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Mission is to make disciples for Christ, not for one's group, pope says

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Every Christian is called to be a missionary, sharing the good news of salvation in Christ and making disciples for him, not for oneself or one's clique of like-minded believers, Pope Francis said.

"What instructions does the Lord give us for going forth to others? Only one, and it's very simple: Make disciples. But, be careful: his disciples, not our own," the pope said Oct. 20 as he celebrated World Mission Sunday.

Dozens of participants from the Synod of Bishops for the Amazon joined the pope for the Mass in St. Peter's Basilica; many indigenous wore their native headdresses, had their faces painted or dressed in traditional clothes.

Before reciting the Angelus prayer after Mass, Pope Francis recalled the 100th anniversary of Pope Benedict XV's apostolic letter on mission, "Maximum Illud." The letter, Pope Francis said, was motivated by his predecessor's conviction of "the need to evangelically relaunch the church's mission in the world so that it would be purified of any colonial incrustation and freed from the influences of the expansionist policies of European nations."

Today, he said, the letter calls Catholics "to overcome the temptation of every self-referential closure and every form of pastoral pessimism in order to open us to the joyful newness of the Gospel."

At a time when globalization seems more about "homogenization" and power struggles that breed conflict and "ruin the planet" rather than solidarity and respect for differences, Pope Francis said, Christians must be missionary disciples who share the Gospel with humility and respect.

The pope asked Catholics to commit themselves to a new effort to proclaim "the good news that in Jesus mercy defeats sin, hope defeats fear, brotherhood defeats hostility."

"Christ is our peace," the pope said, "and in him every division is overcome; in him alone there is salvation for every person and all people."

In his homily at the Mass, Pope Francis said Christians are called to share God's love and mercy with all people. "All, because no one is excluded from his heart, from his salvation. All, so that our heart can go beyond human boundaries and particularism based on a self-centeredness that displeases God. All, because everyone is a precious treasure, and the meaning of life is found only in giving this treasure to others."

"Those who bear witness to Jesus go out to all, not just to their own acquaintances or their little group," he said.

The call to be a missionary is a call that is included in every Christian's baptism, the pope said, telling people at the Mass: "Jesus is also saying to you: 'Go, don't miss a chance to bear me witness!' My brother, my sister, the Lord expects from you a testimony that no one can give in your place."

The first and most important way to share the Gospel with others is by living it, he said. "A credible proclamation is not made with beautiful words, but by an exemplary life: a life of service that is capable of rejecting all those material things that shrink the heart and make people indifferent and inward-looking; a life that renounces the useless things that entangle the heart in order to find time for God and others."

Being a missionary disciple, he said, does not mean "conquering, mandating, proselytizing," but rather "witnessing, humbling oneself alongside other disciples and offering with love the love that we ourselves received."

"Our mission," he said, is "to give pure and fresh air to those immersed in the pollution of our world; to bring to earth that peace which fills us with joy whenever we meet Jesus on the mountain in prayer; to show by our lives, and perhaps even by our words, that God loves everyone and never tires of anyone."

 

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Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at [email protected]

Catholic school students in Bahamas show resiliency after Dorian

IMAGE: CNS photo/Tom Tracy

By Tom Tracy

FREEPORT, Grand Bahama (CNS) -- While many public schools in Grand Bahama remain closed some five weeks after Hurricane Dorian's landfall, Mary, Star of the Sea Catholic Academy is back in session with a new daily schedule and newly refurbished spaces.

Principal Joye Ritchie-Greene said her school opened first, followed by other private schools and some public schools in the area. The academy also picked up a few students who transferred from local public schools along with at least two students who transferred from a Catholic school in Abaco that was demolished by the September hurricane.

Although it suffered storm-surge flooding damage, Mary, Star of the Sea Catholic Academy was able to get a jump on post-Dorian renovations with restored electrical power Sept. 23 based on a provisional agreement with the electric company, allowing water-damage repairs to begin immediately, the principal said.

The academy's high school resumed classes Sept. 17, with earlier starting and ending times and the primary grades returned the following week.

Ritchie-Greene pointed out that hurricane preparedness and lockdown plans are a part of life in the Bahamas, but there also has been a bit of a learning curve in the aftermath of such a powerful storm.

To accommodate the many challenges students and their families are facing right now, the school adjusted its schedule to begin and end a little earlier each day and teachers have said the students are more productive with the changes.

"The shift in our schedule was originally to accommodate children who didn't have electricity at home, who didn't have running water, who were still living with family members and needed extra time to do personal things -- but we realized that they were more attentive at school," the principal said.

And while there were no hurricane-related fatalities among the faculty or student body, many have relatives or close friends who experienced these tragedies.

At least three faculty members and about seven or eight student families reported total loss of their homes and personal possessions. Several have taken some time off, and many took short trips off the island to regroup.

"In terms of the social-emotional aspect, we had counselors and psychologists on campus the first two days and we have had counselors speak at our general parent-teacher association meeting last week sharing with parents coping skills for themselves as well as for the children," Ritchie-Greene told the Florida Catholic, newspaper of the Miami Archdiocese.

In addition, three primary teachers attended special training sessions for trauma and have been incorporating what they learned in their music and art classes. When the students came back, they were also greeted by a stack of pen-pal letters from students at St. Cecilia's School in Dallas.

"What we have found is that the children have been very resilient, sharing and talking," Ritchie-Greene said. "We thought it would have taken longer for them to settle in."

However, she added, soon after the school reopened, "it was as though the storm had not happened: Geography was being taught, history was being taught, physics was being taught -- teaching and learning was going on and so I was pleased with that sense of normalcy."

Ritchie-Greene said the schools in the Bahamas have clear hurricane guidelines and staff teams making sure everything is in place.

"You need to have a plan, you need to have members of the team knowing what is expected of them, but once the storm has happened, it also helps if you have persons above you who also know how to manage and act quickly," she added.

The aftermath of a hurricane forces you to put your life in perspective, Ritchie-Greene said, adding: "It really causes us to pause and think about what is most important and there is a somberness to people's moods (now) and people's emotions are raw. We need to be sensitive to that."

Put another way, she said: "I recognize that how I respond to what a parent is saying to me is so important because I recognize that we are just out of a very traumatic experience and people aren't thinking rationally."

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Tracy writes for the Florida Catholic, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Miami.

 

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Church must make 'preferential option for the Amazon,' bishop says

IMAGE: CNS photo/Edgard Garrido, Reuters

By Barbara J. Fraser

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- As tropical forests fall victim to loggers, miners and ranchers, the Catholic Church must take sides to defend the Amazon region and its people, said a bishop whose Bolivian diocese has been ravaged by fire this year.

"Just like we had a preferential option for the poor, this is a preferential option for the Amazon," Bishop Robert H. Flock of San Ignacio de Velasco told Catholic News Service. The bishop, a Wisconsin native, is participating in the Synod of Bishops for the Amazon being held at the Vatican Oct. 6-27.

Between July and October, an area the size of South Carolina burned in his diocese in the northern Bolivian lowlands known as the Chiquitana region. That was nearly one-sixth of the entire diocese.

Villagers lost homes and crops, and at least three firefighters died battling the blazes.

Farmers and ranchers set fire to their fields every year to clear land and kill insect pests, but this year was worse than most because of a prolonged drought and climate change, Bishop Flock said.

Government policies to promote expansion of ranch land to increase beef production, combined with a national government decree authorizing controlled burning, contributed to the crisis.

The state of Santa Cruz, which includes the San Ignacio diocese, declared a state of emergency in August, but it was not until rains arrived during the first week of October that the fires finally smoldered out.

Indigenous people from San Ignacio de Velasco arrived Oct. 16 in the city of Santa Cruz, the state capital, after a monthlong protest march. Angered by the slow official response to the fires, they demanded that the government rescind the controlled-burning decree. They also called for agricultural assistance and public services like electricity.

The fierce fire season, especially in Bolivia and Brazil, came on top of steady destruction of the forest to make way for industrial-scale agriculture and cattle ranching. Those practices make wildfires more likely.

"Deforestation means less humidity, less humidity means drier conditions, and drier conditions mean more fires," Bishop Flock said. "More fires mean less forest. It's a vicious circle."

The evaporation of water from the leaves of Amazonian trees creates about half of the rain that falls over region, scientists have found. Forest loss therefore means less precipitation.

The Andean highlands to the south and west of Bolivia's part of the Amazon basin depend on rain from the Amazon forest, the bishop said. "So, if the forest goes, it will have a ripple effect on the whole Bolivian ecosystem and on the world."

Pope Francis underscored both that interconnectedness and the urgent need for action in his 2015 encyclical "Laudato Si'" and during the synod.

"Integral ecology means you can't separate defense of the ecology from defense of the peoples, because it's their territory in the first place, their piece of creation, and their lives that are at stake," Bishop Flock said.

Development is necessary, because people need public services like health care and education, and they must be able to make a living, he said. But it must ensure that forests on which rural dwellers depend will be there for their children and grandchildren.

"The peoples of the Amazon are best placed to know what sustainable development means in their own home," Bishop Flock said. "We can't force Western models" on them.

The voice of the church "is important and it's worldwide," he said. "We have to say that this destruction of the Amazon and the violence against its peoples and defenders has to stop. The church sides with them."

 

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Catholic priest murdered in Kenya, latest in string of killings

IMAGE: CNS photo/Fredrick Nzwili

By Fredrick Nzwili

NAIROBI, Kenya (CNS) -- A Catholic priest who disappeared from his family home was found dead in a shallow grave in southeastern Kenya a week after he was reported missing.

Police investigators and pathologists Oct. 16 exhumed the body of Father Michael Maingi Kyengo, 43. They said his body had been stashed in a sack.

Onlookers watched in shock as Father Kyengo's body was pulled from a seasonal riverbed. Police said he had been strangled and that his body had been disfigured.

Father Kyengo was a parish priest in Thatha at a parish in the Diocese of Machakos.

He had been staying with his parents at their home about 32 miles north of Nairobi before his family reported him missing Oct. 11. He had traveled there for his annual leave Oct. 1, said Father Josephat Kyambuu, another priest at the parish.

"I had heard not from him for two weeks. It hit me to hear of his death," Father Kyambuu told Catholic News Service Oct. 17. "He never said he was facing any threats."

The death is among a string of clergy homicides in recent months.

Father Kyengo's body was found after investigators traced his cellphone, car and credit card from a 25-year-old suspect, who was arrested and was being held in police custody. Police said the suspect took investigators to the shallow grave.

A local newspaper reported that as many as four people may have participated in the killing.

Father Kyengo had served as a priest in Thatha since his ordination in 2012.

Other Kenyan priests also have been killed during robberies as well as for their opposition to human rights abuses and strong stands against corruption.

"Many bishops and priests have been targeted for exposing evil practices. They are being killed for standing for the truth," said Father Nicholas Mutua, justice and peace coordinator in the Diocese of Garissa.

In some cases, authorities said, the clergymen were likely targeted by people who think they may be carrying large amounts of church funds.

In December, Father John Njoroge, a parish priest in Kiambu, 10 miles north of Nairobi, was shot dead by thugs who robbed him of the weekly church collection.

Four men had blocked the priest's car on a dirt road and demanded a bag containing money that he was carrying. The gunmen shot the priest through the windshield of the car in which he was riding, striking him in the chest.

 

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Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at [email protected]

Development proposals at synod raise questions about indigenous rights

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Barbara J. Fraser

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Proposals for Amazonian development made by well-known observers at the Synod of Bishops for the Amazon could conflict with the expectations of indigenous people unless they are included in decision-making, some synod participants said.

In his four-minute presentation to the synod on Oct. 15, economist Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University called for a common global plan for the forest and the peoples who live there. He proposed increased investment by the world's countries to preserve Amazonian forests, the creation of an international scientific panel, and action by governments to curb deforestation.

A week earlier, Brazilian climate scientist Carlos Nobre proposed taking advantage of modern technologies of what economists call the "fourth industrial revolution" to create a "bioeconomy" of sustainably produced items that would keep the forest standing. Processing Amazonian fruits and nuts, as well as crops like cocoa, can be more profitable than ranching, which is one of the main drivers of deforestation, he told Catholic News Service in a telephone interview.

Both proposals reflect a series of recommendations made in an essay titled "Scientific Framework to Save the Amazon," which was prepared for the synod by more than 40 scientists, including Nobre. The essay cites Pope Francis' encyclical "Laudato Si'" and calls for countries to adhere to the 2015 Paris climate agreement.

It also presents the proposal of developing "bio-industries" to produce foods, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and other products using forests as a source, and calls for companies to ensure that any products they purchase are sustainably produced.

Several synod participants worried that such proposals could sideline indigenous people from decisions about development, especially if their land rights are not secure. Local communities in the Amazon must have the power to decide what kind of development they want, they said.

The scientific framework essay links the proposed bioeconomy to concept of integral ecology described in "Laudato Si'." Critics, however, said that it put a price on nature and created the risk of privatizing forest resources that communities now view collective goods.

Others noted that although outside experts invited to the synod speak from their own perspectives, the rights of indigenous peoples have been a constant theme during individual presentations and small-group discussions.

People who questioned the proposals said Sachs and Nobre did not mention indigenous people's right to be consulted about projects affecting them, which is enshrined in international treaties. They also worried that outsiders could use development projects to benefit themselves instead of the communities from which forest products are taken.

Nobre told Catholic News Service that the proposal is still new and that the scientists involved have not conducted a formal consultation with indigenous groups. He said the idea is for communities to operate their own businesses and not to open the door to outsiders.

Although she did not refer directly to those proposals, Yesica Patiachi Tayori, a Harakbut woman from Peru, told journalists Oct. 16, "We don't want (the synod) to end in a mercantilist discourse."

Patiachi, who made that remark at the daily press briefing, was one of the speakers who addressed the pope in January 2018 during his encounter with indigenous people in Puerto Maldonado, Peru. On that occasion, she asked him to help her people defend themselves against "outsiders who see us as weak and insist on taking our territory away from us in different ways."

Inside the synod and at parallel events nearby, indigenous people have called for church leaders especially to support their efforts to obtain official rights to their territories. When they do not have legal title, they risk losing their land to land speculators, private enterprises like mining companies, or outsiders who engage in illegal logging, wildcat gold mining or other illicit activities.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has halted the demarcation of indigenous lands even where the process was underway. In Peru, hundreds of indigenous communities await titling.

Amazonian indigenous groups hope that the pope, as an internationally known figure, will amplify their demand for respect for their rights and territories, Gregorio Diaz, president of an umbrella organization of Amazonian indigenous groups, told CNS.

"The synod has to issue a strong message to governments that are making decisions (that affect) indigenous peoples," he said.

At a news briefing Oct. 14, he called for the church to stand up for indigenous people who risk assassination or who face criminal prosecution and imprisonment for defending their territories.

He also asked the church to help indigenous people "talk with the new gods of the developed world, (such as) Google, the International Monetary Fund, the European Economic Commission and the World Bank," and to encourage Amazonian governments to "sit down and talk with us."

Amazonian governors are expected to attend a meeting at the Vatican Oct. 28, Brazilian media reported.

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Couple says adoption is a blessing, gift and 'roller coaster of emotions'

IMAGE: CNS photo/Sam Lucero, The Compass

By Benjamin Wideman

KIEL, Wis. (CNS) -- After David and Maria Schuette got married in 2015, they wanted a family right away but months later they found out that infertility issues would likely prevent them from having children of their own.

"It was tough knowing that everything I thought about growing a family as a little girl ... it wasn't going to happen that way," Maria told The Compass, diocesan newspaper of Green Bay. "So there was a lot of pain and sadness over the loss of what we thought growing our family would look like," she added.

David agreed. "The pain we were experiencing was a combination of the infertility and the unknowns of adoption. Even when making the decision to adopt, we were fearful it would take five years, if it even happened at all. And we didn't know where to start or what the future would look like."

Now, it turns out the future is working out well for the Schuettes, proud parents of Isaac, 18 months old, and Eli, 8 months old, both adopted.

David and Maria, members of SS. Peter and Paul Parish in Kiel, were at the hospitals for each birth and remain in close communication with their sons' birth parents.

The new parents, who are both 30, are thrilled to be growing their family, even if it occurred differently than they originally planned.

"The joy of parenthood isn't dependent on whether your child is your biological child. We have so much love and joy being parents to Isaac and Eli," said David, adding they are discussing adopting a third child.

Their adoption journey began in spring 2017.

At the time, Maria worked for the Diocese of Green Bay in youth ministry and religious education so she knew about Catholic Charities' work in facilitating adoptions.

"Catholic Charities was phenomenal in helping us understand adoption from a pro-life perspective," Maria said, which included "how to care and walk with birth mothers and birth fathers and what our role was in that entire process."

She said they received an email that Isaac's parents had been referred to Catholic Charities and that several other matches fell through before they connected with Isaac's parents.

"Four weeks later, Isaac was born," Maria said. "When Isaac was about 7 months old, we met another birth mother through a friend of a friend, and that's how we got two adoptions 10 months apart."

Although David and Maria were at the hospitals for each birth, the two situations were different.

Isaac was born with a congenital heart defect and spent 11 days in the hospital's neonatal intensive care.

"Isaac is doing great now," David said. "He's sort of a miracle baby. But the doctors weren't sure how his health would be when he was born."

David and Maria were able to be in the room with Eli's birth.

"We were very, very lucky to be at the hospitals for both of the boys' births and to be matched the way we were," David said.

Early in the adoption process, the Schuettes wondered about ongoing contact with birth parents.

"What if the birth parents wanted to come back and co-parent?" she recalled thinking. "That was really a bit scary."

However, after learning more and being in contact with both sets of birth parents, she now calls it "a very special relationship. We have a lot of respect for the birth parents. Both sets expressed before they had the boys that they would like to have contact."

Sometimes there are visits, sometimes text messages.

"We really give preference to the birth parents with how they'd like to be communicated with," Maria said. "We very much love them for who they are and who God made them to be and the decision they made to place their children with us."

David and Maria are pleased that their sons are close in age and feature different personalities; Isaac is outgoing, whereas Eli is reserved.

"We continue learning every day how to be parents," Maria said. "Whether we had the boys biologically or they came to us through adoption, they are God's children first and we are caretakers of them. We learn every day how to be better parents, how to be more loving, more patient, more giving. And we have a lot of fun in the process."

The Schuettes enjoy sharing those experiences with others. In part because they were public about the adoptions, Maria said about 10 families, who are also struggling with infertility and considering adoption, have reached out to them.

"The biggest thing I'd say to (prospective adoptive parents) is to give it a chance," said David, noting that both his youngest sister and paternal grandmother were adopted. "For the most part, people are very open and want to share their experiences and help others. And agencies do a great job of educating."

"Adoption is a great blessing and gift, but also a roller coaster of emotions," Maria said. "We tell families to trust and have faith that there is a child out there for you. Our family is a picture of that."

Maria also had a message for birth parents considering placing their child for adoption.

"Know that you aren't alone and that there are many, many people who love you and want to help you," she said. "Please don't be afraid to reach out for help. Know there are people there to support you every step of the way."

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Wideman writes for The Compass, newspaper of the Diocese of Green Bay.

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North American indigenous support Amazonian indigenous at synod

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

ROME (CNS) -- As the Synod of Bishops for the Amazon heard pleas to defend the rights of the region's indigenous people and of the land they hold sacred, indigenous leaders from Canada and the United States came to Rome to support them.

Accompanied by representatives of their nations' bishops' conferences, the North Americans said Oct. 17 that the struggle for justice, for recognition of territorial rights and for the defense of the Earth unite the indigenous peoples of North, Central and South America.

Sister Priscilla Solomon, an Ojibway and a Sister of St. Joseph Sault Ste. Marie from Canada, said the indigenous peoples of the Americas "have a very similar kind of spirituality, vision, values that teach us that everything is connected: not only people, human beings, but we are part of land. The land is us. The water is us."

Colonization is also a common experience, she said, and one that has left members of the First Nations and Native Americans impoverished, both materially and culturally since their languages, customs and spirituality often were suppressed.

Archbishop Donald Bolen of Regina, Saskatchewan, who accompanied the group, said one task of the delegation was to look at the synod's "implications for our homelands," specifically as regards the treatment of native peoples and the ecological challenges present in North America.

But also, he said, "How are we impacted by what is happening in the Amazon" and "How are we implicated," especially in ties to or outright ownership of the mining and other companies extracting resources, polluting the land and waters and leaving entire populations deeper in poverty.

Rita Means, a longtime activist and representative on the tribal council of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe in South Dakota, told reporters that as "a mother and grandmother," she feels driven to work for justice for her people and the protection of the Earth.

Like the Amazonian indigenous trying to protect their lands from the activity of various extractive industries like mining and logging, she said, the Lakota Sioux and others are fighting the encroachment on their lands of oil pipelines.

"Some of these extractive industries are very destructive to our homeland," she said. "Again, as a mother and grandmother, I guess I find that particularly painful."

She and her people have been "nourishing that 'turtle continent' (Earth) for many centuries and to see it being attacked in such a vicious and destructive way really tears at my heart," Means said. "The Earth is crying for our assistance and this is one call that we cannot fail to answer."

Rodney Bordeaux, president of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, said he wanted to show his people's solidarity for the Amazonian indigenous, who are experiencing "what happened to us 100-120 years ago" with people trying to steal their land to extract resources. For the Lakota, he said, "there was gold in the hills and they just stole our land."

Sister Solomon said she does not believe the Catholic Church should try to convert indigenous peoples to Christianity, "but where there is openness to knowing Christ and the teachings of the church, the church needs to be ready to offer that."

Bordeaux said the Bible presents Jesus as one who got involved in the lives of the people he encountered, so Christians should ask themselves "What would Jesus do today? Would he stand aside, quiet? I think we know the answer and the church knows the answer."

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Safe injection sites for drug addicts 'a form of euthanasia,' priest says

IMAGE: CNS photo/Gina Christian, catholicphilly.com

By Gina Christian

PHILADELPHIA (CNS) -- Safe injection sites are "a form of euthanasia," according to a Philadelphia priest who has spent almost 50 years ministering to those suffering from addiction.

Officials are seeking to make Philadelphia the first U.S. city to open a safe injection site, modeled after a facility that has operated in Vancouver, British Columbia, since 2003.

But Father Douglas McKay, founder and chaplain of Our House Ministries, said that plan is "a way of killing those with addiction, a way of doping them up and 'protecting' ourselves from them."

Located in Philadelphia's Grays Ferry section -- a neighborhood long ravaged by drug and alcohol addiction -- Our House Ministries provides recovery homes, conducts numerous group recovery meetings each week and offers intensive spiritual support for those seeking sobriety.

Our House also hosts a chapter of the Calix Society, an international organization for Catholics in recovery that stresses the power of sacramental grace in overcoming addiction.

Father McKay, who began working with those in addiction even before his seminary studies, said he has known thousands who have died from substance abuse. He currently presides at an average of two funerals a week due to drug overdoses, "not counting the ones" he turns down.

Addiction has hit home for the archdiocesan priest, who grew up just a few blocks from where he now ministers. In 1995, his brother Anthony died at age 30 "in a crack house, with a needle in his arm," said Father McKay. Another brother, Harry, also struggled with addiction after serving in Vietnam, but remained sober for the last 25 years of his life.

Reflecting on an Oct. 2 federal court decision that has cleared the legal hurdles for Philadelphia's proposed safe injection site, Father McKay said such a facility would not have prevented Anthony's overdose. Instead, he noted, safe injection sites only "provide a slower death to people who are already dying."

"These people don't need more drugs; that's the cause of their sickness," he told CatholicPhilly.com, the digital newspaper of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. "You're poisoning their brains and making them sicker, when they need to be made well."

Father McKay sees the sites as the product of "a drug culture that's part of the culture of death." He likened the impact of such facilities to the "zombie effect" of extended methadone use in combating heroin addiction.

A synthetic opioid, methadone works to eliminate withdrawal symptoms, but long-term reliance on the prescription "burns out the brains" without healing addiction, said Father McKay.

"The whole approach here reminds me of lobotomizing violent criminals and mentally ill people," said Father McKay.

Lobotomy, or removal of the brain's frontal lobe, was widely practiced on tens of thousands in the mid-20th century to treat severe mental illness while reducing institutional overcrowding. Patients were generally left incapacitated and cognitively unresponsive after the procedure.

While acknowledging "there are good people on both sides" of the safe injection site debate, Father McKay said supporters of such sites fail to understand the real nature of addiction and the most effective ways to address it.

"They point to one feature, that they won't be alone when they inject themselves," he said, "but they need to look at the whole picture."

Recovery from addiction requires "a moment of truth" that enables the individual to grasp the impact of his or her self-destructive behavior, said Father McKay. Such awareness is central to the 12-step approach employed by Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous and similar groups.

Safe injection sites "steal that moment away from them," he said, since facilitating the use of harmful drugs, even with compassionate motives, "takes away the opportunity for sufficient reflection" and keeps the affected person mired in addiction.

"Sobriety is the first step, and that's what we're stopping these people from taking in these safe injection sites," he said. "Without that step, there is no second step."

A number of studies have shown that sustained participation in 12-step groups, which are free and widely available, correlates with recovery rates as high as 70%.

The number is significantly lower for Insite, the Canadian safe injection site that has served as a model for Philadelphia's proposed facility. According to Insite's data, 48,798 -- or 1.35% -- of the 3.6 million users who have self-injected since 2003 there have accessed some form of clinical treatment for substance abuse disorder.

Father McKay also noted that Philadelphia's plan to offer fentanyl screening at its proposed site isn't viable. A synthetic opioid, fentanyl -- which is 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine -- has driven the increase in the nation's overdose deaths.

"Fentanyl is actually a good deterrent, because they're scared to pick up (relapse) again," he said. "But these sites will take that fear away and keep them enslaved, since they'll think they can keep using."

For some users, fentanyl is actually desirable, he added, since it provides a high they can no longer attain after repeated heroin use.

He also noted that those in active addiction would be unlikely to travel from other sections of the city to the proposed Kensington location for Philadelphia's planned site. Many individuals already rely on a kind of "street buddy system," he said, and "watch out for each other when they're nodding off" prior to overdosing.

Clean needles, which safe injection sites typically provide, aren't a draw either, said Father McKay.

"They couldn't care less about clean needles when they have a death wish," he said. "That's how sick they are. They're on the brink of death."

Safe injection sites, like the addiction they seek to treat, ultimately work to harm everyone, said Father McKay.

"You're watching them inject themselves with poison, and they come out demoralized and dehumanized, as do the people who watch them and promote the sites," he said. "Are we really caring about them, watching them shoot up?"

Those suffering from addiction "are our brothers and sisters" who reflect the suffering Christ, the priest said, and they are inextricably connected with the larger community.

"You put that needle in your arm, and it goes into the arm of the Lord, and into everyone else's arm as well," said Father McKay, stressing that addiction simultaneously affects individuals, families and society.

Instead of supporting safe injection sites, he and the Our House team are working to create "spiritual sites" where the root causes of addiction -- such as isolation and hopelessness -- can be countered with God's grace and the fellowship of others.

"We offer healing from the shame and guilt of their past sins," said Father McKay, adding that those who struggle with addiction can become models of holiness through God's intervention in their lives.

Noting that "we underestimate grace and the power of the sacraments, especially the Eucharist," Father McKay said he persists in his work because "there's always an answer, and that is Jesus Christ."

"It's not a belief, it's an experience," he said. "I've seen so many people get better."

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Christian is a senior content producer for CatholicPhilly.com, the digital newspaper of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

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Inadequate formation a factor in lack of vocations, bishops say at synod

IMAGE: CNS Photo/Paul Jeffrey

By Barbara J. Fraser

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Existing formation programs are not preparing priests and other pastoral workers to be leaders in a church with an Amazonian and indigenous face, according to bishops participating in the synod for the Amazon.

"It's not the same to evangelize in the city as in the Amazon," Bishop Rafael Cob Garcia of Puyo, Ecuador, told journalists at an Oct. 12 press briefing. "The needs are different."

Formation must be adapted to meet those needs, he said.

Synod participants repeatedly have mentioned the lack of sufficient priests to celebrate the Eucharist and other sacraments in the thousands of communities scattered throughout huge church jurisdictions in Amazonia.

Some bishops have pointed to the church's mandatory celibacy requirement as an obstacle to indigenous vocations. In many indigenous cultures, a young man is not considered an adult and a full member of the community until he has a family.

Another obstacle is academic, because quality education is lacking in rural villages, Bishop Cob said. When young men from villages go to a seminary in the city, they often find themselves behind their urban classmates academically and drop out.

When a young man goes from an indigenous village to an urban seminary, he also is uprooted from his culture, Franciscan Father Joao Messias Sousa, who ministers among the Munduruku people in Brazil's Tapajos River basin, told Catholic News Service.

The Munduruku culture is based on sharing, instead of individual property, he said, and they are not "slaves of time." When they arrive at the seminary, where schedules are strict and people have their own rooms, study materials and other possessions, "it's a shock," he said.

For those who do continue, current formation falls short, Bishop Cob said, adding that seminary formation sometimes loses sight of the fact that "our vocation is rooted in being servants."

In brief remarks to synod participants Oct. 14, Pope Francis said he was disappointed that some seminarians from Latin America go to other countries to study and stay abroad instead of returning to work as missionaries in places like the Amazon, two participants told CNS.

Some bishops are seeking ways to give formation a more Amazonian face, but they said there is a shortage of qualified people to do formation. Brazilian Immaculate Heart of Mary Sister Roselei Bertoldo said it is also important for seminaries and theology schools to include women on their faculties.

A lack of qualified teachers in Amazonian towns forces the Amazonian bishops in Ecuador to send priesthood candidates to Quito, the capital, Bishop Cob said. Once there, the students provide support for each other, and the bishops can pool staff to accompany them. Nevertheless, he said he hopes they will be able to establish a seminary in the Amazon in the future.

The Prelature of Sao Felix, in Brazil's Mato Grosso state, established its own school of theology to provide formation appropriate for ministry in Amazonian communities, Bishop Adriano Ciocca Vasino said at the press briefing. The school is open to both men and women.

Candidates for ordained ministry complete their theology studies at the prelature's school and then do four years of ministry in communities. Only if the community agrees that they are prepared for the priesthood does the bishop ordain them, he said.

Young men in their late teens are interested in the priesthood, but Bishop Ciocca said he and his colleagues are still determining the best way to accompany them.

Similar difficulties exist elsewhere in the world, according to Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley of Boston, who told synod participants about an official visit he once made to seminaries in Guatemala.

Although the Central American nation has a large indigenous population -- in fact, it is one of the countries with the largest percentage of indigenous people in the world -- the seminary in Guatemala City had just received its first indigenous students.

Far from their home communities, however, the indigenous students at the capital's major seminaries "were like fish out of water," the cardinal wrote in an Oct. 11 blog post about his presentation at the synod.

After visiting schools in the capital, he traveled to the Diocese of Verapaz, in central Guatemala, which had a new seminary exclusively for indigenous students.

"I had to speak to them through interpreters because they did not speak Spanish," Cardinal O'Malley wrote.

The school lacked funding -- the cardinal noted that the seminarians' families had to take food to them -- and closed several years later, even though it had a large number of seminarians.

The Verapaz seminary offered "an opportunity to train indigenous priests in their own language and in their own cultural context," he wrote. "I felt badly when the seminary closed because I knew those seminarians would never be able to attend a different sort of seminary."

That is a cautionary tale for those looking for ways to increase vocations in the Amazon region, Cardinal O'Malley said.
 
"If we want to have priests there, we are going to have to make sacrifices to have people who can promote vocations and accompany and train seminarians in their own milieu and their own languages," he said.

 

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Pope criticizes cruelty of world marked by hunger, obesity, food waste

IMAGE: CNS photo/Khaled Abdullah, Reuters

By Paige Hanley

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Resolving the global crises of world hunger and malnutrition demands a shift away from a distorted approach to food and toward healthier lifestyles and just economic practices, Pope Francis said.

"We are, in fact, witnessing how food is ceasing to be a means of subsistence and turning into an avenue of personal destruction," he said in his message to Qu Dongyu, director general of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, to mark World Food Day Oct. 16. World Food Day marks the date the FAO was founded in 1945 to address the causes of world hunger.

Pope Francis said he hoped the world day theme of 2019 -- "Our actions are our future: Healthy diets for a #ZeroHunger World" -- will be a reminder of how many people continue to eat in an unhealthy way.

"It is a cruel, unjust and paradoxical reality that, today, there is food for everyone, and yet not everyone has access to it, and that in some areas of the world food is wasted, discarded and consumed in excess, or destined for other purposes than nutrition," he said.

"To escape from this spiral, we need to promote 'economic institutions and social initiatives which can give the poor regular access to basic resources,'" he said, citing his encyclical, "Laudato Si'."

The theme also points to "the distorted relationship between food and nutrition," he said. Some 820 million people in the world suffer from hunger, "while almost 700 million are overweight, victims of improper dietary habits," said Pope Francis.

Being overweight is no longer a major health issue in developed countries, he said, but also in poorer areas where people may "eat little but increasingly poorly, since they imitate dietary models imported from developed areas."

Poor nutrition based on excess often results in illnesses, such as cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and degenerative diseases, and poor nutrition has seen an increasing number of deaths related to anorexia and bulimia, he said.

A better understanding of food and its true purpose as well as "a conversion in our way of living and acting" will aid in fighting hunger and malnutrition, the pope said.  

"Nutritional disorders can only be combated by the cultivation of lifestyles inspired by gratitude for the gifts we have received and the adoption of a spirit of temperance, moderation, abstinence, self-control and solidarity," the pope said.

"By adopting such a lifestyle, we will grow in a fraternal solidarity that seeks the common good and avoids the individualism and egocentrism that serve only to generate hunger and social inequality," he said.
 
Pope Francis also highlighted the vital role of the family in continuing traditions of sustainable farming and the production of nutritional products.

"Within the family, and thanks to the particular sensitivity and wisdom of women and mothers, we learn how to enjoy the fruits of the earth without abusing it. We also discover the most effective means for spreading lifestyles respectful of our personal and collective good," the pope said.

This is why the FAO has devoted additional effort to protect rural families and encourage family-operated farms, the pope added.

Lastly, the pope underlined the human person must be valued above personal monetary gain.

"The battle against hunger and malnutrition will not end as long as the logic of the market prevails and profit is sought at any cost, with the result that food is relegated to a mere commercial product subject to financial speculation and with little regard for its cultural, social and indeed symbolic importance," the pope said in his message.

"When priority is given to the human person, humanitarian aid operations and development programs will surely have a greater impact and will yield the expected results," the pope concluded.

 

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