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Catholic tradition guides teaching on contraception, archbishop says

By Dennis Sadowski

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The Catholic Church's teaching on marriage, abortion, human sexuality and contraception is rooted in the same respect for human dignity that guides its work for social justice and care for poor people, Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput told a Catholic University of America audience.

It is imperative that the church make known why it upholds its teaching, as reiterated in Blessed Paul VI's 1968 encyclical "Humanae Vitae" ("Of Human Life"), so that Catholics and the world understand God's plan for humanity, the archbishop said during the April 4 opening session of a symposium marking the 50th anniversary of the papal teaching.

The encyclical is notably known for upholding church renouncement of contraception. It followed by eight years the 1960 U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval of the first birth control pill.

Blessed Paul convened a commission to examine whether the historic Christian rejection of contraceptives would apply to the new technology. Most commission members advised the pope that it would not, but Blessed Paul eventually disagreed, saying in the encyclical that the new technology was prohibited birth control.

Blessed Paul's decision has been widely criticized, Archbishop Chaput acknowledged, with some Catholic clergy, theologians and laypeople refusing to accept it. "That resistance continues in our own day," said the archbishop, who chairs the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth. He made the comments in a 35-minute presentation to about 200 people.

"'Humanae Vitae' revealed deep wounds in the church about our understanding of the human person, the nature of sexuality and marriage as God created it," he explained. "We still seek the cure for those wounds. But thanks to the witness of St. John Paul II, Pope Benedict, Pope Francis and many other faithful shepherds, the church has continued to preach the truth of Jesus Christ about who we are and what God desires for us.

"People willing to open their eyes and their hearts to the truth will see the hope that Catholic teaching represents and the power that comes when that truth makes us free," he said.

The archbishop challenged widespread denunciation of the teaching on contraception by those who say church leaders spend too much time on "pelvic issues," thus obscuring, they argue, the Gospel message of caring for poor people.

"As a bishop for 30 years in the dioceses where I served, that's three of them, the church has put far more money, time and personnel into the care and education of the underprivileged than into programs related to sex," he said.

"And it's not that the critics don't know this. Many don't want to know it because facts interfere with their story line of a sexually repressed, body-denying institution locked in the past."

Church teaching on contraception can be traced to the early days of Christianity, particularly in ancient Rome, where Christians emphasized upholding human dignity, he said.

Citing the work of Kyle Harper, provost at the University of Oklahoma and an expert in Roman history, the archbishop said the Romans "presumed that sex was just sex, one instinctual need among others" and that prostitutes and slaves were "safety valves" to satisfy such needs. But it was the early Christians who "welcomed all new life as something holy and a blessing," teaching that each person was created in the image and likeness of God, he explained.

Christians also preached that God gave all people free will to act in accordance with God's commands or against them, he said, continuing to cite Harper.

"Christianity embedded that notion of free will in human culture for the first time. Christian sexual morality was a key part of this understanding of free will. The body was a 'consecrated space' in which we could choose or reject God," he said.

As a result, Christians began demanding "care for vulnerable bodies," speaking out against slavery and supporting the needs of poor people, and that concern included opposition to contraception, he said.

Archbishop Chaput noted that Christian opposition to contraception continued until the 1930 Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops, which determined that while the preferred method of avoiding birth should be sexual abstinence, other methods may be used to prevent pregnancy as long as they fell in line with Christian principles.

"Their minor tweak gradually turned into a full reversal on the issue of contraception. Other Christian leaders followed suit," he said.

"Today this leaves the Catholic Church almost alone as a body of Christian believers whose leaders still maintain the historic Christian teaching on contraception," he continued. "The church can thus look stubborn and out of touch for not adjusting her beliefs to the prevailing culture. But she's simply remaining true to the faith she received from the apostles and can't barter away."

Since then, Archbishop Chaput said, "developed society has moved sharply away from Christian faith and morals, without shedding them completely."

He echoed author G.K. Chesterton, who asserted that society is surrounded by "fragments of Christian ideas removed from their original framework and used in strange new ways. Human dignity and rights are still popular concepts, just don't ask what their foundation is or whether human rights have any solid content beyond sentiment or personal preference."

"Our culture isn't reverting to the paganism of the past. It's creating a new religion to replace Christianity. It's that we understand that today's new sexual mores are part of this larger change."

The moral conflicts society faces, such as broken families, social unraveling and "gender confusion" stems "from our disordered attitudes toward creation and our appetite to master, reshape and even deform nature to our wills. We want the freedom to decide what reality is. And we insist on the power to make it so," he said.

Such thinking is manifest in efforts to master the limitations of the human body and "attack the heart of our humanity," the archbishop added.

Blessed Paul explains that "marriage is not just a social convention we've inherited, but the design of God himself. Christian couples are called to welcome the sacrifices that God's design requires so they can enter into the joy it offers. This means that while husbands and wives may take advantage of periods of natural infertility to regulate the birth of their children, they can't actively intervene to stamp out the fertility that's natural to sexual love," he said.

Because the church's teaching often was not being followed prior to the encyclical, Archbishop Chaput said Blessed Paul offered four predictions if that trend continued: widespread infidelity and the general lowering of morality; loss of respect for women as they become viewed as instruments of selfish enjoyment rather than as beloved companions; public policies that advocate and implement birth control as a form of population policy; and humans thinking they had unlimited dominion over their own bodies, turning the person into the object of his or her own intrusive power.

"Half a century after 'Humanae Vitae' the church in the United States is at a very difficult but also very promising moment," the archbishop said. "Difficult because the language of Catholic moral wisdom is alien to many young people, who often leave the church without every really encountering her. Promising because the most awake of those same young people want something better and more enduring than the emptiness and noise they now have.

"Our mission now, as always, is not to surrender to the world as it is, but to feed an ennoble the deepest yearnings of the world and thereby to lead it to Jesus Christ and his true freedom and joy."

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Follow Sadowski on Twitter: @DennisSadowski.

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Puerto Rican students pursue dreams at Catholic University after hurricane

IMAGE: CNS photo/Jaclyn Lippelmann, The Catholic Standard

By Kelly Sankowski

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Puerto Rican students who are studying at The Catholic University of America in Washington for the spring semester said that this opportunity not only gives them a reprieve from the damage caused by Hurricane Maria, but allows them to pursue their dreams.

Many students found themselves with nowhere to study after Maria -- the most powerful hurricane to hit Puerto Rico in nearly 90 years -- slammed into the island in September, killing dozens and decimating local infrastructure. More than six months later, thousands of Puerto Rico's 3.3 million residents remain without power.

The Catholic University of America in Washington said in November that it would take up to 40 students who were enrolled in colleges or universities in Puerto Rico as visiting students for the spring 2018 semester, and would waive their tuition and standard student fees.

The main goal is to allow the students to stay on the path to graduation, because "if they lost an entire academic year, it can be really hard to get back into the academic groove," said Chris Lydon, vice president for enrollment management and marketing at The Catholic University of America.

Among the seven students who have taken up the offer is Desiree Cordero Rios, who had just begun her freshman year at the University of Puerto Rico at Aguadilla, in the city of Aguadilla, when the storm hit.

She was with her family at their home in the countryside, where her father works as a farmer. The family had put up barriers inside their home and took turns peeking through a small opening at a window to see what was happening to their neighborhood. Water was flooding into the house.

"It was desperate," Cordero Rios told the Catholic Standard, newspaper of the Washington Archdiocese. She said she remembers waking at 6 the morning after the storm and trying to call her boyfriend, only to find that there was no phone signal.

The vegetables and plantains on her father's farm were ruined, and many of the chickens and rabbits had died.

"We were shocked," she said, noting that "we knew it was going to be hard, but not that hard."

When Cordero Rios went outside for the first time after the storm, there were no trees, and she could see houses that she had not seen before. There was no electricity or running water, but her father had stored water, and there was a generator that they were able to use.

Gas for generators was in such high demand that Cordero Rios and her family woke at 4 a.m. every day to be at the gas station by 5 a.m. They would wait in line for eight hours to buy the $30 worth of gas that they were allowed.

The family, including aunts, uncles and cousins, would gather together every night in each other's homes in the neighborhood.

It was unclear if and when the university would reopen, and Cordero Rios said she began to think, "What about my future if they don't open?"

When telecommunications resumed, she called an aunt who lives in Maryland and went to stay with her. She had thought about someday moving to the United States mainland, and this hurricane pushed her to make that dream a reality, she said.

Cordero Rios is living in a residence hall on the campus of The Catholic University of America, where she is studying marketing. She loves looking at the paintings in the domes when she goes to Mass in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, she said.

Cordero Rios aims to transfer to The Catholic University of America for the rest of her college career.

"The education here is awesome," she said, noting that living in Washington is making her more independent and improving her grasp of the English language. She hopes to start her own digital marketing company after graduation.

Like Cordero Rios, Gabriel Agosto also was starting his freshman year at the University of Puerto Rico when Hurricane Maria hit the island.

He was at the university's campus in Bayamon municipality. His mother was working as a hotel wedding coordinator and after the storm she was transferred to Washington, where Agosto was accepted to attend The Catholic University of America for the spring semester.

This is a particularly exciting opportunity for Agosto, because it allows him to study what he is really interested in -- drama. He was studying marketing in Puerto Rico, because there aren't many drama programs there, but his dream is to become an actor.

"I am really grateful that I got the opportunity to come here and study," he said.

In his senior year of high school, Agosto and others in his drama class entered a movie into a competition where it was voted "gem of the festival" and won other awards.

That award-winning night "cemented in my mind that I was capable of doing anything," he said.

To pursue his dream, Agosto wants to keep studying at The Catholic University of America, and he said he could see himself graduating from the school.

The university's Spanish Club invited him and other Puerto Rican students to a meeting, which gave him a taste of the culture from back home.

"Puerto Rico is home, it will always be home," said Agosto.

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Sankowski is on the staff of the Catholic Standard, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Washington.

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Mass marks centennial of Maryknoll's first 'sending' of missioners

IMAGE: CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz

By Beth Griffin

MARYKNOLL, N.Y. (CNS) -- One hundred years after receiving Vatican approval to begin missionary work in China, the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers recalled the "original inspiration and holy stubbornness" of the society's founders during a celebratory centennial Mass April 2 in Maryknoll.

Father Raymond J. Finch, Maryknoll superior general, was the main celebrant of the Mass at the Queen of Apostles Chapel at the Maryknoll Society Center.

Flags of many of the 47 countries where Maryknoll missioners have served were attached to pillars in the chapel as a reminder of the organization's efforts to evangelize and strengthen the local church in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

Maryknoll, properly known as the Catholic Foreign Mission Society of America, was established in 1911 by the bishops of the United States to recruit, train, send and support American missioners overseas.

Father Finch recounted the "epic journey to Asia" made by Bishop (then-Father) James A. Walsh. At the time, mission territories were assigned by the Vatican Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith. Bishop Walsh had to negotiate with other mission groups to cede areas of responsibility to Maryknoll before seeking Vatican approval. The process took seven years and was concluded in April 1918.

Father Finch said it is "difficult to fully comprehend the patience, confidence and stubbornness needed by the first Maryknollers. The temptation is to pass over the obstacles and challenges and even to make light of incredible difficulties they faced."

He said they dreamed of enabling the U.S. church to participate in the universal mission of the Catholic Church "to bring the good news to the farthest reaches of our world." They pursued that dream in the face of many challenges and difficulties" including internal disagreements and political, economic, social and ecclesial issues, he said.

Maryknoll was established when the church in the United States was expanding to serve the new waves of poor Catholic immigrants, Father Finch said.

The first Maryknollers were convinced, as Bishop Walsh often reminded his fellow prelates, that the only way the Catholic Church at home would meet its own needs for priests and religious was by being generous in sending them in mission to places they were needed even more, he said.

The world, the church and mission have changed over the last hundred years, Father Finch said.

"Mission is not just from the 'Catholic' world to the 'pagan' world," from the West to the East, and from the North to the South, he said.

"Today, mission is from everywhere to everywhere," and the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples no longer assigns territories for mission, he said. Mission is the basic vocation of every Christian, "yet as much as mission has changed, the essentials remain the same."

It is still true that mission is about sharing the faith and the good news and about looking beyond ourselves and our very real needs to respond to the needs of others from the person next to us to the person on the other side of the world, Father Finch said.

Contemporary Maryknoll missioners work in 20 countries. The prayers of the faithful at the Mass to celebrate the centennial of the first mission "sending" were offered in Chinese, Swahili, Tagalog, Spanish, Korean and English to reflect the diversity of "the field afar."

The offertory gifts were selected from the Maryknoll archive and included rosaries, missals and Bibles that belonged to missioners who served in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the United States.

The Maryknoll Choir sang parts of the "Missa ad Gentes" ("Mass to the Peoples") composed by Father Jan Michael Joncas for Maryknoll's 2011 centennial.

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Encore: To honor Rev. King, work harder for justice, U.S. bishops urge

IMAGE: CNS photo/Yuri Gripas, Reuters


WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Fifty years after the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination, "we need to ask ourselves if we are doing all we can to build the culture of love, respect and peace to which the Gospel calls us," the U.S. bishops' Administrative Committee said March 28.

On April 4, 1968, James Earl Ray gunned down the civil rights leader as he stood on the balcony of his hotel room in Memphis, Tennessee. Rev. King, a Baptist minister, was 39.

In reflecting on Rev. King's life and work, "what are we being asked to do for the sake of our brother or sister who still suffers under the weight of racism?" the committee said in a statement. "Where could God use our efforts to help change the hearts of those who harbor racist thoughts or engage in racist actions?"

This 50th anniversary "gives us an important moment to draw inspiration from the way in which Dr. King remained undeterred in his principle of nonviolent resistance, even in the face of years of ridicule, threats and violence for the cause of justice," the committee said.

As the most prominent civil rights activist of his time, Rev. King fought for all races and against a system that promoted racism and racial divide. He is well-known for advocating nonviolence and civil disobedience to bring about change. He was inspired by his Christian beliefs and the nonviolent activism of Mahatma Gandhi.

In its statement, the Administrative Committee recalled that Rev. King went to Memphis to support underpaid and exploited African-American sanitation workers.

"(He) arrived on a plane that was under a bomb threat. He felt God had called him to solidarity with his brothers and sisters in need," the committee said. "In his final speech on the night before he died, Dr. King openly referenced the many threats against him, and made clear that he would love a long life. But more important to him, he said, was his desire to simply do the will of God."

"Our faith urges us to be courageous, to risk something of ourselves, in defending the dignity of our neighbor who is made in the image of God," the committee continued. "Pope Francis reminds us often that we must never sit on the sidelines in the face of great evil or extreme need, even when danger surrounds us."

Quoting Chapter 15, Verse 13, of St. John's Gospel, the committee said: :No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends."

The best way to honor Rev. King "and preserve his legacy," it added, is "by boldly asking God -- today and always -- to deepen our own commitment to follow his will wherever it leads in the cause of promoting justice."

Rev. King's assassination sparked a wave of rioting and other civil disturbances in cities across the country. Known as the Holy Week Uprising, it lasted from April 6 to April 14, which was Easter that year.

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Perspective: Wildcats in Rome cheer Villanova victory

IMAGE: CNS photo/ Robert Deutsch, USA TODAY Sports via Reuters

By Wyatt Noble

ROME (CNS) -- The Villanova men's basketball team claimed its second national championship in three years April 2 with a 79-62 win over Michigan, and I was an ocean away from 99 percent of my fellow Wildcats.

But it turns out the 1 percent here with me in Rome was all I needed. Around 1 a.m. April 3, more than 20 Villanova students and a few Michigan students poured into the Highlanders Pub in Rome.

As tipoff drew near, everyone huddled around tables near the biggest TV in the pub in nervous anticipation.

The last time we won the national championship, we were massive underdogs despite being a No. 1 seed, but this time was different. This time, everyone expected us to win. This time, anything but a win would mean catastrophic failure. Luckily for my fellow Wildcats and myself, the team was more than up to the task.

Donte DiVincenzo had shown flashes of superstar potential last season, but he ensured his status as the star of next year's team, and the star of the tournament, with a dominant 31-point performance. This came as a shock to many college basketball fans who had not ever seen the man known as "the Michael Jordan of Delaware," but every Wildcat watching in the Highlander knew what they were witnessing was not an anomaly.

Despite missing out on causing a minor earthquake in the quiet suburbs of Philadelphia, I got to experience a rare moment of triumph and comradery with my fellow Wildcats in Rome. Each of us wished we could be back home as the buzzer cemented our victory, but at that moment, every Wildcat in the Highlander began chanting the Villanova fight song, and it felt like home.

Then reality set in when everyone checked their phones and realized it was 6 a.m., and they had classes in a couple hours, or in my case an internship. Life doesn't skip a beat, not even for national champions.

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Wyatt Noble, a communications student at Villanova University, is doing a spring semester internship with the Catholic News Service Rome bureau. Other Wildcats are doing internships in several departments of the Vatican Secretariat for Communication.


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