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Vatican announces pope will attend reconciliation events in Colombia

IMAGE: CNS photo/Leonardo Munoz, EPA

By Rhina Guidos

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Days after rebels in Colombia announced turning in the last of their cache of weapons over to international observers, the Vatican announced June 23 details of Pope Francis' September trip to the war-torn South American country.

The pope is scheduled to visit four cities, starting his trip in the Colombian capital of Bogota Sept. 6, followed by day trips to Villavicencio and Medellin Sept. 8 and 9, respectively, and heading back to Rome from Cartagena after Mass Sept. 10.

Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos had said the pontiff had promised him he would visit Colombia if the government and the rebel group known as FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias) signed a peace agreement. Though Colombian voters last year rejected a referendum on the peace agreement between the government and FARC, Santos later negotiated a modified deal with Colombian opposition leader and former President Alvaro Uribe. The process came with help from the Vatican, including the pope, who met with the two men in late 2016.

The rebels began turning in their weapons to United Nations observers in early June and all were expected to be turned in by June 20, bringing 52 years of war to an end.

The pope is expected to take part Sept. 8 in several acts of reconciliation, including a Mass and prayer, in Villavicencio, according to a schedule released by the Vatican.

Colombian Vice President Oscar Naranjo said in an interview published June 23 in El Tiempo newspaper that that pope's trip comes at a time in the country "when the discussion stops being about how to win the war, but how to achieve peace." The pope's trip cannot be "just another episode" in the national discourse about peace, said Naranjo.

According to some estimates, more than 220,000 have died in the decades-long conflict, tens of thousands have been injured, and more than 7 million were displaced. Concerns about the end of the conflict were reawakened when a bomb exploded inside a mall bathroom in Bogota June 17, killing three and injuring nine people. Some blamed another rebel group, the National Liberation Army, or ELN (Ejercito de Liberacion Nacional). The group, however, denied involvement and said it doesn't target civilians.

While in Colombia, the pope also is set to meet in Bogota Sept. 7 with the directive committee of the Latin American bishops' council, known as CELAM for its Spanish acronym.

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Follow Guidos on Twitter: @CNS_Rhina.

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Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Bishop: 'Fundamental defects' persist in Senate's version of health bill

IMAGE: CNS photo/Shawn Thew, EPA

By Mark Pattison

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The Senate's Better Care Reconciliation Act contains "many of the fundamental defects" that appeared in the House-passed American Health Care Act "and even further compounds them," said the bishop who heads the U.S. bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development.

The Senate released its health care reform bill in "discussion draft" form June 22.

"As is, the discussion draft stands to cause disturbing damage to the human beings served by the social safety net," Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, said in a statement released late June 22. "It is precisely the detrimental impact on the poor and vulnerable that makes the Senate draft unacceptable as written."

Bishop Dewane criticized the "per-capita cap" on Medicaid funding, which would no longer be an entitlement but have its own budget line item under the Better Care Reconciliation Act. The effect, he said, "would provide even less to those in need than the House bill. These changes will wreak havoc on low-income families and struggling communities, and must not be supported."

"An acceptable health care system provides access to all, regardless of their means, and at all stages of life," Bishop Dewane said. "Such a health care system must protect conscience rights, as well as extend to immigrant families."

He indicated the Better Care Reconciliation Act at least partially succeeds on conscience rights by "fully applying the long-standing and widely supported Hyde Amendment protections. Full Hyde protections are essential and must be included in the final bill."

However, the bishops "also stressed the need to improve real access for immigrants in health care policy, and this bill does not move the nation toward this goal," Bishop Dewane said. "It fails, as well, to put in place conscience protections for all those involved in the health care system, protections which are needed more than ever in our country's health policy."

Other first-day reaction to the bill was negative.

The Senate's 142-page draft "is not the faithful way forward," said a June 22 statement from Sister Simone Campbell, a Sister of Social Service who heads the Network Catholic social justice lobby.

"My faith challenges me to heal the sick and care for the widow and the orphan. This Republican bill does the opposite," she said, adding, "We urge a no vote on the Better Care Reconciliation Act."

"Learning about the proposed deep cuts in Medicaid passed by the House of Representatives, the American people looked to the Senate. Sadly, the Senate plan proposes even deeper cuts in Medicaid," said a statement from Larry Couch, director of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd's National Advocacy Center.

"This wanton disregard for human life must be stopped. Millions of children living in poverty, people with disabilities, and older people in nursing homes will be denied life-saving medicine and care," Couch added. "Stop this vicious attack on the most vulnerable people in our communities."

Sister Campbell criticized the Republican-only drafting of the bill, and the announced intent of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, to have a vote on the bill before the Fourth of July recess, which could severely limit debate on the bill or any amendments.

"This bill is a crass political calculation carried out by 13 white, male senators who are out of touch with the realities of millions of ordinary families in every state," she said. "Democracy works best when there are hearings, debate, and discussion to craft a bill that works for everyone, not just a few senators."

"Ending the Medicaid expansion at a slower rate still means that millions of Americans will have their health care coverage taken away. Senators who support this bill will be voting to take away health insurance from the elderly, the disabled, and children," said a June 22 statement from the Rev. David Beckmann, a Lutheran minister who is president of Bread for the World, a Christian anti-hunger lobby.

"Medical bills often drive families, especially those who struggle to make ends meet, into hunger and poverty," Rev. Beckmann added. "Instead of making our health care system worse, Congress should strive to improve the system so that all Americans have the health care coverage they need."

Network, Bread for the World and the Sisters of the Good Shepherd are part of the Interfaith Healthcare Coalition, which also includes as members the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Office of Public Witness; the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism; the Ecumenical Poverty Initiative; the United Church of Christ Justice & Witness Ministries; and the Friends Committee on National Legislation.

The American Psychological Association also came out in opposition to the bill, citing the Medicaid cuts and permission to states to waive certain health benefits.

"This so-called Better Care Reconciliation Act is actually worse than the bill passed by the House, because it would undermine Medicaid even more severely, if a little more slowly," said a June 2 statement by Antonio E. Puente, APA president. "Medicaid is a critical backstop of coverage for mental health treatment, and for millions of older Americans, children and individuals with disabilities. If the goal is to cover more people, why slash Medicaid when it is already much more cost-effective than private sector plans?"

One part of the bill cuts the federal government's share of funding for Medicaid to 57 percent of its cost over the next seven years. States have picked up the balance of the funding to date.

Under the Affordable Care Act, the government had guaranteed that its funding for adults newly eligible for Medicaid would fall to no lower than 90 percent of their costs. Many states expanded Medicaid coverage for all adults ages 18-65 with incomes up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level.

The bill would reduce tax credits to help people buy insurance and would defund Planned Parenthood for one year under the bill. It is expected the Senate will take up the measure on the floor during the week of June 26.

According to an Associated Press analysis, the Republicans' health bill "cuts taxes by nearly $1 trillion over the next decade, mostly for corporations and the richest families in America."

The Better Care Reconciliation Act which would repeal taxes in the Affordable Care Act -- popularly known as Obamacare -- and structure subsidies for insurance policy-holders based on their incomes. It also would continue for at least two years to offer reimbursements to health insurance companies for subsidies that reduce out-of-pocket costs for low-income customers of Obamacare plans.

The bill would allow children to stay on their parents' health plans to age 26. It also would fund $62 billion over eight years to a state innovation fund, which can be used for coverage of high-risk patients, reinsurance and other expenses.

The Congressional Budget Office is expected to issue its "score" of the Senate bill before the end of June.

The CBO's score of the first House GOP-led Obamacare "repeal and replace" bill, which never came to a vote, estimated that 24 million Americans would lose health insurance over the next decade. Its score on the second bill, which squeaked to a 217-213 victory, estimated that 23 million Americans would lose their health care.

"America deserves better than its failing status quo," McConnell said June 22 on the Senate floor when introducing the Better Care Reconciliation Act.

But calling it "mean and heartless legislation," Sen. Patty Murray, D-Washington, said the bill is "going to gut Medicaid. It's going to take away care for our seniors" and "from millions of people across the country," to "give another massive tax cut for the wealthy and well-connected."

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Follow Pattison on Twitter: @MeMarkPattison.

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Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Venezuela risks becoming Caribbean 'North Korea,' former leaders say

IMAGE: CNS photo/Miguel Gutierrez, EPA

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Two former Latin American presidents said the world is running out of time to find a solution to the crisis in Venezuela as President Nicolas Maduro aims to consolidate power over the country.

Despite widespread protests, Maduro's push to "put a group of his friends in what is called a 'constituent assembly,' would be the end of democracy and the annihilation of the Republic of Venezuela," said Jorge Quiroga, former president of Bolivia.

That election "will install a Soviet state in Venezuela, liquidate democracy, end the Congress, cancel elections and turn Venezuela into a sort of Caribbean 'North Korea,'" he said.

Joined by former Colombian President Andres Pastrana, Quiroga spoke to journalists at the Vatican June 23 on the deteriorating situation in Venezuela and attempts to diffuse the crisis following their meeting with Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state.

Protests began after March 29, when the Venezuelan Supreme Court ruled to dissolve the country's parliament, in which the opposition had a two-thirds majority following the 2015 elections. The unprecedented ruling transferred legislative powers to the Supreme Court, which is comprised of judges nominated by Maduro.

Quiroga said he was grateful for Cardinal Parolin's call for humanitarian aid, free elections and the release of political prisoners. He also hoped the international community would "insist and persist" on the Vatican's recommendations.

"The Vatican has enormous moral and political weight and its position -- in the name of Cardinal Parolin and the Holy Father -- would be a determining factor to reel Venezuela back in toward the path of democracy," he said.

However, Quiroga added, Maduro's push for a constituent assembly June 30, comprised mainly of his supporters and aimed at changing the country's constitution, would "finish off Venezuela and destroy the country."

Both men also denounced former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Zapatero and Ernesto Samper, former Colombian president and current secretary general of the Union of South American Nations, for their indirect support for Maduro despite their roles as impartial negotiators between the government and the opposition.

At a June 21 meeting on immigration in Cochabamba, Bolivian President Evo Morales -- flanked by Zapatero, Samper and former Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa -- expressed his support for the Venezuelan government's actions against protestors.

"Dale duro, Maduro" ("Hit them harder, Maduro"), Morales said as he, Samper and others raised their fists in solidarity. Correa and Zapatero, however, did not raise their fists.

"What meaning does this have when former presidents ask a dictatorship like the one in Venezuela to 'hit them harder?' Do they mean 'keep killing, continue slaughtering youth who are raising their voices in Venezuela?'" Pastrana asked.

The former Colombian president condemned the indirect support of two negotiators following the release of images showing government forces shooting and killing a 22-year-old protester, saying that their support decreases the likelihood of a peaceful solution.

"I think dialogue has ended in Venezuela, that word has been stricken from the Venezuelan dictionary. There is no dialogue, there is no possibility for dialogue and less, when Zapatero, Samper and Correa are holding hands with Evo Morales and shouting, 'Hit them harder, Maduro,'" he said.

Quiroga added that he was "profoundly saddened" by Morales' support for Maduro who continues "repressing and killing young people in the streets of Venezuela; continues detaining and judging civilians in military courts; continues to disband the Congress and muzzle the press."

He also accused Zapatero as acting as "a foreign operative of the Maduro government," claiming the former Spanish prime minister tried to act on Maduro's behalf to "scare" opposition members before the parliamentary election that saw them win a two-thirds majority.

"We know his position and that he's pretending to be a negotiator," Quiroga said of Zapatero.

Describing the current situation in Venezuela as a "surrealist dystopia," Quiroga said that calls made by the Vatican supporting democracy must prevail. However, he said, time is running out.

"The risk is that on June 30, Maduro has decided to deliver the final blow of his coup, calling it a vote for a constituent assembly, but in reality, is a final blow for Venezuelan democracy," he said.

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

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Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Under the radar: South Sudan needs media attention, immediate action

IMAGE: CNS photo/Carol Glatz

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis is first of all a shepherd who makes seeking out the lost and forgotten his top priority. But he also knows that wherever he goes, the cameras and news coverage will follow.

He leveraged his pull on the media spotlight early in his papacy when he went to Lampedusa for his very first trip as pope, tossing a funeral wreath onto the vast, unmarked cemetery known as the Mediterranean Sea -- where thousands of migrants die each year escaping from economic distress, political crises or persecution.

His visits to the Central African Republic, refugee centers, prisons, homes for the elderly and ill have all been key stops in his mission to reach out to the neglected peripheries, encourage those who are suffering and the hidden heroes helping them, and wake up the world to their presence and plight.

South Sudan was meant to be next on that list, to red-flag the disastrous effects of civil war -- millions of people facing violence, displacement, chronic hunger and mass starvation -- and to nudge conflicting parties toward peace.

However, mounting doubts over security and how ready those parties may be for negotiation have put a boots-on-the-ground papal visit on hold. And now some Catholic aid and development agencies are wondering, with no pope, how does this tragedy get on the world radar now?

"With Donald Trump, Brexit and terrorist attacks happening in the news," outlets that are usually very receptive to covering humanitarian crises and efforts "don't have the space to cover them," Patrick Nicholson, director of communications at Caritas Internationalis, told Catholic News Service.

Despite the immensity of the tragedy, "it's really off the radar in terms of the world caring," he said, which is why "the pope raising awareness is absolutely crucial." Everybody's efforts to get the word out is still key, and Nicholson and his Caritas colleagues created southsudan.caritas.org after a recent visit to South Sudan to better show the human stories and lives at stake.

Sister Yudith Pereira-Rico, associate executive director of Solidarity with South Sudan, told CNS in Rome that her organization is promoting the hashtag #SouthSudanWeCare on social media to show the South Sudanese people that they will not be overlooked.

"The people there feel they are forgotten. There is no media attention and they always tell us, 'Please, don't forget to speak about us.'"

A member of the Congregation of the Religious of Jesus and Mary, Sister Pereira-Rico said she has spent the past two decades working in the poorest parts of West Africa "and yet I've never see the poverty like there is in South Sudan."

"My first time in South Sudan, in Malakal, I wasn't able to sing 'Hallelujah' in church" having seen the situation of the people. "Now, more and more, I can see that God is here."

Sometimes she and her colleagues can feel so powerless when faced with so many people in need, "but just being there" can offer comfort, she said. "A challenge we have as Christians is believing in the resurrection in these situations, knowing that there is a good end for human history."

Solidarity with South Sudan is an international network of religious congregations that was formed to train primary school teachers, health care workers, pastoral agents and sustainable farmers from all ethnic groups, learning tolerance and reconciliation along the way.

The NGOs do the emergency relief, "and we do development, teach values," Sister Pereira-Rico said.

The 28 nuns, priests and brothers from 20 different congregations and 20 nations living and working together in four different communities across South Sudan are a living witness of what harmony in diversity and collaboration look like, she said.

"We're like the United Nations," she smiled, and "we show people a new model of living."

The local church also provides the credibility, networks and infrastructure that relief agencies need to reach the most vulnerable, said Jerry Farrell, country representative in South Sudan for Catholic Relief Services.

"The church has an incredible reputation. It is battered and weary," like its people, but it never shuts down, it always sticks by its people, which is partly why it's so respected, he told CNS by Skype from Juba.

By working directly with parishes and religious orders, like the Comboni sisters, CRS can get food to 5,000 to 6,000 families in places where no one else has access, he said.

No matter how bad things get, the Catholic Church still is operating its schools, hospitals, clinics and programs all over South Sudan; the facilities may not look as nice as those in the West, "but they work."

"Peacebuilding is quiet, but relentless," he said, and it often does not make for an exciting or visual story.

Media often like to cover things such as the highly complex emergency airdrops to those who are stranded, but Farrell said reporters should be looking at the Catholic schools, like the ones run by the Sisters of the Sacred Heart.

"It's not visually catchy, but that's the real story. That's where the future of South Sudan lies" as these schools provide basic care, nutrition and even vegetable gardens for the mothers to grow healthy food.

The other real story that should get coverage, he said, are the survivors. "The people here are incredibly resilient and one of the main reasons for that is they go to church" and are deeply spiritual people.

With aid from partner agencies, the church becomes a place people go to find basic supplies, safety, sanctuary and "spiritual nourishment because without that, aid is just a pat on the back," Farrell said.

"Things will be better. It will just take time because peacebuilding is meant to help South Sudan heal itself," he said.

As the Catholic, Episcopalian and Presbyterian churches work for peace from the bottom up and the role of political leaders is to help from the top down, he added, someday they will all meet in the middle.

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Follow Glatz on Twitter: @CarolGlatz.

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Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

U.S. Bishops Chairman Reacts to Draft Senate Health Care Bill

WASHINGTON—After the U.S. Senate introduced a "discussion draft" of its health care bill, Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, Chairman of the U.S. Bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, highlighted certain positive elements in the bill, but reiterated the need for Senators to remove unacceptable flaws in the legislation that harm those most in need.

The full statement follows:

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) is examining very closely the new Senate "discussion draft" introduced today and will provide more detailed comments soon.

It must be made clear now, however, that this proposal retains many of the fundamental defects of the House of Representatives-passed health care legislation, and even further compounds them. It is precisely the detrimental impact on the poor and vulnerable that makes the Senate draft unacceptable as written.

An acceptable health care system provides access to all, regardless of their means, and at all stages of life. Such a health care system must protect conscience rights, as well as extend to immigrant families.

The Bishops value language in the legislation recognizing that abortion is not health care by attempting to prohibit the use of taxpayer funds to pay for abortion or plans that cover it. While questions remain about the provisions and whether they will remain in the final bill, if retained and effective this would correct a flaw in the Affordable Care Act by fully applying the longstanding and widely-supported Hyde amendment protections. Full Hyde protections are essential and must be included in the final bill. 

However, the discussion draft introduced today retains a "per-capita cap" on Medicaid funding, and then connects yearly increases to formulas that would provide even less to those in need than the House bill. These changes will wreak havoc on low-income families and struggling communities, and must not be supported.

Efforts by the Senate to provide stronger support for those living at and above the poverty line are a positive step forward. However, as is, the discussion draft stands to cause disturbing damage to the human beings served by the social safety net.

The USCCB has also stressed the need to improve real access for immigrants in health care policy, and this bill does not move the nation toward this goal. It fails, as well, to put in place conscience protections for all those involved in the health care system, protections which are needed more than ever in our country's health policy. The Senate should now act to make changes to the draft that will protect those persons on the peripheries of our health care system. We look forward to the process to improve this discussion draft that surely must take place in the days ahead.

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Keywords: U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, USCCB, Bishop Frank J. Dewane, Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, American Health Care Act (AHCA), respect for life, human dignity, health care, affordability, abortion, poverty, immigration, conscience.

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Media Contact:
Judy Keane
202-541-3200

Scorsese says a boyhood of church and movies continues to inspire him

IMAGE: CNS photo/Sam Lucero, The Compass

By Cindy Wooden

QUEBEC CITY (CNS) -- Faith and films have been lifelong obsessions for director Martin Scorsese, obsessions that he said have given him moments of peace amid turmoil, but also challenges and frustrations that, in hindsight, he will accept as lessons in humility.

"For me, the stories have always been about how we should live who we are, and have a lot to do with love, trust and betrayal," he said, explaining that those themes have been with him since his boyhood spent in the rambunctious tenements of New York and in the peace of the city's St. Patrick's Old Cathedral, where he was an altar server.

Scorsese spoke June 21 in Quebec City at a joint session of the Catholic Press Association's Catholic Media Conference and the world congress of Signis, the international association of Catholic media professionals. That evening, both groups presented him with a lifetime achievement award for excellence in filmmaking.

Before Scorsese answered questions posed by author Paul Elie, conference participants watched his film "Silence," which is based on the novel by Shusaku Endo. The book and film are a fictionalized account of the persecution of Christians in 17th-century Japan; the central figures are Jesuit missionaries, who are ordered to deny the faith or face death after witnessing the death of their parishioners.

Although "Silence" was not nearly as controversial as his 1988 film, "The Last Temptation of Christ," Scorsese said the two films are connected and not just because an Episcopalian bishop gave him Endo's book after seeing the 1988 film.

Even before filming began on "The Last Temptation of Christ," which is based on a novel by Nikos Kazantzakis and explores the human side of Jesus, people were writing letters to the studio and producers complaining about plans to bring it to the big screen.

Recounting the story, Scorsese said a studio executive asked him why he wanted so badly to make the film.

"To get to know Jesus better," Scorsese said he blurted out. "That was the answer that came to mind. I didn't know what else to say."

If one affirms that Jesus is fully divine and fully human, he said, people should be able to look at his humanity.

But Scorsese told his Quebec City audience that his explorations of who Jesus is and what faith really means were by no means exhausted by "The Last Temptation of Christ."

"The journey is much more involved," Scorsese said. "It's just not finished."

In reading Endo's novel, working on and off for two decades to make the film and in finally bringing it to completion, Scorsese said he was "looking for the core of faith."

The climax of the film is when one of the Jesuits gives in and, in order to save his faithful who are being tortured, he tramples a religious image. However, the character believes that act of official apostasy is, in reality, a higher form of faith because, by sacrificing his own soul, he is saving the lives of others.

"It's almost like a special gift to be called on to face that challenge, because he is given an opportunity to really go beyond and to really get to the core of faith and Christianity," Scorsese said.

In the end, the priest "has nothing left to be proud of" -- not his faith or his courage -- and "it's just pure selflessness," the director said. "It's like a gift for him."

"I think there is no doubt it is a believer's movie," he said. "At least for me."

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Follow Wooden on Twitter: @Cindy_Wooden.

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Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

In lieu of visit, pope makes major donation to South Sudan charities

IMAGE: CNS photo/Carol Glatz

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- With a trip to South Sudan postponed indefinitely, Pope Francis is sending close to a half-million dollars to help two church-run hospitals, a teacher training center and farming projects for families as a way to show the people there his solidarity and support.

Because a planned trip with Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury couldn't happen this year as hoped, Pope Francis "wants to make tangible the presence and closeness of the church with the suffering people through this initiative 'The Pope for South Sudan,'" Cardinal Peter Turkson told reporters at a Vatican news conference June 21.

"He fervently hopes to be able to go there as soon as possible on an official visit to the nation; the church does not shut hope out of such an afflicted area," said the cardinal, who is prefect of the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.

An official visit was meant to draw the world's attention to a silent tragedy, give voice to those suffering, and encourage conflicting parties to make renewed and greater efforts in finding a peaceful solution to the conflict, the cardinal said.

Already in March, Pope Francis had expressed doubts about the possibility of making the trip, saying in an interview with Germany's Die Zeit newspaper, that visiting South Sudan would be "important," but that "I don't believe that it is possible." The pope approved the project funding in April, a month before the Vatican announced the trip's delay.

The initiative is meant to supplement, support and encourage the ongoing work of religious congregations, Catholic organizations and international aid groups on the ground that "generously and tirelessly" help the people and promote peace and development, the cardinal said.

South Sudan became independent from Sudan in 2011 after decades of war. But just two years after independence, political tensions erupted into violence and abuses. The fighting, displacement, insecurity and drought have led to large-scale hunger and malnutrition across the country. It's estimated that 3.8 million people have been displaced and at least 28 million are in need of food aid.

A papal donation of about $200,000 will support a program run by Caritas South Sudan, providing fast-growing seeds and farming tools for 2,500 families in areas where it is still possible to grow food.

Some $112,000 will go to fund Solidarity With South Sudan -- an international Catholic network, supporting 16 scholarships and a training program for primary school teachers. The teacher training center takes in students from every ethnic group so they can learn and later teach values of tolerance and reconciliation along with basic education.

A contribution of $150,000 will go to fund two hospitals run by the Comboni Missionary Sisters. Comboni Sister Laura Gemignani told reporters that they have extremely few resources to support their small staff and numerous patients.

For example, she said their hospital in Wau sees 300 patients a day -- 40,000 a year -- but there is only one doctor, who comes in every day and responds to every emergency.

"It's hard to pay his salary," she said, but he, the nurses and other staff stay on despite the insecurity and danger.

When they were told to evacuate because of intensified fighting, she said the staff said that as long as they had even just one patient to attend to, they would never leave.

Cardinal Turkson said, "The Holy Father does not forget the unheard and silent victims of this bloody and inhumane conflict, does not forget all those people who are forced to flee from their homes because of abuses of power, injustice and war. He holds all of them in his prayers and his heart."

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Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Holiness means being open to God, pope says

IMAGE: CNS photo/Tony Gentile, Reuters

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Being a saint doesn't require spending long hours in prayer, but rather living life open to God in good times and in bad, Pope Francis said.

Christians should live with the "hope of becoming saints" and with the desire that "work, even in sickness and suffering, even in difficulties, is open to God," the pope said June 21 during his weekly general audience.

"We think that it is something difficult, that it is easier to be delinquents than saints. No! We can become saints because the Lord helps us. It is he who helps us," he told the estimated 12,000 pilgrims in St. Peter's Square.

Pope Francis rode around in his popemobile, stopping along the way to greet pilgrims and kiss babies. One child casually waved goodbye to the pope as he was handed back to his parents.

In his talk, the pope reflected on the intercession of the saints, who are "older brothers and sisters who have gone along our same path, (gone through) our same struggles and live forever in God's embrace."

"Their existence tells us above all that Christian life isn't an unattainable ideal. And together, they comfort us: We are not alone, the church is made up of innumerable brothers and sisters, often anonymous, who have preceded us and who, through the action of the Holy Spirit, are involved in the affairs of those who still live here," he said.

Just as their intercession is invoked in Baptism, the pope continued, the church asks for their help in the sacrament of marriage so couples "can have the courage to say 'forever.'"

"To live married life forever; not like some who say, 'as long as love lasts.' No, it is forever. On the contrary, it is better you don't get married. It's either forever or nothing. That is why their presence is invoked in the nuptial liturgy," he said.

The lives of the saints, he continued, served as a reminder that "God never abandons us" and in times of trial and suffering, he "sends one of his angels to comfort us and fill us with consolation."

There are "angels, sometimes with a face and a human heart because God's saints are always here, hidden among us," the pope said.

Another sacrament in which the saints are invoked is Holy Orders, in which candidates for the priesthood lay prostrate on the ground while the bishop and the entire assembly pray the litany of the saints, he said.

"A man would be crushed under the weight of the mission entrusted to him but, in feeling that all of paradise is behind him, that the grace of God will not fail because Jesus is always faithful, he can go forward serenely and refreshed. We are not alone," the pope said.

Pope Francis told the pilgrims that Christians need saints who lived their lives "aspiring to charity and brotherhood" because without them, the world would not have hope."

"May the Lord give us the grace to believe so profoundly in him that we become images of Christ for this world," he said.

Before the general audience, Pope Francis met with members of the U.S. Pro Football Hall of Fame, including Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who will be inducted into the prestigious association Aug. 5.

"As many of you know, I am an avid follower of 'football,' but where I come from, the game is played very differently!" the pope said, referring to the fact that "football" refers to the game of soccer in most parts of the world.

The pope said the values of "teamwork, fair play and the pursuit of personal excellence" aren't just important on the field, but are "urgently needed off the field, on all levels of our life as a community."

"Our world, and especially our young people, need models, people who show us how to bring out the best in ourselves, to use our God-given gifts and talents and, in doing so, to point the way to a better future for our communities," he said.

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Pope accepts early resignation of Vatican's first independent auditor

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Just two years after being hired to help with the Vatican's efforts in finance reform, Libero Milone -- the Vatican's first independent auditor who answered only to the pope -- handed a request for his resignation to Pope Francis.

The pope accepted Milone's request, the Vatican announced June 20, after Milone personally presented it to the pope a day earlier.

"While wishing Milone the best in his future endeavors, the Holy See wishes to inform (everyone) that the process of naming a new director of the auditor-general's office will be underway as soon as possible," the Vatican's written statement said.

Pope Francis named Milone to fill the new position of auditor general in June 2015, more than a year after establishing special structures to oversee the Vatican's finances -- the Council for the Economy and the Secretariat for the Economy.

The auditor general has the power to audit the books of any Vatican office and reports directly to the pope. The auditing office currently has 12 people on staff.

Milone, 68, an Italian accountant and expert in corporate risk management, was born in Holland and educated in London. He was chairman and managing partner of Milone Associates and had worked for Falck Renewables, Wind Telecom and Fiat. Until 2007, he was chairman of Deloitte Italy and served three years as a member of the audit committee of the United Nations' World Food Program.

An independent auditor was a key part of the "separation of powers" necessary for reforming the Vatican's economic activity, Cardinal George Pell, prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy, wrote in 2015.

"These reforms are designed to make all Vatican financial agencies boringly successful, so that they do not merit much press attention," the cardinal wrote.

No reason was given for Milone's request to step down.

In an interview in March with the Italian daily, Corriere della Sera, Milone said the previous 18 months had been very busy because he had to learn the way things had worked and then oversee 120 offices and foundations that make up the Roman Curia or are associated with the Holy See.

The office had just been completing preliminary studies of all the major assets, finances and economic data of 2015 and 2016. "The next step is auditing the balance sheet up to Dec. 31, 2017, so as to be able to get ready for auditing the whole budget ending Dec. 31, 2018," he said.

He felt their efforts had paid off by bringing in "a new model of managing the budget and introducing the best international standards," adding that the real work in reform was, "first of all, cultural."

When asked if he had met with any resistance, he said, "more than real or actual resistance, often it was about being unaware" of more modern, integrated and transparent accounting standards. They did a lot of training to help people "overcome foreseeable difficulties," he said.

He said he never regretted accepting the job, which had been offered to him by an international headhunting agency, he said. "On the contrary, I will go all the way with great enthusiasm."

He said, "I am very motivated by the privilege of being at the service of the pope ... and to be able to do my small part of a decisive reform for the Vatican ... A reform whose full extent has perhaps still not been well understood."

Back in September 2015, an employee of the auditor general's office notified Vatican police that Milone's computer had been tampered with, the investigation into that tampering led to the second VatiLeaks investigation and trial, according to Vatican Radio.

That trial found Msgr. Lucio Vallejo Balda, secretary of the Prefecture for the Economic Affairs of the Holy See, and Francesca Chaouqui, a member of the former Pontifical Commission for Reference on the Economic-Administrative Structure of the Holy See, guilty of having roles in the leaking of confidential documents about Vatican finances and acquitted an associate and two journalists.

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Pope: Don't pretend to be teens; help youths see blessings of adulthood

IMAGE: CNS photo/Giorgio Onorati, EPA

By Junno Arocho Esteves

ROME (CNS) -- Instead of "pretending to be adolescents," parents must help young people see the blessing of growing into adulthood, Pope Francis told priests, religious, catechists and parish council members from the Diocese of Rome.

The belief that youthfulness is a model of success "is one of the most dangerous 'unwitting' menaces in the education of our adolescents" that hinders their personal growth because "adults have taken their place," the pope said June 19, opening the Rome Diocese's annual convention.

This "can increase a natural tendency young people have to isolate themselves or to curb their process of growth" because they have no role models, the pope said.

In his nearly 45-minute talk, Pope Francis reflected on the convention's theme, "Do not leave them alone! Accompanying parents in educating adolescent children."

The pope said the first step in reaching out to young people in Rome is to "speak in the Roman dialect, that is, concretely" rather than in general or abstract terms that do not speak to teens' problems.

Families in big cities such as Rome face different problems than those in rural areas. For this reason, the pope said, parents must educate their adolescent children "within the context of a big city" and speak to them concretely with "healthy and stimulating realism."

Families, the pope continued, also must confront the challenge of educating their children in an "uprooted society" where people are disconnecting from their roots and feel no sense of belonging.

"An uprooted culture, an uprooted family is a family without a history and without memory," he said.

Although social networking has allowed more people to connect and feel part of a group, its virtual nature can also create a certain alienation where people "feel that they do not have roots, that they belong to no one," the pope said.

"If we want our children to be formed and prepared for tomorrow, it is not just by learning languages, for example, that they will succeed in doing so. They need to connect, to know their roots. Only then can they fly high," he said.

Departing from his prepared speech, Pope Francis said parents "should make room for their children to speak with their grandparents," who have the gift of passing on "faith, history and belonging with wisdom."

Often disregarded and cast aside, grandparents must be given the opportunity to "give young people the sense of belonging that they need."

Pope Francis said parents, catechists and pastors must understand that adolescence is a challenging time in young people's lives where "they are neither children (and do not want to be treated as such) and are not adults (but want to be treated as such, especially on the level of privileges.)"

He also said he was worried about the current trend in society to view adolescence as a "pathology that must be fought" and that leads some parents to "prematurely medicate our youths."

"It seems that everything is solved by medicating or controlling everything with the slogan 'making the most of time' and in the end, the young people's schedules are worse than that of a high-level executive," he said.

Instead, schools, parishes and youth movements can take a pivotal role in helping young men and women want to feel challenged so they can achieve their goals.

In this way, "they can discover that all the potential they have is a bridge, a passage toward a vocation (in the broadest and most beautiful sense of the word)," he said.

However, he warned parents about people who may wield influence over their children, including aunts and uncles, and especially those who "have no children or who are not married."

"I learned my first bad words from a bachelor uncle," the pope recalled. "Aunts and uncles often don't do good things to get their nephews and nieces to like them. There was an uncle who would secretly give us cigarettes... things of that sort. And now, I am not saying they are evil but you must beware."

Young people, Pope Francis added, need educators that help grow within them "the life of the spirit of Jesus" and help them see that "to become Christians requires courage and it is a beautiful thing."

"I think it is important to live the education of children starting from the perspective as a calling that the Lord has made to us as a family, to make this step a step of growth, to learn to enjoy the life that he has given us," Pope Francis said.

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

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Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.