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Volunteer gardener at crisis maternity home provides balm for the wounded

IMAGE: CNS photo/John Farmer de la Torre, Catholic Charities of Southern Missouri

By Dennis Sadowski

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Outside of a week or two in the darkest days of winter, it's always gardening season for Jana Hukriede.

A key volunteer at Catholic Charities of Southern Missouri's LifeHouse Crisis Maternity Home in Springfield, Hukriede finds that hardly a day passes in which she is not organizing volunteers, looking for bargains on gardening supplies and planning which vegetables to plant when in the numerous raised beds at the home's 11-acre property.

Hukriede, 69, a retired Catholic school teacher, has been at it for seven years and has seen her involvement grow into one that the women who live at the maternity home have come to appreciate and welcome.

Catholic Charities USA recognized Hukriede's commitment as its 2019 volunteer of the year. She will be honored during the agency's annual gathering Sept. 25-27 in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She kidded that she hopes the ceremony won't interfere with her garden schedule.

Hukriede said she started volunteering after seeing an invitation in her parish bulletin at Holy Trinity Church because she "felt moved by the Spirit."

"I thought, 'Well, gosh, what can I do to help?'" she recalled.

Joined by the dozens of volunteers she has recruited -- mostly retirees, but occasionally the group includes a few strapping college students who stop by to aid with a major project -- Hukriede has helped create a caring community focused on meeting the needs of pregnant women and young mothers challenged by homelessness, domestic violence or addictions.

Her efforts have led to a gradual expansion of the garden. The harvest of kale, broccoli, onions, green beans, tomatoes, potatoes and squash has increased enough to become a significant source of healthy food for LifeHouse residents. Not only does Hukriede's team grow and harvest the food, but they have helped the women get involved in weeding, harvesting and canning the produce that is grown.

There's now a greenhouse on site so that vegetables can be grown year-round and Hurkiede is eyeing the eventual installation of a water irrigation system.

"It's just so gratifying, too, to get other people involved and work as a team for a common goal," Hukriede told Catholic News Service. "We all know we are doing a great service for Catholic Charities and the women at LifeHouse."

Michele Marsh, LifeHouse director, described Hukriede as motivated to serve women who have had more than their share of hardship in life.

"She a joyful person. She's dedicated. Really, she's inspired so many people. And she's a good role model," Marsh said.

It's more than the garden to which Hukriede has committed her time. She continues as an on-call substitute teacher, is a lector and extraordinary minister of holy Communion at Holy Trinity, and helps prepare meals after funerals for parishioners.

She said her husband of 34 years, Malcolm, supports her effort. The couple's son John, 36, is married and has a 3-year-old son with wife Linsey. Their son Stephen was born with cerebral palsy and died in 2010 at age 24.

Hukriede said she is pleased to be recognized for her volunteerism, but that awards are not why she has devoted so much time to gardening at LifeHouse.

"It's about giving service," she said. "That's what Jesus modeled."

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Follow Sadowski on Twitter: @DennisSadowski

 

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Curia reforms put priority on evangelization, synodality, cardinals say

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Carol Glatz

ROME (CNS) -- The proposed apostolic constitution for reforming and governing the Roman Curia is expected to emphasize the church's missionary mandate with the creation of a "super-dicastery" merging two offices dedicated to evangelization.

"The main point of the new apostolic constitution is that the church's mission is evangelization. It puts it at the center of the church and of everything the Curia does," Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Mumbai, India, told Vida Nueva, a Spanish weekly publication dedicated to news about the Catholic Church.

Cardinals Gracias and Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, both members of Pope Francis' Council of Cardinals, spoke to the Spanish weekly about the final draft of reforms the council approved at its previous meeting in early April. Vida Nueva provided Catholic News Service with an advance copy of the Spanish-language article, which was to be published April 27.  

The provisional title of the new constitution, "Praedicate Evangelium" ("Preach the Gospel"), "shows that evangelization is the number one goal, ahead of anything else," Cardinal Gracias told Vida Nueva.

"Pope Francis always emphasizes that the church is missionary," Cardinal Rodriguez Maradiaga said, which is why the new dicastery will supersede the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in importance.

The new Dicastery of Evangelization will be a consolidation of the current Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, which coordinates the church's missionary activities, and the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization, which aims to promote a renewal of the faith in countries where Christian vitality has been waning.

Other major changes expected, the cardinals said, include: merging the Pontifical Council for Culture with the Congregation for Catholic Education; transforming the current Papal Almoner's office, which is charged with coordinating Pope Francis' acts of charity, into a Dicastery for Charity; and granting greater authority to the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors.

Cardinal Gracias said it was important the papal commission remain independent from the Roman Curia in order to maintain its credibility; however, "if you are not part of the Curia, you have no power over it."

He said, "It's necessary to strike a balance between credibility and effectiveness" for the commission, whose mandate has been advising the pope and helping local churches understand and utilize best practices when it comes to safeguarding minors from abuse.

A major focus of the constitution is to create a change in mentality and in the relationship between the Holy See and the local churches, represented by the world's bishops, Cardinal Rodriguez Maradiaga said.

The constitution places the Vatican dicasteries at the service of both the pope and the bishops, who are "successors of the apostles" and "are not in an ecclesiological position below those who work in the Roman Curia," the Honduran cardinal said.

Cardinal Gracias said, "The pope wanted a mindset of service to prevail and that the Curia also be directly available to the bishops" in order to help them.
 
The various Vatican offices, therefore, are not meant to be something placed between the bishops and the pope nor are they to be just an "instrument" the pope uses to "supervise" the bishops; the curia is meant to be at the service of both the bishops and the pope, the Indian cardinal said.

The constitution also will include reforms that have already gone into effect, such as the creation of the Dicastery for Laity, the Family and Life, the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development and the Dicastery for Communication.

Cardinal Rodriguez Maradiaga said the new offices and upcoming reforms not only streamline the Curia, but also "emphasize the importance of the laity in the church and for the church" by allowing the possibility for a layperson to head a dicastery. Traditionally, congregations have a cardinal as prefect and pontifical councils have had either a cardinal or an archbishop as president.

The constitution's prologue will emphasize the missionary role of all baptized men and women, not just those who have been ordained or consecrated, the Honduran cardinal added.  

The draft has been sent to the dicasteries of the Roman Curia, the leaders of world's bishops' conferences, the synods of the Eastern Catholic churches, the conferences of major superiors of men and women religious and some pontifical universities for their observations and suggested improvements.  

The two cardinals said they do not expect major changes to come out of the consultative phase since the five-year process of drafting the constitution involved gathering the ideas and concerns of the local churches and the various Vatican offices.

It is hoped each "overall assessment" will be handed in before the end of May -- in time for the six-member Council of Cardinals to study the suggestions and have an amended draft to give to the pope to sign June 29, the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul. If the suggestions do not come in time, the constitution's publication would most likely be delayed until after the summer, the cardinals said.

The apostolic constitution will replace "Pastor Bonus," St. John Paul II's 1988 constitution reforming the Curia.

The new constitution was not going to be a mere "cosmetic change but will promote the change in mentality that has already started," Cardinal Gracias said.

"The Roman Curia will never be the same anymore," Cardinal Rodriguez Maradiaga added.

The Council of Cardinals has been advising the pope on the reform of the Curia and church governance in general since Pope Francis created the body soon after his election in 2013.

The council currently has six members: Cardinals Rodriguez Maradiaga; Gracias; Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state; Sean P. O'Malley of Boston; Reinhard Marx of Munich and Freising, Germany; and Giuseppe Bertello, president of the commission governing Vatican City State.

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Update: Sri Lankan attacks are the latest in series of Easter-related incidents

IMAGE: CNS photo/Athit Perawongmetha, Reuters

By

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (CNS) -- More than 300 people were killed and more than 500 injured in Easter attacks on three churches and three hotels in Sri Lanka. The bombings were the latest in a string of Easter season bombings by extremists.

The others:

April 2, 2018: Four people were shot dead in an attack targeting Christians in the southwestern Pakistani city of Quetta on Easter Monday.

April 9, 2017: Bombings at two Coptic Orthodox churches in Egypt on Palm Sunday saw 45 people killed.

March 27, 2016: 75 people died and more than 300 were injured after bombs exploded in a park in a Christian neighborhood of Lahore, Pakistan, as people celebrated following Easter services; the Taliban claimed responsibility.

April 2, 2015: Christian students were targeted as the University of Garissa, Kenya, was attacked on Holy Thursday; 148 people died.

April 8, 2012: A suicide car bombing at Easter church services in the Nigerian city of Kaduna killed at least 38 people; the Islamist group Boko Haram claimed credit.

 

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Encore: Argentine martyrs' road to beatification recalls period of military rule

IMAGE: CNS photo/David Agren

By David Agren

LA RIOJA, Argentina (CNS) -- Bishop Enrique Angelelli Carletti traveled to a rural corner of his diocese in July 1973 to celebrate the feast of San Antonio. He was run out of town instead.

A mob organized by wealthy landowners pelted him with stones. It was their response to his promotion of worker cooperatives at a time when such concepts were criticized as communist, and anything emphasizing the "social" was seen as subversive.

Bishop Angelelli's pastoral approach was inspired by the Second Vatican Council and Young Christian Workers Movement, but the resistance became more brazen in the ensuing years. He was murdered in a mysterious car crash in July 1976 -- a crime carried out by the then-ruling military dictatorship.

The bishop's murder followed the slayings of two priests -- Conventual Franciscan Father Gabriel Longueville and Father Carlos de Dios Murias -- and Wenceslao Pedernera, a pastoral worker.

The four churchmen are collectively known as the Martyrs of La Rioja. They will be beatified April 27 at a ceremony in La Rioja, 700 miles northwest of Buenos Aires in the arid Andean foothills.

Their road to beatification recalls the troubled period of military rule and church acquiescence as abuses occurred. But it also vindicates a pastoral approach since championed by Pope Francis, who, while Jesuit provincial, befriended Bishop Angelelli.

The La Rioja martyrs "are the first victims of the military dictatorship to be declared martyrs by the church," said Mariano de Vedia, author of a biography on Bishop Angelelli. "It's a gesture showing Francis' commitment to the church that's close to the poor."

The beatifications have been greeted with muted enthusiasm in La Rioja and Argentina, however. Many locals in La Rioja still know little of the martyrs' legacy, let alone their names.

Such is the controversy still clinging to Bishop Angelelli's legacy and the country's difficulties confronting the atrocities of the 1976-1983 military dictatorship, which some in the church hierarchy supported and many more did not actively oppose.

"Argentina is a country looking more at the past than to the future and more open to controversies than agreements," said Jose Maria Poirier, publisher of the Catholic magazine Criterio.

"He is considered a socially minded bishop, very concerned with people's issues, very critical of the military dictatorship and, with few exceptions, the Argentina episcopate didn't defend him," said Poirier.

Bishop Angelelli was born in Cordoba, 250 miles southeast of La Rioja, in 1923. He entered the minor seminary at age 15, studied in Rome and was elevated to bishop by St. John XXIII in 1960.

He participated in the sessions of the Second Vatican Council and the 1968 Latin American bishops' council meeting in Medellin, Colombia, where the bishops proposed "a preferential option for the poor," a principle unpopular with Argentina's hierarchy, according to observers.

After Vatican II, the bishop returned to Cordoba, where he was an auxiliary, to implement new pastoral approaches, though his archbishop was not on board.

Bishop Angelelli "understood the Vatican II and its challenges," said Delfor Brizuela, a former priest and current human rights director in La Rioja's provincial government. "But he didn't really fulfill a bishop's role" in Cordoba, where "they sent him to a parish like any other priest, but (as) a bishop."

The bishop was appointed to La Rioja in 1968. He was sent there "as if it were the end of the world," Brizuela said, as the province was one of the poorest and least influential in Argentina, while social conditions were "semi-feudal." But he embraced the appointment and saw it as an opportunity to put the preferential option for the poor into practice.

Some of the changes were symbolic: He removed the names of the wealthy from the pews they reserved for themselves in the cathedral, where many poor Catholics preferred not to attend. He embraced popular piety, celebrated Christmas Eve Mass in poor pueblos and did not mind churchgoers not wearing their Sunday best.

Bishop Angelelli criticized injustices, but also promoted ministries for young people and for improving women's equality in a bastion of machismo, said Sister Maricarmen Paruas, who worked with the late bishop.

"He valued women and valued women religious," Sister Maricarmen said. "As women, as religious, he gave us opportunities to work in his pastoral projects as equals."

His pastoral approach attracted priests and religious wanting to put Vatican II into practice. Sister Maricarmen, 87, arrived in La Rioja from Spain in 1970 with the Religious of the Assumption congregation.

"When we came here, we saw the possibility of living a different church with a different bishop. We saw the prospect of working in barrios, in the midst of the people, and we stayed," she said.

"We established a presence of walking together, of listening and learning," she added. "We learned a lot from the people. He learned a lot from the people. He told us, 'Listen a lot before speaking. Drink lots of mate,'" an infusion popular in Argentina.

Though denounced as communist by the gentry and attacked mercilessly in the press, Bishop Angelelli "received the rich, the same as the poor," and "was able to forgive his worst enemy," Sister Maricarmen said.

Many of the bishop's conflicts with the wealthy stemmed from his promotion of worker-run co-ops.

Rafael Sifre, a collaborator in the rural movement supported by Bishop Angelelli, recalls an attempt to form a co-op to work the land of a vineyard owner, who had died. But resistance from local landowners was ferocious, to the point Sifre was kidnapped three times and the bishop was pelted with stones and accused of storing explosives in the local parish, he said.

Pedernera worked in the cellar of winery in Mendoza province, but moved to La Rioja to join Bishop Angelelli's rural movement. He also tried to form a co-op -- The Lucky Star to grow crops such as melons, tomatoes and peppers -- but also encountered resistance from landowners and the military dictatorship.

Susana Pedernera, one of his three daughters, recalls constant harassment and espionage -- to the point vehicles, driven by spies dressed as women, would pass by the family's farm. Wenceslao Pedernera was a catechist in the local parish and would "read a page from the Gospel after work," his daughter recalled.

But when he read the Bible, "People distanced themselves" and called him "communist" and "extremist," she said. "That's when problems started."

On the night of July 24, 1976, gendarmes pulled Wenceslao Pedernera from his home, at gunpoint, and beat him badly. He died of his injuries.

Six days earlier, Fathers Longueville and Dios Murias also were taken violently as they ate supper with a congregation of women religious. Their bodies were found beaten by railway workers.

"They tried to silence the bishop by killing those close to him," said Sifre, who was sent to Europe for his own safety. "He was persecuted for a church that tried to live the Gospel."

Few in the Argentine bishops' conference backed Bishop Angelelli. The Jesuits -- whose Argentine provincial was then-Father Jorge Mario Bergoglio -- held a retreat in La Rioja and, when the seminarians were sent away to study for their safety, the Jesuits welcomed them at their school in suburban Buenos Aires.

On Aug. 4, 1976, Bishop Angelelli was returning to La Rioja after celebrating a novena as part of the funerals for Pedernera and the two priests. His vehicle was run off the road by assassins in what was supposed to look like an accident. In 2014, two military commanders were found criminally responsible for his death.

Sister Maricarmen recalls Bishop Angelelli telling her on the eve of his murder, "They're closing in." She urged him to leave, but he refused.

"My place is here alongside my people," he said. "How can I leave my flock without a shepherd?"

 

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Update: Church, agency, union leaders on fact-finding trip to Central America

IMAGE: CNS photo/Adrees Latif, Reuters

By Christie L. Chicoine

NEW YORK (CNS) -- A delegation that includes the head of Catholic Charities of the New York Archdiocese, union leaders, state officials and representatives of humanitarian aid agencies are visiting the three Central American nations that now face a cutoff of U.S. aid ordered by President Donald Trump.

During the April 22-26 fact-finding trip, the delegation planned to assess conditions in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador that have sparked years of migration northward to the U.S.

Msgr. Kevin Sullivan, executive director of Catholic Charities of the New York Archdiocese, told reporters during a news conference April 11 at the agency's Community Services - Immigration Legal Center in lower Manhattan that the delegation wanted to better understand the on-the-ground conditions people face daily in the Northern Triangle countries.

Joining Msgr. Sullivan on the fact-finding mission were New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, other Catholic Charities representatives and officials from Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. bishops' overseas relief and development agency.

Briefing participants fielded questions related to immigration and border issues, unaccompanied minors and the impact of U.S. policies on families at the border and in New York.

"We are very, very pleased that so many of our Catholic Charities partners are here today," Msgr. Sullivan said, "because when we are at our best as a country, and as a city and as a state, we don't do things alone. We do them in partnership with those of goodwill who want to make our city, our state, our nation, a more compassionate, a more fair place."

Msgr. Sullivan acknowledged the concern and care New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan has "for immigrants, particularly unaccompanied minors," throughout the years, "but especially last summer when we had the crisis of separated children."

The number of those who continue to come to the United States is increasing, Msgr. Sullivan said. "The partners that we have in New York City and New York state, although stretched, continue to provide compassionate, high quality care," through housing, social and legal services, and counseling.

"Today," Msgr. Sullivan said, "we want to say that as New Yorkers, that we continue to be the city that welcomes and ... encourages newcomers because we're stronger when we welcome and we open our doors to them."

Cardinal Dolan attended the news briefing along with David Hansell, New York City commissioner of the Administration for Children Services, New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and other legal and social service providers.

in response to a reporter's question about whether there is a limit to how many people can come into the country, cited some compelling statistics, Msgr. Sullivan said the archdiocese believes in secure borders as well as "a generous, legal, immigration policy."

"We also believe that there is a need for people to earn a way to remedy a situation that they may have gotten themselves into," he said.

Msgr. Sullivan said in traveling clinics Catholic Charities conducts throughout the New York metropolitan area, staffers see about 100 immigrants on a given day "who don't have the right documents. At the end of the day, 25 of those 100 really just were unaware that they could have the right documents."

He also shared a table listing the population densities of 225 countries. "The United States, on that list, is 175th from the top of dense countries," he said.

DiNapoli anticipated the trip would yield information "from the ground" to share with policymakers in New York state as well as some national leaders.

Cardinal Dolan said that for more than a century Catholic Charities has welcomed, helped and encouraged immigrants and refugees.

"We're going to keep doing it, but we can't do it by ourselves," the cardinal said. "And that's why the wisdom of a morning like this shows me the magnificent choreography of all the different partnerships that we have. So I thank our partners. Do we ever need you and do we ever appreciate you."

Bitta Mostofi, commissioner of the city's Office of Immigrant Affairs, said the "false narrative of people just coming here for no reason, or that they're not children, or that they're not fleeing extreme violence, is just that -- it's false."

"And it's each and every one of our jobs," she said, "to ensure that we're telling the truth about why people are coming, that we're telling the truth about what it means if we leave people behind."

Appelbaum, the union president, said the trip to the Central American nations could not have come at a more appropriate time. "We are leaving the day after Easter, which is also the middle of Passover.

"Passover was the story of a migration of people from their homes leaving in desperation. What happened so long ago should resonate with all of us in terms of what is happening today," he added.

To be true "to our faiths" and "to our city," Appelbaum said, "we have to be speaking out at this time."

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Chicoine is news editor of Catholic New York newspaper of the Archdiocese of New York.

 

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Only risen Christ can bring peace to world at war, pope says at Easter

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- As the machine of warfare continues to churn out more dangerous weaponry, only the power and joy of Christ's resurrection can fill hearts with comfort and peace, Pope Francis said before giving his Easter blessing.

"May the one who gives us his peace end the roar of arms -- both in areas of conflict and in our cities -- and inspire the leaders of nations to work for an end to the arms race and the troubling spread of weaponry, especially in the economically more advanced countries," the pope said as he prepared April 21 to give his Easter blessing "urbi et orbi" (to the city and the world).

Jesus' resurrection from the dead is not only the start of a true renewal that "begins from the heart, from the conscience" but also the beginning of a new world "free from the slavery of sin and death" and now open to God's kingdom of "love, peace and fraternity," he said.

The pope's prayer for peace came a few hours after news broke of multiple bombs that exploded in several churches and hotels in Sri Lanka, killing and wounding hundreds in the capital city of Colombo and the neighboring cities of Negombo and Batticaloa.

After giving his blessing, the pope expressed "sadness and pain" at the attack before leading the crowd in several moments of silent prayer for the victims.

"I wish to express my affectionate closeness to the Christian community, struck while it was gathered in prayer, and to all the victims of such cruel violence," the pope said. "I entrust to the Lord all those who have been tragically lost and I pray for the wounded and all those who suffer because of this tragic event."

According to the Vatican, an estimated 70,000 pilgrims attended the Easter morning Mass in St. Peter's Square, where a vast floral arrangement adorning the steps leading to the basilica highlighted the festive atmosphere.

The display of flowers, imported from the Netherlands, featured more than 57,000 individual flowers, plants and trees, including tulips, daffodils, birch trees and more than 1,500 orange and blue strelitzia flowers that accented the joyful celebration of Christ's resurrection.

Pope Francis did not deliver a homily during the Mass; instead, an announcer invited the crowd to remain in silent prayer for several minutes. As a hushed silence filled the packed square, Pope Francis remained with eyes closed, hands folded and head bowed in prayerful reflection.

Standing on the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica after celebrating the morning Mass, the pope prayed that the risen Christ shine his light upon "those experiencing hardship, pain and suffering," especially in Syria, Yemen, Libya and the Holy Land.

"May the light of Easter illumine all government leaders and peoples in the Middle East, beginning with Israelis and Palestinians, and spur them to alleviate such great suffering and to pursue a future of peace and stability," he said.

The pope prayed that Jesus would bring peace to the African continent, which he said was "still rife with social tensions, conflicts and at times violent forms of extremism that leave in their wake insecurity, destruction and death, especially in Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, Nigeria and Cameroon."

He also prayed for peace in Sudan as well as neighboring South Sudan, whose leaders were recently at the Vatican for a spiritual retreat.

"May a new page open in the history of that country, in which all political, social and religious components actively commit themselves to the pursuit of the common good and the reconciliation of the nation," the pope said.

Turning his attention toward Latin America, Pope Francis prayed for peace in Nicaragua so that a "negotiated solution" would bring peace to its people.

He also remembered the suffering people of Venezuela who "lack the minimal conditions for leading a dignified and secure life due to a crisis that endures and worsens."

The pope prayed that political leaders in the country would put an "end to social injustices, abuses and acts of violence" while taking concrete steps "to heal divisions and offer the population the help they need."

Before delivering his blessing, Pope Francis urged Christians to be renewed by the living Christ who "is hope and youth for each of us and for the entire world."

"May the risen Christ, who flung open the doors of the tomb, open our hearts to the needs of the disadvantaged, the vulnerable, the poor, the unemployed, the marginalized, and all those who knock at our door in search of bread, refuge, and the recognition of their dignity," he said.

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

 

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At Easter the stones of sin, despair, are rolled away, pope says at vigil

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- As individuals and as a church, it can be tempting to dwell on mistakes, failures and sins that block the fullness of life, but Easter is the proclamation that the Lord is victorious and his love will triumph, Pope Francis said.

"Easter is the feast of tombstones taken away, rocks rolled aside," the pope said in his homily April 20 during the Easter Vigil.

The gaze of the risen Lord, he said, "fills us with hope for it tells us that we are loved unfailingly and that however much we make a mess of things, his love remains unchanged. This is the one, non-negotiable certitude we have in life: his love does not change."

Pope Francis began the vigil in the atrium of St. Peter's Basilica, blessing a fire and lighting the Easter candle. A deacon carried the candle into the semi-darkened basilica, lit the pope's candle and began sharing the light with the thousands of people in the congregation. Little by little light filled the world's largest Catholic church.

During the liturgy, Pope Francis baptized and confirmed eight adults, who were between the ages of 21 and 60. The five women and three men included four Italians and one person each from Ecuador, Peru, Albania and Indonesia.

In his homily, the pope focused on the Gospel scene of the women going to Jesus' tomb to anoint his dead body. Pope Francis imagined that the women were worried about how they would remove the stone sealing the tomb and said that in an analogous way it is a worry the entire Christian community can experience.

"At times," he said, "it seems that everything comes up against a stone: the beauty of creation against the tragedy of sin; liberation from slavery against infidelity to the covenant; the promises of the prophets against the listless indifference of the people."

"In the history of the church and in our own personal history," he said, it may seem that "the steps we take never take us to the goal. We can be tempted to think that dashed hope is the bleak law of life."

But, he said, "God takes away even the hardest stones against which our hopes and expectations crash: death, sin, fear, worldliness."

The church is built on the risen Jesus, the living stone, he said, "and even when we grow disheartened and tempted to judge everything in the light of our failures, he comes to make all things new, to overturn our every disappointment."

When the women entered Jesus' tomb, they were met by two angels who asked them, "Why do you seek the living one among the dead?"

Pope Francis said many times Christians keep focused on the dead by giving in to resignation and failure, burying hope and becoming "cynical, negative and despondent."

The "stone of sin" also seals human hearts, he said. "Sin seduces; it promises things easy and quick, prosperity and success, but then leaves behind only solitude and death. Sin is looking for life among the dead, for the meaning of life in things that pass away."

"Why not make up your mind to abandon that sin which, like a stone before the entrance to your heart, keeps God's light from entering in?" the pope asked people at Mass. "Why not tell the empty things of this world that you no longer live for them, but for the Lord of life?"

Easter joy comes when people learn to view their lives as God does, "for in each of us he never ceases to see an irrepressible kernel of beauty," Pope Francis said. "In sin, he sees sons and daughters to be restored; in death, brothers and sisters to be reborn; in desolation, hearts to be revived."

"Jesus is a specialist at turning our deaths into life, our mourning into dancing," he said. With Jesus, each person can experience a "Passover from self-centeredness to communion, from desolation to consolation, from fear to confidence. Let us not keep our faces bowed to the ground in fear but raise our eyes to the risen Jesus."

 

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'Their Calvary was lengthy': Pope's Stations recall those exploited

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Junno Arocho Esteves

ROME (CNS) -- Recalling Jesus' death on the cross, Pope Francis led thousands on Good Friday in reflecting on the crosses of loneliness, fear and betrayal that crucify countless men, women and children in the world.

In the annual Way of the Cross in Rome's Colosseum April 19, the meditation for each station reflected the suffering and pain of people exploited and marginalized.

At the 13th station, Jesus is taken down from the cross, the meditation recalled the funeral of 26 young Nigerian women who drowned in the Mediterranean Sea.

"Their Calvary," it read, "was lengthy and difficult."

"Two of them were bearing in their womb the gift of a new life, children who would never see the light of day," the reflection read. "Yet their death, like that of Jesus taken down from the cross, was not in vain. We entrust all these lives to the mercy of God our father and the father of all, especially the poor, the desperate and the abased."

At each station, various people took turns carrying a large black cross and circling the famed Colosseum, which glowed a fiery orange from hundreds of candles placed around the ruins. Thousands of men, women and children standing outside also held lit candles as the sounds of prayers, reflections and music echoed throughout the hallowed site where many Christian executions took place in ancient Rome.

This year, the meditations for the late-night event were written by Consolata Sister Eugenia Bonetti, a missionary who ministers to sex workers along the roadsides of Italian cities, in police detention centers or in church-run safehouses, helping them get off the streets and rebuild their lives.

Sister Bonetti is a leader among women religious working against human trafficking. She started and led anti-trafficking initiatives for the Italian Union of Major Superiors and helped educate officials in Italy and the United States about the problem.

Many of the meditations reflected on the horrors of human trafficking witnessed by Sister Bonetti.

The prayer during the meditation of the sixth station -- Veronica wipes the face of Jesus -- asked God to "cleanse our eyes so that we can see your face in our brothers and sisters, especially in all those children who, in many parts of the world, are living in poverty and squalor."

"Let us think of all those children in various parts of the world who cannot go to school but are instead exploited in mines, fields and fisheries, bought and sold by human traffickers for organ harvesting, used and abused on our streets by many, including Christians, who have lost the sense of their own and others' sacredness," the meditation read.

At the end of the service, Pope Francis read a prayer he wrote, asking Jesus to help Christians today to "see in your cross all the crosses of the world."

He also prayed that Christians may see the cross of Christ in the church that, although faithful to the Gospel, "struggles to carry your love even among the baptized themselves" and is "continually attacked from within and from without."

In his prayer, which he read from a hillside overlooking a torch-lit cross and the crowds holding candles, the pope remembered the crosses of people "hungry for bread and love," especially those who are "lonely and abandoned even by their own children and relatives."

The pope also remembered the crosses borne by children "wounded in their innocence and purity," and who also "find themselves marginalized and discarded even by their families and their peers."

He also prayed for consecrated men and women who are "rejected, mocked and humiliated" for bring Christ's light into the world as well as those "who along the way have forgotten their first love."

Concluding his prayer, Pope Francis said, "Lord Jesus, rekindle in us the hope of the resurrection and of your definitive victory against all evil and all death."

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju

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Solitary confinement in U.S. prisons qualifies today as torture

IMAGE: CNS photo/Robert Galbraith, Reuters

By Mark Pattison

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Few people think about it in these terms, even around Easter, but Jesus was tortured as a prisoner before his death on a cross. There's no other way to characterize the 39 lashes ordered by Pontius Pilate, or the crown of thorns. Or, for that matter, the lance in his side to see if he was really dead or just looked dead.

It brings into sharp focus that, while the methods have changed over the past 2,000 years, torture remains part of prison life.

The federal Justice Department report April 3 on prison conditions in Alabama told of "a high level of violence that is too common, cruel, of an unusual nature and pervasive." Among the findings, none of which were ever tracked by the state: 15 prison suicides in the past 15 months, a prison homicide rate well above the national average, and sexual assaults in "dormitories, cells, recreation areas, the infirmary, bathrooms, and showers at all hours of the day and night."

The investigation began after a series of lawsuits earlier in the decade and published reports describing brutality, violence -- and torture -- in state prisons.

While states are rarely subject to the kind of federal scrutiny Alabama received, U.S. prisons have rarely been held up as models for rehabilitation. Even some tactics used in prison meant to rehabilitate prisoners now qualify as torture.

One such tactic is solitary confinement.

Benjamin Franklin and several Quaker leaders first instituted solitary confinement in Philadelphia in the late 18th century, believing that total isolation and silence would lead to penitence -- from which we get the name "penitentiary."

Instead, enforced solitary confinement led to severe mental health problems for prisoners, including insanity. "I believe it ... to be cruel and wrong," said novelist Charles Dickens after a visit to a Pennsylvania penitentiary that had nothing but solitary confinement cells. "I hold this slow and daily tampering with the mysteries of the brain, to be immeasurably worse than any torture of the body." The Quakers later apologized for their advocacy of long-term solitary confinement.

Yet the practice persists.

"We oppose the increasing use of isolation units, especially in the absence of due process, and the monitoring and professional assessment of the effects of such confinement on the mental health of inmates," said the U.S. bishops in their 2000 statement "Responsibility, Rehabilitation and Restoration: A Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Justice."

"One form of torture is ... confinement in high-security prisons," said Pope Francis in an Oct. 23, 2014, address.

"As shown by studies carried out by various human rights organizations, the lack of sensory stimuli, the total impossibility of communication and the lack of contact with other human beings induce mental and physical suffering such as paranoia, anxiety, depression, weight loss and significantly increase the suicidal tendency," Pope Francis said.

The National Religious Campaign Against Torture, or NRCAT, which is based in Washington, has led two-track initiatives decrying torture in prisons both in the United States and abroad.

Leading the U.S. side of the initiative is Johnny Perez, who knows something about extended solitary confinement.

"I was a total of three years in solitary. The longest was 10 months; that was testing positive for cannabis consumption -- smoking weed, in other words," Perez told Catholic News Service in an April 16 telephone interview from New York. "I rely on that experience" in working against torture, he added.

Asked how he made it through, Perez, who was raised Catholic, replied, "Lots of prayer, if that hasn't been obvious," adding a hearty chuckle afterward. "Meditation and understanding. And also the thought that if I don't make it, they win."

Perez said NRCAT works at "engaging faith leaders and mobilizing them" on the issue, "not only with correctional facilities but also legislators."

Faith leaders can be found nearly anywhere. Earlier this decade, NRCAT took its solitary prison cell replica -- a 6-foot-by-9-foot windowless box featuring audio from a maximum security prison in Maine -- to a national Catholic youth conference in Indianapolis. "People are invited to sit in the cell -- for up to one hour -- and those who have are very moved and motivated to take action," said the NRCAT website, www.nrcat.org.

In New York, New Jersey and California, according to Perez, "faith leaders have been able to create mitigation teams where they have direct communication with correctional staff to find some middle ground on what needs to change."

"Between policy and practice is a huge space, And to close that space, we need people who have been affected by these issues to directly engage," Perez said.

One high-water mark in the campaign against solitary confinement came in 2012, when the Senate Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights conducted a hearing on the practice.

The Innocence Project, based at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York, submitted testimony on behalf of several prisoners, exonerated after their conviction, of their time in solitary.

Julie Rea testified she was placed in solitary in an Illinois prison to keep her from harming herself and was then tormented by prison guards who played a recording of a woman being tortured to prevent her from sleeping. Cornelius Dupree, exonerated by DNA after spending 30 years in Texas prisons, recounted receiving one complete meal only every three days when he was in solitary. The other two days he received a spoonful each of rice and beans and a roll.

Nicholas Yarris, freed in 2003 after spending 23 years in solitary confinement on death row in Pennsylvania attempted suicide in prison. Despite his innocence, he asked a year before his exoneration that he be executed rather than continue to be held in what he called "endless degradation."

Clarence Elkins testified he had to spend the last three months in solitary confinement, despite evidence of his innocence to "protect" him from the person who had actually the crime in his case and was housed in the same prison.

Herman Atkins spent 11 years in prison in California, 16 months of it in solitary, before being exonerated. While in solitary, he said he was confined to a small windowless room with a light always on to allow correction officers to watch him at all times, and "when a government has the authority to treat people so poorly," he testified, "it's impossible to hold citizens to a higher standard."

NRCAT asks its affiliates and prison reform advocates to take part in "Together to End Solitary" actions the 23rd of each month. The 23rd is chosen because of the 23 hours each day a prisoner typically spends in solidarity.

"For 23 hours a day for months, years, even decades, more than 80,000 adults and youth are held in solitary confinement in U.S. prisons, jails and detention centers," the NRCAT website says.

Study guides for people of different faiths are available from NRCAT, including one for Catholics. The Catholic study guide features this admonition from Hebrews 13:3, which NRCAT translates as, "Remember those in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured."

 

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Singer-songwriter presents Crucifixion in concert

IMAGE: CNS photo/Joanne Fox, The Catholic Globe

By Joanne Fox

SIOUX CITY, Iowa (CNS) -- Singer-songwriter Tatiana "Tajci" Cameron confessed she didn't always like Holy Week.

"It always seemed to be full of sadness," she told the crowd of more than 500 who gathered April 14 at St. Michael Church, part of Holy Cross Parish in Sioux City.

"Then, I saw how it was a beautiful connecting point between God and us," she said. "He was no longer the 'unapproachable' God, but the God who suffered and died for us."

The award-winning vocalist presented "I Thirst: The Crucifixion Story," on Palm Sunday, reinforcing the passion and death of Jesus evoked from the Gospel reading from Luke for that day.

Cameron, who performed at the foot of the sanctuary, turned and gestured toward the larger-than-life crucifix above the altar.

"When I look at the crucifix, I see myself suffering, too," she mused. "I realized it's OK to be afraid and ask, 'Why, God, did you abandon me?'"

By age 19, Cameron was a pop superstar in Croatia.

"Yes, my image was even made into a doll," she told The Catholic Globe, Sioux City's diocesan newspaper. "I had everything -- clothes, a chauffeured limousine -- yet I was empty."

A powerful encounter with God two years later compelled her to abruptly step away from her fame and embark on a spiritual journey that took her to the United States at age 21.

Despite her deep faith and powerful music ministry, Cameron struggled through years of depression, severe anxiety and panic attacks. Her healing came through years of contemplative prayer, inner work and action.

Soon after getting married in 1999, Cameron, along with her husband, Matthew, embarked on what turned into a 15-year tour of America, during which she performed more than 1,000 "I Do Believe" concerts.

"It was this deeper conversion that helped me through the most difficult time of my life," she said. "That was my husband's diagnosis of and eventual death from cancer in 2017."

Father David Hemann, Holy Cross' pastor, met Cameron in 2000.

"I started doing missions out in Alhambra, California, at the Carmelite Sisters in Orange County," he said. "Tajci and I ended up doing a few concerts together, and when I connected with her recently in Nashville, I invited her to perform at Holy Cross."

Father Hemann pointed out the concert was not a "social evening," but an evening of prayer.

"I have kept the Blessed Sacrament in the tabernacle," he said. "My prayer is that this evening deepens our relationship with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, mending, healing and bringing wholeness to us."

The singer-songwriter interspersed the Crucifixion message with music, Scripture and insights about her life. Cameron's hands alternately glided over and pounded at the keyboard to evoke different responses to her vocals.

Her blond hair practically glowed in the semi-darkness of the church. The upper range of her vocal register was as strong as Celine Dion's, and her occasional vibrato suggested Patsy Cline. A particularly moving moment was when she sang a cappella to "O Sacred Head Surrounded."

"Jesus didn't die to change God's mind about us," she said. "Jesus died to change our minds about God, and the biggest sin we can commit is a refusal of accepting God's love."

Cameron stretched out her hands, like Christ on the cross, several times during the concert to emphasize songs or discernments on Scripture.

"My arms wide open like this feel best," she said. "When I do this, I am lifted up. It's Christ saying to me, 'I've got it. You are safe in my arms.'"

When she was in her late teens, a best friend brought her to church, and on her 21st birthday, Cameron discovered God was calling her to a different vocation.

"I told him I would go wherever he would lead me," she said.

"I felt something I had never felt before," Cameron said, then spread her arms wide open. "I experienced a love that loved me, and I wanted to live in that love."

Emotions overwhelmed the vocalist twice. She invited the audience to join her in "Were You There (When They Crucified My Lord?)" and ceased accompanying them on the final verse to wipe away tears. Cameron's soaring vocals on "You Raise Me Up" concluded with a few more tears from the vocalist.

"That's why I believe this journey (of life) is worth taking," she told the crowd. "I am excited, grateful and blessed to be here tonight."

Cameron lives in Nashville, Tennessee, with her three sons. She volunteers with Better Decisions, mentoring female inmates at a state prison in Nashville. Cameron also serves as a board member of Nashville Peacemakers, an organization that works with at-risk youth in Nashville's low-income neighborhoods and as a presenter with EndSlaveryTN, which raises awareness of human trafficking while working toward preventing it and providing healing for those affected by it.

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Fox is managing editor of The Catholic Globe, newspaper of the Diocese of Sioux City.

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