U.S. Church News

Deacons' ministry of presence will be in forefront at upcoming congress

By Peter Finney Jr. Catholic News Service

CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz

Deacon John Horn blesses Carol Rizzotti following his ordination May 19 at St. Agnes Cathedral in Rockville Centre, N.Y. More than 1,300 deacons, along with their wives and children, are expected to attend the 2018 National Diaconate Congress in New Orleans July 22-26. There are 18,000 deacons in ministry in the United States, and about 30,000 serve the church worldwide. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz) See DIACONATE-CONGRESS July 13, 2018.

NEW ORLEANS (CNS) -- The 18,000 deacons in the United States exercise a ministry of presence, bringing the healing and hope-filled message of Jesus Christ to people they encounter daily in their parishes, other ministries and workplaces.

That diaconal ministry of presence will be front and center July 22-26 in New Orleans.

About 2,800 people -- including 1,300 deacons, along with their wives and children -- will attend the 2018 National Diaconate Congress, an event so big it will require three hotels to accommodate the attendees.

The theme of the gathering, held only three times since the inaugural congress in New Orleans in 1994, is "Christ the Servant: Yesterday, Today, Forever."

"Honestly, with 18,000 deacons across the United States, we thought if we could get 5 percent (900) we could make it work," said Deacon Ray Duplechain, executive director of the Office of the Permanent Diaconate for the Archdiocese of New Orleans and chair of the National Association of Diaconate Directors.

"This is certainly a chance for us to hear what the church and the bishops have to say about the diaconate, and we will be listening intently to both the affirmation and the challenges," he told the Clarion Herald, New Orleans' archdiocesan newspaper.

The congress will hear from several high-profile U.S. bishops, including Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States. Also making major addresses will be Galveston-Houston Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops; New Jersey Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of Newark; New Orleans Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond; Denver Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila and retired Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas of Tucson, Arizona.

Other speakers will be Bishop Frederick F. Campbell of Columbus, Ohio, and Bishop W. Shawn McKnight of Jefferson City, Missouri, as well as Deacon Dom Pastore (along with his wife, Teresa Tameo Pastore) of Detroit; Deacon William Ditewig, former executive director of the bishops' Committee on the Diaconate; Deacon James Keating of the Institute for Priestly Foundation at Creighton University; and Deacon Greg Kandra of Brooklyn, New York, author of "The Deacon's Bench" blog.

In addition to the major addresses, there will be more than 30 workshops over the three days on various aspects of diaconal ministry, most presented by deacons.

Deacon Duplechain said he expects a major study of the diaconate to be released during the conference by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, which would be the first update since research was done in 1981 and 1996. The study is based on surveys of deacon directors and active deacons across the U.S., Deacon Duplechain said.

In addition to hosting the first congress in 1994, the Archdiocese of New Orleans has had strong ties to the National Association of Diaconate Directors because of the work of Deacon Jim Swiler, the longtime diaconate director in New Orleans and the first deacon to serve as chair of the national group, Deacon Duplechain said.

"Deacon Swiler was one of the pioneer directors," Deacon Duplechain said. "He was one of the first permanent deacons to direct a permanent diaconate office in the U.S., and he was the first permanent deacon to serve as chairman of the national association. He was a deacon's deacon."

To accommodate the large gathering, daily Mass will be celebrated at the New Orleans Marriott, one of the congress hotels, because St. Louis Cathedral can seat only about 900.

Deacon Duplechain said he was excited to learn more about why the church teaches the sacraments of matrimony and holy orders are considered the only two sacraments "at the service of Communion," enabling individuals to direct their lives in a sacramental way for the salvation of others, building up the body of Christ and themselves being saved in the process.

"What I hope to see is the deep commitment of men and women in the sacrament of matrimony and the connection of that to the order of deacons," Deacon Duplechain said. "The diaconate is a restored reality in the church, and it has provided much fruit in terms of service to the church."

There are about 30,000 permanent deacons worldwide.

For young women and religious, joy radiates at Fiat Days retreat

By Jen Reed Catholic News Service

CNS photo/Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness

Sister Patricia Jean, a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph the Worker of Walton, Ky., listens to a participant July 1 during a Fiat Days discernment retreat at Mount St. Mary's Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md. The vocations office of the Diocese of Harrisburg, Pa., hosts the retreat each year for young women ages 15-25 to learn about consecrated life and better discern God's call. (CNS photo/Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness) See FIAT-DAYS-DISCERNMENT July 13, 2018.

EMMITSBURG, Md. (CNS) -- Counting on her fingers to keep track of points in an ice-breaker game she was playing with a young woman at the Fiat Days discernment retreat, an aspirant for the Salesian Sisters of St. John Bosco rattled off the names of various scents from the Bath & Body Works collection: "Cucumber Melon," "Lavender Vanilla," "Country Apple."

Thirty seconds later, the topic changed in the "Categories"-type game, to women in the Bible. Then it changed again, to clothing brands.

With each category, Fiat Days participants paired up with a new teammate, first introducing themselves, and then working together to list as many items in the category before tallying their own individual scores.

The ice-breaker session on day one of Fiat Days served a dual purpose: for the 41 young women participants to introduce themselves to one another, and to the consecrated religious and adult chaperones on hand; and to illustrate that each person comes to discernment with their own gifts, knowledge and experience.

Fiat Days is an annual discernment retreat for young women, ages 15-25, and hosted by the Office of Vocations of the Diocese of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. This year, it took place July 1-3 at Mount St. Mary's Seminary in Emmitsburg.

The retreat takes its name from Mary's "Fiat" to be the mother of our Lord, and offers attendees a time to learn about consecrated life and better discern God's call.

One-third of this year's participants were previous attendees, and it led to a joyous scenario as long-distance friends reunited in the seminary's rec room as they arrived July 1.

"Most of the friends I've made at Fiat Days, I don't get to see but once a year here," said Zofia Joynt of Our Lady of Refuge Parish in Doylesburg, Pennsylvania, a four-year participant. "We maintain a prayerful connection throughout the year, and because of that, our friendships are super strong."

For Zofia, 18, Fiat Days offers good conversation and quality time for discernment among like-minded women her age.

"I come from a small parish, and there are very few Catholics in my hometown, let alone Catholic women my age. Coming here every year is a treat, because I don't get this kind of interaction with Catholic peers and religious women," she told The Catholic Witness, Harrisburg's diocesan newspaper. "This retreat is a blessing."

The Fiat Days schedule included daily Mass, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, spiritual direction and discernment walks with the sisters, the rosary and night prayer, and camaraderie forged through small group discussion, recreation and meals.

Consecrated religious at the retreat this year included the Salesian Sisters of St. John Bosco, the Sisters of St. Joseph the Worker, the Servants of the Lord and the Virgin of Matara, a consecrated virgin, a representative of the cloistered Dominican Nuns of the Perpetual Rosary and chaperones.

"Fiat Days is a wonderful experience for the young girls, because so many times, the religious aren't in their schools or even in their parishes, yet their desire for a religious vocation is there," said Sister Patricia Jean of the Sisters of St. Joseph the Worker, from Walton, Kentucky.

"This gives the young women an opportunity to meet religious sisters, and to ask those heart-burning questions, like 'How will I know?' and 'I wonder if ...' Here, they can explore and discern in a relaxed and welcoming environment," she said.

"And they're not alone in doing it," added Mother Mary Christina, also of the Sisters of St. Joseph the Worker. "They are with other women their age who have the same questions. They might be the only one wondering amongst their peers, but here, they're not alone. There is common ground."

As a three-year attendee of Fiat Days, Sister Patricia Jean encourages the women discerning a religious vocation to further their retreat experiences by visiting religious communities.

"If you're interested in teaching, visit a teaching community. If you're interested in nursing, go to a nursing community. God will direct you to where he wants you to be. He will fulfill all your desires," she said.

Extension's help to rebuild Texas diocese after Harvey like a 'rainbow'

By Catholic News Service

CNS photo/courtesy Catholic Extension

Father Kevin Badeaux, pastor of St. Joseph Church in Port Arthur, Texas, stands atop rubble outside the parish hall in November 2017, three months after the church was badly flooded from Hurricane Harvey. One year after the hurricane hit Texas, Catholic Extension is committing more than a half a million dollars to help the Beaumont Diocese rebuild. (CNS photo/courtesy Catholic Extension) See EXTENSION-BEAUMONT-REBUILD July 13, 2018.

PORT ARTHUR, Texas (CNS) -- After Hurricane Harvey last year, "there was no rainbow," Bishop Curtis J. Guillory of Beaumont said about the massive destruction wrought by the storm.

But with its commitment of nearly $670,000 to help the diocese rebuild, "Catholic Extension is that rainbow and the promise that things will get better," the bishop said. "We are so grateful for their generosity."

Father Jack Wall, president of Catholic Extension, presented a check for $100,000 to the Diocese of Beaumont during a special Mass July 10 at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Port Arthur. The check was for the first part of the funds to come from Catholic Extension.

"We are privileged to help," Father Wall said. "We have supported Texas for more than 100 years and in this time of crisis, especially, we want you to know that you are not alone. The church is bigger than any challenges you face."

Based in Chicago, Catholic Extension raises and distributes funds to support U.S. mission dioceses, many of which are rural, cover a large geographic area, and have limited personnel and pastoral resources.

Hurricane Harvey's blow to Texas was swift, but recovering from it will take years. The magnitude of last year's disaster was massive -- destroying homes, businesses, roadways and churches. Most of its damage was caused by flooding.

In the Diocese of Beaumont, which is in southeast Texas, church buildings took in 8 feet of water; in some areas, including Port Arthur, 90 percent of the land was flooded.

Residents are struggling with the financial tolls of losing their belongings and their livelihoods. Parishes have reported ruined buildings as well as decreased revenue from their weekly collections, because parishioners are in dire straits.

Catholic Extension will fund four projects in the Beaumont Diocese:

-- Restoration of education buildings at St. Joseph Parish in Port Arthur.

-- Restoration of the director's residence at Holy Family Retreat Center in Beaumont.

-- Restoration of Christopher Education building at St. Mary Parish in Fannett.

-- The ministry of religious women in the diocese's western vicariate; they serve three parishes with large Hispanic populations, who were ravaged by the hurricane.

Flood insurance for the buildings that will be restored is either insufficient or nonexistent and renovation costs are extensive, said Catholic Extension.

It also described the sisters' ministry as "critical," because "they are bilingual and a bridge to the Hispanics, mainly immigrants, who live in poverty, but are very dedicated to the church."

"They have been living in prolonged misery, since the hurricane struck, but the sisters serve them daily with pastoral care, home visits and religious education," Catholic Extension said.

Some of the funds were raised at an event hosted by Catholic Extension last February in honor of retired Archbishop Joseph A. Fiorenza of Galveston-Houston. A native son of Beaumont, he asked that the event's proceeds benefit rebuilding efforts in the diocese where he grew up.

Lawmaker urges protecting religious liberty of adoption, foster agencies

By Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- An amendment sponsored by a congressman from Alabama and approved by the House Appropriations Committee July 11 aims to protect Catholic and other faith-based agencies that choose, based on their religious conviction, not to place children with same-sex couples for adoption or foster care.

"As co-chairman of the House Coalition on Adoption, my goal was straightforward: to encourage states to include all experienced and licensed child welfare agencies so that children are placed in caring, loving homes where they can thrive," Rep. Robert Aderholt, R-Alabama, said in a statement. "We need more support for these families and children in crisis, not less."

Aderholt noted that in several states and localities across the country, governments are not allowing religious organizations to operate child welfare agencies.

The amendment to an upcoming funding bill would require the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to withhold 15 percent of federal funds for child welfare services from states and localities that discriminate against these agencies.

Over the past several years, government actions in Boston, San Francisco, the District of Columbia and the state of Illinois have prompted local Catholic Charities agencies to stop providing adoption or foster care services because the agencies would not violate church teaching and place children with same-sex or unmarried heterosexual couples.

The most recent example has occurred in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, where in March, the city of Philadelphia's Department of Human Services froze all new foster care placements with the archdiocese's Catholic Social Services. On average, the Catholic agency serves 127 foster children a day placed with more than 100 families in the city.

At issue is a long-standing practice of CSS not to perform evaluations of the homes of same-sex couples wishing to care for foster children and instead to refer the required process to one of seven other foster agencies contracted by the city's Department of Human Services.

Providing such care for more than a century, the agency adheres to Catholic teaching that opposes same-sex marriage and affirms marriage as a sacrament reserved only to one man and one woman.

The city's decision also affects foster care services provided by Bethany Christian Services, a global nonprofit that operates in 36 states. The organization and CSS have contracted with the city on foster care since the late 1990s.

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia is suing the city, saying it is breaching its contract with CSS to place at-risk children in foster care homes and is violating religious freedom clauses of the U.S. and Pennsylvania constitutions.

In his statement, Aderholt said: "The amendment I introduced seeks to prevent these governments from discriminating against child welfare providers on the basis that the provider declines to provide a service that conflicts with its sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions."

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