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NCR Today: Thirteen guys in the Senate have a health care plan; NCR's former editor/publisher wins top Catholic press honor; Global Sisters invite you to take a virtual retreat.

US bishops struggle with issues in church and society

Faith and Justice
USCCB Summer 2017

Faith and Justice: Youth, religious freedom, health care, immigration -- the bishops discussed important matters at their meeting. How much progress they made is another issue.

Under the radar: South Sudan needs media attention, immediate action

IMAGE: CNS photo/Carol Glatz

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis is first of all a shepherd who makes seeking out the lost and forgotten his top priority. But he also knows that wherever he goes, the cameras and news coverage will follow.

He leveraged his pull on the media spotlight early in his papacy when he went to Lampedusa for his very first trip as pope, tossing a funeral wreath onto the vast, unmarked cemetery known as the Mediterranean Sea -- where thousands of migrants die each year escaping from economic distress, political crises or persecution.

His visits to the Central African Republic, refugee centers, prisons, homes for the elderly and ill have all been key stops in his mission to reach out to the neglected peripheries, encourage those who are suffering and the hidden heroes helping them, and wake up the world to their presence and plight.

South Sudan was meant to be next on that list, to red-flag the disastrous effects of civil war -- millions of people facing violence, displacement, chronic hunger and mass starvation -- and to nudge conflicting parties toward peace.

However, mounting doubts over security and how ready those parties may be for negotiation have put a boots-on-the-ground papal visit on hold. And now some Catholic aid and development agencies are wondering, with no pope, how does this tragedy get on the world radar now?

"With Donald Trump, Brexit and terrorist attacks happening in the news," outlets that are usually very receptive to covering humanitarian crises and efforts "don't have the space to cover them," Patrick Nicholson, director of communications at Caritas Internationalis, told Catholic News Service.

Despite the immensity of the tragedy, "it's really off the radar in terms of the world caring," he said, which is why "the pope raising awareness is absolutely crucial." Everybody's efforts to get the word out is still key, and Nicholson and his Caritas colleagues created southsudan.caritas.org after a recent visit to South Sudan to better show the human stories and lives at stake.

Sister Yudith Pereira-Rico, associate executive director of Solidarity with South Sudan, told CNS in Rome that her organization is promoting the hashtag #SouthSudanWeCare on social media to show the South Sudanese people that they will not be overlooked.

"The people there feel they are forgotten. There is no media attention and they always tell us, 'Please, don't forget to speak about us.'"

A member of the Congregation of the Religious of Jesus and Mary, Sister Pereira-Rico said she has spent the past two decades working in the poorest parts of West Africa "and yet I've never see the poverty like there is in South Sudan."

"My first time in South Sudan, in Malakal, I wasn't able to sing 'Hallelujah' in church" having seen the situation of the people. "Now, more and more, I can see that God is here."

Sometimes she and her colleagues can feel so powerless when faced with so many people in need, "but just being there" can offer comfort, she said. "A challenge we have as Christians is believing in the resurrection in these situations, knowing that there is a good end for human history."

Solidarity with South Sudan is an international network of religious congregations that was formed to train primary school teachers, health care workers, pastoral agents and sustainable farmers from all ethnic groups, learning tolerance and reconciliation along the way.

The NGOs do the emergency relief, "and we do development, teach values," Sister Pereira-Rico said.

The 28 nuns, priests and brothers from 20 different congregations and 20 nations living and working together in four different communities across South Sudan are a living witness of what harmony in diversity and collaboration look like, she said.

"We're like the United Nations," she smiled, and "we show people a new model of living."

The local church also provides the credibility, networks and infrastructure that relief agencies need to reach the most vulnerable, said Jerry Farrell, country representative in South Sudan for Catholic Relief Services.

"The church has an incredible reputation. It is battered and weary," like its people, but it never shuts down, it always sticks by its people, which is partly why it's so respected, he told CNS by Skype from Juba.

By working directly with parishes and religious orders, like the Comboni sisters, CRS can get food to 5,000 to 6,000 families in places where no one else has access, he said.

No matter how bad things get, the Catholic Church still is operating its schools, hospitals, clinics and programs all over South Sudan; the facilities may not look as nice as those in the West, "but they work."

"Peacebuilding is quiet, but relentless," he said, and it often does not make for an exciting or visual story.

Media often like to cover things such as the highly complex emergency airdrops to those who are stranded, but Farrell said reporters should be looking at the Catholic schools, like the ones run by the Sisters of the Sacred Heart.

"It's not visually catchy, but that's the real story. That's where the future of South Sudan lies" as these schools provide basic care, nutrition and even vegetable gardens for the mothers to grow healthy food.

The other real story that should get coverage, he said, are the survivors. "The people here are incredibly resilient and one of the main reasons for that is they go to church" and are deeply spiritual people.

With aid from partner agencies, the church becomes a place people go to find basic supplies, safety, sanctuary and "spiritual nourishment because without that, aid is just a pat on the back," Farrell said.

"Things will be better. It will just take time because peacebuilding is meant to help South Sudan heal itself," he said.

As the Catholic, Episcopalian and Presbyterian churches work for peace from the bottom up and the role of political leaders is to help from the top down, he added, someday they will all meet in the middle.

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Follow Glatz on Twitter: @CarolGlatz.

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Copyright © 2017 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 cns@catholicnews.com.

NCR former publisher: ‘I’ve always felt as much a missionary as a journalist’

Quebec City, Canada

Journalism has always been a sacred mission for me. That mission began in Vietnam and has continued through my career, most fittingly at NCR for over 35 years.

Choosing to Inflict Pain

NCR Today

Republican Senators have deliberately decided to Do Harm. Their sham of a health care "replacement" bill takes cold blooded aim at depriving medical treatment for millions of the poorest among us. This is no unintended consequence but a direct shot at destroying human well-being. Much political strategy is murkier and legitimately arguable. This isn't. It's a despicable selling out to cruelty and greed. Taking away health care is terrible enough, but using those cuts to fund a massive tax bundle to the rich multiplies the wrong doing.

Link for 06/22/17

Distinctly Catholic

It is with the greatest sadness that we learned Archbishop John Quinn died suddenly this morning. He took ill in November had just gotten out of the hospital so all of his friends were hoping he was on his way to a full recovery, and the final edits of a forthcoming book. He was a giant. He was also the most faithful reader of this blog. In his memory, listen to Mirella Freni singing the "Libera me" from Verdi's Requiem:


Early reviews negative on Senate Republicans' health care bill

Washington

Initial reaction from religious leaders was negative to the Better Care Reconciliation Act, the Senate's health care reform measure that was unveiled June 22 in "discussion draft" form by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky.

Scorsese says a boyhood of church and movies continues to inspire him

IMAGE: CNS photo/Sam Lucero, The Compass

By Cindy Wooden

QUEBEC CITY (CNS) -- Faith and films have been lifelong obsessions for director Martin Scorsese, obsessions that he said have given him moments of peace amid turmoil, but also challenges and frustrations that, in hindsight, he will accept as lessons in humility.

"For me, the stories have always been about how we should live who we are, and have a lot to do with love, trust and betrayal," he said, explaining that those themes have been with him since his boyhood spent in the rambunctious tenements of New York and in the peace of the city's St. Patrick's Old Cathedral, where he was an altar server.

Scorsese spoke June 21 in Quebec City at a joint session of the Catholic Press Association's Catholic Media Conference and the world congress of Signis, the international association of Catholic media professionals. That evening, both groups presented him with a lifetime achievement award for excellence in filmmaking.

Before Scorsese answered questions posed by author Paul Elie, conference participants watched his film "Silence," which is based on the novel by Shusaku Endo. The book and film are a fictionalized account of the persecution of Christians in 17th-century Japan; the central figures are Jesuit missionaries, who are ordered to deny the faith or face death after witnessing the death of their parishioners.

Although "Silence" was not nearly as controversial as his 1988 film, "The Last Temptation of Christ," Scorsese said the two films are connected and not just because an Episcopalian bishop gave him Endo's book after seeing the 1988 film.

Even before filming began on "The Last Temptation of Christ," which is based on a novel by Nikos Kazantzakis and explores the human side of Jesus, people were writing letters to the studio and producers complaining about plans to bring it to the big screen.

Recounting the story, Scorsese said a studio executive asked him why he wanted so badly to make the film.

"To get to know Jesus better," Scorsese said he blurted out. "That was the answer that came to mind. I didn't know what else to say."

If one affirms that Jesus is fully divine and fully human, he said, people should be able to look at his humanity.

But Scorsese told his Quebec City audience that his explorations of who Jesus is and what faith really means were by no means exhausted by "The Last Temptation of Christ."

"The journey is much more involved," Scorsese said. "It's just not finished."

In reading Endo's novel, working on and off for two decades to make the film and in finally bringing it to completion, Scorsese said he was "looking for the core of faith."

The climax of the film is when one of the Jesuits gives in and, in order to save his faithful who are being tortured, he tramples a religious image. However, the character believes that act of official apostasy is, in reality, a higher form of faith because, by sacrificing his own soul, he is saving the lives of others.

"It's almost like a special gift to be called on to face that challenge, because he is given an opportunity to really go beyond and to really get to the core of faith and Christianity," Scorsese said.

In the end, the priest "has nothing left to be proud of" -- not his faith or his courage -- and "it's just pure selflessness," the director said. "It's like a gift for him."

"I think there is no doubt it is a believer's movie," he said. "At least for me."

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Follow Wooden on Twitter: @Cindy_Wooden.

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Copyright © 2017 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 cns@catholicnews.com.

Fox wins top award for his work at NCR

Quebec City, Canada

Thomas Fox received the Bishop John England Award on June 22 from the Catholic Press Association of the United States and Canada, the association's highest honor for publishers.

Catholic Church supports separate Gorkha homeland in India

New Delhi

Church leaders have expressed solidarity with ethnic Gorkha people who are on an indefinite strike protesting for a separate homeland in the Darjeeling area of eastern India.