U.S. Church News

Sister Pimentel disappointed about not being able to address president

By Rose Ybarra Catholic News Service

CNS photo/Barbara Johnston, courtesy University of Notre Dame

Sister Norma Pimentel, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley in Texas and a longtime advocate for immigrants and refugees, will receive the University of Notre Dame's 2018 Laetare Medal at the school's graduation ceremony May 20. Sister Pimentel, a member of the Missionaries of Jesus, is pictured in a Feb. 19 photo. (CNS photo/Barbara Johnston, courtesy University of Notre Dame) See LAETARE-MEDAL-PIMENTEL March 11, 2018.

MCALLEN, Texas (CNS) -- Sister Norma Pimentel was "truly disappointed" after not being given an opportunity to speak during a roundtable discussion with President Donald Trump during his Jan. 10 visit to McAllen.

The president traveled to the Rio Grande Valley to make his case for a southern border wall and other security measures amid a partial government shutdown that began over funding for the wall.

Calling the president's visit "quite an important moment," Sister Pimentel, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley in the Diocese of Brownsville, lamented that representatives of local agencies working with migrant people and local elected officials were not invited to speak during the discussion.

"I was looking forward to this roundtable discussion, but there was no discussion unfortunately," Sister Pimentel told The Valley Catholic, newspaper of the Brownsville Diocese. "There were certain people selected to speak, people who support the president's agenda," she added.

"We would like for President Trump to know who we are and what the reality is here on our border," said Sister Pimentel, a member of the Missionaries of Jesus

Trump arrived about 12:45 p.m. local time, along with Republican Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz of Texas, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and White House staff.

Supporters of Trump as well as protesters gathered on opposite sides of a street near the airport awaiting the president's arrival.

Trump was taken to a nearby U.S. Border Patrol Station for what was billed as a roundtable discussion with U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents, local officials and key players of the immigration story such as Sister Pimentel, who has spearheaded efforts to assist about more than 100,000 immigrants since June 2014.

A Jan. 10 Catholic News Service story incorrectly reported that Trump would visit the Catholic Charities-run Humanitarian Respite Center that Sister Pimentel oversees and that serves migrant people.

When asked what she would have said to the president if she had been recognized, Sister Pimentel said, "I would definitely say that I appreciate and understand the importance of border security and keeping our border safe -- that's so important. We must support our Border Patrol and their job to defend and protect our borders. We must know who enters our country."

Sister Pimentel noted she has a good working relationship with the U.S. Border Patrol and other government agencies.

"When I walked into the meeting room, all the Border Patrol agents present, even the ones from D.C. were happy to meet me and talk to me," she said. "It really demonstrates the importance of how we on the ground work together as a community -- city officials, ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement), the volunteers -- to the realities we face at the border.

"We recognize, yes, it's important to keep our border safe to support our Border Patrol but we also recognize there are lots of families, innocent victims of violence that are suffering," she said. "We as a community are responding to help them. It's a part of who we are as Americans: compassionate, caring."

Sister Pimentel continued, "That's a side that unfortunately our president was not open to listen to. I would have loved to have the opportunity to personally invite him to the respite center, to meet the families, to meet the children. As Catholics, as people of faith, we feel God has asked us to support, defend and protect all human life and that's what we're doing here at the respite center."

In an op-ed posted to The Washington Post website Jan. 9, Sister Pimentel invited Trump to visit the center, which opened in 2014 to provide assistance in response to the influx of immigrants arriving from Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and other countries.

Sister Pimentel said the center offers shelter, meals and showers for people who have been released after being apprehended by authorities as they crossed in the U.S.

On some days as few as 20 people arrive, she wrote, adding, "Other days it's closer to 300."

In her column, she invited the president to see how the center cooperates with U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents to ensure the needs of the newcomers are met.

The center is staffed with volunteers who offer food, clothing, toiletries, baby supplies and travel packets, which include supplies for their journey.

These immigrants, mostly women and children, already have been detained and released by immigration authorities. They have been granted permission to continue to their destinations outside of the Rio Grande Valley and given a date for a court appearance.

- - -

Ybarra is assistant editor of The Valley Catholic, newspaper of the Diocese of Brownsville.


Despite high turnover, number of Catholics little changed in Congress

By Mark Pattison Catholic News Service

CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn

The U.S. Capitol in Washington is seen in this 2017 file photo. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn) See WASHINGTON-LETTER-CATHOLICS-CONGRESS Jan. 11, 2019.

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In most election cycles, there may be 30 to 50 new members of Congress. For 2019, there are 89 -- and a 90th may yet be headed for Capitol Hill based on how a disputed House election in North Carolina plays out.

Yet, despite the broad turnover, the number of Catholics in the current Congress is little changed from that in the past Congress.

Two years ago, there were 168 Catholics in the House and Senate combined, a high-water mark. This year, for the 116th Congress, the number is down five, to 163.

Even so, their representation in House, at 32.5 percent, is more than half again their representation in the U.S. population, which the Pew Research Center pegs at 21 percent.

Pew's biennial "Faith on the Hill" report, which breaks down the religious composition of Congress, notes that Catholics are the single largest denomination in Congress. The next highest, at 80: "unspecified/other" Christians who are members of denominations smaller than the 16 listed in the Pew report, or did not specify their religious affiliation.

Greg Smith, associate director of research at the Pew Research Center, said the percentage of those in Congress who did not specify their branch of Christianity is triple that of the general population, which registers at about 5 percent.

But one thing Pew can do in its surveys is follow up to ask respondents if there is a specific denominational affiliation. For its numbers, the "Faith on the Hill" survey depends on results from a questionnaire developed by CQ Roll Call and sent to each member.

Among those who did specify, Baptists come in at 72 members in both the House and Senate, followed by Methodists at 42 and Jews at 34. Presbyterians, Lutherans and Episcopalians/Anglicans are each tied at 26 members apiece.

The only other entries in double digits are Mormons and members of nondenominational churches, both with 10. Pew noted that the number of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Congress is the lowest in at least a decade.

Some argue "you can't be a Catholic and a Democrat," because of the party's support for legal abortion. But the Pew numbers show more Catholic Democrats in the House -- 87 -- than Catholic Republicans, who number 54. In fact, the number of Catholic Democrats is not far from the number of Protestant Democrats in the House -- there are 97 of them.

In the Senate, though, the margin is closer, but more Catholics in the upper chamber are Democrats than Republicans, 12-10. Protestant Senate Republicans, though, double the number of Protestant Democrats, 40-20.

Among new members, despite the high turnover rate, Catholics were the only religious group in double digits, with 29 new members.

The "Faith on the Hill" report said, "Catholics have held steady at 31 percent over the last four Congresses, although there are now many more Catholics in Congress than there were in the first Congress for which Pew Research Center has data." That was when there were an even 100 Catholics in both chambers, good for 19 percent of the total. It was the 87th Congress, which began in 1961 -- the year the nation's first Catholic president, John Kennedy, was sworn in.

While Catholics may be down five to 163 members in this Congress, they also had 163 in 2013-14, and 164 members in 2015-16.

The number of Protestants has dwindled over the past two generations from 398 in 1961. In four of the past six Congresses, they have totaled fewer than 300.

While much has been made of two Muslim women now serving in the House this term, there are just three Muslims overall in Congress. There are five Orthodox Christians, three Hindus, two Buddhists and two Unitarian Universalists.

Perhaps the most underrepresented group in Congress are those who claim no religious affiliation. While Pew puts their number at 23 percent of the U.S. population, there is just one who professes such: Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Arizona.

There may be others, as 18 members of Congress -- up 10 from two years ago -- either didn't or wouldn't answer the question from CQ Roll Call. "It's hard to know what to infer from that," Smith told Catholic News Service.

It is apparent, though, that candidates for office still see a need to check the "religion" box on their resume when presenting themselves to voters -- and that CQ Roll Call believes it to be important enough to continue to ask the question nearly a half-century after it started asking about religious affiliation.

"It is true -- it's definitely true -- when we look at our survey data, that being an atheist is, and long has been, a political liability," Smith said. That percentage has dropped, though, from 63 percent of Americans saying in 2007 they would be less likely to vote for an atheist, to a bare majority of 51 percent in 2016.

On the other hand, the religiosity of a candidate may not necessarily seal the deal with voters.

In early 2016, Pew asked survey respondents about the religiosity of a fistful of presidential aspirants. The percentage of those agreeing that the following candidates were at least somewhat religious were: Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, 68 percent; Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, 65 percent, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, 61 percent, Hillary Clinton, 48 percent, Sen. Bernie Sanders, 40 percent; and, checking in at 30 percent, eventual President Donald Trump.

"Donald Trump was not widely seen as a particularly religious candidate and that did not hinder his candidacy for the Republican nomination," Smith said.

Religion in public life is, and can be, a good thing, according to Douglas A. Hicks, dean of -- and a religion professor at -- the Oxford College of Emory University in Atlanta.

"Welcoming more faith perspectives into public debate risks even more cacophony and conflict than we already experience. Like most other matters of import today, citizens hold divergent religious beliefs and practices and will disagree," Hicks said in a Jan. 10 essay.

"Yet religious differences are part and parcel of our wider debate about what it means to be a flourishing democracy," he wrote. "To have those diverse perspectives present in our politics, including among our national leaders, is a positive step -- not only toward ensuring that many voices engage the democratic process, but also for reaching constructive solutions to the social, political, and economic issues that we face together."


Shutdown won't deter crowds from marching for life in nation's capital

By Julie Asher Catholic News Service

CNS/Tyler Orsburn

March for Life participants are seen in Washington in this 2014 file photo. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn) See MARCHERS-WASHINGTON Jan. 11, 2019.

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Neither snow nor sleet -- nor partial government shutdown -- will keep pro-lifers away from the nation's capital for the March for Life Jan. 18.

If it continues, the shutdown will be almost a month old by then. Daily news reports show the closures of monuments, memorials and the Smithsonian museums in Washington and trash cans overflowing on some federal property -- images that might lead some folks around the country to think it is affecting big events planned for the nation's capital.  

But not so.

"PLEASE NOTE: We plan to march even if the government shutdown is not yet resolved," declares the March for Life website, marchforlife.org. "We have marched for 45 years and will march again this year to end the human rights abuse of abortion."

Come to think of it, the start of what was a two-day historic blizzard that hit Washington in January 2016 had some impact on numbers, but marchers by the thousands still turned out that Jan. 22 to mark the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion virtually on demand.

"The shutdown really did not factor into our planning at all," said Patrick Ford of Belmont Abbey College in Belmont, North Carolina. Director of campus ministry and the Hintemeyer Catholic Leadership Program at the college, Ford is the point person for the school's pro-life contingent heading to the march.

"This year, especially, we have tried to make this trip more of a pilgrimage and less of a site-seeing event," he told Catholic News Service in an email Jan. 10. "The venues we will visit -- the (St.) John Paul II National Shrine and the Basilica of the National Shrine (of the Immaculate Conception) -- are not affected by local politics, so our trip should be entirely unaffected by the goings-on in Washington."

Ford added, "We look forward to another great March for Life with our hundreds of thousands of friends!"

The same goes for the 500-plus students coming in from Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio. They'll be carrying a giant green banner and wearing winter hats especially designed for this year's march, said Dominique Cognetti, a junior majoring in social work.

The entire effort -- from promoting the march in late September with fliers on campus to designing their gear for the march -- is led by the students, Cognetti told CNS in a telephone interview Jan. 9.

"I don't think at this time it's going to affect anything," she said of the shutdown, recalling that Franciscan students came to Washington "when the whole storm" took place in 2016.

They're coming in eight buses. This year, like always, they will begin their trip on the eve of the march with a late night Holy Hour. They depart at midnight to arrive at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception about 6 a.m., in time for the 7:30 a.m. Mass that sends participants forth for the March for Life rally, with a lineup of speakers, on the National Mall.

After the rally, the march itself goes up Constitution Avenue and ends at the Supreme Court.

This year's theme, “Unique From Day One: Pro-life Is Pro-science” focuses on how scientific advancements reveal "the humanity of the unborn child from the moment of conception."

Speakers will include three members of Congress -- Sen. Steve Daines, R-Montana, and Reps. Dan Lipinski, D-Illinois and Chris Smith, R-New Jersey -- and a Democratic member of the Louisiana Legislature, Rep. Katrina Jackson.

“We are delighted to have these four pro-life champions speak at the March for Life rally," said Jeanne Mancini, president of March for Life. "The right to life is a nonpartisan issue and, regardless of politics, we should all unite for life and stand against abortion, the greatest human rights abuse of our time."

Others who will address the rally include Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Pro-life Activities; Supreme Knight Carl Anderson, CEO of the Knights of Columbus; Ben Shapiro, editor-in-chief of The Daily Wire; Abby Johnson, founder of And Then There Were None; Alveda King, Priests for Life's director of civil rights for the unborn; Dr. Kathi Aultman, fellow of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists; and Ally Cavazos, president of Princeton Pro-Life.

Attending the March for Life is something Cognetti has been doing since she was a freshman in high school, she told CNS.

When she was younger, she would accompany her parents to the march, and later got involved on her own. To see the "amount of people" gathered for life, "especially those in my generation, really touched me. ... We have thousands of people coming to D.C. to defend what they believe in and not just older people," she said.

The March for Life is a great way for her and everyone from Franciscan University "to stand together, to stand firm in what we believe in. We know life starts at conception."

The march is "very eye-opening," she added, and provides a chance for people who say they are pro-life to do something about it.

Cognetti added that she feels her generation is making "a name for ourselves and not sitting down any more and saying we're pro-life -- we're taking action!"

- - -

Follow asher on Twitter: @jlasher

Archbishop calls '9 Days for Life' a 'powerful prayer initiative'

By Catholic News Service


The U.S. Conference of Catholics Bishops announced Dec. 18 the annual "9 Days for Life" prayer and action campaign will run Jan. 14 to Jan. 22. Pictured is promotional material for the campaign. (CNS) See NINE-DAYS-LIFE Dec. 18, 2018.

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The novena "9 Days for Life" is a "powerful prayer initiative" for the end to abortion and for "the respect of all human life," said the chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Pro-Life Activities.

The novena and related observances sponsored by the bishops' pro-life secretariat lead up to the annual Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of Unborn Children Jan. 22, the anniversary of the Supreme Court's 1973 decisions in Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton that legalized abortion.

Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, the committee chairman, said in a Jan. 11 statement that more than 118,000 people had already signed up to pray this novena, which began Jan. 14, and he invited more to join at www.9daysforlife.com.

"Together, we will seek the Lord's help in building a culture of life, where the most vulnerable are respected -- starting in the womb," he said.

The overarching intention of the novena is that all human life will be respected. Each day of the "9 Days for Life" novena highlights a different intention and is accompanied by a short reflection, suggested actions and related information.

Since 2013, more than 100,000 Catholics have joined together each year to pray this annual novena, according to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The 9daysforlife.com website provides ways for Catholics to join the novena and to access resources. Participants can receive the novena by downloading a free "9 Days for Life" app, or by subscribing to daily emails or text messages. A printable version also is available online.

Those who join the campaign are invited to pray a multi-faceted novena that includes a new intention, brief reflection, related information and suggested actions for each day. Participants also can follow "9 Days for Life" on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and share their experiences on social media with the hashtag #9DaysforLife.

Participants can choose to receive the novena via email, text message, a printable version, or through a free "9 Days for Life" mobile app (with customizable reminders) in English or Spanish.

"In addition to praying for the unborn and for an end to abortion, we will pray for respect for life at all stages: for those nearing the end of their lives, for children in need of adoptive homes, for those mourning the loss of a child through abortion, and many others," the USCCB Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities said about the novena

Copyright © 2018 Roman Catholic Diocese of Las Vegas. All rights reserved.