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Bishop attends ICE meeting for mother fearing separation from sick child

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy Dylan Corbett, Hope Border Institute

By Rhina Guidos

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- After hearing about the plight of a cancer-stricken child whose mother was facing imminent deportation, a U.S. border bishop, Texas Bishop Mark J. Seitz of El Paso, decided to pay the pair a visit at the hospital.

On Aug. 7, he prayed at a Texas hospital with bed-ridden 8-year-old Alia Escobedo, suffering from bone cancer, and her mother Maria De Loera, the child's only caretaker, before heading to a meeting with immigration officials -- a hearing in which the mother was to report for deportation but one which the bishop attended in her place.

"I was informed about the situation over the weekend, I'd heard rumblings," said Bishop Seitz in an Aug. 7 phone interview with Catholic News Service. "As a parish priest, one of the most rewarding ministries was through the sick. I always felt close to children who were sick."

At the hospital, he said, he read Scriptures with the mother and daughter, who are Catholic, and prayed. He said he tried to reassure the mother that there were a lot of people trying to help.

"It was a pleasure to be able to meet them and hopefully bring a bit of a consolation to this young child," he said. "They're amazingly resilient. This mom had her husband killed in (Ciudad) Juarez, escaped to El Paso running for her life. When she came here, her youngest daughter was diagnosed with bone cancer."

The last two and half years have been filled, not just with treatments at the hospital, but also with the threat of deportation. An asylum request De Loera filed in 2014 was denied the following year, and since then, she has been in the process of being removed from the country by immigration officials.

Bishop Seitz, along with other clergy, accompanied De Loera's lawyer to see officials from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, also known as ICE, "to reconsider ' given the circumstances," he said.

He said he met with a case worker and a supervisor as well as other officials.

"I think they were relatively receptive," he said.

On Aug. 8, ICE officials granted De Loera a six-month stay to continue watching over her daughter during treatment, said Dylan Corbett, executive director of the Hope Border Institute, which also has been involved calling in attention to the case. At her daughter's bedside, De Loera wears an ICE-issued ankle monitor to track her location even though she has not committed a crime and arrived seeking asylum, Corbett said.

"Maria and Alia are the human face of a broken immigration system and militarized border enforcement," said the Hope Border Institute in an email statement. "They're the reason we're fighting for reform and a more human border."

"I'm concerned about the very fact that we had to intercede on behalf of this mother under these circumstances," Bishop Seitz said to CNS, because it shows that "even the most obvious humanitarian reasons for allowing a person to stay are no longer sufficient."

Bishop Seitz made headlines in July because of a pastoral letter in which he denounced the "demonization of immigrants" and pleaded with others for compassion and solidarity. He said he's aware that even among Catholics, the issue of immigration can spark disagreement.

"I just ask them to bring these issues to their prayer," he said. "And also, to get to know a recent immigrant and, especially, to get to know one who fled here without the opportunity to arrange documents because they were fleeing for their lives, before deciding what the proper resolution of these cases should be."

Jesus, he said, spoke to questions of law and recognized that there is the law of God and human laws, and human laws can be good or they can be bad.

"Bad laws need to be changed and sometimes bad laws cannot be followed," he said. "One example is the law that permits abortion. Just because the law says it's OK, it does not make it OK."

He also asked others to think about the circumstances that lead others to flee their native countries.

"If any of us lived in a situation, in a country where there is extreme violence, we would do whatever it took to find a situation of safety, even if it meant crossing a border," he said. "We would do it if our children were starving. We wouldn't say 'I guess we'll just stay here and watch our children die.' Nobody would do that. We would do whatever we needed to do."

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Follow Guidos on Twitter: @CNS_Rhina.

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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.

Lessons about New York church's historic pipe organ part of music camp

IMAGE: CNS photo/Chris Sheridan

By Armando Machado

NEW YORK (CNS) -- At the Basilica of St. Patrick's Old Cathedral in Lower Manhattan, Polina Maller, 11, took a few moments from her violin lesson to talk about her appreciation for music.

"It's fun, and I like it. Music makes me feel like I'm free inside; it makes me feel like I could create things, and then I feel good about myself," Polina, a classical music aficionado, said July 26 in an interview with Catholic New York, the archdiocesan newspaper.

She was midway into a week of a summer music camp on the cathedral grounds.

Eleven children took part in the first-time program, "Pipes, Pedals & Peals," sponsored by the Friends of the Henry Erben Organ. The group is a charitable organization devoted to the conservation and restoration of the 1868 Henry Erben Organ inside St. Patrick's Old Cathedral.

The five-day camp, which operated three hours each morning, was open to children ages 7 to 12. Organizers expect to make it an annual summer program.

The Friends group also supports live musical performances, education and training of young musicians and organists, after-school music education programs and organ demonstrations, coordinators said. In addition, it supports concerts for visiting tour groups, arts and cultural organizations, schools and universities.

The week's activities for the music camp children included lessons in playing the violin and handbell chimes, and hands-on lessons about the history, uniqueness and intricacies of the Henry Erben Organ -- yes, hands-on, they got to play the special organ. Polina played a prelude by Bach.

The wood Erben Organ has three manuals, or keyboards -- an organ keyboard played by the hands is called a "manual." It stands about 45 feet high and has 2,500 pipes. "It's about the size of a small apartment," said Anne Riccitelli, president of the Friends group.

The children also assembled a special kit, creating a small, functioning organ similar to the Henry Erben Organ. The Orgel miniature organ kit was developed in the Netherlands; it is an educational organ that measures about 3 by 3 by 2 feet, weighs more than 40 pounds, and has about 48 pipes.

Additionally, the children performed at a summer camp recital -- with violin and handbell chimes -- during a July 30 Mass at St. Patrick's Old Cathedral; the liturgy, celebrated by the pastor, Msgr. Donald Sakano, was followed by an Erben Organ demonstration, and later a festive reception in the undercroft.

The cathedral's organist is Jared Lamenzo, who gave the demonstration. The children casually played the small organ at the reception.

"They're learning a lot in one week -- the small organ will help them understand how the big organ works," Lamenzo said while the children were learning how to play the handbell chimes July 26, a lesson given by Michael Bodnyk, a cantor at both St. Patrick's Old Cathedral and St. Patrick's Cathedral on Fifth Avenue, the mother church of the New York Archdiocese.

The violin lessons were taught by Addie Deppa, who noted, "Music in general, I feel, brings on a window of purity and beauty to children's lives. I think it's super important for children to have music. ...They (the music camp children) are wonderful; they're very eager to learn, a lot of energy."

Robert Hodge, 10, also was among the music camp children. "I love the class, and the teachers are nice. It's very educational," Robert told Catholic New York.

Msgr. Sakano noted the old cathedral community's love of the arts. "We have a program called Basilica Voices, where our young people who are preparing for first holy Communion and confirmation are also being trained to sing. ... And then we have the camp, which is not a Catholic teaching program per se -- but it is faithful in the sense that music is the sound that God likes hearing."

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Machado writes for Catholic New York, newspaper of the Archdiocese of New York.

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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.

Chapel ministers to souls who visit, live amid Grand Canyon splendor

IMAGE: CNS photo/Ana Rodriguez-Soto, Florida Catholic

By Ana Rodriguez-Soto

GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK, Ariz. (CNS) -- Father Rafael Bercasio pastors perhaps the smallest parish in America -- and the most uniquely situated.

A short walk away from the south rim of the Grand Canyon sits El Cristo Rey Chapel, a small wooden building that serves as the spiritual home of the Catholic families who work at the national park.

El Cristo Rey, a parish of the Phoenix Diocese, has 26 registered families, who are "always outnumbered by the tourists," Father Bercasio said.

The chapel is located within the boundaries of Grand Canyon Village, a residential neighborhood of around 1,500 households that includes a school, a grocery store and a post office. Residents are employed as park rangers and naturalists, maintenance workers, and hotel, restaurant and retail staff. Some live there only six months out of the year, although the park is open year-round.

"You cannot live here if you're not working in the Grand Canyon," the priest explained.

Grand Canyon Village is perhaps more familiar to park visitors as the site of historic hotels such as El Tovar and the stopping point for the most photographed views of the canyon. Visitors can catch glimpses of the village's less visited residential areas as they ride on the shuttle -- a free bus that moves the park's vast quantities of tourists throughout the south rim's hotels and restaurants.

El Cristo Rey Chapel is not on the park's shuttle route. But its Mass schedule -- along with directions for walking there -- was posted near the registration desk of El Tovar, when this reporter was visiting in March.

Father Bercasio, a native of the Philippines, is just completing his first year as pastor. He was appointed last July by the Diocese of Phoenix, which took over responsibility for the church in 1974. He is the first priest to be assigned full time to the chapel.

"We are the only Catholic church within a national park of America," he told a standing-room only crowd of tourists who had gathered for Sunday Mass.

Actually, Grand Teton's Chapel of the Sacred Heart in Wyoming also is located within that national park and is open daily to visitors, although it does not have a resident priest. It is a summer mission of Our Lady of the Mountains Church in Jackson.

Priests from nearby parishes celebrate weekend Masses at the Grand Teton chapel during the busy summer season. Sunday Mass also is celebrated during peak seasons at many other national parks.

From his base at El Cristo Rey, Father Bercasio also ministers to a mostly Hispanic community founded five years ago about 30 miles outside the entrance to the park.

El Cristo Rey Chapel was officially established in 1960, although priests from the Diocese of Gallup, New Mexico, began coming to celebrate Mass for El Tovar's workers around 1919-1920.

Father Bercasio celebrates a daily Mass at 8 a.m., and most of the time, he said, he is the only one in attendance. He celebrates two Masses on Sundays, plus a vigil on Saturdays in summer.

Attendance averages seven or eight people in winter. The standing-room crowd in March was highly unusual, he said, but the congregation swells in summer to the point where chairs need to be placed outside.

"Every Sunday is new because I get to meet a lot of people from different states and every country. That's the one thing I don't experience in a regular parish," Father Bercasio said at the conclusion of the Mass.

This is his fourth assignment in his 13 years in the Phoenix Diocese.

Father Bercasio added that he finds inspiration not only in his surroundings, but in the people who visit.

"I always commend the tourists for fulfilling their obligation," he said. "You are in the midst of your gallivanting and still you are here. It is a testimony that your faith does not take a vacation. It's very inspiring."

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Rodriguez-Soto is on the staff of the Florida Catholic, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Miami and the dioceses of Orlando, Palm Beach and Venice.

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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.

Pope tells Belgian Brothers of Charity no more euthanasia for patients

IMAGE: CNS photo/CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano

By Simon Caldwell

MANCHESTER, England (CNS) -- Pope Francis has given a Belgian religious order until the end of August to stop offering euthanasia to psychiatric patients.

Brother Rene Stockman, superior general of the order, told Catholic News Service the pope gave his personal approval to a Vatican demand that the Brothers of Charity, which runs 15 centers for psychiatric patients across Belgium, must reverse its policy by the end of August.

Brothers who serve on the board of the Brothers of Charity Group, the organization that runs the centers, also must each sign a joint letter to their superior general declaring that they "fully support the vision of the magisterium of the Catholic Church, which has always confirmed that human life must be respected and protected in absolute terms, from the moment of conception till its natural end."

Brothers who refuse to sign will face sanctions under canon law, while the group can expect to face legal action and even expulsion from the church if it fails to change its policy.

The group, he added, must no longer consider euthanasia as a solution to human suffering under any circumstances.

The order, issued at the beginning of August, follows repeated requests for the group to drop its new policy of permitting doctors to perform the euthanasia of "nonterminal" mentally ill patients on its premises.

It also follows a joint investigation by the Vatican's congregations for the Doctrine of the Faith and for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.

Brother Stockman, who had opposed the group's euthanasia policy, told Catholic News Service the ultimatum was devised by the two congregations and has the support of the pope.

"The Holy Father was formally informed about it and was also informed about the steps to be taken," he said in an Aug. 8 email.

The ultimatum, he said, meant the group's policies must be underpinned by a belief that "respect for human life is absolute."

Brother Stockman told CNS that if the group refused to bow to the ultimatum "then we will take juridical steps in order to force them to amend the text (of the new policy) and, if that is not possible, then we have to start the procedure to exclude the hospitals from the Brothers of Charity family and take away their Catholic identity."

He said if any of the brothers refused to sign the letter upholding Catholic teaching against euthanasia, "then also we will start the correct procedure foreseen in canon law."

The Belgian bishops and the nuncio to Belgium have been informed about the ultimatum, he added.

Brother Stockman, a psychiatric care specialist, had turned to the Vatican in the spring after the Brothers of Charity group rejected a formal request from him to reverse the new policy.

The group also snubbed the Belgian bishops by formally implementing its euthanasia policy in June, just weeks after the bishops declared they would not accept euthanasia in Catholic institutions.

The group has also ignored a statement of church teaching forbidding euthanasia. The statement, written and signed by Cardinal Gerhard Muller, former head of the doctrinal congregation, was sent to the Brothers of Charity Group members. A copy of the document has been obtained Catholic News Service.

The Brothers of Charity was founded in 1807 in Ghent, Belgium, by Father Peter Joseph Triest, whose cause for beatification was opened in 2001. Their charism is to serve the elderly and the mentally ill.

Today, the group is considered the most important provider of mental health care services in the Flanders region of Belgium, where they serve 5,000 patients a year.

About 12 psychiatric patients in the care of the Brothers of Charity are believed to have asked for euthanasia over the past year, with two transferred elsewhere to receive the injections to end their lives.

The group first announced its euthanasia policy in March, saying it wished to harmonize the practices of the centers with the Belgian law on euthanasia passed in 2003, the year after the Netherlands became the first country to permit the practice since Nazi Germany.

Technically, euthanasia in Belgium remains an offense, with the law protecting doctors from prosecution only if they abide by specific criteria, but increasingly lethal injections are given to the disabled and mentally ill. Since 2014 "emancipated children" have also qualified for euthanasia.

The group's change in policy came about a year after a private Catholic rest home in Diest, Belgium, was fined $6,600 for refusing the euthanasia of a 74-year-old woman suffering from lung cancer.

Catholic News Service has approached the Brothers of Charity Group for a comment.

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Salvadorans to walk 90-plus miles to mark centennial of Romero's birth

IMAGE: EPA

By

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador (CNS) -- Salvadorans plan to walk more than 90 miles in three days to mark the centennial of Blessed Oscar Romero's birth.

Participants will leave the Metropolitan Cathedral in San Salvador Aug. 11 and are scheduled to arrive in Ciudad Barrios, the eastern city where Blessed Romero was born, Aug. 13.

The pilgrimage, "Caminando hacia la cuna del Profeta" ("Walking toward the prophet's birthplace"), will go through four dioceses -- San Salvador, San Vicente, Santiago de Maria and San Miguel.

Blessed Romero was born Aug. 15, 1917, and the actual centennial will be marked by a Mass at San Salvador's cathedral. Chilean Cardinal Ricardo Ezzatti of Santiago, Pope Francis' special envoy to the celebration, will be the main celebrant.

Masses also are scheduled in other parts of the country. On Aug. 12, in the western Santa Ana Diocese, Archbishop Leon Kalenga Badikebele, apostolic nuncio to El Salvador, will deliver the homily at a commemorative Mass, while Salvadoran Cardinal Gregorio Rosa Chavez, a close friend of Blessed Romero, is scheduled to give a presentation on the archbishop's life and work.

When it announced the activities July 31, the Salvadoran bishops' conference stated that, as far back as three years ago, it "invited all the worshippers, Salvadorans and of the world, to prepare for this centennial to remember Blessed Romero as a man, a pastor and a martyr."

The murdered priest was beatified May 23, 2015, in San Salvador. In a letter to the gathering, read before an estimated 250,000 people gathered for the event, Pope Francis described Blessed Romero as "a voice that continues to resonate."

Ordained April 4, 1942, in Rome, the Salvadoran religious leader was appointed archbishop of San Salvador Feb. 23, 1977, and was gunned down after Mass at a hospital chapel March 24, 1980, a day after a sermon in which he called on Salvadoran soldiers to obey what he described as God's order and stop carrying actions of repression.

The archbishop's March 30 funeral at the cathedral, attended by more than 200,000 mourners, was interrupted by gunfire that left 30-50 people dead.

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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.