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‘How many times can our hearts break?’ Bishop of Trenton asks after shooting

Trenton, N.J., Jun 18, 2018 / 07:00 pm (CNA).- The Bishop of Trenton condemned gun violence and called for prayer in a statement following a shooting early Sunday that left one dead and 22 injured.

“The epidemic of gun violence has struck once again, this time close to home,” Bishop David M. O’Connell of the Diocese of Trenton said in a statement Sunday.

“The people of Trenton awoke this morning to the tragic news that twenty of our brothers and sisters - our families, neighbors and friends - were injured during a mass shooting in the early hours of Sunday morning…”  he said.

According to reports from authorities, the shooting happened around 2:45 a.m. on Sunday, June 17 at the Art All Night-Trenton festival, a 24-hour art exhibit that has been displayed annually for 12 years.

A 33 year-old man, Tahaij Wells, was reportedly identified as a suspect and shot and killed by police. Wells had just been released from prison on homicide-related charges, according to CNN. Another man, Amir Armstrong, 23, has also reportedly been charged in connection to the incident.

“We pray for the injured and their families, for comfort and healing. We pray in thanksgiving for the first responders and emergency workers. And we pray for our community here in Trenton that God’s peace and our love for one another might prevail,” O’Connell said.

O’Connell’s sentiments echo those of bishops throughout the country who have found themselves looking for words to comfort their grieving communities in the wake of mass shootings.

He joins numerous other bishops who have had to respond to similar tragedies in the months since the October 2017 Las Vegas shooting, which killed 58 people and left hundreds more injured, and has been called the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history.

“Our hearts go out to everyone,” Bishop Joseph A. Pepe of Las Vegas said in his response to that shooting. He offered prayers for the victims and their families, as well as the first responders and all involved in the incident.

He added that he was “very heartened’ by the stories of the Good Samaritans amidst the tragedy, and prayed for an end to violence throughout the world.

The following month, at least two bishops responded to shootings in their dioceses, including  Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller of San Antonio, Texas, who offered his prayers and condolences following the shooting at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, which killed 26 people.

“We need prayers! The families affected in the shooting this morning at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs need prayers. The evil perpetrated on these who were gathered to worship God on the Lord’s Day – especially children and the elderly – makes no sense and will never be fully understood,” Garcia-Siller said at the time.

The following week, Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento led the U.S. bishops' general assembly in prayer following a shooting in his diocese in which at least four people and several more were  injured at several sites in and around Ranch Tehema Reserve, a small community located about 130 miles northwest of Sacramento.

“I would ask if we could take a moment to ask God's mercy not only on those affected by this [incident], but on all affected by gun violence in these times. Let us ask for Mary's intercession for these people,” he said Nov. 14, before leading the bishops in the Hail Mary.

In January 2018, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and two other bishops responded to two school shootings that occurred within the same week, one in Texas and one in Kentucky.

On Jan. 22 at Italy High School in Italy, Texas, about 50 miles south of Dallas, a teenage girl was injured in a shooting.

On Jan. 23, a student opened fire at Marshall County High School in Benton, Ky., about 120 miles southwest of Owensboro, killing two students and injuring 20 others.

The shootings were “painful reminders of how gun violence can tragically alter the lives of those so precious to us – our school children,” DiNardo said in a statement at the time.

Bishop William Medley of Owensboro offered his prayers for the victims as well as for the shooter in the Marshall County shooting. “May the Lord bring comfort to the family who lost their loved one today, and to all of the students and their families who have to endure the aftermath of this school shooting. Let us all pray for peace across our nation,” he said in a Jan. 23 statement.

In response to the Benton shooting, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville offered his “deepest sympathies to the families of the victims and their friends, teachers and staff as well as the first responders and the whole community of Benton.”

“We know that God’s love overcomes all evil. May the souls of the departed rest in peace and may God’s merciful love sustain the victims and those who love and support them as they heal from the physical and emotional wounds of this senseless act of violence,” Kurtz added.

In February of this year, Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami urged unity and strength in his diocese following a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland which killed 17 students and injured dozens more.

“We pray for the deceased and wounded, for their families and loved ones, for our first responders and our entire South Florida community,” Wenski said at the time. He urged all Floridians to come together as a community, remain strong, and “resist evil in all its manifestations.”

Following the Parkland shooting, Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Fla., and Bishop George V. Murry, S.J., of Youngstown, Ohio, also issued a joint statement calling for “common-sense gun measures” and dialogue about specific proposals that could reduce gun violence, improve school safety and improve access to mental health resources.

In May, DiNardo once again responded to a mass shooting, this time in his own diocese, when a shooter at Santa Fe High School outside of Houston killed 10 and injured 13 others.

“Sadly, I must yet again point out the obvious brokenness in our culture and society, such that children who went to school this morning to learn and teachers who went to inspire them will not come home,” he said. “We as a nation must, here and now, say definitively: no more death! Our Lord is the Lord of life. May He be with us in our sorrow and show us how to honor the precious gift of life and live in peace.”

Prayer as a response to shootings or other deadly incidents has in recent years been criticized by some commentators, called pointless or secondary in comparison to advocacy for gun control policies or mental health resources.

The day after a shooting in San Bernardino, Calif. killed 14 on Dec. 2, 2015, the cover of the New York Daily News said “God isn’t fixing this” - a response to politicians and public figures who offered “thoughts and prayers” after the tragedy, but allegedly took insufficient action to prevent such shootings from occurring in the future.

However, Monsignor Robert Weiss, who was pastor in Newtown, Connecticut in December 2012 when a shooter killed 11 children at an elementary school, has said that turning to God is a necessary part of the response to tragedy.

“To whom do you go? Do you rely on yourself? Because there’s no way you can individually handle these kinds of experiences,” he told CNA in a 2017 interview following the Las Vegas shooting. He recalled professionals telling him in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting that “we can only do so much for these people” to help them heal from the tragedy.

“There is only one place to turn, and it’s to turn to the Lord and find some sort of understanding of this,” he said.

Police in Trenton have said that Sunday’s shooting seems to be gang-related, and not an act of terrorism.

“There is no motive, however, that can justify these ongoing, seemingly relentless acts of gun violence plaguing our cities.  How many times can our hearts break?” O’Connell said. “Once again, we fall to our knees to beg the Almighty to help us end these senseless assaults on innocent life in our communities.”    
 
 

 

Ceasefire reached in Nicaragua crisis as Church-mediated talks resume

Managua, Nicaragua, Jun 18, 2018 / 05:02 pm (ACI Prensa).- The Nicaraguan government and opposition groups agreed Friday to a truce during talks mediated by the Nicaraguan bishops, after nearly two months of protests that have left 170 dead.

Nevertheless, at least eight people died in violent incidents across Managua, the Nicaraguan capital, the following day.

The bishops of Nicaragua reconvened a national dialogue June 15 to make known the response of president Daniel Ortega to the proposals he was given in order to end the crisis. The talks (which began May 16) had been suspended May 23 for lack of consensus.

A 24-hour general strike had closed many businesses June 14, though some violent clashes were reported. Bishop Silvio José Báez Ortega, Auxiliary Bishop of Managua, said a 15-year-old altar boy had been shot and killed by security forces.

Protests began April 18 after Ortega announced social security and pension reforms. The changes were soon abandoned in the face of widespread, vocal opposition, but protests only intensified after more than 40 protestors were killed by security forces initially.

The Church in Nicaragua was quick to acknowledge the protestors' complaints. Barricades and roadblocks are now found throughout the country, and clashes frequently turn lethal.

Participating in the talks June 15 were representatives of the government, private businesses, students, universities, civil society, workers, rural residents, evangelical ecclesial communities, indigenous communities, and people of African descent. They were overseen by Cardinal Leopoldo José Brenes Solorzano of Managua.

The ceasefire agreement calls for the establishment of a truth commission, the presence of international observers from several groups, and the removal of roadblocks.

The truth and security commission is to “verify if an atmosphere of peace and security exists for all Nicaraguans,” according to a communique from the National Dialogue, and to investigate all deaths and violence, and to identify those responsible.

The communique added that “process of the the democratization of the country, which includes the agenda items presented to the President of the Republic by the Bishops' Conference on June 7” will be among the conditions of continuing dialogue.

Their June 7 statement had said that dialogue could not resume while Nicaraguans continue to be denied the right to demonstrate freely and are “repressed and assassinated.”

Despite the signing of the ceasefire, a family of at least six died in an arson attack on their home and business in Managua June 16. Opposition groups have said a pro-government militia was responsible for the blaze, a charge the government has denied.

Two more people in Managua were killed the same day in incidents “attributed to masked pro-government groups backed up by armed police,” the BBC reported.

Bishops and priests across Nicaragua have worked to separate protestors and security forces, and have been threatened and shot.

The Nicaraguan government has suggested that protestors are killing their own supporters so as to destabilize Ortega's administration.

The pension reforms which triggered the unrest were modest, but protests quickly turned to Ortega's authoritarian bent.

Ortega has shown resistance to calls for elections to be held early. His term is scheduled to end in 2021.

Ortega has been president of Nicaragua since 2007, and oversaw the abolition of presidential term limits in 2014.

He was a leader in the Sandinista National Liberation Front, which had ousted the Somoza dictatorship in 1979 and fought US-backed right-wing counterrevolutionaries during the 1980s. Ortega was also leader of Nicaragua from 1979 to 1990.

 

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

The Catholic vision of just immigration reform

Denver, Colo., Jun 18, 2018 / 03:59 pm (CNA).- A Honduran woman says that federal immigration authorities took her daughter from her arms as she breastfed the child. When she reached out for her daughter, she says she was handcuffed; she stood powerless as her daughter was taken away.

The woman was in a detention center - a jail - in Texas. She was waiting to be prosecuted for illegal entry into the United States.

Her story, if true, is heart-wrenching. It cries out for justice.

Catholics see in every nursing mother an icon of our own mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary, who nursed the infant Jesus at her breast.

We see in the bond between mothers and their children a reminder of the life-giving and nurturing love of God, and the first means through which God’s love brings us into being, guides us, and protects us.

“You drew me forth from the womb,” the Psalmist wrote to the Lord, “made me safe at my mother’s breasts.”

We don’t know what happened after that Honduran girl was taken from her mother’s arms.

We don’t know if she was taken to a warehouse, to be housed with hundreds of other children who had been separated from their immigrant parents. We don’t know if she sat strapped in a car seat, squalling for her mother, near the big kids who let themselves cry only as they fall asleep on gym mats spread across the floor, behind a chain link fence.

We do know that policies that indiscriminately separate children from their migrant parents at our national border violate the sacred sovereignty of families. They need to be stopped.

But it’s not enough to condemn the treatment of a mother separated from her child without asking what should happen instead. There have been, unfortunately, too few solutions proposed to address a real problem: how should the identity of family members be verified at the border, to ensure that children are not being trafficked? That issue needs more than moralizing or grandstanding. It needs a real solution.

It’s also not enough to call for an end to family separation at the border without asking what led to this humanitarian crisis, and what kind of reforms will really make a difference.

For that reason, no matter how discouraged they are, Catholics need to lead efforts to develop comprehensive immigration reforms rooted in the principles of justice. Only serious reforms, which create a system that protects security and the right to migrate, will end humanitarian crises at the border, mass detentions and deportations, and the deaths of migrants crossing through the desert.

Among the principles of Catholic social teaching are five that seem particularly relevant to just immigration policy: That nations have a right to security; that families have the right to migrate for safety, freedom, or economic opportunity; that justice obliges countries who can receive immigrants without detriment to the welfare of their citizens to do so; that wealthy and stable nations ought to assist unstable and poor countries; and that the family is sacred, sovereign, and prior to the state.

The United States has the right to security: porous, unsafe, and uncontrolled borders do an injustice to those who cross them, and to our country’s citizens.

The United States also has the right to call on central and south American countries to reform their economies and to quell the violence and disorder that spurs emigration. The United States has the means, and the obligation, to help those countries work for stability, and to hold them accountable when they do not.

But the United States also has the capacity to receive legally many more immigrants than we do now. We’re facing a labor shortage that won’t be resolved by the restrictive caps and quotas we now place on immigration, or by the byzantine processes that make waiting times for legal migration longer than people’s lifetimes. And importing labor also expands our tax base and our domestic consumer base. Those benefits outweigh the costs - measured in the provision of social services - associated with increased immigration.

Beyond the economic reasons for making it easier to come to this country are the moral reasons. We are a wealthy and safe nation. Poor people, from poor countries, have the right to migrate for work and security. Our wealth and safety will not be fatally compromised by their arrival. This is not a matter of charity. It is a matter of justice. “The money you have hoarded,” St. Basil the Great wrote in the fourth century, “belongs to the poor.”

In 1948, Pope Pius XII wrote to the bishops of the United States. He said that he was “preoccupied” and following with “anxiety...those who have been forced by revolutions in their own countries, or by unemployment or hunger to leave their homes and live in foreign lands.”

“The natural law itself, no less than devotion to humanity, urges that ways of migration be opened to these people,” the pope wrote. “For the Creator of the universe made all good things primarily for the good of all. Since land everywhere offers the possibility of supporting a large number of people, the sovereignty of the State, although it must be respected, cannot be exaggerated to the point that access to this land is, for inadequate or unjustified reasons, denied to needy and decent people from other nations, provided of course, that the public wealth, considered very carefully, does not forbid this.”

Seventy years later, the pope’s words remain true, and important. The United States needs a program of immigration reform that recognizes our moral obligation to allow broader participation in our economy. Catholics must lead the way toward this reform.

We cannot hoard our prosperity. We cannot exaggerate our national sovereignty. Our land, our jobs, our prosperity itself exists primarily for the good of all. God did not make the land on which we live, or bless the country we call home, so that we could live in comfortable security while those outside our gates suffer violence, chaos, and hunger.

The rule of law matters - it’s not reasonable or safe to expect that law-breaking at the border should continue unabated, or go unnoticed. But the justice of our laws matter too: no one can call for would-be immigrants to follow our nation’s laws without being sure that those laws are just. Our laws, measured against the Church’s criteria, are not just.

Comprehensive immigration reform, though, will be a long-time coming. It will require statesmanship, sober reflection, and serious analysis - these are not things we have come to expect from our national leaders. That both parties have reprehensible records on this matter demonstrates just how difficult our task will be. But we have to work for justice.

In the meantime, we need to insist that the sovereignty of the family is respected. There are times when parents and children should be separated - when parents have been abusive or neglectful, or when they pose a danger to their children or others. Adults who enter this country with children should be scrutinized - for the sake of the children, we should ensure that those adults really are their parents, that the children are not being trafficked or abused. But we need to do this without taking children from the arms of their mothers, or sending toddlers to live in detention facilities.

Using family separation as a deterrent for migration is an intolerable and contemptible injustice.

“Jesus, Mary and Joseph,” Pius XII wrote, “living in exile in Egypt to escape the fury of an evil king, are, for all times and all places, the models and protectors of every migrant, alien and refugee of whatever kind who, whether compelled by fear of persecution or by want, is forced to leave his native land, his beloved parents and relatives, his close friends, and to seek a foreign soil.”

Catholics are called to work for justice for the Honduran woman and her daughter, separated during the intimacy of nursing. We’re also called to work for a just system of migration to this country, to be its architects and champions. We are called, like Mary and Joseph, to be protectors of migrants, aliens, and refugees, especially those seeking peace as our neighbors.  

 

This commentary reflects the opinions of the author, and does not necessarily reflect an editorial position of Catholic News Agency.

 

What are the new border policies? A CNA explainer

Washington D.C., Jun 18, 2018 / 03:57 pm (CNA).- In recent weeks, changes to the U.S. enforcement of immigration policy have made headlines, as an effort to pursue criminal prosecution has led to family separations.

What exactly are the new policies? How did the changes come about? And how have Church leaders responded?

 

 

In May 2018, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a “zero tolerance” policy that seeks to criminally prosecute 100 percent of immigrants who are caught crossing the border illegally.

Until that policy was announced, people caught crossing the border illegally were sent to an immigration judge, who would determine whether they would be deported. While waiting for a hearing, they would be held in immigration detention centers, or – due to lack of resources or legal limits on how long certain types of immigrants could be detained – be given a court date and released.

The Trump administration’s decision to pursue criminal prosecution means that immigrants are held in a federal jail until they go before a federal judge, who must determine whether immigrants will receive prison sentences for crossing the border illegally.  

This shift to the criminal justice system is what leads to family separation, because children cannot be held legally in a federal jail with their parents.

The family separation policy has been described by Sessions as a deterrent to illegal immigration. “If you don't like that, then don't smuggle children over our border,” he said May 7.

Once the children are separated from their parents, they are classified as unaccompanied minors and placed in the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement. The children are kept in government facilities while arrangements are made to release them to a relative in the country, if one can be identified, or to place them in foster care, while their parents’ immigration case moves forward.

According to the Department of Homeland Security, some 2,000 immigrant children have been separated from their parents in recent months. They are held along with detained minors who crossed the border unaccompanied by an adult.

In total, it is estimated that upwards of 10,000 migrant children are currently being held in over 100 shelters, which are at 95 percent capacity, according to a McClatchyDC report. The Department of Health and Human Services is reportedly considering the construction of “tent cities” to hold the children.

The Bush administration had enacted a similar “zero tolerance” policy to criminally prosecute illegal border crossings. However, it made an exception for unaccompanied minors or families with children. The Obama administration enacted zero tolerance for a short period, but did not separate families as a matter of policy.

Critics of previous administrations warned that legal exceptions for families, children, and asylum seekers created loopholes that could be abused by immigrants to cross the border without facing criminal prosecution, for example, that would-be migrants might travel with children unrelated to them and falsely claim to be a family. Critics also said that family loopholes could enable, or even encourage, child trafficking. President Donald Trump has said that he wants to close these loopholes.

However, immigration and human rights advocates say they are concerned that, like other families illegally crossing the border, asylum-seeking families are also being separated.  

The right to claim asylum is recognized by international law. To claim asylum in the U.S., one must show a well-founded fear of persecution in his home country, on the grounds of race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or particular social group.

An individual can make an asylum claim at a U.S. port of entry. A judge will then determine whether to accept the asylum claim.

However, reports indicate that some people attempting to claim asylum legally at the border are turned away repeatedly, told that the system is unable to accept new applications to be processed. While prohibiting someone from making an asylum appeal is illegal under international law, delaying a claim, which essentially denies that it be made, is a legal grey area.

People can also claim asylum by crossing the border illegally and then turning themselves in to officials. While the act of crossing the border in this case is illegal, the right to claim asylum is still valid, under international law.

Immigration advocates and human rights groups say that legitimate asylum applicants are forced to cross the border illegally in order to make their claims, and are then separated from their children for breaking the law.

The United Nations has condemned the practice of family separation as “a serious violation of the rights of the child,” which “amounts to arbitrary and unlawful interference in family life.”

The U.S. bishops have been vocally opposed to the new policy, as well as a recent move to remove gang violence and domestic abuse from the list of asylum claims that will be accepted as valid.

Bishop Joe S. Vásquez of Austin, chair of the U.S. bishops’ committee on migration, has stressed that “Rupturing the bond between parent and child causes scientifically-proven trauma that often leads to irreparable emotional scarring.”

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston stressed that the U.S. government “has the discretion in our laws to ensure that young children are not separated from their parents and exposed to irreparable harm and trauma.”

Because families are “the foundational element of our society,” they “must be able to stay together,” he said. “While protecting our borders is important, we can and must do better as a government, and as a society, to find other ways to ensure that safety.”

 

In Western Europe, Christians who don't go to church outnumber those who do

Rome, Italy, Jun 18, 2018 / 03:15 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Most Western Europeans identify as Christian, but say they do not, or seldom, attend church services – outnumbering those Christians who do attend church, a survey from the Pew Research Center has reported.

Released May 29, results found in 12 of the 15 surveyed Western European countries, non-practicing Christians (defined as those who self-identify as Christian but report attending church services less than once per month) made up the largest religious group, beating out both religious “nones” and churchgoing Christians.

The telephone survey was conducted in mid-2017 with more than 24,000 participants from Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.

The median percentage of the population of Western Europe identifying as Christian was 71 percent, though only 22 percent of Western Europeans attend church at least monthly. Across all 15 countries surveyed, the median percent of those who had been baptized was 91, and 81 percent reported they were raised Christian.  

Median percentages were analyzed across the 15 surveyed countries to gain a view of the region overall, though countries varied in total Christian identification by as much as 42 percentage points.

Countries such as Italy, Portugal, and Ireland reported total Christian identification around 80 percent, while Norway and Sweden reported Christian identification at slightly above 50 percent.

In every country surveyed except the Netherlands and Norway, where the religiously unaffiliated are the largest religious group, non-practicing Christians make up the majority of Europe’s Christians. Italy is also an exception, where non-practicing Christians and church-attending Christians are split.

Non-practicing Christians in Western Europe were also found to outnumber people of all other religions combined.

The 71 percent Christian identification of Western Europe matches up with Christian identification in the United States. Western Europe also parallels the United States' declining rates of Christians overall and the increase in “nones.”

Particularly in Belgium, Norway, the Netherlands, Spain, and Sweden, the difference in the percentage of the population raised Christian versus the percentage of the population who still practices Christianity is a difference of 22 to 28 percent.

In the same countries, the percentage of people who now identify as religiously unaffiliated is between 21 and 28 percentage points higher than those raised without a religion.

In comparison to the U.S., however, religious fervor overall in Western Europe is significantly lower. While close to half of Americans say religion is “very important” in their lives, the median percentage of Western European adults who say the same is 11.

This difference becomes even more marked between American Christians and European Christians. Sixty eight percent of American Christians report religion is very important to them, compared with only 14 percent of Western European Christians.

The Pew survey on Western Europe also compared the attitudes of non-practicing Christians, church attending Christians, and the religiously unaffiliated on certain political, cultural, and religious issues, such as views toward immigrants, religious minorities, nationalist sentiment, abortion, and same-sex marriage.

On some issues, the views of non-practicing Christians were found to align more closely with religious “nones,” while on others they aligned more closely with church attending Christians.

Most non-churchgoing Christians reported belief in God or a higher power and had favorable views toward churches and other religious organizations.

On abortion, same-sex marriage, and the role of religion in government, a majority of both non-practicing Christians and the non-religious said they support legal abortion in all or most cases and support legalizing same-sex marriage. They also think religion should be kept out of government policies.