Father Columba Stewart to deliver the 2019 Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities

WASHINGTON, D.C.— On July 18, the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) issued a press release after Fr. Columba’s nomination saying “Father Columba Stewart, OSB, Benedictine monk, scholar of early religions and executive director of the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library (HMML) at Saint John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota, will deliver the 2019 Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities.”
The NEH has this lecture as the “highest honor the federal government bestows for distinguished intellectual achievement in the humanities. The NEH, a federal agency created in 1965, selects the lecturer through a formal review process that includes nominations from the general public.
Stewart will deliver the lecture, titled “Cultural Heritage Present and Future: A Benedictine Monk’s Long View,” on Monday, October 7, at the Warner Theatre in Washington, D.C., at 7:30 p.m. The lecture is free and open to the public and will stream online at neh.gov.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Father Columba Stewart. (Photo courtesy Hill Museum and Manuscript Library)

‘‘A ‘Monument Man’ of our time, Father Columba Stewart has dauntlessly rescued centuries’ worth of irreplaceable cultural heritage under threat from around the world,” said NEH Chairman Jon Parrish Peede.
Stating that he was ‘deeply humbled” by his selection, Stewart replied, “It is an extraordinary moment in our nation’s intellectual life and one in which a keener sense of the wisdom and experience of the past, critically interpreted, has much to offer.’
Dubbed ‘the monk who saves manuscripts from ISIS,’ by Atlantic magazine, Stewart has spent 15 years working with international religious leaders, government authorities and archivists to photograph and digitize ancient to early-modern religious manuscripts, especially those at risk due to war, strife or economic uncertainty.
Stewart has traveled to the Middle East, Africa, Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and South Asia to partner with local communities to photograph historic handwritten books and documents in their original context. His work has taken him to some of the world’s most volatile regions.
Since becoming executive director of HMML in 2003, Stewart has striven to make these documents available to a wide public, aided in part by grants from the NEH. In 2015 HMML launched an online reading room to give visitors access to the library’s growing digitized collection of more than 250,000 handwritten books and 50 million handwritten pages, the world’s largest digital collection of ancient manuscripts.
Stewart professed vows as a monk at Saint John’s Abbey in 1982 and was ordained to the priesthood in 1990. Much of his work in preserving ancient religious texts is informed by Benedictine tradition. A scholar of early Christian monasticism, Stewart holds a bachelor’s degree in history and literature from Harvard University, a master’s in religious studies from Yale University, and a D.Phil. in theology from Oxford University. Stewart has published extensively on ancient Christianity, monasticism, and manuscript culture, including Working the Earth of the Heart: the Messalian Controversy in History, Texts and Language to 431, Cassian the Monk, Prayer and Community: the Benedictine Tradition, a wide range of essays and articles and is working on his current book, Between Earth and Heaven.
The Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities is the NEH agency’s signature annual public event. Past Jefferson Lecturers include Rita Charon, Martha C. Nussbaum, Ken Burns, Walter Isaacson, Wendell Berry, Drew Gilpin Faust, John Updike, Henry Louis Gates Jr., Toni Morrison, Barbara Tuchman, and Robert Penn Warren. The lectureship carries a $10,000 honorarium, set by statute.”
You can find the complete text of the Press Release on NEH’s website and can follow it on social media channels on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @NEHgov | #jefflec19

Los migrantes son personas, no un problema social

Por Junno Arocho Esteves
CIUDAD DEL VATICANO (CNS) – Los cristianos están llamados a seguir el espíritu de las bienaventuranzas, a consolar a los pobres y oprimidos, especialmente a los migrantes y refugiados que son rechazados, explotados, dijo el papa Francisco.
Los más pequeños, “personas descartadas, marginadas, oprimidas, discriminadas, abusadas, explotadas, abandonadas, pobres y sufrientes” claman a Dios, “pidiendo ser liberados de los males que los afligen”, dijo el papa en su homilía del 8 de julio, durante una Misa..
“¡Son personas, no se trata solo de cuestiones sociales o migratorias! No se trata solo de migrantes, en el doble sentido de que los migrantes son antes que nada seres humanos, y que hoy son el símbolo de todos los descartados de la sociedad globalizada”, dijo el papa.
Según cifras citadas por el Vaticano, aproximadamente 250 migrantes, refugiados y voluntarios de rescate asistieron a la Misa, que se celebró en el altar de la cátedra en la Basílica de San Pedro.

A migrant and her daughter rest outside Our Lady of Guadalupe Cathedral in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, July 14, 2019. As part of the legal proceedings under a new policy established by the U.S. government, they were returned to Mexico from the United States to await their court hearing for asylum. (CNS photo/Jose Luis Gonzalez, Reuters)


En su homilía, el papa reflexionó sobre la primera lectura del libro de Génesis en la que Jacob soñaba con una escalera que conducía al cielo “y los mensajeros de Dios subían y bajaban sobre ella”.
A diferencia de la Torre de Babel, que fue el intento de la humanidad de alcanzar el cielo y convertirse en dioses, la escalera en el sueño de Jacob fue el medio por el cual el Señor desciende a la humanidad y “se revela a sí mismo; es Dios quien salva”, explicó el papa.
“El Señor es un refugio para los fieles, que lo invocan en tiempos de tribulación”, dijo. “Porque es precisamente en esos momentos que nuestra oración se vuelve más pura, cuando nos damos cuenta que la seguridad que ofrece el mundo tiene poco valor y solo Dios permanece.. Solo Dios salva”.
La lectura del Evangelio de San Mateo, que recuerda a Jesús curando a una mujer enferma y resucitando a una niña de entre los muertos, también revela “la necesidad de una opción preferencial para los más pequeños, aquellos a quienes se les debe dar la primera fila en el ejercicio de la caridad”.
“Son los últimos, engañados y abandonados para morir en el desierto; son los últimos, torturados, maltratados y violados en los campos de detención; son los últimos, que desafían las olas de un mar despiadado; son los últimos dejados en campos de una acogida que es demasiado larga para ser llamada temporal,” dijo.
El papa Francisco dijo que la imagen de la escalera de Jacob representa la conexión entre el cielo y la tierra que está “garantizada y accesible para todos”. Sin embargo, subir esos pasos requiere “compromiso, esfuerzo y gracia…Me gustaría pensar, entonces, que podríamos ser nosotros aquellos ángeles que suben y bajan, tomando bajo el brazo a …los últimos, que de otra manera se quedarían atrás y verían solo las miserias de la tierra, sin descubrir ya desde este momento algún resplandor del cielo,” dijo.

‘We need a habitat on the moon’

By Jo Ann Zuniga and James Ramos
HOUSTON, TEXAS (CNS) – Upcoming space travel plans need to include living on the moon, similar to scientific habitats in the Arctic and Antarctica, said Gene Kranz, NASA’s former flight director.
“I believe we need a habitat on the moon just like we have scientists living at the North and South Poles,” Kranz said, a parishioner at Shrine of the True Cross Catholic Church in Dickinson, Texas. “The challenge of a long-term facility and learning to use the resources of the moon is needed for scientific and economic objectives, not political reasons. It needs to be a world project.”

Gene Kranz is seen during a May 17, 2019, video shoot in his Dickinson, Texas, home. Kranz, flight director for Apollo 11, is a parishioner at Shrine of the True Cross Catholic Church in Dickinson, Texas, near Houston. (CNS photo/James Ramos, Texas Catholic Herald)


Still in the Houston-area, at age 85, Kranz remains a very busy man. During his 34 years with NASA, he directed the Gemini and Apollo programs, including the first lunar landing mission of Apollo 11. Now Kranz has been at the forefront of celebrating the 50th anniversary of man’s touchdown on the moon July 20, 1969.
He has shared his experiences in making history and dreams for the future in speaking to multiple community and business groups and at NASA’s Johnson Space Center events. He is scheduled to address the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston’s upcoming Prayer Breakfast July 30 in Houston.
Asked whether he ever wished that he’d flown into space himself, the aerospace engineer and retired fighter pilot said, “In the very early days of the Mercury program, astronauts would be limited to doing one or two missions. I’ve been involved, in various capacities, with 100” missions, up through the Shuttle missions.
With each Apollo spacecraft’s successful splashdown, Kranz could breathe a sigh of relief and offer a prayer of thanksgiving.
Following the fatal tragedy that claimed the lives of three NASA astronauts during a dress run of Apollo 1, Kranz told his team at the Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston: “From this day forward, Flight Control will be known by two words: ‘tough’ and ‘competent.’ ‘Tough’ means we are forever accountable for what we do or what we fail to do,” he said. “’Competent’ means we will never take anything for granted.”
That commitment remained a hallmark of his storied career, especially highlighted in his efforts to safely bring the Apollo 13 crew back to Earth. Kranz was the lead flight director during the Apollo 13 mission.
The hit film, Apollo 13, chronicled Kranz’s work to devise the plan at NASA’s Mission Control that would safely bring the ship and its crew of three astronauts, Jim Lovell, Jack Swigert and Fred Haise, home after its oxygen system failed. Actor Ed Harris portrays Kranz in the award-winning film, which was directed by Ron Howard.
Of the effort, Kranz said, “It wasn’t about me; it was about the teams and the people in Mission Control. We truly believed that, in our line of work, failure is never an option.”
“It involves team-building and respect that goes both ways,” Kranz said. “Integrity is really the driver.”
In discussing current plans to send astronauts back to the moon by 2024 and Mars in the 2030s, Kranz said, “We have a marvelous array of technology and a gifted group of young trained individuals. What we need is leadership and support from the top.”
Kranz also helped spearhead a recent effort to restore NASA’s Apollo Mission Control Center, located at Johnson Space Center in Houston, to its exact appearance. Debuted in June ahead of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, the restored center features $5 million of full restoration.
The restoration features original artifacts that were cleaned and restored, or items recreated based on original samples, according to a NASA news release, including paint colors, carpet, coffee mugs and even ashtrays, all placed just as they were 50 years ago.
In a Space Foundation survey in 2010, Kranz was listed second among space heroes who inspired the public, only behind No. 1 pick astronaut Neil Armstrong, the first human to set foot on the moon.
Born in Toledo, Ohio, in 1933, Kranz graduated from St. Agnes Elementary School and Central Catholic High School in Toledo.
In 2007, NASA awarded Kranz the Ambassador of Exploration Award during a presentation ceremony at Central Catholic High School, where the award, a lunar moon rock sample collected by Apollo 16 astronauts, remains today. Central Catholic is the only high school in the world with a lunar rock, said Kranz.
Taught and mentored by men and women religious throughout his education, Kranz is a 1951 graduate of Central Catholic. The award recognizes the sacrifices and dedication of the Apollo, Gemini and Mercury astronauts.
The moon rock is encased in Lucite and mounted for public display at the school as inspiration to a new generation of explorers who will help return humans to the moon and eventually travel on to Mars and beyond. The rock is part of the 842 pounds of samples collected during the six Apollo lunar expeditions from 1969 to 1972, according to NASA records.
An inscription describes the rock as “a symbol of the unity of human endeavor and mankind’s hope for a future of peace and harmony.”
Kranz retired from NASA in 1994 after 37 years of federal service. He and his wife, Marta, are the parents of six children, and reside in Dickinson, where he is also a member of the Knights of Columbus Father Roach Council No. 3217.
Kranz may be one of the few Catholics ever immortalized as a LEGO mini-figure. As part of a collector’s set featuring Apollo 13 astronauts, a two-inch representation of Kranz sports his trademark high and tight haircut and white vest. He’s depicted holding a tiny version of the Apollo 13 flight plan. A London-based company, MiniFigs.me, created the set, as well as the only other featured Catholic, a Pope Francis mini-figure.

(Zuniga and Ramos are on the staff of the Texas Catholic Herald, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.)

As a nation we must honor the humanity and basic needs of migrants

By Cardinal Daniel N. Dinardo, Archbishop José H. Gomez and Bishop Joe S. Vásquez
We mourn the deaths of 23-month-old Angie Valeria and her father, Oscar Martinez, who died last month while fleeing El Salvador in search of safety in the United States. This young family embarked on a journey of over 1,400 miles, through some of the most dangerous parts of the world, which ended with a father paying the ultimate price — his life — to keep his daughter from harm’s way. Angie was still scared after she was left safely on the river bank and she jumped back in the water to be with her dad, her security.
Unfortunately, the deaths of Angie and her father are not the first we have seen during this ongoing humanitarian crisis. In December, we saw the face of Jakelin Caal Maquin, a 7-year-old from Guatemala who died from sepsis while in custody of the Border Patrol. These are just two of the deaths that we know about. Countless others, all precious children of God, do not make it to the border, finding their final resting place somewhere along a journey that began with hope but quickly turned into despair.

A mourner holds an immigrants’ rights sign before a June 30, 2019, vigil honoring the lives of Salvadoran migrant Oscar Alberto Martinez Ramirez and his 23 month-old daughter, Valeria. They drowned June 24 in the Rio Grande while trying to reach the United States.
(CNS photo/Loren Elliott, Reuters)


These deaths are occurring because the United States is closing off access to asylum protection through policies and enforcement that send the clear and strong signal that you are not welcome.
As a nation, we must learn the harsh lessons from our past about closing doors to U.S. asylum. One of the more unfortunate chapters of our great nation’s history was our experience during World War II, when we turned away the S.S. St. Louis, a ship carrying nearly 1,000 Jewish refugees fleeing persecution in Nazi Germany. In the aftermath of that experience and that war, the United States helped lead the world in establishing international protocols to ensure that refugees fleeing persecution in their country of nationality or habitual residence would receive protection when they present themselves at another country’s borders.
The United States went on to enshrine those protocols into U.S. refugee and asylum law, creating a body of laws that has been embraced over the ensuing decades on a bipartisan basis by presidents and Congress alike.
Sadly, the current administration recently announced that over the next week, it will conduct a series of broad enforcement actions to round up thousands of Angie’s and her father’s countrymen, as well as other Central American families, who managed to make it to safety inside the United States.
The announced goal is to detain and then deport them, consigning them to a frightening and uncertain fate in the country from which they fled. The president has suggested that his administration will refrain from engaging in this unfortunate enforcement action only if Congress repeals the asylum protections that it helped lead the world to establish.
We all know the dangers associated with migrating from the Northern Triangle countries of Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. The situation is so dire in these countries due to gang violence, corrupt governments and poverty that people are willing to risk their lives to walk through Central America and Mexico in the hope for asylum in the United States. The death of young Jakelin put a face on the crisis for a while, but unfortunately, for many it has faded and been forgotten. This new image of Angie and Mr. Martinez has been seared into our minds much like the photo of Alan Kurdi, the 2-year-old Syrian boy who died in 2015. The image of his lifeless body on the beach highlighted the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean.
For the second straight summer, asylum seekers, most of them children and families, are caught in the middle of a stalemated political battle as they endure the brunt of life-altering scenarios and poor conditions. Last year, as part of the zero-tolerance policy implemented to slow the migration of people to our country and deny them the right to seek the protection of asylum, we saw heartbreaking scenes of children being ripped away from their parents.
This year, many are forced to remain in Mexico as they risk dangers on the border to await their uncertain future. Those who are able to cross the border are put in facilities with reported conditions that are substandard for a facility run by the United States Government.
Congress has, for years, been unable to find the solution so that we can be a nation that welcomes and embraces the immigrant. It is imperative that the administration and Congress come up with a solution to these tragic realities and pass a comprehensive immigration reform plan that will include offer immediate humanitarian relief.
We recognize the right of nations to control their borders and provide safety for citizens. We also believe that, in the best of our nation’s traditions, it is within our capability as a nation to honor the humanity and basic needs of migrants in a way that does not compromise our nation’s security.
One of God’s greatest commandments is to “love thy neighbor as thyself.” Following this commandment, we must remain a country that provides refuge for children and families fleeing violence and persecution or we have lost our core values as a nation. Perhaps the memory of our turning away of asylum seekers on the S.S. St. Louis and the image of Angie and Oscar’s lifeless bodies, face down on the river bank, will motivate Congress and the administration to work together to reach a rapid and just solution to this crisis that does not involve eviscerating U.S. refugee and asylum law.

(Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo is the archbishop of Galveston-Houston and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Archbishop José H. Gomez is the archbishop of Los Angeles and vice president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Bishop Joe S. Vásquez is the bishop of Austin and the chairman of the USCCB Committee on Migration. )

Obispos de EE. UU. toman medidas para responder a la crisis de abuso

Por Carol Zimmermann
BALTIMORE (CNS) – Durante la asamblea de primavera, de la Conferencia de Obispos Católicos de los EE. UU. (USCCB, por sus siglas en inglés), del 11 al 13 de junio en Baltimore, quedó claro que los obispos tenían que responder a la crisis de abuso sexual en la iglesia; y en su último día los mismos aprobaron una serie de procedimientos para iniciar este proceso.
El 13 de junio, votaron para implementar el documento “Vos Estis Lux Mundi” (“Tú eres la luz del mundo”), emitido por el Papa Francisco en mayo último para ayudar a la Iglesia Católica a proteger a sus miembros del abuso y responsabilizar a sus líderes.
Los obispos también aprobaron el documento “Reconociendo nuestros compromisos episcopales” para responsabilizarse con los compromisos de la carta, incluyendo una política de cero tolerancias para con el abuso. El documento dice que cualquier código de conducta en sus respectivas diócesis con respecto al clero también se aplica al obispo.
Los obispos votaron a favor del protocolo relativo a las “restricciones no penales disponibles para los obispos”, que describe las opciones canónicas para un obispo retirado, por renuncia o removido, “…debido a una conducta sexual indebida con adultos o negligencia grave en el cargo…,” aún si sus actos fueron encontrados antes o después de su renuncia.
La primera acción, el 12 de junio, fue la votación para la implementación de un sistema de terceros que permitiría a las personas realizar informes confidenciales en línea, de denuncias de abuso en contra de obispos, y a través de un número de teléfono gratuito. El sistema, que sería operado por un proveedor externo contratado por la USCCB, se debe implementar a más tardar el 31 de mayo de 2020.
Avanzar fue sin duda un tema de la asamblea que, el 11 de junio, se hizo eco de Francesco Cesareo, presidente de la Junta Nacional de Revisión, quien pidió un mayor papel para los laicos en la investigación de denuncias de abuso o reacción a los informes de abuso contra obispos, una revisión exhaustiva de la “Carta para la Protección de Niños y Jóvenes” y una revisión en el proceso de auditoría con respecto a la implementación diocesana de la carta.
Un pequeño grupo de manifestantes, en gran parte en silencio, estuvo el 11 de junio frente al hotel donde se estaba llevando a cabo la reunión. Una de las demandas del grupo fue que los obispos denuncien los abusos ante la policía.
En el último día de la reunión, los obispos también aprobaron una redacción para mantener el tratamiento de la pena de muerte en el Catecismo para Adultos de los Estados Unidos, en línea con el catecismo universal revisado.
Los obispos también dieron su consentimiento, mediante el voto por voz, para continuar con la causa de la santidad de Irving “Francis” C. Houle, de la Diócesis de Marquette, Michigan, un hombre del que se dice haber recibido los estigmas 16 años antes de su muerte en 2009, pero quien antes de eso tenía “…muchas curaciones físicas y espirituales extraordinarias…” atribuidas a él, según una biografía.

(A este informe contribuyeron Dennis Sadowski, Mark Pattison, Rhina Guidos y Christopher Gunty.)

Bishops’ actions at spring meeting called ‘work in progress’

By Carol Zimmermann
BALTIMORE (CNS) – The gathering of U.S. bishops June 11-13 in Baltimore was anything but business as usual.
“The spring meetings are usually more pastoral, and the November meeting has a heavier agenda,” said Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of Arlington, Virginia, who said this meeting had a “sense of urgency” and momentum to it, both in the smaller group gatherings and when the bishops were all together.
“We were here for specific task … and by God’s grace we will move forward,” he said during a June 12 news conference.
The bishops typically meet twice a year as a body. The spring meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is usually in June at different locations each year, and sometimes it is a retreat. The fall meeting in recent years has always been in Baltimore. This year’s spring meeting was switched somewhat last minute to the Baltimore location where the bishops were not the only ones in the hotel space but were adjacent to other conference gatherings.
The other time a spring bishops’ meeting was almost entirely devoted to the church crisis was the 2002 meeting in Dallas, just months after the church was reeling from a clergy sexual abuse crisis that made headlines in The Boston Globe.
But where that meeting focused on misconduct by priests, this year’s meeting looked at responding to the misconduct of some bishops and the failure of some bishops to properly address abuse.
Since their two general assemblies last year, the bishops have been confronted with an overwhelming need to prove to U.S. Catholics that abuse within their own ranks won’t be tolerated. They were hit with allegations last summer that one of their own, former Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, had committed abuses over decades. Then just a week before the spring meeting, details emerged from the Vatican-ordered investigation of retired Bishop Michael J. Bransfield of Wheeling-Charleston, West Virginia, highlighting financial and sexual improprieties.
Names of both bishops came up during the assembly at different points, when the bishops spoke about protocols to put in place to make sure these incidents wouldn’t happen again.
Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, opened the meeting June 11 by saying: “We begin the sacred work this week of purging the evil of sexual abuse from our church.”
But just the week before, he had faced his own accusation, which he strongly denied, of having mishandled an accusation of sexual misconduct case against his former vicar general.
The bishops also had the weight of unfinished business upon them in this spring’s gathering: policies and procedures in response to the abuse crisis that they had put aside at last year’s fall general assembly at the Vatican’s request. They also had a new, but related, item: their plan to implement Pope Francis’ norms issued May 9 to help the church safeguard its members from abuse and hold its leaders accountable.
Although the bishops passed all the abuse measures before them, none of them said these actions would hit the reset button for the church. In closing remarks, Cardinal DiNardo acknowledged that the steps they had taken were a “work in progress.”
They voted to implement the norms contained in the pope’s “motu proprio” on responding to sexual abuse in the church and they also approved all of their own measures including a promise to hold themselves accountable to the commitments of their “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People,” including a zero-tolerance policy for abuse.
“We, the bishops of the U.S., have heard the anger expressed by so many within and outside the church over these failures,” that document said, adding: “The anger is justified; it has humbled us, prompting us into self-examination, repentance and a desire to do better, much better. We will continue to listen.”
In other votes, the bishops approved actions they can take when a retired bishop resigns or is removed “due to sexual misconduct with adults or grave negligence of office, or where subsequent to his resignation he was found to have so acted or failed to act.” They also approved the implementation of an independent third-party system that would allow people to make confidential reports of abuse complaints against bishops through a toll-free number and online.
“It’s right we give attention to this,” Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of Newark, New Jersey, said at the closing news conference. He said the collateral damage from the church abuse scandal is how it is “costing people their faith.”
He also stressed that the possibility of “proceeding with what we passed today” without laypeople would be impossible and “highly irresponsible.”
Bishop Robert P. Deeley of Portland, Maine, chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Canonical Affairs and Church Governance, which oversaw the all of the abuse documents the bishops voted on, except for the third-party system, told reporters at the close of the meeting that bishops are already collaborating with the laity. We are not in a church where the laypeople are here, and the bishops are there, he said, gesturing a gap.
Although some bishops had voiced hope on the floor June 13 that there be mandatory lay participation in church abuse monitoring, Bishop Deeley said the bishops couldn’t “go beyond what the Holy Father has given” in the norms he issued, but that doesn’t mean laity are or will be excluded, he said.
That was precisely the point Bishop W. Shawn McKnight of Jefferson City, Missouri, hoped to bring home near the meeting’s close when he emphasized the need to involve laypeople because “it’s the Catholic thing to do.”
He said when bishops go home from this meeting, they should be able to tell people they did everything they were able to do to respond to this crisis.
He told Catholic News Service during a break in the meeting June 13 that the church needs to get back to its origins and the Second Vatican Council’s vision of lay collaboration with clergy, adding: “Perhaps God is utilizing this crisis in a way to get us back on track again.”

(Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim)

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.