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How one organization helps the Church welcome Catholics with disabilities

Washington D.C., Mar 21, 2018 / 04:52 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Around 14 million Catholics in the U.S. are living with a disability.

Since 1982, the National Catholic Partnership on Disability (NCPD) has been working to make sure those Catholics are welcomed as members of the Church and have opportunities to participate in the faith.

“The goal of NCPD is to ensure that people with any disability…can actively and meaningfully participate in the faith by using their gifts and interests,” said Janice Benton, executive director of the National Catholic Partnership on Disability.

“By virtue of baptism, everyone belongs to the body of Christ, and our work is to make sure that we are doing that with the proper attitude and spirit to make sure everyone can feel at home in their parishes,” she told CNA.

The organization works in in a variety of ways to “affirm the dignity of every person,” Benton said.

For example, they support people with Down syndrome by supporting campaigns that fight against discriminatory legislation, such as disability-selective abortions, while also working with individuals with Down syndrome as they prepare for sacraments and take an active part in the their faith.

“We remind church communities that people with Down syndrome and other disabilities are agents of evangelization and people gifted in their own right,” Benton said.

Founded in light of the 1978 document, “Pastoral Statement of U.S. Catholic Bishops of People with Disabilities,” the group has been promoting the pastoral guidelines for individuals with disabilities, particularly through access to the sacraments and Church life.

The National Catholic Partnership on Disability is a collaborative organization made up of various councils to serve people who live with physical, intellectual, sensory, mental or emotional disabilities. They also partner with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), and Archbishop Kurtz serves as their episcopal moderator.

“We work very closely with the bishops and the offices at the USCCB,” Benton said, noting that the bishops currently do not have a disabilities office, so the NCPD plays a huge role in this area.

One of the organization’s primary tasks is working closely with publishers to provide resources for catechists and leaders who are working directly in faith formation, but they also are involved in a number of different councils and speaking engagements around the nation.

The ministry provides catechesis, resources, spirituality and awareness building tools, trainings, conferences, and ministry models to dioceses throughout the country, and additionally offers online tools such as YouTube training videos.

“We are really set up to support the people in the dioceses, and even directly in parishes, to provide the support, resources, and training that the church might need,” Benton said.

She noted that the NCPD played a major role in the revision to the “Guidelines for the Celebration of the Sacraments,” which now aids priests, catechists and Church leaders in preparing the proper reception of the sacraments for individuals with disabilities.

While primarily ministering in the U.S., the disability resource group also works internationally with the Vatican and other groups. Esther Garcia, the outreach director for organization, said that she works with minorities, such as Asian, African, and Hispanic groups within the Church.

“The NCPD is working to ensure we are meeting the needs of families with disabilities in the Hispanic community,” Garcia said.

“We are all children of God…and it is our responsibility as a Church to provide resources and ways to ensure that [those with disabilities] have ways to receive the sacraments,” Garcia continued.

Moving forward, Benton told CNA that they are currently working on an app for sacramental preparation and Mass attendance for people with autism and other intellectual disabilities.

“We are always trying to develop resources that can easily be made available.”


Boko Haram frees most schoolgirls abducted last month

Kano, Nigeria, Mar 21, 2018 / 03:45 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- On Wednesday, terrorist group Boko Haram returned at least 76 Nigerian schoolgirls who were kidnapped in a raid last month.

More than 30 girls are still missing, some of whom are allegedly still being held, while others have reportedly died, possibly of thirst, according to reports from the New York Times.

On Feb. 19th, Boko Haram raided a girls’ technical school in Dapchi, a small town in northeastern Nigeria. Witnesses said the militants stormed the school and herded 110 students into trucks and drove away.

Father Maurice Kwairanga, who coordinates the Justice, Development and Peace Commission (JDPC) for the Nigerian Diocese of Yola, told CNA last month that in the wake of the kidnapping, “deep sorrow has descended on the once sleepy…town” of Dapchi.

Residents of Dapchi told the New York Times that they were “very, very happy” for the return of so many of the schoolgirls.

They added that when the militants dropped off the girls, they gathered several residents around them to warn them that the girls should not be allowed to return to school.

Of the girls still being held by the militants, sources told the New York Times that one of them, Leah Sherubu, is a Christian who has refused orders to convert to Islam.

Boko Haram is a militant Islamist group based in northeastern Nigeria. The group launched an uprising in 2009 hoping to impose strict sharia law on the country. It has been responsible for tens of thousands of deaths, targeting security forces, politicians, Christian minorities, and moderate Muslims in Nigeria’s predominantly Muslim north. In 2015, the group pledged allegiance to ISIS.

The group has carried out numerous attacks, suicide bombings, and kidnappings in recent years, including a 2014 raid during which militants abducted 276 schoolgirls. Of those girls, dozens have been freed, though more than 100 are still missing.

Nigeria’s president, Muhammadu Buhari said on Twitter that the recent release of the Dapchi girls came as a result of “backchannel” negotiations and that no ransom was paid.

The government has faced harsh criticism in the wake of the Dapchi kidnapping, and Fr. Kwairanga told CNA last month that while Buhari campaigned on a platform of eradicating terrorism, confidence in the government is “waning.”

According to the New York Times, advocacy group Bring Back Our Girls expressed relief at the return of the Dapchi girls, but added that they want the negotiations surrounding their release investigated.

The latest group of freed Chibok girls were released in May in exchange for as many as six suspected militants who were not identified, though some reports say the militants were high-ranking commanders in Boko Haram. There are also rumors of a large ransom paid, which critics fear could encourage more kidnappings.

Pope Francis has assured Nigerians of his prayers and recently met with a Boko Haram abduction survivor in a private audience. Nigerian Bishop Oliver Dashe Doeme has also urged the world to pray the rosary for an end to Boko Haram’s violence.


Sacraments are the best spiritual armor – Bishop Olmsted

Phoenix, Ariz., Mar 21, 2018 / 03:35 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- In a Lenten reflection, Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix said spiritual war needs spiritual amor, and the best armor is accessed through the sacraments.

"The sacraments, then, are the armor of choice in this spiritual war," he wrote in a March 20 column at the Catholic Sun.

“Through them, Jesus continues to heal, to forgive, to strengthen and to sustain us in our fight against the devil and his minions."

He said this spiritual war is a crucial battle, where the devil and his demons are determined to attack the souls of the faithful. Pointing to the ideology of secular culture, he said the devil's hostility can be seen in society's view on sin, heaven, hell, and repentance.

"This spiritual war against the devil and his minions has crucial consequences in our daily life with an outcome that determines our eternal destiny. The devil does all in his power to destroy the work of God in us."

This is a great and dramatic battle for souls, he said, and it needs the help of a God who encounters Christians in the present with living sacraments. But Catholics must be willing to embrace sacramental grace with the proper disposition, he said.

Taken from the Latin term sacramentum, he said the word originally referred to an oath Roman citizens would swear upon entering the military. He said, as soldiers, the men promised to defend the empire from from whatever force threatened it.

Likewise, Christ promised to accompany his Church, he said. "In a distinct way, he fulfills this promise through the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist. So, whenever a sacrament is celebrated, Christ is there to fight along our side for our salvation."

However, he said the fruits of the sacraments also depend on the disposition of Catholics, who should receive these rites with repentance and faith.

"A sacrament can be validly given and received but still may not be fruitful. Sadly, it is an outcome that seems to be widespread today."

“Repentance from any attachment to sin is essential to conduct one’s life in harmony with the purpose of the Sacraments, i.e. to increase divine life within us. Therefore, renunciation of sin and the devil is essential for receiving the true spiritual values of the Sacraments.”

And where faith is strong there is transformation, but where faith is dismal the fruits will be vague, he said.

"When we participate with sincere faith in prayer and the Sacred Liturgy, the reading of Scripture and the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we do so with greater awareness and expectations of encountering the living God, an encounter that changes us for the better."

Bishop Olmsted expressed hope that Catholics may finish this Lenten season with spiritual fruit and a freedom from evil.

"During Holy Week we will be reminded of the battle that our Lord waged and is still waging in us members of his Mystical Body. May this season of Lent be a time to free our spiritual life from the evil one. And may the fruits of the great spiritual struggle - sacrifice, prayer, fasting and the witness of our faith - hasten the coming of the Kingdom of God."

Bishop, five priests arrested in Brazil, accused of embezzling Church funds

Brasilia, Brazil, Mar 21, 2018 / 01:58 pm (ACI Prensa).- A Catholic bishop, five priests and other administrative officials in the Brazilian state of Goiás have been arrested on accusations of embezzling more than two million reales (about $600,000) from the Catholic Church.

Bishop José Ronaldo of the Diocese of Formosa was among those arrested March 19, as part of operation “Caiaphas.” Among other findings, the operation discovered 70,000 reales (about $21,000) in cash in a cabinet with a false bottom. The cabinet belonged to Fr. Epitácio Cardoso Pereira, in the Planaltina township.

In wake of these developments, Pope Francis on March 21 appointed the Archbishop of Uberaba, Paulo Mendes Peixoto, as apostolic administrator of the diocese.

According to prosecutors, the embezzled money comes from tithes, donations, stipends for baptisms and weddings from churches. Authorities said the diversion of money has been going on since 2015 when the bishop took possession of the Diocese of Formosa.

Judge Fernando Oliveira Samuel said that the money “was systematically diverted by order of José Ronaldo and also approved by the rest of the clerics.”

According to authorities, legal wiretaps suggested that Bishop Ronaldo and four other priests purchased a ranch to raise livestock and a store where lottery tickets are sold.

“In addition to that, it is possible that the vehicles acquired by the diocese were intended for Fr. Moacyr Santana’s personal use in the city of Posse,” the judge added.

The public prosecutor in charge of the case, Douglas Chegury, said that similar irregularities occurred when Bishop Ronaldo was in the Diocese of Janauba.

Authorities began investigating the current case in December 2017 when members of the faithful complained that monthly expenses for the bishop’s residence had gone from 5,000 reales ($1,520) to 35,000 reales ($10,600) since Bishop Ronaldo assumed the diocese.

Consequently, the local faithful requested an open disclosure of the diocesan accounts. When the bishop refused, they said they would boycott church collections until the measure was taken.

Bishop Ronaldo claimed at the time that there were  "no improprieties" and that he did not take any of the money collected.

ACI Digital, the Portuguese language sister agency of CNA, repeatedly sought the reaction of the Diocese of Formosa but did not receive a response by press time.

The Secretary General of the Brazilian Bishops’ Conference, Bishop Leonardo Steiner, issued a press release March 20 stating that “In face of the jailing of the bishop of the Diocese of Formosa in Goiás State, the Brazilian Bishops’ Conference expresses its solidarity with the clergy and faithful of the diocese, reminding the brother bishop that justice is to abandon oneself, trusting in the merciful will of God.”

“The truth of the facts must be established with justice and transparency, considering the good of the particular church and the bishop,” the conference said.

The bishops of Brazil asked ”all the faithful of the Church to remain united in prayer to be true witnesses to the Gospel.”


Analysis: What led to, and what will follow, ‘Lettergate’

Vatican City, Mar 21, 2018 / 01:17 pm (CNA).- A new chapter for Vatican media and communications began Apr. 30, 2015, when Pope Francis established a commission of five members to analyze and implement the suggestions of a report from a Vatican Committee for Communication, which itself had been established in July 2014.
The commission, whose establishment was seen by some as a rejection of the previous committee, was chaired by Msgr. Dario Edoardo Viganò, who at the time was still director of Vatican Television. The members were Msgr. Lucio Adrian Ruiz, Fr. Antonio Spadaro, the editor of the Jesuit magazine La Civiltà Cattolica, and then-Msgr. Paul Tighe, who was Secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Social Communication, and Paolo Nusiner, who came from the board of the Italian episcopal conference newspaper Avvenire.
Msgr. Tighe was – along with Msgr. Ruiz – the only member of the original committee chaired by Lord Christopher Patten, which had drafted a reform proposal after a series of meetings with the staff of the Vatican media departments.
Then, the story is well known: Msgr. Tighe was promoted adjunct secretary of the Pontifical Council of Culture and ordained a bishop, Msgr. Ruiz became second-in-command at the Secretariat for Communications, while Msgr. Dario Edoardo Viganò was appointed prefect.

This morning, Vigano’s resignation as prefect was accepted; he will now serve as a consultor to the secretariat.
In this moment of crisis, many eyes are nowfixed on Bishop Tighe.

Vatican observers note that Tighe was received in a private audience by Pope Francis March 15, two days after the “Vatican lettergate” – as it was eventually dubbed – had exploded. Other Vatican insiders told CNA that Bishop Tighe is scheduled for another meeting with Pope Francis March 26.
Are these clues that Bishop Tighe will become the dicastery’s prefect?
On the plus side, he has been a part of the reform project since the beginning, he understands the adjustments that have been made, and he is a bishop, which gives him a status Msgr. Viganò did not have.
On the other hand, should he be called to carry on a reform that he helped to design, he will be called to ride very difficult waves.
Msgr. Viganò used to say that every reform faces resistance. In the case of the Vatican media reform, it seemed there was something more. Sources told CNA that the first leak about the doctoring of Benedict XVI’s letter came from inside the Secretariat for the Communication- this could be a sign of real internal discord.
From the time a commission was established to analyze and carry on the Patten Report, it was already clear that an internal struggle might take place: the commission had no representatives of Vatican Radio, the Vatican media department most touched by the reform. And neither were the Holy See Press Office, L’Osservatore Romano and the Vatican Publishing House represented. It is noteworthy that Gian Maria Vian, editor of L’Osservatore Romano, was a member of the Lord Patten committee, but not the subsequent commission.
The reform was carried forward, and led to the launch of the new Vatican News website, along with the Vatican media department that absorbed audio/video responsibilities previously entrusted to the L’Osservatore Romano Photo Service and to Vatican Television, while Vatican Radio ceased its legal existence and was absorbed in the Vatican News department, with a special label for Italian broadcasting called Radio Vaticana Italia.
In 2015, the motu proprio L’attuale contesto comunicativo established the Secretariat for Communication, and on Sep. 22, 2016 the statues of the new secretariat were finally published.
The statutes divided the Secretariat for Communication into five ‘directions,’ or departments: the general affairs department; the editorial direction; the technological direction; the pastoral-theological direction; and the direction of the Holy See Press Office.
The five directions were part of the Lord Patten proposal, as he explained in a lecture delivered May 28, 2015.
However, internal discussion about how to carry out the reform was open-ended.
Since the first Vatileaks scandal, back in 2012, discussion about communications issues have been intense within the Vatican. During the Vatileaks scandal, the Vatican decided to hire an advisor for communications within the Secretariat of State, American Greg Burke.
Communication strategy was important to cardinals during meeting preceding the conclave that elected Pope Francis.  

This is the reason why cardinals in conclave chose for a “change of narrative,” according to a Wall Street Journal report based on conversation with four different cardinals. When Pope Francis’ started his reform plan, global consulting firm McKinsey & Company was engaged to propose a new Vatican media strategy.
But the discussion was not just technical. It also entailed the philosophy behind the Vatican’s communication strategy, and on that front, many questions remain unanswered.
Angelo Scelzo, a long term Vatican official who ended his career as deputy Director of the Holy See’s Press Office, and for years was an official of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, explained well the issues at stake.
In 2014, Scelzo wrote a book tracing back 50 years of Vatican communications, starting with the Second Vatican Council’s Inter Mirifica, its decree on social communications.

In the book, “La Penna di Pietro,” Scelzo explained that “as any good means and tools of communications, Vatican media had always relied on an editorial perspective. This editorial line was not put together in a marketing office, but emerged from the documents that, mostly from the Second Vatican Council onward, supported the development of Vatican media as well as shaped its character.”
All of these issues loom behind “Lettergate.” The new prefect – whether Bishop Tighe or not – will be called to solve them.

Pope Francis, however, seems to want to keep the discussion alive: Msgr. Viganò is not gone, he remains part of the Secretariat for Communication as an assessor. How much he will influence is yet to be assessed. Certainly, his presence there will be a signal for his successor that the Pope’s intended reform must be carried forward.