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Arlington priest reveals former KKK membership, takes voluntary leave of absence

Arlington, Va., Aug 22, 2017 / 02:57 pm (CNA).- An Arlington priest revealed Monday that he was a former member of the Ku Klux Klan before converting while in prison, and has asked for a temporary leave of absence from ministry.

The Diocese of Arlington released a statement saying that Fr. William Aitcheson, a parochial vicar at St. Leo Catholic Church in Fairfax, Va., wrote an article in the diocesan newspaper “with the intention of telling his story of transformation” from being a Klan member to abandoning his racist beliefs and becoming a Catholic priest.

“He left that life behind him 40 years ago and since journeyed in faith to eventually become a Catholic priest,” the diocese said.

“He voluntarily asked to temporarily step away from public ministry, for the well-being of the Church and parish community, and the request was approved.”

In the wake of the recent white nationalist rally at Charlottesville, Va. on August 11-12, Fr. Aitcheson wrote in the Arlington Catholic Herald of his past membership in the Ku Klux Klan and “despicable” acts like burning a cross on someone else’s lawn and writing threatening letters. His article was entitled, “Moving from hate to love with God’s grace.”

According to the Washington Post report of Aitcheson’s arrest in 1977, he was an “exalted cyclops” in the Robert E. Lee Lodge of the Maryland Knights of the Ku Klux Klan and was charged with six cross-burnings in Prince George’s County, Md., as well as one count of making bomb threats and two counts of making pipe bombs.

The New York Times reported that he was convicted of criminal misdemeanor for burning a cross in the yard of a black family in College Park, Md. and was sentenced to 90 days in prison.

In his article for the Herald, Fr. Aitcheson said that although he was baptized and raised a Catholic, he did not practice the faith as a young man. But after leaving the “anti-Catholic” Klan, he came back to the Church, “a reminder of the radical transformation possible through Jesus Christ in his mercy.”

He entered the seminary and was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Reno-Las Vegas, Nev. in 1988. He came to the Arlington Diocese in 1993. The Arlington Diocese stated that “there have been no accusations of racism or bigotry against Fr. Aitcheson throughout his time in the Diocese of Arlington.”

“While 40 years have passed, I must say this: I’m sorry. To anyone who has been subjected to racism or bigotry, I am sorry,” he wrote in the Arlington Catholic Herald. “I have no excuse, but I hope you will forgive me.”

Bishop Michael Burbidge of Arlington stated that “while Fr. Aitcheson’s past with the Ku Klux Klan is sad and deeply troubling, I pray that in our current political and social climate his message will reach those who support hate and division, and inspire them to a conversion of heart.”

“Our Lord is ready to help them begin a new journey, one where they will find peace, love, and mercy. The Catholic Church will walk with anyone to help bring them closer to God,” he said.

While we believe in God’s forgiveness, we should not forget the sins of our past, Fr. Aitcheson wrote.

“Our actions have consequences and while I firmly believe God forgave me – as he forgives anyone who repents and asks for forgiveness – forgetting what I did would be a mistake,” he said.

The recent rallies of white nationalists in Charlottesville, held to protest the removal of a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee, included Klan members and neo-Nazis, and featured racist chants. On August 12, a 20-year-old man from Ohio drove a car into the counter-protest to the rallies, killing one and injuring 19.

“The images from Charlottesville brought back memories of a bleak period in my life that I would have preferred to forget,” Fr. Aitcheson said of the rallies.

He wrote that the hate manifested in the rallies “should bring us to our knees in prayer.” Catholics should condemn racism “at every opportunity” and pray for its victims, and pray for the conversion of those holding racist beliefs, he said.

“If there are any white supremacists reading this, I have a message for you: you will find no fulfillment in this ideology. Your hate will never be satisfied and your anger will never subside,” he wrote. “I encourage you to find peace and mercy in the only place where it is authentic and unending: Jesus Christ.”

 

This church sheltered 800 people during the Barcelona terror attack

Barcelona, Spain, Aug 22, 2017 / 02:26 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Amid the horror and chaos of the Aug. 17 terrorist attack in Barcelona, more than 800 people found shelter in the Basilica of Santa Maria del Pi.

The Gothic church, situated in the historic center of Barcelona, is next to one of the streets exiting Las Ramblas, the popular tourist area where a van plowed into a crowd on Aug. 17, killing 13 people and injuring more than 100.

Jordi Sacasas, the basilica's archivist, told CNA that he was with the church sacristan and several other people in the basilica archives when the attack took place. From the balcony of the archives, they could see people stampeding.

“When we saw this, we went down to the church doors and brought in those fleeing. Police orders were for people to take shelter, and as the basilica has a large entrance, we could offer shelter to a lot of people,” he said.

Once the doors were closed, the basilica employees worked to calm the terrified masses. “We were providing information in French, English and Italian over the church's sound system, since the majority of the people were tourists and we had a person who could speak several languages…We were providing information that the regional government and the police were sending us, so there would be clear information.”

Local businesses also showed their solidarity with those taking refuge inside the church, offering food and drink during the three-hour lockdown before the police allowed people to leave the area.

“One bakery almost emptied its shelves bringing us bread, sandwiches. A cafe brought us water. What was impressive and so moving was the solidarity of people in such dramatic moments,” Sacasas said.

Church employees also worked to help those who were injured from falling in the stampede that resulted from the attack.

“We cared for the injured who were hurt as they fled, especially the older people, because the emergency services were overwhelmed with more serious injuries,” he said.

The Basilica of Santa Maria del Pi, built in the 14th century, has a long history of welcoming those in need. It has previously opened its doors to immigrants, offering them use of its facilities.

ISIS has claimed responsibility for the Aug. 17 attack. Police said they had shot and killed the suspected driver of the van, while also arresting several other individuals believed to be possibly involved in a local terror ring. One of those arrested said that the larger plot had involved the bombing of several major monuments, including the iconic Sagrada Familia basilica.

 

Michigan nun killed in hit-and-run remembered for her faith

Saginaw, Mich., Aug 22, 2017 / 11:46 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Michigan nun Sister Joseph Marie Ruessman of the Alma Sisters of Mercy, who was killed in a hit-and-run on Thursday, was remembered for her fidelity to Christ, tireless hard work in her community, and her joyful laugh.

“I think her faith and her relationship with Christ was everything,” said Sister Mary Sarah Macht, RSA, of the Alma Sisters of Mercy in the Catholic Diocese of Saginaw, according to the Morning Sun.

“She’s a person who is the epitome of the person who works behind the scenes. Just because she was quiet, doesn’t mean she wasn’t sharp. She was just a very fine lawyer,” Sister Macht said, recalling that Sister Joseph Marie had the “best” laugh.

Sister Joseph Marie, 64, was last seen the night before she died, on Wednesday, Aug. 16, at St. Mary's of the Assumption Cathedral in Saginaw, where many members of the Alma Sisters of Mercy were attending the final vows of fellow sisters.

The next morning, she was riding her bike around 7 a.m. on Michigan Avenue, when a car hit Sister Joseph Marie and fled the scene. Pieces from the vehicle were found next to her body.

She was discovered alive but unresponsive not long after the incident by pedestrians, who then called 9-11. Police and EMS workers arrived around 7:20, and she was then transported to MidMichigan Medical Center.

The police are now investigating the event as a hit-and-run and are offering a $500 reward for relevant information that would lead to the person responsible for driving the car.

Sister Joseph Marie died from sustained injuries later that night around 8 p.m., surrounded by members of her religious order and family, who prayed and sang hymns next to her hospital bed.

“Any time, to be with someone during that process, is a profound experience,” said Sister Macht. “This is the way He called her home, and we had the privilege of being with her in that.”

Sister Joseph Marie’s funeral took place on Monday at Our Lady of Grace Chapel in Alma, and she was laid to rest at the cemetery of the Religious Sisters of Mercy in DeWitt.

US military archbishop prays following USS John S McCain collision

Singapore, Aug 22, 2017 / 11:18 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the US military archdiocese offered prayers Monday after a US Navy destroyer collided with a tanker off the coast of Singapore, resulting in five injured and 10 missing US sailors.

Remains of some of the missing sailors were found in sealed crew compartments by divers the following day. It was the second crash involving a US Navy ship in as many months, and the fourth in a year.

“Once again the shepherds and faithful of the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA, raise our voices in prayer for the deceased, injured, and remaining members of the crew of the USS John S. McCain, which collided with another ship last night,” Archbishop Broglio said Aug. 21. “We pray for the repose of their souls and for the families who mourn such a tragic loss.”

“Mindful of those who defend the nation in troubled times and in danger, we renew our prayers for a just and lasting peace in the world,” he concluded.

The collision between the USS John S. McCain and a commercial oil tanker Alnic MC occurred east of the Malacca Strait off the coast of Singapore around 5:20 am.
 
Four of the five injured sailors were airlifted to a hospital in Singapore, though their injuries are not considered life-threatening. According to CNN, a search and rescue mission for the 10 missing sailors is ongoing and has recovered one body, which they are working to identify.

Tuesday US Navy Admiral Scott Swift said that “some remains” of the other missing U.S. sailors have been found in sealed compartments aboard the ship. “Until we have exhausted any potential of recovering survivors or bodies, the search and rescue efforts will continue,” Swift stated.

The USS John S. McCain is named in honor of John S. McCain, Sr. and John S. McCain, Jr., who were admirals. They are the grandfather and father, respectively, of Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.). The destroyer was commissioned in 1994.

According to a Navy official, the collision was caused when the crew lost control of the ship through a steering failure.

In response, the Navy ordered a rare, one-day pause of operations. This means that over the next few weeks, fleets will take a one-day, safety stand-down at the discretion of individual fleet commanders.

Admiral John Richardson, chief of naval operations, said that the "trend demands more forceful action" and that there will be "a deliberate reset for our ships focused on a number of areas, such as navigation, ship's mechanical systems and bridge resource management."

The Alnic MC sustained some damage above the waterline, but none of its crew were injured and no oil spilled.

On June 17 a similar accident occurred when the USS Fitzgerald, also a destroyer, collided with a container ship off the coast of Japan. Seven sailors died as a result of the accident. The bodies of the deceased sailors were all recovered aboard the ship.

At the time of the accident, Archbishop Broglio expressed his “heartfelt sympathy to the families whose loved ones perished in this unfortunate incident.”

“Deeply saddened by the tragic loss of life on the USS Fitzgerald, I ask all of the faithful to remember in prayer the victims and their families.”

“The Naval community at Yokosuka has responded with great care in attempting to meet the physical, psychological, and spiritual needs of those who survived the collision,” he continued. “May Almighty God give them continued fortitude in the days ahead.”

In May, a US Navy guided missile cruiser collided with a fishing vessel, and in August 2016 one of its submarines collided with a support vessel.

Top Vatican diplomat focuses on Ukraine, Middle East in Russia talks

Moscow, Russia, Aug 22, 2017 / 10:23 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The need to find peaceful solutions to global conflicts, particularly in Ukraine and the Middle East, has taken a front seat so far in the Vatican Secretary of State's meetings with Russian government and Russian Orthodox Church officials.

In a statement following his Aug. 22 meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Cardinal Pietro Parolin said the meetings so far have been intense, and offered his thanks to the Russian authorities for their cordial welcome to the country.

He met with Lavrov on the second day of his Aug. 21-24 visit to Russia, which marks the first time a Vatican Secretary of State has traveled to Moscow in 18 years. It also falls 18 months after Pope Francis' meeting with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill in Havana.

While conversation with Lavrov touched on several issues, Cardinal Parolin said that when it came to topics of international interest, he first of all reiterated the Holy See's desire to find “just and lasting solutions” for the global conflicts raging in “the Middle East, Ukraine and various other regions of the world.”

“If, in such dramatic situations, the Holy See is more directly active in the effort to promote initiatives aimed at alleviating the suffering of peoples, at the same time it clearly expresses the appeal that the common good prevail; principally justice, lawfulness, the truth of facts and the abstention of manipulating them, and the safe and dignified living conditions for civilian populations,” Cardinal Parolin said.

He stressed that the Holy See does not, nor can it, affiliate itself with any particular political position. As such, he reminded the parties of their duty “to strictly adhere to the principals of international law.”

Respect for these laws, he said, “is indispensable for the protection of world order and peace, for the recovery of a healthy atmosphere of mutual respect in international relations.”

On the situation in the Middle East, Cardinal Parolin said that while the two states have different approaches to the issue, they share a “strong concern for the situation of Christians in some countries of the Middle East and the African continent, as well as in some other regions of the world.”

He also voiced the Holy See's concern for religious freedom, specifically that it is “preserved in whatever state and whatever political situation.”

Discussion also touched on bilateral relations between Russia and the Holy See, and special attention was paid to the positive experiences the countries share in terms of collaboration between scientific and medical institutions.

To this end, both Cardinal Parolin and Lavrov affirmed their commitment to continuing this collaboration, and the two signed a joint agreement to waive visa requirements for individuals who travel with diplomatic passports.

Concern was also raised for the life of the Catholic Church in Russia, specifically in regards to the ability to obtain working residence permits for non-Russian religious who come to serve in the country, as well as the return of Church property which is “necessary for the pastoral care of Catholics in the country.”

Cardinal Parolin said that when these issues were voiced, Lavrov showed “great attention to the solution to these problems and the desire to follow them.”

He met with Lavrov a day after speaking with Russian Orthodox Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, whose role as President of the Department for External Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate makes him more or less number-two in the Russian Orthodox Church.

During the discussion, concerns surrounding conflicts in Ukraine and the Middle East also came up as major talking points.  

Attention was immediately brought to the “tragic situation of Christians in the Middle East,” which Metropolitan Hilarion called “one of the most burning problems today.”

Reference was made to the efforts on the part of the Moscow patriarchate to provide humanitarian aid to suffering populations in Syria, as well as an ad hoc working group that has been established to help broker greater cooperation with the Presidential Commission for Cooperation with Religious Associations, and includes several representatives from the Russian Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church, as well as Muslim communities and several other Christian confessions.

Both parties agreed that in order to reach a peaceful solution to the Syrian crisis “it is necessary to put an end to terrorism in the territory of Syria,” and only after peace has been reached should “its political future be determined.”

The two voiced their agreement on the need to consult each other more often on the Middle Eastern crisis, and to continue cooperation in providing humanitarian aid to the area.

On Ukraine, Metropolitan Hilarion took issue with several bills he said are aimed at “discriminating against the Ukrainian Orthodox Church” and which are still on the agenda for Ukraine's parliament. He thanked Cardinal Parolin and the Holy See for supporting the stand taken by the Moscow patriarchate on the issue.

Concern was raised by Metropolitan Hilarion regarding what he called “cases of politicized statements and aggressive actions” on the part of some members of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.

However, he and Cardinal Parolin were able to voice a shared conviction that “politics should not interfere in Church life,” and stressed the important role that Churches in Ukraine play in terms of peacemaking and in helping to “establish a civic accord in the country.”

Discussion between the two closed after touching on various opportunities for greater bilateral collaboration in the cultural and educational fields.

Following his meeting with Lavrov this morning, Cardinal Parolin is set to visit with Patriarch Kirill later on in the evening, and the two will hold a brief press conference afterward.

On Aug. 23, the last day of his visit, Cardinal Parolin will head to Sochi for an official meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The meeting marks the last official event on the cardinal's schedule before his return to Rome Aug. 24.

N. Ireland high court: No European right to 'gay marriage'

Belfast, Northern Ireland, Aug 22, 2017 / 09:54 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Northern Ireland’s High Court has rejected two legal challenges that sought to recognize same-sex unions as marriages, saying it is a matter for the legislature.

Justice John O'Hara said that European law allows governments to introduce “gay marriage,” but does not require it.

Lawyers for several couples had argued that the Northern Ireland law violates Article Eight of the European Convention on Human Rights and denied respect for their clients’ private and family lives, BBC News reports.

Any further action is affected by the political crisis in Stormont, the Northern Ireland legislature. A power-sharing agreement between Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionist Party collapsed in January 2017, after more than 10 years of joint rule between nationalist and unionist politicians.

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness of Sinn Fein resigned in protest Jan. 10 over allegations that First Minister Arlene Foster of the Democratic Unionist Party mishandled overspending on a renewable energy heating program.  

The collapse triggered fresh elections.

Ahead of the elections, Northern Ireland’s Catholic bishops issued a February statement stressing the importance of recognizing marriage as the union of one man and one woman, among other issues. To recognize other relationships as the same thing undercuts the importance of the biological bond and natural ties between parents and children, they said.

They cited Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation “Amoris Laetitia,” which said same-sex unions are not the same as marriage and are not analogous to God’s plan for marriage and the family.

In the debate over restoring the power-sharing agreement, Sinn Fein has demanded that the Democratic Unionist Party allow same-sex marriage to be recognized, the Belfast Telegraph says.

Northern Ireland had introduced same-sex partnerships in 2005, the first place in the U.K. to do so.

The first couple to contact such a partnership, Shannon Sickles and Grainne Close, were among the parties to one of the cases before the High Court. The other parties to their case were Chris and Henry Flanagan-Kane, the second couple to contract a same-sex partnership in Northern Ireland.

Close said their children were being treated differently as a result of the court’s decision.

A second case under consideration involved an anonymous couple who had contracted a same-sex union recognized as a marriage in England, and wanted it legally recognized in Northern Ireland.

Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly had voted five times on whether to recognize the unions as marriages. The fifth vote, held in November 2015, resulted in the first time such unions were approved, by a vote of 53-52.

The Democratic Unionist Party then used a Stormont veto, called a petition of concern, to block the motion and prevent the law from changing. It cited the need to protect traditional marriage.

Paula Bradshaw, an assembly member for the Alliance Party, said both Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionist Party had rejected her party’s proposal to reform the petition of concern.

Colum Eastwood, leader of the Social Democrat and Labour Party, was among those who voiced opposition the court’s decision.

 

These priests were martyred for refusing to violate the seal of confession

Denver, Colo., Aug 22, 2017 / 06:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In recent years, some Catholics have been concerned by pushes from governments in locations such as Louisiana and Australia who challenge the secrecy of the sacrament of confession, asking that priests betray the solemnity of penitents’ confessions when they hear of serious crimes in the confessional.

However, Catholics should not be afraid, because keeping the secrecy of the sacrament of confession is one of the most important promises priests make.

The code of canon law states that “the sacramental seal is inviolable; therefore it is absolutely forbidden for a confessor to betray in any way a penitent in words or in any manner and for any reason.” Priests who violate this seal of confession are automatically excommunicated.

Priests take this solemnity of the seal of confession very seriously; these four priests who died protecting it are witnesses to the extreme lengths to which priests are willing to go to protect the seal of confession.

St. John Nepomucene

Born in Bohemia, or what is now the Czech Republic, between 1340 and 1350,  St. John Nepomucene was an example of the protection of sacramental secrecy, being the first martyr who preferred to die rather than reveal the secret of confession.

When he was Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Prague, the now- saint servedas confessor of Sofia of Bavaria, the wife of King Wenceslaus. The king, who had infamous outbursts of anger and jealousy, ordered the priest to reveal the sins of his wife. The saint's refusal infuriated Wenceslaus, who threatened to kill the priest if he did not tell him his wife’s secrets.

King Wenceslaus and John Nepomucene came into conflict again when the monarch wanted to seize a convent in order to take its wealth and give it to a relative. The saint prohibited its seizure because those goods belonged to the Church.

Filled with rage, the king ordered the torture of the saint, whose body was then thrown to the Vltava River in 1393.

St. Mateo Correa Magallanes

Saint Mateo Correa Magallanes was another martyr of the seal of confession. He was shot in Mexico during the Cristero War for refusing to reveal the confessions of prisoners rebelling against the Mexican government.

He was born in Tepechitlán in the state of Zacateca on July 22, 1866 and was ordained a priest in 1893. Fr. Matteo served as chaplain in various towns and parishes and was a member of the Knights of Columbus.

In 1927, the priest was arrested by Mexican army forces under General Eulogio Ortiz. A few days later, the general sent Father Correa to hear the confessions group of people who were to be shot. After Fr. Mateo finished administering the sacrament, the general then demanded that the priest reveal what he had heard.

Fr. Mateo responded with a resounding “no” and was executed. Currently, his remains are venerated in the Cathedral of Durango.

He was beatified Nov. 22, 1992 and canonized by St. John Paul II May 21, 2000.

Fr. Felipe Císcar Puig

Fr. Felipe Císcar Puig was a Valencian priest who is also also considered a martyr of the sacramental seal because he was martyred after keeping confessions secret during the religious persecution of the Spanish Civil War.

During the war, revolutionary and republican forces engaged in violent battles for power, and many Catholics were targeted. This was especially true of the coastal province of Valencia, on the Mediterranean sea.

The Archdiocese of Valencia indicated that, according to the documents collected, Father Císcar was taken to a prison near the end of August 1936. There, a Franciscan friar named Andrés Ivars asked that Fr. Císcar hear his confession before the friar was executed be firing squad.

"After the confession, they tried to extract its contents and before his refusal to reveal it, the militiamen threatened to kill him,” says an archdiocesan statement by a witness to the event.  The priest then replied, “Do what you want but I will not reveal the confession, I would die before that.”

"Seeing him so sure, they took him to a sham court where he was ordered to reveal the secrets.” Fr. Císar remained committed to his position, stating that he preferred to die, and the militiamen condemned him to death. Fathers Felipe Císcar and Andrés Ivars were taken by car to another location where they were shot on September 8, 1936. They were 71 and 51 years old, respectively.

Both Felipe Císcar and Andrés Ivars are part of the canonization cause of Ricardo Pelufo Esteve and 43 companions.

Fr. Fernando Olmedo Reguera

Fr. Fernando Olmedo Reguera was also a victim of the Spanish Civil War who opted to die rather than break the secrecy of confession.  

Born in Santiago de Compostela Jan. 10, 1873 and ordained a priest in the Capuchin Order of Friars Minor on July 31, 1904, Fr. Olmedo was killed Aug. 12, 1936. He served the order as its provincial secretary until 1936, when he had to leave his convent due to the severe religious persecution in the area.

Fr. Olmedo was then arrested, and beaten in prison. He then was pressured into revealing the confessions of others, but Fr. Olmedo did not give in. According to reports, he was shot at a 19th century fortress outside of Madrid by a populist tribunal. His remains are entombed in the crypt of the Church of Jesus of Medinaceli in Madrid, and he was beatified in Tarragona Oct. 13, 2013.

In wake of violence, archbishop urges Catholics to foster racial peace

Los Angeles, Calif., Aug 22, 2017 / 03:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Responding to violence caused by the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, the Archbishop of Los Angeles said the message in this week's Gospel is one of inclusion, no matter a person's race or nationality.

“We heard those beautiful words from the prophet Isaiah in the first reading: 'For my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples,'” Archbishop Jose H. Gomez said Aug. 19.

“Today's readings remind us that God wants his Church to be the home for all peoples – to be one family that welcomes men and women of every nation, every race, every language and every culture,” he said during at the installation Mass for Monsignor Kevin Kostelnik at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Angels.

On Aug. 11, hundreds of white nationalists gathered in Charlottesville to protest the removal of a General Robert E. Lee statue. The demonstration began on Friday night, where they waved Confederate flags and yelled phrases such as “you will not replace us,” and “Jew will not replace us.”
 
On Saturday morning, Aug. 12, the group was met by opposing protesters, ranging from religious leaders to supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement. After convening at Emancipation Park, violence ensued when a white supremacist drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing one women and injury 19 more people.

In response to this, Archbishop Gomez spoke of the need to acknowledge God's desire to be with all his children, which he said overcomes ideologies that oppose the dignity of the human person.

Archbishop Gomez referenced the Canaanite woman in the reading of the Gospel of Matthew, and said that it was her faith that was “the key to belonging to God,” not where she was born, her skin color, or the language she spoke.

He said this was a radical teaching both during Jesus' time as well as our time, but that God's universal family united in his mercy is a message we must all form our lives to.

“We are all brothers and sisters. We are all children, born of the Father's mercy. St. Paul tells us today that Jesus came – 'that [God] might have mercy upon all.'”

Referring to the St. Paul's Letter to the Romans, Archbishop Gomez said that God desires “the reconciliation of the world,” which means the Church has an obligation to be a “true sign and instrument of healing and unity.”

“We need to work to overcome all the forms of racial thinking and racist practices that are still realities in our society.”

He identified the racism in the country as new type of racism, one built on fear and in reaction to what is happening in the economy and society. This fear, he said, has produced more anger and bitterness, resulting in a greater division.

At the end of his homily, Archbishop Gomez urged Catholics to face this challenging time with the faith of the Canaanite woman: “She was desperate but she never doubted in God’s love, or in God's goodness. She kept talking to Jesus, kept praying. She said, 'Lord, help me!'”

Amid nationwide controversy, St Junipero Serra statue vandalized in L.A.

Los Angeles, Calif., Aug 22, 2017 / 12:03 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A statue of St. Junipero Serra in a Los Angeles public park appeared to have been vandalized last week in a time of national debate about historical statues.

The statue portrays the Franciscan friar in a favorable light, with his arm on the shoulder of an indigenous child. The park is across the street from the Mission San Fernando in Mission Hills community of Los Angeles. The mission was founded by Fr. Fermin Lasuen, another Franciscan, in 1797.

A picture of the statue was circulated on social media, showing it spray-painted red with the word “murder” written on the priest in white.

City officials did not confirm to Los Angeles news station CBS2 that the photo was authentic or that the statue was cleaned. However, a CBS2 reporter at the scene said there was red paint on the arm of the priest’s statue and a swastika on the statue of the child.

St. Junipero, a Franciscan missionary from Spain, founded nine Catholic missions in California in the late 1700s. His missions helped convert many native Californians to Christianity and taught them new technologies.

Most of the missions he founded would go on to become the centers of major cities in the state, as did other Franciscan-founded missions. The priest carried on his work despite a painful wound to his leg.

He died in 1784 at Mission San Carlos Borroméo del Carmelo in what is now California

St. John Paul II beatified Father Serra in 1988. Pope Francis canonized the priest Sept. 23, 2015 in Washington, D.C.

“He was excited about blazing trails, going forth to meet many people, learning and valuing their particular customs and ways of life,” Pope Francis said. “He learned how to bring to birth and nurture God’s life in the faces of everyone he met; he made them his brothers and sisters.”

“Junipero sought to defend the dignity of the native community, to protect it from those who had mistreated and abused it. Mistreatment and wrongs which today still trouble us, especially because of the hurt which they cause in the lives of many people,” the Pope added.

In Los Angeles last week, passerby Cristian Mendoza criticized the vandalism.

“Everyone’s entitled to their own public opinions and thoughts,” Mendoza told CBS2. “But once it gets to this level I don’t think it’s right.”

CBS2 quoted another passerby, Christian Ramirez, who said he thought the statue should be taken down and replaced with a statue he thought would show “appreciation to the native people that live here.” He suggested it represented a “violent history.”

Several California legislators have unsuccessfully pushed to remove the statue of St. Junipero Serra from the U.S. Capitol’s National Statuary Hall.

Some of St. Junipero Serra’s critics object to the forced confinement of some indigenous peoples in the missions he founded, as well as corporal punishment inflicted there, saying they are causes to dismiss the saint. Some also criticize his association with Spanish colonialism.

His defenders note St. Junipero Serra’s defense of native peoples at a time when Spanish soldiers and other officials could easily abuse them. At one point, he opposed the death sentence for a man who had killed one of his fellow missionaries in an uprising.

Many native peoples attended his burial and openly wept at his death.

The vandalism of the saint’s statue comes amid controversy over the fate of statues honoring leading figures of the Confederate States of America and the Reconstruction era.

In Charlottesville, Virginia, several hundred demonstrators gathered from around the country on Aug. 11 to protest the removal of a statue of General Robert E. Lee from a city park. The rally drew white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and Ku Klux Klan members. Many waved the Confederate battle flag and at least one demonstrator waved a Nazi flag.

The demonstration was set to continue the next day, attracting many counter-protesters. Both groups skirmished with each other, leading authorities to declare the assembly unlawful and to order the crowds to disperse.

An hour later, one rally attendee, 20-year-old James Alex Fields, allegedly drove into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer and seriously injuring several others.

The incident prompted many peaceful responses, as well as some attacks on Confederate statues and other public monuments.

A statue of St. Joan of Arc had been vandalized in New Orleans by an unknown person or persons sometime in late April or early May, with graffiti reading “tear it down.” It followed controversy in the city about the removal of monuments to the Confederacy and the Reconstruction era.

In Baltimore, the oldest U.S. statue of the explorer Christopher Columbus, erected in 1792, was also vandalized this month. A video posted to YouTube claiming responsibility for the incident blamed Columbus for “a centuries-old wave of terrorism, murder, genocide, rape, slavery, ecological degradation and capitalist exploitation of labor in the Americas.”

Many such statues were set up by U.S. Catholics in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to mark his role in opening the New World to Europeans, at a time when many leading Americans denigrated Catholic figures.

Parolin in Russia: Vatican diplomacy has a key role in global debate

Vatican City, Aug 21, 2017 / 04:11 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- As he arrived to Russia for his official three-day visit, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin said the Holy See has a special role on the global scene given its attention to both spiritual and diplomatic themes.

“The Holy See simultaneously performs both a spiritual and a diplomatic role,” Cardinal Parolin said in an Aug. 20 interview with Russian news agency TASS. “That is why the Vatican diplomacy is of special nature.”
 
“It does not rely on any other force, except for taking care of every person and every nation through dialogue,” he said, adding that with these aspects in mind, discussion with his Russian counterparts will focus on “the issues which are of mutual interest for us, as well as crises in different parts of the world, which are both distant and very near.”

The meeting with Patirarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, in particular serves as proof of the openness that has come as a result of his historic meeting with Pope Francis in Havana last year, Parolin said, noting how both Kirill a nd Francis “spoke of rapprochement as a shared path.”

“When we walk this path together and conduct fraternal dialogue, we can feel the moments of unity. This path requires the search for truth, as well as love, patience, persistence and determination.”

Cardinal Parolin spoke to TASS the day before his official Aug. 21-24 visit to Russia, during which he is set to meet with several heavy-hitters including Patriarch Kirill, Russian President Vladimir Putin, and several other high-level members of the Russian Orthodox Church.

The interview touched not only on the Holy See's diplomatic task, but it also focused largely on relations between the Catholic and Russian Orthodox Churches, specifically in terms of preserving traditional Christian values. Parolin also spoke of U.S. President Donald Trump's policies so far during his brief tenure, and the ongoing crisis in Venezuela.

Traveling with Parolin as part of his official delegation is Msgr. Visvaldas Kulbokas, adviser to the apostolic nunciature of Russia and an official in the Relations with States section of the Vatican's Secretariat of State.

On Aug. 21, the first day of this visit, Parolin met with the Catholic cardinals and bishops of Russia, and in the evening presided over Mass at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Moscow, after which he held a friendly encounter with clergy and the laity.

He also met with Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, President of the Department for External Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate.

Tomorrow morning, Aug. 22, is dedicated to a working session with Russia's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sergey Lavrov, while in the evening Parolin will meet with Patriarch Kirill, and will hold a brief press conference afterward.

On Wednesday, Aug. 23, the last day of his visit, Cardinal Parolin will head to Sochi for his official meeting with President Putin. No other official meetings are on the schedule before the cardinal returns to Rome Aug. 24.

In his interview with TASS, Cardinal Parolin said the Vatican has been “working on the idea of the visit to Russia for a long time,” and that it is finally possible largely as a result of the February 2016 meeting between Pope Francis and Kirill.

“That meeting was the first step that had been expected for a long time,” he said. Not only did it strengthen contracts between representatives of the Catholic and Russian Orthodox Churches, “which became  more frequent and filled with concrete content,” but it also prompted the churches “to look at the discrepancies we had in the past and their causes in a new way.”

Although tensions can still be felt as the result of differing opinions on various issues, Parolin said Francis and Kirill's meeting “helped us see the unity we are striving for, the unity which is required by the Gospels we profess.”

“It is very important that we have this renewed mutual positive view that every servant of the God, priest and believer will share,” he said, stressing that in his opinion, this is the condition “for the fulfillment of new and, I would say, unprecedented steps in the development of the ecumenical dialogue and the rapprochement of our Churches.”

When asked how their Churches can work together to preserve traditional values and not impede efforts for modern democracy, Parolin noted that unfortunately “there is no shortage of challenges that the modern world produces.”

It's not just about preserving values so much as “the very concept of human personality and human dignity,” he said, pointing to the specific challenges presented by showing respect for humanity and his work, striving for social justice, interpersonal relations and relations among States.

“These are all challenges of a peaceful existence,” the cardinal said, noting that when their Churches insist on following the Gospel and upholding the values found in scripture, “they do so not to humiliate a modern person or to put unnecessary pressure on him but to show the path to salvation and fulfillment.”

“When performing this mission, which never ends, it is extremely important to establish effective cooperation between different religious denominations,” he said, adding that greater mutual understanding between Churches and the exchange of experiences “may become an important contribution to understanding of these problems.”

Pointing to the Catholic Church's decision to “loan” relics of the well-loved Orthodox Saint Nicholas, consisting of several bone fragments currently housed in Bari, to Russia over the summer, Parolin said the gesture served as a “spiritual uplift” of sorts for the Russian Orthodox Church.

“There is no doubt that this event and other similar initiatives, which can be called the 'ecumenism of the saints,' give an opportunity to fully feel what already unites Christians,” he said.

The relics were sent from Bari to the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow from May 22-July 12, and were venerated by President Putin and thousands of Orthodox faithful.

Not only was the event important for the spiritual life of believers, but it also served as an example for future initiatives and gave “a new impetus” to dialogue on “more complex” issues in Church relations, he said.

When it comes to fighting terrorism, Parolin said there are two important factors to keep in mind, the first being the decisions on the part of governments “which are often dictated by concrete situations.”

“When one faces a situation of this kind, one has to make a certain choice based on the politicians’ assessments,” he said. “No doubt, the need to tackle terrorism is evident for the Church, but all actions must be weighted in order to prevent a situation in which the use of force would trigger spiraling violence or lead to violations of human rights, including the freedom of religion.”

On the other hand, the Church is always guided by a “long-term perspective,” he said, which first of all involves fostering personal development, particularly among younger generations, as well as “solid dialogue between religions.”

“During the past decades, the Holy See has been making all possible efforts to establish, strengthen or restore dialogue on the cultural and religious levels and in the social and humanitarian sphere,” the cardinal said, adding that he is “absolutely convinced that life under the guidance of the Gospel would in itself make an important contribution into forming the society and culture.”

Asked about some of U.S. President Donald Trump's controversial policies since taking office, including his decision to pull out of the 2016 Paris Climate agreement, and what the Vatican expects from Trump, Parolin voiced hope that the two States can move forward in mutual respect.

The meeting in May between Pope Francis and Trump “was held in the atmosphere of mutual respect and I would say, with mutual sincerity” in which both men were able to voice their thoughts and concerns.

Parolin voiced his hope that despite Trump's determination to “fulfill the electoral promises” and despite Washington's withdrawal from the Paris accord, “pragmatic approaches will prevail in continuation to the US administration's decision to keep the climate change discussion running.”

“We, in our turn, can only wish that President Trump, just like other members of the international community, does not neglect the extremely difficult task of tackling the global warming and its negative consequences.”

The cardinal then said that in his opinion, international relations are “increasingly dominated” by policies and strategies “based on open clashes and confrontations.”

Describing this phenomena as a “'dialogue of the deaf,' or, worse, (policies that) fuel fears and are based on intimidation with nuclear or chemical weapons,” Parolin said he believes there is a common realization that such approaches “do not lead to correct solutions and fail to ease tensions between states.”

He pointed to how Pope Francis' insistence that “building peace is a path,” explaining that this path “is a lot thornier than war and conflict.”

“Building peace requires a patient and constructive dialogue with mutual respect instead of focusing all attention to own national interests,” Parolin said. “This is all that is expected from the leaders of global powers.”