Power of prayer helps spell teen victory

Christopher Serrao, a 13-year-old parishioner from Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Whitehouse Station, N.J., holds the trophy after being named the co-champion of the 92nd Scripps National Spelling Bee held at National Harbor, Md., May 30, 2019. (CNS photo/courtesy Dominic Serrao)

By Christina Leslie
METUCHEN, N.J. (CNS) – Though 13-year-old Christopher Serrao studied long, complicated and obscure words for hours on end to win a prestigious spelling bee, the most important word in his arsenal had just five letters: F-A-I-T-H.
Christopher, a resident of Whitehouse Station, New Jersey, and member of the town’s Our Lady of Lourdes Parish, joined seven other contestants in taking home a trophy and $50,000 grand prize May 30 in the annual Scripps National Spelling Bee in National Harbor, Maryland.
A seventh-grade student at Readington Middle School, he had been inspired by his older sister, Danielle, to compete in the annual test of knowledge and endurance.
Studying word roots and language patterns two to three hours daily, and longer on weekends, helped enlarge his vocabulary and sharpen his spelling acumen, but Christopher relied upon his faith to get him into the winner’s circle.
“When I was nervous, I said a prayer to God and would hold the cross in my hand. I also wore a rosary around my neck,” Christopher told The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Diocese of Metuchen.
Christopher said his pastor, Father Leonard F. A. Rusay, “told the congregation that I was in the contest and had everyone pray for me.”
Christopher is a member of the parish choir and a lector. Danielle is a cantor and sang the national anthem at the spelling bee the day Christopher competed.
Daily 8 a.m. Mass on competition days in nearby St. Columba Church in Oxon Hill, Maryland, also reinforced his faith. “They were really nice,” he said. “The congregation prayed for me. The community was really supportive.”
This is the third time Christopher qualified for the national competition. He finished in 34th place last year. He and the other seven “octo-champions” survived 20 rounds of competition, 12 of them in the evening. He spelled “cernuous,” (which means pendulous or nodding), before being declared one of the eight winners.
With the money he won, Christopher plans to “maybe buy a dog, but save the rest for college.” But the lessons he said he learned throughout the whirlwind experience were just as important: to be calm, how to study and how to deal with the media. Then, he returned to that all-important word: faith.
“My win is a reaffirmation of the power of prayers,” he said. “When the odds were against me, I knew faith in Jesus and prayers would help me overcome any obstacle.”
“We are proud of the effort Christopher put in and the gracious God-loving attitude he has displayed throughout,” said his father, Dominic.
“We didn’t expect him to win, even though we knew he would place well. We truly believe that his feat was a miracle that can only be attributed to God. We believe with God all things are possible and this has reaffirmed our faith.”
“This journey began seven years ago with our daughter, Danielle,” said his mother, Matilda. “There were a lot more downs than ups along the way.
“However, our faith carried us through. This win has strengthened our faith even more and that our God is the one that makes impossible things possible.”

(Leslie is a reporter at The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Diocese of Metuchen.)

Bishops urged to pass ‘effective’ policies on accountability, transparency

(Editor’s note: Bishop Joseph Kopacz is at the USCCB meeting in Baltimore this week and was thus unable to contribute a column. His regular column will return in the next paper.)

By Julie Asher
WASHINGTON (CNS) – When the bishops gather in Baltimore starting June 11, Bishop W. Shawn McKnight of Jefferson City, Missouri, said he’s “hopeful we will have some progress made in moving the football” on the church’s response to the abuse crisis by approving several proposals to hold the bishops accountable.
“I think the recent new norms from Holy Father will make it more possible, but I am waiting to see and I will be fully involved in the debate,” he told Catholic News Service June 7.
The centerpiece of the bishops’ agenda will be four action items dealing with the investigation of abuse claims against bishops themselves or accusations they have been negligent in handling or covering up cases of wayward priests and other church workers.
These proposals were before the bishops at the fall general assembly last November, but the Vatican requested they delay action on them until after the Vatican held a February meeting for presidents of bishops’ conferences worldwide to discuss the abuse crisis.
The norms Bishop McKnight referenced are contained in Pope Francis’ “motu proprio,” released May 9 and in effect as of June 1. The document, titled “Vos estis lux mundi” (“You are the light of the world”), is a new universal law from the pope to safeguard its members from abuse and hold its leaders accountable. It governs complaints against clergy or church leaders regarding the sexual abuse of minors or vulnerable persons. The U.S. bishops will vote on directives for implementing this church law.
The full texts of the pope’s “motu proprio” and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People,” as well as the new reforms to be discussed in Baltimore, are available on a new website the USCCB launched June 7: www.usccbprevention.org.
The pope’s new juridical instrument calls for a “public, stable and easily accessible” reporting system for allegations; clear standards for the pastoral support of victims and their families; timeliness and thoroughness of investigations; whistleblower protection for those making allegations; and the use of “proven experts from among the laity;” and the oversight of the metropolitan (archbishop) for such investigations in his province. The U.S. Catholic Church has 32 metropolitans.
Under each archdiocese are dioceses, also called suffragan sees, for which a metropolitan is responsible.
“For me the critical element in the effort to respond to the crisis is the necessity of lay involvement,” Bishop McKnight told CNS. “I am grateful the document allows for the metropolitan to use lay experts.”
Just as dioceses have a lay board to assess allegations against priests and other church workers, the same lay-led review is needed for bishops for two reasons, Bishop McKnight said. “First, for transparency to build credibility in the process so people know it is not just miters and collars but mothers and fathers (looking at these allegations) as well.”
“Second, as a bishop myself, if there was ever a false allegation made against me, I would want an independent lay assessment of the investigation to build credibility (in the finding) that the claim is not credible.”
Two other prelates interviewed by CNS ahead of the bishops’ spring assembly, Bishop Edward J. Weisenburger of Tucson, Arizona, and Archbishop Alexander K. Sample of Portland, Oregon, also strongly emphasized the need for lay involvement in reviewing claims against bishops.
“I cannot imagine there not being a majority of lay involvement,” Bishop Weisenburger said June 7. “The current model of diocesan review boards owes a substantial part of their success to the fact that they are lay-led and lay-driven. That fact is not lost on any bishop.”
In the Tucson Diocese, “we have had tremendous success in working with our Diocesan Review Board,” he noted.
“I feel certain that my brother bishops will strive to create regional lists of experts that are composed in majority of lay experts in the fields of law, law enforcement, psychology, education, canon law and social work,” Bishop Weisenburger added.
Said Archbishop Sample: “Clearly the cry for more lay involvement is not just among laity but priests and bishops (too). … For my part, I will do everything I can – and I am just one bishop among many – to ensure that there will be an adequate role for the laity to be involved in these investigations within these church processes. The ‘motu proprio’ certainly opens the door (to this).”
“Quite honestly I hope this is one of the areas we can strengthen. … I hope we will be able to enshrine within our own (structures) an active and significant role for the laity,” he said.
Going into the assembly, “my hopes and expectations are optimistic,” the archbishop added, “I wouldn’t say super-high but I’m very optimistic the bishops will be able to complete next week what we tried to begin at our November meeting in light of the new ‘motu proprio,’ (which is) further guidance on what we should be doing to take responsibility for this crisis in the church and respond to it.”
“I hope that there will be some good modifications and amendments to the documents” he said, to strengthen them especially with regard to “transparency and accountability, the two words that resonate most with me right now going into this meeting.”
The bishops must have effective protocols that enable them to hold each accountable, which is “really what Christ asks of us as shepherds of the church,” Archbishop Sample said. “We also need accountability before the people of God.”
As for the proposal for metropolitan oversight, the archbishop said that as metropolitan himself, he takes this charge “extremely seriously.”
“I think the Holy Father’s intention in the ‘motu proprio’ he issued is that the church use her own structures which are already in place to really address these issues in a significant way, and the role of the metropolitan archbishops is a grave responsibility,” he said.
Since the November meeting, when the metropolitan “option” surfaced, “I’ve given it a lot of reflection and I’m overwhelmed a little bit to receive this responsibility … and I pledge that I will do everything I can do to ensure there is full accountability in my realm of influence,” Archbishop Sample said.
“To the eyes of some it looks like the bishops are investigating themselves again and that this is what has gotten us into this mess in the first place,” he remarked.
However, it is important for people “to know and understand” that “using the church’s own structures is what the Holy Father intends,” he explained, and the church’s way of dealing with allegations – “within the church law and structures” – is carried out “without any prejudice” to civil authorities doing their own investigation.
“Both of these tracks have to run parallel, because in the end the church still has to deal with the status” of its own members, he said. “We need our own structure to deal with them” but this does not “hamper” what civil authorities must do on these abuse cases.
Bishop Weisenburger called the metropolitan option “an excellent model.”
“On the one hand it’s true to our history, who we are as a hierarchic church,” he said. “On the other hand, it’s a somewhat new adaptation which I think will allow general principles of investigation to be applied in a healthy local manner. The time limits related to the various steps are especially helpful as it prevents a critical investigation from being delayed.”
When he looks at his region, whose metropolitan is the archbishop of Santa Fe, New Mexico, he said: “I trust that we have a wealth of experts who could come together and undertake an investigation in a timely and professional manner. I think something good for the church is unfolding before us.”
Last fall, when the Vatican asked the bishops’ to postpone voting on these critical abuse protocols, many felt the church was just stalling on the need to address issues of the hierarchy’s accountability, but Bishop Weisenburger feels “the November delay proved beneficial.”
“There was tremendous pressure for the bishops to create an immediate response to the situation – I felt that pressure myself – but in retrospect I’m not sure we make the best decisions when we move that fast,” he told CNS. “I think the Vatican summit helped clarify some of the critical issues. I now think it’s time for the U.S. bishops to come to a consensus on a procedure that can be undertaken easily when a report needs to be made about an allegation against a bishop.”
Bishop McKnight told CNS the laity in his diocese have given him “a consistent message” about the abuse scandal in listening sessions he has held, both this spring in preparation for his “ad limina” report to Rome and last fall ahead of the bishops’ November meeting: That message is to “get it all out now,” rather than this piecemeal approach to revelations about abuse, past or present.
One of his big questions about the McCarrick scandal, he said, is why haven’t members of the hierarchy “who were knowledgeable and complicit in his promotion” just come forward on their own and take responsibility?
“This does not require an investigation or special adjustment of canon law,” Bishop McKnight said. “I understand and feel the frustration of the laity.”

(Follow Asher on Twitter: @jlasher)

Incoming priests had varied professions before entering seminary

By Mark Pattison
WASHINGTON (CNS) – The new crop of priests being ordained this year had a wide variety of careers before discerning a call to priesthood, according to a report issued May 3 by the Center for Applied Research in the apostolate.
Education was the top career choice of ordinands at 11 percent – more than twice any other field.
Some reported entirely different career endeavors.
“I spent five years playing guitar in a punk rock band that toured the country and recorded albums,” said Patrick Klekas of the Diocese of Reno, Nevada. Klekas’ band was called the Girlfriend Season. In a 2010 interview with his hometown newspaper, the Elko Daily Free Press, he said, “We’re hoping to get to a point where we can do this full time.” Klekas will be doing something else full time instead.
“I have a deep love of astronomy and that the study of the night sky helped lead me to baptism and faith in God at age 20,” said Dean Marshall of the Diocese of Sacramento, California, on a vocations webpage for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
“I was a pole vaulter at a Division I university,” said Derik Peterman of the Archdiocese of Detroit. “I try to keep involved with the sport by coaching and competing.”
“I once drove a taxicab – before Uber or Lyft – on the weekends while holding a full-time job during the week,” said Timothy Kalange, who will be ordained a Benedictine priest.
“I was a dental assistant before I entered the seminary. I have traveled to 15 different countries,” said Charles Moat Jr., who will be ordained for the Society of the Divine Word. “I was a member of the United States Air Force Honor Guard, where I participated in the inauguration of President George W. Bush and the funeral of President Ronald Reagan.”
Then, there are the more circuitous paths to the priesthood. Said Stephen Buting of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee: “I never altar served as a youth and was terrified of lectoring at Mass.”
With data collected annually for the past 20 years, some comparisons between then and now can be made by CARA, which is housed at Georgetown University in Washington.
The average age of ordinands who responded to the 1999 survey was 36. Over the past 20 years, that has trickled downward to 33. The youngest ordinand responding to this year’s survey was born in 1994; the oldest was born in 1949.
One-fourth of all ordinands responding to the survey, compiled by CARA’s Mary Gautier and Sister Thu T. Do, a member of the Lovers of the Holy Cross, reported having education debut before beginning seminary studies. The average debt was a hair under $30,000; some ordinands had debt as high as $119,000. During their years as a seminarian, they were able to reduce that debt by only $3,000 on average.
Religious communities, home to about a quarter of all of this year’s ordinands, did the most to help their seminarians hack away at their debt; 68 percent of religious ordinands reported that their orders helped.
Family members helped 24 percent or ordinands reduce their educational debt, and the Knights of Columbus’ Fund for Vocations helped 16 percent of reporting diocesan ordinands cut their debt, although no help from them was reported by religious order ordinands. Other sources of financial help included parishes, the Serra Fund for Vocations, friends and co-workers, and the Mater Ecclesiae Fund for Vocations.The CARA survey also tracks factors that may help lead men to a priestly vocation. Seventy-seven percent reported that both their parents were Catholic when they were children, and 34 percent have had a relative who is a priest or religious. Seventy-five percent of ordinands responding to the survey said they participated in eucharistic adoration on a regular basis before entering the seminary, and 73 percent prayed the rosary. Next closest was attending prayer group or Bible study, cited by 47 percent. Fifty-two percent reported participating in a “Come and See” weekend at the seminary or the religious order, while 66 percent have seen the vocational promotion DVD “Fishers of Men,” published by the USCCB.

Alabama abortion bill applauded

By Catholic News Service
MONTGOMERY, Ala. – By passing a bill to ban abortion in nearly all circumstances, the Alabama Legislature has recognized that abortion is “the extinguishing of a unique human life,” said the president and CEO of Americans United for Life.
“From conception to natural death, every single human life deserves to be protected by law. The violence of abortion is never the answer to the violence of rape,” said Catherine Glenn Foster in a May 15 statement. “Like other states that have passed laws concerning when life begins, Alabama has relied upon scientific and medical facts.”
The state Senate passed the measure late May 14 in a 25-6 vote. It includes exceptions for when the life or health of the mother is seriously threatened and when the child has a fatal disease. It bans abortion in all other circumstances, including rape and incest, and would make performing an abortion at any stage of pregnancy a felony punishable by up to 99 years in prison.

A pro-life sign is displayed during the 2019 annual March for Life rally in Washington Jan. 18. By passing a bill to ban abortion in nearly all circumstances, the Alabama Legislature has recognized that abortion is “the extinguishing of a unique human life,” said the president and CEO of Americans United for Life. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

It now heads to Republican Gov. Kay Ivey, who has not stated publicly if she will sign it. The state House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved it in early May.
If the bill becomes law, Alabama will have the most restrictive abortion law in the country. Legal challenges that are expected to be filed swiftly also could “become fodder for the swirling debate over if – and when – the Supreme Court might consider overturning the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling,” CNN reported.
Republican state Rep. Terri Collins said after the vote that bill was meant to challenge Roe v. Wade and protect the lives of the unborn, “because an unborn baby is a person who deserves love and protection.”
In the debate leading up to the vote, Senate Minority Leader Bobby Singleton, an opponent of the bill, called it “a sad day in Alabama. You just said to my daughter, you don’t matter, you don’t matter in the state of Alabama.”
Afterward, he was quoted as saying the state and supporters of the measure “ought to be ashamed” Singleton added: “Women in this state didn’t deserve this. This is all about political grandstanding.” Other opponents called the bill cruel and a “war on women.”
Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, a national pro-life group, called passage of the near-total ban on abortion “a landmark victory for the people of Alabama who, like most Americans, overwhelmingly reject the extreme status quo of abortion on demand imposed nationwide by Roe v. Wade.”
“Across the nation there is growing momentum, informed by science and compassion, and spurred on in reaction to abortion extremism in New York and Virginia, to recognize the humanity of the unborn child in the law,” she said.
“It is clearer than ever that Roe is far from being settled law in the eyes and hearts of the American people, and this is increasingly reflected in state legislatures,” she added.

Magistrate denies motion to dismiss charges against plowshares activists

By Dennis Sadowski
WASHINGTON (CNS) – A federal magistrate judge denied motions from seven longtime Catholic peacemakers to have charges dismissed on religious freedom grounds in connection with their April 2018 protest at an East Coast submarine base.
Magistrate Judge Benjamin Cheesbro of the Southern District of Georgia said in an April 26 ruling that the defendants, all Catholics, failed to show that the government violated their rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
In an 80-page ruling, Cheesbro determined that while the cause the activists espoused is legitimately religious and their faith is sincere, the 20-year prison term that the seven face was the government’s least coercive response to the protest.Bishop Joseph Kopacz testified on behalf of the protestors on Nov. 7 of last year.
Cheesbro said the faith-based activists could have pursued other means to carry out their protest against nuclear weapons on religious grounds rather than illegally entering the Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay in Georgia.
Cheesbro also denied the defendants’ three other legal arguments for dismissal, saying that the federal government acted appropriately in charging them with conspiracy, destruction of property, depredation of government property and trespass in connection with the Kings Bay Plowshares action on the night of April 4-5, 2018.
Bill Quigley, a law professor at Loyola University New Orleans who is pro bono legal representative for the seven, told Catholic News Service April 29 that an appeal of Cheesbro’s decision would be filed with the U.S. District Court for Southern Georgia within 30 days of the ruling.
“We think he was at least half right, that our people are sincere, they were motivated by deep religious, Catholic faith and the opposition to nuclear weapons is a key part of Catholic faith,” Quigley said of Cheesbro’s ruling.
“We disagree with the idea that it’s appropriate that the least restrictive means for the government to address people’s religious belief is by exposing them to 20-plus years in prison. That’s going to be one of the key challenges we bring (in the appeal),” Quigley explained.
The defendants, all Catholics, include Elizabeth McAlister of Baltimore; Jesuit Father Steve Kelly of the Bay Area in California; Carmen Trotta of New York City; Clare Grady of Ithaca, New York; Martha Hennessy of New York, granddaughter of Catholic Worker co-founder Dorothy Day; Mark Colville of New Haven, Connecticut; and Patrick O’Neill of Garner, North Carolina.
Father Kelly, McAlister and Colville remain jailed in Georgia, while the four others have been released on bond.
The protest marked the 50th anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and to “repent of the sin of white supremacy that oppresses and takes the lives of people of color here in the United States and throughout the world.”
The seven entered the submarine base, the East Coast home of the Trident nuclear submarine, and during approximately two hours placed crime scene tape and spilled blood at different locales while posting an “indictment” charging the military with crimes against peace, citing the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
The Navy’s fleet of Trident submarines carries about half of the U.S. active strategic nuclear warheads, according to military experts.
In their arguments, the activists sought dismissal of the charges on grounds that they were being selectively prosecuted, that the charges were “duplicitous and multiplicitous,” that the government failed to identify an offense under international and domestic law, and that they were being unlawfully prosecuted under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Seven Catholics who call themselves the Kings Bay Plowshares are seen April 4, 2018, before they entered the Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay in Georgia to protest nuclear weapons. They were arrested and charged with conspiracy, trespass, and destruction and depradation of property. Patrick O’Neill, second from left, Martha Hennessy, third from left, and Carmen Trotta, right, have been released on bond. The other four decided not to bond out and remain in a detention facility n Brunswick, Ga. (CNS photo/Kings Bay Plowshares) See KINGS-BAY-PLOWSHARES April 29, 2019.

Catholic officials pleased with new conscience protection rule

By Carol Zimmermanni
WASHINGTON (CNS) – The announcement of a new conscience protection rule May 2 protecting health care workers who object to abortion procedures on religious grounds was welcome news to U.S. Catholic bishops and the president of the Catholic Health Association.
President Donald Trump announced the rule at the White House Rose Garden during a speech on the National Day of Prayer.
“Just today we finalized new protections of conscience rights for physicians, pharmacists, nurses, teachers, students and faith-based charities,” Trump said.
The rule, issued by the Department of Health and Human Services and enforced by that department’s Office of Civil Rights, is more than 400 pages long with specific guidelines requiring hospitals, clinics and universities that receive federal funding through Medicare or Medicaid to certify that they comply with laws protecting conscience rights regarding abortion, sterilization and assisted suicide.
Under the rule, medical workers or institutions would not have to provide, participate in or pay for procedures they object to on moral or religious grounds.
“Laws prohibiting government funded discrimination against conscience and religious freedom will be enforced like every other civil rights law,” said Roger Severino, director of the Office of Civil Rights in a May 2 statement.
“This rule ensures that health care entities and professionals won’t be bullied out of the health care field because they decline to participate in actions that violate their conscience, including the taking of human life. Protecting conscience and religious freedom not only fosters greater diversity in health care, it’s the law,” he said.
Last year, the department of Health and Human Services received more than 1,300 complaints alleging discrimination in a health care setting based on religious beliefs or conscience issues.
Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, and Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, chairman of the bishops’ Committee for Religious Liberty, issued a joint statement May 2 commending the adoption of these new regulations to ensure existing laws protecting conscience rights in health care are enforced and followed.
The statement said these laws have been policy for years, but “the previous administration did not fully enforce them and now they are increasingly being violated.”
The bishops said health care providers such as nurses and medical trainees “have been coerced into participating in the brutal act of abortion against their core beliefs, while churches and others who oppose abortion are being compelled by states like California to cover elective abortion – including late-term abortion – in their health plans.”
“We are grateful that this administration is taking seriously its duty to enforce these fundamental civil rights laws, and we look forward to swift action by HHS to remedy current violations in several states,” they added.
The bishops also pointed out that “conscience protection should not fluctuate as administrations change” and stressed that Congress should provide “permanent legislative relief through passage of the Conscience Protection Act.”
Sister Carol Keehan, a Daughter of Charity and president and CEO of the Catholic Health Association of the United States, said her organization “welcomes efforts to implement and enforce existing federal laws providing conscience protections.”
In a May 2 statement, she said the Catholic Health Association is currently reviewing the final regulation.
She stressed that “Catholic hospitals and long-term care facilities welcome and serve all persons in need of care. Our mission and our ethical standards in health care are rooted in and inseparable from the Catholic Church’s teachings about the dignity of the human person and the sanctity of human life from conception to natural death. These are the source of both the work we do and the limits on what we will do,” she said.
“Every individual seeking health care is welcome and will be treated with dignity and respect in our facilities, “ she added.
Critics of the rule have argued that it will limit women’s health care access. The same day the rule was announced, San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera sued the Trump administration, saying the rule sacrificed patients’ health.
The rule takes effect 60 days after publication in the Federal Register.

(Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim)

NCEA convention offered financial and leadership tips with teaching ideas

By Joyce Duriga
CHICAGO, Ill (CNS) – Rocio Carballo came all the way from Belize to attend the National Catholic Education Conference April 23-25 at McCormick Place Convention Center in downtown Chicago. It was her seventh year attending the convention.
“In my first year, I thought it would be aimed only to teachers, but it’s more than that. I’ve appreciated the focus on leadership skills and financial oversight for people like me,” said Carballo, who is president of Sacred Heart College, a high school and junior high school with 1,550 students and 135 staff.
More than 9,000 educators and leaders from dioceses around the country and beyond, including representatives from the Diocese of Jackson, attended this year’s conference, along with 700 vendors. They took part in hundreds of sessions on topics focused on religion, technology, leadership, curriculum development, trauma, finances and prayer. There are 1.8 million students enrolled in Catholic schools across the country, according to the National Catholic Education Association.
Carballo said she is taking home information about both marketing Catholic schools and effectively using digital media in the classroom.
“I attended sessions that showed us how to retain our students and, most importantly, how to market our Catholic institutions and continue to uphold the institutional excellence,” she said.
The 25-year veteran educator said the convention liturgies were spiritually enriching.
Chicago Cardinal Blase J. Cupich celebrated the opening Mass April 23 with a choir of students from local Catholic schools. Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas, apostolic administrator of Las Cruces, New Mexico, and the NCEA’s board chairman, celebrated Mass April 24 and Chicago Auxiliary Bishop Robert G. Casey celebrated the closing Mass.
Jeanine Ranzen, a teacher at Our Lady Queen of Peace School in Madison, Wisconsin, said this year’s convention was one of the best she attended.
“It’s been very uplifting being here and being surrounded by 9,000 people who are on the same mission,” she said.
Ranzen, who grew up in St. Barnabas Parish in Chicago, was also encouraged by seeing so many young teachers in attendance.
“The young teachers have a lot of passion for what they are doing. We want to have good teachers to continue the mission,” she said.
Next year’s conference will take place in Baltimore April 14-16.

(Duriga is editor of Chicago Catholic, archdiocesan newspaper of Chicago.)

Video game may have role in Notre Dame Cathedral’s reconstruction

By Adele Chapline Smith
NEW YORK (CNS) – When Paris’ Cathedral of Notre Dame caught fire, the world held its collective breath. The spire fell, and the wooden roof was reduced to ash, but the holy relics were saved, and the interior preserved from the worst ravages of fire. Now more than $1 billion has been raised to restore Notre Dame, and a video game may prove to be the structure’s saving grace.
Ironically, the franchise to which this particular title belongs, “Assassin’s Creed,” is traditionally known for its anti-Christian sentiment.
The saga of “Assassin’s Creed” charts a centuries-long struggle between two rival organizations, the Templars and the Assassins. The Templars seek to bring peace to the world through absolute control. The Assassins, with whom gamers are meant to sympathize, believe, by contrast, that “nothing is true, everything is permitted.”
That’s obviously a credo wholly incompatible with Catholic theology. So it’s no surprise that the Assassins are often depicted in conflict with the church.
In 2014, Ubisoft released “Assassin’s Creed: Unity,” which sees the two factions struggling for power during the French Revolution. From the start, “Unity” received immense praise for its accuracy in depicting 1700s Paris — and especially, the detail in its depiction of the renowned cathedral.
Publishing giant Ubisoft is headquartered in Paris and has generously donated over $500,000 and pledged its virtual rendition of Notre Dame and its research from “Assassin’s Creed: Unity” to the restoration team. In addition, it made the game free to PC players for a week.
Assistant art director at Ubisoft Montreal, Caroline Miousse, spent two years working on the modeling of the cathedral. In 2014, Miousse told Destructoid that “you really need to be sure that you’re recreating (Notre Dame) as accurately as possible because it’s so well known.”
The video game is not completely faithful to the Notre Dame of the period, however. Some of the cathedral’s art is protected under copyright, and so could not be shown. At the request of players, moreover, Miousse added the familiar spire to the game, despite the fact that this was an anachronism.
In reality, the original spire was removed in 1786, three years before the outbreak of the Revolution. The replacement that collapsed in the conflagration was of 19th-century vintage.
“Assassin’s Creed: Unity” is a breathtaking work of art and the years spent on Notre Dame are visible as gamers scale the great building. Production coordinator Maxime Durand aptly said in an interview with Fast Company that “history in our games is not just a setting or empty buildings on a Hollywood back lot.”
Academic advisers were also brought in as consultants, including University of Quebec professor Laurent Turcot, to assist with both the game’s events and its environment. While historical incidents are subject to interpretation, the layout of the city itself is not.
Turcot sought out ways to recreate 18th-century Paris — no easy task since many neighborhoods of the city were radically altered in the mid-19th century at the behest of Emperor Napoleon III and under the supervision of Baron Georges-Eugene Haussmann. Turcot made use of architectural archives, paintings and engravings. All this was done in the name of historical authenticity.
That insistence on adhering to reality will be immensely beneficial as restoration plans for the cathedral move forward. Notre Dame helped shape “Assassin’s Creed: Unity,” and now the game will get to return the favor – both to cathedral and to Paris as a whole.

(Smith reviews video games for Catholic News Service.)

WHO guidelines on kids’ screen time provide more ammo for parents

By Mark Pattison
WASHINGTON (CNS) – Parents must feel at times it’s a losing battle keeping screens out of their children’s hands, much less away from their eyes.
Seemingly out of the blue, however, the U.N.’s World Health Organization issued guidelines April 24 on screen time for young children. The upshot: No screen time for babies under a year old, and no more than one hour a day for children under age 5.
The guidelines may come as a relief for parents. They echo recommendations issued by a group no less prestigious than the WHO, but not as influential: the American Academy of Pediatrics. For children under 18 months of age, the only screen time the organization approves of is video chats. For children under 2, only “high-quality programming” should be watched — and with a parent, so children can understand what they’re seeing.
The WHO guidelines were not issued in a vacuum. For babies, WHO recommend they spend at least 30 minutes a day on their stomachs, and for the under-5 set, the WHO guidelines call for three hours daily of physical activity. This combats sedentary habits that all too easily lead to obesity.
“Early childhood is a period of rapid development and a time when family lifestyle patterns can be adapted to boost health gains,” said Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus, WHO director general, in an April 24 statement.
“Improving physical activity, reducing sedentary time and ensuring quality sleep in young children will improve their physical, mental health and well-being, and help prevent childhood obesity and associated diseases later in life,” said Dr. Fiona Bull, WHO program manager for surveillance and population-based prevention of noncommunicable diseases, in her own April 24 statement.
It’s still one thing for experts to advise something, and another for people to heed it.
“Sometimes, I think the public health community is a little tentative about putting out advice that might be hard for parents to swallow,” said Josh Golin, executive director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, in an April 29 telephone interview with Catholic News Service from Boston, adding that he thought the WHO guidelines were “fantastic.”
“We need to deliver some tough medicine to parents, even if it’s not what they want to hear,” Golin said.
He acknowledged, though, that it’s not entirely parents’ fault. “We live in a culture that makes it very, very hard for parents to limit screen time. Screens are falsely marketed as being educational,” Golin said. In effect, he added, they become “short-term babysitters.”
Just because the WHO guidelines extend only to age 5 “doesn’t mean that there isn’t a lot of work to be done on 6-and-overs,” Golin said. “The more kids use screens early, the more they’ll use them in later life,” which then cuts down on their capacity to “play creatively, to work through their own boredom. They just can’t always say, ‘Mom or Dad, I’m bored,’ or they’ll never develop those inner resources.”
There are enough reasons to cut down on screen usage. “Media multitasking is exacerbating ADHD,” Rogers told CNS. There are also plenty of ways to find alternatives to being continuously connected. The website https://www.screenfree.org/resources/ has far more than a week’s worth of ideas in English, Spanish and, now, French to stay screen-free.
“Faith leaders are not necessarily saying much or aware of the screen time issues that are pulling children apart,” Rogers said. However, the Children’s Screen Time Action Network is planning an interdenominational webinar for late summer called “An Interfaith Conversation About Screen Time.”

(Pattison is media editor for Catholic News Service.)

Victim assistance coordinators comfort in a behind-the-scenes ministry

Editor’s note: April is National Child Abuse Awareness month. Both editions of Mississippi Catholic will be dedicated to the issue. It includes local and national perspective on abuse and abuse prevention including stories from a Catholic News Service special series: Children at Risk.

By Dennis Sadowski
WASHINGTON (CNS) – Their work begins with a phone call.
Whether the call is from someone who is angry, embarrassed, unsure of what to do or needs a friendly ear, diocesan and eparchial victim assistance coordinators are the face of the church’s response to victims of sexual abuse by a church worker – clergy or otherwise.
It’s a line of work that is public in one sense but not all that well known in another. While their names often appear in parish bulletins, the faithful aren’t always sure of the role they play in the life of the church.
Most importantly though, coordinators told Catholic News Service, theirs is a ministry built on compassion, created to show that the Catholic Church wants to help people in their recovery and reconciliation after an appalling violation of their human dignity.
“It’s about listening and communicating and identifying needs,” Kathleen Chastain, victim services coordinator in the Office of Child and Youth Protection in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Missouri, said of her work.
“There are calls now and then where people are just angry and venting, but the vast majority are people who are trying to find the way to reconciliation,” said Frank Moncher, a clinical psychologist who is victim assistance coordinator in the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia. “They’re hurt, they’re wounded. They’re obviously upset about the way things were handled in the past. But here they are looking for a way of finding peace.”
For Heather Banis, a clinical psychologist who is victim assistance coordinator for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, the idea of ministry is foremost in her work.
“My sense is that this is doing the right thing. When we couple what we do for healing with what we do for prevention, I feel like we’re moving steadily to a safe and more authentic response in regard to prevention and recovery needs,” she said.
The position of victim assistance coordinator was established in the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People” adopted by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in response to the sexual abuse crisis that exploded in 2002. Article 2 of the charter states that “dioceses/eparchies are to have a competent person or person to coordinate assistance for the immediate pastoral care of persons who report having been sexually abused as minors by clergy or other church personnel.”
Deacon Bernard Nojadera, executive director of the Secretariat of Child and Youth Protection at the USCCB, said all 197 U.S. dioceses and eparchies have such a coordinator in place.
“In some cases, these are actually diocesan employees. In some cases, they are using an outside third party like Catholic Charities or a local mental health agency to provide these services. But there is someone they (survivors) can connect with, that can accompany the survivor victim on their journey toward healing,” Deacon Nojadera said.
The Diocese of Jackson’s victim’s assistance coordinator, Valerie McClellan, is a licenced counselor who heads up the Solomon Counseling Center. She and her staff are trained in trauma therapy for both children and adults or refer a victim for other appropriate treatment.
Victim assistance programs are meant to show that the church cares about abuse victims, he added.
“Opening transparency is a big thing that needs to be carried out. Victim assistance coordinators are one way that that’s being carried out. They’re communicating that they’re promising to protect, promising to heal,” he said. “The victim assistance coordinator is one of the ways that the church is doing that, one of the ways of helping the bishops keep that promise of transparency.”
Banis, Chastain and Moncher know that when a victim reaches out to their office, it is a high bar to get over. Victims may have self-doubt, serious unmet mental health needs or skepticism that the church really will help. No matter the situation, they credited survivor victims for taking an important step.
“Somebody on their first call, it may be very unsettling. It’s not easy. It’s hard to do. There’s a lot of anxiety about that,” said Banis, who has been in her role since 2016 and has worked with the Los Angeles Archdiocese assisting with abuse claims for a decade.
Chastain, a onetime business consultant whose work in abuse awareness and prevention at her parish led to her appointment as coordinator, has been in the position for three years. She works side-by-side with an independent ombudsman in determining a survivor victim’s needs. The ombudsman is charged with understanding the facts of the allegation while Chastain’s role is to support the victim.
“We could accompany them to the police for a statement and pulling in any professional counselor or spiritual adviser. Sometimes it’s sitting with the bishop. And it’s figuring out what it is that they need to help them on their journey,” Chastain said.
“For the most part, the victims are very grateful (for what we do),” she added.
Moncher, in his position for six months, said he has found that most of the survivors who call the office are “people of strong faith.”
“They’ve been asked, ‘Why haven’t you given up on the church?’ Their answers have been, ‘It’s the people who made the mistake. The church is still the church,’” he said.
Such deep faith in the church has been inspiring for the coordinators. They said that while survivor victims want justice from the church, they also desire to stay connected with the broader Catholic community, the body of Christ.
In some cases, the coordinator’s office regularly convenes support groups of survivor victims. In Arlington, the gatherings differ from meeting to meeting. One may offer advice on healing and the next may be a holy hour of prayer and reflection.
“The benefit of the group is fighting against the isolation that they feel when they’re going through this, Moncher said.
Banis keeps a list of survivors whom she can contact to air ideas for outreach and programs for support. “We are doing our best to stay relevant and authentic in these efforts,” she told CNS.
The coordinators agreed that the entire church has a role in helping abuse survivors achieve healing and reconciliation and working to help perpetrators face the harm they have committed.
“We’re the body of Christ together and that we as a community can heal together if we recognize each and every member and hold those who have harmed accountable in a reconciliatory manner,” Chastain said. “And we need to believe and validate and support and care for these survivors, who, even if they’ve left the church, are a part of our community.”
Banis closed by offering advice to those who criticize survivor victims for waiting years to report their abuse.
“I want people to take a moment to think about what it would be like to be a child and to have heard from their parents that this person (abuser) is one of the most respected persons you will ever meet and a representative of God,” Banis said. “To be harmed by that person, perhaps threatened by that person or perhaps in some way made to feel complicit is a powerful deterrent to a small child who is afraid, who has been frightened and is afraid of what could happen next and who has been told not to be expected to be believed.
“This is something that changes people’s lives. It changes what they feel about themselves, their families and certainly how they feel about God.”
She continued, “I want to caution people before we’re quick to judge and dismiss and ask, ‘Why now?’ Just remember what it’s like to be 6 or 7 years old or 12 or 13 years old and to be caught up in something you cannot possibly understand. I just feel like we need to have more compassion.”
Banis added, “It’s a community effort to live up to our responsibilities to make the healing begin.”

(Follow Sadowski on Twitter: @DennisSadowski)