U.S. Church News

Group's immigrant solidarity project 'not about politics,' organizers say

By Jacob Comello Catholic News Service

CNS photo/courtesy Patricia Vice

Volunteers help the "DuPage Solidarity With the Asylum Seekers" project deliver donated supplies March 6, 2019, to asylum-seekers at Catholic Charities in McAllen, Texas. (CNS photo/courtesy Patricia Vicenzi) See IMMIGRANT-SOLIDARITY-PROJECT March 8, 2019. 

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- On March 4, Cristobal Cavazos and his companions on the "DuPage Solidarity With the Asylum Seekers" project departed from the headquarters of the Diocese of Joliet, Illinois, and began a long trek to the U.S-Mexico border where they planned to deliver supplies to those who had made a much longer and more dangerous journey to get there.

With a truckload of clothes, shoes, toiletries and other goods in tow, they were seeking to seize "a chance to do a radical act of compassion" toward asylum-seekers from Honduras and other Central American countries who have arrived at the U.S. southern border, Cavazos told Catholic News Service.

"This is the front-page news" Cavazos declared in a phone interview. "Our brothers and sisters are showing up here." He sees the plight of Central American immigrants as one that was similarly recounted in the Bible in the Book of Exodus.

"They are going to the promised land," he said.

Groups involved in the solidarity project for asylum-seekers include the Diocese of Joliet's peace and justice ministry as well as Lutheran, Mennonite, Episcopal, Unitarian and Methodist churches.

Cavazos downplayed the idea that caring for migrants ought to be a partisan issue amid contentious debates over border security.

"This isn't about politics here," he said. "Christ was the intersection of the left and the right. ... There are no need for scapegoats."

He instead stressed that the selfless work being done by the Catholic Church at the border stems purely from the faith and goodwill of those who have dedicated themselves to this mission, despite human nature often rigging us to pursue more self-interested motives.

"There is a part of human nature that says, 'This is mine.'... It has always been the role of the Christian to say, 'No,'" and rather increase one's generosity, Cavazos stated.

Cavazos and those with him had just arrived in McAllen, Texas, in the Diocese of Brownsville, where they were about to deliver their load to a Catholic respite center. There, Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, headed by Sister Norma Pimentel, a member of the Missionaries of Jesus, operates a respite center for migrants. (The center recently had to find a new location as per an order by the McAllen City Commission.)

The center is "doing incredible work," Cavazos said, "taking in almost 100 people a day and giving them food and water. ... They are women and children. ... They need the love."

And that love is certainly needed as evidenced by the stories of asylum-seekers, many of whom are escaping extreme poverty, gang violence, unemployment or what some claim is persecution by corrupt governments.

"(Many of them) come from Honduras," Cavazos reported, where people have few property rights and live under a "very corrupt government," which came about as the result of a coup, he added. Cavazos additionally noted that children are often caught in the most wretched situations. "There are a lot of unaccompanied minors" and "a lot of abuse," he said.

Migrants "are living with the same pure intention of living a good life" as others in the United States do, Cavazos remarked.

After McAllen, he and his companions planned to head to El Paso, Texas, where they hoped to help connect migrants with a network of resources, including helping them access pro bono immigration law firms.

"We are trying to get people connected to the resources of the Catholic Church," Cavazos added.

New location found for migrant respite center in Brownsville Diocese

By Catholic News Service

MCALLEN, Texas (CNS) -- A popular Catholic-administered respite center for migrants run by Sister Norma Pimentel, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley in the Brownsville Diocese, has found a new location.

McAllen city commissioners had voted Feb. 11 to give the center 90 days to vacate the building it was using to provide temporary shelter for immigrants who cross from Mexico into the United States but who have been released by federal authorities.

The Valley Catholic, Brownsville's diocesan newspaper, reported that Sister Pimentel announced Feb. 26 she had found a new home for the respite center.

Plans had called for construction of a news facility, but Catholic Charities is "taking a new direction," the paper reported. The agency is close to finalizing a plan "with the cooperation of the city for a building in downtown McAllen closer to the bus station," where many migrants first arrive to the area.

Sister Pimentel, who has been praised by Pope Francis and has won national and international praise for the type of work that takes place at the center, stated after the city commissioners' vote that she was disappointed but would continue to work with the city of McAllen "in efforts to treat immigrant families in a just and humane way and ensure that they are in compliance with existing immigration laws."

Residents had complained to city commissioners about activity in their neighborhood that they said was coming from the center, which began occupying the space in December, said a Feb. 11 story by the local newspaper, The Monitor.

But Sister Pimentel, according to the report, said during a meeting to discuss the issue that the families the shelter helps are receiving services inside the building.

The original respite center in the area began in 2014, when Sister Pimentel saw an influx of immigrants arriving in Rio Grande Valley region and with local volunteers, she began a makeshift operation to help the migrants obtain clothes and food. Out of a property that belonged to the local Sacred Heart Church, they began clothing and feeding the newcomers.

Since then, respite centers at various temporary locations have helped thousands of migrants, many seeking asylum and passing through the border city, have access to a shower after a harrowing trip, a clean change of clothes, a quick medical exam, if they need it, a warm meal and sometimes a snack for the road. Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley is raising funds to build a permanent facility.

"Our mission remains unchanged -- to restore and recognize the human dignity of all vulnerable people -- throughout our community including those seeking asylum," Sister Pimentel,a member of the Missionaries of Jesus, said in her statement issued following the commissioners' decision.

New York court rules prelate's remains should be transferred to Peoria

By Catholic News Service

PEORIA, Ill. (CNS) -- Bishop Daniel R. Jenky of Peoria announced "with great joy" March 5 that the New York State Supreme Court's Appellate Division ruled 5-0 that the remains of Archbishop Fulton Sheen should be transferred from New York to the Peoria Diocese.

Bishop Jenky is promoter of the canonization cause of Archbishop Sheen, a Peoria diocesan priest, who gained fame in the 1950s with a prime-time television series called "Life Is Worth Living." He died in New York Dec. 9, 1979, at age 84, and was entombed in the crypt at St. Patrick's Cathedral.

In 2016, Joan Sheen Cunningham, who is Archbishop Sheen's oldest living relative, filed a petition with the courts in New York asking that his body be moved to the Peoria cathedral. She said her uncle would not have objected to his remains being transferred to his home diocese from St. Patrick's Cathedral.

The unanimous decision was the third time the New York court system has ruled in Cunningham's favor, the diocese noted in a statement and called on the New York Archdiocese to end its "failed legal contestation."

"Further appeal is not only unprecedented but extremely costly to all the parties involved. Further litigation will only delay the execution of the court's decision," the Peoria Diocese said.

In response to the ruling, Joseph Zwilling, spokesman for the New York Archdiocese, told Catholic News Service in an email March 8: "The trustees of St. Patrick's Cathedral disagreed with the court's decision, and their attorneys are reviewing the ruling as they contemplate possible next steps."

The Peoria Diocese said the court ruled Cunningham has "good and substantial reasons" to transfer the archbishop's remains to Peoria and that the new York Archdiocese's arguments are "'unavailing." "This means that their arguments were ineffective and inadequate," the diocese said.

"Now is the time to end the legal tug-of-war and begin the final stages of the cause of beatification of Archbishop Fulton Sheen," the diocese said. "It is our hope that the Archdiocese of New York will acknowledge that it is time to move on and begin to assist in advancing (his) cause."

The diocese said it looks forward to working with the New York Archdiocese to carry out the court's decision that the archbishop remains should be transferred to Peoria's St. Mary's Cathedral, where Archbishop Sheen was ordained Sept. 20, 1919.

"But even more we look forward to celebrating with people from all across our country and the entire world in celebrating the beatification of Archbishop Fulton Sheen, including our many friends from the Archdiocese of New York," the diocese said.

The first approved miracle necessary for his beatification has cleared two of the three stages necessary for Archbishop Sheen to be declared "blessed."

In September 2015, his cause was suspended indefinitely, when the Archdiocese of New York denied a request from Bishop Jenky, president of the Archbishop Sheen Foundation, to move the archbishop's body to Peoria, and the courts got involved.

In 2002, Archbishop Sheen's canonization cause was officially opened. In 2012 Pope Benedict XVI announced that the Vatican Congregation for Saints' Causes of Saints had recognized the prelate's life as one of "heroic virtue," and proclaimed him "Venerable Servant of God Fulton J. Sheen."

Update: Four CRS staffers, humanitarian workers aboard Ethiopian jet that crashed

By Dennis Sadowski Catholic News Service

CNS photo/Tiksa Negeri, Reuters

A tire of the Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET 302 is seen March 11, 2019, near Bishoftu, Ethiopia. The crash killed 157 people from 35 countries. Among the dead were Georgetown University law student Cedric Asiavugwa and four Catholic Relief Services staffers: Getnet Alemayehu, Mulusew Alemu, Sintayehu Aymeku and Sara Chalachew. (CNS photo/Tiksa Negeri, Reuters) See ETHIOPIAN-AIR-CRASH March 11, 2019.

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Four Catholic Relief Service staff members on their way to a training session in Nairobi, Kenya, were among the passengers aboard an Ethiopian Airlines flight that crashed moments after takeoff in the east African nation.

The accident March 10 claimed the lives of 157 people on board, many of them from humanitarian agencies.

Others on the jetliner included a Georgetown University law school student who was serving as a campus minister and 19 staff members of U.N. agencies.Two Kenyan religious, Mariannhill Father George Kageche Mukua and an unidentified nun, were also among those killed in the crash.

Pope Francis offered prayers for the passengers from 35 countries in a telegram March 11.

"Having learned with sadness of the Ethiopian Airlines plane crash, His Holiness Pope Francis offers prayers for the deceased from various countries and commends their souls to the mercy of almighty God. Pope Francis sends heartfelt condolences to their families, and upon all who mourn this tragic loss he invokes the divine blessings of consolation and strength," said the telegram from Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state.

In a statement March 11, Catholic Relief Services shared the news of the tragedy involving its staffers, all Ethiopian nationals.

The dead include Getnet Alemayehu, Mulusew Alemu, Sintayehu Aymeku and Sara Chalachew. They worked in various administrative positions for CRS.

"Although we are in mourning, we celebrate the lives of these colleagues and the selfless contributions they made to our mission, despite the risks and sacrifices that humanitarian work can often entail," CRS said. "Our thoughts and prayers are with their families and all of those who lost loved one as a result of this tragedy."

Catholic Relief Services is the U.S. bishops' international relief and development agency. In Washington, Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, expressed sadness at the "deaths of four of our esteemed colleagues."

In a letter to Maronite Bishop Gregory Mansour, chairman of the board of CRS, the cardinal said he had asked all bishops in the U.S. to pray for the repose of the souls of the four workers.

"May the consolation of the Savior's embrace be now a source of comfort to their loved ones and co-workers on this difficult and painful day," Cardinal DiNardo wrote March 11.

Cedric Asiavugwa, a third-year law student at Georgetown University and campus minister, was among the passengers. A letter sent to the Georgetown community late March 10 said he was on his way home to Nairobi because of the death of his fiancee's mother.

"With his passing, the Georgetown family has lost a stellar student, a great friend to many, and a dedicated champion for social justice across East Africa and the world," said the letter from Jesuit Father Mark Bosco, executive vice president and dean at Georgetown's law school.

Asiavugwa was a residential minister at Georgetown. He had served as assistant director of advancement at St. Aloysius Gonzaga Secondary School, a free high school for orphans with HIV/AIDS in Nairobi, before enrolling at the law school. He also had served refugees and marginalized people Zimbabwe, Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania and Zimbabwe before enrolling at Georgetown, the letter said.

During the current semester at Georgetown, Asiavugwa was enrolled in the Center for Applied Legal Studies clinic, working with refugees seeking asylum in the U.S.

"Cedric's goal was to return to Kenya after his studies to pursue a career promoting the rights of refugees in East Africa and beyond," Father Bosco wrote.

The day of the crash, the Ethiopian Catholic bishops also sent condolence and offered prayers "for those who have lost their lives, that they may rest in peace in heaven."

"We ask our Lord to console the hearts of the families of those who died, all the staff of Ethiopian Airlines and the people of Ethiopia," said the bishops' statement, issued in the country's Amharic language.

"We particularly pray for the staff of Ethiopian Airlines, so that the Holy Spirit may grant them the strength to continue their well-praised services to all the clients of Ethiopian Airlines," the bishops said.

David Beasley, World Food Program executive director, mourned the loss of his agency's seven staffers in a March 10 statement.

"As we mourn, let us reflect that each of these WFP colleagues were willing to travel and work far from their homes and loved ones to help make the world a better place to live. That was their calling, as it is for the rest of the WFP family," he said.

A list of the dead released by Ethiopian Airlines included 32 Kenyans, 18 Canadians, eight from the United States and others from China, India, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Somalia.

Aviation officials from Ethiopia were investigating the accident, the second in recent months involving the brand-new Boeing 737 Max jet. In October, a Lyon Air flight killed 189 people in Indonesia.

The plane has been the workhorse for airlines worldwide and has been the company's best-selling aircraft. China and Ethiopia grounded all flights involving the modern airliner March 11.

Four investigators from the U.S. National Transportation Security Board were dispatched to Ethiopia to assist in the investigation, an NTSB spokesman said March 10.

Addis Ababa and Nairobi are major hubs among worldwide agencies serving poor and marginalized people, refugees and migrants.

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