Thousands of religious leaders voice concerns about HHS mandate

Over 2,500 religious leaders have signed a letter to Pres. Obama calling for the reversal of the HHS-mandated insurance coverage of contraception because it “essentially ignores the conscience rights of many Catholic and Protestant Americans.”

“Our country was founded on certain freedoms, the first of which is the freedom of religion. The ability of a religious person to follow their conscience without fearing government intervention has long been a protected right for Americans.

“It is unfathomable to picture a country that would deny religious freedoms,” the letter says.

It said that due to the “narrow” religious exemption, the “vast majority” of religious organizations will be forced to choose either to violate their consciences or to drop health coverage for employees.

The letter was released at a Feb. 20 press conference at the National Religious Broadcasters Convention and Exposition in Nashville. The Family Research Council led the letter signature effort.

Those who announced the letter included Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council; Dr. Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission; and Bp. Harry Jackson, the senior pastor of the Beltsville, Maryland-based Hope Christian Church.

The letter underscored that the Obama administration’s rule means that millions of Americans will incur the costs for the mandated products and procedures.

“Forcing religious entities to do the same, despite objections of good conscience, is a severe blow to our religious liberty,” the signers said.

The Jan. 20 mandate also requires all religious organizations to refer people for the objectionable drugs or procedures.

In reaction, the letter quoted Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia Act for Establishing Religious Freedom, which says ““to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves, is sinful and tyrannical.”

The letter calls for the reversal of the mandate and the protection of the conscience rights of those who have “biblically-based opposition” to funding or providing contraceptives and abortion-causing drugs.

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News Briefs – Feb. 24, 2012

Gov. Christie vetoes same-sex marriage bill, wants issue put to voters

Trenton, NJ–New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie Feb. 17 made good on his pledge to veto a bill legalizing same-sex marriage passed by the state Legislature but at the same time said he might name an ombudsman to make sure the state’s current law recognizing civil unions is respected. The state Assembly passed the bill Feb. 16 with a 42-33 vote. The state Senate approved it 24-16 Feb. 13. When the bill reached his desk and he vetoed it, Christie said in a statement that “same-sex couples in a civil union deserve the very same rights and benefits enjoyed by married couples–as well as the strict enforcement of those rights and benefits. Discrimination should not be tolerated and any complaint alleging a violation of a citizen’s right should be investigated and, if appropriate, remedied,” the Republican governor said, suggesting an ombudsman be appointed. As the same-sex marriage measure moved through the Legislature, Christie, a Catholic, said legalizing marriage for same-sex couples should be put on the November ballot for voters to decide the issue. In testimony at a Jan. 24 hearing, the executive director of the New Jersey Catholic Conference urged state lawmakers “to continue to recognize marriage as a union between one man and one woman. This is critical as marriage is the foundation of the family. The family, in turn, is the basic unit of society.” Said Patrick Brannigan, executive director of the conference, which is the public policy arm of the state’s Catholic bishops: “Marriage as a union of one man and one woman has its roots not only in human tradition and history, but also in natural law, which transcends all man-made law. Marriage is a natural institution. New Jersey, like other states, has from the beginning recognized marriage, honored it, and sought to support and protect it.” ©CNS

Ministry to parents of stillborn children expands beyond Arkansas roots

Little Rock, AR–Regina Binz started the Holy Sews ministry at Our Lady of the Holy Souls Church in Little Rock in 2008 to provide Arkansas hospitals with clothes designed to fit stillborn babies, but the Holy Spirit had other ideas, she said, as interest in the ministry has grown beyond the state. In April 2007, she and her husband, Kevin, found out their baby no longer had a heartbeat. Ryan was delivered stillborn at 17 weeks. The clothing the nurses had was much too big for him. She knew she wanted to do something, so another mother didn’t have to experience that. Binz grew up on a farm, learning to sew from a great aunt. She always “fiddled” with sewing. Binz’s mother, Sarah Lichti, was in an Extension Homemakers Club, who helped her work out designs. The tunic design took close to a year to develop. Once the design was right, Binz wasn’t sure what was next. She was visiting a friend on Thanksgiving in 2008 and on a whim they decided to visit Mercy Medical Center in Rogers. “The nurse looked at us in disbelief and said, ‘Really?’ Then she told us there was a woman in labor right now and the baby would be stillborn,” Binz said. “I knew what I was doing was right and that mother needed that layette.” Our Lady of the Holy Souls Church helped Binz in the ministry, providing meeting space, support and funds to buy supplies. As word got out about the program, others joined in to help. They were able to create a Web site,, to spread the word. “One thing led to another. Someone was touched by the ministry and gave a donation. Mothers who received a layette have joined. It blossomed and grew. And is continuing to grow beyond Arkansas,” she said. ©CNS

Meet the press: New US cardinals share quips, serious reflections

Rome–Dressed in red from head to toe–well, almost–the two new US cardinals met the press after the consistory Feb. 18, sharing humorous quips and serious reflections. Card. Timothy M. Dolan of New York warned photographers not to take pictures of his feet because, he said, “I forgot to put on my red socks.” Meeting the media at Rome’s Pontifical North American College before a reception, both Card. Dolan and Card. Edwin F. O’Brien, grand master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem, said the first thing on their minds as they walked up to Pope Benedict XVI to receive their red hats was not to trip and fall. An Italian newspaper writer had described Card. Dolan as a possible candidate for pope one day. Asked about that, Card. O’Brien said, “His mother thinks so.” But Card. O’Brien added that, given Card. Dolan’s position as archbishop of New York and especially given the brilliance of his presentation on new evangelization Feb. 17 to the College of Cardinals, the New York prelate is bound to be given special responsibilities in the universal church. Card. Dolan also was asked about being “papabile”–“pope-able” in Italian–and he laughed it off, claiming–in Italian–that he did not understand the question. ©CNS

Mexican Catholics: Religiosity with disconnect between faith, practice

Ciudad Juarez, Mexico–Pres. Felipe Calderon came to this border city to boast of improvements in public safety and witness the destruction of a cache of illegal guns, grenades and ammunition, which he blamed for contributing to more than 10,000 deaths in Ciudad Juarez since 2008. He also received an inadvertent reminder of some of the extreme expressions of faith in Mexico when an army colonel showed him a sample of the assembled arsenal: pistols plated in gold and silver and engraved with images of saints and Our Lady of Guadalupe. Professions of piety are common and diverse in Mexico, where a quasi-religious drug cartel teaches from its own text, the downtrodden venerate pseudo-saints such as Santa Muerte (St. Death), and Our Lady of Guadalupe and her role in Mexican life and history form part of the national identity–even in a country with an official secular ethos and government. In a country where 84 percent of 2010 census respondents identified themselves as Catholic, questions arise over the commitment of Mexicans to a faith that has played a defining role throughout their nation’s history–from the Spanish conquest and evangelization to the independence movement promoted by Fr. Miguel Hidalgo to the 1920s Cristero Rebellion against anti-clerical laws. Auxiliary Bp. Victor Rodriguez Gomez of Texcoco, secretary-general of the Mexican bishops’ conference, told Catholic News Service dioceses across the country have worked to promote catechism classes and ministries with a missionary focus. He estimates between 10 percent and 20 percent of Catholics are committed church-goers and involved in parish life. “There’s a large group of people that participate sporadically in church life,” he said, even though they bring “a great religiosity.” ©CNS

‘Realism is back,’ says sculptor of new statues for Kansas cathedral

Wichita, KS–The statues that will dominate the east and west transepts of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Wichita are taking shape. Sculptor Rip Caswell, who works from his studio in Troutdale, OR, was commissioned to create two heroic-size bronze sculptures as part of the cathedral renovation project. The two sculptures, “Mary and Joseph” and “The Crucifixion” will face each other from the east and west alcoves of the cross-shaped cathedral. The statues are scheduled to be installed in late August or early September. The first piece, “Mary and Joseph,” depicts a pregnant Mary with her hand on her womb and Joseph as a supportive father figure and husband standing behind her. Mary is looking across the cathedral to a scene of the Crucifixion. “We’ve made some bold departures with this piece,” Caswell told The Catholic Advance, newspaper of the Wichita Diocese. Traditionally, Mary’s pregnancy was hidden or portrayed as barely showing, he said. Joseph has been characterized as older, benign and in the background. Caswell said he sees a wave moving in churches across the country now to tell the traditional stories, but with a new angle, with a fresh perspective. “Culture and society have changed,” he said. “Churches still want commissioned works to be of the highest quality and to remain true to doctrine, but they want them to reflect a more genuine portrayal of life and of the things with which we can all relate. Realism is back. With this sculpture, we’re celebrating Mary’s pregnancy–we’re celebrating motherhood. We show Joseph as a strong, solid and protective man, very much in love with Mary.” ©CNS

Educational debt poses roadblock for many considering religious life

Washington–A night of bingo and the generosity of friends helped Sr. Katie Press achieve her dream of a religious vocation. Otherwise, she might still be paying off $19,000 in loans from graduate school and other expenses, and her entry into the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Hamden, Conn., might be far on the horizon. As things stand now, 28-year-old Sr. Katie is 18 months into a two-year novitiate with the order. And she’s debt-free. “I tried to make sure that debt wasn’t the number one thing standing against me,” she told Catholic News Service, explaining how she embarked on a yearlong fundraising effort to make sure her student loan was paid off before she entered the religious community in August 2009. Like many religious orders, the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus requires that new members be debt-free because it does not have the resources to pay back any loans. Sr. Katie developed a plan that found her working three part-time jobs, sending letters to friends seeking donations and writing a blog, “Support Katie’s Habit,” to spread her story and help raise funds. Her story was picked up by the Georgia Bulletin, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Atlanta, where she grew up, and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch daily newspaper while she was studying for her master of divinity degree at the Aquinas Institute of Theology, leading to more contributions. Friends in St. Louis helped with the bingo night, which raised $4,000. Others helped by talking with their friends about Sr. Katie’s need. “I have such a tremendous sense of gratitude,” Sr. Katie said. “It’s overwhelming that people would be so generous.” ©CNS

Myths abound about HHS contraceptive mandate; here are the facts

Washington–Exaggerations and outright misrepresentations about the Department of Health and Human Services’ contraceptive mandate have been appearing in White House “fact sheets” and mainstream media. Here are some of the more frequently cited claims and the facts to counter them: Myth: Self-insurance is a seldom-used method of providing health insurance to employers, used mainly by church organizations to avoid having to pay for abortions or birth control. Fact: A majority of Americans who have private health insurance are in self-insured plans, according to separate reports by the Congressional Research Service and the Kaiser Family Foundation and Health Research & Educational Trust. The percentage was 44 percent in 1999, 55 percent in 2008 and had increased to 60 percent by 2011. Employees in large companies (those with 200 or more employees) were even more likely to be covered by a self-insured plan. Eighty-two percent of workers at large firms–and 96 percent of those who work for a company with 5,000 or more workers–were in a self-insured health plan. There is no precise count of how many of the employees working for Catholic organizations or institutions are in self-insured plans, but the number is believed to mirror that of the general population. Myth: Twenty-eight states already require employers to cover contraceptives for their employees, so the situation in those states will not change. Fact: Self-insured plans are excluded from state contraceptive mandates, but not from federal requirements. In addition, all but three states–California, New York and Oregon–include a broader religious exemption than the HHS one, which sets four criteria for an exemption: that an employer’s purpose is to inculcate religious values, that it primarily hires and serves people who share its religious tenets, and that it is a nonprofit organization under certain sections of the tax code. ©CNS

Lenten ashes are call to repentance, humility, pope says at Mass

Rome–Receiving ashes at the beginning of Lent is a call to repentance and humility and a sign that believers know that death will not have the final word in their lives, Pope Benedict XVI said. The pope’s Ash Wednesday Mass Feb. 22 was preceded by a procession from Rome’s Church of St. Anselm to the Church of Santa Sabina. Unlike last year, when Pope Benedict walked the block between the two churches, this year he rode in a golf cart modified to be a mini-popemobile. Pope Benedict, 84, has been using a mobile platform to process into St. Peter’s Basilica since last October. Jesuit Fr. Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, said then that use of the platform was to help the pope conserve his energy and that Pope Benedict had no serious health problems. During Wednesday’s Mass, the pope received ashes on his head from retired Slovakian Card. Jozef Tomko, the cardinal-priest of Santa Sabina. Before receiving and distributing ashes, Pope Benedict gave a homily focused on the meaning of ashes and of the admonition from the Book of Genesis, “You are dust and to dust you shall return.” In the Catholic liturgy, ashes are “one of those material signs that bring the cosmos into the liturgy,” he said. They recall both the fact that God created human beings out of the dust of the earth and breathed divine life into them, but also that after Adam and Eve sinned, God cursed the ground and made it bring forth thistles and thorns, the pope said. ©CNS

Mexico’s political landscape more open to church but still has bumps

Mexico City–When Pope John Paul II touched down in Mexico for the first time in 1979, he arrived in a deeply Catholic country estranged from the Vatican, with rules prohibiting priests from wearing their robes in public and forbidding the church to own property. When Pope Benedict XVI arrives in Mexico March 23, he’ll find a country casting aside the old anti-clerical provisions, where the Vatican is now recognized and politicians and political parties openly court church favor. “Mexico has changed over the past 30 years,” said Aux. Bp. Victor Rodriguez Gomez of Texcoco, secretary-general of the Mexican bishops’ conference. “We now have freedom of worship, an official recognition of the church,” he said. “This has changed the landscape.” The changes in Mexico have been profound and controversial, and the church has been at the center of much of it: an imperfect democratic transition, the emergence of civil society and nongovernmental organizations, more freedom of expression and the press, and, in recent years, a deterioration in the public security situation. Mexicans are faced with the violence of a drug war, continued corruption, debates over controversial social issues such as abortion and same-sex marriages and increased income inequality–all in a nation that has the world’s wealthiest man, Carlos Slim Helu, and half the population is considered poor. Bp. Rodriguez recognizes the church is still adapting to the changes. “Little by little, we’re learning the new rules–the government as much as the church,” Bp. Rodriguez told Catholic News Service. ©CNS

Cuban-American businessman urges contact with island, organizes trip

West Palm Beach, FL–A Philadelphia businessman and Cuban-American who follows developments in Cuba said it’s becoming more normal to be openly religious in the communist island nation. “It is popular to be a Catholic in Cuba today–although we have a long ways to go to get to the next level,” said Jorge Fernandez, a Cuban-born business executive who first went back to his homeland for the 1998 visit of Blessed John Paul II as well as numerous additional trips over the years. “I truly think the winds of change that started with John Paul will just be accelerated, and a positive thing for the world,” he said, adding that he urges the Obama administration to further ease general travel restrictions because “it is through engagement that change will occur.” A member of a parish in Buckingham, Pa., father of three and executive director at Marketorum LLC, a Lambertville, NJ-based marketing, business strategy and technology agency, Fernandez is organizing a private delegation for 50 Americans planning to travel to Havana for the closing Mass with Pope Benedict XVI, who will be in Cuba March 26-28. The trip is not officially associated with the any diocese but is permitted under the State Department rules that apply to religious-based travel to Cuba. ©CNS

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Our Lady of Guadalupe-St. Vincent de Paul, Cape Girardeau, MO

St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Cape Girardeau celebrated the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe on Sunday, Dec. 11, 2011 with a procession of roses by the children in church. The Knights of Columbus assisted. Roses were placed in front of the picture of our Lady. A meal took place following the Mass. Two hundred people were in attendance and two piñatas were used in the celebration–one for the boys and one for the girls.


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‘World Youth Day – Rio 2013’ logo release

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World Youth Day organizers unveil Brazilian-themed logo for 2013

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News Briefs: Feb. 17,2012

CATHOLIC PRIEST, A FORMER EPISCOPAL BISHOP, BECOMES HEAD OF ORDINARIATE FOR FORMER ANGLICANS--Msgr. Jeffrey N. Steenson, a former Episcopal bishop who became a Catholic in 2007, spoke during a Mass of Institution at the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Houston Feb. 12. With the reading of a papal pronouncement and the presentation of the miter and crosier--symbols of his new pastoral office--Fr. Jeffrey N. Steenson received the title of “monsignor” and officially became the head of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter at an historic Mass at the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Houston. (CNS photo/Louise Kelly, Texas Catholic Herald)

Priest installed as head of new ordinariate during Mass in Houston

Houston–With the reading of a papal pronouncement and the presentation of the miter and crosier–symbols of his new pastoral office–Fr. Jeffrey N. Steenson received the title of “monsignor” and officially became the head of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter at an historic Mass at the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Houston. The Mass of Institution, celebrated Feb. 12, also officially inaugurated the first US ordinariate established by the Vatican earlier this year to facilitate and shepherd communities of former Anglicans wishing to join the Catholic faith while retaining elements of their Anglican heritage and traditions. Msgr. Steenson, former Episcopal bishop of the Rio Grande, became a Catholic in 2007 and was ordained a Catholic priest of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, N.M., in 2009. Pope Benedict XVI appointed him to head the ordinariate Jan. 1. Because he is married, the 59-year-old Msgr. Steenson was not ordained a bishop and will not be able to ordain priests. He will, however, otherwise function as a bishop and will be a voting member of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, making him the only married member of that body. Under the pope’s November 2009 apostolic constitution “Anglicanorum coetibus,” which authorized the ordinariates, Msgr. Steenson received permission from the Holy See to use the miter and crosier, the insignia of episcopal office. Longtime Catholics, new Catholics and Christians preparing for confirmation in the Catholic Church said they were awestruck by the Mass, which incorporated Anglican music, rituals and prayers from the Book of Divine Worship. Many acknowledged it as a milestone moment in the church’s ecumenical efforts to realize the prayer of Jesus “that they all may be one.” ©CNS

Cardinal urges Senate to pass bill protecting conscience in health care

Washington–The chairman of the US bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities called on members of the US Senate Feb. 15 to solve conscience protection problems with the federal health reform law by passing the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act. By resolving a “needless dispute,” Congress and the Obama administration “could return to the most pressing of all the real problems–the fact that many millions of Americans still lack basic coverage for health care,” said Card. Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston. In a three-page letter to senators, Card. DiNardo said the legislation–which now has 37 sponsors in the Senate–might come up for a vote soon, “either as a free-standing bill or an amendment.” Calling the bill “needed, reasonable and carefully crafted,” he said it “simply ensures that new requirements” under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act “are not used to take away a freedom of conscience that Americans have enjoyed under federal law until now.” The bishops “saw the need for this legislation,” the cardinal said, when Congress passed health care reform and “authorized new lists of federally mandated benefits for all health plans without including language to preserve rights of conscience.” The cardinal rejected the final rule announced Feb. 10 by Pres. Barack Obama that would allow organizations with religious objections to the Department of Health and Human Services’ requirement that all health insurance plans cover contraceptives and sterilization to decline to cover them, but then compel the insurers to provide contraceptives free of charge to women they insure. Under that plan, religious employers will be required to “include the same objectionable coverage as purely secular employers do–but the decision to do so will simply be taken away from them, as the coverage will be inserted into their plan directly by the insurer over their objections,” he said. The objecting employers will still pay for the coverage, he added, because it “will be integrated into their overall health plan and subsidized with the premiums paid by employer and employee for that plan.” ©CNS

NUN TALKS WITH MIGRANT--A nun, right, talked to a migrant from Honduras at the St. Juan Diego migrant shelter in Tultitlan, Mexico. The prevalence of exploitation afflicting migrants on their journeys across borders may be rising. (CNS photo/Tomas Bravo, Reuters)

Exploitation–and worse–besets migrants on their journey

Washington–The prevalence of exploitation afflicting migrants on their journeys across borders may be rising. Jane Bloom, an American who works as a liaison officer for the International Catholic Migration Committee at its Geneva headquarters, told a story of exploitation during a Feb. 13 panel discussion on migration, “Causes and Consequences of Migration,” at the Catholic Social Ministry Gathering in Washington. A worker for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, according to Bloom, “was dismayed when he interviewed Haitian refugees, and every single solitary woman he had talked to had been raped.” Bloom’s tale was borne out by a participant at the ministry gathering from Ohio, who said that in his own interviews with immigrants in southwest Ohio, each one had been subjected to either “exploitation, extortion or rape.” The North American Free Trade Agreement, which took effect in 1994, may have been a contributing factor for some Mexicans heading to the US, because it has meant the loss of livelihoods for many, but the story is more complex than that, according to Mary DeLorey, Catholic Relief Services’ regional representative for Latin America and the Caribbean. Violence is a principal concern, she said. “There’s more attention to the amount of guns that are flowing into Mexico. Mexico has very strong gun-control laws. We do not.” ©CNS

Poll finds support for religious exemption higher among Catholics

Washington–Support for a religious exemption to the contraceptive mandate in the US health reform plan is stronger among Catholics, especially those who attend church weekly, than among the general population, according to a new survey. The poll released Feb. 14 by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life and the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press showed that 55 percent of Catholics who have heard about the controversy support giving religious institutions that object to the use of contraceptives an exemption from the regulation, while 39 percent oppose such an exemption. The figures were reversed for respondents without a religious affiliation. Thirty-nine percent of those respondents said they supported an exemption, while 55 percent opposed it. Among Catholics who attend church at least once a week, 63 percent said they favored a religious exemption, while 25 percent said religious organizations should be required to cover contraception like other employers. White evangelical Protestants were even more likely to support the religious exemption, with 68 percent in favor and 22 percent opposed. Only 44 percent of white mainline Protestants supported the exemption, while 46 percent opposed it. The sample size of black Protestants was too small to be statistically significant. The survey, taken Feb. 8-12 among 1,501 adults, found that the 62 percent of Americans who had heard at least a little about the issue were nearly evenly split in their opinions. Close to half (48 percent) said they supported the religious exemption, while 44 percent said they opposed it. The survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points for the general sample, but the margin of error was larger for the various subgroups. ©CNS

GIRL WEARS SPECIAL DRESS FOR ‘QUINCEANERA’--Chelsea Chavez, 15, of Houston, wore a special dress for her “quinceanera” as she left Pope Benedict XVI’s general audience in Paul VI hall. The “quinceanera” is a popular celebration among Hispanics marking a girl’s 15th birthday. Pope Benedict XVI said “There is no future without children,” at the end of his general audience Feb. 15. “In today’s social context, a family made up of many children constitutes a witness of faith, courage and optimism,” he said. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope says no future without children, urges support for large families

Vatican City–Pope Benedict XVI called on governments and communities to help large families, saying children represent hope and the well-being of every nation. “There is no future without children,” he said at the end of his general audience Feb. 15 in a greeting to members of an Italian association of large families. “In today’s social context, a family made up of many children constitutes a witness of faith, courage and optimism,” he said. “I hope that adequate social and legislative measures are promoted that safeguard and sustain large families, which represent richness and hope for the whole country,” he said. In his catechesis, the pope continued a series of talks on prayer by highlighting some of Jesus’ prayers during his crucifixion. Jesus’ willingness to forgive his tormenters and executioners is an invitation to all Christians to forgive those who cause harm or are in the wrong, the pope said. People should pray for those who have done them wrong with “the same attitude of mercy and love that God has for us,” he said. Jesus called on God to forgive his executioners as they nailed him to the cross and divided up his clothing. He said the soldiers “do not know what they are doing” and, by forgiving them, he showed “the depths of his reconciling love for humanity,” which often sins out of ignorance, the pope said. ©CNS

Federal immigration agency turns to El Paso migrants’ shelter for help

El Paso, TX–Necessity often results in unexpected relationships, and that’s one way to describe the connection between US Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Annunciation House in El Paso, a shelter for undocumented immigrants. Ruben Garcia, the shelter’s director, said that as the federal government’s El Paso-area detention center swells with immigrants, particularly those seeking asylum, there is a desperate need to house those whom officials have decided not to detain but who still must navigate what can be a daunting bureaucracy until their plight is determined. For 34 years, the Catholic-run center has been a respite for immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border, a scant 10 blocks away. Garcia said the unlikely relationship between Annunciation House and ICE–and its precursor, the Immigration and Naturalization Service–has been going on for more than 25 years. ICE is part of the US Department of Homeland Security; INS was folded into the department several years ago. “They (federal agents) used to drop immigrants off a few blocks away and point in our direction for them to walk to,” Garcia said. “Our doors are always open and they know it.” He said on one particularly cold El Paso night, a US Border Patrol agent tapped on the house window and motioned to a van of immigrants who were just picked up and had no place to go. “Of course we took them in,” Garcia said. “Annunciation House has been privileged to bear witness to the evolution of immigration.” Through the years, the relationship with ICE has evolved from covert to more overt referrals. ©CNS

Senior British official says Europe faces militant secularism

Manchester, England–A “deeply intolerant” militant secularism is taking hold of Western societies, said a senior British government minister heading a delegation to the Vatican. Such secularism “demonstrates similar traits to totalitarian regimes–denying people the right to a religious identity because they were frightened of the concept of multiple identities,” said Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, a Muslim. She said Europe must counter the threat by becoming “more confident and more comfortable in its Christianity.” The Cabinet “minister without portfolio” and co-chair of the ruling Conservative Party made her remarks in an article published by the London-based Daily Telegraph Feb. 14, the first day of a two-day Vatican visit by the delegation of seven government ministers. They were to be joined by Abp. Vincent Nichols of Westminster before they meet the pope and Vatican officials to discuss a range of policy issues. The trip was more than “a Valentine’s Day ‘love-in’ with our Catholic neighbors,” said Baroness Warsi. “This is about recognizing the deep and intrinsic role of faith here in Britain and overseas.” She said that in her Feb. 14 address to the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy, which she said she wanted to “ring out beyond the Vatican walls,” she would be arguing that “to create a more just society, people need to feel stronger in their religious identities and more confident in their creeds. In practice this means individuals not diluting their faiths and nations not denying their religious heritages,” said Baroness Warsi. ©CNS

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Vocation of marriage honored at Diocesan Wedding Anniversary celebration in Cape Girardeau

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