A social worker’s response to the euthanasia question

By Elliot Williams

VATICAN CITY — Last week, I had my first experience doing interviews within the walls of the Vatican. While attending the Pontifical Academy for Life’s conference on care for the elderly, I had the pleasure of speaking with Bishop Noel Simard of Valleyfield, Quebec, along with a few passionate professors and doctors from around the world.

Bishop Simard spoke eloquently on how the last moments of a person’s life can be moments of “serenity,” and “a chance for the person to accept and reconcile” with family members and with God. He also referred to aging as treasures of wisdom, much like Pope Francis has done in the recent past.

I then thought of another person who could provide valid information on caring for the elderly – perhaps the best source I had – my own mother, Dawn. She has worked as a social worker for the elderly in the greater Philadelphia area for over a decade. As an employee at an independent living community in Huntingdon Valley, PA, she knows the struggles senior citizens go through on a daily basis all too well. Dawn got her start, however, when she applied for a job at the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging (PCA), after taking care of her dying father during the last few years of his life.

Having just moved to the area, my mom knew very little about the city she now had to navigate in order to reach her elderly clients who were scattered throughout various neighborhoods, some more dangerous than others. Other than nurturing my grandfather, she had virtually no experience with elder care. Yet, after a long period of prayer, she genuinely felt a strong vocation for this line of work — strong enough to convince the corporation that she was fit for the position.

“It’s not that I felt I was so good at it [social work],” she says, “but being exposed to all the difficulties that older and sometimes ill seniors face made me realize this was a part of our population that needs help and attention.”

She recalled an instance that directly led her to this career path. “I remember being with my dad at the doctor’s office and the office manager spoke so rudely to an elderly patient about her medical insurance that I became upset. I felt blessed that I was able to handle all of these difficult tasks for my dad but realized that this was not the case for every older adult having to manage our current medical maze.”

My mother continued by saying that older adults who have given so much of themselves throughout their lives are somehow being forgotten, abandoned and left out. She, like the bishop, calls the aging “treasures of wisdom”, and spoke highly of the final stage of her father’s life.

“The last years of his life proved to be a blessing in disguise. These were the times he shared stories of his life that I never knew.  My father had been in my life many years before his illness but the last three are the ones I remember the most. I too shared my own stories with him, as his adult daughter, so he truly got to know me – who I grew up to be.”

Dawn helps her seniors with issues of nutrition, meals, transportation, medical insurance, government benefits, and many other modern day challenges. She’s seen many of her residents die, but they do so on a “divine timing that just seems right,” whether they go peacefully in the night or endure a great deal of suffering beforehand. In opposition to the use of euthanasia, she says, “Just like we don’t determine when we enter this world, we should not determine when we leave.”

In our current age, handing the elderly over to caregivers is a common practice, and some might devalue those who can’t work or operate a smart phone. While my mother certainly loves her residents, helping them find value in their own lives is perhaps the hardest part of her job.

She says, “They always leave my office reminding me, ‘Don’t get old, Dawn’ and I always answer back, ‘It’s better than the alternative [dying], right?’ They just laugh.”

Elliot Williams is a Communication major at Villanova University. He is originally from Abington, PA, and is studying abroad at Roma Tre University, while interning for Catholic News Service’s Rome bureau. Elliot is an avid Nutella fanatic.


Tribute to Nadia Hilou: A Catholic Arab Israeli legislator who promoted tolerance, coexistence

By Judith Sudilovsky

JERUSALEM — News of the death of Nadia Hilou, the first Christian Arab woman to serve in the Israeli Knesset, left me greatly saddened. She was a strong defender of women and children’s rights, a great proponent of tolerance, coexistence and peace in a place where those things are sorely needed.



A social worker who lived in the mixed Jewish-Arab town of Jaffa where she was born, the 61-year-old was an example for both Jewish and Arab Israelis on how life in this complex land should be lived.

I had the opportunity to interview Nadia, a Catholic, numerous times following our first meeting in 1999, just before she lost her second bid to the Knesset. She was then, as she was always, poised, professional, determined and principled. Always a fighter, she told me she had decided to join the Labor Party following the assassination of Former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

She did not allow her two losses to discourage from running again for the Knesset. I was pleased to be able to interview her following her third successful campaign in 2006, when she did win.

In interviews, Nadia was no-nonsense and always had a keen way of zeroing in on the topic at hand without mincing words. Speaking fluent Hebrew, she addressed Jewish Israelis and led them to see issues from a different vantage point in her own unique way without skimping on her own truth.

Last summer she spoke out against the war in Gaza, condemning the violence on both sides; her first concern always was the women and children whose lives were being threatened by the fighting.

Despite the growing extremism and racism, she never gave up hope on her mantra which rings in my ear: Jews and Arabs must learn to live together.

– – –

Editor’s note: Hilou died Feb. 27.

New pro-life group’s motto: ‘So every child makes their mark’

By Nate Madden

WASHINGTON  — A newcomer to the pro-life movement, Online for Life, was among the winners at the 2015 Weyrich Awards Dinner, which took place recently at the Four Seasons in Washington.

Named Outstanding New Organization of the Year, Online for Life describes itself as a “compassionate, technology-driven nonprofit organization committed to rescuing children and families from abortion.”

Cover_1The group seeks to do this by “reframing the conversation by upending conventional assumptions and promoting the truth about the cultural, sociological and psychological impacts of abortion.” Its three primary areas of focus are: reaching out to life-affirming pregnancy centers nationwide; building networks of community partners to assist couples in crisis pregnancies; and working to change modern culture to one of life “one heart, one mind, one child at a time.”

Other pro-life advocates made a strong showing at the Feb. 25 dinner, held once a year by Coalitions for America to honor the achievements of various people and organizations in the American conservative movement. It is named in honor of the late Paul Weyrich, a lifelong religious and political activist. He was a deacon in the Melkite Catholic Church.

Among the other award recipients was March for Life’s vice president of government affairs, Tom McClusky, who was named Faith Community Leader of the Year. The two runners-up were Robert P. George, professor of jurisprudence at Princeton University, and Father Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life. March for Life also was declared the Grassroots Organization of the Year.

Lila Rose, president of Live Action, was named Youth Leader of the Year. Rose, 26, is also the founder of Live Action, which, according to its website, is a “youth-led movement dedicated to building a culture of life and ending abortion.” Her organization is probably best known for its undercover video investigations of abortion clinics. Its videos have shed light on illegal and unethical practices in the nation’s abortion industry, exposing violations by abortion clinic staff. Her group’s work has led to the closure of several abortion facilities.

The Coalitions for America also honored Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Alabama, as National Legislator of the Year. Sessions has a 97 percent rating on the National Right to Life Scorecard and was an original co-sponsor of the 2003 Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act.

Notes on Peace and Justice

Archdiocese of New York seeks eyewitnesses to Dorothy Day’s life

Dorothy Day (CNS/Courtesy Milwaukee Journal)

Dorothy Day (CNS/Courtesy Milwaukee Journal)

The Archdiocese of New York is looking for a few good eyewitnesses to the life of Catholic Worker co-founder and justice advocate Dorothy Day.

Its Dorothy Day Guild is soliciting the names of people who worked alongside, knew or met Day so they can be interviewed as part of the effort for her canonization.

Jeffry Korgen, coordinator of the diocesan phase of the canonization process, said names are being collected to determine who can be interviewed.

“It’s a little bit of the legal part of (the process),” Korgen explained to Catholic News Service. “They have to be under oath, interviewed under a canonically approved process with specific questions approved for the inquiry as part of the sainthood process.”

Each person whose name surfaces will be examined for how well they knew Day and how much information they can provide to “shed light on her life.”

“We’re supposed to have 50 good interviews,” Korgen said.

“We really want to get as many names as we can now, figure out what kind of perspective they have and get cracking,” he said.

The guild will accept names March 31. To submit a referral — or to refer yourself — visit online.

Batman comic artist inspired by Dorothy Day

Batman comic artist Dennis O’Neil may just be one of the people whom the archdiocese is looking for.

batman-20clip-20art-xcge7jacAO’Neil, who wrote and edited the Dark Knight under different comic titles for more than 30 years, said in a Feb. 19 post on the Comic Mix website that he incorporated a little of Dorothy Day into a new character he and colleague Dick Giordano introduced in Detective Comics #457 published March 1976.

The character, Dr. Leslie Thompkins, was developed to serve as a surrogate mother for Bruce Wayne, who donned the Batman mystique to fight crime. O’Neil said Thompkins told a young Wayne that not everyone believed that violence solved problems.

“I had a real person in mind when I was writing Detective #457, someone I’d once met named Dorothy Day,” O’Neil wrote, describing how she co-founded the Catholic Worker in New York’s Bowery in the midst of the Great Depression.

“We incorporated Dorothy’s pacifism into Leslie. There wasn’t much; I can’t recall any particular story in which it was a major element. But look for it and you could find it,” O’Neil continued.

For those who don’t know Batman lore, Wayne’s mother and father were killed by thugs during a robbery as a young Bruce watched. The incident influenced Wayne eventually to become the Dark Knight to overcome crime.

Thompkins was a friend and medical colleague of Thomas Wayne, Bruce’s father. She dedicated her skills toward helping the neglected and impoverished of Gotham City.

O’Neil’s post goes on to compare the original Thompkins with the Thompkins character played by Morena Baccarin in the television series “Gotham.” He said he does not expect the TV Thompkins to endorse Day’s convictions. Still, he wondered, “what would be wrong with giving the video Leslie a pacifist leaning or two? She could slip them into a subordinate clause where nobody would notice them anyway. And they would give the character Ms. Baccarin and her cohorts are so able creating a nuance uniquely her own.”

It seems Day’s influence has spread far and wide.

Global Catholic Climate Movement undertakes Lenten fast

Members of the recently formed Global Catholic Climate Movement are participating in a worldwide Lenten fast for climate justice.

Individuals in 50 countries started fasting on Ash Wednesday, February 18, and will continue on a rotating basis through March 28. Fasters in the U.S. will be fasting March 16 and Canadian participants will join in March 4.

In announcing the fast Feb. 16, Patrick Carolan, executive director of the Franciscan Action Network, said the organization chose fasting as its first worldwide action because of Pope Francis’ call that all people need to be “protectors of creation.”

“We encourage Catholics around the world to unite, pray and fast in solidarity with those who are most affected by the changing global climate,” Carolan said in a statement.

The group’s 40-day fast is part of the 365-day Fast for the Climate, which began Dec. 1 at the start of the worldwide climate-change meeting in Lima, Peru, and continues through Nov. 30, the beginning of the next summit in Paris for an agreement to take effect in 2020, when the Kyoto Protocol expires.

If you decide to join the fast, sign in at the organization’s website.

Driven to help Haiti, engineer returns home, rebuilds churches

PETIONVILLE, Haiti — The beaming smile on Stephan Destin’s face said it all.

Destin was standing on the foundation of the new St. Theresa Church in this suburb of Port-au-Prince, watching dozens of construction workers on the job under a blazing midday sun.

“This is what it’s all about for you,” I said.

“It is,” Destin told me, his smile widening. “It is.”

In reality, working to better his country is what he’s always wanted to do.


Stephan Destin, director-general of the operations and construction unit of the Partnership for the Reconstruction of the Church in Haiti. (CNS/Bob Roller)

Destin, 38, is director-general of the operations and construction unit of the Partnership for Church Reconstruction in Haiti, known by its Creole acronym as PROCHE. He said working for PROCHE is his way of giving back to his homeland.

Since joining PROCHE in November 2011, Destin has helped guide the reconstruction of churches, schools and convents. Eight projects have been completed and another 40 are in various stages of construction and planning.

“I must admit ever since I got here, it doesn’t feel like I’m working because this is what I enjoy doing, this is what I wanted to do. It fits in where I wanted to be,” he said during an interview in his office earlier in the day.

“Some days it’s just amazing the stuff that we accomplish,” he added. “It’s a privilege for me to play that role, to get the opportunity to build churches, the house of God, and to make a difference in society. This is one of the things that I wanted.”

Getting to this point took a while.

Inspired by his father, also an engineer, Destin enrolled in the Polytechnic Institute of New York University in 1995. When he left for the U.S., his intention was to “come back to Haiti straight after that.”

But his engineering career unfolded and thoughts of returning to Haiti were put aside.

He eventually married his longtime girlfriend, Mathilde, after five years of long-distance dating, first when she lived in Los Angeles and in southern Florida. The couple settled in New York and later relocated to Florida. They now have two sons and a daughter.

The draw of Haiti welled up again in the Florida sun.

Then came Jan. 12, 2010, and Haiti’s massive earthquake. Destin returned home, leaving his family in Florida. He envisioned building a new community in the town of San Michel de L’Atalaye in central Haiti. It would welcome 5,000 displaced people from Port-au-Prince as well some of the poorest residents of the town. He said political “obstacles” caused him to abandon the project.

That’s when he heard about PROCHE. Clergy urged him to consider the position.

At first he hesitated. He was unsure he could work with bishops professionally because of his Catholic upbringing.

“Then I spoke with another bishop and he urged me to think of them as clients,” he said. “Fine, I could picture when they’re blessing me as a bishop, and when I’m not in church at Mass, they are a client.”

The rebuilding of Sacred Heart Church, which collapsed in the earthquake, is one in which Destin has taken particular pride. The landmark church in Port-au-Prince was where Destin made his first Communion and was confirmed.

Extreme charity: How beleaguered Syrian Christians are helping those who are ‘worse off’

The president of Caritas in Syria, Chaldean Catholic Bishop Antoine Audo of Aleppo, is in Rome this week. Michelle Hough of Caritas Internationalis spoke with the bishop and she asked Catholic News Service to share with its readers his reflections that she wrote down and compiled about what the Syrian people are going through. 

By Bishop Antoine Audo 

ROME, Italy — Last year – 2014 – really was the hardest of all for those of all us who live in Aleppo. The level of destruction in the city reached its peak. Rockets were raining down on us, we often didn’t have electricity or water and the nights chilled us to the bone.

But we must avoid complaining. When I gave my homily at the beginning of Lent, I told people, “I really can’t talk to you about fasting as we’re always fasting. But you have to remember that there’s always someone worse off than you.”

We must focus on visiting the sick, elderly and lonely. As Caritas, we work on projects, but I’ve told the staff that we must personalize as much as possible what we’re doing and visit specific people every single day. It’s just like what Pope Francis says – we need to come out of ourselves and go to the existential peripheries.

syria camp turkey

Syrian refugees warm themselves around a fire Dec. 3, 2014 in Ankara, Turkey. (CNS photo/Umit Bektas, Reuters)

Caritas Syria is there to help all Syrians of all faiths across the country. We work in six regions: Damascus, Aleppo, Homs, Littoral, Horan and Jasiré. We help people through programs which provide food, medical assistance, educational support, help with paying rent, help of the elderly and counselling.

Not so long ago I came out of my house and there was a Muslim man sitting on the ground outside who had been helped by Caritas. He got to his feet and said, “We know who the Christians are, they are worth their weight in gold!”

Everyone keeps saying that the situation in Syria is like the ones in Lebanon and Iraq, that we need to wait a few years before the war stops. They say that there can be no military solution to the conflict and yet they continue to send arms and to train armed groups. There needs to be a political solution.

People believe because of Daesh and others that this is a Muslim-Christian war, but this isn’t true. Christians are respected by Muslims.

Young people in Syria need to be educated in peace so that they can build and defend it in an Arab and Muslim context. This means by not provoking or humiliating the Muslims and Arabs and by respecting others.

syria rubble

A boy carries belongings Nov. 17, 2014 as he walks on the rubble of damaged buildings in Aleppo, Syria. (CNS photo/Hosam Katan, Reuters)

This war has destroyed whole neighborhoods, without forgetting the booming industries that were in Syria and the farming. Half of Syria’s inhabitants are either internally displaced or are refugees. Eighty percent of the workforce doesn’t work. The rich have left, the middle class has become poor and the poor have become destitute. Many people have become poor and ill because of the insecurity and the near-destruction of the economy.

We are tired and enough really is enough. There is great sadness in Syria at what has happened. It’s difficult for me to think about the hopes for the future of the next generation of Syrians.

syria hug

Anaadi Ahmad, 24, from Babr Amr in Homs, Syria, holds one of her children in 2012 in a tent at an informal refugee camp in Al Four on Lebanon’s eastern border with Syria. (CNS photo/Sam Tarling, Catholic Relief Services)

However, we hope to one day build a real sense of citizenship based on the respect of human rights. When this happens, there must be a healthy distinction between politics and religion with religion not being used to the ends of political power.

Syria is a beautiful country with deep roots in history and humanity. It is a place where people of many religions and cultures can live together as a model of human rights and of civilization. It is a country I love.


Chaldean Catholic Bishop Antoine Audo of Aleppo, Syria, poses for a photo in Dublin Nov. 25, 2014. (CNS photo/Sarah MacDonald)

Bishop Audo was born in Aleppo in 1946 and entered the Society of Jesus in 1969. He was ordained a priest in 1979 and received his doctorate in contemporary Muslim political thought at the Sorbonne University, Paris. He also studied at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome, and was a professor at the University of St. Joseph, Kaslik, Lebanon. He was ordained Bishop of Aleppo in 1992. He is president of Caritas Syria and serves as a member of the Pontifical Councils for Interreligious Dialogue, and Migrants and Travelers. 


Why rain in Spain is to blame for student’s new odyssey to Rome

By Elliot Williams

VATICAN CITY — As Pope Francis released his annual message for World Youth Day last week, I couldn’t help but recall my own experience as a pilgrim four years ago. The trip was surreal. I had barely traveled anywhere in the United States on my own, and certainly had never been abroad. Yet, I refused to be held back by the fear of the unknown, so in the summer of 2011, I went along with Auxiliary Bishop Michael J. Fitzgerald of my local Philadelphia Archdiocese to Madrid for World Youth Day. As a leader in an archdiocesan youth group, I was blessed enough to be chosen as one of five students to embark on the pilgrimage.

sanctuary of loyola spain

Villanova student and CNS intern, Elliot Williams, in front of the Sanctuary of Loyola in Azpeitia, Spain, in 2011, during World Youth Day celebrations. (CNS photo/Elliot Williams).

I kept a journal, took pictures, and reveled in the bliss of Europe as we traveled through Lourdes, France; Lisbon, Portugal and Burgos, Spain, visiting sites where the Blessed Mother appeared to those suffering from poverty and war. Throughout the 10-day excursion, we spent many hours listening to motivational speakers who spread messages of love, self-control, and the value of young lives — much like the message Pope Francis shared with the youth in preparation for WYD 2016, to be held in Krakow, Poland next summer.

Our trip culminated with a message from Pope Benedict XVI, which focused primarily on building faith. Four years later, the message from Pope Francis suggests a resemblance to the former, but centers mostly on the Beatitudes, and seeking happiness through the Lord. For those attending WYD in Krakow, this spiritual journey will be life changing, unprecedented for most young people, especially for those who have never seen the Holy Father speak in public before.

1storm wyd

An aide holds an umbrella for Pope Benedict XVI as rain and wind moves through the Cuatro Vientos airfield in Madrid during the World Youth Day vigil Aug. 20. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

I will never forget camping out on a massive lawn of soil with a sea of fellow pilgrims, and watching as the sky turned from a promising blue, to a menacing red, threatening to end the entire event. Pope Benedict XVI spoke for as long as he could before the wind and the rain made it nearly impossible for him to continue (or for his cap to stay on his head). The wild storm persisted, after temperatures had peaked in the 100s (Fahrenheit) a few hours earlier.

I hardly fell asleep that night. Scared, wet and confused, I laid cocooned in a sleeping bag as the pope’s words about remaining strong, despite the rain, churning in my head. After a long night, we awoke to an unexpectedly clear sky. I dare say it was one of the most beautiful sunrises I’ve ever seen. Firefighters were circling the field, spraying pilgrims with refreshing water to keep us cool. Pope Benedict’s message about remaining firm in the faith was coming to life right before our eyes. The brightest days often come after the stormiest nights, right? Quite the cliché if you ask me. However, I believe that everyone who witnessed that fascinating event four years ago was profoundly impacted.

Now, a third-year student at Villanova University in Pennsylvania, I am interning for Catholic News Service’s Rome Bureau, about a stone’s throw from St. Peter’s Square. What can I say? I just can’t stay away from pontifical goings-on. I would be lying if I said that WYD 2011 isn’t the reason I’m sitting here in Rome, writing this post. Perhaps it is the beauty of Christ, which Pope Francis often speaks of, that so attracts me. Or maybe it is the delicious food that has brought me to Rome.

In either case, I believe the real answer can be found in the remarks of St. John Paul II — who created World Youth Day 30 years ago — spoken at WYD 2000, “It is He who provokes you with that thirst for fullness that will not let you settle for compromise.”

I urge those attending WYD 2016 to keep an open heart, to embrace the universal message of change that Pope Francis hopes to share, and in case there is a nasty thunderstorm… pack a poncho.


The sun rises as pilgrims prepare for the final Mass of World Youth Day at Cuatro Vientos airfield in Madrid Aug. 21, 2011. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Elliot Williams is a Communication major at Villanova University. He is originally from Abington, PA, and is studying abroad at Roma Tre University, while interning for Catholic News Service’s Rome bureau. Elliot is an avid Nutella fanatic.


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