Papal task force to help bishops, religious write, revise abuse guidelines

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pope Francis has set up a task force of qualified experts and canon lawyers to help bishops’ conferences and congregations of men and women religious with drawing up or revising guidelines for the protection of minors.

The Vatican will also be releasing — at an “imminent,” but unspecified date — a handbook or vademecum, prepared by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, to help bishops and religious superiors clearly understand their responsibilities and the procedures for handling allegations of abuse.

The Vatican unveiled the new initiatives, which had been suggested one year ago at a Vatican summit on the protection of minors, at a news conference Feb. 28.

At the end of last year’s summit, Pope Francis expressed his intention to establish task forces “made up of competent persons” to assist those needing help in addressing and providing for the protection of minors, especially when they lack the needed resources and skilled personnel.

About a dozen bishops’ conferences in countries experiencing extreme hardship due to conflict or poverty still have not been able to draw up safeguarding guidelines as was called for in 2011 by the doctrinal congregation, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi told reporters at the press event.

However, the task force is only meant to respond to requests for assistance since the responsibility for formulating the guidelines fully rests on bishops and religious superiors, Father Lombardi said.

While the group is there to help those needing to still establish guidelines, it also will help those wanting assistance to revise and update their procedures to comply with recently mandated Vatican norms, he added.

Those who have completed guidelines must constantly review, revise and improve them, said the task force’s new coordinator, Andrew Azzopardi, who is head of the church’s safeguarding commission for Malta and Gozo.

Laws change, research on abuse reveals new insights and “the messages we get from victims always help us improve our procedures,” which should get revised at least every four or five years, he said.

The new task force, established by the pope, is currently made up of about a dozen canon lawyers and safeguarding experts. Requests for assistance are to be sent to taskforce@org.va where Azzopardi will relay questions and needs to experts, who will then provide the needed help.

The task force’s work and travel expenses will be covered by a special fund established by donors, said a Vatican communique.

The group will be under the authority of Archbishop Edgar Pena Parra, the “substitute secretary for general affairs,” which is the third-ranking official in the Vatican Secretariat of State, and will be supervised by the four members of the organizing committee of last year’s summit: U.S. Cardinal Blase J. Cupich of Chicago; Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Bombay; Archbishop Charles J. Scicluna of Malta, adjunct secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Vatican’s chief abuse investigator; and Jesuit Father Hans Zollner, president of the Centre for the Protection of Minors of the Pontifical Gregorian University and member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors.

The task force was operative as of Feb. 24 and will have a two-year term.

Meanwhile, Bishop Juan Ignacio Arrieta, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, told reporters that the doctrinal congregation is preparing the handbook suggested at last year’s summit.

Because there have been so many new laws and revisions over the years, the doctrinal congregation will clearly spell out what each bishop or religious superior is expected to do upon receiving an allegation of suspected abuse, he said.

It will also make clear how the new norms emphasize there are penalties involved when a leader neglects, ignores or covers up suspected or known abuse, he said.

Bishop Arrieta also explained that a new juridical “roundtable” or commission also has been set up for monitoring and reviewing how all the different dicasteries responsible for handling abuse cases are handling the workload and procedures.

Archbishop Filippo Iannone, president of the pontifical council, heads the commission, which is made up of representatives from the Secretariat of State and congregations for the Doctrine of the Faith, Eastern Churches, Bishops, the Evangelization of Peoples, Clergy, and Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.  

Bishop Arrieta said there have been so many new norms and procedures, some “ad experimentum,” for the Vatican offices to follow, the commission was set up “to see the results,” such as how the protocols are working or where there may be problems.

It is very likely, he said, that all the norms will have to be “put together” in some more accessible way “because, for people who are not canon lawyers, they can be difficult sometimes to interpret.”

Trinidad and Tobago archbishop apologizes at Black Power 50th anniversary

Traditional African dancers take part in the opening procession during an Ash Wednesday service Feb. 26, 2020, outside the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Port of Spain, Trinidad, commemorating the Black Power Revolution’s 50th anniversary. CNS photo/Laura Ann Phillips

PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad (CNS) — On Feb. 26, 1970, 200 angry youths stormed the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Port of Spain, draped its statues in black cloth and criticized the church on its failure to challenge race and class imbalances in Trinidad and Tobago.

Fifty years later, to the day, the Catholic Church and the National Joint Action Committee — the leading body of the local Black Power movement — came together in that same cathedral for a joint observance of the 50th anniversary of Trinidad and Tobago’s Black Power Revolution.

In his address at the Ash Wednesday service, Archbishop Jason Gordon noted that this was a day on which the universal church gathered for repentance.

“Today, as archbishop of Port of Spain, I ask forgiveness for the way that we, as church, have not been more diligent about the development of our people: for the ways that we have held prejudice, for the ways that we have been snooty, for the ways that we have not given example to this people of what it is to build a wonderful nation.”

He referred to the “soul wound” of the country that “manifests itself in the young boys that pick up guns; in the mothers who have no fathers in their households; in the children growing up with no fathers around; in the high violence that this has brought.”

“But, one of the things we have not had the courage to say in our country,” said Archbishop Gordon, “is that a lot of what we’re dealing with … is also driven from another source: that we, as a nation, have disregarded or ignored the economic underdevelopment of our black people in this country.

“Pockets of our country have been left underdeveloped. We have to have a blueprint for African development in Trinidad and Tobago.”

Over the centuries, free land grants to English and French settlers, African slavery and East Indian indentureship spawned a society where wealth remained exclusively in the hands of whites and those of partial white ethnicities. In the book “Black Power Day: The 1970 Revolution,” journalist Raoul Pantin noted that white assets “would be handed down for generations.” All other groups held poverty and disease, their advancement denied well into the 20th century.

Kwasi Mutema, head of the National Joint Action Committee, said the 1970 revolution “was an effort to create a new spirit, an effort to create a new society.”

The U.S. Black Power movement of the 1960s heavily influenced many Caribbean territories. At that time, one by one, these were obtaining political independence from England; Trinidad obtained independence in 1962.

Six years later, a dispute between Caribbean students and the administration of the Sir George Williams University in Montreal over allegations of a professor deliberately failing black students sparked long-simmering tensions in Trinidad and Tobago.

On Feb. 26, 1970, students of the University of the West Indies entered the Royal Bank of Canada on Independence Square for a peaceful protest of the treatment of those Caribbean students, said Khafra Kambon, a founding member of the action committee.

Riot police hurled them out of the bank, he said, but the demonstration continued, moving eastward along the square.

“The demonstration was very disciplined,” Kambon recalled. “I don’t know who (said it); I know there was a cry, ‘Into the church!’ And the demonstration went into the Catholic cathedral.”

Newspaper photos of the time show demonstrators crowded into the sanctuary and around the altar, seated in the bishop’s chair, placards and black cloth draped over the statues.

“The church has had us praying to white faces for centuries. I don’t think it is psychologically healthy,” Kambon told about 200 people at a commemorative march Feb. 26. “In every culture, where people have not been enslaved, they represent God or any deity in their own image. The way we got them to represent us was by draping black cloth over some of the white faces.”

Archbishop Gordon said that black cloth was “symbolic that there was something that the church must take on, that she had not been able to take on, up until that time.”

Two years before the revolution, he noted, Archbishop Gordon Pantin had been installed as Trinidad’s first local ordinary.

“For two years, the local archbishop was struggling to understand how to move the church forward,” said Archbishop Gordon. “The events of 1970 catapulted the church in new directions. It broke the mold of the past and it opened a new mold for the future.”

For instance, he said, “Most of our priests were foreign missionary priests who occupied the cathedral. They left the cathedral after 1970, allowing the first local priests to become the administrators of the cathedral.”

Mutema said the cathedral incident “marked a series of events that led to a significant transformation, not just of the Catholic Church, but the spiritual life and the religious landscape of the Caribbean.”

Archbishop Pantin made the church’s first apology back in 1999, said Archbishop Gordon.

“In his official capacity as archbishop, (he) came to the cathedral in a service where he asked forgiveness for whatever way the Catholic Church had been complicit in racism, in sexism, in classism and the prejudice in the society.

“He said that the church has not always been on the right side of history and has not always acted appropriately as a mother should to all of her children.”

“I have to congratulate the Catholic Church for its response,” said Mutema, “because, in the face of that criticism, the church listened. They listened, and they went further than that to make amends and made drastic changes to their institution.”

Post-hurricane partnership is rejuvenating homes, communities in Bahamas

Archbishop Patrick C. Pinder of Nassau, Bahamas, and Sean O’Neill, head of office for Caritas in Grand Bahama, front, leave a damaged home after discussing project details of a Caritas home rehab and plans for a resiliency center near Freeport Feb. 19, 2020. The location was one of several visited by a delegation of Archdiocese of Miami Catholic Charities senior staff during a Feb. 19-21 trip to see rebuilding projects underway since Hurricane Dorian hit the Bahamas in September 2019. CNS photo/Tom Tracy

FREEPORT, Grand Bahama (CNS) — In response to the most damaging storm in the modern history of the Bahamas, a regional office of Caritas International has moved forward in its two-year commitment to promote housing refurbishment and mental wellness in the islands.

Category 5 Hurricane Dorian — which first made landfall Sept. 1, 2019, and which stalled over the region for several days — resulted in more than 70 deaths, severe structural damage and the displacement of thousands of residents across the northern Bahamas.

Although Catholic Relief Services is not technically incorporated in the Bahamas, the U.S. bishops’ international relief and development agency has set up a temporary presence under the auspices of Caritas Antilles and in cooperation with the Nassau Archdiocese.

A coordination office space has been set up at the Nassau archdiocesan chancery and with field offices in Grand Bahama, where workers have so far focused their efforts since the hurricane.

“The community in Grand Bahama has really come together in the rebuilding efforts and some of the local contractors have been engaged to do the work,” said Nassau Archbishop Patrick C. Pinder, who led a delegation of Archdiocese of Miami Catholic Charities senior staff on a post-hurricane tour of key locations Feb. 19-21.

Hurricane Dorian displaced an estimated 70,000 people throughout the Bahamas, leaving severe damage or total destruction to more than 13,000 homes, or some 45% of all homes in Grand Bahama and Abaco.

The Caritas efforts are part of a wider hurricane recovery project that the Archdiocese of Nassau has been engaged in with its parishes, schools and communities, and with material and financial assistance from around the world — including some $700,000 collected in South Florida parishes last year.

When the Caritas staff first arrived after the hurricane, it was difficult getting into Abaco and they had to first go to Grand Bahamas but were told they would be stuck there and have no accommodations in Abaco, according to the archbishop.

“So they used the time to understand the situation there and determined to focus their efforts there in Grand Bahama on shelter remediation, assisting people in drying out their homes with demucking and demolding, and later on they focused on setting up what they call a resilience center,” Archbishop Pinder added.

“One of the unique features of this particular hurricane, in my experience, is it was the first time you had mass evacuations out of the area and it brought the economy to a halt, and now it is just beginning to pick back up again,” he told the Florida Catholic, Miami’s archdiocesan newspaper. “In instances where you have mold, they address that first and dry the place.”

In the Hudson Estates and Freeport Ridge Estates neighborhoods of Freeport, Archbishop Pinder and his Florida delegation toured the still-developing field office for the Caritas specialists, whose work there is being funded through private donations and funds that came from national collections in U.S. parishes last year.

So far, the Caritas team has overseen a cleanup completion and minor repair and refurbishment of some 75 homes, according to Sean O’Neill, head of office for Caritas in Grand Bahamas, along with Kesheia Morris, a projects officer for the minor repairs program.

O’Neill noted that the Bahamas project has been funded for two years and will include two community engagement offices, two social workers and a program manager at its resiliency center; with group therapy sessions including substance abuse sessions and individual counseling.

“A resiliency center is a community center that is modeling after a few that have been done in other contexts after a trauma — there was one done in Colorado after the (2012) Aurora movie theater shooting — and it does activities on a number of levels of mental health — (the) psychosocial support pyramid,” O’Neill said.

“At the base level, it is a matter of doing community events just to bring people back into a space to start reconnecting with each other,” he explained.

Recently, the project sponsored a movie night for adults in the Grand Bahamas and separate group activities for children. The Caritas team is planning for more community engagement and off-site events for Grand Bahamas communities that might have difficulty traveling to the resiliency center.

Housing repairs and outreach to affected families are integrated efforts, according to O’Neill.

“We have case workers engaging with families where we are doing repairs and those case workers get to check in with the social workers here when there are more serious issues they come across,” he added, noting that a referral mechanism will direct more serious clients for help at Rand Memorial Hospital in Freeport.

Residents in the hard-hit eastern end of Grand Bahamas were overwhelmed by Hurricane Dorian, O’Neill said, and “we heard a deep sense of a need to rebuild community — because people were scattered after the storm.”

“The overall sense has been that the idea is really welcomed and that comes from other organizations and from the Grand Bahamas Health Services as well,” he said.

In addition, Caritas plans to start exploring mental health and counseling projects in Abaco, which suffered the brunt of Hurricane Dorian’s strongest winds and storm surge.

Eulie Bastian Elliott, director of the Office of Family Life and newly appointed Hurricane Dorian relief and response specialist for the Archdiocese of Nassau, said the workload for the archdiocesan staff in the Bahamas has doubled since Dorian.

It has resulted in the development of a revised and more complete archdiocesan hurricane response plan for the future so that every parish, school and church staff person knows exactly what to do before, during and after a storm.

“There has been so much work to do since September and the rest is history because we had to get on the ground right away, said Elliott, who retired after 37 years working for the Bahamian government as a CPA before coming to work for the church in the Bahamas.

“Grand Bahamas is in cleanup mode, and we are grateful for the response we got from other countries and thanks to that we were able to bounce back,” she said.

“We just hope and pray we don’t get hit again this next hurricane season, and I must give Archbishop Pinder credit and kudos for taking on this mammoth effort to bring hope, help and relief to our people again,” Elliott told the Florida Catholic. “As a shepherd, that is what he is called to do and a lot of people are looking to him for leadership. He has spent long hours doing just that.”

Houston Catholic recalls standing her ground on train by staying seated

Gertrudejane Holliday Stone, a parishioner of St. Mary of the Purification Catholic Church, is seen here meeting with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., alongside her husband, Dr. John Stone, during a Houston visit in the 1960s. In 1955, Getrudejane Holliday Stone challenged authorities on a train bound for Houston who demanded she change her seat because of her skin color. CNS photo/courtesy of Gertrudejane Holliday Stone

HOUSTON (CNS) — Gertrudejane Holliday Stone, a parishioner at St. Mary of the Purification Church in Houston, was a Freedom Rider even before the term was coined.

In an interview during Black History Month, the octogenarian recalled when she was just a 21-year-old college senior at Fisk University, a historically black university in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1955 studying to be a teacher.

She looked forward to Christmas break while riding on a passenger train from Tennessee back to her family’s home in Houston. Then a white conductor told her to move from her train seat and go back to a “Jim Crow coach.” Jim Crow was a racist term derived from a white theater character wearing black face that was generally used to describe racial segregation laws.

Most people now have heard about Rosa Parks in Montgomery, Alabama, who was arrested after refusing to give up her seat on a municipal bus that very same month and year — Dec. 1, 1955. But that action was not yet widely known when Stone was told to move.

“God doesn’t put a spirit of fear in you. He puts a spirit of power, sound mind and love for your fellow man,” Stone told the Texas Catholic Herald, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston. “But enough was enough was enough. I said I was not moving.”

The conductor then brought in the brakeman to add his voice in telling her that she needed to move as the journey moved farther south into Louisiana. When the train stopped in Lake Charles, Louisiana, a city police officer came aboard, threatening to arrest Stone.

“So then I had three Caucasian men standing over me telling me I had to move. They took my luggage and my coat, but I was holding my purse tight,” she said. “I didn’t cause commotion with loud talking. I let them do the loud talking.”

Just a few weeks earlier, on Nov. 25, 1955, the Interstate Commerce Commission, a federal agency that regulates railroads and other transporters of goods, banned racial segregation on interstate buses, train lines and in waiting rooms.

“So there I was, barely out of my teens, defying on a national level, the federal train system not following its own law. I told them that I was interstate commerce,” she said.

Finally, two other men arrived, whom Stone said may have been railroad detectives, and spoke quietly to the group of men and they dispersed while she stayed in her seat until arriving in Houston.

“I maintained my composure during that whole time,” Stone said. “But when I was in the arms of my mother and father meeting me, I melted into tears with the stress.”

“They were upset but proud of me for standing my ground by staying seated,” she said and chuckled.

But while Rosa Parks’ arrest in 1955 led to a national spotlight as a Montgomery Bus Boycott lasted for more than a year, Stone’s stance serves as a brave individual persevering in protecting her rights.

Then in 1961, Freedom Riders, groups of white and African American civil rights activists, took bus trips through the South to protest segregated bus terminals that court rulings had found unconstitutional. Freedom Riders tried to use “whites-only” restrooms and lunch counters at bus stations in Alabama, South Carolina and other Southern states.

The groups were confronted by arresting police officers — as well as horrific violence from white protesters — along their routes, but also drew international attention to the civil rights movement. During the turbulent 1960s, both Stone and her husband met national civil rights leader the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. when he visited Houston.

“He was an extremely good and religious man,” she said of King.

Upon Stone’s college graduation, she continued serving the Houston community in several capacities, as a teacher, wife married to Dr. John Stone, the first African American physician at St. Joseph’s Hospital, and mother of three children.

Her decades of voluntary service included being the first African American woman to chair the City of Houston Library Board appointed by Mayor Fred Hofheinz; parish council member at St. Mary of the Purification; advisory board member of the Alley Theater; and Lady of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, the highest honor bestowed upon a Catholic layperson by papal invitation.

“We need to continue praying for this world,” said Stone, who planned to attend to a White House event celebrating Black History Month.

“We are still in a bad place and need to pray to change the hearts of people,” she added. “We all need to have hope for the future.”

Pro-life pregnancy center to open next to Planned Parenthood in Baltimore

A new pro-life pregnancy center will be located right next to this Planned Parenthood facility in downtown Baltimore when it opens in July 2020. CNS photo/George P. Matysek Jr., Catholic Review

BALTIMORE (CNS) — One of America’s biggest cultural and moral divides is about to be embodied in a shared wall of two Baltimore buildings with very different missions.

On one side, a long-established Planned Parenthood center will continue offering abortion services.

On the other, a pro-life pregnancy resource center — a newcomer to a blighted section of Howard Street tentatively slated to open in July — will offer women the ongoing support they need to bring their unborn children to term.

Operated by the Center for Pregnancy Concerns, a nonprofit Christian outreach organization based in the Baltimore suburb of Essex, the new Howard Street center will provide free sonograms, pregnancy testing and counseling. It also will offer material assistance, job training, housing and other aid through an extensive referral network.

“The new pro-life pregnancy resource center coming to Howard Street will be a tremendous blessing and a beacon of hope to the entire city,” said Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori, who plans to bless and dedicate the new building when it opens this summer. “It will provide much-needed support to women in need and their families.”

Gina Ruppert, the newly appointed executive director of the Center for Pregnancy Concerns, noted the downtown Baltimore center will be the organization’s fifth location, including one at St. Ann in East Baltimore and another at St. Rita in suburban Dundalk.

Ruppert, a parishioner of Sacred Heart in Glyndon, sees the newest center’s close proximity to an abortion provider as an unparalleled opportunity to reach out to women who may believe abortion is their only choice.

“We hope that women will consider coming in our door for information on all their options and resources that are available to them before making any decisions,” said Ruppert, a mother of six who holds a bachelor’s degree in social work from Frostburg State University.

“We hope they’ll come in and have a sonogram at no cost to them and hear about how we are ready and able to walk with them and help them with our resources,” she said. “We also want women to know that if they’ve had an abortion and are suffering, that we would love for them to come in and talk to us because we have resources for them, too.”

The Archdiocese of Baltimore provided the Center for Pregnancy Concerns a grant from the Annual Appeal for Catholic Ministries to help fund the sonography services at the Howard Street location, Ruppert said. Sonograms are important for showing women “the truth” of how far along they are in the pregnancy, Ruppert said, and in helping them process what their next steps might be.

“It can make a great impact on a woman to choose life,” she said. “We also know that for some women, it can be a painful experience if they’ve experienced abortion in the past and didn’t have a sonogram to actually see that living baby. And we help them work through that.”

For those who are open to it, the pro-life organization offers spiritual counseling and Bible studies in English and Spanish, Ruppert said.

The organization serves mothers of children in the womb through pre-school, women facing unplanned pregnancies and families facing hardships in providing for their babies, Ruppert said.

Last year, it served 1,084 clients. Ruppert expects those numbers to jump significantly once the Howard Street location is operational.

The Center for Pregnancy Concerns, which also offers a 24-hour-a-day help line, bought the building on Howard at auction Jan. 19, 2017, for $94,500. Funds for the purchase were donated by two anonymous benefactors, including the man who alerted the organization about the building’s availability after noticing it was for sale when he was praying outside the Planned Parenthood where abortions are performed.

A capital campaign brought in funds to cover the beginning of extensive renovations of the dilapidated, 100-year-old former electronics and jewelry store. A lack of resources stalled the project for more than a year; an anonymous donor made a substantial contribution that allowed work to resume late last year.

The total cost of rehabilitating the building is expected to approach $1 million, according to Clews.

Update: Social justice lobby’s roundtable tour reveals rural needs

Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of Network, a Catholic social justice lobby, speaks at the National Press Club in Washington Feb. 25, 2020. Also pictured is Lawrence O’Donnell, host of MSNBC’s “The Last Word With Lawrence O’Donnell.” CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn

WASHINGTON (CNS) — Few people might have noticed it, but Network, a Catholic social justice lobby, conducted a series of rural roundtables in 2018 and 2019 to take the pulse of Americans living in the heartland.

The results, released at a Feb. 25 breakfast in Washington, show a series of economic, communication and social challenges that have confounded communities’ ability to fight back.

“The shifting of my awareness, and I think our awareness here at Network, is really an important piece to talk about with an equal level of respect for rural communities as we do for our urban communities,” said Sister Simone Campbell, a Sister of Social Service who is executive director of Network.

In a Feb. 21 telephone interview with Catholic News Service, Sister Campbell recalled one roundtable at a farm outside of Springfield, Illinois, maintained by the Dominican Sisters. “A couple of folks from the inner city of Springfield came with the sisters” to the roundtable, she said.

At the end of it, when participants were asked what they took away from the discussion, “one guy said, ‘You guys are talking about the same stuff we’re talking about in the center city.’ That realization of shared experience was really a treasure. It surprised the folks in rural communities as well as city folk.”

In the report, “Raising Rural Voices: Listening to the Hopes and Hardships of Rural Communities,” Sister Campbell said, “Time and time again, I heard how rural areas are trying to cope with national challenges that affect their communities in unique ways. But problems rural residents face accessing health care or other issues are not easily solved with telehealth or other ‘city answers.'”

At a roundtable in Poetry, Texas — “who knew there was a Poetry, Texas?” exclaimed Sister Campbell — residents were, surprisingly, glad the nearby hospital had closed. The quality of care there was so bad, she noted, that its last remaining physician said, “I wouldn’t send the dog of my worst enemy” there.

But they lamented the closing of the town grocery store. Poetry is 90 minutes from Dallas, and more Dallas residents are moving to Poetry to find affordable housing. But they do their grocery shopping in Dallas because the prices are better, but this is “undermining the local economy,” Sister Campbell told CNS. “They commute so far every day they have no energy left for the community.” She added roundtable participants asked, “How can we get to these newcomers? How can we include them?”

The report said, “Economic circumstances are also depressing volunteerism. In Tiffin (Ohio), surrounding towns that rely on volunteer fire departments can’t staff them because so many people need to work two jobs and don’t have time to help.”

One common lament is the lack of broadband access.

“Every place we went, there is a crisis in access to broadband, the internet, except where they have small cooperatives,” Sister Campbell told CNS. “For the big players — Comcast, Verizon — there’s not enough profit margin” to provide services.

“In Waukesha, Wisconsin, the idea of the local 25-bed hospital and nursing home not having broadband was a big deal. Nurses making visits couldn’t access patients’ files,” she added, “so the quality of care for rural America is lower.”

Moreover, “it’s hard to get professionals to move to rural communities,” she noted. One or more adults in a family may have professional jobs they can do remotely from home, “but if you don’t have broadband you can’t do that. It’s undercutting who the rural communities can recruit,” Sister Campbell said.

But agriculture — what rural America is known for — fares no better. Three roundtables “noted that agricultural facilities like slaughterhouses, meat processing plants and dairy farms are heavily dependent on undocumented immigrants for labor,” the report said, “and in Adrian (Michigan), workers who are exploited dare not speak out for fear of being deported. Many expressed their experiences of poor working conditions, meager wages and long hours.”

The roundtable sessions — 17 of them in 16 states — and the resulting report provided no policy prescriptions — yet. But Sister Campbell said in preparing testimony for a recent House hearing on child poverty, “I was able to reach out to our participants at the rural roundtable to get their input.”

Sister Campbell said participants will be asked to list their top three priorities, and Network will take those responses into account when it fashions its four-year legislative agenda following the 2020 presidential election.

Participants from four of the 17 roundtable sessions took part in the Feb. 25 breakfast session.

Kari Simpkins, who grew up on an Indiana farm and now works in animal husbandry and ecological sustainability in farming, said farming is not “corporate farming.”

“They have corporate ties, they may raise hogs or turkey and chickens or sell their milk in a corporate way, but it’s all just to stay on the farms they’ve inherited,” she said. “They’re older, their kids have gone to college or to town,” she added. “As farmers, we feel embattled.”

Antonio Trujillo, principal of St. Joseph Mission School, a 60-student kindergarten-through-eighth-grade school in San Fidel, New Mexico, criticized the “false narrative of how the immigrants who are here are lazy: ‘They’re just sucking our tax dollars.’ I just wish people had more personal contact around the dinner table,” he said to discover “how much they love God, how much they love their family, how they have the same values.

Trujillo said New Mexico dairy farmers said, “Oh, they’re the greatest people!” while “in the cities, where there is not that encounter, it’s ‘Oh my God, we’re being’ — and the word that I hate, is — ‘invaded.’ It’s inflammatory and it’s degradation of a people as the enemy where there are none.”

Melanie Powell, executive director of the Tutwiler Community Education Center in Mississippi — which she said was established by women religious 30 years ago — told of how access to services is key.

AT&T, one of the United States’ leading broadband providers, has a building just to the left of her own building. She said she inquired about a broadband hookup and was told, “You have a beautiful setup and all this, but I can’t help you” unless the center was willing to pay $500 a month.

As for health care, “I live in the (Mississippi) Delta, but my primary care physician is two hours away,” Powell said. When she complained to her former primary care physician in the Delta about a cold, “the doctor would say, ‘Oh, it’s just the Delta Crud. You just moved here, you’re body has to adjust.’ Noooo!” In Jackson, Mississippi, she was diagnosed as having lymph nodes in her left lung.

“But it’s all about access,” she said. “I needed to see a pulmonologist. But they didn’t have that where I live.”

In the other direction, Powell added, is Memphis, Tennessee, and people will drive one hour to catch a bus — for another hour-plus ride — just to get to a part-time job there at FedEx.

Obispo salvadoreño, contemporáneo de san Óscar Romero, muere a los 89

El obispo emérito Eduardo Alas Alfaro, un prelado salvadoreño y contemporáneo de san Oscar Romero, murió el 27 de febrero de 2020, a los 89 años. Fue el primer prelado de la Diócesis de Chalatenango, en el norte de El Salvador, una de las zonas más maltratadas durante los 12 años de guerra civil del país. Foto CNS-Cortesía de Carmen Lara

WASHINGTON (CNS) — El obispo emérito Eduardo Alas Alfaro, prelado salvadoreño y contemporáneo del arzobispo Óscar Romero, mencionado varias veces en el diario publicado del santo salvadoreño, murió en su tierra natal de Chalatenango el 27 de febrero, el 32 aniversario de su ordenación como obispo. Tenía 89 años.

El obispo Alas, quien murió por causas naturales, fue el primer prelado de la Diócesis de Chalatenango, en el norte de El Salvador, una de las zonas más maltratadas durante los 12 años de guerra civil del país.

“Al él le tocó un tiempo tremendo aquí, fue en los periodos de la guerra, le tocó asistir a víctimas del conflicto armado”, dijo Monseñor Oswaldo Escobar Aguilar de Chalatenango, el tercer y presente obispo de la diócesis, en una entrevista telefónica el 27 de febrero con Catholic News Service.

Durante la guerra, el obispo Alas era conocido por su afán de salir a dejar alimentos y otras necesidades a los feligreses de la zona en un camión, arriesgando su vida y su seguridad para hacerlo.

“Su famoso Jeep Toyota, servía de ambulancia, taxi, de grúa para sacar buses de los atolladeros y él era el motorista en cada ocasión”, dice una nota sin fecha del periódico Orientación de la Arquidiócesis de San Salvador. “Muchas veces dejaban tomar el bus, para que el padre los llevara a Chalatenango en su carro y porque yendo con él, los atendían rápidamente en el hospital”.

He used the truck to rescue injured soldiers, to deliver to safety those who had deserted their posts during the war, including some who had been targeted for assassination, said Bishop Escobar.

Durante la guerra, usó el vehículo para rescatar a soldados heridos, para salvar a gente que desertaba, gente que estaba en las listas para ser asesinados, dijo Monseñor Escobar.

El obispo Alas sirvió en el departamento de Chalatenango como sacerdote en una época cuando sacerdotes católicos, religiosos y religiosas y catequistas laicos eran regularmente desaparecidos o asesinados por escuadrones de la muerte en un área conocida por simpatizar con las guerrillas que luchaban contra un gobierno de derecha. Católicos asesinados en la zona de Chalatenango incluyeron a mujeres estadounidenses: dos misioneras Maryknoll que sirvieron en la diócesis y que fueron asesinadas junto con otra monja estadounidense y una misionera laica en 1980.

Monseñor Alas nació en 1930 en San Rafael, y se concentró en catequesis y en la instrucción religiosa desde el momento en que fue ordenado en 1960, según la nota en Orientación. Aparece varias veces en el diario de san Oscar Romero, incluso en un instante en el cual le ayuda al futuro santo en un acto de reparación el 4 de enero de 1979, después de que la Eucaristía fuera robada de una iglesia en un área donde sirvió.

“Era amante de la Eucaristía” y fue un hombre de gran oración, por eso manifestó amor hacia los demás, dijo el obispo Escobar.

San Romero dice en su diario que fue “impresionante” escuchar a hombres, mujeres y jóvenes expresar una profunda solidaridad con la iglesia y con su pastor y que el padre Alas le habló sobre el crecimiento que experimentó sirviendo al pueblo de Dios en los alrededores rurales de Chalatenango. El futuro santo dijo que después de esa reunión, él también sintió que había experimentado un crecimiento espiritual y estaba más convencido de su “deseo de servir a este pueblo de Dios que el Señor me ha encomendado”.

“San Oscar Romero valoro grandemente a nuestro querido (padre) Eduardo Alas, quien nueve años después se convierte en el primer obispo de Chalatenango”, escribió el obispo Escobar en una serie de columnas de 2019 en Orientación. “Las expresiones cariñosas de nuestro santo por Monseñor Eduardo son abundantes, destaca en él con mucha lucidez su talante humano y pastoral”.

La admiración era mutua. En un artículo de mayo de 2015 escrito antes de la beatificación del arzobispo Romero, el periódico Diario1.com le preguntó al obispo Alas si conocía a otra persona como el futuro santo.

“Sí, conozco a otra persona”, respondió. “A Jesús de Nazareth. Monseñor Romero era el discípulo de Jesús de Nazareth. Un discípulo en serio, de verdad. Claro, no voy a decir igual, pero sí una persona cuya copia o réplica sería monseñor Romero”.

Monseñor Alas fue uno de ocho hijos de su familia que ingresaron al seminario, pero solo él y otro hermano fueron ordenados. Fue elevado a obispo de la naciente diócesis de Chalatenango el 27 de febrero de 1988, por el entonces papa Juan Pablo II, quien lo llamó “el obispo de la montaña”, dijo el obispo Escobar. Monseñor Alas renunció en 2007 debido a su salud.

La enfermedad, de una forma u otra, marcó su vida, y por eso, su camino al sacerdocio no fue fácil. Trató de ingresar a la orden salesiana en su adolescencia, pero a menudo estaba enfermo y no mostraba mucha aptitud para los libros, dice el artículo en Orientación, y agrega que el superior de la orden le dijo: “Hijo mío, tú no puedes seguir estudiando, regresa a tu pueblo y sigue sembrando maicillo”. Trató de unirse a una comunidad de padres Somascos, pero solo le dieron oficios manuales, siguió enfermo y terminó por irse. Finalmente ingresó al seminario de San José de la Montaña, pero como ayudante de cocinero, antes de que finalmente otro sacerdote lo recomendó para el seminario, dice la nota.

El legado del obispo Alas es su sencillez, su ternura, y será recordado como un obispo que “se sacrificó por sus ovejas cuando los buscaban”, un obispo que era “pobre entre los pobres”, dijo el obispo Escobar. No era alguien que buscaba intereses económicos o prestigio, pero le encantaba decir: “en querer, nadie me gana”, recordó el obispo Escobar.

La diócesis tiene planificada una Misa de entierro el 29 de febrero, y será enterrado en la catedral de Chalatenango el mismo día.

“La sensación es de que un santo ha muerto”, dijo Monseñor Escobar, quien por ayudó a cargar el ataúd su predecesor dentro de la catedral donde sirvió. “Era un obispo digno. Yo quisiera aunque sea llegar a la suela de sus zapatos. Siempre tuvo esa dulzura”.