Catholic News Service

Top stories selected throughout each day from Catholic News Service. Catholic News Service provides news from the U.S., Rome and around the world in both English and Spanish, in written coverage, images and video reporting.
  1. IMAGE: CNS photo/Giorgos Moutafis, Reuters

    By Julie Asher

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- News that officials in the Trump administration are considering "zeroing out" the number of refugees accepted by the United States brought an immediate outcry from the chairman of the U.S. bishops' migration committee and leaders of Catholic and other faith-based agencies that resettle refugees.

    They all implored the government to reject such a move.

    "This recent report, if true, is disturbing and against the principles we have as a nation and a people, and has the potential to end the refugee resettlement program entirely. The world is in the midst of the greatest humanitarian displacement crisis in almost a century," said Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas. "I strongly oppose any further reductions of the refugee resettlement program."

    "Offering refuge to those fleeing religious and other persecution has been a cornerstone of what has made this country great and a place of welcome," said the bishop, who is chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Migration.

    "Eliminating the refugee resettlement program leaves refugees in harm's way and keeps their families separated across continents," he added in a statement released late July 19.

    Politico, a Washington-based news outlet, first reported on the possible stoppage on refugee admissions the evening of July 18. Based on information from three people it said were familiar with the plan, it said the proposal was discussed a week ago at a meeting of security officials on refugee admissions.

    Since Congress passed the Refugee Act in 1980, the U.S. had admitted on average 95,000 refugees annually. In recent years, the U.S. has accepted between 50,000 to 75,000 refugees per year. The number was capped at 45,000 after Donald Trump became president in 2017 and was scaled back to 30,000 refugees for fiscal year 2019.

    Before admission to the U.S., each refugee undergoes an extensive interviewing, screening and security clearance process.

    "Every refugee resettled in the United States goes through an extensive vetting process that often takes 18 months to two years to complete," Bishop Vasquez noted in his statement. "(The process) incorporates live interviews and several extensive checks by multiple departments within the government. Many of these refugees have familial ties here and quickly begin working to rebuild their lives and enrich their communities."

    A U.S. State Department report said that in fiscal year 2019, the top 10 countries of origin for refugees admitted into the U.S. to be resettled were: Congo, Myanmar, Ukraine, Eritrea, Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Sudan, Burundi and Colombia.

    Setting caps on the number of refugees to be accepted from five global regions is done at the beginning of each fiscal year by the president, in consultation with Congress. The deadline for this consultation is Sept. 30, according to Jen Smyers, director of policy and advocacy for Church World Service. She told reporters during a phone briefing midday July 19 that the U.S. secretary of state "makes the final decision."

    In its story, Politico said the State Department "declined to discuss the possible cap."

    Other refugee advocates on the briefing with reporters included Michael Breen, a former Army officer, who is president and CEO of Human Rights First. He called it a "misguided and terrible" proposal.

    He noted that resettlement of refugees is vital to the "national security and stability" of the U.S., makes this country a world leader and also has been an essential foreign policy tool, allowing into this country, among others, dissidents fleeing their own governments, those persecuted for their religion and Iraqis who have helped the armed forces as translators.

    Anne Richard, a former assistant secretary of state for population, refugees and migration in the Obama administration, who is now at Georgetown University, told reporters that "it's pretty clear the Trump administration is trying to drive the U.S. refugee program into the ground."

    "Zeroing it out" will end public-private partnerships that work with refugees and get them started on a new life in this country and all related services, she said. People will lose their jobs in this field, the institutional memory as to how these resettlement programs work "will disappear" and the U.S. "will be turning its back on this great need," Richard added.

    "The last couple of years have been historically low in terms of refugee resettlement here in the U.S.," said Bill Canny, executive director of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Migration and Refugee Services. "Of the millions of refugees around the world, only about 1% will be resettled, that number will decrease and leave more people vulnerable if these actions come to fruition."

    "I would implore the decision-makers to reconsider these devastating cuts," Canny said July 19 in remarks to Catholic News Service. "Our military relies on the work of interpreters while in the field and those interpreters are putting their lives and their families lives on the line. To not open our arms to them when they have done so for us, would go against who we are as a nation."

    In a statement late July 18, Krish O'Mara Vignarajah, president and CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, said: "It is horrifying to think that, by the stroke of a pen, the president can make a decision that will destroy a legacy of welcome that has been centuries in the making."

    LIRS and MRS are two of nine voluntary agencies currently charged with refugee resettlement in the U.S.

    "LIRS has been doing this work for 80 years. We have seen firsthand the life-changing impact of this crucial program," Vignarajah added. She herself is a former refugee, having come to the U.S. with her family from Sri Lanka when she was 9 months old.

    "Setting the U.S. refugee ceiling at zero would be an egregious assault on fundamental American values. And quite frankly, the humanitarian implications of this decision would be enough to nullify our global reputation as leaders of the free world," Vignarajah said. "(Trump) simply cannot afford to move forward with this proposal -- not if he seeks ongoing support from people of faith all across the United States."

    Refugee Council USA, a coalition of organizations committed to refugee resettlement and protection which includes MRS and LIRS, said July 18 it was "appalled" by the proposal to "zero out" the refugee number.

    "The administration has all but confirmed that our country will reach the 30,000 refugee admission goal for FY2019," Canny, of MRS, said in a statement released by the council, which he chairs. "We have been relieved by that important sign of the program getting back on track after a couple of extremely difficult years. In light of that hopeful sign, reports of further reducing the refugee goal to zero make no sense at all."

    He added: "There continue to be refugees who need the protection that resettlement provides, including refugees who are fleeing religious persecution. Faith based communities and volunteers across the U.S. have the desire, capacity and resources to return to at least our historically normal level of welcoming refugees."

    Bishop Vasquez ended his statement referring to Pope Francis' words that "we must work for 'globalization of solidarity' with refugees, not a globalization of indifference."

    "Rather than ending the program, we should work instead to restore the program to its historic norms of an annual resettlement goal of 95,000," the bishop added.

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  2. IMAGE: CNS photo/Tim Bishop, Catholic Spirit)

    By Rhina Guidos

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston announced July 19 sanctions from the Vatican -- including taking away the faculties of celebrating Mass -- against a former West Virginia bishop who stepped down last year under a cloud of allegations of sexual and financial misconduct.

    In a posting on its website,, the diocese said that retired Bishop Michael J. Bransfield can no longer reside in the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, nor participate "anywhere in any public celebration of the liturgy" and has an obligation to make amends for "some of the harm he caused."

    The brief statement said the disciplinary measures were made based on the findings of an investigation but did not release details.

    "The Holy See expresses its sincere concern for the clergy, religious and laity of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston," the statement said.

    The statement, released under the letterhead of the Apostolic Nunciature of the United States of America, references a "preliminary investigation into allegations of sexual harassment of adults and of financial improprieties" by Bishop Bransfield.


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  3. IMAGE: CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn

    By Carol Zimmermann

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- A few hundred Catholic activists, including dozens of women religious, gathered outside at the foot of the U.S. Capitol July 18 urging politicians to stop its "inhumane treatment" of immigrant children at the border and reminding people of faith to take a stronger stand against current U.S. border policies.

    The rally, on a sweltering Washington morning, included times of prayer, a few songs and several speeches. At one point, someone in the crowd started chanting, "Where are the bishops?" which was echoed by many participants, but later in the program, speakers read excerpts from messages that had been sent to the group from several U.S. bishops, thanking them for participating and urging them to continue to speak up about the border crisis.

    A message from Bishop Robert W. McElroy of San Diego said in part: "We stand in a moment when our government has weaponized fear -- the fear being sown within our nation as a whole that refugees and immigrants, who have been America's historic lifeblood, have now become the enemy; and the even more reprehensible fear being unleashed upon the hearts and souls of immigrant mothers and fathers that they will be separated from their children purely as an act of intimidation."

    Many of the speakers at the "Catholic Day of Action for Immigrant Children," organized by the groups Faith in Public Life and Faith in Action, were primarily women religious who stressed the need to end the current practice of placing children in detention centers at the border and emphasized that the need to start a new wave of protest against these policies should be viewed as a pro-life stance.

    Sister Carol Zinn, a Sister of St. Joseph of Philadelphia, and executive director of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, told the group: "Catholic sisters have a long history with immigrant communities. We have seen the pain, suffering, fear and trauma firsthand. In recent months, as the humanitarian crisis has escalated, we have joined the tens of thousands who are outraged at the horrific situation at our southern border."

    She pointed out that women religious have been ministering to those in need and donated money to support those seeking safety, freedom, security and a better life for their families. "We are here today because of our faith. The Gospel commands, and the values of our homeland demand, that we act," she added.

    The message of urgency was essentially speaking to the choir because these activists, who showed their support with rounds of "Amens!" were clearly not new to this issue and many attended the rally particularly for its finale: when the arrests of 70 people for civil disobedience took place at the adjacent Russell Senate Office Building.

    Those arrested were charged with "incommoding, crowding, and obstructing" and had to each pay a $50 fine or request a court date. They were released that afternoon.

    During the morning action, a young mother from El Salvador held her baby as she addressed the crowd in Spanish. In remarks, which were translated, she thanked the group for their efforts to help immigrants and said she is seeking sanctuary, but she is afraid she will be separated from her baby.

    As groups of tourists walked by and men and women in business attire headed toward Capitol Hill, they couldn't help but see the signs held aloft with messages such as "Franciscans for Justice," "Let Children Be with their Parents" and "Catholics for Families: Together and Free" as well as placards with images of children who have died in U.S. custody at the border.

    Mercy Sister Patricia Murphy, a 90-year-old from Chicago, who came to the event to take part in the civil disobedience, told Catholic News Service right before the rally that she "couldn't not be here."

    The sister wore a purple shirt identifying her as a Sister of Mercy, a pin that said: "You are my Neighbor" and carried a placard with the face of Felipe Gomez Alonzo, an 8-year-old from Guatemala who died from illness while in U.S. immigration custody after crossing the border with his father.

    Sister Patricia said this would be her sixth arrest and she hoped the action would move others to do more. For the past 12 years, she has kept vigil, praying and protesting outside an immigrant detention center in Chicago every Friday morning.

    Prior to the civil disobedience arrests at the Russell Senate Office Building, participants continued to hold signs with their message and speak out in protest. After warnings from police that they would be arrested if they stayed in the building's rotunda, those who chose to stay recited the Hail Mary as they waited to be handcuffed and escorted out by police.

    Moments before the arrests, Sister Donna Korba, a Sister of the Servants of Mary in Scranton, Pennsylvania, said her participation at the day's gathering stemmed from her life of activism including recently volunteering at the U.S.-Mexico border with other sisters last December and the 12 years she spent in Guatemala.

    "There are no easy answers, but we need to look at root causes of immigration," she said, recalling that when she asked one father from Guatemala why he would make the arduous journey to the United States he told her: "Because my children are hungry."

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  4. IMAGE: CNS Photo/Paul Jeffrey

    By Carol Glatz

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- By convening a special synod on the Amazon at the Vatican in October, Pope Francis will be giving greater exposure to the church's deep concern for the people and the ecosystem on which they depend.

    Like other synods with Pope Francis, the assembly is about listening and understanding the actual reality on the ground in order to find new paths for evangelization, meet people's pastoral needs, be a voice for the voiceless and promote greater respect and protection for all life, according to its working document released last month.

    But this working document triggered fears in a few that it was somehow a call to changing church doctrine and to heresy -- an accusation made recently by German Cardinals Walter Brandmuller, retired president of the Pontifical Committee for Historical Sciences, and Gerhard Muller, who served as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith from 2012 to 2017.

    The document "lacks theological reflection" and creates "great confusion" if it puts as the focus, not Jesus, but "human ideas to save the world," Cardinal Muller said July 11 in an interview with La Nuova Bussola Quotidiana, an Italian Catholic online news site. He also critiqued the document in a more detailed 3,000-word essay published online July 16.

    While the Jesuit journal, La Civilta Cattolica, published an article about the synod by Peruvian Cardinal Pedro Barreto Jimeno of Huancayo, July 18, it was not a direct rebuttal of the German cardinal's doctrinal or theological concerns.

    Emphasizing the importance of dialogue, Cardinal Barreto wrote the church believes that, "apart from any attitudes of suspicion," examining the "richness" in the Amazon region -- including its unique cultures, practices and spiritualities -- would help provide "a better understanding of a reality crying out" for attention.

    One theologian from the Amazon region in Brazil said examining other cultures and what people believe and do is not a threat to the Catholic faith or doctrine, particularly when their practices help sustain and protect the so-called "lungs of the earth," as the Amazon rainforest produces about 20% of the earth's oxygen.

    Jesuit Father Adelson Araujo dos Santos told Catholic News Service that being open to what indigenous cultures and spiritualities can teach about caring for "our common home" has "nothing to do with a return to paganism, nor does it deny the centrality of Christ and of humanity in the history of salvation."

    "On the contrary, it helps us grow in our understanding that we are simple stewards of the gifts and resources that are not ours, but are works of God," he said in an email response to questions July 19.

    Father dos Santos, a professor at the Pontifical Gregorian University's Institute of Spirituality in Rome and at its center for teaching formators to the priesthood and religious life, also served as Jesuit regional superior of the Brazil-Amazon region.

    "In their indispensable mission as evangelizers, Christians must be able to embrace, dialogue and respect these other religions and cultures, being enriched by them without losing their own identity," he said.

    When St. John Paul II met with indigenous communities in Guatemala in 1983, he told them, "The work of evangelization does not destroy, but it is incarnated in your values," helping to grow that seed that was already sown "by the Word of God, who, before he became flesh in order to save all and to sum up all in himself, was already in the world."

    Recognizing and preparing these seeds already sown has a kindred spirit in Ignatian spirituality that seeks to find God in all things.

    St. Ignatius' spiritual exercises encourage contemplating the Incarnation as God's compassion and concern for "the situation of the human being," Father dos Santos said.

    "God's compassionate eye does not see only what is bad in the world, it sees the possibility for transformation, growth toward the good," he said.

    "From this perspective, all beliefs and cultures can be seen as having been touched by God in the Incarnation of his Son," he added.

    While sacred Scripture and tradition make up the one sacred deposit of the Word of God, theology also teaches that the deepest most foundational layer that upholds the Christian identity lies not in texts or concepts, but "in the religious experience," Father dos Santos said.

    "The great theologian, Pope Benedict XVI, said 'being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.'"

    The triune God created humanity in his likeness, so that every person is "one, the same, but open to others and the world, including nature," Father dos Santos said.

    That is why anything that "fractures this identity" or hinders a harmonious relationship with others, "hurts us profoundly."

    Concerns about the environment and people's relationship with it are not calls to deny God or idolize nature, but rather are rooted in "the biblical prophesies warning against any disobedience to God's plan for the world he created," he said.

    "This is the reason why dialogue with the religious views of the world's indigenous peoples, with their care and respect for other living things, help us restore, in our Christian faith and spirituality... our identity as beings in relation with God, with others and with the world -- the place where we encounter Jesus Christ, the Lord of all creation and history," Father dos Santos said.

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  5. IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy Giancarlo Bernini

    By Carol Zimmermann

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- For Giancarlo Bernini, a recent graduate of the University of Texas at Austin, things are not always as they appear and that's a good thing because it is how he plans to make a living.

    The magician, who has done shows for colleges, corporate events and Catholic parishes and church-sponsored gatherings, recently got some nationwide exposure for his trade when he was featured on the season premiere of "Penn & Teller: Fool Us" on the CW network.

    In the show, aspiring magicians try to impress the renowned magician duo Penn and Teller (Penn Jillette and Raymond Joseph Teller) with a trick, and if the two are unable to duplicate it, the guest magician wins a trip to Las Vegas to perform as an opening act in their show.

    Bernini, who performed a time-travel trick on the television show, didn't completely hoodwink the pros, but the experience hardly made his imaginative spirit disappear. He said being on the show was a big moment in his life, along with watching the episode with family and friends. And a big highlight of the episode was that it also featured his longtime idol: David Copperfield.

    In the show's opening, taped months before graduation, Bernini said he was a college student studying religious studies and he didn't see a conflict between his faith and magic "because illusions are all about discerning what's true and what's good."

    He said the trick he chose for the show focused on time travel "the way that faith and reason kind of go together."

    During college, he was doing a show or two a month and some magic on the street, and now he is devoting a lot of time to get more shows, which he admits might not seem the most stable career choice. But he said his parents have been supportive and are on board with him.

    Bernini's first public magic act -- beyond performing for family members and friends -- was at a cancer clinic for children when he was 11. Years later he performed at a juvenile detention center as part of a Catholic retreat. He has since done a number of fundraisers and shows for young kids and adults.

    "Little kids already believe in magic and want to be entertained," he said, "but adults are already skeptics, so it is fun to see the routines transforming them."

    The magic bug bit him when he was in fifth grade and he dad showed him a card trick in his grandparents' backyard and more importantly, showed him how to do it.

    "I showed it to everyone I know," Bernini told Catholic News Service in late May.

    From the start, his motivation was to share something with others. He also loved the element of surprise and catching people off guard when they don't know what was going to happen. This effect doesn't happen magically though; it takes a lot of practice.

    "For me, the most thrilling thing is seeing people experience something they haven't felt since they were kids," he said, which he describes as joy and wonder and something he feels has a big faith connection.

    "Magic, like all forms of entertainment, are adventures to share the Gospel," he added.

    Bernini also thinks that it doesn't matter what he did as a career, even if he were a doctor or a lawyer, he would view it as a ministry. "My magic shows are a ministry and to be good, I have to be the best I can," he said.

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    Editor's Note: For more information on Bernini, visit

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  6. IMAGE: CNS photo/ICE, Charles Reed via Reuters

    By Julie Asher

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Many Catholic and other faith leaders noted that the Gospel reading for July 14 -- the day U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement was to carry out deportation orders for some immigrants -- was the parable of the good Samaritan from the Gospel of St. Luke.

    The story admonishes people to put aside their differences and "help those who are in need of help," such as the immigrants coming across the U.S.-Mexico border seeking asylum, faith leaders said.

    In a July 16 statement, Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, condemned ICE enforcement actions, saying that they "separate families, cause the unacceptable suffering of thousands of children and their parents and create widespread panic in our communities."

    The cardinal criticized the Trump administration's "enforcement-only approach" to immigration, which includes a new rule requiring asylum-seekers to apply for asylum in the U.S. in countries they go through before arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border. Otherwise, these immigrants will be refused asylum protection.

    "It is contrary to American and Christian values to attempt to prevent people from migrating here when they are fleeing to save their lives and to find safety for their families," said the cardinal, who urged President Donald Trump to reconsider these policies and noted he recently wrote to Trump to reconsider using such enforcement actions.

    "All who are at or within our borders should be treated with compassion and dignity," Cardinal DiNardo added. "Beyond that, a just solution to this humanitarian crisis should focus on addressing the root causes that compel families to flee and enacting a humane reform of our immigration system."

    Other leaders criticizing the ICE actions included Dominican Sister Donna Markham, president and CEO of Catholic Charities USA, who said July 13 that her organization strongly opposed "the reported plans of ICE raids this weekend."

    "The threats of deportation and family separation are causing anxiety and fear within the vulnerable communities our agencies serve, endangering immigrant rights and safety. Most significant is the lasting psychological damage family separation inflicts upon children," she said. "Such cruel behavior will impact children for the rest of their lives."

    "Our Catholic Charities agencies stand committed to providing legal and humanitarian assistance for our immigrant brothers and sisters," she said. "We support the pursuit of legal immigration but recognize that all immigrants, regardless of status, must be treated with basic human dignity and respect."

    Sister Markham urged Congress and the Trump administration "to enact comprehensive immigration reform and address the root causes of migration rather than pursue enforcement raids on America's immigrant community."

    In Texas, Brownsville Bishop Daniel E. Flores echoed the same concerns, saying: "The threat of mass deportation raids is psychologically cruel to families and children. The actual separation of parents from their children without even a chance for a court appearance is simply reprehensible. Laws ought to treat families and children differently than drug lords."

    News reports estimated that about 2,000 people were going to be arrested for deportation. ICE actions were taking place in at least nine cities: New York, Baltimore, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Denver, Chicago, Houston, Atlanta and Miami. Some news reports reported that ICE actions also would take place in New Orleans.

    Mayors in those cities announced they would not allow their law enforcement agencies to cooperate with ICE agents. Thousands across the country protested the agency's actions.

    In New York, Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan July 13 decried a general negative attitude toward refugees and immigrants that he said he sees among many in this country, a nation of immigrants. His remarks were not issued in direct response to the announced ICE deportations but came after he celebrated Mass that day in the chapel at the St. Frances Xavier Cabrini Shrine in New York City.

    The saint, also called Mother Cabrini, is the patroness of immigrants and refugees. An Italian American, she founded the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, a religious community that was a major support to the Italian immigrants to the United States.

    "I was moved as I recalled her work among Italian immigrants in the United States in the 19th and early 20th century," Cardinal Dolan wrote in a blog post. "This work inspires me today as the church continues to welcome immigrants from so many different countries, particularly in these troublingly uncertain times."

    "It saddens me to admit that many, some even in the church, opposed Mother Cabrini's work. It troubles me that today in too many places hate and malice are directed against immigrants and refugees -- in both words and actions," he added.

    "As a pastor, I pray that understanding, respect and love might grow in dealing with newcomers to our land. I am proud of the welcoming that our parishes, schools, charitable, and health care ministries have and do provide," Cardinal Dolan said.

    In a July 14 interview on Fox News Channel, Matt Albence, acting ICE director, said "using the term 'raid' does everybody a disservice. We are doing targeted enforcement actions against specific individuals who have had their day in immigration court and have been ordered removed by an immigration judge."

    "We are merely executing those lawfully issued judges' orders," he said.

    Albence said he could not give details of what the agency was calling "Operation Perspective," but said individuals ICE was targeting came "to this country illegally, had the opportunity to make an asylum claim before an immigration judge, and most of them chose not avail themselves of that opportunity and didn't even show up for their first hearing."

    Albence added that in February, ICE gave these individuals an opportunity to turn themselves and arrange "processes for leaving the country." Just 3%, he said, "actually responded, the rest ignored (the request)."

    Ken Cuccinelli, acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, said the weekend action aligned with ICE's priority to remove criminals from the U.S.

    "We've got compassionate, loyal ICE agents who are just doing their job," Mr. Cuccinelli said in a morning interview July 14 with CNN's Jake Tapper. "It shows you how far we've fallen in that it's become news that they would actually go deport people who have removal orders."

    In other faith-based reaction, Katie Adams, domestic policy advocate for the United Church of Christ and co-chair of the Interfaith Immigration Coalition, said July 12 that having "these raids" take place on a Sunday, "the Christian holy day," is "further proof that these actions are morally bankrupt."

    "These raids come from a place of fear, suspicion, and hate; living in that kind of hate is antithetical to the Gospel that teaches love for humanity. Families are sacred, both those we are born with and those we find," Adams said.

    The National Council of Churches, also in a July 12 statement, urged the Trump administration to call off the ICE actions, which it labeled as "unconscionable and immoral."

    "This is a moment in which God is calling the church to do all it can to stand with those who have sought refuge within our borders and to resist these measures and show compassion toward persons threatened with deportation," the council said.

    Back in June, when the Trump administration indicated it planned enforcement operation in major cities to remove thousands of migrant families with deportation orders, the chairman of the U.S. bishops' migration committee criticized the decision, saying broad enforcement actions "instigate panic in our communities and will not serve as an effective deterrent to irregular migration."

    "We recognize the right of nations to control their borders in a just and proportionate manner," said Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, in a June 22 statement. ICE deportations were later postponed.

    "We should focus on the root causes in Central America that have compelled so many to leave their homes in search of safety and reform our immigration system with a view toward justice and the common good," he said, adding the U.S. bishops were ready to work with the administration and Congress to achieve comprehensive immigration reform.

    "During this unsettling time, we offer our prayers and support to our brothers and sisters," Bishop Vasquez said, "regardless of their immigration status, and recognizing their inherent dignity as children of God."

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  7. IMAGE: CNS Photo/Paul Jeffrey

    By Junno Arocho Esteves

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The objective of the upcoming Synod of Bishops for the Amazon is to highlight the need for religious, political and social leaders to come together and defend the dignity of indigenous men, women and children and an ecosystem that is crucial to the environment, said Peruvian Cardinal Pedro Barreto Jimeno of Huancayo.

    In an essay published July 18 by La Civilta Cattolica, the Jesuit journal, Cardinal Barreto said the synod as well as the church's mission in the Amazon are "expressions of a significant accompaniment to the daily life of the peoples and communities who live there."

    "According to the social doctrine of the church, the mission of every Christian includes a prophetic commitment to justice, peace, the dignity of every human being without distinction, and to the integrity of creation in response to a predominant model of society that leads to exclusion and inequality and causes what Pope Francis has called a real 'culture of waste' and a 'globalization of indifference,'" the cardinal said.

    The synod gathering in October will reflect on the theme "Amazonia: New paths for the church and for an integral ecology." The Vatican released the preparatory document for the synod June 8.

    The Peruvian cardinal, who also serves as vice president of the Pan-Amazonian Church Network, known by its Spanish acronym as REPAM, did not directly address recent criticisms or concerns about doctrinal matters and theological questions regarding the synod's working document, but instead focused on the dangerous impact climate change will have on the region and its inhabitants.

    The Amazon, he said, is a living system that "reflects great social diversity, since it is inhabited by about 2.8 million indigenous people who belong to 390 peoples, 137 of which are isolated or without external contacts; 240 languages are spoken there, belonging to 49 different linguistic families. Its inhabitants number around 33 million."

    Cardinal Barreto said the synod for the Amazon is a continuation of the church's mission of "following the Gospel command" to go out to the world and accompany the poor, especially in "an increasingly devastated and threatened territory."

    "In this sense, as an ecclesial event, the synod can be an important sign of the effective response, promoting justice and the defense of the dignity of the people most affected," he said. "In general, we believe that everyone -- society, governments and the church -- must pay attention to these voices in order to assume more consistently our respective differentiated and potentially complementary responsibilities."

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    Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju


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  8. IMAGE: CNS photo/Larry Downing, Reuters

    By Carol Zimmermann

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, who served on the court for nearly 35 years, died July 16 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, at age 99 after suffering complications from a stroke the previous day.

    The justice, who retired in 2010, remained active after retirement, even writing his autobiography, "The Making of a Justice: My First 94 Years," which was just released in April. Last year, he wrote an op-ed published in The New York Times calling for action to end gun violence.

    "He brought to our bench an inimitable blend of kindness, humility, wisdom and independence. His unrelenting commitment to justice has left us a better nation," Chief Justice John Roberts said in a statement.

    Stevens was often portrayed as the leader of the court's liberal side, but he didn't stand by that description, telling The New York Times in 2007: "I don't think of myself as a liberal at all. I think as part of my general politics, I'm pretty darn conservative."

    The justice, a Chicago-born Protestant who served as a naval intelligence officer during World War II and was awarded a Bronze Star for his work with a codebreaking team, stood firm on many issues and changed his opinion on others during his time on the high court. Most notably, he changed his views on the death penalty from initially supporting it to renouncing it completely.

    He was known as a defender of strict separation of church and state and was against official prayer in schools and vouchers for religious school tuition. He also defended legal abortion, gay rights, and the rights of crime suspects and immigrants in the country without legal documentation facing deportation.

    Sister Helen Prejean, a Sister of St. Joseph of Medaille, who is a longtime opponent of capital punishment, posted a thread of tweets July 16 after the announcement of Stevens' death outlining his opinion on the death penalty over the years.

    She said he voted with the court's majority in a 1976 case that reinstated the death penalty nationwide after a four-year moratorium and after his retirement he said this was the only vote he regretted.

    In a 2008 death penalty case, he wrote that he had come to believe the death penalty was unconstitutional. Prior to that, in 2002, he wrote the decision in Atkins v. Virginia, which ended the death penalty for people with intellectual disabilities, and in 2005, he voted to do away with the death penalty for juvenile offenders.

    He also spoke publicly against the death penalty in a number of interviews, calling it a "wasteful enterprise" in 2016 and something the U.S. should do away with under all circumstances in 2010.

    In a 2014 interview on the "PBS NewsHour," he said he thought the court had made a grave mistake in formulating rules that "slant the opportunity for justice in favor of the prosecutor" in death penalty cases, especially when "the cost is so high if you make a mistake."

    "If you make a mistake in a capital case, there's no way to take care of it later on. The risk of an incorrect execution in any case, to me, is really intolerable. The system should not permit that possibility to exist," he said.

    Similarly, in 2005, he also told the American Bar Association that recent evidence that "a substantial number of death sentences have been imposed erroneously" was "profoundly significant because it indicates that there must be serious flaws in our administration of criminal justice."

    In an abortion case in 1989, he was the only justice to say that a Missouri statute declaring that life begins at conception violated previous court decisions on abortion and was an "unequivocal endorsement of a religious tenet" that "serves no identifiable secular purpose."

    In 1992, he voted to uphold the right to an abortion in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which also established the "undue burden" standard for abortion restrictions.

    Justice Elena Kagan filled Stevens' seat on the court.

    He is survived by two daughters, nine grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren. Funeral arrangements are pending, the Supreme Court said in a statement announcing his death. He is expected to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

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    Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim


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  9. IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

    By James Ramos

    HOUSTON (CNS) -- At the Vatican Observatory in Castel Gandolfo near Rome, Jesuit Brother Robert Macke finds his work as the curator of meteorites for the Vatican Observatory -- formally founded in 1891 by Pope Leo XIII -- allows him to, as the Jesuit saying goes, "find God in all things."

    "The universe is a big place, and all of it belongs to God's creation, so all of it is a source of wonder and inspiration," he said. "The motto of the Vatican Observatory is 'Deum Creatorem Venite Adoremus' ('Come, Let Us Adore God the Creator'). In studying the universe and all that it contains, we can better appreciate the God who created it. For us, doing science is a form of worship."

    Signs of the Apollo missions are found throughout the Vatican Observatory, he said an interview with the Texas Catholic Herald, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, from the observatory.

    Brother Macke cares for a moon rock from Apollo 17, a goodwill gift from United States to the Vatican. A display case also holds a piece of the "Moon Tree," a sycamore at the Lunar and Planetary Lab in Tucson, Arizona, that was grown from seeds that flew on the Apollo 14 mission.

    The Vatican Observatory guestbook has a signature of Frank Borman, dated Feb. 15, 1969, less than two months after he, James Lovell and William Anders became the first three men to orbit the Moon on the Apollo 8 mission, Brother Macke said.

    Borman also gave the Observatory a signed print of the famous "Earthrise" photograph, which now hangs on an Observatory wall next to a signed photograph of Eugene Cernan from Apollo 17 that is addressed to St. Paul VI.

    In one of the observatory domes, Brother Macke said a photograph shows St. Paul VI watching the Apollo 11 landing from that exact location.

    Working with his Vatican Observatory colleagues, including observatory director and fellow Jesuit, Brother Guy Consolmagno, among dozens of other clergy and laity, Brother Macke said "every day is different... which keeps the work fresh and exciting."

    Today, Brother Macke finds the Apollo missions "very inspiring."

    "My office is littered with models of the Apollo spacecraft, unmanned space probes, and space telescopes," he said. "My research has even included work with Apollo moon rocks, which has involved several trips to the Lunar Receiving Laboratory at NASA's Johnson Space Center."

    He said the Apollo missions reflect a time of unity, a sense that's missing in today's society.

    "The Apollo missions... should serve as a source of inspiration for us all," he said. "Going to the moon was thought to be impossible, but with the whole nation working together toward this goal we could accomplish it. Today we live in a society that is polarized and contradictory. This will get us nowhere. We need to work together. By working together, we can accomplish the impossible."

    He pointed out how the Apollo missions were accomplished by human beings and "not by robots."

    "The astronauts and the army of support personnel were people who brought their humanity with them," he said. "From the very start, this included religious faith. The crew of Apollo 8, in orbit around the Moon on Christmas of 1968, read to the people of Earth from the Book of Genesis."

    While he was born in Fort Worth, Texas, after the Apollo missions, Brother Macke said he's still inspired by others such as the Viking missions to Mars, or the Voyager expeditions to the outer planets.

    "My father, who was trained as a geologist but spent his career in the Air Force, would bring us photos from these missions," he said. "He filled our home library with countless books about space and related sciences. I dreamed of visiting these planets myself."

    Brother Macke said that since all creation is from God, "it is good, and therefore worthy of study."

    "The science that I do is the same science that everybody else does. I collaborate with scientists of all faiths (and no faith) and together we produce good science," he said. "However, for me the context within which I do my science is very much informed by my faith. Science, for me, is an extension of the awe and wonder that I experience when I contemplate God's grandeur and his immeasurable love manifested in the universe that he gave us."

    Brother Macke said he loves his work for the Vatican Observatory.

    "I find inspiration all around me, from the meteorites that I study to the photographs of deep space hanging on the wall," he said. "I am also very inspired by my fellow astronomers of the Vatican Observatory, all of whom are priests or vowed religious, and all of whom are very accomplished scientists."

    "Some days I am in the laboratory performing research. Some days I am talking to school groups about the Vatican Observatory," he said. His days bring him to conferences sharing his research with other collaborators and scientists, creating content for the Observatory's several social media outlets, as well as academic research and paper writing.

    "And occasionally, a day might be marked by a papal audience," he said.

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    Ramos is a staff writer and designer for the Texas Catholic Herald, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.

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  10. IMAGE: CNS photo/Jose Luis Gonzalez, Reuters


    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The Trump administration announced the U.S. departments of Justice and Homeland Security are adopting an interim "third country rule" requiring immigrants seeking asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border to first apply for refugee status in another country.

    News that the rule was taking effect July 16 brought quick condemnation by Catholic and other immigrant advocates, including the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston.

    And as it had vowed to do, the American Civil Liberties Union the same day filed suit against the regulation in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, which is based in San Francisco. Representing four California-based immigrant advocacy groups, the ACLU said the "crackdown" violates federal immigration and regulatory laws. ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt called the new rule the Trump administration's "most extreme run at an asylum ban yet."

    Cardinal DiNardo called the new rule "drastically" limiting asylum "unacceptable," especially because it comes on the heels of the "misguided and untenable" actions by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to carrying out deportation orders for some immigrants.

    "It is contrary to American and Christian values to attempt to prevent people from migrating here when they are fleeing to save their lives and to find safety for their families," the cardinal said in a July 16 statement.

    ICE enforcement actions are creating fear in immigrant communities and now added to "to this climate of fear" is the administration's "further unacceptable action to undermine the ability of individuals and families to seek protection in the United States."

    "The rule adds further barriers to asylum-seekers' ability to access life-saving protection, shirks our moral duty, and will prevent the United States from taking its usual leading role in the international community as a provider of asylum protection," the cardinal continued. "Further, while still reviewing the rule, initial analysis raises serious questions about its legality."

    He urged President Donald Trump "to reconsider these actions, the new rule and its enforcement-only approach."

    "I ask that persons fleeing for their lives be permitted to seek refuge in the U.S. and all those facing removal proceedings be afforded due process. All who are at or within our borders should be treated with compassion and dignity," Cardinal DiNardo added.

    Other reaction to the third-country asylum rule included a statement from including Christopher Kerr, executive director of the Ignatian Solidarity Network.

    "Yesterday, Catholics around the world attending Mass heard the 'Parable of the Good Samaritan' and a message of love for one's neighbor proclaimed in the Gospel," Kerr said July 15. "Today, our nation awoke to the news of the president of the United States seeking to shut off access to safety and refuge for Central American families facing horrific violence, repression and poverty in their home countries."

    "This is not the act of a good Samaritan -- instead it is an effort that does not honor the inherent dignity of those seeking asylum in our country," Kerr said.

    The rule will not only have "a profound impact on Central Americans facing poverty and gang violence" but also will affect people from many other countries fleeing religious persecution and other forms of abuse," he said.

    "Asylum is an internationally recognized life-saving process that is firmly embedded in U.S. law and history," said Anna Gallagher, executive director of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network Inc. "Attempting to subvert this process is a betrayal of American history and our legal system. Asylum-seekers need our protection, not another door slammed in their faces."

    Gallagher's comments were included in a joint news release of reaction from several faith groups issues late July 15 by the Interfaith Immigration Coalition.

    "As Pope Francis said last week in his return to the immigrant-receiving island of Lampedusa, we are called to be, as Scripture asks, 'those angels, ascending and descending, taking under our wings the little ones, the lame, the sick, those excluded.' Our call to care for others doesn't get much plainer than that," Gallagher added.

    Kathryn Johnson, policy advocacy coordinator with the American Friends Service Committee, said that at a time of "multiple refugee crises across the world, the United States should be expanding U.S. protection for refugees, asylum-seekers and others seeking safety and taking in more of the world's persecuted people."

    "Instead, she added, "this administration is shamefully putting more refugees' lives in danger through this and other attacks on our asylum system."

    The new rule, being published in the Federal Register, says that "an alien who enters or attempts to enter the United States across the southern border after failing to apply for protection in a third country outside the alien's country of citizenship, nationality, or last lawful habitual residence through which the alien transited en route to the United States is ineligible for asylum."

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