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This program wants to help incoming college students keep their faith

Springfield, Ill., Jun 18, 2018 / 02:16 pm (CNA).- For Catholic high school students on their way to college, faith runs the risk of being lost in the shuffle of new roommates, classes, studying, and activities.

Campus ministries are often available to students in college – if they can get connected. One group is doing just that: helping high school students make a smooth faith transition into college by connecting them to their college’s Catholic center, even before they arrive.

“We reach out into the Catholic high schools and parishes to identify graduating seniors and where they are going off to college,” said Matthew Zerrusen, director and co-founder of The Newman Connection.

“We then get that information and send it to their respective campus minister. The idea is that the campus minister can then reach out to the student even before they arrive on campus,” Zerrusen told CNA.

The Newman Connection is a non-profit organization that provides national brand and support structure for campus ministries, assisting them in outreach, programming and organization development, said Zerrusen. Their main program is high school outreach, in which they contact Catholic high school students and connect them with the campus ministers at the colleges they plan on attending.

“We are essentially providing a list of warm leads for them [campus ministers] to boost outreach efforts,” said Zerrusen.

“We are changing the culture from a throw-darts-at-the-wall outreach plan to a strategic outreach plan that can target students based on the information given to us during high school,” he continued.

According to Zerrusen, around 80 percent of students stop practicing their faith in college. With such a substantial number of young people drifting away from the Church during formative years of their lives, Zerrusen believed something needed to be done.

“We have to change this,” he said, calling Newman Connection’s high school outreach program “a good start” in helping campus ministers connect with students and help them keep their faith on campus.

With the Newman Connection model, Zerrusen said students will already have a real, personal Catholic connection on their campus and will not have to rely on pamphlets or handouts to hear about Catholic events nearby.

JoAnn Shull, the campus ministry director for the St. Thomas More Newman Center at the University of Missouri, said the Newman Connection has allowed its campus outreach to focus more on actually ministering to students instead of spending time searching for them.

“When high schools and parishes communicate to the campus ministries through the Newman Connection, they provide a seamless transition for students to find their faith home in college,” Shull told CNA.

“From the campus ministry side, I see Newman Connection as another team member, albeit outsourced, that helps us find out Catholic students on campus,” she continued.

Over the past few years, Shull said she has seen significant strides in student outreach and remains “incredibly impressed” with the Newman Connection’s ability to make outreach more efficient. The St. Thomas More Newman at Mizzou has credited the Newman Connection for tripling its outreach numbers – taking their ministry from 400 students 5 years ago to over 1,200 students today.

Looking forward, Shull hopes more youth ministries, parishes and dioceses will come to understand the “critical nature of the mission of Newman Connection,” and its impact on the future of the Church, saying college students “need the Church’s support to help them grow in their adult faith.”

“Newman Connection can be a conduit for that process if parishes and dioceses can understand the critical importance of connecting these young adults to campus ministry,” she said.

The Newman Connection has been endorsed by almost 80 different dioceses and has connected upwards of 150,000 students to campus ministries in the past two years, according to Zerrusen. Moving forward, Zerrusen hopes their program can expand to even more parishes across the nation.

“We have to get out into the parishes. There are over 15,000 Catholic parishes in the U.S. and we want to reach them all,” Zerrusen said.

“It is aggressive but we think its achievable. Every year our numbers grow considerably, but getting more support from the public would certainly increase the speed at which we are able to operate.”
 
 
 
 

 

Australian priests 'willing to go to jail' rather than break confessional seal

Canberra, Australia, Jun 18, 2018 / 12:53 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- As Australian states and territories pass and consider laws requiring priests to break the seal of confession to report cases of child sex abuse, Catholic priests are saying they would go to jail rather than violate the seal.

“The state will be requiring us as Catholic priests to commit as what we regard as the most serious crime and I’m not willing to do that,” said Fr. Michael Whelan, a parish priest at St. Patrick’s Church in Sydney, according to local news.

Fr. Whelan added that he, along with other priests, would be “willing to go to jail” rather than break the seal of confession. When asked if the Church was above the law, Whelan said “absolutely not” and remarked he would only be protecting religious freedom.

“…when the state tries to intervene on our religious freedom, undermine the essence of what it means to be a Catholic, we will resist,” he said.

On June 7, the Australian Capital Territory Legislative Assembly in Canberra passed a law which requires religious organizations to adhere to the requirements of the Reporting Conduct Scheme, which requires religious groups to report any allegations, offences or convictions of child abuse within 30 days. This legislation extends to the seal of confession, making it illegal for priests to fail to report the confession of a child sex abuse crime.

South Australia has adopted a similar law, which will take effect Oct. 1, and New South Wales is considering the measure.

Fr. Whelan believes the rest of the nation will follow the royal commission’s recommendation.

“I expect every jurisdiction in Australia now will follow that recommendation and I expect the church throughout will simply not observe it?” Whelan said.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that “every priest who hears confessions is bound under severe penalties to keep absolute secrecy regarding the sins that his penitents have confessed to him,” due to the “delicacy and greatness of this ministry and the respect due to persons.”

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.” A priest who intentionally violates the seal incurs an automatic excommunication.

Whelan noted additional concerns with the law, saying the only way to ensure the law was being followed would be to “try and entrap priests.”

Instead, Whelan believes other precautions against child sex abuse should be taken, such as encouraging the perpetrator to confess to the police.

Clergy are not the only critics of the new legislation. Andrew Wall, a member of the Australian Capital Territory Legislative Assembly, said forcing priests to break the seal of confession oversteps an individual’s “freedom of association, freedom of expression and freedom of religious rights.”

Former pro football player prepares to take final vows as a nun

Toronto, Ohio, Jun 18, 2018 / 03:26 am (CNA).- Every single vocation story is different, but Sr. Rita Clare (Anne) Yoches is probably one of the more unusual.

Sr. Rita Clare, who this month will profess final vows with the Franciscan Sisters T.O.R. of Penance of the Sorrowful Mother, was a four-time national champion professional football player prior to entering the convent.

Yes, that’s American football. (She was a fullback.) Nowadays, the only football Yoches is playing is the annual two-hand touch game she organizes with the 38 T.O.R. sisters she lives with in Toronto, Ohio.

Although she was raised Catholic and attended Catholic schools, Yoches said she never once considered becoming a nun. Her family attended Mass each Sunday, but that was about it in terms of her faith life. A talented athlete, Yoches earned a full basketball scholarship to the University of Detroit-Mercy, where she played for four years.

After college, she began her football career in 2003 after a successful tryout with the Detroit Demolition, a now-defunct women’s professional team. She left the team in 2006, and in March of 2007, the former self-described party girl experienced a calling to enter religious life. She ended her relationship with her boyfriend, and entered the Franciscans shortly after.

“(I) loved to stay out as late as could on Friday and Saturday nights, but always went to Mass on Sundays. But I never really listened to what God was saying,” said Yoches in a video about her conversion.

One Sunday, after a particularly moving homily, Yoches realized that she needed to drastically change her lifestyle.

“And I was like, that’s me. I’m sick and dying on the inside. So that convinced me to go to Confession for the first time in a long time.” Her priest provided her with guidance about reading scripture every day, and she began attending Eucharistic Adoration.

It was during Eucharistic Adoration that she felt truly embraced by God, and really began to get a sense of His plan for her life.

"And then I felt God the Father just wrap his arms around me and give me a hug, and just pulled me onto his chest like only a father can hug a daughter,” she said.

“And my life was forever changed. I just wanted more and more of Jesus."

She says while her family was supportive of her decision to enter the convent, her friends were surprised, as she had largely kept her faith life private.

“People were very surprised that this was really who and what I wanted to do and be,” she told the Detroit Free Press.

Sr. Rita Clare will profess final vows on June 30.

Argentina bishops: Abortion vote shows we have work to do

Buenos Aires, Argentina, Jun 17, 2018 / 04:13 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The bishops of Argentina said that this week’s vote in the House of Representatives to legalize abortion shows the shortcomings of both the Church and society in accompanying women and educating people.

In a statement, the bishops said the vote calls them to recognize the “weaknesses in our pastoral efforts: comprehensive sex education in our educational institutions, a fuller recognition of the common dignity of women and men, and the accompaniment of women at risk for abortion or who have gone through that trauma.”

“These are all calls from reality that call us to a response as a Church,” they said.

By a vote of 129 to 125 with one abstention, Argentina's House of Representatives passed a bill on Thursday that would legalize abortion through 14 weeks of pregnancy.

The bill will now be sent to the Senate, and then to President Mauricio Macri, who has encouraged “responsible” debate over the topic and said that he personally opposes the legislation but will not veto it if Congress approves it.

The current law in Argentina prohibits abortion, except when the mother’s life or health is determined to be in danger, or in cases of rape.

If passed, the bill would allow would allow abortion for any reason up to the 14th week of gestation. Minors under 16 could get an abortion without having to inform their parents.

Health care workers under the bill could be eligible for conscience-based objections to participating in an abortion if they make such a request in advance “individually and in writing” to the director of their medical center. Institutions and health care facilities as a whole would not be allowed to conscientiously object to abortion.

The Argentine bishops stressed the need for dialogue and efforts “to seek new and creative solutions so that no woman has to go for an abortion.” They pointed to the need to address the challenges facing many women experiencing unplanned pregnancies, such as poverty, social marginalization and gender violence.

Unidad Provida (Pro-Life Unity), an Argentine network representing some 100 pro-life organizations, echoed the need to address challenges facing women rather than offer abortion as a solution.

With the passage of the abortion bill in the House, the group said, “we are dangerously approaching the establishment of a throwaway policy which allows the systematic elimination of persons, without solving maternal mortality or other profound problems that harm women.”

The network charged that the House vote “took place in a context overshadowed by disinformation campaigns, political pressures and economic interests which undoubtedly influenced the vote of our representatives.”

“False figures, expressions and gimmicky slogans have been thrown around, far removed from reality… [This] blinds us from understanding the magnitude of what we are debating, which is nothing more than institutionalizing violence against women. In each abortion an innocent boy or girl dies, and a woman is destroyed,” the group said.

As debate moves to the Senate, Pro-Life Unity voiced hope, saying that the heavily-attended marches for life throughout the country show that “the Argentine people have become aware of what is at stake.”

The network renewed its commitment to work “with even greater enthusiasm, offering our representatives all our support.”

Catholic input ‘ignored’ in Uganda’s new sex-ed program, bishops say

Kampala, Uganda, Jun 17, 2018 / 05:00 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A new sex-education program created by the government of Uganda will be rejected by Christian schools unless considerable revisions are made, the Catholic bishops of the country have said.

While a team of Catholic experts was consulted while the program was being created, their suggestions were “substantially ignored” in the final document, the bishops noted.

Among the shortcomings of the new program are that it ignores “the vital role of the family, especially in the early ages” and that it exposes children ages 3-5 years to “content and life skills which are not appropriate for their age.”

Furthermore, the bishops said, the information and life skills provided for upper level students are “open to interpretation and practices which may contrary to moral Christian values.” They also added that the program provides “no provisions or guaranties that school teachers are prepared and able to teach in a balanced and proper way such delicate and emotionally charged topics.”

“As it stands now, the National Sexual Education Framework, though containing some valid ideas and guidelines, fails to answer some crucial questions and address in an adequate manner some important issues,” the Uganda Episcopal Conference said in a statement issued after their plenary assembly earlier this month.

According to 2014 Census data, Roman Catholics constitute the largest religious denomination in Uganda, with nearly 40 percent of the population identifying as Catholic. Another 32 percent are Anglican, while Muslims make up about 14 percent of the population.  

The Ugandan bishops emphasized that “contrary to what many people think, the Church is in favor of a positive, age appropriate, culturally and religious (sic) sensitive sex education which upholds moral and Christian values.” “This is the task and shared responsibility of the family, the Church and the state throughout the schools,” they added.

The document is now undergoing a final evaluation by Catholic experts who are compiling suggested amendments to the program, the bishops said.

However, should the document remain unchanged, the Catholic Church in Uganda together with the Orthodox Church have decided “that we shall not be able in conscience to have it introduced and taught in our Christian-founded schools.”