking help, who are fleeing war and violence, whose children are being attacked and threatened – we should treat them with open hearts. We should accept these people and have compassion for them,” said Leleaux.
The Biloxi program also has a grant to work with victims of human trafficking. Leleaux had several cases of labor trafficking last year. These are people who are lured to the U.S. on the promise of a work visa and are forced into slave labor when they arrive. Leleaux works with law enforcement and immigration to protect this population of people.

National Migration Week celebrations planned

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops recognizes the first week of January as National Migration Week. Catholic Charities has organized a number of activities to celebrate this week in the Diocese of Jackson. Here is a brief schedule of activities:
– Sunday January 3, 5 p.m., Tupelo St. James will host a screening of the documentary “One border, One body,” followed by dialogue and a potluck.
– Tuesday January 5, 6 p.m., Catholic Charities of Vardaman offers the workshop:  “Future of Migration Reform in the U.S.A,” followed by a free legal clinic from 7 – 9 p.m.
– Wednesday, Jan. 6, 5 p.m., Pontotoc St. Christopher will host a presentation from Amelia McGowan, attorney, about migration resources for those in Hispanic ministry. Pastors, Lay Ecclesial Ministers and others in Hispanic ministry are especially invited. At 6:30 p.m. the parish will celebrate Spanish Mass in the context of National Migration week including a traditional celebration of the three wise men. After Mass, share a traditional “Rosca de Reyes,” or three kings cake.
– Thursday, January 7, 6 p.m., Corinth St. James will host the workshop:  “Future of Migration Reform in the U.S.A,” followed by a free legal clinic.
– Friday, January 8, 6 p.m., Tupelo St. James will host the workshop  “Future of Migration Reform in the U.S.A,” followed by a legal clinic.
– Saturday, January 9, 9 a.m. – 3 p.m., Tupelo St. James will host a free legal clinic. Mass to close National Migration week will start at 4 p.m. celebrated by Father Mike McAndrew, C.SS.R., migrant missionary. A potluck will follow.

Gulf Coast Faith Formation Conference set for Jan 7-9 in Kenner

By Peter Finney
KENNER, La. – Passionist Father Donald Senior, one of the country’s foremost Scripture scholars, will discuss “Life as God’s Gift” in his keynote address at the 34th annual Gulf Coast Faith Formation Conference Jan. 7-9, 2016, at the Pontchartrain Center in Kenner.

Rickard

Rickard

“He’s one of the leading – if not the leading – Scripture scholars in the country,” said Alice Hughes, director of the Office of Religious Education for the Archdiocese of New Orleans, which will host the catechetical conference in conjunction with the Diocese of Jackson and several other dioceses of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.
About 1,500 Catholic school religion teachers, parish catechists and other catechetical leaders are expected to attend the conference, formerly known as the Johannes Hofinger
Conference.This year’s conference theme is “God-Given Dignity: Respecting All of Life.”
In addition to Father Senior, other keynote presenters will be Dominican Sister Theresa Rickard, president of RENEW International and an expert in small faith communities and parish renewal, and Deacon Art Miller, director of Black Catholic Ministries of the Archdiocese of Hartford, Connecticut.

Miller

Miller

The conference will open Jan. 7 at 2 p.m. with a special track for priests and deacons. Father Senior and Deacon Miller will offer their reflections on the ministry of preaching. There will also be a separate track for deacons’ wives.
Mass will be celebrated on Jan. 8 and 9, and nearly 70 breakout sessions will be offered over the two days, including several for Hispanic catechists.
“This is one of the few times that catechists and religion teachers in a region can actually have quality, national speakers,” Hughes said. “ A small diocese on its own could never bring in this number of quality national speakers.”
The workshop sessions cover topics ranging from catechetics, RCIA, adult education, Catholic high schools, parish schools of religion, liturgy, music, church environment and Hispanic Catholics.
“The conference is intended to help individuals in their personal, catechetical and spiritual enrichment as well enrich their ministry in parishes and schools,” Hughes said. “There is something for everyone. For our archdiocese, our three goals are to inform, form and transform, and that really does take place.”
The dioceses on the planning committee include Baton Rouge, Houma-Thibodaux, Lafayette, Alexandria and Lake Charles in Louisiana; Biloxi and Jackson in Mississippi; Birmingham in Alabama; and Pensacola in Florida. Hughes said she regularly receives rave reviews from diocesan religious education directors about the value of the conference.
“They tell me how their people come back to their diocese and share how much they have gained from coming together,” Hughes said. “A lot is gained from networking with other people..”
An opening reception is planned Jan. 7 at 8:30 p.m. at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Kenner, 2829 Williams Blvd.
Early registration is available through Dec. 18: www.gcffc.org.

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, www.givenforum.org, 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 www.givenforum.org.

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 www.wydusa.org and http://worldyouthday.com.)

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.)