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Knights 'praying for years' for founder's beatification, says Anderson

IMAGE: CNS file photo

By Kurt Jensen

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Father Michael McGivney, the founder of the Knights of Columbus, may be an ideal prospective saint for the current age, said Carl L. Anderson, supreme knight of the international fraternal order.

"We've been praying for years for this to occur, and finally this day has arrived," he told Catholic News Service May 27.

First, he's a pro-life hero. The miracle recognized by the Vatican paving the way for his beatification occurred in 2015 and involved an U.S. baby, still in utero, with a life-threatening condition that, under most circumstances, could have led to an abortion.

He was found to be healed after his family prayed to Father McGivney. "The Vatican likes to be the one to discuss more details than that," Anderson said.

The Vatican announced early May 27 that Pope Francis, who met with the board of directors of the Knights of Columbus in February, had signed the decree recognizing the miracle through the intercession of Father McGivney. Once he is beatified, he will be given the title "Blessed."

Father McGivney (1852-1890), ordained a priest for what is now the Archdiocese of Hartford, Connecticut, founded the Knights of Columbus at St. Mary's Church in New Haven, Connecticut, in 1882. The fraternal order for Catholic men has become the largest lay Catholic organization in the world with 2 million members and sponsors a wide range of educational, charitable and religious activities

The initial work on his sainthood cause began in 1982 on the Knights' centenary. His cause was formally opened in Hartford in 1997, and he was given the title "servant of God." In March 2008, the Catholic Church recognized the priest heroically lived the Christian virtues, so he was given the title "venerable."

His beatification ceremony will be held in Connecticut sometime this fall -- like all other events, scheduling is uncertain because of the COVID-19 pandemic -- "and sometime after that, we'll be looking for another miracle," Anderson said.

Generally, two miracles attributed to the candidate's intercession are required for sainthood -- one for beatification and the second for canonization.

Father McGivney, who will be the first American parish priest to be beatified and has long been a hero of working-class Catholics, can be viewed as a martyr of a pandemic. When he died from pneumonia complications at age 38 in 1890, it was during an outbreak of influenza known as the Russian flu in Thomaston, Massachusetts. Some recent evidence, according to the Knights, indicates the outbreak may have been the result of a coronavirus.

Anderson praised Father McGivney's modesty and "dedication to charity and unity and the way he embodied the good Samaritan" after founding the Knights of Columbus, originally a service organization to help widows and orphans, in New Haven. At the time, Father McGivney, the son of Irish immigrants, who was born in Waterbury, Massachusetts, was an assistant pastor at St. Mary's Parish. He is buried in New Haven.

"Father McGivney did not want to be the leader of the Knights of Columbus," Anderson observed. "He was at first the group's secretary and then the chaplain."

Further, Father McGivney's legacy also includes "the empowerment of the laity" through service projects, Anderson said. "His work anticipated the Second Vatican Council. He created a universal call to holiness that gave the laity a way to be more faithful Catholics. He provided a mechanism for them to go into society and make a difference."

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Editor's Note: The Knights have set up a new website for Father McGivney's sainthood cause:

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Latin American church workers: Pandemic turmoil increases child abuse

IMAGE: CNS photo/Bruno Kelly, Reuters

By Eduardo Campos Lima

SAO PAULO (CNS) -- Catholic missionaries in Latin America say they have noticed disturbing signs of an increase in child abuse during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The social turmoil provoked by the disease and some of the restrictions imposed by governments to avoid the further spread of the virus may be amplifying the risks, they said.

On May 26, the World Health Organization said the Americas had become the new epicenter of the disease, as Brazil's daily death rate became the highest in the world. The organization is also concerned about the rising curves in countries like Peru, Chile and El Salvador.

Most countries in the region adopted social distancing measures in mid-March, including broad quarantines in Peru, Argentina and the Dominican Republic. Even in Brazil, where President Jair Bolsonaro has refused to federally impose such restrictions, state governors and city mayors suspended nonessential activities. Throughout the continent, schools are closed and children are at home.

That's precisely what is most worrisome, said Brazilian Sister Roselei Bertoldo, a member of the Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary who works with the Cry for Life Network, which fights human trafficking and sexual abuse.

"We know that sexual abuse and exploitation most of the times happen inside families. Those problems tend to grow during confinement," Sister Bertoldo told Catholic News Service.

Most children usually denounce abuse at school, she said, "but poor kids don't even have the option of distance education, so we're very worried about them."

During the pandemic, the network had to suspend most of its activities and is currently using the internet to raise awareness on prevention.

"Unfortunately, we frequently get reports from people concerning abuse. We know things are escalating," she said.

The fragility of the state security apparatus in many Latin American regions, intensified with the pandemic, also makes the situation of the victims difficult.

"Families usually fear the aggressor and avoid reporting the case to the police. Now, children are even more vulnerable," Veronica Rubi, director of Caritas in Tabatinga, Brazil, told CNS.

Rubi also is one of the coordinators of a network against human trafficking in the tri-border region. The network was created in 2014 and coordinates sisters, priests, and lay activists from Tabatinga, Brazil; Leticia, Colombia; and Santa Rosa de Yavari, Peru. In 2019, the three bishops of the region established a cooperation agreement.

"It's very easy to cross the borders. Aggressors may have a sense of impunity, given that they can simply hide in another country," Rubi said.

She said her network had to reduce activities with the pandemic but is trying to talk about prevention in any possible way.

"Caritas donated food for more than 400 families in the region. I talked about it (abuse) with each one of them," Rubi said. Reports concerning cases of abuse keep coming to members of her network.

In Peru, the number of phone calls to the Ministry of Women and Vulnerable Populations' hotline doubled during the quarantine. A report of the ministry released at the end of April showed 90 cases of sexual abuse; 59 of them involved underaged victims.

In Madre de Dios department, in the Peruvian Amazon, the government has been combating illegal mining since 2019. Now, with the pandemic, illegal miners may have moved to indigenous reservations, raising the risks of sexual abuse.

"All roads have been closed off due to the quarantine and authorities are focusing on that. There's no control in other areas," said Carol Jeri, an official of the local Caritas.

Jeri said illegal miners often set up camps in which the prostitution of underaged girls is a constant risk.

"The church has formed an indigenous pastoral commission and is in touch with several community leaders," she said, adding that they try to address the problems reported to them.

In Colombia, besides the increasing number of abuses at home, different armed groups have intensified recruitment in the countryside. With schools closed, the number of teenagers they have attracted has doubled, said Nathalia Forero, a social worker who is also a member of tri-border network.

Since the 1960s, a number of Marxist guerrilla organizations have been active in Colombia. Far-right paramilitary groups and drug cartels also mobilize thousands of armed men and women, many of them teenagers.

"Girls who are recruited by armed groups can suffer much violence, including sexual abuse and exploitation," Forero told CNS. For five years, she worked with the congregation of the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul and became familiar with the problem of sex abuse and human trafficking involving children and teenagers. "We feel very impotent at this moment," she said.

Jose Navarro, national coordinator of the Dominican Republic bishops' commission that works with mothers and children, said more risks have been posed to Dominican children and teenagers with the partial reopening of the quarantine in mid-May.

"The adults went back to work, but the schools remain closed. So, many children are alone at home, which can be a problem," he told CNS.

He said his commission offers formation for families on topics such as child nutrition, health and education. Child abuse will be one of the themes discussed this year.

"This way, we can work on prevention," Navarro said.

Rosario Alfaro, executive director of the Mexican organization Guardianes, which works to prevent child sexual abuse, said it is possible many victims currently being molested will never denounce what's happening to them during the pandemic.

"It's difficult for us to talk about things that make us feel embarrassed," she told CNS.

Since the pandemic began, Guardianes has had to suspend the courses it offers in schools about abuse prevention. Alfaro said the quarantine makes many adults grow anxious and stressed with unemployment and the fear of the disease. For adults "unprepared to deal with such emotions, eroticism is the only way to calm down. That's why there are bigger risks of sexual approach of children and teenagers in a moment like this," she said.

She speculated that the current crisis probably intensified problems such as the production and distribution of child pornography and the sexual exploitation of teenagers, traditionally connected to tourist spots.

"Each Mexican state has a particular legislation concerning child abuse. It's very difficult for a child to report a case to the police," she said.

Since 2019, Alfaro has been an adviser to the Mexican bishops' child protection council.

"The church can do much to help. It models and forms behaviors and can guide parents in prevention of sexual abuse and any other kind of violence," she said.


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Vatican seeks more help for Venezuelan refugees during pandemic

IMAGE: CNS photo/Manuel Rueda

By Manuel Rueda

BOGOTA, Colombia (CNS) -- The Vatican's leading diplomat has warned that Venezuelan migrants and refugees are facing a "humanitarian disaster" as lockdowns in host nations leave them without jobs and force some to return home in grueling conditions.

In an online conference on Venezuelan migration organized May 26 by Spain's government, Archbishop Paul Gallagher, the Vatican's foreign minister, urged donors to "act immediately" to fund programs that help vulnerable migrants and refugees from the South American country.

"COVID-19 continues to exacerbate the current crisis," Archbishop Gallagher said. "Already underfunded organizations and programs are in critical need of increased support to upgrade shelters and services" so that they meet COVID-19 requirements.

According to the United Nations, there are currently more than 5 million Venezuelan migrants and refugees around the world, with about 3 million living in Colombia, Ecuador and Peru.

Food shortages, violence and poverty were forcing thousands of people to leave Venezuela each day earlier this year. But that stopped when coronavirus cases began to rise in South America in late March, prompting most countries on the continent to shut down their borders and impose stay-at-home measures.

Now, two months into the health crisis, some Venezuelan migrants are heading back home after losing their jobs, with the poorest walking for weeks as they try to reach their country.

"My landlord threatened to evict me and I had no money to pay rent," said Christian Garcia, a migrant who headed back home in April after losing his job at a construction site in Bogota.

Garcia was making a 400-mile trek toward the border, with his belongings stuffed into a large backpack.

"It will be tough in Venezuela," he acknowledged. "But at least we will not have to pay rent."

During the May 26 conference, the European Union and a coalition of member states pledged $650 million in grants for programs aimed at assisting Venezuelan refugees.

However, it is not clear yet how much of it will go toward providing relief during the pandemic.

"Some of these funds will be spread out over time," said Daphne Panayotatos, a program officer at the Washington-based advocacy group Refugees International. "We're still far from where we need to be" when it comes to funding, she said.

Earlier this year, the U.N. Refugee Agency called on donors to fund a $1.4 billion plan to help Venezuelan migrants and refugees around the hemisphere this year. On May 27, the organization's regional response website said only 12% of that amount has been funded so far.

Panayotatos said the needs faced by Venezuelan refugees have been changing due to the COVID-19 crisis, with more resources now required for urgent things like food and shelter, as thousands of migrants struggle to keep up with rent payments.

Catholic groups helping migrants on the ground have also said the pandemic has changed their operations.

In Cucuta, on Colombia's border with Venezuela, a shelter for migrants is holding just half of its capacity to avoid crowding, while a food pantry that served more than 3,500 migrants each day and was getting support from the U.S. bishops' conference has been shut down to comply with the Colombian government's measures against large crowds. A church-run day care center for migrants' children also has closed.

Father Israel Bravo from the Diocese of Cucuta said parishes have attempted to support migrants by distributing food rations that migrants can cook at home.

The poorest migrants are pooling their resources together and organizing communal meals that are cooked at improvised campfires.

"We would like to open our pantry soon," Father Bravo said. "But we must comply with government regulations."

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To stream or not: Italians debate online Masses when faithful can attend

IMAGE: CNS photo/Remo Casilli, Reuters

By Cindy Wooden

ROME (CNS) -- As Italian Catholics prepared to celebrate Pentecost, the second Sunday with Masses permitted with a limited number of faithful, bishops and priests were still debating whether to continue livestreaming Masses as well.

After a 10-week ban, Masses with the faithful were allowed again beginning May 18. The number of people permitted to attend is determined by the size of the church building, the possibility of keeping people safely distanced from one another and the enforcement of measures such as everyone wearing masks.

But people who have a fever or have been in contact in the previous 14 days with someone who tested positive for COVID-19 are not allowed to attend. And the national health service still was recommending that elderly people and people with certain ailments stay home as much as possible.

Avvenire, the daily newspaper of the Italian bishops' conference, noted a debate in Italy about whether livestreamed Masses should be "suspended, like the pope did, to encourage people to return to participating in person at the Eucharist," or should they be continued with a congregation for those who "cannot leave home or still do not feel it is right for various and respectable reasons."

Pope Francis' last livestreamed Mass from the chapel of his residence was May 17, although the next day the Vatican broadcast the Mass he celebrated in St. Peter's Basilica at the tomb of St. John Paul II to mark the 100th anniversary of the Polish pope's birth.

Commenting on the decision to stop the live broadcasts, Andrea Tornielli, editorial director for the Dicastery for Communication, noted that many people would miss the morning celebration, "but, as Francis himself said, there is a need to return to the communal familiarity with the Lord in the sacraments (by) participating in the liturgy in person."

Archbishop Lauro Tisi of Trent said he would continue his livestreamed Masses through June "because we cannot forget that not everyone can come in yet," particularly the elderly and the sick.

But the livestream also is important for the people who are present in the church for the Mass, he said. Those able to attend "must not forget that a good part of the community is still at home, and they must feel united, must feel longing and understand the suffering" of a community that still is not whole.

"I worry about the risk that in this phase (of the reopening) an individualistic approach to living the sacrament will prevail without recognizing that there always must be a community moment -- lived even with those who are at a distance if they are unable to attend," Archbishop Tisi said.

Father Tonino Lasconi, a pastor in the Marche region, told Avvenire he was continuing his online Masses because families truly gathered to participate in the liturgy -- not just watch it -- during the lockdown. "The virtual helped us live through a delicate moment, but it was not unreal. It was living reality in a different way."

But Father Dino Pirri, a pastor in Grottammare, worried that parishes rushing to get something online actually increased division among Catholics, "multiplying links without reflection" and creating a vast menu of "take-away" liturgies for each Catholic to pick and choose from.

Bishop Pietro Maria Fragnelli of Trapani halted his online Masses once the public could return to the liturgies, although he did so thanking on Facebook everyone who had been present with him the previous 10 weeks.

"It's always difficult for a pastor to say 'no,' especially when you see how the communications media had a unique value," the bishop said, "but at the Mass for the Ascension (May 21), I had the joy -- after 80 days -- of meeting the Christian community in flesh and bones again."

Father Alessandro Palermo, a pastor in Marsala, also was stopping the livestreams. "It's one thing to celebrate face-to-face and another to do so knowing that there are people on the other side of the screen listening to you and watching."

Even if the number of people allowed into the church at one time is limited, he said, people can come to weekday Masses. "Let's celebrate Mass without telephones and cameras; let the people come back," he told Avvenire.


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Archbishop says Floyd video 'gut wrenching,' urges respect for all people

IMAGE: CNS photo/Eric Miller, Reuters

By Maria Wiering

ST. PAUL, Minn. (CNS) -- A video showing a Minneapolis police officer kneeling on the neck of a handcuffed man repeatedly saying "I can't breathe," and who appears to lose consciousness or die while being pinned down, is "gut wrenching and deeply disturbing," Archbishop Bernard A. Hebda  of St. Paul and Minneapolis said in a May 27 statement.

"The sadness and pain are intense," Archbishop Hebda said of the circumstances surrounding the May 25 death of George Floyd. "Let us pray for comfort for his grieving family and friends, peace for a hurting community and prudence while the process moves forward. We need a full investigation that results in rightful accountability and veritable justice."

A bystander filmed part of police's confrontation with the 46-year-old Floyd, an African American restaurant worker from St. Louis Park, Minnesota. who was reportedly arrested on suspicion of forgery. Floyd was pronounced dead at Hennepin County Medical Center. The four officers involved Floyd's arrest have been fired, and the FBI is conducting a federal civil rights investigation. The officer who pinned Floyd is white.

The death inspired hundreds of people to protest May 26 at the intersection where police officers subdued Floyd. Some protesters vandalized police vehicles and the building for the Minneapolis Police Third Precinct building, where it is believed the officers involved worked. Police employed tear gas and flash grenades to disperse the crowd, and some protesters hurled rocks and water bottles at police.

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey called May 27 for charges to be brought against the officer who pinned Floyd with his knee.

Violent protests and looting continued the night of May 27 and led to the shooting death of a man. Frey called for calm, saying, "We cannot let tragedy beget more tragedy." He has asked the National Guard to come in to help keep the peace.

In his statement, Archbishop Hebda called for respect for all people and asked for prayers for Floyd and his family.

"Particularly at this time when human fragility has been brought into focus by the COVID-19 pandemic, we are called to respect the worth and dignity of each individual, whether they be civilians in need of protection or law enforcement officers charged with providing that protection," he said.

"All human life is sacred," he said. "Please join our Catholic community in praying for George Floyd and his family, and working for that day when 'love and truth will meet (and) justice and peace will kiss' (Psalm 85)."

Archbishop Hebda also posted on Twitter May 27 that he offered Mass that morning for Floyd and his family. "In these days before Pentecost, we pray that the Holy Spirit, the Breath of God, might help ease our collective pain, promote justice, and bring about greater respect for all human life."

In a video message posted May 27, the pastor of St. Paul's historically black Catholic parish called on his parishioners "to agitate" their community, Church and world for racial justice and healing.

Father Erich Rutten, pastor of St. Peter Claver in St. Paul, shared his vision for his parish following Floyd's death.

And while Father Rutten said he doesn't know all the details of the situation, the video posted online, now well circulated, showing a white police officer kneeling on Floyd's neck while Floyd, who is handcuffed, repeatedly said he couldn't breathe, "seems so egregious."

"I am saddened. I am sickened. I am angered. And I am tired of such things happening again and again," Father Rutten said. "How long, O Lord, must we endure such things?"

Some people think white supremacy is a concept for university or talk radio debate, he said, but "here is a case where white supremacy has cost someone their life."

"The misguided idea that white people can somehow push people around, or that we own this country, or that we own Minneapolis leads to terrible disrespect, leads to poverty, leads to, in this case, violence, and in many cases, violence," said Father Rutten, who is white.

In contrast, God's love, as revealed by Jesus, shows people that they are all children of one God, equally subject to Christ the King, he said. "We are all brothers and sisters."

In other reaction, the General Council of the Dominican Sisters of Adrian, Michigan, said Floyd's "anguished cry, 'I can't breathe,' as an officer pressed his knee into his neck, harkened back to the cries six years ago of Eric Garner, another unarmed African American man who died in New York police custody."

Floyd's cry "brings to mind the long and growing list of African Americans who have been killed, seemingly for no reason other than being black," the women religious said, and quoted Mayor Frey: "Being black in America should not be a death sentence."

The Dominicans said they were "deeply troubled and distressed by the violent assault" on Floyd, resulting in his death.

"Our Christian faith tradition holds that we are all one people, one body; each made in the image of God," their statement said.

The Dominicans referenced a videotaped sermon by the Rev. Otis Moss III, a prominent Chicago pastor, addressing another recent fatal shooting, that of a 25-year-old black man, for Ahmaud Arbery, in Georgia. Three white men are in custody and face a hearing on murder charges.

In the sermon, titled "The Cross and the Lynching Tree: A Requiem for Ahmaud Arbery," Rev. Moss "speaks of racism as a virus that has infected the spirit and soul of our country," the Dominicans said.

He said Arbery's death "is not an anomaly but a historical pattern of behavior that binds every American to an unexamined history of our nation."

"Rev. Moss powerfully summarizes that unexamined history in his 22-minute sermon. It is a history that we Americans must acknowledge -- and then set ourselves on a soul-searching course, powered by courage and love, to make real the ideals of freedom and equality on which our nation was founded," the women religious said.

Signing the statement were Dominican Sisters Patricia Siemen, prioress; Frances Nadolny, administrator and general councilor; Mary Margaret Pachucki, vicaress and general councilor; and Patricia Harvat and Elise D. Garcia, general councilors.

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Wiering is editor of The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

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Amid joy as Bethlehem reopens, Christians have uncertainty about future

IMAGE: CNS photo/Debbie Hill

By Judith Sudilovsky

BETHLEHEM, West Bank (CNS) -- Bethlehem residents returned to the Church of the Nativity as the holy site opened to visitors May 26 after being closed since March because of the COVID-19 pandemic. But amid the joy was a feeling of uncertainty about their economic future, as pilgrims and tourists are not yet able to return.

In the creche where Christians venerate as the traditional site of Jesus' birth, local Syriac Catholic tour guide Rizek Nazi was filming a video on his cellphone with his two sons, George, 10, and Aram, 9, to give pilgrims a virtual tour of the place as it opened, and to entice them to plan a visit once international travel reopens.

The sole breadwinner for his family, Nazi has not worked since March 7.

"I want people to keep the idea of coming on pilgrimage to Bethlehem in the back of their minds for when they can travel," he said.

In his videos, he emphasized the safety and health precautions being taken in Bethlehem.

"As Palestinians, we know to always try to keep some savings for the dark days, but now all that is gone," he added.

Samir Hazboun, chairman of the Bethlehem Chamber of Commerce, noted that unemployment was 95% in the tourism sector of what he called the "Christian triangle" of Bethlehem, Beit Jala and Beit Sahour.

"The Christian triangle ... depends on tourism and handicrafts related to tourism. Whenever we look at tourism (now) around the world, we can see how difficult it is," he said. Though the spring and summer months are generally low season for the area, residents are still unsure when and how many visitors will return in the ensuing season, he added.

"All the hotels and restaurants are closed, bus drivers are out of work, people working in the handicraft industry producing religious articles have been heavily affected. We are trying to develop a plan," he said.

At the moment, even mail orders for the various cooperatives and fair trade workshops are not an option, because international shipping is not yet possible, he said.

"The social impact of the economic crisis on the Christian Palestinian community (will be serious.) The Christians will be heavily affected, as their income is mainly related to the tourism and service sector," said Hazboun.

Unemployment in all the Palestinian areas has doubled from the 22% pre-pandemic level, he said.

Saliba Bandak, who is Greek Orthodox, sat idly chatting with two friends, currently unemployed as tour guides. His souvenir shop normally supports his family of seven, which includes his parents and siblings.

"Without tourists, we have nothing," Bandak said. "Since the beginning of March, we have not had any income. But we are Palestinian and we keep God as our hope."

Father Rami Asakrieh of St. Catherine Parish said almost 450 families from his parish depend solely on the tourism sector for their income, and the parish council has been trying to organize special help for them.

He said Israel, which is also slowly opening up its economy, has not yet given entry permission to all the Palestinians who worked in the construction industry to return to work in Israel.

"People who had money have gone through their savings and now need to pay their outstanding checks and loans," he said.

While the Israeli government has been able to provide grants to its residents, the Palestinian government has not been able to do so, he added.

Through the Pontifical Mission, the St. Catherine parish council has been able to provide 150 families with vouchers for groceries, but now many more families than before need help to meet their basic needs, Father Asakrieh said. The usual partner organizations that help them are also feeling the crunch because their own donors are unable to contribute more, he said, so they are hoping individuals who visit the Bethlehem parish website will consider donating.

In Jerusalem May 25, sections of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher were opened to visitors who are required to wear masks and use hand sanitizer before they enter. Though the Israeli government allowed businesses and stores to reopen, souvenir shop owners in the Old City who depend on tourism have been left with no form of income. The Knights of the Holy Sepulchre launched a support fund for needy Christian families and Latin Patriarchate schools in Palestine and Jordan who have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

In Bethlehem, Father Emad Kamal of St. Catherine Parish welcomed parishioners filling the pews May 26 to recite the rosary and then celebrate the first communal Mass since March.

"I feel so happy today. When the church was closed we prayed on the phone, but it is a different feeling to pray together," said Eliana Alaly, who came to church with her three children, carrying a packet of disposable masks and wearing latex gloves. She was one of the few people who wore a mask. "We are still a bit afraid."

Before going to Mass at St. Catherine's, Naheeda Thaljieh lit a candle in the adjacent Church of the Nativity.

"When I entered the church, I just cried and cried and cried," she said. Her family depends on the income from a small grocery store but there have been few customers, she said. "After 80-plus days, I entered the church and I lit candles for all the people and that all the people who are sick in the world will get well."

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To donate to St. Catherine Parish in Bethlehem, go to To help with Latin Patriarchate schools, go to


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Group's filters help Navajo Nation have safe drinking water amid pandemic

IMAGE: CNS photo/Ruby Thomas, The Record

By Ruby Thomas

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (CNS) -- As the coronavirus digs deeper into Navajo Nation, infecting Native Americans at a higher rate than anywhere in the country, 1,500 miles away a nonprofit in the Archdiocese of Louisville is working to ease the suffering.

Water With Blessings -- which provides donated Sawyer PointOne water filtration systems to communities around the world that lack safe drinking water -- is sending water filters to the Navajo people.

Ursuline Sister Larraine Lauter, co-founder of the nonprofit, said a lack of safe drinking water is making the Navajo people especially vulnerable to COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

As of May 26, 4,153 people had become infected with the coronavirus on the vast reservation that spans 27,000 square miles across Utah, Arizona and New Mexico. Of those, 144 people have died, according to the Navajo Department of Health.

A third of households in the Navajo Nation do not have access to safe drinking water, said Sister Lauter. A study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control in 2011 found that 30% of households didn't have running water. As a result, individuals get water from unregulated and untreated sources.

"Clean water is the very basis of health. It's the most fundamental part of access to health. If you are drinking contaminated water or you don't have enough water, the body is that much more vulnerable and it's harder to fight off any kind of illness," Sister Lauter told The Record, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Louisville. "I think that's why they have a very high rate of death."

National news sources reported that the Navajo Nation has the highest coronavirus infection rate per capita in the U.S.

"There are devastating losses," said Sister Lauter, noting that multiple members of some families have succumbed to the disease. "Water insecurity just adds to that."

With that in mind, Sister Lauter said she reached out to leaders on the reservation and offered to donate water filters.

Knowing that native peoples have not always had good outcomes from outside interference, she went about it cautiously, she said.

"I didn't want to proceed without official acceptance and approval from the Navajo Nation leadership. I wanted to be sure we had a very respectful, official relationship established," noted Sister Lauter. The people were "cautious" but "friendly" and are interested in obtaining the filters.

The challenge is that they are working around the clock to pack and deliver food and water to families in remote areas, said Sister Lauter.

Water With Blessings is working with the Navajo Nation's Department of Justice and was on track to send 500 filters soon, but doesn't intend to stop at 500, said Sister Lauter. The nonprofit has raised more than $38,000 to fund them so far. Each filter costs $75.

The organization also is working with individuals in that department to develop a plan for members of the Navajo Nation to train their people to use the filters.

Since its inception, Water With Blessings has had a distinct distribution and training model. Typically, it trains "Water Women" in groups and ask that they make a covenant with God to share a filter with three other families.

This model will be altered a bit due to circumstances created by the pandemic, such as social-distancing norms, and because families on the Najavo reservation typically live dozens of miles apart. Sister Lauter said there are 47,000 households spread across 27,000 square miles.

She will talk to filter recipients about "paying it forward" and ask them to consider, "What will they do spiritually for someone?" she said.

Though many individuals in the community have been generous, Water With Blessings is still in need of donations, said Sister Lauter.

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Editor's Note: To donate or to learn more about Water With Blessings and its work with the Navajo people, visit

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Thomas is a staff writer at The Record, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Louisville.

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Update: Pope clears way for beatification of Knights of Columbus founder

IMAGE: CNS file photo

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis has approved a miracle attributed to the intercession of Father Michael McGivney, founder of the Knights of Columbus, clearing the way for his beatification.

While the Vatican announced May 27 that Pope Francis had signed the decree, it did not announce a date for the beatification ceremony.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, previously scheduled beatification Masses have been postponed.

For beatification, the Vatican requires proof of a miracle attributed to the candidate's intercession, unless the candidate was martyred for his or her faith.

A statement from the Knights of Columbus said, "The miracle recognized as coming through Father McGivney's intercession involved an unborn child in the United States who in 2015 was healed in utero of a life-threatening condition after prayers by his family to Father McGivney."

"A date will soon be set for the beatification Mass, which will take place in Connecticut," the statement said.

Meeting with the board of directors of the Knights of Columbus in early February, the statement noted, Pope Francis said the organization has been faithful "to the vision of your founder, Venerable Michael McGivney, who was inspired by the principles of Christian charity and fraternity to assist those most in need."

"Father McGivney has inspired generations of Catholic men to roll up their sleeves and put their faith into action," said Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson. "He was decades ahead of his time in giving the laity an important role within the church. Today, his spirit continues to shape the extraordinary charitable work of Knights as they continue to serve those on the margins of society as he served widows and orphans in the 1880s."

For canonization -- the declaration that the candidate is a saint -- a miracle must take place after the beatification ceremony; it is seen as God's final seal of approval on the church's proclamation that the candidate is in heaven with God.

Father McGivney was born Aug. 12, 1852, the eldest of 13 children born to Patrick and Mary Lynch McGivney in Waterbury, Connecticut. Emigrating from separate towns in Ireland's County Cavan, the couple met and married in the United States. Only seven of their children lived past childhood.

Young Michael attended school in Waterbury's working-class neighborhood, but he left school at 13 to work in the spoon-making department of a brass factory.

At 16, he left the factory to begin seminary studies at the French-run College of St. Hyacinthe in Quebec. He also studied at Our Lady of Angels Seminary, attached to Niagara University in Niagara Falls, New York, and at the Jesuit-run St. Mary's College in Montreal.

He went home to Waterbury when his father died in 1873 and stayed there for a time out of concern for his family and because he lacked funds. At the request of Hartford's bishop, he enrolled in St. Mary's Seminary in Baltimore, where he completed his priestly studies.

In 1877, he was ordained in Baltimore by Archbishop James Gibbons for the then-Diocese of Hartford. A few days after his ordination, he said his first Mass in the presence of his widowed mother at Immaculate Conception Church in Waterbury.

Father McGivney served as an assistant pastor at St. Mary's Parish in New Haven, 1877-1884. He founded the Knights of Columbus with a small group of Catholic laymen, in order to strengthen religious faith and to help families overwhelmed by the illness or death of their breadwinner.

In 1884, he was named pastor of St. Thomas Church in Thomaston, a factory town about 10 miles from Waterbury. He fell ill during an influenza epidemic and died Aug. 14, 1890, probably from complications of pneumonia and tuberculosis.


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California school lunch service shifts focus to stay afloat, help others

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy Choicelunch

By Sydney Clark

NEW ORLEANS (CNS) -- When the COVID-19 pandemic led schools to close, the day-to-day operations at Choicelunch, a healthy school lunch delivery service, paused.

Choicelunch, established in 2003 by three University of Notre Dame alums, provided lunches for 25,000 children at 300 schools statewide before schools closed.

"Instead of 25,000 lunches a day, we were making zero lunches a day," said Keith Cosbey, chief operating officer.

The company's five kitchens and the majority of its 200 employees were impacted.

"I was distraught," said Justin Gagnon, Choicelunch co-founder and CEO. "We ended up having to lay off all of our hourly employees, our kitchen staff and our drivers."

Out of the 300 schools that Choicelunch serves, 120 are Catholic schools, according to Cosbey.

He said the Archdiocese of San Francisco was the first client to announce that it would be closing schools for three weeks.

"Of our 300 schools, that was 22 immediately that closed," Cosbey told Catholic News Service.

Within three days, there was a chain reaction of calls from other diocesan clients, including the San Jose and Oakland dioceses and the Los Angeles Archdiocese.

Gagnon said shutting down and laying off employees were difficult, but the reality was without lunches and revenue coming in, Choicelunch wasn't going to sustain itself long term.

Although schools announced three-week closures at the time, Choicelunch was looking at trends, data and the virus' impact overseas. The company expected the school year was going to be cut short.

"We had to figure something out to get some money coming through the door so we could keep some of our people paid and employed and hopefully begin to even bring back a lot of our hourly employees," Gagnon said.

Around that time, Gagnon received several voicemails one day from the Office of Emergency Management of Orange County, California, asking if he was the emergency contact for a particular business. He, however, hadn't heard of the business mentioned.

He googled the business and found that it was located at one of the former Choicelunch kitchens in Huntington Beach, California.

Gagnon called the county representatives back to learn more about what they were seeking. They said they had a homeless shelter and needed to find a way to deliver breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week.

Gagnon informed them that Choicelunch kitchen was no longer at that location, but there was one in Santa Ana, California.

"The first thing that came in was the contract with Orange County in doing our homeless meal preparation, and that eventually expanded to three sites," he said.

Choicelunch provides daily meals at two sites in Santa Ana and one site in Fullerton, California, serving about 600 people.

The company sent letters to other Bay Area counties to see if they needed similar services, but there was no response.

Gagnon said in the midst of that, family members were contacting him to see if the company's suppliers had staple foods, like meat, dairy products, fruit and vegetables. Grocery store shelves were bare, and grocery services such as Instacart didn't have any available deliveries.

"We were watching very closely what was happening in retail," Gagnon said.

He, Cosbey and Ryan Mariotti, the company's chief technology officer, exchanged ideas and decided to use the company's kitchen in Danville, California, as a food pantry and drive-through pick-up center. Gagnon said the pantry saved 45 jobs.

Choicelunch partners with about seven or eight food distributors, including Sysco, its mainline distributor. Cosbey said getting food from their suppliers has helped Choicelunch and its distributors.

"The food service world is a completely different supply chain," Cosbey said. "We worked with suppliers that had all of this food being unused with restaurants, hotels, caterers, convention centers and school lunch companies like us all closed."

In addition to the homeless communities in Orange County that receive meals from Choicelunch, other vulnerable populations use the pantry. Gagnon said those with compromised immune systems often come. Cosbey said he has elderly neighbors that also use the pantry.

"They can get their groceries without going into the store and navigating the aisles, and in some cases, navigating the aisles to come away empty," Cosbey said. "With the pantry, people can rely on getting what they need."

Gagnon said despite the recent successes for Choicelunch, the past few months have been an "incredibly emotional time" for him.

The day before the company released 160 of its employees, he wept while watching a movie with his children at home. And then after the pantry was up and running, he had a "near-nervous breakdown" from not having clarity on how things would turn out.

Gagnon called his aunt, who he said is "probably the most faithful woman he's ever known." He vented to her about all of his anxiety, fears and frustrations.

She told Gagnon, "The things that are happening now that you think are working against you will somehow end up being favorable. Not only will God get you through this, but he will also bless you abundantly."

He said looking back on the various trials and setbacks Choicelunch has faced during the pandemic has ultimately allowed him to see other doors open and to celebrate the small wins.

"I'm already seeing those blessings come to fruition," Gagnon said.

He said there's still a great amount of uncertainty moving forward, but he will continue to remain faithful and trust in God.

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Faith leaders: Protecting human life is priority in reopening churches

IMAGE: CNS photo/Mike Segar, Reuters


WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The bishops of the state of Washington said suspension of the public celebration of Mass because of the coronavirus pandemic was undertaken "not out of fear, but out of our deepest respect for human life and health."

"As disciples of Jesus, we are called to be instruments of God's protection for the vulnerable and the common good," the five bishops said in a May 22 statement released by the Washington State Catholic Conference. "Our love of God and neighbor is always personal and not partisan.

"While we share the desire to bring people back to Mass as quickly as possible, we will wait to schedule our public worship when it is safe and we are prepared to do so," the statement said.

Washington state was the site of the first widespread outbreak of the COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and public health officials quickly enacted a massive shutdown of the state, including churches, to stem the outbreak.

The bishops' statement came in response to President Donald Trump's May 22 declaration that houses of worship are "essential." He directed the country's governors "to do the right thing and allow these very important essential places of faith to open right now, this weekend."

The president's appeal to the governors came as segments of the U.S. economy began to reopen after weeks of mandatory shutdowns and stay-at-home orders governing the general population.

Trump said he would "override the governors" to ensure that churches would open for worship. He also noted that several governors "have deemed liquor stores and abortion clinics as essential but have left out churches and other houses of worship. It's not right."

While some religious freedom advocates praise Trump's declaration, critics said he could not constitutionally "override" governors' authority on a matter in their own states.

Washington's bishops said they hoped "that our right to responsibly and safely gather for worship will soon be honored so we can collaborate in a manner that respects both our Catholic tradition as well as our civic responsibilities."

"We eagerly await the governor's response to our suggestions on this so we can proceed together with our reopening plans," the statement concluded.

The archdioceses of Baltimore and Los Angeles also issued statements May 22 that explained why churches remained closed for public worship.

Los Angeles Archbishop Jose H. Gomez said in video message that while church buildings remained closed, parishes were open. He stressed that the safety of people was his top concern.

He expressed solidarity with the faithful of the archdiocese, acknowledging the difficulty for people in not being able to celebrate Mass and the sacraments as a community.

"But I think we all have to understand that the reason that we have to do that is because we care for one another," the archbishop said. "The reality of this coronavirus pandemic is that it is a very dangerous illness and the virus is easy to be passed to one another. We didn't know exactly what was the reality and we started seeing the consequences of so many people dying and so many people getting sick, so that's why we had to be extremely careful in taking care of one another."

He said the number of COVID-19 cases continued to climb in Los Angeles County, but that the number of illnesses in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, which also are part of the archdiocese, were not as high. "But it is still a very contagious illness," he said.

The Archdiocese of Baltimore reiterated that it has undertaken plans to reopen parishes for public Mass for the weekend of May 30-31 in jurisdictions that are allowing religious gatherings of more than 10 people and parishes are able to implement the necessary precautions to mitigate the risk of transmission of the coronavirus.

"The guidance is informed by church doctrine, expert medical advice and federal, state and local recommendations for maintaining public safety and prevention community contagion of the COVID-19 virus," the statement said.

The archdiocese also expressed gratitude to government leaders "who have consulted the advice of the religious community" to respect religious freedoms while ensuring the safety of worshippers and the wider community.

Making decisions amid "these unchartered challenges," the statement continued, requires that religious and personal freedom must be balanced with the need for economic stability and the pandemic's impact on the physical, mental and social health of local communities.

The archdiocese said it would "continue to give first priority to the protection of the sacredness of life as we strive to minister to the spiritual needs of the faithful."

Trump's May 22 announcement came less than a week after the Department of Justice challenged the "unequal treatment of faith communities" in California's coronavirus reopening plan, warning that continued restrictions on worship services threaten believers' civil rights to practice their religion.

"Simply put, there is no pandemic exception to the U.S. Constitution and its Bill of Rights," said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband in a three-page letter sent to California Gov. Gavin Newsom May 19. Dreiband is in the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division.

Elsewhere, Minnesota's Catholic bishops and Lutheran officials said they were moving ahead with plans to resume liturgies at 30% capacity May 26, despite the Gov. Tim Walz's executive order capping faith-based gatherings at 10 people due to the pandemic.

But after two days of meetings with Catholic and Lutheran leaders, Walz May 23 announced a new executive order permitting faith-based gatherings at 25% church capacity, with a total limit of 250 people, beginning May 27. The Minnesota governor announced the new order May 23.

In response, Archbishop Bernard A. Hebda of St. Paul and Minneapolis and the state's other Catholic bishops said they find the new guidance reasonable and so have modified their plans to align with the 25% of capacity now allowed. In addition to slightly lowering capacity limits, they also were waiting to resume public worship May 27 instead of May 26, as they initially planned.

The faith leaders had pushed Walz to allow bigger crowd capacity for worship services as an "urgent need." In past weeks, Minnesota restaurants, bars, malls, retail stores, salons and tattoo parlors had been green-lighted to reopen with certain restrictions.


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