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Full of Grace Cafe: Small-town parish opens thriving coffee shop, community center

Baton Rouge, La., Dec 18, 2018 / 04:16 am (CNA/EWTN News).- When Fr. Josh Johnson arrived as pastor of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary Catholic Church over a year ago, he slept in a room above the choir loft.

The church and rectory had been ravaged by a flood a couple years prior that had destroyed or damaged 95 percent of the small town of St. Amant, Louisiana. The pastor of Holy Rosary had also left due to health reasons, leaving the wrecked parish without a pastor.

Knowing he was coming into a difficult situation, Johnson called in the big guns: he asked communities of cloistered nuns to surround his new parish in prayer.

“I immediately reached out to the cloistered convents and was like: ‘Hey y'all, here's the deal. I'm going to this parish that's just been devastated, can y'all please adopt this parish as spiritual mothers and intercede for these people?’” Johnson told CNA.

Then he bumped up the amount of time that the sacraments would be available to his parishioners. He rearranged the schedule so that his staff could start their day with Mass and adoration.

Fast-forward to today - the prayers of those nuns, and of the people of the parish of Holy Rosary, have come to fruition in the booming and thriving Full of Grace Cafe, a one-stop-shop community center run out of the renovated rectory.

The full name of the rectory-turned-community-center is: Full of Grace Cafe: Quenching God’s Thirst for Charity & Justice.

And the name fits, because it’s hard to come up with a service that Full of Grace Cafe doesn’t offer.

It’s a coffee shop, but it’s also a food pantry and a soup kitchen and a diaper drive and a laundromat. There are volunteer Human Resources specialists, psychological counselors, a hair stylist, a Creighton FertilityCare specialist and an ultrasound machine. There’s a room for small groups and bible studies. There’s a fireplace and a pool table and a courtyard for outdoor movie nights and socials after Mass.

That wasn’t the original vision. At first, Johnson had the simple idea to move the existing food pantry to a more prominent location, and to maybe one day open a coffee shop.

“I had a very small vision at first, just put the food pantry up front, that way when people come to our campus, you see a beautiful church, and then you see a space for service of the poor,” he said.

“And then from that, different parishioners just began to share their dreams.” All of the services are offered pro bono by parishioners who wanted to share their gifts with the community, Johnson said.

“One lady came to me and said I have the gift of doing hair, and then she said my friends do too, and we would love to come and do hair for free there. And so I said ok, cool, it can be a food pantry and a salon.”

As word got out about the cafe, the offers of help just kept coming.

“And then someone said why don't we make it a soup kitchen too? I love to cook. These people out here can cook well! So I was like ok, we can do that. Then another woman who works with me, she's a Creighton fertility care specialist, and she was like, I can walk with couples and do Creighton FertilityCare for people who are infertile or who have endometriosis or cysts on their ovaries or who want to do Natural Family Planning.”



Johnson also recruited the help of local branches of Catholic Charities, St. Vincent de Paul, and other non-profits in the area to bolster the services and to provide legal help and counseling.

He said he hopes to bring Jesus to people in a way that is non-threatening, in a way that informs, but doesn’t force anything. He said he wants people to feel heard, and for them to know that the cafe is a place where people can come and mutually share their gifts and their lives.

“The goal is really to have a place where the body of Christ can come together to give and receive,” he said.

“I'm going there to receive too, I'm certainly going to give in there, but I'm also receiving. Like when I do a bible study with our parishioners, God speaks to me through their wisdom and through their love for the Lord. And whenever I'm with the poor I'm receiving as much as I'm giving, so its a place of mutuality, where I can give to you and I can receive your gift and we can accompany each other toward heaven.”

Johnson is not foreign to mission work. Before he became a priest, he spent time serving with Mother Teresa’s order, the Missionaries of Charity, in Calcutta, India. He’s served the poor with a religious order in Jamaica, and several years ago he was on mission at the U.S.-Mexico border.

But the cafe is just a means, Johnson said, not an end. The goal is to point people to Jesus, and ultimately, to make saints.

“On the wall for (Mother Teresa’s) home for the dying and the destitute, there's a quote on the wall that Mother Teresa said to God,” Johnson said. “She said: I will give Holy Mother Church saints. And I remember when I saw that quote it pierced my heart, so it’s on my ordination card...and this is my way of drawing people to the sacraments.”

Johnson himself left the Church when he was young. What brought him back, he said, was the Eucharist.

“The Eucharist is what brought me back to Jesus and so I believe if I could just get people to come to our campus, then I have the opportunity to point them to Jesus and the Eucharist because the Eucharist is where transformation happens,” he said.

“The Eucharist is going to do everything else, I've seen Jesus work miracles, it’s so cool,” he said.

He’s invited Protestants to come to Eucharistic adoration at his parish, and “I've just seen legit transformations... people who don't even know what's going on have these hardcore transformations because Jesus is alive, and I think we just need to believe that Jesus is God and that he can do what he says he does.”

Johnson has endless stories of all kinds of providential encounters that have happened through the Full of Grace Cafe. There was Micky, a homeless man who wanted community and is now connected to a bible study. There was a distressed young man in the parking lot who needed a job - and was able to take a roofing job that another man had told Johnson about the day before.

Something else Johnson wanted to emphasize was the evangelizing aspect of the Full of Grace Cafe. He didn’t just want to offer food or laundry services to people in need without also trying to tell them about Jesus, he said.

“One thing I noticed in seminary, helping out at Catholic apostolates, when they did work for the poor and with the poor, they wouldn't evangelize well,” he said. “They would give people food, like handouts and stuff, but they wouldn't try to tell people about the story of salvation, and share Jesus with people and really proclaim the faith.”

That’s why in every room of Full of Grace Cafe, there are scripture verses on the wall and pictures of saints. “And they're really diverse saints, because I want everyone who comes to see a saint who looks like them,” he said, from Our Lady of Kibeho to Our Lady of Guadalupe to Fr. Augustus Tolton, St. Jose Sanchez, St. Dymphna, Saints Peter and Paul and more.

“So whether you're white, black, Asian or Hispanic, you're going to see someone who looks like you who's a saint, so you're going to be inspired. You're going to see scriptures on the wall. You're going to meet people who aren't just going to give you a hand-out, but who are going to ask you your story and ask if they can pray with you. I want it to be a place where people would legit encounter Jesus.”

He’s also hoping that he will find an order of religious sisters who will fill the convent in the back of the cafe and help out at the parish.

“I want nuns!” he said. So far he’s had a few different orders of religious sisters come and visit to see if the parish would fit them.

“I want nuns who love Jesus and who love the poor and who love the Blessed Sacrament,” he said.

Johnson said one of the most rewarding things about Full of Grace Cafe has been seeing how willing his parishioners are to pitch in and share their gifts with the community.



“They're like my kids,” he said of his parishioners. “It’s like wow, I'm younger than them because I’m only 31, but I'm like oh man, look at my kids, they're happy about this, they're excited about doing ministry.”

“I recognize I am a limited member of the Body of Christ,” he added. “I'm a necessary member for sure, but I'm very limited, my role is limited, so if I can just build up my parishioners to say yes to being the particular member of the body of Christ that they're called to be, I've done my job well because then we're gonna run, we're gonna thrive.”

The projects at Holy Rosary parish and Full of Grace Cafe have only just begun.

Taking another cue from Mother Teresa, the next step for Johnson is, unsurprisingly, building an adoration chapel and setting up perpetual adoration.

“I've been telling people ok, now, we have to set up perpetual adoration because I don't want any of us to become a bunch of heretics out here thinking we're gonna work our way to heaven,” he said. “We've got to focus on the Eucharist and we're going to see so much more supernatural fruit.”

He said that when Mother Teresa’s sisters prioritized time in prayer in front of the Eucharist, they saw their order and apostolates flourish in new ways.

“We're going to follow the model of saints,” he said. “We're going to next focus on getting an adoration chapel built so that we can have really hardcore time of just Jesus and I, and adore the Lord and watch him work! Watch the Lord do his thing, and he will, he will. It’s so exciting.”

All photos courtesy of Fr. Joshua Johnson.

From bartender to priest: 'God is very insistent!'

Santander, Spain, Dec 17, 2018 / 08:17 pm (ACI Prensa).- How do you go from being a bartender who has not attended Mass for 15 years to becoming a priest?

For Fr. Juan de Cáceres, the answer is that God was persistent in pursing his heart and revealing his call.

Today, Fr. Juan is a priest of the Diocese of Santander in Spain. But he had been away from the sacraments for 15 years when he had a conversion that allowed him to hear God’s call in his life.

After finishing his undergraduate studies, Juan enrolled in law school. However, he was not a good student, and in 2006, at the age of 28, he decided to quit law school to open a trendy bar in Santander.

However, with the onset of the economic crisis in Spain, what had initially promised to be a successful business became the focus of his financial problems, compounded by the crisis of turning 30 and feeling a lack of direction in his life.

“I was really lost, drowning in debt and with the [economic] crisis, there were almost no customers. In addition, my friends quit going out like they used to. They began to get married and stopped dating. I found myself all alone,” he said in an interview with the El Diario Montañés news.

While Juan had stopped going to Mass 15 years ago, a friend invited him to some talks on prayer, which became the turning point that changed his life.

At first, he went to the talks to spend time with his friend. But something within him changed little-by-little: he began to go to Mass again, returned to confession, and re-enrolled in school.

His life started to come together again, until two years after that new beginning, he “felt the call” to the priesthood.

But his first reaction was “to say no.”

“I came up with all kinds of objections: my work, my debts, my life. I thought what I needed to do was to settle down, meet a woman who would make me very happy and have a family. But God is very insistent! And from then on, he would not let that thought out of my heart or mind,” he told El Diario Montañés.

When he decided to discern a vocation, he asked then-Bishop Vicente Jiménez of Santander if he could enter seminary in another city, because “had to keep his distance” from his past life. He entered a seminary in Pamplona, about 120 miles away.

“I was working at the bar up to the day before going to Pamplona, where I spent three fantastic years,” he recalled. During that time, Fr. Juan also worked with the Chinese Catholic community.

He was ordained a priest last January and was assigned to serve four parishes in Santander. He also teaches religion classes three days a week to teenagers.

The experience of being a bartender ended up having value for the priest, who noted that during those years, “I was sort of a confessor to everyone.”

He also helps foster vocations in the diocese because as he explains, “a lot of people have felt the same way I did, but they haven't figured out how to follow up…I'm here to listen and guide.”

 

This article was originally published July 18, 2018 by our sister agency, ACI Prensa. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

 

The case against Pell: new details emerge

Washington D.C., Dec 17, 2018 / 06:05 pm (CNA).- Following the conviction of Cardinal George Pell in the Australian state of Victoria last week, new details have emerged about the nature of the crimes for which he has been found guilty.

Pell was found guilty Dec. 11 on five charges of sexual abuse of minors, following accusations that he sexually assaulted two former members of the Melbourne cathedral choir.

A sweeping court injunction prevents the nature of the accusations, the progress of the case, or the even the result of the trial from being discussed by the media in Australia.

Despite the gag order, CNA has spoken to several individuals who attended Pell’s trial in person, as well as others present for pre-trial hearings in early 2018.

During the March preliminary hearings, the defense petitioned for the allegations against Pell to be heard in two separate trials, the first concerning the accusations of the Melbourne choristers, and the second related to allegations from Pell’s time as a priest in Ballarat. Other charges Pell faced were dropped during the pre-trial committal hearings.

Sources say that five counts of sexual abuse were allegedly committed by Pell against the two choristers immediately following a 10:30 a.m. Sunday Mass in Melbourne’s cathedral. Pell is accused of abusing both choir members in the same incident.

Only one of the alleged victims was present in court to give evidence against Pell. The other alleged victim, according a 2017 report from Australian newspaper The Age, died of a drug overdose in 2014.

Before his death, the deceased man reportedly told his mother at least twice that he had not been a victim of sexual abuse. The other former choir member reportedly told the deceased man’s mother only after the man died that both had been abused by Pell, The Age reported, citing a 2017 book on Pell by journalist Louise Milligan.

According to the prosecution, Pell and the choir members “went missing” from a recessional procession at the end of a Mass celebrated by the archbishop. Pell is alleged to have abused the choristers somewhere within the cathedral sacristy immediately following that Mass.

Milligan has reported that the abuse might have taken place in the early months of 1997, but sources told CNA that the prosecution identified a period between August and December 1996, shortly after Pell was installed as Melbourne’s archbishop.

In June 2017, a priest who says he was with the archbishop every time Pell celebrated Mass at Melbourne’s cathedral was questioned by police about a timeframe that seems to match the one identified by prosecutors.

The priest told police that there was no occasion when Pell would have been alone with choir members. “At no time before, during or after Mass was the Archbishop in direct contact with anyone except that I was present,’’ the priest said, according to The Australian.

“I was always standing next to him and usually at an arm’s length away.’’

Pell was known to habitually celebrate the 10:30 a.m. Sunday Mass, at which the choir regularly sung, while he served as Archbishop of Melbourne.

However, Melbourne’s cathedral was undergoing restoration work at the time of his installation in August 1996, which prevented Pell from being installed in the cathedral building itself or from regularly celebrating Mass there for several weeks.

In fact, during the pre-trial committal hearing in March 2018, records were produced showing that during the period between August and December 1996, Pell only celebrated the cathedral’s 10:30 Sunday Mass twice.

According to a source present for the pre-trial hearing, on both of the occasions on which Pell celebrated the cathedral’s 10:30 Mass during the designated period, the choir held practices for the taping of a Christmas performance immediately following the 10:30 Mass, when the absence of two choristers would have been immediately noticed.

Cathedral and choir leaders and former members testified at the pre-trial hearing that choir leaders kept a close eye on the children and would have noticed if any slipped away. Former choir director Peter Finigan testified at the committal hearing that while it would have been possible for two choir members to slip away, he did not remember that it had ever happened.

“Two altos going missing would have stood out right away, as would their late arrival for the practice straight after Mass,” a source present at the committal hearing told CNA.

“That much was crystal clear.”

During the same committal hearing in March, a pastoral associate at the cathedral, Rodney Dearing, told the court that Pell required help to remove his vestments after every Mass, and it would have been nearly impossible for the archbishop to expose his genitals while fully vested, or to commit other sexual acts in the vestments.

Dearing also told Victoria police that the layout of the cathedral did not align with the accusations.

“I can’t understand, knowing the layout [of the cathedral] and how things worked, how it could have occurred,” Dearing told police, according to Australian media reports filed before a gag order on the trial was instituted.

CNA has previously reported that concerns were raised about the layout of the cathedral sacristy, where the abuse is meant to have taken place, which is open-planned and usually full of people following Mass.

Further evidence was reportedly heard during the November trial confirming that Pell only celebrated 10:30 a.m. Mass in the cathedral twice during the alleged timeframe of the events, and the court heard witness testimony that Pell had been with guests immediately following Mass on one of the two Sundays.

Sources close to the trial underscored to CNA that cases of sexual abuse often rely on the persuasive testimony of the victims, and that due to the nature of sexual abuse crimes, corroborating evidence is difficult to present. In such cases, the relative reliability of the victims can be a crucial factor.

During Pell’s trial, the judge reportedly excluded both the prosecution and the defense from disclosing to the jury or discussing in court anything which could bear upon the credibility of the accuser.

When asked how the jury could have delivered a unanimous conviction despite the seeming weight of evidence in his favor, several trial attendees noted that Pell refused to give evidence in his own defense.

“Pell didn’t take the stand, and that definitely made a negative impression; it doesn’t look good if you won’t deny it with your own lips,” one source told CNA.

Others close to the cardinal defended the decision not to have Pell take the stand.

“If you hire Robert Richter [Pell’s lead lawyer], you bloody well take his advice,” one source close to Pell noted. Some sources believe that Pell’s attorneys were concerned that the cardinal would try to give expansive answers from the witness box, rather than confine himself to narrow responses on points of fact.

Instead of Pell’s testimony, recordings were played for the jury of Pell’s interviews with police and state authorities, in which he had previously answered questions about the charges and denied ever sexually abusing a minor.

The Melbourne trial began in June, ending first in a hung jury and a mistrial, with jurors reportedly siding 10-2 in favor of Pell’s innocence. A second hearing with a new jury began in November, delivering a unanimous conviction on Dec. 11. The gag order remains in place pending Pell’s sentencing and expected appeal, and ahead of the trial on the Ballarat allegations expected to begin early next year.

Prior to the institution of the gag order, questions were raised by Australian media and legal figures about the possibility that jury pools could be tainted by years of negative coverage of Pell.

In other Australian states, high-profile cases like Pell’s have the option of being tried by a judge only, without a jury, called a bench trial. Victoria, where Pell is on trial, is one of the only jurisdictions in Australia not to have this option.

On Dec. 13, two days after the Pell conviction, Victoria state Attorney-General Jill Hennessy told the Australian newspaper The Age that she had asked her department to examine the option of judge-only trials in high profile cases, where an impartial jury might be difficult to find. This followed the exoneration of former Adelaide archbishop Philip Wilson, whose conviction for failing to report child sexual abuse was overturned by a judge on appeal.

In the Wilson case, appellate judge Roy Ellis noted that media portrayals of the Church’s sexual abuse crisis might have been a factor in the guilty verdict.

Such portrayals “may amount to perceived pressure for a court to reach a conclusion which seems to be consistent with the direction of public opinion, rather than being consistent with the rule of law that requires a court to hand down individual justice in its decision-making processes,” he said.

The state of Victoria has faced sustained criticism for the use of suppression orders by the state’s courts. Despite an Open Courts Act passed in 2013 aimed at improving judicial transparency, Victorian courts issued more than 1500 suppression orders between 2014-2016.

It has been reported that local media petitioned Victoria County Court to lift the suppression order on the Pell case, but that no decision had been issued on that request.

 

Catholic News Agency has not published, broadcast, or distributed this news story in Australia.

California priest convicted of sexually assaulting San Diego seminarian

San Diego, Calif., Dec 17, 2018 / 04:26 pm (CNA).- A California priest was convicted Monday of sexually assaulting a seminarian. After his conviction, Fr. Juan Garcia Castillo will be listed on California’s sex offender registry, and could face up to six months of incarceration.

During a week-long trial, the San Diego seminarian assaulted by Castillo testified that the priest approached him Feb. 4 in a restaurant bathroom and groped his genitals twice.

The assault followed a night in which Castillo took two seminarians to a bar and restaurant after an event at St. Patrick’s Parish in Carlsbad, where the priest served as parochial vicar. The seminarian said they had several drinks, and that Castillo encouraged him to drink to excess.

The seminarian testified that he went to the bathroom sick after midnight, and that Castillo approach him from behind and groped him.

In September, a spokesman for the Diocese of San Diego told CNA that the diocese had not publicly commented on the allegations because “we need to see what happens to the criminal case because the issue of consent is so important and if it’s not clear, we wait for that to get made clear.”

Castillo's defense did not address consent, but instead denied that contact between the men was sexual.

The priest told jurors Dec. 14 that when he touched the seminarian, he was trying to put pressure on the man’s stomach in order to help him stop vomiting, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Castillo told jurors he put one hand on the seminarian’s back and then “tried to put my other hand on his stomach.”

“My mom always put pressure on my stomach to calm down, stop the vomiting. That’s what I was taught as a kid,” he said. Castillo added that he might have “accidentally” touched the seminarian’s genitals, but that he couldn’t recall.

Castillo sent text messages to the seminarian after the incident, offering apologies, but not specifying what the apologies were for, San Diego Union-Tribune reported. Castillo told jurors he was apologizing for encouraging the seminarian to drink to excess. However, in one exchange, a seminarian accused the priest of “sexually com[ing] on to seminarians.”

Castillo responded: “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”

A jury decided Dec. 17 that Castillo’s contact constituted misdemeanor sexual battery. He is expected to be sentenced within a month.

Castillo, who is also known as Juan Gabriel Castillo, is a member of the Congregation of Jesus and Mary, a religious community of priests also known as the Eudists. The priest, 35, was born in Honduras, and in 2011 was ordained a priest at St. Patrick’s Parish by Cardinal Oscar Maradiaga of Tegucigalpa.

In a statement released Monday afternoon, Bishop Robert W. McElroy of San Diego said that “upon reviewing the facts regarding the allegation of sexual assault against Father Castillo, the diocese of San Diego removed him from ministry in the diocese immediately and permanently.”

“We are deeply saddened by the victimization of one of our students, and the damage to society and the Church that it represents.”

'100 Nativities in the Vatican' seeks to show true meaning of Christmas

Vatican City, Dec 17, 2018 / 04:18 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- More than 100 nativity scenes are on display near the Vatican as the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization seeks to share the history and spirituality behind the nearly 800-year-old Christmas devotion.

“The nativity, in addition to being a beautiful cultural tradition transmitted [by] the genius of St. Francis of Assisi and spread throughout the world, is a strong instrument of evangelization,” Archbishop Rino Fisichella, the president of the pontifical council, said at the exhibit’s opening.

“Every Christmas many people stop before the mystery of God-made-man, represented with statues, which in many cases are authentic masterpieces of art, to pray, reflect and discover the love of God who becomes a child for us,” Fisichella continued.

The indoor nativity display brings together 126 diverse nativities from Taiwan to Panama made from a variety of materials including pinecones, aluminum, coral, yarn, and papier-mache. Among the many historical nativities from Italy is a modern rendition of the nativity made entirely out of pasta.



The exhibit is completely free to encourage families and school trips to rediscover the meaning of Christmas -- the birth of Jesus, organizers said. While viewing the nativity scenes, visitors can read reflections on the meaning of the nativity from saints throughout history.

St. Francis of Assisi created the first nativity scene in 1223 in a cave outside of Rome using a live donkey and ox to surround a manger and an altar with the Holy Eucharist as the presence of the newborn Christ child.

Francis was partly inspired by the relic of the wooden boards from Christ’s manger in the crypt the Basilica of Saint Mary Major in Rome, where they can still be viewed and venerated today.

The mystic St. Bridget of Sweden (1303-1373) received a vision of the nativity in which “the Virgin knelt down with great veneration in an attitude of prayer.”

“She gave birth to her son from whom radiated such an ineffable light and splendour that the sun was not comparable to it,” St. Bridget wrote.



Several of the historic seventeenth and eighteenth century nativity scenes from Italy display the nativity scene among ruins of ancient columns of palaces. This imagery both alludes to Jesus’ royal lineage from the House of David, and to a pagan legend that the Temple of Peace in Rome would collapse if a virgin gave birth.

The annual “100 Nativities” exhibit was started in 1976 by Italian Manlio Menaglia, who worried that the Catholic devotion was being overshadowed by other Christmas decorations. This is the first year that the nativity exhibition is under the leadership of the Vatican.

“100 Nativities in the Vatican” can be viewed inside the Saint Pius X Hall along the Via della Conciliazione. It is open every day from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. through January 13, 2019.

Credit for all photos: Courtney Grogan / CNA.

In Haiti, Catholic Relief Services builds hospital to last

Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Dec 17, 2018 / 04:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The tremor lasted less than a minute. Dr. Jude Banatte’s car was shaking, and then it was not.

Banatte assumed he was driving too fast as he made his way home from the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince that day in January 2010. He slowed down.

But while the tremor Banatte experienced 30 minutes outside of Port-au-Prince was barely enough to shake a car, the earthquake at its epicenter had wrought large-scale devastation and would soon bring Banatte to the project that would have a hand in redefining healthcare aid in Haiti.

Before the 7.0 magnitude earthquake, St. Francis de Sales Hospital was a mainstay outreach of the Catholic Church in Haiti. The nearly 100-bed facility, run by the archdiocese, was established in 1881 in the heart of downtown Port-au-Prince. The hospital served a population of about 3.3 million; including the city’s poorest and most vulnerable populations.

About 70 percent of St. Francis de Sales was destroyed in the earthquake, including the hospital’s maternity and pediatric wards. Dozens of its patients and staff were killed, along with the archbishop of Port-au-Prince, who was a member of the hospital’s board of directors.

“We...realized that the hospital was pretty much destroyed,” said Banatte, who was the program manager for Catholic Relief Services in Haiti and was one of the first responders after the 2010 earthquake, which damaged or leveled thousands of buildings in Port-au-Prince and killed an estimated 230,000 people.

“We had to make a decision, because a lot of people came to that site looking for assistance, for medical care,” he told CNA. “Where were we going to send them?”

The hospital’s medical director initially believed closing was the only option. The infrastructure was no longer there to meet the needs of the community. But the hospital decided to stay open after a team of Flemish doctors arrived, looking for ways to help.

“I automatically became some sort of ad hoc chief medical officer,” Banatte said.  

Banatte and his team used the hospital’s remaining generator to reconnect power to the field hospital. They found plumbers to help re-establish running water. A team of firefighters dug a path through the remnants of the hospital, and Banatte crawled through this path to retrieve critical medical supplies.

“I would go into that space and find my way through the walls - under the rubble - bringing back what I thought was useful depending on the cases I saw outside in the parking lot,” Banatte said.

A trained physician, Banatte was able to recognize the equipment medical volunteers in the field hospital would need. He went into the rubble and emerged with material for sterilization, profusions, materials from the blood bank.

Within two days of the earthquake, the hospital’s courtyard and parking lot had been transformed into a makeshift field hospital complete with triage, operation rooms with plastic ceilings, and a post-operation ward. The goal was to provide immediate, emergency medical assistance to victims of the earthquake, including open-air surgeries to save limbs.

On the first day, they served 50 patients.

“When people started to know that services were being offered at St. Francis de Sales...even more people started to come,” Banatte said.

As the number of patients rose, so did the number of volunteers and services. A trauma team from the University of Maryland-Baltimore arrived to the site within weeks of the earthquake and set up tents over the field hospital. The team of volunteers then performed more than 1,000 surgeries.

By summer, the Church moved the field hospital to another site, leveled what remained of the historic St. Francis de Sales Hospital and began discussions of rebuilding. It soon became clear that if they were going to rebuild, they would have to be smart about it.

“Healthcare in Haiti is notoriously not good,” said Robyn Fieser, communications officer for CRS in Latin America and the Caribbean.

“I think people started talking pretty quickly about the need - if you’re gonna build this back, and build it back well - the need for long-term training and support for the future doctors and nurses.”

Then there was the question of CRS’ involvement. The organization has served in Haiti since 1954. The nation was one of its biggest programs, with education and literary initiatives, agriculture and several health and nutrition initiatives.But emergency relief had always been at the core of CRS’ business, not hospitals and healthcare.

“We were really skeptical,” Banatte said. “There were a lot of emotions. But we also thought it was the best way to honor the memory of the archbishop and to help the Church get back on its feet.”

CRS also already had an established relationship with the hospital. Prior to the earthquake, Banatte was working to develop an infectious disease post-graduate program at the hospital, in partnership with the University of Maryland-Baltimore and the Haitian University of Notre Dame.

By the end of the year, CRS committed to managing the $22 million reconstruction project; in partnership with the local archdiocese, the Catholic Health Association and the Dominican Republic-based nonprofit Sur Futura Foundation.

It was clear that if they were going to rebuild the hospital, they would have to rebuild it to last.

“What will set it up to run for the next 50 years without having to depend on constant support and subsidy from the outside?” Banatte said.

Banatte and his team did extensive research into soil assessment and earthquake standards. They met with Partners in Health, which was constructing a similar 300-bed facility, to get recommendations for contractors.

They also began an economic feasibility study, which Banatte said was key to the success of the hospital.

“The Church used to have this hospital providing charity care in the most needed areas of Port-au-Prince,” Banatte said. “The Church wanted to be back in a position to be able to do so, but not to be running out of bankruptcy.”

“As we are rebuilding the walls, we also have to rebuild the mentality, the way the Church would conceive the delivery of high-quality care in a charitable way. The construction followed that business model.”

They developed a system of public and private care to ensure private care - which makes up about 25% of the hospital today - would subsidize free care. The hospital also has its own oxygen plant and it sells tanks of oxygen as a revenue stream.

Another key component was training for the medical staff. Banatte and his team hired a new medical director, whom they sent to the U.S. to observe the operation of other hospitals. The new medical director also met with suppliers to ensure St. Francis de Sales would receive the correct supplies in the future.

St. Francis de Sales Hospital officially reopened in January of 2015, with a blessing ceremony attended by CRS’ then-CEO, Carolyn Woo, and the then-president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz.

The hospital has almost twice the original number of beds. It has its own emergency room and its staff uses electronic medical records. The hospital continues to open new departments, including physical therapy units, to serve Port-au-Prince’s most vulnerable populations.

Once construction was completed, CRS handed St. Francis de Sales back to the Archdiocese of Port-au-Prince. The hospital is still independently operated by the archdiocese and all doctors and nurses are locals.

CRS’ country representative in Haiti, Chris Bessey, said the St. Francis de Sales project was unique to CRS, but it was a natural outgrowth of the organization’s focus on providing healthcare to vulnerable populations.

“It was the only time CRS led a $22 million project in one place that would last the next 50 years,” Banatte said.

For Banatte, the hospital’s reopening was a dream come true.

“It was a blessing that I was able to be there from ‘Day 1’ to that point,” Banatte said. “It was also living proof that together, we are stronger. And together, we can achieve many things out of our differences.”

 

This article was originally published on CNA April 19, 2018.

Pro-life group concerned over NIH head’s support of fetal tissue research

Washington D.C., Dec 17, 2018 / 02:53 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A pro-life group dedicated to electing pro-life officials is calling on U.S. President Donald Trump and his administration to “correct” comments supportive of fetal tissue sales and research, recently made by National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Francis Collins.

At a meeting of an NIH advisory panel in Maryland on Dec. 13, Collins said that while fetal tissue sales are currently being audited by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and alternatives to fetal tissue are being explored, fetal tissue “will continue to be the mainstay” of federal scientific research.

“There is strong evidence that scientific benefits can come from fetal tissue research, which can be done with an ethical framework,” he added.

His comments come at a time when HHS, the parent agency of NIH, has terminated contracts with groups over their use of fetal stem cell tissue, has declined new contracts with other groups over the same, is auditing the use of fetal stem cell tissue throughout the department, and is exploring alternatives to the use of fetal tissue research.

For the Susan B. Anthony (SBA) List, a pro-life group that works to end abortion and elect pro-life officials, the remark drew deep concern.

The comments from Collins “put him at odds with HHS and the whole Trump Administration in the audit process and begs the question of whether anything can truly change while he’s in charge at NIH,” Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of SBA List, said in a statement.

“We urge HHS to correct his comments, which are dramatically out of step both with President Trump and the pro-life voters who elected him,” Dannenfelser said.

In comments to reporters, Collins argued that fetal tissue is necessary for certain kinds of research, and said that “even for somebody who is very supportive of the pro-life position, you can make a strong case for this being an ethical stance...That if something can be done with these tissues that might save somebody’s life downstream, perhaps that’s a better choice than discarding them.”

Dannenfelser said in her statement that “there is absolutely no moral or ethical justification for treating these children like commodities to be chopped up and sold piece-by-piece to anyone - especially the federal government with taxpayers footing the bill.”

“These hearts, eyes, livers and brains belong to fellow members of the human family. They are ‘harvested’ following abortions that deprive these unborn boys and girls of their right to life,” she said.

She urged correction of Collins, noting that pro-life voters are looking to the administration for pro-life action.

“Pro-life voters across America reject the use of their tax dollars to purchase the ‘fresh’ body parts of unborn children and are looking for a pro-life policy change.”

 

Pope Francis: Death penalty a ‘legalistic’ value, not a Christian one

Vatican City, Dec 17, 2018 / 12:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The death penalty is always a rejection of the Gospel and of human dignity, and therefore must be rejected by all countries, Pope Francis told the Delegation of the International Commission against the Death Penalty on Monday.

In his meeting with the delegation at the Vatican, the Pope set aside his prepared remarks and gave an impromptu address.

In his prepared text, which was then handed out to the delegation, Francis said he has prioritized the abolition of the death penalty throughout his ministry because of the great harm it does to human dignity.

“The certainty that every life is sacred and that human dignity must be safeguarded without exception has led me, from the beginning of my ministry, to work at different levels for the universal abolition of the death penalty,” he said.

The Pope in August ordered a revision of paragraph 2267 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, calling the death penalty “inadmissible” and urging its elimination. The Pope called for the changes in May, the final draft of the new paragraph was issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The Catechism previously taught that the state had the authority to use the death penalty in cases of “absolute necessity,” though with the qualification that the Church considered such situations to be extremely rare.

The previous version of paragraph 2267 in the Catechism of the Catholic Church had stated: “Assuming that the guilty party’s identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.”

In his address on Monday, Pope Francis said the change in the Catechism expressed a “progress of the doctrine of the most recent Pontiffs as well as the change in the conscience of the Christian people, which rejects a penalty that seriously harms human dignity.”  

The death penalty was a lingering value of bygone centuries, Pope Francis said, during which “the instruments available to us for the protection of society were lacking and the current level of development of human rights had not yet been achieved.”

It hearkens to a time when legal values were extolled over Christian ones and justice prevailed over mercy, he added.

“The Church cannot remain in a neutral position in the face of the current demands for the reaffirmation of personal dignity,” he said.

Today, the Church rejects the death penalty in all cases because it “counters the inviolability and the dignity of the person” and denies guilty people the “hope of redemption and reconciliation with the community,” he said.

Pope Francis encouraged members of the United Nations to continue to observe the group’s moratorium on the use of the death penalty, first issued in 2007, which asks member countries to suspend the application of the death penalty and to work toward its total abolition.

He also invited non-UN-member countries to take steps toward eliminating the death penalty.

“The suspension of executions and the reduction of crimes punishable by capital punishment, as well as the prohibition of this form of punishment for minors, pregnant women or people with mental or intellectual disabilities, are minimum objectives with which leaders around the world must engage,” the pope said.

Francis urged those who work in the field of criminal justice to work to understand the root causes of violence and crime, in order “to address the ethical and moral problems that arise from conflict and social injustice, to understand the suffering of the specific people involved and to reach other types of solutions that do not deepen those sufferings.”

He also condemned the “regrettably recurrent phenomenon” of “extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions” carried out by state authorities in many countries.

“As a consequence, any use of lethal force that is not strictly necessary for (self-defense and preservation of life) can only be considered an illegal execution, a state crime.”

The Pope thanked then the delegation for their work and assured them of the Church’s support.

“The Church is committed to (the abolition of the death penalty) and I hope that the Holy See will collaborate with the International Commission against the Death Penalty in the construction of the necessary consensus for the eradication of capital punishment and all forms of cruel punishment.”

 

The youth center at the center of the Church

Rome, Italy, Dec 17, 2018 / 11:00 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Though it sits just steps from St. Peter’s Basilica, it goes unseen by the thousands of people that pass by every day. In a city of churches, it’s a church that can’t be found by accident, but must be sought out. And many do.

It is St. Lawrence in Piscibus, a tiny and simple church from the 12th century, tucked behind buildings which make it undetectable from the main thoroughfare to St. Peter’s Basilica.

The church has gone through many evolutions over the centuries. Eventually, it was deconsecrated and used as a study hall and sculptor’s studio, until in the 1980s Pope St. John Paul II asked that it be transformed into an international youth center.

Today it has become the thriving Centro San Lorenzo, affectionately called the “Centro,” where young Romans, and those passing through on pilgrimage, can stop by for prayer, Mass, and other spiritual and social activities.

As the events start up again after the summer break, now under the apostolate of the Shalom Catholic Community, the center has begun offering daily adoration and prayer for the successful work of the Synod of Bishops, taking place just minutes down the street inside the Vatican.

The Center’s chaplain, Fr. Cristiano Pinheiro, said people of all kinds pass through the center and take part in a “chain of intercession,” that includes Shalom missionaries, young people, priests, and even bishops attending the synod.

During the entire month of October 2018, the church held adoration of the Blessed Sacrament from 9:00 am to 5:30 pm Monday through Friday, followed by Mass at 6:00 pm; open to anyone who wanted to stop by. Two Saturdays of the month they also hosted a special program of prayer and fraternity.

Archbishop Peter Comensoli of Melbourne, who was in Rome to take part in the youth synod as a bishop delegate, said he found the church through his connection with the Shalom community.

“It’s a particularly beautiful church in my mind for an Italian church,” he told CNA. “It’s very plain and simple and the focus is directly on the Blessed Sacrament in the sanctuary area; it’s lovely.”

“It’s wonderful that there are people just praying, just praying for what’s happening in the synod and the work that’s going on here. It’s a great gift,” he said.

The San Lorenzo Center was founded by Pope St. John Paul II, who discovered the church of St. Lawrence in Piscibus – owned by the Vatican since 1941 – and thought it could be put to the service of youth. He reconsecrated the church with a special Mass in March 1983.

A few years later, it also became the home of the original wooden cross of World Youth Day (begun in 1985) and an icon of Salus Populi Romani, a copy of the ancient painting which hangs in the Basilica of St. Mary Major, and depicts the Blessed Virgin Mary in her title as patroness of Rome.

The small church also bears a San Damiano cross, a replica of the one hanging in the Basilica of St. Clare in Assisi, Italy, which is believed to be the cross St. Francis prayed before when he received the request from God to rebuild the Church.

One manager of Centro San Lorenzo, Jhoanna Climacosa, 27, said she finds it a “true joy,” to serve in that place, which is “at the heart of the Church, at the heart of Rome, and through which pass many pilgrims from every part of the world.”

Prior to its new life as a place of evangelization and welcome for pilgrims, especially youth, the church spent a few decades as a study center and the studio of artist Pericle Fazzini, who completed his large bronze sculpture of “the Resurrection” in 1977, and which stands at the back of the Vatican’s Pope Paul VI hall.

The façade of St. Lawrence in Piscibus was hidden from sight when part of the area surrounding the Vatican, Rome’s Borgo neighborhood, was destroyed in the late 1930s to 1940s to construct the grand thoroughfare of Via della Conciliazione, which leads up to the main square and entrance to St. Peter’s Basilica.

The church was preserved from demolition, but a large palazzo was built around it, marking the start of the Pio XII Square in the style of an ancient Greek “propylaea,” an architectural term which means a gateway building.

After different renovations over the centuries, one which gave it an ornate Baroque design, for structural and financial reasons it was eventually returned to what is believed to be its original, bare-stone Romanesque appearance.

Around the same years that John Paul II founded the Center, the Shalom Community was beginning in Brazil, though this is the first time their movement has been given the care of the youth center.

Cristiano knew the place from years earlier, as a seminarian studying in Rome. “Somehow I always felt connected with the church,” he told CNA. “I never imagined I would come to work here and to evangelize here.” His first Mass in Rome, after being ordained in Brazil, was at the Center in 2015.

“Now it’s a new time, a Kairos of the youth of the Church,” he said, referencing a Greek word which means “opportunity,” or “a propitious moment for decision or action.”

“We feel honored and we feel called by God to be at the service of the Church exactly at this time,” he said, explaining that he believes there is “a very difficult spiritual war taking place right now.”

“With the scandals and difficulties, God’s Enemy doesn’t want to see this Kairos happening in the Church. So, we need to fight against it, which we do by praying,” he stated.

 

This article was originally published on CNA Oct. 11, 2018.

Chilean court: Private health facilities can't be forced to do abortions

Santiago, Chile, Dec 17, 2018 / 10:53 am (ACI Prensa).- A Chilean court has ruled that private healthcare facilities may conscientiously object to abortions, declaring unconstitutional a law that had gone into effect in October.

By a vote of 8-2, the nation’s Constitutional Court struck down a portion of the Regulation on Conscientious Objection of the Law on Abortion. The court accepted a Dec. 6 appeal filed by senators of the Chile Vamos coalition which sought to annul part of the Department of Health regulation.

The paragraph in question said that private institutions that maintained contracts with the state could invoke conscientious objection as long as “they do not involve obstetric and gynecological services which, by their nature, include hospital services.”

Facilities that did not have state contracts were permitted under the regulation to conscientiously object to abortion, but were required to refer patients to another health facility that would perform the abortion. Individual doctors were allowed to opt-out of participating in abortions unless a woman required immediate medical attention that could not be postponed.

With the recent ruling by the Constitutional Court, private clinics may now refuse to do abortions while maintaining state contracts.

The Department of Health announced that it “will comply with the ruling” and will adopt all necessary measures to implement it.

The law that legalized abortion in certain cases – rape, fetal “non-viability” and when doctors deem the pregnancy to pose a risk to the life of the mother – was signed into law Sept. 14, 2017 by President Michelle Bachelet, as one of the signature initiatives of her second term.

This article was originally published by our sister agency, ACI Prensa. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.