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/Robert Duncan

    By Cindy Wooden

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Philippine Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle added a photo of his "Lolo Kim" to a mosaic of migrants, world leaders and Caritas workers to illustrate how humanity forms one family and is sharing one journey.

    The mosaic, now including the cardinal's maternal grandfather who immigrated to the Philippines from China, was unveiled May 23 at a Vatican news conference kicking off the May 23-28 general assembly of Caritas Internationalis.

    The assembly brought together some 450 delegates from more than 150 national Catholic charities from around the world to focus on the theme, "One Human Family. One Common Home."

    Cardinal Tagle, Caritas president, told reporters the theme "isn't a slogan," but rather an affirmation of the Gospel, of Catholic social teaching, of the teaching of modern popes and, particularly, "an affirmation of the lived experience of Caritas," its staff and volunteers around the world.

    "We are part of one human family," he said. "We share the same humanity and when we set off on a journey, we discover we have the same dreams, the same desire for a future for our children and for a more just world. We are a family."

    Being part of one family, the cardinal said, also means sharing responsibility for the family home, which is the earth. Efforts to protect human beings and protect the environment at the same time are part of what the Catholic Church calls "integral ecology."

    Michel Roy, who is completing his second four-year term as Caritas secretary-general, said the experience of Caritas Internationalis and its aid and development partners around the world is that climate change is displacing people, especially the poor, and making natural disasters more severe.

    "In the coming decades, you will see millions of people who cannot survive where they live now," because they can no longer grow food or because their land is under water, Roy said.

    Cardinal Tagle said that in the Philippines, the expression "June bride" was common because June was the most popular month for weddings. "No more," he said, because typhoons and monsoons have become common in June.

    Traveling around the world as Caritas president, he said, skyscrapers and fancy shops and other signs of economic growth are seen in many places, but so are people who are poor.

    "As wealth is produced, you wonder why the number of poor people increases," he said. Because economic growth and development projects are not keeping a middle-class strong and helping the poor, "there are a lot of angry people -- angry and suspicious" -- around the globe.

    "The astute politicians and business people know that anger and so they present themselves as messiahs. And they win elections, even if they were the ones who benefited from that type of distorted development," the cardinal said.

    In many parts of the world, that anger has contributed to the election of politicians promising to stop immigration, the Caritas leaders said.

    Oliviero Forti, director of migration services for Caritas Italy, said his agency is one of many humanitarian agencies accused of favoring migration by Matteo Salvini, Italy's deputy prime minister, and similar politicians. At the same time, though, Salvini's government has signed an agreement to issue humanitarian visas for vulnerable migrants and refugees.

    "What I can and must say on behalf of Caritas Italy is that no matter what, we will continue to work from the conviction that the human person must be the center" of concern, Forti said. The political debate over immigration can be disturbing, "but it won't move us a millimeter from welcoming, rescuing and doing anything else necessary to recognize these people as our brothers and sisters."

     

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  2. IMAGE: CNS photo/Vatican Media

    By

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Nations, like individuals, have a "solemn duty" to care for the poor and to work together to promote development, Pope Francis told a group of ambassadors beginning their service at the Vatican.

    International cooperation for development and for peacemaking tap into a common, universal desire to experience real fraternity, the pope told the new ambassadors from Thailand, Norway, New Zealand, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Luxembourg, Mozambique and Ethiopia.

    The nine ambassadors, who presented their letters of credential to Pope Francis May 23, do not reside in Rome, but serve as their country's representatives to the Vatican while simultaneously holding other posts, mostly as ambassadors to other European nations.

    "As we face increasingly complex global challenges," the pope told them, "it is right to underline the importance of fraternity, for striving together to ensure just and peaceful coexistence is not merely a sociopolitical strategy but is an example of that solidarity which runs deeper than a mutual desire to achieve a shared goal."

    "The pressing need to be attentive to the poorest of our fellow citizens is a solemn duty," Pope Francis said, and it is "eloquently expressed when, respectful of legitimate diversity, we are united in promoting their integral human development."

    While violence and armed conflict continue to sow death in multiple areas of the world, he said, peace always is possible.

    "Conflict resolution and reconciliation are positive signs of the unity that is stronger than division and of the fraternity that is more powerful than hatred," Pope Francis said.

     

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  3. IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy David Reich

    By

    NEW YORK (CNS) -- Frank Siller, chairman and CEO of the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation, is the 2019 recipient of the Christopher Leadership Award.

    He is being recognized by The Christophers "for the invaluable aid he brings to catastrophically injured veterans, first responders and Gold Star families" through the charity he co-founded with his five siblings in honor of their late brother Stephen, a New York City firefighter who was killed on 9/11.

    The honor for Frank Siller, announced in early May, is being presented May 23 along with Christopher Awards for winning film productions, broadcast TV and cable programs, and books for adults and children. It is the 70th anniversary of the organization's awards program.

    The Christopher Leadership Award recognizes individuals "whose work, actions and example serve as a guiding light to others."

    On Sept. 11, 2001, firefighter Stephen Siller got the call that a plane had hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Stationed in Brooklyn, he drove the truck to the Battery Tunnel to get into Manhattan but found the tunnel shut down for security reasons.

    So after strapping 60 pounds of gear on to his back, he ran through the tunnel to join rescue efforts at the World Trade Center. The husband and father of five was killed when the center's twin towers collapsed.

    His six siblings wanted not only to keep his memory alive, "but to do it in a way that would help others," according to The Christophers.

    A year after the terrorist attacks, they created the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation, which began as a New York City-based charity run that retraced Stephen's steps on 9/11.

    But with Frank Siller as chairman and CEO, the organization has grown into "a national force for good" for many groups in need. It builds specially adapted smart homes for catastrophically injured members of the military who have lost arms and legs; pays off mortgages for families of first responders who have been killed in the line of duty; and pays off mortgages for Gold Star families whose "loved ones made the ultimate sacrifice in service to their country."

    The foundation, which also supports a variety of community programs around the country, has raised over $125 million since it was started. Of every dollar raised, 95 cents goes to programs.

    "My parents had seven kids," Frank Siller told The Christophers. "We were very poor, but we were never too poor to do something good for our neighbors."

    He said his parents often quoted the words of St. Francis of Assisi: "While we have time, let us do good." Frank and his siblings adopted those words as the foundation's motto.

    The Christophers noted that the Siller brothers and sisters were especially close to Stephen because he was only 10 when their parents died, "so they each had a hand in raising him."

    Frank Siller said the losses that he has experienced in his life allow him to relate to the people whom the Tunnel to Towers Foundation helps.

    "I understand exactly each point they're at because I lived it," he said. "After 9/11, so many people were there for our family. It lifts you to know you're not alone, and that people care and are praying for you.

    "This is the message that we send to all these great families.... We don't want to just pay off the mortgage or build them a mortgage-free home, a smart home. We want to be part of their lives," he continued. "They join us on our mission and are our greatest ambassadors because they received it and they want to pay it forward to the next person."

    The more these recipients "do for somebody else, the better they're going to feel," he added. "And they do. It does lift you, it does heal you, and it does give you a great purpose that's bigger than (yourself)."

    Previous winners of the Christopher Leadership Award include Capt. Scotty Smiley, the U.S. Army's first blind active-duty officer, and Patti Ann McDonald, widow of heroic Detective Steven McDonald of the New York Police Department. Her husband was shot July 12, 1986, while on duty, leaving him a quadriplegic. In the years before his death in 2017, he became an inspiration to many and may be best known for forgiving the teen who shot him.

    The Christophers, founded in 1945 by Maryknoll Father James Keller, is rooted in the Judeo-Christian tradition of service to God and humanity, using the ancient Chinese proverb "It's better to light one candle than to curse the darkness" to guide its publishing, radio and awards programs.

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    Editor's Note: More information about the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation and its many programs can be found at https://tunnel2towers.org. More information about The Christophers can be found at https://www.christophers.org.

     

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  4. IMAGE: CNS photo/Maxim Shemetov, Reuters

    By Elizabeth Rackover Clancy

    RICHMOND, Calif. (CNS) -- Eight years ago, "Game of Thrones" began on HBO and the worlds of water-cooler conversations, fire-breathing dragons and social media haven't been the same since. To say it's been a wild ride is the least of it.

    Fans of the show have had to put up with crushing losses as multiple narratives careened as wildly as a dragon flying out of a sports coliseum riddled with javelins. A show this short on tender moments somehow still managed to make us care, sometimes desperately, about disparate characters so wild, unruly, crafty, sneaky, snaky, ruthless and cruel that we could not believe our own eyes as certain scenes unfolded (looking at you, Lord Walder Frey).

    But why did we care so much? Why did people who drive cars, read books from glowing hand-held electronic tablets, heat their food in microwave ovens and express their every instant's thought in an Instagram or Twitter post, care about bastards, cripples, missing daughters, would-be queens -- lotta those -- your odd eunuch, incestuous twins, et al?

    Because it was fantastic.

    Not just as in fantasy, but as in above and beyond anything any of us will, hopefully, ever experience in real life. The exhilaration of the journeys, the battles, the blood feuds, the betrayals, the passion, the magic, all led us along the corridors of the narratives with so much assurance that it was easy to feel something deeply personal about these characters -- seething hatred, a respectful wariness, a motherly concern for the young'uns (Arya, learning how to handle her small sword, quickly dispelled the notion that she needed any mothering).

    The roller coaster that these emotions took us on, then, as season after season wrapped us around its Littlefinger, left us breathless - until the eighth and final season brought us around -- with a nod to Elisabeth Kubler-Ross -- to the five stages of being a "Game of Thrones" fan.

    Denial: No way they're going to kill (insert favorite character here). They would never do that. They need him/her. (Favorite character) might end up on the Iron Throne, even! And I'm going to draw in even non-watchers with this category: Cheers to the people on Twitter and Facebook who felt compelled to post "I have never watched a single episode of 'Game of Thrones' and I never intend to." Your resolve was duly noted. Nobody cared that you didn't care, but congratulations on having your say anyway.

    Bargaining: I can spend countless afternoons re-watching the last seven seasons as long as I keep up on the laundry and take the dog out. Well, the dog can wait. Also, since I'm re-watching, I can fast-forward through all the gruesome Reek scenes.

    Depression: See: Red Wedding; everything that happens to Sansa Stark; the scene where Jamie Lanister's hand is abruptly severed at the wrist.

    Anger: In this instance, actually, anger and humor are intertwined. With so many voices on social media piling on about plot holes and raging over destinies in the final season, you really do just have to laugh. Here is a show with flying, fire-breathing dragons and not one but two men who come back to life -- one of them being a repeat offender -- and people are Stark raving mad that Jon or Arya or Sansa or Tyrion or Dany didn't end up on the Iron Throne. A little perspective comes in handy here. Quibbling with destinies and motivations is meaningless. This is just entertainment; we are cordially invited to be excessively diverted.

    Which leads me to: Acceptance. I accept that there are problems with the final season. Yes, it felt rushed. A lot of characters' story lines fell apart. Dany's death was a letdown -- but the melting of the Iron Throne was cool, am I right? -- and the sudden unspoken tenet that "it doesn't matter that Jon is the rightful heir to the throne" was admittedly puzzling. But I accept that the finale brought the Stark family around full circle with each of them finding their bliss and their own acceptance.

    Writing a show this good for so long could not have been easy.

    We asked for perfection, and they gave us seven great seasons and The Long Night. Dayenu. It would have been enough.

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    Elizabeth Rackover Clancy lives in the San Francisco area with her husband Tom, two cats, and a house full of books. She has two wonderful daughters and a grand-dog, who is a Very Good Boy.

     

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  5. IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

    By Junno Arocho Esteves

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Holy Spirit gives Christians the courage and the strength needed to engage in a loving dialogue with God that is like the dialogue of a child with his or her father, Pope Francis said.

    "Do not forget this: The protagonist of all Christian prayer is the Holy Spirit. We can never pray without the strength of the Holy Spirit; it is he who moves us to pray well," the pope said May 22 during his weekly general audience.

    Greeting an estimated 20,000 pilgrims as he toured St. Peter's Square in the popemobile, Pope Francis occasionally stopped to kiss children's foreheads and drink mate tea offered to him.

    Alessandro Gisotti, interim Vatican spokesman, said in a tweet published after the audience that the pope also greeted Denis Mukwege, a Congolese gynecologist who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2018 for his efforts to end the use of sexual violence against women in war and armed conflict.

    In his main audience talk, the pope concluded his series of talks on the Lord's Prayer, meditating on the theme, "Wherever you are, invoke the Father."

    Christian prayer, he said, "is born from the audacity of calling God by the name 'Father.'"

    "This is the root of Christian prayer: to call God 'Father.' But this requires courage. It is not so much a formula as it is a filial intimacy into which we are introduced by grace," he said. "Jesus is the one who reveals the Father and gives us familiarity with him."

    The "filial trust" that Jesus' exhibited toward God, especially in times of trial, is a call for Christians to embrace a "spirit of prayer" that "must be insistent and, above all, it must bear the memory of our brothers and sisters, especially when we have difficult relationships with them."

    Recalling Christ's prayer of "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" as he was crucified on the cross, the pope said that even in that moment of abandonment, Jesus still remembered his heavenly Father.

    "In that 'my God,' one can find the nucleus of the relationship with the Father, there the nucleus of faith and prayer can be found," Pope Francis said.

    For this reason, he added, "a Christian can pray in every situation" for themselves and for others.

    "Let us never cease to tell the Father about our brothers and sisters in humanity, so that none of them, especially the poor, may remain without a consolation and a portion of love," the pope said.

    As he does every year, Pope Francis prayed for Catholics in China preparing to celebrate the feast of Our Lady of Sheshan May 24.

    Pope Francis used the occasion to express his "special closeness to and affection for all Catholics in China who, amid daily hardships and trials, continue to believe, hope and love."

    The pope prayed Our Lady of Sheshan would help Chinese Catholics be "witnesses of charity and brotherhood" and always would be "united in the communion of the universal church."

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    Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju

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  6. IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

    By Junno Arocho Esteves

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis led thousands of pilgrims in prayer for a Spanish missionary sister killed in Central African Republic.

    While greeting French pilgrims attending his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square May 22, the pope said he was saddened to hear of the brutal murder of Daughter of Jesus Sister Ines Nieves Sancho, a 77-year-old Spanish missionary who was killed May 20 outside her convent in Nola, Central African Republic.

    Sister Nieves, the pope said, before bowing his head in silence, "was yet another woman who gave her life for Jesus in the service of the poor."

    After several minutes of silent prayer, the pope led the faithful in praying a "Hail Mary" for the slain missionary.

    According to L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, the Daughter of Jesus missionary sister had dedicated her life to teaching children, especially girls, to sew in order to learn a trade and make a better life for themselves.

    Authorities believe the missionary was murdered and mutilated precisely in the room where she taught the children, the Vatican newspaper reported.

    In an interview May 21 with COPE, the Spanish Catholic radio station, Spanish-born Bishop Juan Aguirre Munoz of Bangassou said that Sister Nieves was "dragged out of her bed and on Monday she was found almost decapitated. We don't know why."

    Authorities currently have no suspects or motive for the brutal killing but suspect that it was possibly carried out by people involved in human trafficking or searching for diamonds in a sadistic ritual meant to bring good fortune.

    However, Bishop Aguirre told COPE that the political situation in Central African Republic is tense not only for Christians but for the entire population.

    "It is a country where 80 percent of its territory has been conquered by 14 warlords who have trampled it underfoot," the bishop told COPE. "It is a very delicate situation."

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    Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju

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  7. IMAGE: CNS photo/Bob Roller

    By Jacob Comello

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Upon hearing the word "mission," most Catholics visualize hospitals or schools run by nuns in poor areas of the world, or small, tightknit parish communities in areas where Catholicism is still an alien or marginalized religion.

    But Dominican Father Bill Garrott knows all too well that American Catholics have their own spiritual problems that deserve the healing power of a mission.

    "Perhaps most Catholics are deprived of the word of God," Father Bill declared.

    In a telephone interview with Catholic News Service in April, the priest described the distinctive mission style that he brings across the country in his van. He blends lucid scriptural analysis, heart-stirring music performed on his keyboard and guitar, and the grace of the sacrament of confession to bring Catholics from all walks of life face to face with a God who loves them. Since beginning this project in 1995, he has performed over 175 parish missions.

    In his travels to countless parishes across the country from his home base of Washington, he has encountered a number of different spiritual ailments, the biggest of which he finds is Catholic ignorance of Scripture.

    "They're distracted by technology," Father Bill said. "The primary focus of my mission is to get people to read Scripture.... If you're depriving yourself of the word of God, then you're (leaving) yourself open to attack."

    On top of spotty interaction with the Bible, Father Bill often finds that Catholics bear tremendous amounts of worry in their hearts over a friend or family member who has fallen away from the church -- and sometimes those who have lapsed are present at his mission.

    "When people are asked if they're religious" in today's society, Father Bill remarked, "more and more people are checking the box 'none,' (but) their parents are still going to church."

    According to him, people feel trapped in a sense that they can't turn the tide for someone they've worked their whole lives to lead down the right path: "One of the biggest burdens they experience is, 'What can I do to help my children and grandchildren find their way back?'"

    But with his captivating preaching style, he hopes to wash away the doubt and despair left by disengagement for churchgoers or their loved ones and replace it with a bright message of hope.

    He claims that music is often the catalyst for getting even the most skeptical to open themselves up to the message.

    Said Father Bill: "I think music functions as a backdoor to the soul.... During my Sunday homily, I always play a song, usually with my keyboard."

    "If I haven't reached the people up to that point, song does... and I know because people (have) told me, 'I wasn't open to your mission until you played that song,'" he continued.

    He even remembers meeting lapsed Catholics who decided to go to church the one Sunday his mission rolled into their town.

    They find that God has miraculously caught them off their guard: "Some people aren't going to Mass... and they go to Mass this one time. And it's me, a visiting singing preacher. And they're hooked! God gets them!" he exclaimed.

    Confession plays a huge role in the healing process for those who attend Father Bill's missions, and he is uniquely qualified to grant absolution to penitents.

    "I'm one of Pope Francis' missionaries of mercy," he revealed, "During the jubilee Year of Mercy (2016)... he delegated priests to absolve certain sins that are only reserved for the pope."

    After preaching for around an hour, Father Bill said that he will hear confessions for often twice that period of time. Since he began this ministry, he has heard over 13,000 confessions.

    When the time has come for Father Bill and parishioners to part, he gives them a useful acronym to keep spiritually "fit" after the mission is over: "FITT."

    "'F' means fasting from technology, cutting it back a little bit. 'I' means intercede with someone; I encourage them to find a prayer partner. 'T' and 'T' together mean to trust in God's time, because we don't always (immediately) see the evidence of change in ourselves or in other people" Father Bill explained.

    The life for Father Bill's kind of mission is not easy: He often does the parish missions with little to no help from other friars, and he is constantly on the road driving his own vehicle because of the instruments and sound equipment he must haul from site to site.

    "I'm my own agent and my own roadie," Father Bill remarked with a chuckle. "Every now and then I do have another friar who joins me. That's always refreshing."

    But the overwhelming hope he both experiences and delivers along his path makes everything worth it.

    "You might call my ministry a ministry of encouragement," Father Bill explained. "I'm preaching the theological version of hope.... God has a plan (and) God provides always."

    "There's just a tremendous joy for people who have somehow mustered the courage through the Holy Spirit" to drop their lives for a moment and attend his mission, Father Bill said, noting that some of the people he's ministered to have been away from church for 40 or 50 years.

    "(To see) the grace of the parish mission is active in their hearts and they are overjoyed to have that burden lifted.... It really is one of the finest moments for a preacher to know that he is involved in setting people free" proclaimed Father Bill.

    Kathryn Town, a woman who recently attended one of Father Bill's missions, claimed that she definitely felt lighter after being confessed by him.

    "I'm just going to lose it all at the cross" is what she told Father Bill she would do after her sins were forgiven, referring to the anger and doubt she had been harboring towards family members and others going in.

    And she recognized her failings were nothing that could distance her from the love of God: "It was a very nice mission" Town related, "(He told us), 'God loves me not because I'm good but because God is good.'"

    Father Bill's mnemonic devices came in handy for Bix Goodwin, another mission participant. One in particular that Goodwin found helpful broke down the flawed way humans often react to stressful situations -- APES.

    Goodwin said the letters stood for "anger, pouting or feeling sorry for oneself, escape through something unwholesome, and shame."

    And Father Bill's strength in speaking only made his message more attractive to Goodwin.

    "He was a very articulate speaker," Goodwin said, "and for that matter entertaining.... He would always start the session off with a levity, a joke."

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  8. IMAGE: CNS photo/Andres Martinez Casares, Reuters

    By David Agren

    TAPACHULA, Mexico (CNS) -- Sister Bertha Lopez was buying 55-pound sacks of rice, when the cashier asked: "Where do they want the rice? For Guatemala or for whom?"

    Sister Bertha informed the cashier, "We're buying it to feed our migrant brothers" who are stranded in this city near the Guatemala border. The cashier responded: "Why are you doing that? What you're doing isn't right."

    Last fall, locals in southern Chiapas state welcomed the caravans of migrants crossing into Mexico from Guatemala and carrying on northward to the U.S. border. They offered everything from food and drink to clothing and shoes to the caravan travelers, who often included children.

    Parishes throughout the Diocese of Tapachula mobilized to meet the needs of thousands of mostly Central American migrants -- many fleeing violence, poverty and drought. Sister Bertha's congregation, the Guadalajara-based Missionaries of the Resurrected Christ, tended to the wounds of weary migrants in a mobile medical clinic.

    But many locals no longer welcome migrants in Chiapas. Municipal governments, meanwhile, have shunned them by blocking access to town squares, where members of caravans often slept and sought basic services. Local government officials complain of being forced to shoulder security, sanitation and cleanup costs.

    Donor fatigue has set in here in Mexico's poorest state, where priests say people initially responded to images of impoverished migrants fleeing their countries, but became jaded as the caravans keep coming.

    "People no longer respond to the immigration issue," said Father Cesar Canaveral Perez, diocesan director of migrant ministries in Tapachula. "(They) no longer help out. It's to the point that in parishes we no longer ask for assistance for migrants."

    Sister Bertha described a "climate of apathy" and said of the situation: "If (people) see some migrants, they close their stores. This sadly started growing with the media providing negative news."

    The apathy comes as Mexico cracks down on migrants moving through the country and President Donald Trump complains Mexico is "doing nothing" to stop migration -- even though it has detained and deported more Central Americans in recent years than the United States.

    Mexico started issuing humanitarian visas, which allowed one-year stays in the country, but quickly backtracked as migrant flows surged.

    "I had heard the president was going to give us visas. And with a visa, we thought we would cross all of Mexico without any problems," said David Solorzano, 23, a farmhand who fled El Salvador after receiving gang threats. He had hoped to travel north with his aunt.

    But Solorzano opted for voluntary repatriation to El Salvador. He expressed weariness with the endless walking. He said immigration checkpoints dotted the highway through Chiapas. A caravan with which he was traveling was raided by the police -- forcing him to flee into the hills -- and he says he was punched in the mouth during a robbery attempt while riding atop the train.

    "I'm scared of returning to my country," he said from a shelter in Ciudad Ixtepec, some 250 miles from the Guatemala border. "But there's nothing here for me."

    Caravans are can no longer travel openly through Mexico, prompting some migrants like Solorzano to return to a risk ride north: the "Bestia" train -- so named for the way it maims the migrants falling under its wheels.

    Migrants -- including many from Cuba, Haiti and African countries -- continue arriving, but cannot obtain safe passage documents, which previously were routinely issued.

    Haitian migrant Pierre Saint Paul, 45, traveled north from Chile, where he had lived for two years, but he found it impossible to obtain the proper papers. He was hoping to make it to Mexico City or Tijuana, where he had relatives who had arrived earlier in the decade.

    "I'd just like a better life for my life and son," said Saint Paul from a shanty in which he slept.

    Tensions in Tapachula have simmered, with migrants storming immigration offices. At least six mass outbreaks have occurred at the local immigration detention center.

    "There are people spending months there," Sister Bertha said. She warned of health problems such infections and diarrhea in children due to a lack of sanitation.

    The Missionaries of the Resurrected Christ provide one meal a day of rice with eggs or potatoes or a vegetable and a pastry to 2,500 migrants outside the migrant detention center, though supplies some days have run short, and calls for help have gone unanswered.

    Stories circulate in the media and on social media sites of migrants committing crimes and being gang members.

    The April 2019 National Survey of Urban Public Security showed residents of Tapachula considering the city the least secure in the country, with perceptions worsening since the caravans started arriving in October.

    Police in the town of Huixtla circulated the streets with a loudspeaker screeching, "a dangerous caravan" is about to arrive and warning people to stay inside.

    Police later impeded migrants from entering the town center.

    Migrants traveling in recent caravans say they sustained themselves on nothing more than mangos growing along the roadside and water offered by civil protection officials. State police ticketed truckers offering rides in empty trailers and on flatbeds.

    Civil protection officials offered water as migrants walked under the scorching-hot sun, while the Federal Police provided an escort -- at least until April 23, when police officers and immigration officials stopped a caravan and detained nearly 400 migrants.

    Locals in the towns heading north from Tapachula voice frustration with the steady arrival of caravans.

    In the municipality of Mapastepec, Consuelo Santiago allowed caravan travelers to charge their phones for free at a small restaurant on the town square. But she expressed some displeasure with caravans occupying the space outside her business, and people donated so much food and clothing to the migrants that not all of it was consumed -- causing people to consider the travelers ingrates.

    "People don't see the need to throw their money in the trash," she said. "The only ones helping are the church."

    Signs of empathy still emerge in the region. In Mapastapec, parishioners at the St. Peter the Apostle church traditionally break bread on Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday. But this year, they provided meals for 2,000 migrants passing through town instead.

     

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  9. IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

    By Cindy Wooden

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Any time money changes hands, there is a potential for financial misconduct, but the leaders of the Vatican's Financial Information Authority said the Holy See has made enormous strides in reducing its risks.

    Rene Brulhart and Tommaso Di Ruzza, respectively president and director of the office, released the FIA annual report May 21 at a Vatican news conference.

    Vatican City State's unique status as an independent state and the headquarters of the Catholic Church -- with missions and religious orders around the world -- required the establishment of a "tailor-made system mainly to prevent illicit financial activities," Brulhart said.

    The Holy See has "fewer worries" of financial misconduct than most nations, "but this doesn't mean we should not maintain preventive strategies, policies and measures," Di Ruzza said. "Given the peculiarity of the Holy See, there is a level of caution, especially on a moral scale, that must be maintained."

    In 2018, the report said, the office received only 56 suspicious activity reports compared to 150 in 2017 and 207 in 2016. Eleven of the 56 reports were forwarded to the Vatican City court for further investigation and potential criminal charges.

    The FIA now has a fully functioning "general risk assessment" tool for the prevention and countering of money laundering and financing terrorism. It deems the money-laundering risk as "low to medium," particularly because of the number of procurement and building contracts with entities outside the Vatican.

    The financing of terrorism risk is defined as "low," and Brulhart and Di Ruzza said that in the eight years since FIA's establishment, no suspicious activity report and no inquiry from a foreign government's FIA office have involved suspected terrorism financing.

    International agencies have complimented the Vatican for its new rules and structures to prevent money laundering and terrorism financing but have complained about the slow pace of follow up by the Vatican police and courts.

    But in December 2018, for the first time, the Vatican court convicted someone of money laundering following an investigation based on an FIA report.

    Angelo Proietti, an Italian contractor who is appealing his conviction, was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in jail for using a Vatican bank account for money laundering.

    FIA also is increasingly cooperating with the similar agencies of dozens of countries in investigating financial impropriety, the report said.

    Without mentioning specifics, the report spoke about a case in which the owners of an "alleged nonprofit organization" presented themselves as local affiliates of a Vatican-related institution and collected donations in its name. Thanks to information shared with the country, several people were arrested "on charges of criminal conspiracy and sums of money and valuables, including firearms, were seized."

    The case mentioned in the report corresponds to the arrest in Spain in February 2018 of three Spaniards and a Colombian, who were allegedly operating a fake branch of the Vatican bank.

     

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  10. IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy of Father Edwin Banos

    By Rhina Guidos

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Thousands attended the May 20 funeral of a Salvadoran priest found by his parishioners in what some presume is a gang killing.

    Parishioners found Father Cecilio Perez Cruz, a 35-year-old priest and pastor of San Jose La Majada parish in Juayua, shot dead in his residence May 18 with a note nearby that said he had not paid "rent," a euphemism for extortion money, according to preliminary reports from Salvadoran police.

    "He was a well-loved son of the Virgin (Mary)... a humble priest, simple, devoted to his people," said Father Edwin Banos of the Diocese of Santa Ana, El Salvador, in a video posted May 18 on Facebook.

    "These have been difficult and sad moments since I found out," said Father Banos, who told Catholic News Service May 20 that he had studied with Father Perez and that they had been friends for 10 years.

    "It hurts. It's a whole human life truncated," he told CNS via WhatsApp. "He is a brother and a priest-friend. From the first moment I found out, it's been tears and pain over his death."

    Father Banos, communications director for Catholic radio and newspaper Radio Fe y Vida y Periodico Digital Nuestra Iglesia in Santa Ana, attended the funeral in Sonzacate, where the slain priest's parents live. Several bishops from throughout the country and Salvadoran Cardinal Gregorio Rosa Chavez also attended.

    "Today, we are suffering, and we ask the Lord and the Virgin Mary to give us peace, tranquility and serenity," Father Banos said in his video message. "For Cecilio, I offer my care, my appreciation, my love and my hope that he is rejoicing in the eternal life and that you intercede for us... but I also want to manifest my message of conversion to these people who committed this abominable crime."

    In a statement, Bishop Constantino Barrera Morales of Sonsonate, the diocese to which the priest belonged, called on the national police and the justice department to find those guilty of "such an abominable crime" and demanded that they be brought to justice.  

    In recent months, Catholic organizations and leaders in El Salvador, to no avail, have denounced the lack of justice in the country, including the "impunity" in the death of another Salvadoran priest killed in 2018 during Holy Week.

    Father Walter Vasquez Jimenez was traveling with parishioners March 29, 2018, to officiate a Holy Thursday Mass in San Miguel when their car was stopped by an armed group wearing masks. The masked men dragged the priest out of the car and his lifeless body was found later.

    Authorities also blamed gangs in the killing but have not arrested anyone in the crime.

    "In this moment of profound pain and indignation because of this tragic happening, I want to let all priests, faithful and the people in general know that I energetically condemn this sacrilegious killing of Father Cecilio, and I want us to remain united in prayer and redoubling our measures of security before the great insecurity that reigns in our bloodstained country," Bishop Barrera said in his statement. "The blood of our selfless pastor is now together with that of the thousands of Salvadorans that each year become victims of this terrible violence that remains for so many years out of control."

    In a news conference May 19, the Archbishop Jose Luis Escobar Alas of San Salvador once again called on national authorities to seek out criminals and asked the court system to carry out justice.

    "We stand in solidarity with all the victims of violence, of any type of violence, and we ask the authorities to administer justice in all cases," he said. "It's not that we seek revenge, but justice is necessary for the good of the victims and for the good of the whole society, because violence will only be overcome if impunity is not allowed. It is truly worrisome the degree of violence that our country suffers. We must work and pray intensely for peace."

    Father Banos said justice was one of the reasons Father Perez was killed, though he suggested that police look at various motives the killing, including the priest's denunciation of environmental problems in the area.

    "He was a priest seeking justice, he was very fraternal and denounced injustice," he said in correspondence with CNS. "We believe that is the cause of his murder. He strongly denounced the cutting of trees in his area, and that touches the interests of high-ranking businesspeople."

    In an audio Father Banos provided to CNS, Concepcion Perez, the slain priest's brother, said Father Perez was "a good person, a holy person until the last day." Concepcion Perez said although family members were in pain, they found comfort in knowing that "the Catholic Church is the one that provides saints," because of people who seek the light like his brother.

     

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