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How Catholics can be inspired by art during Holy Week

Thu, 04/09/2020 - 16:01

Denver, Colo., Apr 9, 2020 / 02:01 pm (CNA).- As churches and museums remain closed, Catholic artists have encouraged people to be inspired this Holy Week by finding beauty online or even attempting to create projects themselves.

Andrew Julo is the director and curator for the Verostko Center for the Arts at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. He told CNA that Catholics should look for both familiar and new pieces of art that flow with the narrative of Holy Week.

He said, for example, Catholics should dwell on art that relates to Christ washing the disciples’ feet, the Passion of Good Friday, or the Resurrection on Easter. He said people may also find art depicting pandemics to express solidarity with those who have died of COVID-19.

“Find images that correspond with the days of Holy Week, assemble your own digital exhibition and share it online. While the majority of these digital reproductions can never substitute the experience of seeing the original work in person, they still possess an ability to move our minds and hearts,” he said.

According to the New York Times, the coronavirus has infected over 1.4 million people and killed over 83,000. In response, many international leaders have placed their countries on lockdown, halting church services, artistic entertainment, and numerous businesses.

He pointed to the recent actions from museums around the world who have begun to offer virtual tours online to engage people in art. He suggested viewers take their time in viewing the art and expand the images to the maximum space on the screen to minimize the distractions from ads and other pictures.

“There's lots of museums throughout the world that are looking to connect with their audiences by sharing their exhibitions, posing questions on social media, and asking folks at home to spend more time looking closely at works of art in their collections,” he said.

Virtual tours of Catholic art, such as pieces by Raphael, Botticelli, da Vinci, Crivelli, and Caravaggio, are being offered for free online through several museums. Among others, a virtual tour may be accessed to view paintings within the Metropolitan Museum in New York, Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Musée d’Orsay in Paris, and National Gallery in London.

For Holy Week, Julo suggested that Catholics view Ford Brown’s Jesus Washing Peter’s Feet; Matthias Grünewald’s Isenheim Altarpiece, which depicts a mangled Christ; and Exsultet scrolls. He said the website of the British Library includes a beautiful example used at the Benedictine Abbey of Montecassino during the 11th century.

“Grünewald imaged Christ with the same lesions that afflicted patients who were dying from the disfiguring disease of ergotism. Here, Christ’s body reminds us of the importance and fragility of our physical being. With so many individuals throughout the world suffering from COVID-19, an image of the crucifixion this year prompts us to remember these infirmities with greater attention,” he said.

David Clayton, an artist and a writer who runs The Way of Beauty, has emphasized the importance of using images in collaboration with prayer. He told CNA that visio divina, “divine seeing,” is a powerful tool alongside liturgical readings, scripture, and the daily office.

“I think the experience that's going to bear fruit is one of prayer and a pattern of prayer that has the liturgical piety at its heart,” he said. “Then have satellites around that of Catholic devotions, many of which engage with visual imagery.”

He stressed three periods of art that promote authentic beauty – iconography, Gothic, and the Baroque.

He pointed to pieces by Gregory Kroug, a Russian monk and early 20th-century iconographer of the Eastern Orthodox Church; the Madonna and Child by the Gothic painter Duccio; and The Virgin in Prayer by Sassoferrato. He also drew attention to Princeton University, which has recently cataloged images online of icons from Saint Catherine’s Monastery at Mount Sinai.

Gwyneth Thompson-Briggs, a sacred artist who creates custom religious art for homes and churches, discussed with CNA the importance of sacred art as a means to more fully engage in truth. She said art is particularly impactful because humans are both physical and spiritual beings.

“We're made of body and spirit, and, so because of that, the things that we come in contact within a physical world really do affect our soul,” she said.

“It's through the visible that we are able to approach the invisible. So the experience of tactile beauty is a hint of the supernatural beauty that we'll be encountering in heaven. I think Thomas Aquinas says that beauty is the attractive power of truth.”

She suggested that images be viewed slowly and alongside prayer, noting that it is important to allow the art time to open up to the viewer. She said, during the last Palm Sunday, she brought out books of Western art to help engage her children and herself.

“I was grabbing art history books in our living room and looking at great images of Western art from the Baroque and Renaissance and following through the entire Passion. Then looking at images of the agony in the garden or Christ before Pilate or the crowning of thorns,” she said.

“Don't be in a rush. It takes a while for beauty to unfold itself,” she said. “Making space to really focus on a single painting or a single work of music, [it] really draw[s] all of your attentive powers to experiencing it. I think that can lead to a much more profound understanding and engagement with it.”

She also suggested that Catholics participate in creativity themselves, whether through painting, woodworking, gardening, or knitting.

She said domestic practices may also become transformed into something more valuable for the holiday. She suggested using foods depicted in the Passion, like lamb and unleavened bread, or symbolic dishes, like Good Friday’s hot cross buns, which are topped with a cross and cooked with spices used to signify Christ’s burial.

“These days of quarantine … you find yourself with a bit more time on your hands, but also maybe feeling a bit more anxious and needing to find some constructive way to occupy yourself and find outlets for hope,” she said.

“I think that personal experiences of creativity or making something beautiful is a really great blessing.”

Julo also emphasized the value of creativity. He said that the domestic Church is where Christianity began and he stressed the value of fostering an opportunity to honor the Sacred Triduum. He said people should mark Easter with a special action, whether that is through music, poetry, or even a simple walk.

“It's helpful to remember that church began in people's homes. So we in some ways are participating in something that is also very ancient in the domestic space,” he said.

“I would encourage people to try to be creative about how they honor the Sacred Triduum. Gather flowers, branches, or greenery for inside. Light candles. Set up a corner in your home with sacred images including members of your family you’re not able to share physical space with right now. Before meals, make your dining area festive with a table cloth and your nicest place settings ...Whether alone or with others, ritualize your meals.”

Kansas limits Easter church services to 10 people or less

Thu, 04/09/2020 - 13:30

CNA Staff, Apr 9, 2020 / 11:30 am (CNA).- The state of Kansas is limiting religious services to no more than ten people for Easter as part of measures to halt the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

Kansas Governor Laura Kelly issued an executive order on Tuesday requiring religious institutions to abide by the state’s current prohibition on public gatherings or 10 or more people during the public health emergency.

“As Holy Week gets underway – and with Kansas rapidly approaching its projected ‘peak’ infection rate in the coming weeks – the risk for a spike in COVID-19 cases through church gatherings is especially dangerous,” Kelly said April 7.

The governor’s previous executive order on mass gatherings exempted religious institutions, although it encouraged churches to broadcast their services online and over the radio “wherever possible” in order to not have “in-person” gatherings.  

Now, religious gatherings are still allowed as “essential services” but are limited to 10 people at a time where participants must maintain “social distancing” and proper hygiene.

The spread of the virus necessitated the requirement to curtail mass religious gatherings during Holy Week, Kelly said on Tuesday.

There have been 1,046 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Kansas with 38 deaths, as of Wednesday afternoon, according to the state’s health department. Nationwide, there have been more than 395,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 12,754 deaths as of Wednesday afternoon, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

All public Masses in Kansas have already been suspended during the COVID-19 crisis. The Archdiocese of Kansas City, along with the dioceses of Wichita, Salina, and Dodge City, will be livestreaming Masses and liturgies during the Easter Triduum.

Private family gatherings are not subject to the updated order’s prohibitions, and neither are establishments such as “shopping malls and other retail establishments where large numbers of people are present but are generally not within arm’s length of one another for more than 10 minutes.”

Libraries are also allowed to remain open, as are restaurants and bars with spaces of six feet or more between tables, booths, bar stools and ordering counters.

Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City wrote in an April 3 column that “Christian charity also requires that we exercise prudence. We need to observe Governor Kelly’s executive order.”

Kelly had issued a March 26 “stay home” order allowing residents to leave their homes only to get food and medicine, for work, medical care, care of family members or pets, or outdoor exercise, or other “essential” activities.

Naumann wrote that Catholics have an “obligation in charity” to help prevent the spread of the virus through “remaining at home except for essential tasks, social distancing, washing our hands, not gathering in large groups, etc.”

He praised the governor’s recognition of a constitutional right for religious services to still proceed, saying that some counties and municipalities had tried to ban religious activities outright including weddings and funerals.

“Government cannot permit liquor stores, pet stores and dry cleaners to continue to operate and not allow religious activities,” he wrote.

“At the same time, for the good of the public health of our communities, our churches are rightly obligated to observe the same limitations — e.g., the number of people who can assemble or the social distancing that is required of other organizations and enterprises.”

Low-wage workers ‘first to suffer’ in economic collapse, Catholic labor advocates say 

Thu, 04/09/2020 - 13:30

Denver, Colo., Apr 9, 2020 / 11:30 am (CNA).- Amid the dramatic collapse of the American labor market, Catholic labor advocates have called for a collaborative response that protects the weakest and advances the common good.

“I would argue that in our job structure the person who would look lowest is the most important,” Father Sinclair Oubre, spiritual moderator of the Catholic Labor Network, told CNA.

“Think coronavirus in the hospital. It’s not the doctor who is most important, it is the custodian who kills the germs and kills the staph and kills all those things that gets people sick in the hospital,” he added. “If that person isn't there, I don't care how good the doctor is or how great the nurses are. That will be a death house because of the infectious diseases allowed to persist.”

The Catholic Labor Network helps advance Catholic social teaching on labor and work and aims to support workers.

As authorities across the country have ordered people to stay at home and placed other restrictions on businesses, millions have been laid off.

More than 16 million Americans have submitted initial unemployment claims in the last three weeks, and many economists predict that unemployment could eventually exceed the 25% peak of the Great Depression.

Many prospective applicants for unemployment benefits report they have been unsuccessful at filing claims, as state agencies face a surge in applicants, while dealing with the logistics and safety measures intended to help reduce the spread of the contagious disease.

Oubre reflected on the economic situation.

“We’ve based our economy on the service sector. The service sector is just being devastated,” he said.

Receptionists, waiters, busboys and dishwashers are all out of work. While some restaurants are still doing take-out food their customers are significantly less in number, as are the bills and the tips.

Industry has also been heavily hit by pandemic shutdown. Clayton Sinyai, executive director of the Catholic Labor Network, told CNA that even though work continues in areas like construction, construction workers rarely have employer-paid health insurance.

This means families are dependent for health coverage on a now-furloughed or out-of-work spouse who worked in a hotel or a store, Sinyai said.

Health care workers are “truly on the front lines” and risking disease and sometimes death, as some hospitals in the worst-hit areas face a surge in patients, Oubre said. At the same time, emergency orders to cancel elective surgeries to free up protective equipment and other resources for medical workers have caused medical workers involved in these surgeries to face layoffs.

Oubre who is also pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Church in Orange, Texas, said labor unions are concerned about the economic health of their members, and also want to secure workers’ basic safety and protection from contagion.

Usually companies follow Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards requiring gloves, masks, goggles and hardhats, but with the pandemic needs have now shifted.

“All of a sudden it’s not just a respiratory mask to prevent inhaling dust as you’re grinding on metal or chipping away rust,” said Oubre. “Now it’s other types of masks, or more masks, just when you're interacting with the people you work with along the way.”

Some sectors have seen a need for workers, including pharmacy work, online delivery, and grocery delivery. Walmart and Amazon are seeking tens of thousands of people.

Oubre noted that workers like those at Amazon warehouses must ask themselves “How do I know that everyone here has not been exposed?”

Hundreds of employees interact with warehouse technology and stored products. They interact with each other, sometimes not being able to keep at the recommended physical distance. These warehouse and delivery systems need “an incredibly efficient progress” and are very vulnerable to any inefficiencies, in Oubre's analysis.

He voiced concerns that Amazon has a history of opposing labor rights, to the point of alleged violations of laws protecting labor organizers.

After workers at a Staten Island Amazon warehouse tested positive for COVID-19, about 100 workers walked off the job March 31 to demand better safety protections. One employee who helped organize the walkout was fired: Chris Smalls, a former assistant manager. According to Newsweek, Smalls claims the company is misrepresenting the number of workers known to have tested positive for the coronavirus.

The company rejects Smalls' claim and said that Smalls was fired for violating social distancing requirements needed because of his close contact with a person confirmed to have had coronavirus.

Amazon’s founder, billionaire Jeff Bezos, has become one of the richest men in the world.

Workers at Whole Foods, the 95,000-employee grocery store chain owned by Amazon, held a sick-out on March 31, saying they should have more sick pay and more health protections during the pandemic, Bloomberg News reports.

Organizers  have said the store should shut down any store where a worker tests positive for the virus. They have sought paid leave for workers who choose to self-isolate, health care coverage for part-time employees, and funds for testing and treatment of sick co-workers. In January the company had dropped health care benefits for part-time employees who work under 30 hours a week.

The company has given temporary raises of $2 per hour through April and overtime compensation. It said employees put in quarantine or diagnosed with the new coronavirus are eligible for paid sick leave.

Workers for Instacart, a grocery delivery company, held a strike March 30, seeking better protections and hazard pay of $5 per order. About 200,000 contract workers run grocery deliveries for the startup, which has seen a 150% surge in order volume over last year.

Instacart’s response included an announcement of plans to distribute health and safety supplies to its full-service workers and a new default system for tipping on its app, claiming this would make tips higher and more consistent. The company said it already instituted retroactive sick pay for its in-store workers affected by the coronavirus. Hourly workers could receive bonuses between $25 and $200, NBC News reports.

For Sinyai, the labor network’s executive director, the coronavirus pandemic shows that low-income workers are “often the last to benefit in good times and the first to suffer in hard times.”

“Those who continue to work and draw a paycheck are disproportionately drawn from the ranks of white-collar workers who can often do their jobs online; firms lay off line workers before they lay off managers. In contrast, those who work with their hands are usually unable to work from home. This crisis has brought mass unemployment to retail workers, hotel workers, airline employees and restaurant servers and cooks.”

Pope Francis’ “Urbi et Orbi” of March 27 made a special mention of those working under the threat of the coronavirus, saying:

“It is the life in the Spirit that can redeem, value and demonstrate how our lives are woven together and sustained by ordinary people – often forgotten people – who do not appear in newspaper and magazine headlines nor on the grand catwalks of the latest show, but who without any doubt are in these very days writing the decisive events of our time: doctors, nurses, supermarket employees, cleaners, caregivers, providers of transport, law and order forces, volunteers, priests, religious men and women and so very many others who have understood that no one reaches salvation by themselves.”

Sinyai said that Pope Francis' words recall those who “soldier on during the crisis, enabling the rest of us to shelter in place.”

“These people remain at great risk of infection, illness and death so that we may live,” he said. “It’s shameful that OSHA has not yet issued an emergency workplace safety standard protecting workers from unnecessary risk during the pandemic.”

Obure appreciated that the Pope involved everyone, “from the doctors down to the cleaning people.”

“It’s all the people working and interacting together to get through this thing,” he said. “It’s when we divide ourselves up and not reach out that we really get in danger.”

“We really have two choices; we can either hunker down in our houses and hope that we survive this or we can, even in the physical distancing law that we are in, take action,” he added.

Oubre invoked the example of a Vietnamese-American woman who normally works as a crab distributor, buying 5,000 pounds of crabs per day from the crabbers. She has now pivoted to making masks and giving them away to Fr. Oubre and his staff.

“She’s thinking seriously: how can she help her brothers and sisters,” he said. “They’re not medical-grade quality, but they will give us something that we can then exercise greater precaution.”

Oubre mentioned a local manufacturer who normally makes industrial strength insulation, but now is working to retool to produce face protections and medical-grade masks. Besides helping the pandemic response, the retooling will help his employees return to work.

Even with the difficulties of physical distancing, Oubre said, building community is the way for workers and the unemployed to advocate for themselves.

In his view, labor has suffered in recent decades not only because of legislation, but because of “radical individualism.”

“I think because of our radical individual thinking as Americans, it’s hard for us to say ‘I will sacrifice for myself so that my brothers and sisters will have more’ even though that is a fundamental idea of solidarity within trade unionism and our Catholic social teaching,” Oubre told CNA.

Catholic social teaching's promotion of the common good, solidarity and subsidiarity all have roles to play, Oubre summarized.

“Solidarity is being concerned for our brothers and sisters. It’s not just pulling up the draw bridge and hunkering down for ourselves,” he said. “Promoting the common good is constantly a concern, because (the coronavirus) threatens the whole common good, not a class of people or a type of people.”

While some people are demanding federal government action, Oubre said, “fundamentally it comes down to how we handle this at the lowest level. Although the government is going to have a very important role to play... it's going to be how we act in Orange, Texas, or some other place that determines how long this thing is actually going to last.”

At the same time, Oubre was worried that restrictions might be lifted too soon.

“The dangers are clear: we could just have a second wave. We'll be right back into it,” he said.

Sinyai said people with some abundance and without fear of hunger, eviction or foreclosure must be prepared to sacrifice, adding “America’s low-income workers deserve both our prayers and our financial support as they rebuild their lives, careers and savings in the aftermath of the epidemic.”

‘It’s a trauma for our children’: How the pandemic is impacting foster kids 

Thu, 04/09/2020 - 06:30

Denver, Colo., Apr 9, 2020 / 04:30 am (CNA).- Foster care is a difficult business in the best of times.

Social workers must ensure that children in need are given loving and safe homes, while trying to help them maintain contact and a relationship with their biological family. Kids have to adjust to new families and new routines while keeping up with schoolwork. Families accepting foster children are routinely monitored and must make adjustments to accommodate the new member of their family, who will be with them for an often unknown period of time.

Now, adding a pandemic - and all of its isolating and social distancing requirements - into the mix has made matters even more difficult.

“It's a trauma for our children who've had a life built and now it's gone,” Martha Holben, who works as the child welfare assistant director for St. Vincent Catholic Charities in Lansing, Michigan, told CNA.

Holben told CNA that for foster children, whose lives are already marked with so much disruption, the routine of school, and seeing friends and teachers they can count on, as well as regularly scheduled meetings with their families, are a big deal.

“And one day that was just all gone,” Holben said. “So we're definitely seeing an increase in some outbursts with kiddos because their schedule is gone, and the people that they've built into their life that they could trust - their principal, their guidance counselor - all of that is gone, and some of them are too young to really understand why.”

Michigan has been one of the harder-hit states in the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S., with 20,346 confirmed cases and 959 deaths as of April 8. Holben said that while none of her program’s children and families have yet been diagnosed with coronavirus, concerns about spreading the disease have made it very difficult to find new foster families for children in recent weeks.

“We've had a child that we've been searching for placement for a couple of weeks,” she said.

“Luckily right now he's in a place that's willing to keep placement until another placement is able to be located, but because of the risk of COVID-19, prospective foster parents for this child are not willing to take a new placement right now,” Holben added.

While none of the children have tested positive for coronavirus, Holben said that families worry about accepting new children because experts believe that many people are carriers of the virus without ever showing symptoms, and prospective foster families are hesitant to put the rest of their family at risk.

Jennifer Hartwig is the senior program manager of foster care services for Catholic Charities Community Services in Phoenix, Arizona. So far, the state of Arizona has not been as hard hit by coronavirus as states like Louisiana, Illinois, California or New York. As of April 8, there were 2,726 cases in Arizona and 80 deaths.

Hartwig told CNA that their foster care program has changed the way it offers services - basically everything is online for now - “but we are going above and beyond trying to meet the needs of all of our families at this time. So we haven't slowed down,” she said.

Families in the area are also still offering to take children in, even though the threat of coronavirus remains, Hartwig added.

“The response has been wonderful. Families are still stepping up,” she said. “The director of DCS (Department of Child Safety) does weekly updates for all of the providers in the area, and we're still seeing about 20 children a day coming into the system needing homes. So children are still being placed at this time, and the families are stepping up.”

Hartwig compared social workers working with foster children to first responders, and added that while they are doing basically everything virtually, they do have permission from the governor and the DCS to step in and do home visits if there is a suspected crisis.

“As needed, if there's a crisis, we will go in person and if everybody's healthy and asymptomatic, we will do home visits,” Hartwig said.

“The directive from our governor and from the director of the DCS here in Arizona has stated that all visits have to be virtual…(but) safety's number one. That's been the message from everyone, child safety is number one,” she said. “We are, I'd say, right under doctors and nurses, we are still first responders.”

Other support being offered to families at this time include help finding diapers or formula or anything else they might need that could be in short supply in stores at this time Hartwig added.

She said when families have had concerns about possible cases of coronavirus, they’ve asked them screening questions and directed them to medical care. But so far, as of last Friday, none of the children in foster care in the state had tested positive for the virus.

“We have about 14-15,000 children in care in the state and (it has been) reported that there's no child that's been tested positive,” Hartwig said.

Unlike Arizona, New York has been the worst-hit state by coronavirus in the U.S. so far, accounting for 149,316 cases, with 6,268 deaths.

Good Shepherd Services, a foster care agency affiliated with the Archdiocese of New York, told CNA it has been scrambling to keep up with new federal, state and local guidelines as the coronavirus pandemic has come full force to the city. Good Shepherd Services oversees children in homes with foster families, as well as children in residential programs.

“I mean it certainly has turned our world upside down,” Denise Hinds, the associate executive director of foster care, juvenile justice and supportive housing at Good Shepherd Services, told CNA.

“It just creates a whole new level of stress and anxiety for everyone. From our own staff, to the birth parents who want to see their kids - they're used to seeing their kids every week- so foster parents have to bring the kids in, or they must have phones, and birth parents have to have cell phones, so it's just become quite an issue,” Hinds said.

Like Holben, Hinds also said she was concerned about the effect that closed schools were having on children in foster care. Not only were the closures disruptive to their routines, but the children are also losing access to additional learning and behavioral supports that are available to them at school.

A higher number of children in foster care “have many learning challenges and oftentimes more than the general population...many of our kids who come into residential care are several grade levels behind their peers, because they've moved around so many times before they get to us. So, we're looking at the most vulnerable of the children in New York City, in terms of education, not having all the services they would normally have on a day to day basis,” she said.

The impact of the pandemic on foster care social workers has also been “tremendous”, Hinds said, because they have had to adapt to every-changing guidelines while still trying to meet the needs of children, foster families and biological families.

Initially, she said, they were still allowing family visits on-site at their facilities, but as time has gone on, the program has had to adapt to virtual visits and meetings, unless safety issues are a concern. 

“This is all very new to us and to the families,” Hinds said.

Michelle Yanche, executive director of Good Shepherd Services, told CNA that the program had a “wake-up call” early on in the stages of coronavirus restrictions and shutdowns when, on a Friday night, a foster parent called, looking for a different placement for the child under their care, because the parent was showing symptoms of what was feared to be coronavirus.

The parent’s test for the virus was ultimately negative, and the child was able to be returned to the home, but Yanche said it made her realize that they would immediately need to implement new coronavirus protocols.

“It quickly was a wake up call for us that we need some new systems to be in be able to manage these kinds of potential disruptions in the middle of the night,” she said. Fortunately, she said, those kind of late-night interventions have “not been as needed as we worried that it would be.”

Still, Hinds said they have had to move children around who have been exposed to the virus, but they have been lucky in finding foster homes to send them too. While they’re not onboarding a lot of new families at this time, she said families on their list have stepped up to take in these children despite the risk of the virus.

“So, those are some of the complexities, but we have been very fortunate to be able to continue our intake and support children when needed with our existing vacant foster homes,” she said. “We're continuing to do that as we have been all along. I don't think that has slowed down at all.”

Like leaders at a lot of organizations, Hinds and Yanche are also worried about the long-term financial impacts that a prolonged economic downturn will have on their programs.

Another concern has been providing PPE (personal protective equipment) to staff who either need to do in-home visits to homes that have known cases of or exposure to coronavirus, as well as staff in residential programs with children who may have been exposed and are in quarantine under their care, Hinds added.

“We're doing our best to get a hold of equipment, and we've had some support from Catholic Charities and other organizations, but it is a daily concern because we have 24/7 programming,” she said. “So, we're guarding our N95's (facemasks) like it's gold right now...we want to make sure we can keep our staff safe.”

Holben told CNA that people who want to help foster children, but are unable to open their homes to them, can be helpful through prayer.

“All of our foster parents, regardless of what we're going through or regardless of what they've gone through in any cases, they always need prayers. All of our kiddos need prayers, our biological families need prayers,” she said.

“So I just always like to put a little plug out there when people don't know what they can do for foster kiddos or parents. Just send some positive energy our way so that we can all get through it. Because it's stressful enough without the added COVID-19 stuff.”


'Troubadours' look to inject Chesterton’s joy, humor into a coronavirus-hit country

Thu, 04/09/2020 - 05:01

Wichita, Kan., Apr 9, 2020 / 03:01 am (CNA).- A group of five friends, and scholars of the Catholic writer G.K. Chesterton, are launching an online lecture series with the hopes of sparking interest in Chesterton’s work, and infusing joy and humor into a country reeling from the coronavirus pandemic.

The series, “Tuesdays with the Troubadours”, began April 7 and is put on by the Society of Gilbert Keith Chesterton, a lay apostolate.

The presenters will offer a short talk on a topic related to the faith, followed by a panel discussion and a Q&A. Participants can sign up for the free series and receive a link to join via Zoom video conferencing.

William Fahey, president of Thomas More College of Liberal Arts in New Hampshire, told CNA that he and the other four presenters— The Troubadours— became friends as presenters at the annual Prairie Troubadour Conference, put on by the G.K. Chesterton Society and held in Fort Scott, Kansas, 160 miles east of Wichita.

The goal of the series is to recreate  virtuallythe spirit of that conference.

“I tossed out an idea in an email exchange—almost as a fanciful thought—that all of us should just give an online conference,” Fahey told CNA.

“Everyone moved on the idea was the fruit of friendship.”

Fahey said he hopes the friendship and levity of the group will come across online.

“Joy is of the Christian spirit,” Lahey said, citing the motto of the college he leads, which is taken from St. Paul: caritas congaudet veritati; charity rejoices in the truth.

“Catholics, especially on the cusp of darkness, can get quite melancholy and gloomy. But I think the Catholic to laugh when the chips are down and ride on,” he said.

What is a troubadour, anyway?

Troubadours were medieval poets and storytellers, who went from place to place and often lived a mendicant lifestyle. St. Francis of Assisi in particular is often remembered as a “troubadour of God” for his mendicant lifestyle and joy.

Christopher Check, president of the media apostolate Catholic Answers, told CNA that his presentation, set for April 28, will focus on the importance of storytelling, especially in education.

He pointed out that many students today are fed a steady diet of practically oriented readings, with a decreased emphasis on stories that "capture the imagination and impart a moral truth."

"And yet, when Our Lord wants to impart a truth, what does he do? He tells stories," Check said.

"This is the educational device par excellence: the story. And Our Lord knew it."

Joie de vivre

Chesterton, the inspiration for the series, was born in 1874 and became a prolific writer and staunch Catholic apologist after his conversion to the faith. He is renowned for writing apologetic classics such as “Orthodoxy” and “The Everlasting Man,” as well as for his fictional “Father Brown” series, among many other works.

He died in 1936 and is remembered for his humor and wit.

Check said the virtual conference aims to whet participant's appetites for the writings of Catholic authors like Chesterton, and to be in the company of fellow Catholics “and feel that joy” when the coronavirus outbreak ends.

Joseph Pearce, another presenter and director of book publishing at the Augustine Institute, told CNA that Chesterton's way of seeing the world was and is very Catholic, because a sense of humor, infused with grace, is crucial for evangelization.

Troubadours, in a Catholic sense, have a spirit of joie de vivre that comes from faith in Christ, Pearce said.

Chesterton brought people to God through a hearty cheerfulness and jollity, with a smile on his face, Pearce said.

"Basically, the victory is already won. We, as Christians, understand that God is in charge...we really should be walking around full of that joy, the joie de vivre that comes from the joie de crist, from the joy of Christ. And if that's not present, there's something wrong," Pearce told CNA.

Fostering a troubadour attitude

The spirit of the troubadours has a rambunctiousness about it, Pearce said.

"The whole idea of the format is that the seriousness of the message is nonetheless delivered with 'levitas'— gravity with levity," he explained.

He mentioned a famous Chesterton quote from his book “Orthodoxy”: Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly.

"Yes, I want to talk about serious things, while at the same time having that Chestertonian levity," Pearce said.

"That's what we should be aiming at. What Chesterton succeeded in doing so well is something that we disciples of Chesterton should try to emulate," he said.

Lahey recommended that Catholics wishing to foster a “troubadour” attitude within themselves ought to read such authors as Chesterton, Hilaire Belloc, J.R.R. Tolkien, Robert Louis Stevenson, John Buchan— “things that are adventurous; things that make them want to live large and risk.”

Check agreed, also recommending that Catholics tend to their interior spiritual lives during the coronavirus outbreak. He recommended praying the Divine Office at home— “in that prayer, you'll see penitential psalms, but you'll also see psalms of joy,” he said.

He also encouraged Catholics to get a copy of the Mundelein Psalter and say Lauds and Vespers around the kitchen table.

"We're about to enter the Easter Season, where the feasting really just goes on and on and keeps going on, a time of great joy," he noted.

"And all of the Divine Office is going to reflect that joy. So that is a sure recommendation I would make to people."


Catholic non-profit highlights dignity of people with disabilities amid coronavirus

Wed, 04/08/2020 - 21:19

CNA Staff, Apr 8, 2020 / 07:19 pm (CNA).- Amid limited medical supplies, the National Catholic Partnership on Disability released a statement on the sanctity of life, emphasizing that treatment priority is not based on ableism.

“Every patient is worth treating, but not every medical treatment is worth providing. This determination must be based on an evaluation of the potential success of the treatment, not a value judgment about the person requiring aid,” the NCPD said in a recent statement.

According to the New York Times, COVID-19 has infected over 1.4 million people and resulted in over 80,000 deaths worldwide. Hospitals across the U.S. have reported dangerous shortages of necessary medical supplies, including hospital beds and ventilators, causing doctors to make life-or-death decisions.

The organization said, in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, priority of treatment policies and do not resuscitate policies should be based on the medical evidence of a treatment's success.

According to the Office of Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, these policies should not be built on “stereotypes, assessments of quality of life, or judgments about a person’s relative ‘worth’ based on the presence or absence of disabilities.”

The priority of treatment must be established with an documentable major organ function criteria, which is applied consistently and without exemptions. The organization said it is permissible to implement DNR policies when the medical treatment is futile and other patients are in need of the same resources.

“For example, a 45- year-old with quadriplegia and respiratory failure is not likely to survive COVID19, despite the family’s desire that ‘everything be done,’” the organization said.

However, the NCPD said this should only be permitted after a review of objective physiological criteria and families are provided with accessible policies including legal appeal and transportation to other medical practitioners.

The NCPD said treatment should not be biased toward a current or anticipated quality of life determining who is more or less valuable to society. The organization emphasized the dignity of the human person present in all people.

“For example, if an adult man with Down syndrome, who has significant cognitive impairment but no major organ deficits, presents with compromised respiratory function due to COVID19, he should not be denied a ventilator based on an ethic that others who can contribute more to society upon recovery are more deserving,” the organization said.

“As a society the concept of solidarity with fellow human beings dictates that any DNR or triage policy must treat each person as a unique irreplaceable human being. This applies to all human beings, including persons with disabilities.”

During the Day for Life Message in July 2013, Pope Francis emphasized the human dignity of people with disabilities. He said all creatures, no matter their vulnerability, are deserving of respect.

“Even the weakest and most vulnerable, the sick, the old, the unborn and the poor, are masterpieces of God’s creation, made in his own image, destined to live forever, and deserving of the utmost reverence and respect,” said Pope Francis.

Alabama removes disability triage guidelines after HHS complaint

Wed, 04/08/2020 - 20:00

Washington D.C., Apr 8, 2020 / 06:00 pm (CNA).- The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has resolved a disability rights case with Alabama after the state removed controversial triage guidelines recommending that people with severe intellectual disabilities be denied ventilators in the event of shortages at medical facilities.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said April 8 that it had conducted a compliance review of the state following complaints that its 2010 guidelines for triage care allegedly discriminated against people with intellectual disabilities. Alabama has agreed to remove its ventilator rationing guidelines from state websites, HHS said on Wednesday.

The issue of healthcare rationing plans in different states has raised ethical concerns as the coronavirus pandemic leads to anticipated strain on critical care facilities across the country. 

“It’s about saying that people with intellectual disabilities must be treated the same way, and not be treated as somehow less fit, or less worthy, of having their lives saved, compared to somebody who has greater intellectual abilities,” stated Roger Severino, head of the HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR), in a Wednesday conference call with reporters.

“That’s what this resolution is about, and that’s a message that we want to convey to other states when they’re putting these [rationing] plans together,” Severino said.

The Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program and The Arc of the United States, a community-based disability advocacy organization, both filed a complaint with HHS over Alabama’s 2010 guidelines for triage care in the event of a public health emergency and a lack of sufficient number of ventilators.

Even though Alabama recently issued Crisis Standards of Care (CSC) guidelines on February 28, its 2010 standards—the “Criteria for Mechanical Ventilator Triage Following Proclamation of Mass-Casualty Respiratory Emergency”—were still posted on state websites, HHS said.

Those 2010 guidelines, HHS said, “allegedly allowed for denying ventilator services to individuals based on the presence of intellectual disabilities, including ‘profound mental retardation’ and ‘moderate to severe dementia.’”

For instance, the guidelines stated that “persons with severe mental retardation, advanced dementia or severe traumatic brain injury may be poor candidates for ventilator support."

HHS also warned that the old guidelines could “be used to impose blunt age categorizations” to discriminate against patients solely on the basis of their age.

The issue of triage care during the pandemic has led advocates for people with disabilities to warn that medical supply shortages could result in the denial of care to patients simply based on a disability or their advanced age.

Advocates for people with disabilities have also filed a complaint with HHS about the state of Washington’s proposed guidance for triage care, saying it would discriminate against people with disabilities and the elderly.

On March 28, HHS OCR issued a bulletin saying that it is enforcing existing laws to protect against discrimination in health care during the pandemic. The laws include the Americans with Disabilities Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, the Age Discrimination Act, and Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act.

“As such, persons with disabilities should not be denied medical care on the basis of stereotypes, assessments of quality of life, or judgments about a person’s relative ‘worth’ based on the presence or absence of disabilities or age,” HHS said.

Team of young Chicago priests answer the call to anoint COVID-19 patients

Wed, 04/08/2020 - 18:33

Chicago, Ill., Apr 8, 2020 / 04:33 pm (CNA).- The Archdiocese of Chicago has assembled a team of 24 priest volunteers— all under age 60, and without pre-existing medical conditions— to administer sacramental anointing of the sick to Catholics with COVID-19 during the coronavirus pandemic.

Father Matthew O’Donnell, pastor of St. Columbanus Parish on the city’s South Side, has been a part of the team for about three weeks, and told CNA that so far he has anointed two people with COVID-19.

"I know that all of us who are doing this ministry in Chicago right now are doing it because we believe that this is what we're called to do as priests, to be present to people," Fr. O’Donnell told CNA.

"And I think all of us are knowledgeable of the risks, but the importance of the sacrament outweighs that."

The archdiocese is divided into six vicariates, or regions. Within each one, O’Donnell said, the archdiocese wanted to ensure that there were at least four priests available that could handle the vicariate's anointing needs, while also ensuring that no one priest is called to every single COVID-19 patient in his area.

He said pastors can call the archdiocese to let them know about a parishioner with COVID-19, and the archdiocese will then reach out to a member of the volunteer priest team to convey the patient's name, the hospital where they are located, and any other pertinent information.

When he first offered to volunteer, Fr. O’Donnell said he thought it would be a while before he actually got a call to anoint a COVID-19 patient.

In reality, the day after he agreed to volunteer, the priest received his first request.

"Knowing that there's not a lot of young priests that are here, that was what made me want to volunteer. Making sure the priests in my area who might overage, or have other health issues, and I knew I wanted to volunteer for that reason," he said.

"More importantly, knowing how powerful the sacrament of the anointing of the sick can be for individuals and for families, I think as our parishes aren't able to have public liturgies right now, this was a way for me to really minister and to really reach out people and allow the Church to be present to people in what is definitely a moment of great suffering."

At the first hospital he visited for the anointing, Father Matthew said he wore a bodysuit, a gown, gloves, an N95 mask, goggles, a hairnet, and shoe coverings— all provided by the hospital.

Once he had completed the anointing in the patient's room, the hospital walked him through a protocol for taking all the equipment off in a safe and sterile manner.

In addition to the hospital's precautions, O’Donnell said the archdiocese offered training to the priests on the team on how to safely administer the sacrament to COVID-19 patients.

One of the recommended practices was to make sure not to dip their thumbs into the oil twice— so as to avoid contaminating the oil— and instead use a different finger to anoint first the patient's head, and then the hands.

The priests were encouraged to either burn or bury the cotton on which they placed oil, and to disinfect the outside of the oil stock.

O’Donnell said he has been amazed at the gratefulness of the hospital staff, many of whom have expressed gratitude to him for his willingness to come and minister to the patients.

Though the team of young priests is not able to "assemble" in person, O’Donnell said he has been in touch with several of his brother priests and fellow team members.

"I've definitely talked to several of the other guys, some of whom haven't yet gone to anoint someone, and others who have,” he told CNA.

“Every hospital has different protocols in place, and it's been very similar experiences making sure that we have all the protective equipment on.”

In addition to administering anointing, O’Donnell has spoken on the phone with several families of COVID-19 patients.

He pointed out that many of the people suffering from the coronavirus cannot have visitors in their hospital rooms. So for him, as a priest, the fact that he is able to go and visit someone's loved one, and relay to the family information about how their loved one is doing, brings comfort to the families, he said.

A number of hospitals in the Chicago area are not allowing priests to enter areas with confirmed cases of COVID-19 to perform last rites. In those cases, the families are reaching out to O’Donnell by phone, seeking a priest to talk to for spiritual guidance, and to ask for prayers. He has been talking on the phone to two or three families a week, in addition to his own parishioners.

O’Donnell said many of his own parishioners have contacted him, asking him whether he is safeguarding his own health when he goes to administer the anointing.

He said he has been reassuring them that the archdiocese and the hospitals are taking the precautions necessary to keep the priests safe. 

The sacramental anointing of the sick is conferred upon those Catholics who are in danger of death.

“The first grace of this sacrament is one of strengthening, peace and courage to overcome the difficulties that go with the condition of serious illness or the frailty of old age. This grace is a gift of the Holy Spirit, who renews trust and faith in God and strengthens against the temptations of the evil one, the temptation to discouragement and anguish in the face of death,” according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

“This assistance from the Lord by the power of his Spirit is meant to lead the sick person to healing of the soul, but also of the body if such is God's will. Furthermore, ‘if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven,’” the catechism adds.

The catechism explains that “as soon as anyone of the faithful begins to be in danger of death from sickness or old age, the fitting time for him to receive this sacrament has certainly already arrived."


With Supreme Court hearings on hiatus, Catholic groups may face wait for justice

Wed, 04/08/2020 - 18:00

Washington D.C., Apr 8, 2020 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- After the coronavirus pandemic forced the Supreme Court to postpone oral arguments in cases scheduled in March and April, several Catholic institutions are waiting on the status of their religious freedom cases.

The timeline for the contraceptive mandate case of the Little Sisters of the Poor, with oral arguments originally scheduled for April 29, is now unclear. After the religious order received a religious exemption from the HHS contraceptive mandate in 2017, the states of Pennsylvania and California sued the government asking that they be stripped of the exemption.

The sisters in 2018 were allowed to intervene in the lawsuit, and in January the Court agreed to hear their case.

“The briefing is almost done,” Mark Rienzi, president of Becket which represents the Little Sisters and other Catholic institutions, said on Tuesday on a conference call with reporters.

But, Rienzi said, the briefing is “not fully done” and the case of the nuns is “in the bucket” of cases where justices will have to determine an argument date “as the spring develops”—or even decide the case without in-person oral arguments.

“The justices have said that they will consider their options in light of changing events as things go forward,” Rienzi said.

Supreme Court cases involve several phases, which include the submission of briefs from both sides of a case and of friend-of-the-court briefs by supporters of each side, oral arguments which are normally in-person in the Court’s chamber, and the issuance of written opinions.

With the coronavirus spreading, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control recommending gatherings of no more than 10 people, the Supreme Court announced on Monday that it would postpone oral arguments in all cases that were scheduled for the month of April.

Would such a delay pose significant harm for religious groups and individuals seeking relief or protection at the Court? Rienzi said that none of the delays in the spring term cases would significantly harm these institutions.

Of the Little Sisters of the Poor, he said that “they run homes for the elderly, so their daily and unwavering focus is, and has always been, taking care of the elderly people who are particularly in danger right now.”

Of course, as the nuns have been litigating their case for almost a decade, they should receive clarity as soon as possible, Rienzi said.

“This, frankly silly, saga has gone on for eight or nine years with, at times, the federal government, and with, at times, state governments pretending that they need nuns in order to give people contraception, which has always been a whacky argument and a bad position for the government to take,” Rienzi said. So far, the order has been shielded from heavy fines by the Supreme Court.

One case where any delay could seriously impact plaintiffs is Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, the case of Catholic Social Services of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia which is currently barred by the city from providing foster care adoption referrals.

Even though Catholic Social Services had not turned away same-sex or unmarried couples in adoption referrals, the city, which has a monopoly on the area foster care system, cut its partnership with them in March of 2018 over their religious beliefs on marriage. The city also passed a resolution calling for an investigation of religious foster care agencies after a same-sex couple complained of discrimination by a seperate faith-based agency.

Catholic Social Services is barred from making new placements unless they agree to recommend same-sex couples to adopt children.

Currently, the organization is only serving children they have already placed with foster care families and is on a “wind-down” contract. They have already begun laying off employees, even though there are families who want to adopt children and work with Catholic Social Services.

“That is one where the agency is urgently pushing and does need the help, because the city has cut them off from all new placements,” Rienzi said. “That’s a real, ongoing harm to the agency, that’s a real, ongoing harm to those families who have signed up to do the very noble work of fostering, and it’s also a real, ongoing harm to a bunch of kids whose names we don’t know.”

The Supreme Court agreed in February to hear the case which is now scheduled for the fall 2020 term. Becket’s opening brief in the case is due May 27, and amicus briefs in support of Catholic Social Services are due June 3.

As the briefings are moving forward, “in the ordinary course, we’d expect that case to be argued in October,” Rienzi said, but that timeline could also be affected by the coronavirus.

Several religious freedom cases have already been argued and are fully briefed, so a decision can be expected “any day now,” Rienzi said. “The justices have indicated that they are still continuing proceeding with their decisions.”

One of those is Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue which involves students using state scholarships to attend religious schools.

A trio of cases argued in the fall involves whether or not existing Title VII civil rights protections against sex discrimination also apply to sexual orientation and gender identity. Those cases are Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, Altitude Express, Inc. v. Zarda, and Harris Funeral Homes, Inc. v. EEOC.

As with Espinoza, decisions in those cases could be published any day now, Rienzi said.

Two other cases—Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru and St. James School v. Biel—involve the “ministerial exception.” The cases focus on whether or not two Catholic schools in California are free to fire religion teachers without adverse action by the courts, due to the “ministerial exception.”

Becket, which represents the schools, says that the courts and government cannot “second-guess” the employment decisions of religious institutions regarding staff members who provide religious instruction to children.  

The cases were scheduled to be argued in March but have been postponed. As with the case of the Little Sisters of the Poor, all the briefs have been submitted and thus it is unclear what the timeline will be for these cases, Rienzi said.

“The justices have said that they will consider their options in light of changing events as things go forward,” he said. “We’re kind of waiting to see what happens, and what the Court says is possible.”

Tornado tears roof from Pennsylvania church

Wed, 04/08/2020 - 16:00

CNA Staff, Apr 8, 2020 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- A Catholic church in the Diocese of Greensburg was among the buildings heavily damaged by a tornado in western Pennsylvania early Wednesday morning. 

Much of the roof of St. Mary of Czestochowa church was blown off during strong winds and heavy rains as a tornado touched down in New Kensington at 1:19 in the morning, according to the National Weather Service. About 15 minutes before the tornado, at 1:06 a.m., the Pittsburgh International Airport recorded winds at 75mph, which is the highest-ever recorded thunderstorm wind gust at that location. 

Fr. Michael Begolly, the pastor of St. Mary’s and its partner parish St. Joseph, said he was “devastated” upon seeing the damaged roof on Wednesday morning. 

Begolly told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that he thought the winds “really sounded like a train” and that he was praying for the safety of everyone in New Kensington. 

“And then when I came down here seeing the devastation, it’s just heart-breaking,” he said. 

New Kensington is located about 18 miles northeast of the city of Pittsburgh, in the Diocese of Greensburg. 

An aerial photographs show that nearly half of the church’s roof had been destroyed by the winds. Only the framework of the roof survived. 

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr"><a href=";ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#BREAKING</a>: St Mary of Częstochowa Catholic Church in New Kensington heavily damaged by storms overnight. <a href=";ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#NewsChopper2</a> over the scene showing major roof and steeple damage. Other nearby buildings also damaged from storm. <a href="">@KDKA</a> <a href=""></a></p>&mdash; Ian Smith (@ismithKDKA) <a href="">April 8, 2020</a></blockquote> <script async src="" charset="utf-8"></script>

“Please pray for parishioners of this New Kensington parish, who suffered devastating news during Holy Week,” tweeted Catholic Accent, a publication of the Diocese of Greensburg, on Wednesday afternoon. “A severe storm early Wednesday morning caused major damage to the roof at St. Mary of Czestochowa Church in New Kensington.”

The full extent of the damage is currently unclear. 

St. Mary of Czestochowa was founded in 1892 by a group of Polish immigrants who sought to attend Mass in Polish. With the assistance of a Polish priest in Pittsburgh, who advocated for them to the bishop of Pittsburgh, they founded the Society of Our Lady of Czestochowa that same year. 

Construction on the first church building began in 1893, and the parish received their first pastor in residence that year. The existing building was completed in 1912, and underwent several renovations in the 1970s and 1990s, including the expansion of the parish’s organ. St. Mary of Czestochowa was partnered with St. Joseph Parish in 2008 as part of a restructuring of the Diocese of Greensburg. 

In addition to the damage at St. Mary’s, the storm also damaged an airplane hangar and uprooted numerous trees.

US bishops cancel Spring Assembly due to coronavirus

Wed, 04/08/2020 - 15:30

Washington D.C., Apr 8, 2020 / 01:30 pm (CNA).- The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has canceled its Spring General Assembly due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The assembly, one of the two annual gatherings of the bishops of the United States, was scheduled to be held June 10-12 in Detroit, Michigan. The meeting would have been the first to be led by newly-elected USCCB President Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles. 

In a statement released by the USCCB, Gomez said that the decision to cancel the event happened after a vote by the Administrative Committee. 

 “The Administrative Committee made this very difficult decision with consideration of multiple factors, but most importantly the health, well-being and safety of the hundreds of bishops, staff, observers, guests, affiliates, volunteers, contractors and media involved with the general meetings,” said Gomez.  

“Additionally, even if the numerous temporary restrictions on public gatherings resulting from conditions associated with COVID-19 are lessened by June, the priority for the physical and pastoral presence of the bishop in his See will be acute to tend to the faithful,” he added.

At least three members of the USCCB--Bishop Barry Knestout of Richmond, Bishop Michael Burbidge of Arlington, and Bishop Emeritus Paul Loverde of Arlington--would still be under a “stay-at-home” order during all or part of the scheduled assembly. The Commonwealth of Virginia has banned all but essential travel until at least June 10. 

This is the first time in the history of the USCCB that a scheduled plenary assembly has been canceled. The USCCB’s fall meeting, which is held each year in Baltimore, Maryland, is still scheduled to go ahead. The USCCB’s bylaws state that there must be at least one plenary assembly per year.

A conference or council of American Catholic bishops has existed in some form since 1917, but  the present-day USCCB was established in 2001.

Knights of Columbus announce donations for food banks amid coronavirus

Wed, 04/08/2020 - 14:11

CNA Staff, Apr 8, 2020 / 12:11 pm (CNA).- The Knights of Columbus announced this week that the organization will donate over $1 million to food pantries throughout the United States in an effort to feed those in need during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Catholic fraternal group announced April 7 that it would provide funding of $100,000 each to food banks in New York, Connecticut, and Los Angeles, as well as $50,000 donations each to food banks in Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Detroit, Houston, Miami, Newark, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, Seattle, and Washington, D.C.

Supreme Knight Carl Anderson noted that since the group’s founding in 1882, the Knights have provided support throughout, during the 1918 flu pandemic, during two world wars, and after natural disasters.

In addition to the food bank donations, the Knights plan to fund the satellite transmission of several global broadcasts from the Vatican for Holy Week, including Good Friday Stations of the Cross April 10 led by Pope Francis, as well as the pope’s Easter Sunday Mass and Urbi et Orbi blessing April 12.

“With so many in Italy and around the world currently homebound, our support of Vatican broadcasts will allow our Holy Father to join in prayer with Catholics from every corner of the globe during this critical time,” Anderson said April 8.

Anderson said the group will also be donating $100,000 to the Vatican’s Bambino Gesù pediatric hospital in Rome, in order to allow the hospital to convert its neonatology department into a high-intensity treatment room for infants and newborns with COVID-19 infections.

Though the coronavirus outbreak in Italy has affected older adults most significantly, infants also are vulnerable. The treatment center will feature ventilators and other specialized equipment.

The Knights have announced several grassroots initiatives to respond to the needs of the COVID-19 pandemic. The organization has asked members to help provide food and other essentials to those in need. It has also urged members to take part in blood drives.

With public Masses suspended across the entire United States, many parishes are facing a cash flow shortfall due to a lack of in-person collections. Starting March 30, the Knights began offering a $1 million line of credit to Catholic dioceses to help dioceses and parishes suffering from the financial effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Knights of Columbus is a Catholic fraternal organization with nearly 2 million members in more than 15,000 local councils worldwide. Its members worked 76 million service hours in 2019 and helped donate more than $185 million in charitable causes.

Circuit court upholds Texas ban on elective abortions during coronavirus

Wed, 04/08/2020 - 11:30

CNA Staff, Apr 8, 2020 / 09:30 am (CNA).- A Texas state restriction of abortions during the coronavirus pandemic was upheld by the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday. 

A three-judge panel for the Fifth Circuit Court ruled in a 2-1 decision that Texas has the authority to halt elective abortions as non-essential medical procedures during a public health emergency. 

Citing precedent, the court said that “the pressure of great dangers” constitutional law “allows the state to restrict, for example, one’s right to peaceably assemble, to publicly worship, to travel, and even to leave one’s home. The right to abortion is no exception.”

On March 31, the court had ruled in the state’s favor, putting a temporary stay on a lower court’s decision that halted Texas’ order from going into effect, and considering the matter further. 

On Tuesday, the Fifth Circuit officially granted the state’s request for a writ of mandamus, stating that the lower court was “erroneous” in providing a “blanket exemption” for elective abortions during a public health emergency.  

Texas Governor Greg Abbott on March 22 issued an executive order stopping non-essential surgeries and medical procedures in the state during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Attorney General Ken Paxton included elective abortions, except in cases where the mother’s life or health was deemed to be at stake, as part of the non-essential medical procedures that would be halted by the order. 

Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers filed an emergency motion in court to stop the state’s act, and a Texas district court on March 30 ruled in their favor and put a temporary restraining order on the state’s act. 

On Tuesday, judges Stuart Kyle Duncan and Jennifer Walker Elrod said that the district court “usurped the state’s authority to craft emergency health measures.” 

Judge James L. Dennis, in his dissent, wrote that abortion is “time-sensitive reproductive healthcare” and “a right supported by almost 50 years of Supreme Court precedent.” The conclusion of the panel majority, he said, “is a recurring phenomenon in this Circuit in which a result follows not because of the law or facts, but because of the subject matter of this case.”

Other states, including Ohio, Alabama, and Oklahoma, have made similar attempts to restrict elective abortions during the pandemic but have not had the same success in court. 

An Oklahoma district court judge on Monday ruled that some elective abortions, including medication abortions, in the state can continue during the pandemic. The Sixth Circuit Court ruled that some abortions can proceed in Ohio, and an Alabama district court judge ruled against the state’s limit of elective abortions.

In its decision, the Fifth Circuit panel majority also noted the gravity of the new coronavirus crisis, writing that “the current global pandemic has caused a serious, widespread, rapidly-escalating public health crisis in Texas,” and that the state’s “interest in protecting public health during such a time is at its zenith.”

Tuesday’s decision might not be the end of the matter, the court said, as the district court will hold a preliminary injunction hearing on April 13 where the state and abortion clinics could discuss the state’s order applying “in specific circumstances.” 

The Fifth Circuit emphasized that the district court has the opportunity to “make targeted findings, based on competent evidence.”

Pray-At-Home: How two women were confirmed hours before NYC shut down

Wed, 04/08/2020 - 06:00

New York City, N.Y., Apr 8, 2020 / 04:00 am (CNA).- Charlotte Price and Ellen Rogers thought they would be getting confirmed together on April 11, the Easter Vigil, at St. Vincent Ferrer in Manhattan. They thought they would have a crowd of their friends with them, and they thought they would be able to celebrate immediately with their loved ones.

None of that happened.

Thanks to the COVID-19 outbreak in New York City, the Archdiocese of New York suspended the public celebration of Mass on March 14, meaning that the chances of an Easter Vigil liturgy a month later looked pretty slim. So the Dominicans who taught Price and Rogers’ RCIA classes did what they did best: improvised.

And that is how, over the course of one year of discernment, prayer, and RCIA, Price went from having never been to Mass to being confirmed at a private one; and from never knowing a religious sister to having an audience of 12 of them at her confirmation Mass.

Raised a Congregationalist in Massachusetts, Price, 34, found herself outside of any sort of religion for about two decades. Her journey to the faith took many twists and turns, but she eventually found herself at St. Vincent Ferrer, and emailing Fr. Joseph Martin Hagan, O.P., the newly-ordained priest who was in charge of RCIA.

Rogers’ journey to the Catholic faith was nearly the opposite of Price’s--she had always been religious, and had even attended Catholic Mass for years.

Raised an Anglican in Texas, Rogers attended the University of Dallas, where she began to feel the call to enter into full communion with the Church around the age of 19. About four years later, after moving to New York City last June, she began that journey in earnest, and signed up for RCIA at St. Vincent Ferrer.

Neither sought out St. Vincent Ferrer due to its connection with the Dominican Order--the church is the location of the headquarters of the Eastern Province--but both grew to appreciate the Dominican friars at the parish.

Rogers was told by a friend that St. Vincent Ferrer was “the most beautiful church in the city,” which prompted her to take a visit.

“I just fell in love with the liturgy and saw they had a big sign outside like ‘email for RCIA,’ and I said, ‘okay.’”

Price told CNA that before attending St. Vincent Ferrer, she did not know what a Dominican friar was, and thought the name  was a reference to the Dominican Republic.

“I was like, ‘is it gonna be in Spanish?’” she said, laughing. After learning that Mass was, in fact, celebrated in English at St. Vincent Ferrer, she began attending regularly.

The two both told CNA that their RCIA journeys went relatively smoothly--until the first cases of COVID-19 were found in the city and churches around the world began shutting their doors and suspending public Masses.

“I probably started thinking ‘this might not happen’ very early,” Price said. “I think I remember the first time I thought, ‘oh, this probably isn't going to happen’ was Ash Wednesday. And at that point, everyone said I was being ridiculous.”

She said that she took the news of the likely cancelation of Easter Vigil very hard, particularly because she feared the possibility of dying without being confirmed, receiving the Eucharist, or going to confession.

“I was very upset,” Price told CNA. “I mean, I didn’t blame the Church or anything, but especially since I had a much longer period away from any church--like I spent 20 years probably not going to any church at all--so for me, I was like, ‘Oh, I finally figured it out,’ I finally said ‘yes’ to Christ, and now I’m not going to be able to even to join the Church.”

She said because she had read news reports about healthy people her age that were dying of COVID-19, she was particularly concerned about getting her spiritual affairs in order in case she contracted the virus.

“All of a sudden, my mortality is right there,” she said.

“Before, I was like, ‘I’m fine waiting,’” she said. “Whatever God has in mind. But then I was like, if I die, and I haven’t been confirmed, I haven’t gotten to confess my sins, I just absolutely do not want that to happen.”

Price quickly sprung into action, and arranged her first confession. Rogers soon followed suit.

When it became clear that New York was going to implement some sort of shelter-in-place directive, St. Vincent Ferrer moved quickly to accommodate as many people from their RCIA class as possible, but within the city’s guidelines regarding social distancing and canon law. Price responded to the email first, and was confirmed in a private Mass.

The audience was just six friends--the number she was told she could invite--and 12 members of the Sisters of Life, who “sang beautifully,” said Price.

Music, she explained, was one of the things that drew her to the Church, so the experience of getting a private choir at her confirmation Mass was “amazing.”

Fr. Hagan, who celebrated the Mass, preached a homily that was entirely about Price’s journey to the faith. Price took Mary, the Mother of God, as her confirmation saint.

Rogers, who was confirmed at a separate Mass with several others, took St. Catherine of Bologna as her confirmation saint.
Rogers told CNA that her first time receiving the Eucharist was “amazing,” even though it was extremely unusual. Due to archdiocesan regulations aimed at preventing the spread of disease, the candidates had to receive the Eucharist by intinction, which means that the Host was dipped in the Precious Blood before it was given to the communicant.

“All of us were kneeling in the first pew, and Father just came to each of us and brought the sacrament to us,” Rogers said.

“So we were still kneeling, and I will never forget the Precious Body being dunked in the Blood and then looking up and seeing it, and for the first time ever seeing the flesh and blood together and it had never been so real,” she said. “That is the literal flesh and blood of my Savior, and He had just never been so personal, and so real.”

As someone who was raised Anglican, and whose family is very involved in the Anglican communion—her brother is an Anglican seminarian--Rogers said coming to terms with the differences between the communion and rituals she participated in as a child and those in the Catholic Church was one of the hardest parts of her journey into the faith.

“I just decided, it is not for me to worry about anymore,” she said, but she continues to pray that her family will join her across the Tiber.

Both women told CNA that they cried at different parts of their confirmations. For Price, it was when she received the Eucharist. For Rogers, it was when she was reciting the Profession of Faith.

“There's like a single sentence in the (Profession of Faith), ‘I confess and believe everything that the Holy Roman Catholic Church teaches,’ and it was just that, that one sentence that I could feel my voice trembling and just the single, like, soap opera tear down my cheek,” she said 

“And I was like, hold it together. Hold it together.”

One of the six people Rogers invited to her confirmation was Price, who called the experience “such a gift.”

At that Mass, “I could actually receive Communion for the first time like a normal Catholic,” said Price.

She does not yet know when she will be able to do that again.

The continued suspension of public Masses has not been easy for neither Price nor Rogers, but both said that they have taken immense comfort in their last-minute reception of the sacraments.

As someone who regularly attended Catholic Masses before she was received into the Church, Rogers said that she had been “surprised” by how it felt to watch live-streamed Masses as a freshly confirmed Catholic.

“There's almost less distance now than there has been,” she said.

“Just the grace of having received the sacraments, and there's of course longing and sorrow for not being physically present, but knowing that ‘I have received the sacraments. I am in a state of grace. I can recite the act of spiritual communion.’ There is this sense of ‘I am part of the universal Church,’ and that can never be taken from me.”

Price said knowing that she was “really part of a community now” has helped ease her feelings of isolation and loneliness.

“I mean, I'm an only child, but now I have brothers and sisters in Christ everywhere,” she said.

Bishops can do more to provide sacraments despite coronavirus fears, open letter claims

Tue, 04/07/2020 - 19:46

Denver, Colo., Apr 7, 2020 / 05:46 pm (CNA).- In the wake of the coronavirus epidemic, the nationwide shutdown of Catholic churches has halted regular Mass attendance and impeded access to other sacraments for the Catholic faithful. Now, some Catholics have endorsed an open letter asking the Catholic bishops to do everything possible to make the sacraments more available.

“We don’t absolutely need to have the Eucharist, but we want to be in the presence of the Eucharist, we want to have Mass said. We want adoration, we want processions, we want all these things,” she told CNA April 2, describing the goals of the open letter and its supporters.

“We're putting our emphasis on the last rites, the Anointing of the Sick, and Mass and Adoration,” said Smith, a retired professor of moral theology at Detroit's Sacred Heart Major Seminary. For her, the greatest concern is what she says is “the failure to work extremely hard to make certain that those who are sick and dying can receive the anointing of the sick.”

“Most concerning is the refusal by at least one bishop to permit his priests to give the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick,” Smith told CNA. “I am impressed with one order who offered to make it more available even to those who are not terribly sick. The sacrament does have the power to heal and strengthen.”

Amid the pandemic, some American dioceses have allowed pastors to administer some sacraments and devotions in conformity with government rules banning large assemblies of people. Some priests have implemented “drive-through” confessionals or “drive-in” Eucharistic adoration and benediction.

Some bishops have regularly livestreamed messages and Masses, or adore the Eucharist in public view on cathedral steps.

Other bishops have had a more cautious reaction. Some have locked all church buildings in their diocese, and have attempted to bar the administration of all sacraments except in danger of death, even if not required by law or public health recommendation to do so.

“The precipitous closing of the churches is very concerning.  In Rome within 24 hours after they were closed, they were reopened. In those places where the law has decreed that people must stay home, we should abide, but if churches can be open, they should be. Surely we can ensure that for private prayer and adoration, people can remain 6 ft apart,” Smith said.

“The one size fits all policy seems very wrong headed. In small rural communities with no outbreak of the disease, more freedom to gather should be permitted than in urban communities that are being devastated by the disease,” she added.

For backers of the open letter, more needs to be done for the laity.

“Bishops, we, your faithful flock, implore you to do everything you can to make the sacraments more available to us during this crisis. Something is terribly wrong with a culture that allows abortion clinics and liquor stores to remain open but shuts down places of worship,” the open letter says.

“While safety and cooperation with civil authorities is necessary, we must do everything we can to have access to what is essential for our spiritual lives. We should certainly not voluntarily deprive ourselves of the sacraments.”

Smith said the bishops’ response to the coronavirus pandemic has been about about “trying to protect human life,” and the letter endorsers “share completely” that goal.

“We don't want anything to be done that isn’t following the guidelines,” she said.

The open letter encourages bishops to do everything possible t o provide some form of a public Mass, especially for the Easter liturgy, including offering it themselves.

It is unclear whether some gatherings, like “drive-in” Masses offered in parking lots while attendees sit in their cars, would comply with government bans on large public gatherings, a local bishop's ban on public Masses, or public health experts’ recommendations on social distancing.

The open letter asks bishops to “demand that civil authorities permit events such as offering and attending a Mass in a parking lot, if they are currently prohibited.”

Smith said if a state or local government ban on large public gatherings includes people going to a parking lot in their car to hear Mass, “that has to be fought.”

“We want the bishop calling up the governor and the mayor and calling up the legislators and calling up whoever, and saying 'No no no, this is freedom of religion that we have to be allowed to do',” she said.

“We are not asking for anything that would put our neighbors in danger. All due precautions would be observed. How can a parking lot Mass where everyone drives there in their cars and stays in their cars and where there is no distribution of the Eucharist put anyone at danger? That is one of our chief requests to be put under consideration.”

“There is absolutely no way that this relates to the spread of the virus,” Smith told CNA.

Asked if letter organizers had consulted with public health experts on their proposals, Smith said:

“We didn’t consult any, although we have heard from many who have provided more good ideas on what can be done. We are not proposing anything specific but are asking the bishops to do everything they can to provide the sacraments within the parameters determined necessary by experts.”

Smith herself raised and then answered the question of whether organizers should have gone directly to the bishops. She said “it's not possible.”

“They're busy with meetings, and it's hard to get through,” she said. “But if you do a petition that we hope thousands will sign, then I hope we get their attention.”

The open letter advocates that civil authorities recognize religious services as “essential services,” a move which some states have done amid stay-at-home orders.

Referring to emergency declarations' distinction between “essential” and “non-essential” employees and businesses, Smith said she is concerned “the Catholic world does not seem to understand that it is simply wrong to concede that religious services are 'non-essential'.”

“Yes, we can dispense with them as virtually everything can be dispensed with in certain conditions,” she said. “But the conditions we are in right now do not, at least as far as the experts tell us, require all that our bishops have done and have allowed to be done.”

In Smith's view, “the bishops are missing in action in clearly responding to the spiritual needs of their people.” She acknowledged that almost all bishops are streaming Masses on Sunday, saying this is “a good thing” but “not the most important thing.”

While she has seen many priests doing “very innovative things” to make available the sacraments and ensure the spiritual needs of their people are being met, she others are not visibly doing enough. Some, she said, were “almost denying sacraments before they needed to.”

“We need bishops who are trying as hard as priests are to attend to the spiritual needs of people,” she said. “They are making decisions that impact our spiritual lives and we need explanations of them. We need them to tell us how we can keep our spiritual lives alive.”

The “We are an Easter People” open letter said that if the government prohibits priests ministering to the sick in the hospital or their homes, bishops should “make a personal and formal request of civic leaders to permit such ministry with assurances that all due precautions will be taken.” They should find ways for priests to provide the anointing of the sick, “especially to those at risk of dying.”

While priests who minister to the sick are encouraged to take precautions like wearing personal protective equipment, such equipment has been the subject of a nationwide shortage. Smith acknowledged the shortage and said health care professionals should have priority for their use. In many places, she added, there is not a shortage. She added that an increase in manufacturing could eliminate a shortage before long.

The open letter lists more than 20 project endorsers, including Catholic commentators, video bloggers and others. More than 24,000 internet users had signed the letter as of Tuesday afternoon.

Project endorsers include Thomas Farr, president of the Religious Freedom Institute; former abortion clinic manager Abby Johnson; Phillip F. Lawler, editor of Catholic World News; and Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse, founder and president of the Ruth Institute; Catholic speaker Mary Beth Bonnaci, a Catholic speaker; podcaster Matt Fradd; author and movie producer Steve Ray; and Daily Wire columnist Matt Walsh.

In mid-March 2020, after the coronavirus had begun to devastate Italy, Farr told CNA that bans on religious gatherings due to high rates of deadly infection can be justified, but may not target a particular religion or religion in general. They should be based on “overwhelming evidence,” with clear time limits.

“Speaking as a Catholic for whom the sacraments are not optional, and are necessary to health and welfare, however, I would hope that the Italian Church, or the Church in any jurisdiction would do everything it could reasonably do to make the sacraments available in ways that would be consistent with just authority,” Farr said.

“We invited people who have large followings in the Catholic community who would have an interest in having the sacraments and having their bishops explain their choices,” Smith told CNA.

One open letter endorser, Peter Kwasniewski, is an independent scholar who signed a 2019 letter accusing Pope Francis of heresy. Another endorser, YouTube video caster Patrick Coffin has expressed skepticism regarding of media reporting and the government response to the coronavirus.

In a March 28 YouTube video titled “The Truth About the Commie Virus,” Coffin discusses “media-fueled hysteria” and “hyperbole” about coronavirus models. They are “misleading, because they are incomplete,” he said in the video and its description. After presenting his interpretation of a medical journal article co-authored by Dr. Anthony Fauci, Coffin declared "We are burning the house down to kill a termite."

A March 24 video from Coffin is entitled “Did Pope Francis Help Cause the Covid-19 Pestilence?”

Project endorsers have “a wide variety of views,” Smith told CNA. “They are endorsing us; we are not endorsing all their positions.”

Both expert opinion and public opinion about the coronavirus response have changed in recent months. Two separate surveys from a Public Agenda-USA Today-IPSOS and ABC News-IPSOS suggest a vast majority of respondents now support canceling large-scale events. Most Americans now say they are avoiding large gatherings or crowds, and a significant minority now say they avoid religious services.

The letter’s request, Smith told CNA “is one that helps us grow in the virtues that enable us to do all the good things we should be doing now. We should speak of our love for Jesus and our need for Jesus. Our belief that He is truly there in the sacrament and just being close to him is a powerful experience of intimacy with the divine.”






Supreme Court takes pass on Washington archdiocese bus case

Tue, 04/07/2020 - 18:00

Washington D.C., Apr 7, 2020 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- The Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear the Archdiocese of Washington’s appeal to place religious ads on public transit in Washington, D.C.

The denial leaves in place the D.C. Circuit Court’s 2018 ruling against the archdiocese, which had sought a mandatory preliminary injunction to place ads on Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) trains and buses.

Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who heard arguments in the case at the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals in March of 2018 but did not join in authoring the opinion of the court in July, also did not partake in the Supreme Court’s decision on Monday.

WMATA first issued guidelines for advertisements on its buses and trains in November of 2015, in which it prohibited ads promoting religion or religious practices and beliefs.

In December of 2017, WMATA rejected an ad proposal by the Archdiocese of Washington during Advent that would have directed people to the archdiocese’s “Find the Perfect Gift” campaign website.

The website contained Mass times, Christmas and Advent traditions, and links to make charitable contributions to various Catholic groups. The archdiocese then went to court to have its ads featured in the WMATA transit system.

The D.C. Circuit Court ruled against the archdiocese in July of 2018, saying that the archdiocese failed to prove viewpoint discrimination in the case, or that WMATA had unconstitutionally violated the First Amendment by rejecting religious ads but allowing for secular ones.

Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch, while respecting the Supreme Court’s decision to not hear the appeal, credited it to the inability of the full Court to consider the case.

“Because the full Court is unable to hear this case, it makes a poor candidate for our review,” the justices stated on Monday.

However, they added, in their opinion WMATA engaged in “viewpoint discrimination” and violated the First Amendment by seeking out Christmas-themed advertisements but rejecting religious ones.

“No one disputes that, if Macy’s had sought to place the same advertisement with its own website address, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) would have accepted the business gladly,” the justices wrote.

“So the government may designate a forum for art or music, but it cannot then forbid discussion of Michelangelo’s David or Handel’s Messiah,” they continued. “The First Amendment requires governments to protect religious viewpoints, not single them out for silencing.”

Arlington diocese offers virtual pilgrimage for Holy Thursday

Tue, 04/07/2020 - 16:00

Washington D.C., Apr 7, 2020 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- It is a pious Catholic tradition to visit seven altars of repose following Mass on Holy Thursday. With churches closed and strict social distancing in force in many places, one diocese has created a virtual pilgrimage to help Catholics offer their spiritual devotion during the coronavirus pandemic. 

The Diocese of Arlington will stream a live “pilgrimage” on Thursday evening through its Young Adult Ministry Facebook page. In what the diocese believes to be the first event of its kind, those watching the stream will “visit” seven different churches in the diocese, where a priest will offer a brief reflection and the reservation of the Blessed Sacrament will be broadcast. 

Coordinator of Young Adult Ministry Niru De Silva told CNA that the idea for the virtual pilgrimage came after a young adult ministry coordinator asked his pastor if it would be possible to recreate the church walk online. The pastor then went to De Silva with the idea.

The virtual pilrimage will include the churches of St. Anthony's Mission, All Saints, St. Anne, the Nativity, St. John the Apostle, Sacred heart of Jesus, and St. Andrew.

De Silva said the concept reminded him of the recent Urbi et Orbi blessing given by Pope Francis, which was broadcast around the world. He said watching that blessing was a “special grace,” and that he was particularly touched to know that he was praying alongside not only Pope Francis, but everyone around the world who was watching the broadcast. 

After giving the idea of a virtual pilgrimage some thought and prayer, he realized that “there’s a special grace in this too.” 

“We can, while being socially distant, have our different priests just put on a video, give a little reflection, and show Jesus to the people.”

Now, more than normal, people need to see the example of Jesus’ suffering, said De Silva. 

“This is a time when a lot of us are feeling alone; there’s just lots of grief, sometimes agony and confusion. This is where Jesus in the scripture, relates to us in that. He was alone. He felt agony. And I think that can be really powerful for people.”

Unlike a traditional church walk, which requires that the churches be within close distance, the virtual pilgrimage will take “pilgrims” all over the diocese, De Silva told CNA. 

“Each parish is from a different deanery--all seven deaneries of our diocese,” De Silva explained. “In a way, where it would have been really difficult to do a truly dioesean pilgrimage going to all the different parishes, in a way, we’re kind of recreating that by ‘going’ to all of the regions of our diocese.”

He said that this aspect makes it “really special.”  The parishes were selected in part as they are already live streaming services and are already familiar with the technology to stream a video. De Silva hopes that this means the pilgrimage will be an “easy event to pull off virtually.” 

On the day of the pilgrimage, the stream will spend 15 minutes at each of the seven parishes, before switching to the next. The pastor at each parish will provide a reflection for about five minutes, and there will be 10 minutes of silent prayer. A prayer guide, printed in both English and Spanish, will be made available for download so that pilgrims can follow along with the evening. 

Most of all, De Silva hopes the virtual pilgrimage can serve as a way for people to feel connected during a unique and disrupted Lent. 

“I hope that it provides a sense of normalcy,” said De Silva. “I know that this is a tradition of the Church, and to not be able to go to Jesus at this time, I think there will be a sense of loss and grief.” 

By providing the virtual pilgrimage, the Arlington diocese hopes to offer a connection to usual Easter practices in unusual circumstances: “This thing that you used to do; it’s going to be different, but we’re still going to provide it to you,” said De Silva. 

De Silva also said that he hopes the pilgrimage can also be a way back to the faith who would otherwise never enter a church building and would never consider making a devotional pilgrimage.

“This is something that can almost be a passive experience, that they can just click into, and encounter something for the first time--which will hopefully then draw them in deeper into the life of the Church,” he said.

“That’s a huge hope of mine.”  

Christian leaders united in support of Oklahoma abortion order

Tue, 04/07/2020 - 14:00

CNA Staff, Apr 7, 2020 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- Catholic dioceses in Oklahoma joined other Christian leaders on Monday to ask a federal court to let stand a state order halting elective abortions during the pandemic.

“Abortion is not an absolute right,” said a friend-of-the-court brief filed April 6 by Alliance Defending Freedom on behalf of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, the Diocese of Tulsa, the Catholic Conference of Oklahoma, leaders of the state’s Baptist churches, as well as an ecumenical group of faith leaders.

“States also have a duty to protect the health and safety of women who undergo this life altering procedure. That is why courts have upheld laws requiring waiting periods, ultrasounds, parental rights notifications for minors, and prohibitions against partial-birth abortions—even before viability,” the brief argued.

Gov. Kevin Stitt of Oklahoma issued an executive order halting non-essential surgeries and minor medical procedures in the state during the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV2) pandemic.

He clarified on March 27 that the order prohibited elective abortions, except in cases where the mother’s life or health was deemed to be at risk, among the non-essential surgeries that were to be halted. The order also stopped “routine dermatological, ophthalmological, and dental procedures, as well as most scheduled healthcare procedures such as orthopedic surgeries.”

On April 1, Gov. Stitt extended the order’s prohibitions until April 30. On March 30, Abortion providers in the state challenged the halt to elective abortions in court. On Monday, Judge Charles Goodwin of Oklahoma’s Western District Court put a temporary stay on Gov. Stitt’s order, allowing some abortions, including medication abortions, to continue.

The court’s restraining order is in effect until April 20, after which the court can let it expire or address the situation again. The brief, which was submitted on behalf of the faith leaders by Alliance Defending Freedom, argues that the state’s order should be allowed to go back into effect at that time.

For cases of women currently seeking an abortion who would not be able to “lawfully obtain an abortion” in the state by April 30, Judge Goodwin prevented the state from enforcing the governor’s order.

“Getting an abortion has never been an absolute right. The coronavirus didn’t suddenly turn it into one,” ADF Legal Counsel Elissa Graves stated. “Abortionists who seek to put their profit ahead of the well-being of women and staff who could be affected by COVID-19 shouldn’t be allowed to get away with their irresponsible demands.”

Goodwin acknowledged that the state could “impose some of the cited measures delaying abortion procedures,” during the public health emergency, but that it “acted in an ‘unreasonable,’ ‘arbitrary,’ and ‘oppressive’ way—and imposed an ‘undue burden’ on abortion access—in imposing requirements that effectively deny a right of access to abortion.”

Abortion providers, the Catholic and Christian leaders argued, should not be able to bring a case on behalf of women in the state because they are acting in their own self-interest.

Furthermore, they said, states are acting legitimately to curtail certain gatherings during the pandemic, and religious groups and churches are complying.

“As church communities voluntarily comply with prudential judgment of civil authorities, such governmental policies touch upon the constitutional and God given right to assemble for worship,” the brief stated.

“Everyone’s priority during this national crisis should be to protect vulnerable lives. Others seeking elective medical procedures are making that immense sacrifice. So are people of faith. So are public protestors. The abortion industry is demanding special treatment not to save lives, but to end them,” the brief stated.

Recovering from coronavirus, Archbishop Aymond says ‘become part of the story’ in Holy Week

Tue, 04/07/2020 - 03:01

CNA Staff, Apr 7, 2020 / 01:01 am (CNA).- Recovering from coronavirus, Archbishop Gregory Aymond of New Orleans is encouraging Catholics in a message for Holy Week to “become part of the story.”

“My sisters and brothers...we can be assured that this Holy Week will be one like we have never celebrated before,” Aymond said in his video message, posted on Facebook.

“With the coronavirus and all the ramifications, and the crosses and the crisis and the challenges this has caused, it will be a very different Holy Week,” he said.

But one thing never changes, Aymond added - Holy Week is a time for Catholics to immerse themselves even more deeply in prayer and “being (not) a spectator watching Jesus’ suffering and death and resurrection, but being a part of that story as it unfolds.”

Two weeks ago, on March 23, Aymond announced that he had tested positive for coronavirus and that he was in self-quarantine with mild symptoms. He was the first known U.S. bishop to test positive for the virus that has become a global pandemic.

On April 1, the archdiocese gave a brief update on its Facebook page, announcing that while the bishop remained self-quarantined at home he “continues to make good progress. He is feeling much better, and his fever is consistently reducing. His hope and prayer is to be able to celebrate the liturgies of the Holy Triduum and Easter,” services which will be televised and livestreamed.

“He thanks everyone for their prayers and assures all of his continued prayers for our community. In the midst of his recovery, he has not forgotten that the community is suffering and he remains close in prayer to all who are sick, those who care for the sick, those who are grieving, and those who are suffering with fear and anxiety,” the archdiocese’s update added.

The archbishop also continued to post video messages to his Facebook page during his recovery, updating Catholics on the latest coronavirus guidelines and encouraging them in prayer and faith. 

In his Holy Week message, he invited Catholics to become part of the story during Holy Week by choosing one of the Gospel narratives on Christ’s passion, death and resurrection prayerfully and slowly, and to immerse themselves in the story by choosing a character and looking at the scenes through their perspective.

“Perhaps sitting at the Last Supper, you can become one of the apostles,” Aymond said. “Perhaps you will be able to look at Peter as he is in the garden watching Jesus pray.”

“Perhaps we can become like Mary standing at the foot of the Cross, or like John standing next to her, or Veronica wiping his face as he is bleeding, or the women of Jerusalem as they are crying...or perhaps we can be Joseph of Arimathea, asking for the body of Jesus so that we can bury it in a very sacred way,” he added.

“If we do that, my sisters and brothers, we are not spectators of the passion and death of Jesus Christ, we become part of the story. And it is important that we always become part of the story to see God’s love and fidelity, but in a special way as we go through the coronavirus crisis,” he said.

The archbishop also encouraged Catholics to unite “our sufferings, our questions, our loneliness, our uncertainty about the future” to Christ’s sufferings this Holy Week.

In a previous video message, Aymond also asked that all churches in his dioceses ring their bells at 6 p.m. every day, as a reminder to Catholics to pray for healthcare workers on the front lines fighting the coronavirus.

“May the sound of the bells remind us to lift our prayers to God for many in this time of crisis, and in a special way for our health care workers who risk their lives for our protection. May our daily bells and prayer give worship to our God,” he said.

Federal courts uphold stay on Ohio elective abortion ban, block Oklahoma restrictions

Mon, 04/06/2020 - 19:00

CNA Staff, Apr 6, 2020 / 05:00 pm (CNA).- The Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday allowed some surgical abortions and medication abortions to continue during the new coronavirus (SARS-CoV2) crisis. The decision was made in relation to a state-ordered halt to elective abortion procedures in Ohio for the duration of the pandemic.

Ohio had ordered a halt on surgical abortions as “non-essential” medical procedures during the new coronavirus crisis, before a district court in Ohio on March 30 put a temporary restraining order on that policy.

The court allowed for surgical abortions to continue in the state, but on a case-by-case basis. If abortions could not be safely postponed or conducted via chemical prescription, then they could occur, the court said.

On Monday, the Sixth Circuit declined the state’s appeal of the decision, saying it lacked jurisdiction, the Cincinnati Enquirer reported.

As the district court’s restraining order allowed abortions on a case-by-case basis and did not allow for a wholesale continuation of all surgical abortions, a three-judge panel for the Sixth Circuit wrote that “we are not persuaded” that the court’s order “threatens to inflict irretrievable harms or consequences before it expires.”

Ohio’s health department had ordered a stop to elective abortions, among other non-essential medical procedures, during the new coronavirus pandemic in order to preserve health care personnel and resources to treat the growing pandemic.

“While all Ohioans are being asked to make sacrifices in order to preserve innocent lives, the larger medical community is sacrificing the most: not only their time, but their equipment, their private practices, and potentially their own lives,” stated Stephanie Ranade Krider, Vice President of Ohio Right to Life, on Monday.

Also on Monday, a federal judge in Oklahoma blocked that state’s restrictions on elective abortions during the coronavirus outbreak from going into effect, CBS News reported.

Judge Charles Goodwin of the Western District of Oklahoma issued a temporary restraining order on the state’s act to stop non-emergency abortions during the coronavirus pandemic.

Although the state can take lawful “emergency measures” during the new coronavirus crisis, Judge Goodwin wrote, such actions should not be “a plain, palpable invasion of rights,” including of “access to abortion.”

He concluded that the state “acted in an ‘unreasonable,’ ‘arbitrary,’ and ‘oppressive’ way—and imposed an ‘undue burden’ on abortion access—in imposing requirements that effectively deny a right of access to abortion.” Regarding its ban on medication abortions, Goodwin said its “minor” contribution to public health is “outweighed by the intrusion on Fourteenth Amendment rights.”

On March 31, the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a temporary stay on a district court ruling, regarding Texas’ act to stop abortions except in cases where the mother’s health or life was at stake.

A district court had enjoined the state’s order from going into effect, but the Fifth Circuit put a temporary stay on that ruling to have more time to consider the case. The Texas order is back in effect for now.