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Counselors offer 'loving sources of hope' for women seeking abortions

IMAGE: CNS photo/Natalie Hoefer, The Cr

By Natalie Hoefer

INDIANAPOLIS (CNS) -- Two women stood near the busy road on a chilly February morning in Indianapolis. A steady, penetrating mist -- and sometimes an icy splash from a speeding car -- made for a dampness that digs deep and lingers despite layers of clothes. The temperature hovered just above freezing.

"It's always 10 degrees colder here than anywhere else," Sheryl Dye said with a patient grin. Her companion, Ann Clawson, nodded in agreement.

By "here" she meant the entrance of the driveway of the Planned Parenthood abortion facility on the northwest side of Indianapolis. It is the state's largest abortion provider.

Dye and Clawson are committed to standing, praying and hailing approaching cars with a wave and a smile for at least two hours there every Wednesday morning.

They are members of the Indianapolis North chapter of Sidewalk Advocates for Life. Per its website, the organization's mission is to train and support volunteers "to be the hands and feet of Christ, offering loving, life-affirming alternatives to all present at the abortion center, thereby eliminating demand and ending abortion."

Dye and Debra Minott established the chapter in 2016 and currently serve as its coordinators.

Sidewalk counselors have been there for 13 years, since the facility opened in 2006, said Dye, 54. "It started as a grass-roots effort. ... Deb and I used to counsel together. We started talking about the need for more comprehensive training and getting more people involved. Sidewalk Advocates has a great training program."

Each chapter designates the abortion facility it will cover. A chapter also exists in Bloomington, covering the Planned Parenthood abortion center near Indiana University.

Being a sidewalk counselor does not require any kind of degree or persuasive ability, said Minott, 63, told The Criterion, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

"First and foremost (it requires) a very strong faith," she said. "Because to be successful, you need to recognize you are an instrument of the Holy Spirit, and it's not anything you're doing.

"Second is a passion for life. If you're not there believing that this is a life to be saved, it's going to come through to the person you're talking to."

Having "thick skin" is needed, too, "because some of the things people say aren't very nice," admitted Minott, a member of St. Marie Goretti Parish in Westfield, Indiana, in the Diocese of Lafayette.

Both agree on several misconceptions about what sidewalk counselors do -- that they are there to yell and protest against the abortion center, or there to shame the women as they drive in.

"No matter what is said to us, no matter what goes on, we are peaceful, loving sources of hope," said Dye, a member of St. John the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis. "Our goal is to let (the women) know there's help, that there's pain that can come with abortion, and that they're better than that and don't have to experience that."

One might say the counselors' first goal is to get a car to stop.

"We just wave and offer a big smile and make eye contact," Dye said of the counselors' approach to cars entering the drive.

"There are times when you get no one to stop, then sometimes you get eight cars to stop" during the two- to two-and-a-half-hour shifts, Minott added.

When a car does stop, a counselor offers the driver brochures and information on alternative pro-life organizations that will help them at no charge. For instance, 1st Choice for Women is a pregnancy clinic less than a mile from the abortion center. It is a ministry of Great Lakes Gabriel Project, which also sponsors the north Indianapolis Sidewalk Advocates chapter.

Counselors also offer to walk over immediately and meet the woman at the Women's Care Center that abuts the north boundary of the Planned Parenthood property.

"Even if I talk to someone for a minute -- and that's really about all the time you have -- and they still go in (to the abortion center), I believe my prayers have an impact," Minott said of what counselors spend most of their time doing by the drive: praying.

Counselors often use a rosary booklet with tailor-made intentions Minott designed. But with volunteers from different faith backgrounds, any and all prayers are welcome, she said.

"If I didn't have faith that being there praying was having an impact, I couldn't go on doing it because there's just not enough tangible rewards coming back to you," Minott said.

Occasionally there are tangible rewards, though. Dye told the story of a woman who stopped not long ago to talk to a specific counselor.

"This woman said she had been driving up and down Georgetown Road for a year trying to find the counselor," Dye said. "She wanted her to know that even though she went on in for her abortion after the counselor talked with her, she changed her mind, and she was now the mother of a healthy baby boy."

At 69, Larry Clark has been a sidewalk counselor at the Planned Parenthood abortion center in Indianapolis for about 10 years. He, too, knows the joy of seeing a woman choose life for her baby.

"I've got to be here -- it's the right thing to do," said Clark, a member of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish in Carmel, Indiana, in the Lafayette Diocese. "(The clients) need somebody -- not only the children, but the moms and dads need us, too. ... There's nothing more cheering and exciting than when someone chooses life here in this driveway."

Dye and Minott agree the mission of sidewalk counselors has become more urgent.

Dye said that in the six years since she's been a counselor outside the abortion facility, "it's getting harder to get (the women) to see that it's something that could potentially cause harm to them. It's hard because society tells them it's no big deal."

And with only 13 full-time sidewalk advocates, about 10 part-time and substitute volunteers, and the need to always have two counselors on each shift, the task is even more challenging, said Minott.

There is no "typical" counselor, said Dye, who is the mother of two grown children and a teacher at Lumen Christi Catholic School in Indianapolis.

"We have women and men, people who are outgoing and people who are more quiet, people who work and people who don't work or are retired," she said.

Minott also is married with two grown children. She is retired, running for the Carmel City Council, and has "a lot of other things going on."

Clawson, a retiree in her mid-60s who also worships at St. Maria Goretti, is in her third month of volunteering.

She had a "save" on her first day of counseling -- a woman she spoke with who decided to go to the Women's Care Center instead of Planned Parenthood.

"That's like being on cloud nine," she said with a smile. "Those are the things that keep you coming."

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Hoefer is a reporter at The Criterion, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

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For Chaldeans who fled Iraq, New Zealand attacks brought back memories

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy NZ Catholic

By Michael Otto

AUCKLAND, New Zealand (CNS) -- The St. Addai Chaldean Catholic community in suburban Auckland felt the impact of the Christchurch mosque killings with a special poignancy, because many members have experienced the sufferings inflicted by terrorism.

"There is a lady in my community -- they beheaded her son in front of her," Chaldean Father Douglas Al-Bazi told NZ Catholic. "Another man, they killed his parents in front of him."

Father Al-Bazi, who was kidnapped for nine days by Islamic militants in 2006 in Iraq, suffering serious injuries -- including being shot in the leg by an assailant wielding an AK-47 -- said that when he heard of the events in Christchurch, he was "really angry."

"There were thousands of questions in my head, and also for my people," he said.

He said he told his parishioners that "we fully understand as Iraqi people, especially Christian, we really understand" the pain, "because we are survivors of genocide, systematic genocide."

"I am still shocked, me and my people, how this could happen here in New Zealand," he added.

Father Al-Bazi said people at his church have said they are scared in the wake of the events in Christchurch, fearful of revenge attacks.

"I told them, no, this is not the time to be scared. It is the time to be united. So, show your happiness, show we are brave, and we have to tell the people how to be calm. Because already, we have had that experience. So, we have to guide people to tell them."

Parishioners placed a floral tribute with a message of support in Arabic outside a local mosque the day after the shootings.

Father Al-Bazi said most of his community came to New Zealand seeking a safe place, and the violence that happened in Christchurch is unacceptable.

"I don't know what we can do for those survivors, for those relatives, the only thing we can do is pray for them and say, 'This is not New Zealand.'"

At the end of Mass March 18, everyone at St. Addai Church sang the national anthem, "God Defend New Zealand" in Maori and in English.

Police were stationed outside the church and told Father Al-Bazi, "It is for your protection." The priest said he asked the officers to park a little down the road, so as not to alarm Massgoers.

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Otto is editor of NZ Catholic.


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Pope leads pilgrims in prayer for victims of mosque attack

IMAGE: CNS photo/Vatican Media

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis called on Christians to unite in prayer for the victims of two mosque attacks in Christchurch, New Zealand, that left 50 people dead and dozens wounded in one of the worst mass shootings in the country's history.

"I am close to our Muslim brothers and sisters and their entire community. I renew my invitation to unite with them in prayer and gestures of peace to counter hatred and violence," the pope said March 17 during his Sunday Angelus address.

Around the world, thousands have joined in praying for the victims of the March 15 attack. The gunman, Brenton Tarrant, left a 74-page manifesto posted on social media, identifying himself as a 28-year-old Australian and white nationalist who wanted to avenge attacks in Europe perpetrated by Muslims.

After condemning the attack, Pope Francis bowed his head as he led the thousands of pilgrims gathered in St. Peter's Square in silent prayer for the dead and the wounded.

In his main address, the pope reflected on the Sunday Gospel reading from St. Luke in which Jesus was transfigured before Peter, James and John, thus granting them "a taste of the glory of the resurrection, a glimpse of heaven and earth."

Christ's transfiguration, the pope said, occurred at a pivotal moment in his mission after revealing to his followers that he must suffer and die on the cross.

Knowing that his disciples "do not accept this reality," Jesus is transfigured before them "so that they may know that this is the way by which the heavenly father will bring his son to glory, raising him from the dead," the pope said.

"No one can reach eternal life except by following Jesus, who carried his cross in his earthly life," he said. "Each of us has our own cross. The Lord shows us the end of this journey, which is the resurrection, beauty, by carrying his own cross."

The Christian understanding of suffering, he continued, is not a form of "sadomasochism" but accepts suffering as a transitional step toward heaven where one experiences "salvation, bliss, light, the unlimited love of God."

During Lent, he said, Christians should try to be like the disciples, to "remain for a few moments in recollection, every day a little bit" and to "fix our inner gaze on his face and let his light pervade us and radiate in our lives."

"Let us continue our Lenten journey with joy. Let us give space to prayer and to the word of God, which the liturgy abundantly proposes to us in these days," the pope said. "Because only by remaining with him will we see his glory."

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju

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Pope encourages South Sudan peace process, hopes to visit

IMAGE: CNS photo/Vatican Media

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- As the process to implement a peace accord in South Sudan continues, Pope Francis met March 16 with South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and expressed the hope that, finally, he would be able to visit the country.

During the meeting in the papal library, the Vatican said, the pope and president discussed "matters regarding the implementation of the agreement recently reached by various political actors with a view to a definitive solution to the conflicts, the return of refugees and displaced persons, and the integral development of the country."

South Sudan gained its independence from Sudan in mid-2011 after years of fighting. But in December 2013, tensions between political factions erupted and civil war broke out. Tens of thousands of people have died in the past year and millions have been displaced.

In the context of the discussions about implementing the September peace agreements, the Vatican said, Pope Francis "expressed the wish to ascertain the conditions for a possible visit to South Sudan, as a sign of closeness to the population and of encouragement for the peace process."

In late 2017, Catholic Archbishop Paulino Lukudu Loro of Juba, Episcopal Archbishop Daniel Deng Bul Yak of South Sudan and Sudan and the Rev. Peter Gai Lual Marrow, moderator of the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan, visited the Vatican to explain the situation in their country to the pope.

They invited Pope Francis and Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury to visit South Sudan together to bring a message of peace directly to the country's leaders and citizens; despite the willingness of the pope and the head of the Anglican Communion to make the visit, the lack of security has delayed the trip.


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Worn marble steps of Holy Stairs to be uncovered for public to climb

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- For the first time in 300 years, the marble steps of the Holy Stairs will be free from the thick wooden panels installed in 1723 to protect the stairs and left uncovered for the public.

For at least 40 days, people will be able to touch and climb the bare stones that, according to tradition, are the ones Jesus climbed when Pontius Pilate brought him before the crowd and handed him over to be crucified.

The soon-to-be cleaned steps and newly restored frescoed stairway will be unveiled April 11, the week before Holy Week, during a special blessing ceremony at the Sanctuary of the Holy Stairs. The marble steps were going to be left open to the public temporarily before the original and restored wooden panels would be put back on.

The decision was made during one of the final phases of the sanctuary's restoration -- a 20-year-long project overseen by the Vatican Museums and funded with the help of private donors, foundations and the Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican Museums.

Paolo Violini, the Vatican Museums' head fresco restorer, and his team were so astonished and moved when they saw the degree to which the stone steps had been worn away, he felt this hidden testimony of faith had to be seen and experienced -- even just temporarily -- by today's faithful.

"It's an extraordinary occasion to touch the same steps as Jesus and witness the faith of all the other people who came before us," the sanctuary's rector, Passionist Father Francesco Guerra, told Catholic News Service March 15.

"And it is a concrete way to become linked with those who came before us in history and the faith, who passed on the faith to us," he said.

Tradition holds that St. Helen, mother of the Emperor Constantine, brought the stairs to Rome from Jerusalem in 326 A.D.

The sanctuary, whose walls and ceilings are covered with newly restored decorative paintings and frescoes depicting Christ's passion and events of the Old Testament, was built specifically for the stairs to be venerated by the public in the late 1580s, by order of Pope Sixtus V.

Since then, millions of people climbed the steps on their knees, slowly and unintentionally digging deep undulating ruts and furrows into the soft stone. One of the 28 steps was so worn away by people's shoe tips, a hole had been bored straight through the thick slab of stone.

That happened, Violini said, because that was the step where pilgrims lingered longer, to lean down and kiss "the most important step" above, which is cracked down the middle and adorned with a metal cross and a raised metal grate. According to tradition, Jesus fell at the 11th step, cracking it with his knee. The cross marks the point of impact, Violini said, and the open grate covers what was said to have been a spatter of his blood.

A worker stuck his finger through the grate to scoop out some debris and show just how much stone had been rubbed away by centuries of people touching the spot. A cross also marks another step at the top of the staircase, indicating where, tradition said, had been another drop of blood.

Up until now, people had only been able to see -- not touch -- these areas through small glass panels in the wooden treads.

A few steps were still being uncovered March 15. Two workers chipped away some pieces of brick along the staircase walls to free the rusty metal hooks securing the 300-year-old walnut wood treads in place.

Handwritten notes, holy cards, colored photographs, small coins, buttons and mounds of black dust spilled out from under the heavy plank, which was peppered with woodworm holes and stuck with wisps of spider silk.

Workers carefully bagged the written prayer requests and mementos, which had been stuck into the open slats in the stair risers. They were to be given to the Passionist Fathers in charge of the sanctuary for cataloging and study. The objects date back to no earlier than the 1950s, Violini said, which has led the restorers to believe the stairs had probably been cleaned for the Jubilee Year of 1950.

Mei Wen, a member of the Vatican Museums' Patrons of the Arts, came from her home in Perth, Australia, to see the steps being revealed.

She told CNS she became a major donor to the stairs' restoration after she and her husband first climbed them in 2013.

"That year what we prayed for and reflected on sort of came true so, because of that, I made a commitment that I should donate to the restoration of this project, for the faithful who want to climb the stairs for whatever reasons, for spiritual or family reasons," she said.

Restoring such "a special place," she said, "is also for the art and the history of it."

She said she was moved by seeing and touching the mementos and grooves in the marble "made by people climbing on their knees. It's very real and it's history made centuries ago, how could you not feel something?"


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At memorial Mass, CRS remembers four employees who died in plane crash

IMAGE: CNS photo/Kevin J. Parks, Catholic Review

By Paul McMullen

BALTIMORE (CNS) -- Approximately 480 men and women work at the Baltimore headquarters of Catholic Relief Services, the overseas aid and development agency of U.S. Catholics.

None were more affected than Yishak "Isaac" Affin and Atli Moges by the March 10 Ethiopian Airlines crash that took the lives of all 157 on board -- including four who were not just colleagues, but their fellow countrymen and women.

Affin and Moges were part of the standing-room-only gathering at the CRS chapel March 14, when Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori offered a memorial Mass. His concelebrants included a majority of the 14 bishops who serve on the CRS board of directors, in town for meetings.

Like the four who perished, Moges and Affin are natives of Ethiopia, which has approximately 100 million residents. Almost half lack access to clean water.

Trying to better themselves so that they could better their country, the four CRS administrators were en route to a training session in Nairobi, Kenya, when their flight crashed minutes after takeoff from Addis Ababa, the capital of the east African nation that sits in a region wracked by famine.

"They do their work from their hearts," Moges told the Catholic Review, Baltimore's archdiocesan news outlet. "They were the kind of people who stayed in the office until midnight or worked Saturday if that was necessary."

She speaks from experience.

A senior adviser for CRS in financial technical support, Moges came to Baltimore in 1988, but from August 2015 to March 2018 served in Ethiopia as the deputy country representative for operations.

Managing administration, finance, human resources and IT for a staff of approximately 200 during her time in Ethiopia, Moges said she worked with the four deceased staffers "very closely."

They were typical of the 7,000 people employed by CRS, which prioritizes hiring and training local people in the nations it serves.

Moges said that Mulusew Alemu, a senior finance officer, was devoted to his Ethiopian Orthodox faith and "a delightful person, very respectful and hard-working."

Despite his low-key demeanor, she said, Sintayehu Aymeku had "wonderful leadership skills." A procurement manager who had lived for a time in the United States, Aymeku left behind a wife and three daughters.

"I had high hopes for him," Moges said.

Sara Chalachew, who once spent three weeks in Baltimore on temporary duty, was promoted last December to senior project officer for grants. Moges said she was always smiling, and "got along with everyone on staff."

Getnet Alemayehu was a senior procurement officer, known for being patient and persistent while navigating shipments.

Before Affin, a senior accountant, came to Baltimore in 2003, he worked as an auditor in Addis Ababa, where he knew Alemayehu as a driver, albeit one "studying at university."

As Moges got emotional remembering the four after the Mass, Affin placed his right hand on her left shoulder.

The Mass included a choir comprised of CRS staff based in Baltimore.

Bishop Gregory J. Mansour of the Eparchy of St. Maron of Brooklyn, New York, who is chairman of the CRS board of directors, welcomed Archbishop Lori, who had made a short walk from the Catholic Center, headquarters of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, to CRS.

"Sorrow shared," Bishop Mansour said, "is sorrow lessened."

"Why were such good colleagues taken from us?" Archbishop Lori said in his homily. "A tragic moment such as this, and the season of Lent itself, tests and probes the depth of our faith," he said.

"It highlights the kind of faith, hope and love -- coupled with courage -- that undergirds the many risks you and your colleagues take each day to advance the kingdom of justice, peace and love in this world."

Archbishop Lori said the four employees "died in pursuit of their mission to bring a measure of food security to regions of the world that are habitually plagued by famine. They met the Lord as they were dedicating themselves and their lives to the golden rule."

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McMullen is managing editor of the Catholic Review, the news website and magazine of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.


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Update: After attacks, New Zealand bishops tell Muslims: 'We hold you in prayer'

IMAGE: CNS photo/Martin Hunter, Reuters

By Michael Otto

AUCKLAND, New Zealand (CNS) -- New Zealand's Catholic bishops have expressed horror and distress at a terrorist attack in two mosques in Christchurch that saw at least 49 people killed.

The shootings took place at or near the Al Noor Mosque, where 41 people were killed, and at the Linwood Mosque, where 7 were killed. One more person subsequently died at Christchurch Hospital. Muslims had gathered at the mosques for Friday prayers. Some of those killed were children, it has been reported.

The terror attack started at around 1:40 p.m. local time March 15, sparking a massive mobilization by police. Mike Bush, New Zealand police commissioner, announced at 9 p.m. that a man in his late 20s had been charged with murder and would appear in the Christchurch District Court the next day.

Some three-and-a-half hours after the attacks began, the New Zealand bishops released a message, addressed to the nation's Muslim community, via social media.

"We hold you in prayer as we hear the terrible news of violence against Muslims at mosques in Christchurch," the bishops wrote.

"We are profoundly aware of the positive relationships we have with Islamic people in this land, and we are particularly horrified that this has happened at a place and time of prayer.

"We are deeply saddened that people have been killed and injured, and our hearts go out to them, their families and wider community. We wish you to be aware of our solidarity with you in the face of such violence."

The bishops signed off their message "Peace, Salaam."

A message sent by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, on behalf of Pope Francis, said the pope was "deeply saddened to learn of the injury and loss of life cause by the senseless acts of violence" at the mosques.

"He assures all New Zealanders, and in particular the Muslim community, of his heartfelt solidarity in the wake of these attacks." He also offered prayers and blessings to those injured, those grieving, those who died and emergency personnel.

Christchurch Bishop Paul Martin released his own message on social media.

"We are horrified at the violence that has been inflicted on people of our city this afternoon," Bishop Martin wrote.

"Words cannot convey our distress. Our prayers are with those who are suffering. I invite you now, wherever you are, alone or with family, workmates or friends, to pray together in the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi: Lord make me an instrument of your peace ... "

Bishop Martin planned to celebrate a Mass of prayer for peace, "remembering those who have died in the mosques tragedy and praying for those who are suffering," at St. Mary's Pro-Cathedral March 16.

This is the second major tragedy involving significant loss of life in Christchurch in the last decade. On Feb. 22, 2011, an earthquake struck the city, killing 185 people. The Catholic Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament suffered severe damage, as did the nearby Anglican Cathedral.

Anglican Bishop Peter Carrell of Christchurch issued a statement on behalf of all church leaders in the city in early evening.

"Church leaders are absolutely devastated at the unprecedented situation in Christchurch this afternoon, and our hearts and prayers go to all involved. No religious organization or group deserves to be the target of someone's hate -- regardless of beliefs. We stand for an Aotearoa New Zealand, which will never condone such violence. So, across the churches of Christchurch and Canterbury, we are praying for our Muslim brothers and sisters, for those injured and those who have lost loved ones, for the police, ambulance and other emergency services, and for all in the city of Christchurch who are feeling distress and fear due to this event. We are upholding you all in our prayers. We pray, too, for the shooter and their supporters, because for any person to do this, they must have such hatred in their hearts, such misalignment of the value of human life, that they too, need our prayer. We thank many others from around our nation and the world who are praying for peace in Christchurch."

Five Catholic high schools and about a dozen elementary schools in Christchurch city were among many schools that went into lockdown in mid-afternoon as news of the terror attacks spread. Children and staff were unable to leave the schools until 5:30 p.m., when enough police personnel had been deployed to ensure a safe passage home.

When the lifting of the lockdown, one Catholic high school, the all-girls Villa Maria College, stated on Facebook announced that rolls would be taken in the school gym and that students would be "debriefed with pastoral care on hand." After this, students were released.

The attack is the deadliest mass shooting in New Zealand's history. The gunman reportedly live-streamed video of the attack using a helmet-camera. New Zealand police asked people not to share this on social media. The shooter also posted a 73-page manifesto.

Facebook and Twitter reportedly removed the gunman's pages.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said: "It is clear that this can now only be described as a terrorist attack." She said the thoughts and prayers of the nation were with "those who have been impacted today."

"Christchurch was their home," Ardern said. "For many, this may not have been the place they were born, in fact for many, New Zealand was their choice. The place they actively came to and committed to. The place they were raising their families. Where they were parts of communities that they loved and who loved them in return. It was a place that many came to for its safety. A place where they were free to practice their culture and their religion."

The prime minister added: "For those of you who are watching at home tonight and questioning how this could have happened here. We, New Zealand, we were not a target because we are a safe harbor for those who hate. We were not chosen for this act of violence because we condone racism, because we are an enclave for extremism. We were chosen for the very fact that we are none of those things."

Mosques across the country closed on Friday at the urgings of police. Vigils sprang up throughout New Zealand as people gathered to mourn and grieve.

A meme on Facebook shared by many showed a sobbing kiwi.

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Otto is editor of NZ Catholic.

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Researcher: Difference between 'considering leaving' and 'leaving' church

IMAGE: CNS photo/Ed Langlois, Catholic Sentinel

By Carol Zimmermann

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The headlines from a March 13 Gallup Poll about the growing number of U.S. Catholics who have thought about leaving the church because of the clergy abuse crisis did not faze one researcher of Catholic data too much.

"There is a substantial difference between considering leaving and leaving. It is also the case among those who do leave, some come back," said Mark Gray, director of Catholic polls and a senior research associate at Georgetown University's Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, or CARA.

"When you think about the question about considering leaving, I am frankly surprised the percentage isn't higher. Given the realities of the scandal I think it is natural to ask oneself questions about membership and identity," he told Catholic News Service in a March 14 email.

The Gallup Poll revealed that 37 percent of U.S. Catholics, up from 22 percent in 2002, said the abuse scandal in the church has led them to question whether they would remain Catholic.

The poll's results are based on interviews with 581 U.S. Catholics from Jan. 21 to 27 and Feb. 12 to 28. Gallup conducted a similar poll in 2002 after The Boston Globe reports on clergy abuse gained widespread attention.

In this new poll, responses from practicing Catholics differed from the overall Catholic population.

Forty-six percent of Catholics who seldom or never attend Mass say they have questioned whether they would remain in the faith, while 37 percent of monthly Massgoers say they have considered this and 22 percent of weekly Massgoers have thought about this.

The same pattern existed in 2002, but this year more practicing and nonpracticing Catholics said they were likely to question their place in the church. Seventeen years ago, only one in eight weekly Massgoers asked this question compared to 24 percent of semi-regular Massgoers and 29 percent of those who seldom attend Mass.

The report indicates, although this seemed to get lost in some of the coverage of it, that the responses to the poll don't reveal if "Catholics who are questioning their church membership will actually decide to leave the church. Many Catholics may consider leaving the church but ultimately decide not to do so, or they may have no intention of leaving" but are responding to the question out of frustration with how the church has responded to this crisis.

A tweet posted by CARA March 13 suggested that Gallup track the number of U.S. adults who identify as Catholics by the end of 2019, noting: "In the past, most who considered leaving didn't and among those who did, some returned." It said if the number of U.S. Catholics falls below 21 percent that would be "outside the post-1948 norm." In 2000, the percentage of Catholics in the U.S. was 23 percent and last year it was 22 percent.

Gray, who takes the long view, said that "religious identity and affiliation is much more nuanced over the course of a lifetime than many assume."

He also pointed out that most Catholics are recognizing that the abuse crisis is "not a current event but the scandal is. They are also likely to realize that there is a difference between their faith and the individuals who committed these awful crimes."

But Gray also cautioned that "something feels different about the current situation than in 2002." "It's almost as if this is a second strike" and any further scandal related to sex abuse could have a stronger impact on church membership, he added.

The Gallup Poll showed no major difference in Catholics' opinions about their church membership by age or gender. The poll also revealed that 40 percent of Catholics say they have a great deal of confidence in Pope Francis and 18 percent have quite a lot of confidence in him. These surveyed Catholics expressed similar views about their own parish priests: 41 percent have a great deal of confidence in them and 18 percent have quite a lot of confidence.

But the poll showed that Catholics are less confident overall about priests, U.S. bishops and other Catholic leaders. About one in four U.S. Catholics said they have very little or no confidence in those two groups.

Catholics who go to Mass each week are the most confident in priests and church leaders in general and infrequent Massgoers are the least confident. The widest gaps in confidence appears at the parish level with 86 percent of weekly Massgoers expressing confidence in their own priests, compared with 39 percent of those who seldom or never attend church.

The Gallup Poll, which questioned adults throughout the country via landline and cellphones, has a sampling error of plus or minus five percentage points.

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Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim


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Head of African youth network: Listen to young people on ecology

IMAGE: CNS photo/Fredrick Nzwili

By Fredrick Nzwili

NAIROBI, Kenya (CNS) -- The head of an African youth network urged the world's religions to embrace the voices of young people, as the leaders explore ways to tackle the current global ecological crisis.

Allen Ottaro, founder and executive director of the Catholic Youth Network for Environment Sustainability for Africa, said young people were aware of the current realities of climate change and were ready to join in the search for solutions.

"Youth have said they will do their homework, but you (adults) also need to do yours," Ottaro said during a side event during the U.N. Environment Nairobi Convention. "While we are asking for space, we're also prepared to take responsibilities. The best way to take the responsibilities is to get involved in those decision-making processes that in the ultimately affect our future."

Ottaro was one of several delegates from faith and faith-related organizations who attended the U.N. convention in Nairobi. More than 5,000 delegates from around the world gathered March 11-15 to discuss ways of accelerating environmental protection.

"We can no longer delay taking action to protect people and this planet," Joyce Msuya, acting executive director of the U.N. Environmental Program, said at the opening session March 11.

French President Emmanuel Macron echoed a similar call at the meeting, noting that young people were pushing for urgent action.

"Our youths are saying: You are not moving fast enough. They are right to get impatient, because we are too late," Macron told the meeting March 14.

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta acknowledged the presence of faith leaders at the meeting, saying they could provide useful lessons in environmental protections.

"Faiths for Earth" was a side event at the assembly.

The Catholic Youth Network for Environment Sustainability for Africa joined Brahma Kumaris, a worldwide Hindu spiritual movement, to host a session during the side event, where Ottaro spoke.

He said faiths should not fear young people's critical voices even when the matter is sensitive and controversial.

"Young people are not a time bomb. They are a key asset to tap to care for our common home. We need to tap into this asset, rather than see it as a time bomb. They are not the future but the now of God," he said. He also urged young people to raise their voices so that they can be heard by their leaders.

Catholic youths from Kenya, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Zambia, Rwanda and South Africa launched the youth network in 2012 after being inspired by St. John Paul II's 1990 World Day of Peace message, which called for increasing ecological awareness and finding fitting expressions in concrete programs and initiatives.

The network aims to unite young Catholics in Africa in the response to climate change and environmental degradation, through creating awareness, training, networking groups and supporting parishes in the work around the environment.

"We are looking at how we can use Catholic social teaching to form young people to discover how they are called to care for creation as Catholics. We are also looking at formation on ecological issues to understand what is happening to our common home (through) climate change," Ottaro told the Catholic News Service in an interview, referring to Pope Francis' 2015 encyclical, "Laudato Si'." In networking and advocacy, he explained, the organization attempts to find interfaith collaborations with like-minded interfaith groups, for example, hosting the event with Brahma Kumaris.

"We work with non-Catholics, as long as they respect the Catholic traditions and Catholic social teachings," he said. "We need to give voice and visibility to that core identity we have, and this is unique perspective we can bring to this space and this kind of forum as people of faith."

He cited progress in mobilizing young people but said their capacity could be strengthened.

"People are starting to listen, but we do not have the luxury time," he said.

Franciscan Father Hermann Borg, director of Mother Earth Network, an organization that deals with environmental issues, said that while the U.N., some governments and private institutions have developed policies that care for the environment, there are still many holes.

"Deforestation is already there, and the demand for clean water. The pollution (in the) air and water is increasing," Father Borg told Catholic News Service. "It's all human made. It is all made because of our comforts. We have seriously damaged our common world. That mean we have to come in and plan the next activities."

"We have to change lifestyles. We have to change our behaviors, otherwise the globe will collapse," added the priest.

But Father Borg said he was concerned that climate change has never been a priority from top of the church hierarchy down to the parishes.

"The initiative the Catholic Church can have tremendous impact, but the care for the environment has been neglected for a number of generations," said the priest.

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Update: Amid call for boycott of Lenten appeals, some see harm to poor, needy

IMAGE: CNS photo/Bob Roller

By Jacob Comello

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Lent is a penitent season -- a time for sincere reflection on one's mistakes and a time to make amends for one's life before the joy of the Easter season.

And some say that the Catholic bishops need to be compelled by the laity during this season into recognizing their own faults especially in light of addressing the sex abuse crisis and questions about the results of the Vatican's recent summit on the issue.

In a time of anger and frustration, some Catholics might be tempted to withhold donations to the church -- especially when urged to do so in a recent column by Marc Thiessen in The Washington Post. But others say that taking that kind of action will only hurt those the church helps most.

In a March 8 letter to the editor responding to Thiessen's March 6 column, Kathleen Swanson of Highland, Maryland, said a boycott "might sound like a great way to send a message by those who rightly want to see the Catholic Church finally deal with the issue of sexual abuse and harassment."

But, she asked, "whom would it really be sending a message to? The thousands of children from our poorest communities who seek a way out of poverty through the Catholic education heavily subsidized by the church and generous donors? The poorest parishes and schools that receive much-needed subsidies from their dioceses to continue operating in the neighborhoods they anchor as beacons of hope and opportunity?"

"As a former employee of a diocese whose job was to work with poor inner-city parishes," she said, "I know firsthand that many Catholic dioceses operate close to the margin," and if the annual appeal fails, she added, "networks of vital ministries and services also fail, with real-life consequences."

In his column, Thiessen, a fellow with the American Enterprise Institute and a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush, wrote: "My advice to my fellow Catholics? Don't give them a dime."

After reeling off a list what he said were the bishops' failures in handling the crisis, including serious missteps surrounding the scandal involving former Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, who was recently laicized, Thiessen admits he does not take his own words lightly, saying: "I offer this advice with a heavy heart, because I remain, and always will remain, a faithful Catholic."

But he wants accountability and sees a boycott as possibly the only way for the church to grow out of this ongoing dark chapter: "They covered up or ignored sexual misconduct and moved around predator priests -- and continue to do so."

In a phone interview with CNS, Thiessen stood by his position: "Because it's not a democracy, the bishops are not accountable ... the only way to get through to them is to withhold our money." He's glad that the church isn't run by popular opinion, he said, but thinks that squeezing the bishops financially might awaken them on this issue.

"If the poor are hurt (by withholding funds)," Thiessen said, "the bishops need to look to themselves" and figure out what should be done to reinstate stability and trust. "There are other sources of funds they can tap into" to keep the church's good works going, he added.

Disagreeing with Thiessen is the president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, Bill Donohue, who told CNS that Thiessen's point, while well made, fails to take into account the progress that the church has made with regard to the abuse scandal, let alone the limits to the scandal itself.

"He gives the reader no idea that the crisis in this country has been licked," Donohue said, noting that Georgetown University studies commissioned by the bishops have revealed allegations against clergy to be dropping starkly for over two decades.

Donohue said the expose on priestly sex abuse done in 2002 by The Boston Globe accurately revealed that the crisis was largely confined to priests who were ordained during the social throes of the 1960s.

"The damage was done to the church during the sexual revolution," Donohue said. "The way (Thiessen's) article is written ... suggests that we are stuck in the same time warp."

In closing, Donohue noted that the anger of Catholics over the scandal and allegations of a cover-up are well deserved, but withholding funds is not the right way to go because it holds bishops to account for a crisis that is long in the past: "A lot of the priests who were delinquent ... they're either out of ministry or dead. ... If we give off the idea that we have not made progress, that is simply wrong."

Mark Zimmermann, editor of the Catholic Standard, newspaper of the Washington Archdiocese, said in a blog post he thought Thiessen's call for Catholics to boycott diocesan appeals "could not be more wrong."

"(This) would ultimately hurt not the bishops -- whom the writer seems to want to bring to their knees not in prayer but in shame -- but would instead harm the church's outreach to those in need and undermine its everyday ministries to people."

Zimmermann said he understands the "righteous anger felt by the faithful over the abuse crisis and the church's response to it." "As a fellow Catholic, I share that anger and sorrow," he said, pointing out that the people of the Archdiocese of Washington have had "the heart-rending dimension of having our former cardinal archbishop ... found guilty by the church of sexual abuse and misconduct and stripped of his priesthood."

He said Catholics "need to help rebuild the church" and support "its foundation of good work" through annual appeals that in turn support outreach programs and ministries that "are needed now more than ever."

Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, has acknowledged the anger among laity over the abuse crisis. Bishops, particularly younger ones, he said, share in that anger and "want to move with real force" toward solutions, which he said could yield a new season for the church.

He made the comments at a conference in early February at The Catholic University on Washington.

After the Vatican's Feb. 21-24 summit on child protection and the clerical sexual abuse crisis, which he attended as USCCB president, he said the proceedings affirmed the U.S. bishops' strong belief that bishops and cardinals who abuse children or cover up abuse must be held accountable.

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