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How the Diocese of Brownsville ensures detained children receive sacraments

Dallas, Texas, Sep 21, 2018 / 09:22 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Most, if not every, diocese in the United States has some sort of prison ministry. Most do not have a detention center ministry to tend to the spiritual needs of minors detained by the the U.S. Border Patrol.  

The Diocese of Brownsville, located in southern Texas along the U.S./Mexico border, isn’t like most dioceses.

While the diocese had been providing services to the detention centers for a long time, Bishop Daniel Flores told CNA that things started to change about four years ago when the number of unaccompanied minors detained at the border started to swell.

“We’ve always had numbers,” Flores said, but 2014 saw a major influx in the number of unaccompanied minors from Central America attempting to cross the U.S. border. This increase in the number of people sparked a realization that something had to be done to care for the unusually high number of people in detention.

"So our prison ministry, you know, kind of morphed into more of a detention center ministry,” Flores told CNA during a closed session with the media at the National V Encuentro conference in Grapevine, Texas on Sept. 21.

This “detention center ministry” would consist of teams who would go into the centers, determine who was there, and then create some sort of spiritual offering.

These teams would “develop opportunities to go in and either offer catechesis or say Mass or hear confessions” as part of an ongoing process to minister to those in the center. This process is “ongoing,” Flores told CNA.

While the diocese tries to have some sort of presence at the centers, this can be challenging due to changes in policy over time.

“The circumstances changes, because, I’ll be honest, the government sometimes changes the rules,” said Flores, “and we try to respect that but we also kind of ask questions” as to why the changes are being made.

Despite this, Flores said the diocese has “very good cooperation” with the centers and is able to address the needs of those who are detained.

“I think the people who work at the detention centers, for the most part, that I know, recognize that it’s important that these young people have access to somebody who can help them have hope and can follow up on their cases,” explained Flores.

This ministry, while important, is “really serious commitment of time,” and is carried out by priests, religious, and laypeople. Flores credited the laypeople who volunteer their time as those “who really make the effort.”

Flores also praised the Latin American apostolic movements that have taken root in the United States for assisting with this effort.

Each minor’s experience in the detention center is different. Some may be there for weeks, and others for months, depending on the circumstances of their case.

The diocese attempts to extend this ministry even after the minors are released from custody. Flores said that after a minor leaves the center, they will attempt to contact a group or charity (such as Catholic Charities) in their destination that will keep tabs on the minor once they arrive.

“It's good to get a phone call that's not asking 'where are your documents?',” said Flores.  “It's a phone call (asking) 'how are you doing, and can we help you with something?”

“That makes a big difference."

 

Mexican bishops call for solidarity with flood victims in Sinaloa

Culiacan, Mexico, Sep 21, 2018 / 06:01 pm (ACI Prensa).- The Mexican bishops' conference called for solidarity Friday with the thousands of people affected by heavy rains and flooding in Sinaloa state, which has been declared in a state of emergency by the authorities.

“In concern for the state of Sinaloa which is suffering from the damage left by the heavy rains over the last hours by the tropical depression19-E and its downpour September 19 and 20, we express our communion, joining in prayer,” states the Sept. 21 communiqué.

So far 11 out of Sinaloa's municipios have been affected, as well as several municipalities in neighboring Sonora.

The rains from the tropical depression have caused damage to homes, cars, and farmland, and the evacuation of about 16,000 people.

The bishops' statement indicated that over 32,000 acres of crops have also been seriously damaged in the Carrizo Valley and El Fuerte.

The bishops noted in their statement that “Sinaloa has always been in solidarity with our country in different contingencies and so we ask you to join, with a merciful gesture, a generous spirit and fraternal charity, the special collection in support of our brothers to aid and accompany them now and in the subsequent phases of rehabilitation and reconstruction.”

“We are entrusting to our Caritas Mexico the mission of receiving and transferring funds in order to respond to this emergency,” the statement says.

“We place our brothers in Sinaloa and Sonora under the protection of Our Lady of Guadalupe,” the communiqué concludes.

 

This article was originally published by our sister agency, ACI Prensa. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

Pope Francis welcomes V Encuentro as 'instrument of grace'

Dallas, Texas, Sep 21, 2018 / 05:07 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis welcomed thousands of representatives gathered in Texas this week for the Fifth Encuentro, a national meeting of Hispanic-background Catholics aimed at encounter and leadership.

National V Encuentro is “an instrument of grace that has led to the conversion of many people's hearts and above all to the pastoral conversion of situations and to the pastoral conversion of local Churches, parishes, schools, and of all kinds of ecclesial encounters,” he said in a video message to the gathering.

National V Encuentro is the culmination of four years of consultation and workshops from local to regional levels across the U.S. Delegates from 165 dioceses were selected for the event, and nearly 250,000 people participated in the local process over the past year.

Taking place in Grapevine, Texas, Sept. 20-23, the event is expecting as many as 3,000 Catholics of Hispanic background. This year’s theme is “Discípulos Misioneros: Testigos del amor de Dios” or “Missionary Disciples: Witnesses of the love of God.”

The meeting has five primary goals: to encounter the needs and aspirations of Catholics of Hispanic background; to promote leadership opportunities for them; to develop new ways to form and encourage them in their vocations; to invite all Catholics to accompany Catholics of Hispanic background; and to develop “initiatives that prepare Hispanic Catholics to share and celebrate the Good News of Jesus Christ and to become leaven for the Reign of God in society.”

The first National Encuentro in the United States was held in 1972, and it is a process that has continued at local, regional, and national levels ever since. The most recent Encuentro prior to the Grapevine meeting was held in 2000, with a related youth meeting held in 2006.

The preparatory discussions for National V Encuentro have explored topics such as the accompaniment of immigrants, access to higher education, community outreach, and the formation of lay leaders.

“I know that the experience of this Fifth Encuentro is a comfort to many immigrants living in situations of fear and uncertainty,” Pope Francis said in his welcome video message.

“The Fifth Encuentro has given them a greater sense of community, friendship, and support.”

Hispanics currently make up one of the largest contingents of the Catholic Church in the U.S., about 40 percent, and an even greater percentage of young adults in the Church.

Michigan announces investigation into seven Catholic dioceses

Lansing, Mich., Sep 21, 2018 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette has opened an investigation into child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church in the state.

The inquiry was confirmed 21 Sept. in a statement posted on the attorney general’s official website, and will include all seven of the dioceses in Michigan: Gaylord, Lansing, Marquette, Grand Rapids, Saginaw, Kalamazoo, and the Archdiocese of Detroit.

While the investigation was confirmed publicly on Friday, a spokesman for Schuette told local media that the process had been launched in August 2018.

"The Michigan Department of Attorney General has determined that a full and complete investigation of what happened within the Catholic Church is required," the statement from Schuette said.

"This investigation is and will continue to be independent, thorough, transparent, and prompt. My department and this investigation will find out who knew what, and when."

The department’s official website also gave details of how to contact investigators, saying they wanted to hear from anyone with “information about the Catholic Church that you think would help [the investigation].”

In a statement given to local media, Schuette’s office said that the investigation will cover accusations of "sexual abuse and assault of children and others by Catholic priests,” including priests from religious orders, in Michigan. The the investigation will cover a period of nearly 70 years, from 1950 until the present. 

It is unclear if the investigation will be limited only to allegations of abuse committed by priests, or if it will extend to all clergy and lay employees of the Church in Michigan. The attorney general’s office did not respond to requests for clarification on this point.

In addition to direct accusations of abuse, the attorney general will also examine “any allegations related to the cover-up of sexual abuse or assault” by Church authorities.

In response to the announcement, Catholic dioceses in the state both welcomed the investigation and pledged their full cooperation.

A statement released by the Archdiocese of Detroit, which serves nearly 1.5 million Catholics, said that they “looked forward” to working with state officials and said that the archdiocese would actively participate in the inquiry.

The Archdiocese of Detroit also stressed its “full confidence” in archdiocesan safe environment policies, which it said have been in place for 15 years. The statement called the investigation “the next phase of our commitment to transparency and healing."

The Diocese of Saginaw issued a similar statement which noted their own commitment to safeguarding procedures and welcomed “the opportunity to work with law enforcement authorities to determine if there is more it can do to protect children.”

The announcement of the investigation follows the conclusion of a similar inquiry led by the Pennsylvania attorney general’s office. A grand jury report into the sexual abuse of minors in six dioceses in that state was released in July. That report identified more than 300 alleged abusers and 1,000 victims.

The Michigan attorney general’s office is already conducting similar investigations into Michigan State University and the Flint water crisis.

In addition to serving as attorney general, Schuette is also the Republican candidate in the upcoming election for governor in Michigan. He is running against Democrat Gretchen Whitmer, a former prosecutor and state legislator.

A recent poll by Mitchell Research showed Schuette trailing his opponent by 10 points. Real Clear Politics puts Whitmer ahead by an average of 10.6 points and currently predicts a “likely Democrat” victory.

Schuette’s seven-year record as attorney general has attracted criticism during the campaign, with his opponents saying that the attorney's social conservatism is out of step with Michigan voters.

In 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a statewide ban on gay marriage, a policy Schuette publicly supported. In 2016, he joined a lawsuit challenging federal school guidance on transgender students.

More recently, the attorney general issued an opinion in July challenging the Michigan Civil Rights Commission’s determination that existing state bans on sex based discrimination were also applicable to sexual orientation and “gender identity.”

Schuette said the Commission’s reasoning was “invalid” and in clear conflict with the “original intent” and “plain language” of the legislation.

On Sept. 19, the U.S. bishops’ conference announced a series of new policies in response to recent sexual abuse scandals. These included a new third-party reporting mechanism for making complaints of sexual misconduct against a bishop, with such complaints being forwarded to civil law enforcement when appropriate.

No sign of Italian priest kidnapped in Niger

Niamey, Niger, Sep 21, 2018 / 02:57 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- There has been no sign of an Italian missionary priest kidnapped in Niger Monday night, a member of his community said.

“We have no news of Fr. Pierluigi. There has been no claim by the kidnappers at present,” Fr. Mauro Armanino of the Society of African Missions (SMA) told Vatican news agency Fides.

“However, the kidnappers have obtained a first result: everyone is talking about them all over the world,” he continued. “With the abduction of a Western missionary, a group which is probably not even a big group, has managed to gain global visibility.”

Fr. Pierluigi Maccalli, a member of the Society of African Missions, was serving in an isolated parish in South Niger, with few means of communication and transportation and little access to health care and water for residents, according to Vatican News.

The region has seen recent violence by jihadist groups. The Italian Foreign Ministry is investigating the case and has been in contact with the priest’s family.

Armanino suggested that the captors may be Fulani herdsman, mostly Muslim, who have increasingly clashed with local Christian farmers over scarce resources.  

Local sources told Vatican News the kidnapping could also be related to the priest’s strong stance against the local practice of female genital mutilation.

Pope Francis in Vilnius, the 'city of mercy'

Vilnius, Lithuania, Sep 21, 2018 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- Pope Francis will arrive in Vilnius, Lithuania, on Sept. 22. During his first day in the city, the pope will take a walk in the streets of the Old City, and he will head toward the Gate of Dawn, one of the ancient points of access to the Lithuanian capital. There, he will pray the Rosary and deliver a speech before an icon of Mary Mother of Mercy.
 
The speech and the rosary were not initially part of the pope’s schedule in Vilnius. They were a last minute addition to program, and a very meaningful one.
 
Inessa Caukaskien, a member of the Vilnius pilgrimage center, told CNA that “the Gate of Dawn is one of the most ancient and important place of pilgrimage in Lithuania.”
 
The Icon of Mary Mother of Mercy is a significant object of devotion. One of the few icons of the Blessed Virgin Mary without the infant Jesus in her arms, it was painted between 1620 and 1630, and dressed and crowned of silver in the 18th century.
 
The painter is unknown, but the pilgrimage center records more than 8,000 graces obtained thanks to the prayers offered in front of the icon.
 
It was first known as the painting of the Madonna of the Gate of Dawn Chapel. It was Pope Pius XI who decreed that the name of the icon would become the Icon of the Holy Mother of Mercy.
 
St. Faustina Kowalska lived briefly in 1929 at the convent of the Congregation of Our Lady of Mercy in Vilnius, attracted by this veneration. It was in Vilnius that St. Faustina envisioned for the first time her devotion to Divine Mercy.
 
Archbishop Gintaras Grusas of Vilnius told CNA that “Sr. Faustina and the image of Divine Mercy are tangibly put together with the Holy Mother of Mercy icon by the fact that the shrine was the first place where the original image of Divine Mercy was exposed for a public veneration.”
 
He added that “the strong tie with the image of Divine Mercy and the Mother of Mercy Chapel continues to this day, marking Vilnius very much as a City of Mercy.”
 
“When Saint John Paul II canonized St. Faustina, Grusas continued, “he mentioned the cities where she has been, and among them was Vilnius. He gave a mandate of being apostles of mercy and to continue to spread that message, which is what we are continuing to try to do. This is the city where through St. Faustina, with the help of Bl. Sopocko, we spread around the world the message of mercy, we continue to proclaim that message today.”
 
St. John Paul II was linked to the Holy Mother of Mercy, too. There is a reproduction of the Icon in the Lithuanian chapel in St. Peter’s Basilica.
 
“That image,” Grusas told CNA, “is very much beloved by St. John Paul II. As a matter of fact, when he was elected pope, he went to the Lithuanian Chapel to pray in front of the reproduction of the icon. There, he prayed for his papacy. When he came to Vilnius, he also brought his cardinal’s zucchetto here, to fulfill a promise he had made to the Blessed Virgin Mary. So, we have in the sacrity both Cardinal Wojtyla’s zucchetto and also his papal zucchetto, which he left as well.”
 
John Paul II kicked off his Sep. 4, 1993 visit to Lithuania with the rosary in the Chapel of the  Gate of Dawn. Pope Francis, then, will do the same.
 
The pope is also scheduled to go to the Shrine of Divine Mercy, where the original image of Merciful Jesus painted under St. Faustina indications is exposed and where perpetual Eucharistic adoration take place.
 
In this way, Pope Francis will honor his visit to the “city of mercy.”

 

Legal challenge to abortion law in Northern Ireland delayed

Belfast, Northern Ireland, Sep 21, 2018 / 01:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A legal challenge to the prosecution of a Northern Irish woman who allegedly procured abortifacient medication for her underage daughter which was to have begun Thursday has been adjourned.

Declan Morgan, Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland, said Sept. 20 that “dealing with the case in the absence of understanding the Public Prosecution Service response to the Supreme Court would be entirely inappropriate.”

Abortion is legally permitted in Northern Ireland only if the mother's life is at risk or if there is risk of permanent, serious damage to her mental or physical health. Abortion pills are illegal in Northern Ireland.

In June, the UK Supreme Court threw out a case challenging Northern Ireland's abortion law, saying the commission which brought the case does not have standing to do so. However, the judges also said the current law violates the European Convention on Human Rights by banning abortion in cases of fatal fetal abnormality, rape, and incest.

Morgan has delayed the hearing challenging the law, directing prosecutors to respond to the Supreme Court's indications within two weeks.

The woman faces two charges of unlawfully procuring and supplying the pills with intent to cause a miscarriage under the Offences Against the Person Act 1861.

She had purchased the pills online in July 2013 for her 15-year-old daughter.

Bernie Smyth, a spokesperson for the pro-life group Precious Life, said outside the Belfast court that “the importance of this case is to send a very clear message out to the people in Northern Ireland, to women in Northern Ireland who would feel maybe their only option is to purchase very dangerous illegal abortion pills and we are saying there is another way.”

“It is vitally important that we uphold the law here in Northern Ireland,” iNews reported Smyth as saying.

Elective abortion is legal in the rest of the United Kingdom up to 24 weeks, and Northern Irish women have been able to procure free National Health Service abortions in England, Scotland, and Wales since November 2017.

Bills to legalize abortion in cases of fatal fetal abnormality, rape, or incest failed in the Northern Ireland Assembly in 2016.

In its June 2018 judgement, the Supreme Court unanimously agreed that banning the abortion of unborn children with serious, but not fatal, abnormalities is compatible with the ECHR.

Northern Ireland's abortion law could be taken up by either the Northern Ireland Assembly or the Parliament of the United Kingdom.

The Northern Ireland Assembly is currently suspended. The Democratic Unionist Party, the largest party, is opposed to changing the law. Sinn Féin, another prominent party in Northern Ireland, backs a liberalization of the abortion law.

British prime minister Theresa May has said abortion should be a devolved issue for Northern Ireland. But Labour MP Diana Johnson is expected to introduce next month into the British Parliament a bill to decriminalize abortion in Northern Ireland.

Catholic groups aid Philippines in wake of Typhoon Mangkut

Cebu, Philippines, Sep 21, 2018 / 12:29 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Following a powerful typhoon that struck several Northern provinces in the Philippines late last week, Catholic relief groups are working to provide essential post-storm aid.

Typhoon Mangkut made landfall at Baggao in the province of Cagayan Sept. 14, bringing with it winds of 125 mph. At least 88 people have been killed and more than 60 are missing, according to Time.

UCA News reported that the typhoon has brought damage to 30 provinces across the Philippines and more than 264,000 people have been affected, including over 37,000 displaced individuals.

The most damaged regions are Cagayan Valley, a major source of the country’s corn and rice, and Benguet, a landlocked area known for its agriculture and mining. In some areas, residents have lost access to food, clean water, and other necessities.

Catholic Relief Services said an estimated 1.6 million farmers and fishermen have been affected, and up to 90 percent of the area’s corn and rice crops have been destroyed.

Due to landslides caused by the typhoon, many mountain communities remain isolated, and more damage is expected to be found as emergency teams gain access to these areas.

“We are having difficulty reaching distant barangays (villages) because of boulders, debris and landslides along the roads. The soil is still saturated and unsettled and we are concerned about additional landslides,” said Aprilynn Villamar, an emergency program officer with CRS.

“Some families in evacuation centers are not sure where they will go or how they will rebuild their houses. There are evacuees who are showing signs of shock. This is the most devastating thing they've ever experienced.”

Catholic Relief Services is sending water purification and storage kits to areas hit by the typhoon, and said shelter kits and cash assistance will follow shortly.

Caritas Internationalis has launched an appeal in Rome for financial relief efforts in the Philippines, saying, "After the storm has passed people will need help to restore their livelihoods.”

Pope's Baltics visit to honor those who sacrificed for freedom

Vilnius, Lithuania, Sep 21, 2018 / 12:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Ahead of his visit to the Baltic states Sept. 22-25, Pope Francis praised liberty and said his trip would honor those who have sacrificed for the freedom the countries now experience.

In a video message to the people of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia Sept. 20, Francis said freedom, “as we know, is a treasure that must be constantly preserved and handed down, as a precious heritage, to the new generations.”

His visit coincides with the 100th anniversary of the Baltic states, which were part of the Russian Empire until 1917 and gained independence in 1918.

They became part of Soviet Union in 1940-1941, endured Nazi domination in 1940-1944, and were returned to the Soviet Union in 1945. In 1991, they regained democratic independence, and have been members of NATO and the EU since 2004.

The pope said his visit “will honor all those whose sacrifices in the past have made possible the liberties of the present.”

“In times of darkness, violence and persecution, the flame of freedom is not extinguished, but inspires the hope of a future in which the dignity given by God to each person is respected and we all feel called to collaborate in the construction of a just and fraternal society,” he said.

Today a sense of solidarity and service to the common good is more important than ever, he continued, saying he hopes his visit will be a source of encouragement to people “inspired by the deepest spiritual and cultural values inherited from the past,” who are working to relieve suffering and promote peace and unity.

Pope Francis’ four-day visit to the Baltics will include the usual meetings with authorities, with priests and religious, and with youth. He will also celebrate three Masses, one in each country.

He will also pray a decade of the rosary in the chapel of the Gate of Dawn in Vilnius, which contains an icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary as the Mother of Mercy – an important shrine and place of pilgrimage in Lithuania.

In Latvia, he will stop to pray at the tomb of St. Meinhard in the now-Lutheran cathedral in Riga. And in Tallinn, Estonia, he will visit the cathedral where the first Estonian martyr, a Jesuit, was last seen alive.

He will participate in ecumenical prayer meetings in Latvia and with youth in Estonia, where there are only around 5,000 Catholics in a population of 1.3 million. About 16 percent of the population is Eastern Orthodox and about 10 percent are Lutheran. Around 54 percent identify as non-religious.  

In Latvia, Lutheranism accounts for about 34 percent of the population of just under 2 million and Catholics make up 25 percent, primarily in the eastern portion of the country.

He will travel by helicopter to the other side of Latvia, to the Marian shrine at Agrona, where he will celebrate Mass. He will also make stops at several markers of historical significance in the three countries.

Indian bishop accused of rape arrested

Kochi, India, Sep 21, 2018 / 11:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Bishop Franco Mulakkal of Jullundur was arrested by Kerala police Friday over allegations that he raped a nun repeatedly over the course of two years. The bishop denies the accusations.

The Sept. 21 arrest was made in Kochi after three days of interrogation. The bishop will be brought to court Saturday, the BBC reports.

Mulakkal, 54, wrote to the Vatican last week asking to be relieved of administration of his diocese; his request was granted, and Bishop Agnelo Gracias, an Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus of Bombay, was appointed apostolic administrator of Jullundur Sept. 20.

A nun, who is a member of the Missionaries of Jesus, has said that Bishop Mulakkal raped her during his May 2014 visit to her convent in Kuravilangad, in Kerala. In a 72-page complaint to police, filed June 29, she alleged that the bishop sexually abused her more than a dozen times over two years.

During his questioning by police, Bishop Mulakkal made several inconsistent statements, India Today reported.

According to India Today, the bishop claimed he did not stay at the Kuravilangad convent May 5, 2014, when the nun alleges she was first raped by him, but that he visited the convent, while he stayed the night at a convent in Muthalakodam.

“When police cross-checked this information with his driver and another nun who made entries of his visit in the register, they found that the bishop and his driver actually stayed in the Kuravilangad convent on the said day,” the Uttar Pradesh-based outlet reported.

A nun in the Muthalakodam convent denied he visited them, and data from the bishop's mobile phone indicated he was present at the Kuravilangad convent that night.

A group of seven nuns, most of them Missionaries of Jesus, began protesting state and Church inaction over the matter Sept. 8 in Kochi.

Bishop Mulakkal has claimed the allegations were made in retaliation against him because he has acted against the nun’s sexual misconduct, the bishop told UCA News. He said the nun was alleged to be having an affair with her cousin's husband.

Three more women have accused the bishop in recent days of sexual misconduct against them, but the Missionaries of Jesus' superior general maintains that the bishop is innocent. The congregation is based in the Jullundur diocese, and Bishop Mulakkal is its patron.