Will Blessed Serra statue stay in its place at Capitol?

Statue of Blessed Junipero Serra at National Statuary Hall (Photo from Architect of the Capitol)

Statue of Blessed Junipero Serra at National Statuary Hall (Photo from Architect of the Capitol)

Blessed Junipero Serra, the Franciscan who founded the California missions and is in line to be canonized a saint this fall when Pope Francis visits the United States, could potentially lose his spot in the U.S. Capitol’s National Statuary Hall under a proposal by a California state Sen. Ricardo Lara.

Lara introduced a resolution Feb. 4 in Sacramento to replace the statue of Blessed Serra with a statue of Sally Ride, the first woman in space who was on the space shuttle Challenger in 1983. Lara said Ride, a physicist, astronaut and champion of science, would “become the first woman to represent California and the first member of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community to be placed in the Statuary Hall.” Ride died in 2012 at the age of 61 from pancreatic cancer.

The senator suggests relocating Blessed Serra’s statue to California “where citizens and visitors can enjoy it and be reminded of his significant historical impact upon our state.”

When the hall was dedicated in 1864, Congress invited each state to contribute two statues of prominent citizens. States can request the Joint Committee on the Library to approve the replacement of a statue if the move has been approved by the state legislature and the governor and if the outgoing statue has been displayed in the hall for at least 10 years.

The statue of Blessed Serra, holding aloft a cross, was donated in 1931. California’s other statue, President Ronald Reagan, was placed in the hall in 2009 replacing a statue of the Rev. Thomas Starr King, a Unitarian minister and famous orator credited during the Civil War with saving California from becoming a separate republic.

Blessed Serra’s statue is one of five Catholic missionaries — four priests and a woman religious — on display, and there is also a statue of the only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence, Charles Carroll.

The missionary statues and their respective states are: St. Damien de Veuster, Hawaii; Jesuit Father Eusebio Kino, Arizona; Jesuit Father Jacques Marquette, Wisconsin; Mother Joseph, a Sister of Charity, Washington state. Carroll, a Catholic layman from Maryland, was a cousin of the nation’s first Catholic bishop, Archbishop John Carroll.

When Pope Francis told reporters Jan. 19 that he planned to canonize Blessed Serra in the U.S. in September, he said he wished he could do so in California, the 18th-century Franciscan’s mission field, but would not have time to travel there.

He said he planned instead to canonize him during a ceremony at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, a fitting location because Blessed Serra’s statue is at the U.S. Capitol.

In Port-au-Prince, closed shops and quiet streets

By Dennis Sadowski

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — The first day of a general strike designed to keep pressure on the government of President Michel Martelly to lower gasoline prices and schedule long overdue elections kept the streets of the Haitian capital eerily quiet.

Across the capital, schools did not open and most businesses were shuttered Feb. 9. A long line formed at the Eagle Supermarket on Delmas Road, just around the corner from the closed offices of Catholic Relief Services. People expressed frustration that they did not know about the closure and could not buy necessities for their families.

Boys play soccer in a traffic-free street in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, as the capital experienced a general strike aimed at lowering gas prices and urging elections. (CNS/Bob Roller)

Boys play soccer in a traffic-free street in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, as the capital experienced a general strike aimed at lowering gas prices and urging elections. (CNS/Bob Roller)

At mid-day Catholic News Service photographer Bob Roller and I ventured out with our driver and translator, Jean-Daniel Lafontant. Encountering one group of student protesters near the site of the earthquake-destroyed National Palace, we were told we were not “following the rule” to keep motor vehicles off the streets. One suggested that because we were driving around we might find a rock being thrown through the windshield of our vehicle. It mattered little that we were journalists surveying the silence on the streets.

Few vehicles were out and about, but the daily traffic congestion the capital experiences was gone. In many neighborhoods young boys played soccer on the traffic-free streets.

The National Police kept a watchful eye on the tense environment. Most officers were in groups of at least four. They held shotguns at the ready.

The two-day strike was the latest challenge to Haitian President Michel Martelly, who is being pressured on a variety of fronts. Since December opposition forces have mounted a series of demonstrations calling for Martelly to schedule parliamentary and presidential elections as planned. Some protesters have called for Martelly to step down.

A small group of senators blocked efforts by Martelly in December to schedule the elections, saying the conditions the president proposed favored his government. The impasse extended past Jan. 12, the fifth anniversary of the country’s devastating earthquake. Under Haiti’s constitution, because there was no election scheduled, the Parliament dissolved that same day, meaning that Martelly could rule by decree.

Haitians who voted for Martelly in 2011 have since become disenchanted with the former carnival singer’s governing ability. They are discouraged by his arrogant comments and by his inability to deliver on campaign promises he made to help the country recover from the earthquake.

Catholic advocates not about to forget Ferguson riots

Missouri parishioners march after riots in Ferguson, Mo. (CNS photo)

Missouri parishioners march after riots in Ferguson, Mo. (CNS photo)

Less than three months after the riots in Ferguson, Missouri, discussions about race and role of police officers may have fallen off the 24-hour-news cycle’s radar but they have not been forgotten by Catholic social ministry advocates.

During Feb. 8 workshops at the annual Catholic Social Ministries Gathering in Washington the topic of Ferguson — and all the issues that meld with it — understandably came up in a session called “Encountering Christ by Transforming Conflict and Violence,” but the topic also was raised in the workshop: “Encountering Christ in the Heart of the World on Campus.”

In the college workshop, primarily focusing on campus social ministry outreach, a student speaker said he thought he knew all about social justice from his experiences of helping the poor, but his understanding took on much deeper meaning after the riots late November in Ferguson.

Joshua Tovey, a junior political science and philosophy major at the University of Dayton in Ohio, said the riots, five hours away from campus, came closer to home when the campus ministry house and a black fraternity were both egged, and he was convinced he had to take a stand.

“That’s when it hit me what social justice meant,” he said. “When I saw students lose their dignity, I realized I had to do more.”

He joined protesters at the university holding signs saying “Black Lives Matter” and worried a little bit about what his friends or parents would think, especially since his picture from a protest was on the cover of a university publication. But ultimately, he said, he was convinced he needed to “love others the way Christ loves me” even — and maybe even especially —  if that meant taking a stand against injustices.

At another workshop at the Catholic Social Ministries Gathering, Eli McCarthy, an adjunct professor of justice and peace studies at Georgetown University’s Berkley Center, highlighted Scripture passages and words from various popes about the need for peace.

He also spoke about forming DC Peace Team, a group that teaches nonviolent conflict intervention skills, that he formed four years ago along with former prisoner Cortez McDaniel.

McCarthy told the group of social justice advocates that the growth of these types of teams is crucial in diffusing conflict and violence in the nation’s cities and stressed that there should be a national model for this work so that locals could monitor their own neighborhoods.

Cortez urged the workshop attendees to get involved. “Go home and ask yourself: ‘Am I in or not? If I’m in, I have to be committed.’”

“You can’t just hand out sandwiches” and think you are helping the poor, he said, reminding them there is much more to be done, particularly in making communities safe.

“It’s about the long haul,” he said.

Bishops must comply with child protection norms, commission says


Continue reading

A tale of slavery in modern-day Italy

By Michelle Hough
Caritas Internationalis

Sunday is the first International Day of Prayer and Awareness against Human Trafficking.

Graffiti on the walls of the social center where Caritas Caserta assists migrants. (Michelle Hough)

Graffiti on the walls of the social center where Caritas Caserta assists migrants. (Michelle Hough)

CASERTA, Italy — Jean Konan* speaks five languages. He’s bright, articulate and knows his rights. He’s also been a modern-day slave, working in the fields for just €25 ($29) a day and sometimes for nothing at all.

“They say that slavery’s been abolished, yet it still exists but it’s invisible,” says Jean.

He left his home in Ivory Coast in 2006 when the political situation became unsettled. As a language student he thought he’d have a brighter future abroad.

After a terrible journey across the Sahara, through Libya and across the Mediterranean, Jean arrived in Caserta, near Naples. It’s a hub for African migrants looking for work in agriculture.

Caritas gave him a place to stay and food, and very soon he joined dozens of other African migrants who gathered at the town’s roundabouts at dawn, waiting to be picked up by foremen who would give them work in the fields.

In his first job picking tobacco, he got €2 ($2.2) an hour for 12 hours’ work a day. For picking oranges in the south of Italy, he got around €22 ($25) a day. He thought he’d hit the jackpot when an electrician took him on as an assistant, promising him €1,200 ($1,374) per month. He eventually got €250 ($286) after a month’s work and was let go. After that, a woman gave him work picking tobacco but didn’t pay him anything after two months.

More wall art in Caserta. (Michelle Hough)

More wall art in Caserta. (Michelle Hough)

“They knew I had no papers and they knew they could do what they wanted with me,” said Jean. “I was afraid I could go to prison if I said anything.”

With encouragement and help from a lawyer at Caritas, Jean reported his employer to the authorities. They took the woman to court, but didn’t manage to get the money owed to Jean.

“The real chains that bind Italy’s migrant workers are economic ones,” said Gian Luca Castaldi, head of the migrant office at Caritas Caserta.

He explains that migrant workers don’t report unscrupulous employers for a number of reasons. They are afraid and see their poverty as an inescapable reality; they don’t want to be seen as a traitor by the other workers; they feel as though the owe something to the informal labor network in which many migrants without documents work; and legal proceedings in Italy can be very long and complicated. In some cases, the workers don’t even realize that they’re being exploited when they’re paid too little, too late or nothing at all.

This graffiti says, "We're all illegals." (Michelle Hough)

This graffiti says, “We’re all illegals.” (Michelle Hough)

Castaldi says that the African migrant workers around Caserta risk far more than non-payment for work. Apart from physical abuse, Castaldi says that out of 101 migrants Caritas is helping because of labor exploitation, around 30 have been sexually abused. There have also been unconfirmed cases of organ trafficking in the area.

A doctor working for the medical service Caritas offers weekly to the migrants says that migrants suffer both physically and mentally. He says there are many cases of depression and alcoholism. Many of the migrants have skin ailments because of the nature of their work and stomach problems because of poor diet. There’s also a high number of previously undiagnosed cases of diabetes.

Jean got his papers when the Italian government created an amnesty for migrants and is now working as a mediator for migrants at the Caritas center in Caserta, and is part of the Immigrant and Refugee Movement of Caserta.

“It’s inhuman to treat us like this,” he says. “We need laws against exploitation and we must all work together – all people of all different races – for future generations. People must shake off their ignorance.”

“I still dream of a future. I feel I can help people change their lives and I want to use my experience with racism to help them,” says Jean.

*Name changed to protect identity

Caritas Internationalis coordinates COATNET – Christian Organizations Against Trafficking in Human Beings. It’s a network that links together 42 Christian groups which are fighting human trafficking. They raise awareness, lobby for change and help people who’ve been trafficked or abused by employers. Learn more here.

This article was made possible thanks to the support of the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See.

Author wants to give 1,000 books to pregnancy resource centers

Catholic pro-life advocate Chaunie Brusie wants college-age women facing an unplanned pregnancy to know they can continue to move forward with their life goals without turning to abortion.

Brusie knows. She faced an unplanned pregnancy as a senior in college.


She explores her experience in a book published by Ave Maria Press a year ago, “Tiny Blue Lines; Reclaiming Your Life, Preparing for Your Baby and Moving Forward With Faith in an Unplanned Pregnancy.”

The book’s title refers to the blue lines that appear on one style of home pregnancy test kits that indicate a woman is pregnant.

Now she wants to distribute 1,000 copies of her book to pregnancy resource centers around the country through Heartbeat International’s annual conference April 7-10 in St. Louis.

To help with that goal, Brusie has turned to crowdfunding through the FlowerFund website.

Her goal is to raise a bit more than $7,000 by March 31 so she can buy 1,000 copies of the book herself for distribution to each person who attends the Heartbeat International gathering.

“I really admire their mission and what they do with pregnancy centers,” Brusie said of the organization working to support pregnant women and prevent them from seeking an abortion.

Brusie and her husband of seven years and their four children, ranging in age from 6 months to 6 years old, belong to Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish in Lapeer, Michigan. She said that when she was faced with an unplanned pregnancy seven years ago, she embarked on an unknown path. She persevered in finding support and assistance, completing work for her degree and giving birth to her first child, now a student at Bishop Kelley School at the family’s parish.

“I found a huge lack of information about choosing to have your baby and continue building your skills and start your career and establish your place in adulthood,” Brusie said.

“I interviewed a lot of women and talked about issues such as finishing school, delaying school, the relationship with the baby’s father and what to do on campus to support other women in a similar situation,” she said.

Brusie described her book as inspirational and practical from a pro-life perspective.

“I hope to get it in conference attendees’ hands and they can use the stories for inspiration to share with their own clients,” Brusie said.

Pope orders cooperation in preventing abuse, caring for victims

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — The leaders of the world’s bishops’ conferences and religious orders must ensure that they are doing everything possible to protect children and vulnerable adults from abuse and are offering appropriate care for victims and their families, Pope Francis said.

“Priority must not be given to any other kind of concern, whatever its nature, such as the desire to avoid scandal, since there is absolutely no place in ministry for those who abuse minors,” he said in a written letter.

People hold quilts at press conference in 2013 outside of Los Angeles cathedral for victims of sexual abuse by priests. (CNS photo/David McNew, Reuters)

People hold quilts at press conference in 2013 outside of Los Angeles cathedral for victims of sexual abuse by priests. (CNS photo/David McNew, Reuters)

The letter, dated Feb. 2, the feast of the Presentation of the Lord, was sent to the presidents of national bishops’ conferences worldwide and the superiors of religious orders. The Vatican released a copy of the letter Feb. 5, the feast of St. Agatha.

In his letter, the pope said, “Families need to know that the church is making every effort to protect their children. They should also know that they have every right to turn to the church with full confidence, for it is a safe and secure home.”

With protecting minors as a top priority, the pope said he wants to encourage and promote the church’s commitment to protection and care “at every level — episcopal conferences, dioceses, institutes of consecrated life and societies of apostolic life — to take whatever steps are necessary to ensure the protection of minors and vulnerable adults and to respond to their needs with fairness and mercy.”

He reminded church leaders they were expected to fully implement the provisions in the 2011 circular letter from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith requiring all dioceses in the world to develop guidelines on handling allegations of abuse.

“It is likewise important that episcopal conferences establish a practical means for periodically reviewing their norms and verifying that they are being observed,” he wrote.

The pope underlined that it was “the responsibility of diocesan bishops and major superiors to ascertain that the safety of minors and vulnerable adults is assured in parishes and other church institutions.”

The church also has the “duty to express the compassion of Jesus toward those who have suffered abuse and toward their families,” which is why dioceses and religious orders should set up pastoral care programs “which include provisions for psychological assistance and spiritual care.”

Priests and heads of religious communities “should be available to meet with victims and their loved ones; such meetings are valuable opportunities for listening to those who have greatly suffered and for asking their forgiveness,” he wrote.

The pope said he established in December 2013 the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors to draw up ways the church could improve its norms and procedures for protecting children and vulnerable adults.

This commission, led by U.S. Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley of Boston and made up of survivors and lay experts in the field, is meant to be “a new, important and effective means for helping me to encourage and advance the commitment of the church at every level” in taking concrete steps to ensure greater abuse protection and care, he said.

The pope then asked for the “close and complete cooperation” of the world’s bishops’ conferences and religious orders with the commission for the protection of minors, whose duties include assisting church leaders in “an exchange of best practices and through programs of education, training and developing adequate responses to sex abuse.”

The pope asked for prayers that the church “carry out, generously and thoroughly, our duty to humbly acknowledge and repair past injustices and to remain ever faithful in the work of protecting those closest to the heart of Jesus.”


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 104,805 other followers