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Mexico City archdiocese offers free medical care for earthquake victims

Mexico City, Mexico, Sep 26, 2017 / 11:30 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In the wake of last week’s devastating earthquake, the Archdiocese of Mexico City has announced that anyone needing medical care can go to the Catholic Church's clinics and hospitals even if they are unable to pay.

On Sept. 19, a 7.1-magnitude earthquake devastated Mexico City and surrounding areas, killing more than 300 and leaving thousands homeless.

Health care law in Mexico requires that medical services are provided on a sliding scale, considering the ability of patients to pay. In light of the current situation, the archdiocese has announced that it will provide medical services “even if you can't pay on the sliding scale.”

To help defray their costs, donations of any kind are also being requested, especially “bandages, toiletries, antiseptics, gauze or medications in good condition, not used or expired.”

Fr. Pedro Velasquez, director of the Pastoral Commission on Health Care for the Archdiocese of Mexico, noted that this service is being provided thanks to volunteers from Catholic universities, especially from Anahuac University's north and south campuses.   

Cardinal Rivera also shared his appreciation for all the youthful volunteers during a recent homily at the Guadalupe Basilica: “What a moving lesson it has been to see so many young people, day and night, helping those affected, distributing food supplies, removing rubble, going up and down  the streets anxiously looking for someone to help! Just for the joy of seeing someone being reborn out of the rubble!”

Fr. Velasquez described the first moments after the quake struck. “Initially people cut with flying glass came in, or with various kinds of trauma; we've treated fractures, bruises, those are the things we normally treat when there's an emergency,” the priest said.

“We also give medications to people with chronic problems such as diabetes, high blood pressure or even a nervous breakdown,” he added.

Finally, Fr. Velasquez encouraged Mexicans to keep their faith, and to see that despite the suffering brought by the quake, “natural catastrophes are an opportunity God gives us to show our support for one another and to use our personal talents to serve others.”

This article was originally published by our sister agency, ACI Prensa.  It has been translated and adapted by CNA.


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Catholics in Papua New Guinea a sign of the Church's universality

Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, Sep 26, 2017 / 06:08 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A young Catholic diocese in the southern highlands of Papua New Guinea has a vibrant and growing faith, one which the people have embraced as their own, showing the universality of the Church, a local bishop says.

“To me it is really beautiful and it really expresses the catholicity of the Church, that the people have embraced the faith as something that is truly theirs, something that is truly meaningful to them,” Bishop Donald Lippert told CNA.

“They don't look upon it as something foreign, as something coming from the outside. It is something that is very important to them and truly theirs.”

Bishop Lippert, an American Capuchin, has been working in Papua New Guinea for more than 10 years and has been bishop of the Diocese of Mendi, an area nestled in the mountains, in the southern highland region of Papua New Guinea, since 2012.

The Diocese of Mendi is young. When the first missionaries came to the area in the mid-1950s there were no Catholics. The diocese now has 80,000 Catholics – around 10 percent of the population.

“We hope that will grow over the years. That’s what we’re there for,” he said.

One sign of the faith’s growth is the building of a new church in the pastoral area of Hedmari in August. Bishop Lippert, who traveled to the rural village to bless the new church, said that “the people were so happy.”

The old church building had been falling into disrepair and the community was quickly outgrowing it. “The people themselves, without any help from the diocese, without any help from outside agencies, came together and built a beautiful church in a small little place,” he said.

“I was amazed when I saw it for the first time.” In general, the people of Papua New Guinea “are so happy when they can build a church, both in terms of the church building and in terms of the church as the people of God.”

Not a full-fledged parish yet, Bishop Lippert explained the people of Hedmari were not just constructing a church building, but were working to build the Church herself.

“They are becoming more self-reliant in terms of financial things, they have active ministries going on there, they have parish leadership among the laity, and they have a very strong number of young people who are involved in the church,” he said. “Before long I’ll be able to go back there and open it up as a parish.”

The faith faces some difficulties too, however, one being the remoteness of the highlands. In Mendi, for example, only one small plane arrives per week. With poor infrastructure and bad roads, getting around can be a challenge.

Other challenges include the lingering pagan beliefs of the people, many of which are steeped in witchcraft. But this is where the Church can step in, Bishop Lippert said. “In fact, I think that is the most beautiful part,” he said.

“They live in a society that is very chaotic and very unsure. And so the Church I think gives them a secure place to stand and can really help them to overcome some of the challenges that they might have.”

Of course no one is exempt from challenges, he pointed out, but it’s the faith that gives us the strength to carry on.

He said that one of the greatest fruits of the Catholic faith he has witnessed in Papua New Guinea is freedom from fear. In the past many people “were afraid of evil spirits, they were afraid of tribal fighting,” he said. “Fear was a great motivator and very characteristic of their lives.”

“But with the embracing of the Catholic faith, that fear is dissipating. Because they know the power of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit that can cast out any kind of evil, or any kind of fear that they might have.”

Even the bishop’s pectoral ‘Tau’ cross is a sign of the faith of the people of Papua New Guinea. “It was made by one of the local people for me out of a shell, a shell that used to be their money, the kina shell,” he said.

“In fact the money today is still called a 'kina' so it was something very valuable for them.”

“So he took one of these shells and was able to make this pectoral cross for me and gave it to me when I became a bishop; it's very unique and very beautiful I think.”


Most children in orphanages aren't actually orphans. This group wants to help them.

Baltimore, Md., Sep 26, 2017 / 03:20 am (CNA).- Shannon Senefeld always assumed that children in orphanages are mostly orphans. Most people make that assumption.

When Senefeld found out this was not the case, she was shocked.

In fact, the vast majority of children in orphanages around the world – between 80 and 90 percent – have at least one living parent or other family member, usually someone who loves them and wants them, Senefeld told CNA.

In some cases, families may not have the knowledge or equipment to care for a child with a disability, and orphanages offer specialized services.

Far more often, however, families simply lack resources, such as funds for education or health care, and believe that their child will have better access to these resources in an orphanage.

It’s a problem that is largely unrecognized – by donors, government officials, and members of the general public. But Senefeld and her colleagues want to change that.

Senefeld is the Senior Vice President for Overseas Operations at Catholic Relief Services. Together with Lumos and Maestral International – two organizations that work to protect vulnerable children, especially in institutions and welfare systems – they have released a plan to reunite children in orphanages with their families.

The proposal, entitled “Changing the Way We Care,” would turn orphanages into family support centers, using existing resources to provide services that parents need to care for their own children, at home.

Earlier this month, their proposal was selected from nearly 2,000 entries as one of four finalists in the 100&Change competition, sponsored by the MacArthur Foundation. The winning project, which will be announced in December, will win a $100 million grant, with the goal of making “measurable progress toward solving a significant problem” in the world today.

Senefeld explained that “a lot of children living in orphanages maintain contact with their family,” maybe visiting them once a year if they can afford it.

Many times, parents will send their child to an orphanage out of poverty-driven desperation, hoping to return when their financial situation stabilizes.

“They might be thinking it’s a temporary situation,” Senefeld said, but frequently, parents are never able to pull together the resources to get their child back.

Meanwhile, children in orphanages slowly lose ties with their communities. Studies show that children raised in institutions have substantially higher rates of social and emotional problems than other children, Catholic Relief Services said. Children in orphanages are six times more likely to be exposed to violence, and four times more likely to be sexually abused than children raised in families.

Further complicating the situation, many orphanages operate outside of government regulations, and lack sufficient record-keeping practices, which can make it difficult to track children and reconnect them with their parents.

International adoptions initiated by couples in the United States and most other western countries are subject to strict protocols, designed to ensure that children are legally and ethically available for adoption, and that the rights of natural parents have been respected. However, not all countries observe these protocols.

The ultimate solution to the orphanage crisis is family care, Senefeld said.

Family care is not only the best option for the child’s well-being, but also the most cost-effective option, she explained. “It costs about 10 times as much to raise a child in an orphanage as it does in a community setting in their home country.”

“We want to get those kids back into their family,” Senefeld stressed. For those who truly are orphans, this means finding other relatives, or placing them in foster or adoption care.

“What’s most important for us is that the child is in a family,” she said.

“Many of the orphanages are run by really well-meaning people,” Senefeld emphasized, adding that they often have developed expertise in specialized services for children with disabilities.

Catholic Relief Services hopes to connect caregivers directly with families, so they can use their expertise to train parents and to provide services in a community setting.

Also critical to the success of the project, Senefeld and her colleagues hope to work with governments to ensure that policies are put in place to prevent abusive practices, such as the trafficking of children.

“We want the government to actually support family-based care,” she said. In some countries, the government offers orphanages a stipend for each child. Catholic Relief Services would like to see those stipends redirected to foster care or similar models.

Donors are a critical part of the picture as well. Individuals, faith communities and governments need to be educated about how to best help vulnerable children, Senefeld said. Rather than funding the construction of new orphanages overseas, their donations can be more effective in directly meeting children’s needs in their own homes.

If Catholic Relief Services wins the 100&Change challenge, they hope to implement the family care model in seven different countries – Guatemala, Haiti, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Lebanon and Moldova – each with its own family, government, and cultural situations.

“People say, ‘That’s great, but it wouldn’t work in my country’,” Senefeld said. “This is a great way to show that this model works in a variety of different countries.”

In fact, the family care model is working in a number of different countries already. For example, with the support of the government, Catholic Church, and a number of other non-profit groups, Rwanda is on track to close all of its orphanages and place the children there in family care settings.

The $100 million grant would be a huge step in allowing for a larger, coordinated effort for a global shift toward family-based care for children currently in orphanages.

While Senefeld would love to see Catholic Relief Services’ proposal win the grant, she said that simply being chosen as one of the top entries has already been a significant victory in drawing attention to the situation. 

“For us, this has been a huge opportunity to just let people know,” she explained. “I think it was a hidden issue.”

Ultimately, she said, it’s a matter of achieving justice for the 8 million children growing up in institutions worldwide.

“It’s definitely challenging, but it’s definitely doable.”


Religious minorities need protection, says top Vatican official

Archbishop Paul R. Gallagher, the Vatican foreign minister, told the United Nations in New York that although every recognized faith group experiences some form of oppression globally, Christians remain the most persecuted. The archbishop was citing findings from a number of extensively researched reports.

Catholics in Papua New Guinea a sign of the Church’s universality

The Diocese of Mendi in Papua New Guinea is young. When the first missionaries came to the area in the mid-1950s there were no Catholics. The diocese now has 80,000 Catholics – around 10 percent of the population.

Closeness to God is true freedom, pope says during daily Mass

During his daily Mass on Tuesday, Pope Francis said Jesus has a much broader concept of the family and it is "something much more than being a 'disciple' or a 'friend'." He said, "It means entering Jesus' house, entering that atmosphere, to live that atmosphere that is in Jesus' house."

An Orthodox, a Lutheran, and a Catholic win the 2017 Ratzinger Prize

Estonian Orthodox composer Arvo Pärt, Lutheran Professor Theodor Dieter and Catholic Father Karl-Heinz Menke - both from Germany - were awarded the 2017 Ratzinger Prize for their contributions in the field of theology. For the first time an artist won the prize, in line with "“Benedict XVI’s appreciation for the art of music."

For homeless woman, Rome trip proves that 'good things can happen'

Rome, Italy, Sep 26, 2017 / 12:24 am (CNA).- After a long struggle with alcoholism and homelessness, Melanie Medina has turned her life around. She said that a recent pilgrimage to Rome has proven that change is possible, and that “good things can happen.”

Medina spoke to CNA at the end of a six-day visit to Rome. She is the fourth person selected to go on pilgrimage to Rome through Denver Homeless Ministries (DHM).

“It's all just a blessing, everything's been turning totally different than the way it was before, everything,” Medina said.

DHM is an organization working to provide opportunities to serve the homeless as both “equals and friends.” DHM offers the pilgrimage as a way to encourage those who have made steps to change their lives.

This year’s pilgrimage lasted from Sept. 9-14 and consisted of Medina, trip organizer Tanya Cangelosi, and chaperone Christine Logan.

The pilgrimage was organized with the help of the Catholic Travel Centre (CTC), who payed for their hotel, limo transportation service to the airport, and Medina's birthday dinner while in Rome. The CTC also took care of their flights after a delay left them stranded at the airport.

Until last year, Medina, 38, had been living on the streets and was struggling with alcoholism. She grew up in an alcoholic family, and from a young age she was often responsible for taking care of her parents and cleaning them up at night.

Medina left home at the age of 15, and went to stay with her older sister, who was also an alcoholic. She started hanging out with gangs and eventually entered an abusive relationship. She left the man after having two children with him by the age of 19.

After entering another long-term relationship and having her third child, Medina began to drink heavily herself, but eventually broke up with the man and entered rehab. When she got out, her ex-boyfriend offered to pay rent on their apartment so she and her kids could stay together while she got on her feet.

However, the man went back on his promise, leaving Medina on the streets, while her kids went to live with her mother.

Although she tried to stay sober, Medina started drinking again when the camp she made with a friend was raided and all of their things taken. When they moved camps, they would often have to put their food and belongings in the trees, so rats and mice didn't get into them.

Throughout her time on the streets Medina was beaten several times, once until she was unrecognizable, and she was also raped. Last year she began having severe problems with her feet and could barely walk.

With no diagnosis, she bandaged her feet and quit wearing shoes. After awhile they began to heal, and it was around that time that Medina and her boyfriend, Christopher, decided to make a change and get off the streets.

In her comments to CNA, Medina said the turning point for her was Christopher: “ I met a really good guy out there, and we just wanted a better life for ourselves and to get my family back together,” she said.

After Medina's visit to Rome this year, Christopher has been selected to go on next year's pilgrimage.

In comments to CNA, trip organizer Tanya Cangelosi said she chose Medina for this year's trip because she was an answer to a prayer on Easter morning last year.

Before driving to the Knights of Columbus hall where she kept all of the DHM outreach materials, Cangelosi said a prayer, and told the Lord that if he wanted her to take someone to Rome, he needed to put the person in her path that day, since time was getting short to make the arrangements.

As she drove up to the hall, Cangelosi said Medina walked up to her “and I didn't even recognize her because she'd been alcohol free for several days and she look like a total different person.”

“I knew at that point she was the one that was supposed to go. And that's how she was chosen totally by the Lord!”

Medina said that the main highlights of the Rome visit were seeing the Sistine Chapel and the Leonardo Museum, which showcases the inventions of Leonardo Da Vinci, who despite his widespread fame for painting, was also a prolific inventor.

Medina said she especially appreciated the art: “Everything is pretty much art around here, all the oldish stuff, I love how antique it is.”

“The drivers are a little bit crazy, and the scooters are nuts! But just to see...the people that actually live here, they've been good,” she said, explaining that Romans she met were friendly and welcoming.

Medina, Cangelosi and Logan also had front row tickets to Pope Francis' general audience Sept. 13, which happened to coincide with her 38th birthday. Although she didn't have an impression about the Pope beforehand, Medina said that as he was greeting people, “he seemed really friendly.”

“There was one little boy who got to meet him at the end, down near where we were sitting, and just the way he interacted with him, he didn't seem any different,” she said, noting that Pope Francis even ruffled the boy's hair while talking and taking pictures with the family.

“He treated them all the same, as if he were one of them, so to me that's important,” she said, and voiced admiration for the fact that the Pope would hold the audience despite the fact that he had just returned from a six-day visit to Colombia the day before.

Francis, she said, “made time to still do this for his people, so to me that's great. He didn't say 'I can't do it this week because I'm out of town.' He made it important to come back.”

She voiced her thanks to Cangelosi and DHM for the arranging the trip, saying it was “quite an experience, seeing a whole new place.”

“I'm a person that's not good with change, and then to come across the world with people that I know, but not as well, I was very nervous but they've made me feel at home,” she said. “I've met some great people out here. I got to see a lot of great stuff, history, and I got to see the Pope. It's been wonderful.”

Medina also commented on the difference between homelessness in Rome and homelessness in Denver, saying, “Rome treats there homeless so much better. They let them sleep at the train station. In Denver you cannot do that.”

“You go to Union Station out in Denver, and you just close your eyes and they're kicking you out or making you wake up,” whereas in Rome “they let them just hang out, and the way I see it, a lot of them are a lot more mellow, I think because they have a lot more freedom. They have the right to rest.”

She recalled how, after her birthday dinner, the group went to Rome's Termini train station near their hotel and handed out their leftovers to the homeless sleeping outside.

“I've been there before, so sometimes in the evening it was great to get a white box,” she said, referring to the typically white takeaway boxes given to customers at restaurants.

For Medina, most important was simply being acknowledged, because “I'm still a person, I'm here.”

Speaking to others in her situation who might want to get off the streets but are perhaps struggling to take the first steps, Medina told them to “have faith. That's all we did.”

“If you want it and it doesn't happen right away, nothing happens right away. Rome wasn't built in a day, so it takes time,” she said. “You just have to be positive about it and keep trying, because when it's time and you're ready, God will be there for you, he'll help you out.”

In her comments to CNA, Cangelosi said that while it's still too early to tell what overall impact the trip has made on Medina, having the incentive of Christopher come next year “has got to make a huge impact on their life as they both have to try to stay clean, meaning alcohol free.”

They have to keep their jobs and their apartments, she said, explaining that “that right there is life-changing for both of them.”

Cangelosi said a highlight for her was seeing Medina hand out their leftovers to the homeless at Termini, which was “beautiful.” Medina, she said, “was phenomenal. Honestly she made me laugh daily. It was a joy to see her joy.”

As far as previous participants in the Rome pilgrimage, Cangelosi said the first, Clarissa, is off the streets, has a three bedroom apartment, is holding down a job and has her two children living with her.

The second, Derrick, is now in an apartment and works part-time as a barista, and the third, Shyla, is now living in New York and working in customer service at a hotel.

Seeing where each is at now, Cangelosi said “all lives have changed and continue to be changed, totally by the Lord’s hand.”



As deadline for refugee ceiling looms, U.S. church backs greater welcome

President Donald Trump has until October 1st to set a deadline as to how many refugees the United States will allow this coming fiscal year. The president is reportedly looking to cap the number at 50,000 - a historic low. Meanwhile, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is advocating for at least 75,000 refugees to be admitted.

New climate commission could advance human dignity, US bishops tell Congress

Washington D.C., Sep 25, 2017 / 05:01 pm (CNA).- The United States should create a commission to combat the harms of climate change and promote human dignity as a whole, the U.S. bishops said in a letter to Congress.

“The Church calls for courageous actions and strategies aimed at promoting an integral ecology that considers together the protection of nature, the need for equitable economic development and the promotion of human dignity, especially that of the poor,” the chairmen of two bishops’ conference committees said in a Sept. 15 letter to Congress.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops backed the Climate Solutions Commission Act of 2017, which would establish a bipartisan National Climate Solutions Commission. The bill, H.R. 2326, was introduced by U.S. Rep. John Delaney (D-Md.), a member of the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus.

“This bill has the potential to inspire positive and concrete solutions towards protecting our common home,” said the bishops’ letter.

The joint letter was signed by Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, chair of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development; and Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, N.M., chair of the bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace.

They characterized the legislation as “an important bipartisan step for protecting the environment and mitigating the harmful effects of climate change.”

Bishops Dewane and Cantu stressed the Catholic Church’s consistent emphasis on “the importance of pursuing environmental solutions that are beneficial to all people.”

They cited Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical “Laudato Si,” which stressed the urgent need for policies to reduce carbon dioxide and other polluting gases. During his September 2015 visit to the U.S., the Pope encouraged the U.S. Congress to work to “avert the most serious effects of the environmental deterioration caused by human activity.”