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Update: In letters to German cardinal, retired pope defends way he stepped down

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Retired Pope Benedict XVI expressed his displeasure with the way a German cardinal publicly criticized his stepping down as pontiff, and he defended taking the title "pope emeritus."

In two private letters from the retired pope to German Cardinal Walter Brandmuller, former president of the Pontifical Committee for Historical Sciences, the pope defended the way he handled his resignation and warned the cardinal of the negative impact his public comments could have.

The German newspaper, Bild, obtained copies of the letters written in November 2017, but blurred Cardinal Brandmuller's name in photos. The New York Times named the cardinal and also published translated excerpts from the letters Sept. 20.

The first letter from the retired pope was a response to a comment Cardinal Brandmuller made in a lengthy interview with the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung published Oct. 28, 2017.

The interviewer had asked what the cardinal thought about the "construction" of "pope emeritus" -- the title the retired pope has taken on. The cardinal responded that the figure of a "pope emeritus" had never existed in the church's history and having a pope "withdrawing now and overturning a 2,000-year tradition totally astounded not only us cardinals."

Referring to that portion of the newspaper interview, the pope wrote that Cardinal Brandmuller should certainly be aware that other popes had -- though rarely -- stepped down.

Pope Benedict wrote that by using the title "pope emeritus," he would be away from the media spotlight and make it thoroughly clear there was just one pope.

"If you know of a better way, and therefore think that you can judge the (title) chosen by me, please tell me," the retired pope wrote.

In the second letter, the pope acknowledged the cardinal responding to his first letter, and he said he was grateful that it seemed the cardinal would no longer discuss his resignation in public.

"I can very well understand the deep-seated pain that the end of my papacy has caused you and many others," Pope Benedict wrote. "However, for some people and -- it seems to me -- also for you, the pain has turned into an anger that no longer merely concerns my resignation, but increasingly also my person and my papacy as a whole."

With such an attitude, he wrote, his whole papacy "is now being devalued and conflated with sadness about the situation in which the church currently finds itself."

Cardinal Brandmuller had already postulated the idea that an "emeritus" pope figure could threaten church unity in his essay, "Renuntiatio papae: Some Historical Reflections," published online in July 2016.

Cardinal Brandmuller was also one of four cardinals, including U.S. Cardinal Raymond L. Burke, who publicly released in September 2016 a critical set of questions, known as "dubia," asking Pope Francis for clarification about his teaching on the family.

Pope Benedict, a noted theologian, had described his decision to be the first pope to resign in almost 600 years as the result of intense prayer and an examination of his conscience before God.

In the last two days of his pontificate, he pledged obedience to his successor and noted that he was leaving the "active exercise of the (Petrine) ministry." While promising to remain "hidden" in retirement, he also said he was "not returning to private life" but would belong "always and totally to everyone, to the whole church" and "remain, so to speak, within St. Peter's precincts."

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Some cry 'scandal' to cover their own failings, pope says at Mass

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- While God's holy church is made up of sinners, it also has its share of hypocrites who love to cry "scandal" to point out the failings of others and make themselves appear pure, Pope Francis said at morning Mass.

"The devil doesn't have anything to do with repentant sinners because they look to God and say, 'Lord, I'm a sinner. Help me,' and the devil is impotent," the pope said Sept. 20 during Mass in the Domus Sanctae Marthae.

"But with the hypocrites he is strong," Pope Francis said. "He is strong, and he uses them to destroy, to destroy people, destroy society, destroy the church."

The devil's "battle horse is hypocrisy because he is a liar. He shows off as a powerful, handsome prince, but inside he's an assassin," the pope said, according to the Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano.

In his homily, Pope Francis looked at key figures discussed in both of the readings at the Mass: 1 Cor 15:1-11 and Lk 7:36-50.

St. Paul, in the first reading, and the woman who anoints Jesus' feet in the Gospel reading both realize they are sinners, the pope said, but they are moved by love for Jesus.

And Jesus, recognizing their love, "forgives, receives, is merciful -- words we often forget when we speak ill of others," he said. "Think about this: We must be merciful like Jesus and not condemn others."

The Pharisees are the third group present in the Gospel story, the pope said. They are shocked, "scandalized," that Jesus would allow his feet to be anointed by a woman the Gospel describes as "sinful."

They were "doctors of the law" who were always watching Jesus "to see if they could find him in error" or could "set a trap for him," the pope said. "They had an attitude hypocrites often use: They were scandalized. 'Oh look, what scandal! You cannot live like that. We have lost all values. Now everyone has a right to come to church, even those who are divorced, everyone. But where are we?'"

Theirs is "the hypocrisy of the 'righteous,' the 'pure,' those who believe they are saved through their own merits," the pope said. But "Jesus calls the hypocrites 'whitewashed tombs.' They look like beautiful cemeteries, but inside they are putrid and rotten."

Pope Francis ended his homily by requesting, "Let us ask Jesus always to protect our church, which is a holy mother but full of sinning children like us. And may he protect each one of us with his mercy and forgiveness."

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Update: Church plans third-party abuse reporting system, code of conduct

IMAGE: CNS photo/Bob Roller

By Julie Asher

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Pledging to "heal and protect with every bit of the strength God provides us," the U.S. bishops' Administrative Committee Sept. 19 outlined actions to address the abuse crisis, including approving the establishment of a third-party confidential reporting system for claims of any abuse by bishops.

It also instructed the U.S. bishops' canonical affairs committee to develop proposals for policies addressing restrictions on bishops who were removed or resigned because of allegations of abuse of minors or adults.

It initiated the process of developing a code of conduct for bishops regarding sexual misconduct with a minor or adult or "negligence in the exercise of his office related to such cases."

The committee also said it supported "a full investigation into the situation" surrounding Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick, former cardinal-archbishop of Washington, "including his alleged assaults on minors, priests and seminarians, as well as "any responses made to those allegations."

The statement, released by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, came out of the committee's semiannual meeting held Sept. 11-12 at USCCB headquarters in Washington.

The Administrative Committee consists of the officers, chairmen and regional representatives of the USCCB. The committee, which meets in March and September, is the highest authority of the USCCB outside of the full body of bishops when they meet for their fall and spring general assemblies.

"This is only a beginning," the committee said in its Sept. 19 statement. "Consultation with a broad range of concerned parents, experts and other laity along with clergy and religious will yield additional, specific measures to be taken to repair the scandal and restore justice.

"We humbly welcome and are grateful for the assistance of the whole people of God in holding us accountable," the committee said.

The committee acknowledged its members had assembled for their meeting in Washington at a "time of shame and sorrow."

"Some bishops, by their actions or their failures to act, have caused great harm to both individuals and the church as a whole," the committee said. "They have used their authority and power to manipulate and sexually abuse others.

"They have allowed the fear of scandal to replace genuine concern and care for those who have been victimized by abusers," it continued. "For this, we again ask forgiveness from both the Lord and those who have been harmed. Turning to the Lord for strength, we must and will do better."

Full descriptions of the actions the committee took are as follows:

-- Approved the establishment of a third-party reporting system that will receive confidentially, by phone and online, complaints of sexual abuse of minors by a bishop and sexual harassment of or sexual misconduct with adults by a bishop. It will direct those complaints to the appropriate ecclesiastical authority and, as required by applicable law, to civil authorities.

-- Instructed the USCCB Committee on Canonical Affairs and Church Governance to develop proposals for policies addressing restrictions on bishops who were removed or resigned because of allegations of sexual abuse of minors or sexual harassment of or misconduct with adults, including seminarians and priests.

-- Initiated the process of developing a code of conduct for bishops regarding the sexual abuse of a minor; sexual harassment of or sexual misconduct with an adult; or negligence in the exercise of his office related to such cases.

-- Supported a full investigation into the situation surrounding Archbishop McCarrick, including his alleged assaults on minors, priests, and seminarians, as well any responses made to those allegations. "Such an investigation should rely upon lay experts in relevant fields, such as law enforcement and social services."

As the initiatives get underway, the Administrative Committee asked all U.S. bishops "to join us in acts of prayer and penance."

"This is a time of deep examination of conscience for each bishop. We cannot content ourselves that our response to sexual assault within the church has been sufficient. Scripture must be our guide forward. 'Be doers of the word and not hearers only,'" it said, quoting the Letter of James.

"In all of this," no one -- including the bishops -- can "lose sight of those who have suffered from those who have acted or failed to act as the Gospel demanded," it said.

"For survivors of sexual abuse, these days may reopen deep wounds. Support is available from the church and within the community," it emphasized.

The committee reminded all in the church that victims assistance coordinators are available in every diocese to help victim-survivors and their families find resources.

Since the bishops first adopted "the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People" in 2002, the committee said, "hundreds of dedicated people ... have been working with the church to support survivors and prevent future abuse."

It said anyone who has been abused must "never hesitate to also contact local law enforcement."

"If you don't feel comfortable for any reason with the church providing help, your diocese can connect you with appropriate community services," the committee said. "With compassion and without judgment, the bishops of the United States pledge to heal and protect with every bit of the strength God provides us."

The committee concluded: "Acting in communion with the Holy Father, with whom we once again renew our love, obedience and loyalty, we make our own the prayer of Pope Francis in his Aug. 20 letter to the people of God, 'May the Holy Spirit grant us the grace of conversion and the interior anointing needed to express before these crimes of abuse our compunction and our resolve courageously to combat them.'"

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Follow Asher on Twitter: @jlasher

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In homily, Calif. priest says he was abused, hears from dozens of victims

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy Father McGuire

By Mark Pattison

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- To be a voice for victims of clerical sexual abuse, Father Brendan McGuire realized he had to come to terms with the abuse he suffered at the hands of a priest when he was 18. It was a secret he had held for 35 years.

He told the story of his abuse in a homily delivered at five weekend Masses Sept. 8-9 at Holy Spirit Church in San Jose, California, where he is pastor.

In a Sept. 18 interview with Catholic News Service, Father McGuire said that although he always writes his homilies for distribution via email and social media, it was the first time he read it word for word from the pulpit so he wouldn't overlook anything he wanted to say.

Parishioners responded with "thunderous applause" at two Masses and "three standing ovations" at the others -- atypical post-homiletic behavior, he said.

Since the homilies, Father McGuire said, he has heard from 45 men who told him they also had been abused. Five of the men were priests, he added, and four of those had been abused while they were seminarians.

"One man was 95 years old. He'd been holding it for 60-plus years, 70-plus years," the priest said. "I thought 35 was a lot."

Growing up in Bray, Ireland, near Dublin, Father McGuire said he first met his priest-abuser when he was 14, and did not recognize the four years of "grooming" by the priest for his "final play," with the priest saying during the attack that he had waited until young McGuire had turned 18 "so it wouldn't be child abuse."

While the future priest successfully fought off his abuser -- "I was one of the lucky ones," he said in his homily -- others were not so lucky. The priest, who was not named in the homily, had preyed on dozens in New Hampshire and Massachusetts, was imprisoned in 2004 and died in prison two years later.

Father McGuire added he was driven to write his homily after reading the first 400 pages of the Pennsylvania grand jury's report on abuse allegations in six dioceses in the state dating back to 1947. Father McGuire sighed and said, "There was a whole other level of detail that I had forgotten about. Especially grooming." Having read that far, he noted, "I just got so angry about it all over again, how these guys were so systematic about it."

Father McGuire told CNS he almost didn't go through with the homily because of the celebrity it would bring.

"I didn't want it. That's one of the reasons I held back," he added. "I'm a man of deep prayer, I pray for an hour in the morning, and an hour in the evening. ' I'm a big discerner. I wrote this homily days in advance. I prayed over it for a long time. I didn't want this to be about me. I really didn't."

Father McGuire wants to be more than merely an effective voice for abuse victims. He wants to see change in the church.

In his homily, he listed ways the church needs to change.

Father McGuire wants bishops to "listen attentively" to victims. "The pain never fully leaves us. That's OK but your acknowledging it helps us heal," he said. He also urged bishops to disclose the names of all accused priests, past and present, and to agree what he called "an attorney general-like investigation."

"Let them verify that you are doing all you can to protect the children now," he added. The priest also wants bishops to perform "some act of repentance, like promising to not wear the miter for a year of mourning."

He further wants bishops to "work with the pope to reform the governance of the church so that women have a voice of authority. I do not believe this travesty of justice would have happened if we had mothers and fathers at the decision-making tables; they would not have allowed other people's children to be put in harm's way because they would see their own child in them."

Father McGuire asked parishioners to press bishops for accountability and to advocate for victims and "create a place of healing" to build "a community of true belonging where all the wounded are welcomed, as Pope Francis calls it, 'a field hospital' here in San Jose."

In a Sept. 13 letter to Catholics in the San Jose Diocese, Bishop Patrick J. McGrath said the diocese would conduct three "listening sessions" for abuse victims and their families and for Catholics "on the pathway to reform"; release in mid-October of names of all credibly accused priests who ministered in the diocese; and open an independent examination of abuse allegations by a firm headed by Kathleen McChesney, the highest-ranking woman in the FBI before leaving to become the first executive director of the U.S. bishops' Office of Child and Youth Protection in 2002.

"We cannot defend priest-perpetrators and those bishops and others who enable or protect them," Bishop McGrath said. "The only way that we can address the failed leadership of so many in the Catholic Church in the United States and around the world is for the Diocese of San Jose to do what we know is right and just."

"We've done more than any California diocese. We've gone from nothing to full disclosure to full investigation in a matter of couple of weeks. I'd say that's traction," said Father McGuire, who worked in Silicon Valley before being ordained to the priesthood in 2000.

"I cooperate with God's grace. Fundamentally, that's what I want the church to do," he added. "If the darkness has a hold on me, it doesn't feel good. There's a parallel to that with the church. Let us speak the truth."

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Follow Pattison on Twitter: @MeMarkPattison

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Copyright © 2018 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.

Update: Irish singer Bono calls pope 'extraordinary man for extraordinary times'

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Bono, the lead singer of the Irish band U2, said he told Pope Francis that in Ireland "it looks as though the abusers are being more protected than the victims. And you could see the pain in his face."

Bono met the pope Sept. 19 to sign an agreement between his charity, ONE, and the Scholas Occurentes educational charity supported by Pope Francis.

During the half-hour meeting, Bono said, he brought up Pope Francis' recent trip to Ireland and the concerns there about the sexual abuse crisis.

The pope was "aghast," Bono said. "I thought he was sincere."

"I think he is an extraordinary man for extraordinary times," the singer said.

ONE is a campaign and advocacy effort working to end extreme poverty, especially in Africa. One of its current focuses, Bono told reporters Sept. 19, is education for girls and young women. Some "130 million girls around the world do not go to school, because they are girls," he said.

"Poverty is sexist" is the campaign slogan, he said.

Scholas began in Pope Francis' Archdiocese of Buenos Aires, supporting education in poor neighborhoods by pairing their schools with private schools and institutions in wealthier neighborhoods. The organization has grown to other countries and supports a variety of exchange programs aimed at promoting education, encouraging creativity and teaching young people about respect, tolerance and peace.

"We haven't figured out what we are going to do together," Bono said, "but we sort of have a crush on each other."

Describing Jose Maria del Corral, president of Scholas, Bono said that "honestly, he is quite a radical thinker and I felt quite old-fashioned sitting next to him." Bono was talking about teaching children how to read and write and "get to advanced math and art later. And he was like, 'Start with art. And start with the creative life and you'll get a better result.'"

Bono said the conversation with the pope touched on many topics, including poverty, commerce and meeting the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals.

They spoke, he said, "about how we have to rethink the wild beast that is capitalism and how, though it is not immoral, it is amoral and it requires our instruction. He's very keen on that."

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Be grateful to parents, never insult them, pope says

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Honoring mothers and fathers means being grateful for the gift of life and Christians should never insult anyone's parents, Pope Francis said.

"Among us there is also the habit of saying awful things, even profanity. Please, never, never, never insult other people's parents. Never! Never insult a mother, never insult a father," the pope said Sept. 19 during his weekly general audience.

"Make this decision: from today forward, 'I will never insult someone's mom or dad.' They gave life! They should not be insulted," he told those gathered in St. Peter's Square.

Gray clouds forming above the square did little to dampen the spirits of thousands of pilgrims who cheered as they waited for the pope to pass by in his popemobile.

As customary, the pope greeted them, blessed religious articles and kissed children who were brought up to him.

During the general audience, the pope continued his series of talks on the Ten Commandments and reflected on the obligation to "honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you."

To love and respect one's father and mother, he said, means "recognizing their importance with concrete actions that express dedication, affection and care."

"Honor your parents: they gave us life. If you have distanced yourself  from your parents, make an effort and return, go back to them, perhaps they are old. They gave you life," the pope said.

Pope Francis explained that the promise of a long life that comes from honoring one's parents associates happiness with one's relationship with them.

"This centuries-old wisdom declares what human science has only been able to elaborate upon a little over a century ago: that the imprint of childhood marks a person's life," he said.

However, this commandment does not require mothers and fathers to be perfect and regardless of the merits of one's parents, "all children can be happy because the achievement of a full and happy life depends on the proper gratitude to those who have brought us into the world."

The pope recalled the example of saints who despite being orphaned or having lived through painful childhoods grew up to "live virtuous lives because, thanks to Jesus Christ, they reconciled with their life."

Recalling the life of Blessed Nunzio Sulprizio, who will be canonized alongside Blesseds Paul VI and Oscar Romero Oct. 14, the pope said that although Blessed Sulprizio lost his mother and father when he was very young, he "reconciled with so much pain" and never betrayed his parents.

"We should also think of St. Camillus de Lellis, who, out of a dysfunctional childhood, built a life of love and service; St. Josephine Bakhita, who grew up in horrible slavery; or Blessed Carlo Gnocchi, orphaned and poor; and even St. John Paul II, who was impacted by the death of his mother at a tender age," he added.

In the light of love, Pope Francis said, sad and painful experiences "can become for others a source of well-being."

Thus, he said "we can begin to honor our parents with the freedom of adult children and with merciful acceptance of their limitations."

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju

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Copyright © 2018 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.

New Orleans 'Hope Monstrance' to visit U.S. communities hit by disasters

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy LÕOsservatore Roman

By Peter Finney Jr.

NEW ORLEANS (CNS) -- When the levees broke in 2005 and Lakeview became Lake Pontchartrain, Katrina launched its mad-scientist experiment.

What would three weeks of brackish and corrosive water, chemicals and mud do not only to St. Dominic Parish's Aquinas Hall in Lakeview, which housed a small chapel across the street from the church, but also to the gold-plated, eucharistic monstrance now laid on its side and entombed in the muck at the foot of the altar?

As a precaution before the storm, parishioner Susie Veters had removed the Blessed Sacrament from the monstrance and placed it in the tabernacle. She kept the empty monstrance on the chapel altar and locked the doors.

The monstrance was no match for the 8 feet of lake water, which lifted it off the altar and dropped it to the floor, burying it in mud.

When Veters pulled the sacred vessel from the mud three weeks later, she didn't think it had a chance to be restored, but Michael McGee, a member of the parish's contemporary choir, had an avocation for restoring church artifacts in his spare time and worked as quickly as he could to clean the metal, restore the gold plating and stabilize the long metal rod that held everything together.

On March 15, 2006 -- six months after the buried monstrance was recovered -- Veters and her husband, Pat, and Msgr. Christopher Nalty, a New Orleans pastor, were in St. Peter's Square where Pope Benedict XVI personally blessed the vessel after his general audience. He also granted a plenary indulgence to those who prayed before it and fulfilled other necessary conditions.

The artifact, ultimately named the "Hope Monstrance," traveled in 2006 and 2007 to 140 churches across Louisiana and Mississippi to promote the city's Katrina recovery and the power of perpetual adoration. The monstrance even made a stop at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola.

Now the monstrance has gone on the road again, offering the gift of hope to communities that, like New Orleans in 2005, need a large dose of healing.

Over the next month, the monstrance will travel to three U.S. communities still reeling from disasters in 2017: Houston (Hurricane Harvey); Las Vegas (the worst mass shooting in U.S. history); and Santa Rosa, California (wildfires that destroyed 5,000 homes in Sonoma County). The monstrance also will make an appearance at the V Encuentro national Hispanic conference outside Dallas.

John Smestad Jr., a St. Dominic parishioner and director of pastoral planning and ministries for the Archdiocese of New Orleans, coordinated the stops largely with the help of Stephen Morris, a longtime friend who is in charge of youth ministry for the Diocese of Santa Rosa.

"Stephen called me at the chancery because he had stumbled across the old article about the monstrance, and he was seeing if they might be able to borrow it because their bishop wanted to do something to mark the anniversary of the fires in Sonoma County," Smestad told the Clarion Herald, newspaper of the new Orleans Archdiocese.

"Those fires burned down vast areas. The Catholic high school burned down. Entire neighborhoods burned down. It was unreal," he said. "It would be like driving down (a street) and the left side is gone and the right side is normal and totally undamaged."

Morris called Smestad to ask where he might be able to track down the monstrance.

"Stephen," Smestad replied, laughing, "that's my parish, and I'm sure I can facilitate this."

After getting the approval from Dominican Father John Restrepo, the St. Dominic pastor, Smestad worked with Morris to start connecting more dots beyond Santa Rosa. Houston had sustained record flooding from Harvey, and officials there jumped at the chance to have five parishes and one chapel host the monstrance for prayer services last week.

"It's just a great sign of hope and trust," said Lazaro Contreras, director of Hispanic ministry in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston. "We still hope and trust in the Lord after all these catastrophic events that we have experienced."

In the Diocese of Las Vegas, director of faith formation Connie Clough said she knew 25 people who attended the concert last Oct. 1 in which 58 people were killed and 851 injured by a lone gunman who sprayed bullets from the top of a hotel on the Vegas Strip.

St. Viator Parish, about 10 miles from the shooting location, will host an outdoor eucharistic procession, beginning at 8 p.m. on Oct. 1 and ending at 10:05 p.m. -- the time the first shots were fired a year ago.

"We will process into the church with the Blessed Sacrament and have a liturgy of the word, a short homily and silence," Clough said.

At a recent diocesan conference, Clough said, 1,100 people attended and focused on the idea of "hope."

"It centered on remembering not only the victims but also the heroes -- the first responders," she said. "People understand that hope doesn't necessarily mean everything will be OK. Something has changed. But, it's about knowing that there is something better. I will always remember the long lines of people who were donating blood."

When the Hope Monstrance completes its tour in Santa Rosa Oct. 7, Morris said, there will be an anniversary prayer service bringing together the largest number of Catholic and Protestant faith leaders in memory. Twenty Protestant pastors lost their homes in the fires. Eighty percent of Cardinal Newman High School was destroyed.

Morris said 60 percent of the residents who lost their homes "haven't taken the first step in rebuilding," largely because their insurance coverage had not keep pace with their homes' escalating values.

Morris was studying for his master's degree in organizational leadership at the University of San Francisco in 2005 when his professor, who had taught in New Orleans years earlier, predicted to his students that if Katrina breeched the levees, New Orleans' very existence would be imperiled.

Morris saw a city on its knees that somehow, after a decade of recovery, rose again.

"We're trying to share the story of hope with the faithful in the Santa Rosa area," Morris said. "It's not just the physical monstrance. It's the idea of sharing our suffering, our death and our resurrection."

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Finney is executive editor/general manager of the Clarion Herald, newspaper of the Archdiocese of New Orleans.

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Copyright © 2018 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.

Virgin Islands diocese still recovering from 2017 double hurricanes

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy Diocese of St

By Laura Ann Phillips

PORT-OF-SPAIN, Trinidad (CNS) -- One year after Hurricanes Irma and Maria smashed through the Virgin Islands, people remain jittery about the rest of the 2018 hurricane season.

"Everyone is extremely nervous and anxious about going through another hurricane without recovering from the previous two," said Warren Bush, chief financial officer for the Diocese of St Thomas.

A combination of heavy bureaucracy, sometimes sluggish supply chains and a shortage of contractors have slowed recovery efforts, leaving repairs to many damaged homes and public buildings still incomplete.

Now, at the height of the current hurricane season, "We have to stabilize buildings to prevent additional water damage," Bush said. "We're very concerned about what could be."

On Sept. 6, 2017, Hurricane Irma mowed through the islands and, two weeks later, Hurricane Maria devastated whatever was left. Both hit as Category 5 storms.

"We've never experienced this level of destruction," said Bush. "And on the three islands, all at once. There's been a shortage of contractors, materials, so that the damage hasn't been addressed as quickly. You could have all the resources in the world, but if you don't have contractors ..."

"Every contractor has between six to 10 jobs working on," said Andrea Shillingford, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Virgin Islands. "We are not in normal times."

Both Bush and Bishop Herbert Bevard of St. Thomas credited the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Catholic Charities and insurance companies with getting restoration of diocesan and other properties underway.

"Schools are still severely damaged in St. Thomas and St. Croix," said Bush, adding that students and teachers are using the safer structures.

Recovery in the islands tends to be slow, he admitted, citing mitigating factors that do not exist on the U.S. mainland when communities there are affected by storms.

"It is difficult for someone from the States (to understand)," he said. On the mainland: "We have more resources, more ability to obtain help from a greater region. It's easier for FEMA to get in, easier for us to get aid, to get through any situations."

Bush, who has lived in the islands for almost 20 years, added: "It's not necessarily a lack of concern, rather, it's one of access. It's 1,500 miles away from the nearest point of contact" from the U.S. mainland. "And, there are often storage and distribution issues that may go unnoticed, that don't exist in the States."

This also makes evacuation an impractical option. People literally have "less ability to reach a safe haven," said Bush.

"It would be physically impossible to evacuate people from these islands in one day," said Shillingford, originally from the island nation of Dominica. Flights are limited, she added.

To access the Virgin Islands in a time of disaster, mainland-based FEMA would "have to wait until the airports and ports are repaired," said Shillingford, "and a place (cleared) for the helicopters to land."

Bush said the government of the Virgin Islands has expended "a lot of effort in the recovery process," noting that "about 90 percent of the utilities have been reconnected."

Bishop Bevard said repairs to several government buildings, such as the post offices and hospitals, appear to be "a problem," and "many houses still have blue tarpaulins on their roofs, but there used to be many more."

He said the all-important tourism industry has been heavily affected.

"Tourism is the first and only industry here," he explained. "Where there were six cruise ships a day, now we're lucky to have six in a week. That impacts the stores, the taxi drivers."

Shillingford recalls one taxi driver who "was taking care of her grandchildren. Her only form of income has been driving that taxi. We had to help her restore her business" and give additional help while things were slow.

"There are lots of stories like hers," said Shillingford, who has lived in the Virgin Islands for 11 years. "Parents can't afford to buy school uniforms for their children."

Homelessness is also an issue, especially among "people whose houses were destroyed."

"People are unemployed," she said. "It's left to agencies like us to find funding."

Catholic Charities operates five soup kitchens on all three islands; two each on St. Croix and St. Thomas, one on St. John. The agency serves 300-400 meals every day, up from 6,000 meals a year, the average before Irma and Maria. A mobile service delivers meals to people who cannot travel, like the many elderly people were abandoned after last year's hurricanes.

"After the storms, they had mercy ships," said Shillingford. "A lot of young people moved to the mainland and left their elderly people here, and they have additional needs. (Our) case managers go out to them."

Bishop Bevard said the diocese plans to build more soup kitchens and improve outreach centers and homeless shelters on all three islands.

Shillingford said people remain shaky when it comes to the weather.

"Any time there's a little rain," said Shillingford, "people get agitated -- adults, really. Children recover quickly; they look to the adults. If the adults pretend, the children feel it's OK. Especially now, this week, people are kind of nervous," she said as the winds of Tropical Storm Isaac fanned the islands.

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Bishop takes a (sky) dive to get pilgrims to Lourdes

IMAGE: CNS photo courtesy of the Diocese of Arundel and Brighton

By

HOVE, England (CNS) -- "The Moth has landed," tweeted the Diocese of Arundel and Brighton.

The tweet Sept. 14 and a similar post on the diocesan Facebook page was meant to assure people that 60-year-old Bishop Richard Moth of Arundel and Brighton had fulfilled his pledge to go skydiving and had completed the task successfully and unharmed.

Joined by Lucy Barnes, a local Catholic school teacher, Bishop Moth jumped from a plane at 15,000 feet to raise money to take ailing pilgrims to Lourdes.

"He flies through the air with the greatest of ease," said another tweet, referring to Bishop Moth.

The Bishops' Conference of England and Wales tweeted: "Is it a bird? Is it a plane? ... Wait, it's a bishop!" They made no reference to the insect that flies and shares the bishop's name.

With a goal of 3,000 pounds (just under $4,000), the bishop raised more than 5,160 pounds on an online crowdfunding website.

In a press release from the diocese, Bishop Moth said: "It requires you to trust in the person you are in tandem with and in the equipment. The staff, however, are very professional and looked after us really well." Both the bishop and Barnes jumped in tandem with -- and harnessed to -- an instructor.

Barnes said, "It was very cold at 15,000 feet and the one minute of freefall made my head spin, but then the gently drifting down with the parachute open was fantastic as you could see everything around you."

When asked if they would do it again, Bishop Moth gave a hesitant "I might," according to the diocese, but Barnes said, "I would not go up again and am glad to be back on earth, and feeling so much better after fish and chips, and gin and tonic!"

While Bishop Moth spent six years as the "bishops of the forces," or military ordinary of Great Britain, it was not until he was far away from the professional paratroopers that he decided to wing it in an attempt to raise enough money to send two assisted pilgrims to Lourdes.

"Each year, the Diocese of Arundel and Brighton organizes a pilgrimage to Lourdes for one week in late July," the diocese said. "Over 700 pilgrims travel with us, and 120 of those are sick, frail, elderly or disabled. Some pilgrims and their carers find it hard to fund their trip, and so from time to time we fund raise to subsidize their fare and accommodation in Lourdes."

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Copyright © 2018 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.

Pope prays for young people, their diligence and courage

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- As he often does with a group made up of people of different faiths or no faith, Pope Francis gave young people in Palermo a special blessing, but not a ritual one.

After the pope's meeting with teenagers and young adults Sept. 15, some Catholics on Twitter expressed outrage that there was no formal apostolic blessing in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Instead, the pope asked God to look upon the thousands of young people gathered with him in Palermo's Piazza Politeama.

After giving his formal speech, Pope Francis apologized to the young people for delivering it while seated when they were all standing. But, he said, "my ankles are really sore."

"Now I would like to give you a blessing, but I know that among you there are young Catholics, Christians, members of other religions and a few agnostics," he said. "For this reason, I will give everyone a blessing, and I will ask God to bless the seed of restlessness that is in your heart."

The pope clasped his hands, bowed his head and prayed: "Lord, Lord God, look upon these young people. You know each one of them. You know what they think. You know that they want to go forward, to make a better world.

"Lord, make them seekers of goodness and happiness. Make them diligent in their journey and in their encounters with others. Make them bold in serving; make them humble in seeking their roots and nurturing them to bear fruit, to have an identity, to belong. May the Lord, the Lord God, accompany all these young people on their journey and bless each one. Amen."

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Copyright © 2018 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.