FBI frees 105 juveniles from sex traffickers

Just as Catholic News Service was reporting July 25 on the work of local groups in Ohio on efforts to help teenage human trafficking victims, the FBI was preparing to mount its own rescue mission.

Over the weekend, federal and local officials freed 105 young people from the control of traffickers in 76 cities across the country. Authorities arrested 159 traffickers on state and federal charges in series of raids officials dubbed Operation Cross Country.

The operation was part of the 10-year-old Innocence Lost National Initiative, a collaborative effort of the FBI, the Justice Department and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

The largest number of recovered victims and arrests took place in FBI divisions in Detroit (10 and 18, respectively), San Francisco (12 and 17, respectively), Atlanta (17 traffickers but no victims) and Milwaukee (10 victims, but no traffickers).

While significant, the weekend operation just scratched the surface of commercial child sex trafficking nationwide. The FBI says about 300,000 American teens are at risk of being trafficked annually.

More than 2,700 children have been recovered since the Innocence Lost National Initiative started. The campaign has led to 1,350 convictions, some resulting in life prison terms, and the seizure of more than $3.1 million in assets.

Video: Missionary pope: Francis in Brazil

Catholic News Service looks at the impact of the first Latin American pope’s visit to his native continent.

“Women in the church are more important than bishops and priests”

Pope Francis told reporters on his flight from Rio to Rome that women cannot be ordained as priests, but that they are “more important than bishops and priests.”

What does that mean? Earlier this year, the papal theologian explained the theology behind these statements in an interview with CNS.

Pope’s parting gift to journalists: an 80-min. unscripted Q&A

ABOARD THE PAPAL FLIGHT FROM BRAZIL — Although he had told reporters on the way to Brazil that he did not like giving interviews, on the way back to Rome July 28 Pope Francis spent more than 80 minutes responding to their questions.

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Pope Francis answers journalists’ questions on plane ride back to Rome from World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro. July 28, 2013. (CNS photo/Paul Haring).

He said his efforts to reform the Roman Curia flowed directly from what the world’s cardinals said when they met before the conclave that elected him in March; he said he had investigated claims of sexual misconduct against a priest he named to a position at the Vatican bank and found the claims ungrounded.

He spoke of his relationship with retired Pope Benedict XVI, the role of women in the church, the need to respond to the needs of divorced Catholics who have remarried civilly — he even told reporters what is in his carryon luggage and he looked shocked when told that photos of him carrying the bag onto the plane were printed around the world.

“I’ve always carried a bag when I’ve traveled. It’s normal,” he said. “We must be normal.”

Pope Francis, with a big smile, told reporters that the bag did not contain “a key to the atomic bomb,” like a U.S. presidential aide would carry. Instead, he said, it has “my razor” — and he laughed when the journalists did — it also has his “breviary, daily planner (with phonebook) and a book to read. This time I brought one about ‘Santa Teresina’ (St. Therese of Lisieux), to whom I am devoted.”

The pope answered questions from 21 journalists, responding mostly in Italian, but sometimes slipping into Spanish, especially if the question was asked in his mother tongue. The questions were not submitted in advance.

He prefaced the news conference by talking about how pleased he was with World Youth Day and how tired he was, yet he was animated in his responses and showed no desire to rush out of the media section of the plane, even when there was turbulence.

After about half an hour, he asked the journalists if he should stop so that the flight attendants could serve dinner; they shouted “no,” he laughed and faced the next question.

For more details on what the pope said, be sure to check out our latest coverage as it’s posted to our “CNS at Rio 2013” page at http://cnsatwyd.wordpress.com/.

The plane took off from Brazil at 7 p.m. local time. The papal news conference meant that most people’s plans to try to sleep before arriving in Rome the next morning ended up being only a dream.

Video: Millions on Copacabana beach conclude WYD

A Saturday night vigil and Sunday morning Mass conclude World Youth Day 2013 in Rio de Janeiro.

Pope urges Brazilian elites to embrace dialogue and ‘social humility’

RIO DE JANEIRO (CNS) — Speaking to political, economic and cultural leaders of a Brazil recently shaken by mass anti-government protests, Pope Francis called for a “culture of encounter” and said dialogue is the only way to promote social peace.

The Pope made his remarks July 27 in Rio’s Municipal Theater, to an audience representing what the Vatican’s official schedule described as the “ruling class of Brazil.”

Pope Francis blesses Walmyr Junior, 28, during a meeting with political, economic and cultural leaders at Municipal Theater in Rio de Janeiro July 27. The young man, who overcame drug abuse and is now a youth minister, shared his story of life transform ation -- his discovery of a loving God and church. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis blesses Walmyr Junior, 28, during a meeting with political, economic and cultural leaders at Municipal Theater in Rio de Janeiro July 27. The young man, who overcame drug abuse and is now a youth minister, shared his story of life transform ation — his discovery of a loving God and church. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

“When leaders in various fields ask me for advice, my response is always the same: dialogue, dialogue, dialogue,” he said. “Today, either we stake all on dialogue, on the culture of encounter, or we all lose.”

The pope did not explicitly refer to the series of demonstrations in Brazilian cities that started last month, aimed at a range of grievances including government corruption, unsatisfactory public education and health services, the high cost of public transportation and police brutality. But he pointed to dialogue as a third way “between selfish indifference and violent protest.”

“A country grows when constructive dialogue occurs between its many rich cultural components: popular culture, university culture, youth culture, artistic and technological culture, economic culture, family culture and media culture,” he said.

Pope Francis also called on his listeners to share “fraternal responsibility” for Brazilian society, “rehabilitating politics, which is one of the highest forms of charity.”

“The future demands of us a humanistic vision of the economy and a politics capable of ensuring greater and more effective participation on the part of all, eliminating forms of elitism and eradicating poverty,” he said.

Noting the importance of Christianity to the country’s cultural heritage, the pope said the church offered an “integral vision of the human person” that is “true to Brazilian identity and capable of building a better future for all.”

“Christianity combines transcendence and incarnation,” he said. “It brings ever new vitality to thought and life, in contrast to the dissatisfaction and disillusionment which creep into hearts and spread in the streets.”

Yet the pope endorsed the separation of church and state, historically a volatile topic in Latin America, where the Catholic Church long held a privileged legal position in many countries, but where it has more recently clashed with governments over issues including abortion and same-sex marriage.

“Peaceful coexistence between different religions is favored by the laicity of the state, which, without appropriating any one confessional stance, respects and esteems the presence of the religious factor in society, while fostering its concrete expressions,” he said.

Before his remarks, the pope was greeted on the stage of the ornate century-old theater by Walmyr Junior, 28, a lay minister in the Rio archdiocese who recounted his upbringing as an orphan in one of the city’s notorious “favelas,” or slums, his experience of drug abuse, and his recovery with the help of the church, which led to his graduation from the city’s Pontifical Catholic University.

Junior was overcome with emotion before finishing his speech, and embraced Pope Francis to loud applause from the audience.

Later, the pope greeted representatives of some indigenous Amazonian tribes appearing in their traditional dress, and briefly posed wearing a large feathered hat they gave him.

“The pope was saying what each one of us would have wanted to say if we had been on stage,” said a member of the audience, Alvaro Siviero, a concert pianist from Sao Paolo. “We saw there a person of common sense who didn’t speak in the way that is usual in politics.”

Siviero said the pope’s decision to address them in his native Spanish instead of the national language of Portuguese — for which he asked forgiveness at the start of his speech — was welcomed as a sign of humility.

“He wanted to talk to our hearts, not our minds only,” the pianist said. “His Spanish was from the heart, it was a universal language.”

Video: Rio re-stages the Stations of the Cross

Youths follow the Way of the Cross during a World Youth Day dramatization of the Passion July 26.

The pope, WYD and the power of the cross

An actor portrays Jesus in the Stations of the Cross during World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro July 26. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

An actor portrays Jesus in the Stations of the Cross during World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro July 26. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

RIO DE JANEIRO — With his cross and resurrection, Christ promises to walk with and ease the burden of every suffering person, whether that suffering comes from violence, addiction, a broken family, hunger, persecution or the death of a loved one, Pope Francis said.

The traditional Friday mood change of World Youth Day took place July 26 as the pope and more than 1 million young people returned to Copacabana beach to meditate on the Stations of the Cross.

In his reflection, Pope Francis told the young people that in every encounter with Christ’s cross, they can draw strength from him and they can leave the heaviest part of their burden with him.

Through the cross, the pope said, Jesus also unites himself with “those young people who have lost faith in the church, or even in God, because of the counter-witness of Christians and ministers of the Gospel.”

Pope Francis did not get specific about the forms of counter-witness, but his words brought to mind the well-known Via Crucis meditations written in 2005 by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, only weeks before he became Pope Benedict XVI, in which he denounced “filth” in the church, which was widely interpreted as a reference to clerical sex abuse.

At the same time, Pope Francis also has denounced the counter-witness of clergy and other church personnel who see ministry more as career or who drive around in fancy cars or exhibit an extravagant lifestyle in other ways.

The 14 traditional Stations of the Cross in Rio were presented by actors and readers on 13 stages along the Copacabana waterfront and on the main stage where Pope Francis sat.

Young people carrying the World Youth Day cross at the opening ceremony last night. (CNS/Paul Haring)

Young people carrying the World Youth Day cross at the opening ceremony last night. (CNS/Paul Haring)

The meditations read during the service also focused on drawing strength from Christ’s cross and healing one’s wounds in the wounds of Christ. Each written from the perspective of a different person in the church — including a missionary, an engaged couple, a pro-life activist, students, those who use social networks — the meditations asked Jesus for the strength to follow and imitate his service to others.

Pope Francis began his reflection recalling the pilgrimage of the World Youth Day cross, which has been carried across oceans, mountains and plains in preparation for each international youth gathering. The cross was carried from station to station during the evening service.

“It is, as it were, almost ‘steeped’ in the life experiences of the countless young people who have seen it and carried it,” the pope said. “No one can approach and touch the cross of Jesus without leaving something of himself or herself there, and without bringing something of the cross of Jesus into his or her own life.”

At the center of the Christian faith, he said, is the certainty that “Jesus, with his cross, walks with us and takes upon himself our fears, our problems and our sufferings, even those which are deepest and most painful.”

Pope Francis did not leave his mention of the wounds vague; he said Jesus united himself “to the silence of the victims of violence, those who can no longer cry out, especially the innocent and defenseless,” to families in difficulty, to those addicted to drugs and to “every person who suffers from hunger in a world where tons of food are thrown out each day.”

The suffering Jesus walks with those persecuted for their faith or discriminated against because of the color of their skin, the pope said. And he draws close to “so many young people who have lost faith in political institutions because they see in them only selfishness and corruption.”

But it is not only the faults, violence or wrongs committed by others that Jesus takes upon himself, Pope Francis said. “The cross of Christ bears the suffering and the sin of mankind, including our own.”

Among the special guest at the Via Crucis were 35 “cartoneros,” or trash pickers, who had come from Argentina hoping to see the Argentine pope. Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, said Pope Francis sent someone out to find them and give them seats near him on the stage. The pope greeted them before the prayers began.

Video: Pope Francis in action

Pope Francis heard confessions, took a popemobile ride, recited the Angelus, and lunched with youths in Rio de Janeiro July 26.

Video: Beach celebration with Pope Francis

Pope Francis was welcomed to Copacabana beach for World Youth Day with song, dance, and drama July 25.

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