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Happy campers grateful for miraculous rescue from Whittier Fire

The first thing you noticed at the Friday afternoon press conference was the size of the Whittier Fire camp. It stretched the length of Dos Pueblos High School up in the foothills of Goleta outside Santa Barbara. A village of pup tents had sprung up, but no one was coming in or out of them. Were these firefighters inside sleeping or out on the fire lines?

There were banks of white trailers, lime-green U.S. Forest Service trucks, a line of porta potties and lots of vans. It must have been some of these vans that brought the 82 camper kids (many from inner-city homes), counselors and staff out of Circle V Ranch Camp. Forest Service commanders, fire chiefs and a local sheriff talked about the bravery of Forest Service patrolman Dave Dahlberg and Santa Barbara County Firefighter Mark Linane. Dahlberg made it into the camp — sponsored by the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Los Angeles Council — over a 1 1/2-mile bumpy road of dirt and asphalt, when two previous tries by sheriff deputies had been driven back by flames and falling trees. Later, Linane drove a bulldozer to clear away the road for everyone to escape.

Flanked by U.S. and California flags, along with enlarged photos of the fire and geographic maps, leaders of the first responders spoke in no-nonsense tones. Steve Oaks, Santa Barbara County Fire Division Chief, was the only one to crack a smile. “I told them at camp that we’re all leaving together with the head of a snake, a yellow bulldozer, leading us,” he said, standing at a wood podium outside the high school.

Miraculously, really, no camper or counselor was hurt. Out on Route 154, the young campers were taken by buses offered by the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians, to Old Mission Santa Ines about 13 miles away.   

“Everyone is safe! That is such a blessing,” said David Fields, executive director of St. Vincent de Paul of Los Angeles. “Yes, we did lose our craft shack cabin and our health office cabin in the fire. Our water treatment facility and pipes are also seriously damaged, requiring months of repairs, so we had to cancel the remaining sessions of our 2017 Circle V summer camp.

“We will rebuild and welcome donations to help with this effort,” he added. “On behalf of all of us at St. Vincent de Paul and our beautiful Circle V Ranch Camp, thank you and God bless.”

 

Donations to help rebuild the camp and provide “camperships” (scholarships) for future sessions can be made online at https://svdpla.org/donate/rebuild-camp/  

Church leaders in China remain open to dialogue with Vatican

Fuzhou, China, Jul 19, 2017 / 12:08 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- As the Catholic Church in China journeys toward a normalized relationship with the Holy See, one priest in dialogue with Chinese bishops has seen vast improvement in openness and dialogue on the part of leaders, both in the patriotic and underground Churches.

“That’s one very significant point, a growth in openness, a growth in the Christian churches. I think a second key change has been an openness of the Chinese to receive visitors to indeed dialogue with the Church here in Rome,” said Msgr. Anthony Figueiredo, who has been in personal contact with many Chinese bishops over the last decade.

“We know that in the last year there's been an official delegation that has gone to Beijing, and members have come here to Rome to talk about this openness in reaching some sort of accord.” “And certainly that is the wish of the Chinese bishops; they wish openness, they wish dialogue, they wish help to come from the Church in Rome, the Church in the United States, to help them particularly in the area of formation,” he said.   

Msgr. Figueiredo holds a doctoral degree in theology and is a spiritual director at the Pontifical North American College in Rome. He was formerly a staff member of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum. At the invitation of the bishops in mainland China, he has been part of a small team helping to lead theological forums for the Chinese Catholic Bishops’ Conference in China for the last seven years.

The team, from the organization Caritas in Veritate International, includes Henry Cappello, the organization’s president, and Professor John Cavadini, director of the McGrath-Cavadini Institute for Church Life at Notre Dame University. The 7th Theological Forum is taking place July 13-20 in Fuzhou.

In 2016 the meetings included 24 bishops, apostolic administrators, rectors, and spiritual directors of seminaries. One day was devoted to the theological and spiritual formation of about 120 lay faithful from both the patriotic and underground Churches. Another day was a group lecture at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, a government think tank.

During the week they also met with lay Catholic leaders, such as those organizing various small group faith-based communities, doing missionary and charity work in Beijing, and one community that just opened a center for senior citizens. “We're surprised when we go there that in our meetings, we're not simply meeting with members of the official Church, but also the underground Church,” Msgr. Figueiredo said.

According to the report on the 2016 meetings, the bishops said they took great encouragement from Pope Francis and from the Year of Mercy. They also expressed “great hope” for the normalization of relations between the Church in China and the Holy See. “It was notable to observe the deep desire of the bishops for this normal relationship, and their sadness caused by the difficulties in the past,” the report stated.

Other observations noted in the report were the “great strides” of evangelical communities in mainland China, while the Catholic Church in the country appears to be growing much more slowly. Part of the reason for this could be the visible disunity of the Church in China between the patriotic and underground Churches, as well as the struggle between the Vatican and the Chinese government over control of bishop appointments.

China and the Vatican have been in the midst of talks for some time now to reach an agreement on the appointment of bishops, which would be the first major step toward normalizing relations between the two. It would also hopefully lead to the eventual unification of the patriotic Church and the underground Church, whose bishops are not recognized by the state. This unity would be major for the impact of evangelization in China, Msgr. Figueiredo noted.

“It is certainly the wish of Jesus Christ that we all be one. He prayed for that at the Last Supper, so disunity is always a scandal. It's a scandal to those who do not believe. And certainly the underground Church coming together with the official Church – there are many, many things already happening.” “There's so much that can be done; there's a thirst to hear the Christian message, there's a thirst for Jesus Christ. And the evangelization efforts of the Roman Catholic Church can certainly be helped by this unity.”

China, with 1.4 billion people, isn’t just a huge country, he said, it’s also “a country that needs to be evangelized.” He noted that we usually think of China as a country of Buddhists or of Taoists, as it has been historically, but in recent years there has been a huge growth in Christianity, mainly in evangelical ecclesial communities. Numbers of Catholics are growing as well, but at a much slower rate. There are currently around 100 million Christians in China, he explained, and about 12 million Catholics, half of whom belong to the patriotic Church and half to the underground Church.

The bishops who participated in the 2016 forum, according to the report, identified the main underlying problems of the Church in China as a rapid decrease in priestly vocations and the lack of adequate formation for priests, seminary rectors, spiritual directors, and bishops. The lack of adequate preparation for marriage and the lack of ongoing spiritual support and formation material for young married couples were also considered to be ongoing difficulties for the Church.

“Imagine if we got Catholics (in China) to unite in formation, and providing that formation to even one Church our evangelization efforts would be much, much greater,” Msgr. Figueiredo said. The reason the group goes to China each year is to communicate with the bishops about what has been happening in the Vatican, “and really, to answer their questions, what they specifically need.”

He wanted to emphasize that the Chinese bishops want outside help from the Vatican and the U.S., “they desire for us to help them.” He concluded by quoting Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican Secretary of State: “We wish the good of Chinese Catholics, both of the underground and the official Church, we wish the good of Chinese society, and we wish the good of the whole of society, particularly as we look for peace.’” “Unity can only help those three different levels.”  

Alexey Gotovskiy contributed to this report.

Florida's abortion waiting period law awaits further testimony in courts

Tallahassee, Fla., Jul 19, 2017 / 04:43 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The attorney general of Florida has been given 60 days to gather evidence and testimonies in defense of a 2015 state law mandating 24-hour waiting periods for abortions. The law's constitutionality is being challenged in the courts, and it has been on hold since its passage. The decision was passed down by Florida Circuit Judge Terry Lewis after a July 19 hearing that had been meant to re-evaluate the law.

In February, the Florida Supreme Court had upheld a lower court’s decision to stay the law after its passage in June 2015. Among the plaintiffs challenging the law are the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida and Gainesville Woman Care, an abortion clinic which started the lawsuit. When the matter came before the state Supreme Court, they issued a stay on the law while they considered the law. The temporary injunction was issued in February.

In a brief filed last month, lawyers defending the statute on the state’s behalf said the state “must be afforded a full and fair opportunity to canvas applicable relevant literature, to consult with and retain experts as needed and appropriate, to seek discovery from plaintiffs and their experts as well as from third parties, and to marshal and present relevant facts in the context of relevant law.”

Opponents of the law argue it is an unconstitutional violation of the state’s right to privacy, and singles out abortion from other riskier medical procedures that don’t require a waiting period. “No mandatory abortion delay in this country has ever survived strict scrutiny,” the plaintiff’s lawyers wrote in a June 1 statement asking for a summary judgement on the case.

The Florida bishops' conference issued a statement supporting the law after its 2015 passage. They called it “good legislation” that “gives women one day to reflect upon the risks of abortion, one day to view the image of her unborn child’s ultrasound, and one day to consult with friends, family and faith.” They also noted that 26 other states have such waiting period laws, and that Florida “already requires waiting periods before marriage, divorce, and the purchase of a handgun.”

Lofty rhetoric aside, why the U.S. bishops’ ‘Convocation’ mattered

I’ve not seen the budget for the July 1-4 “Convocation of Catholic Leaders,” a basically unprecedented gathering of almost 3,500 bishops, clergy, religious and laity — including five of the six residential cardinals in the country — hosted by the U.S. bishops and featuring delegations from more than 80 percent of the dioceses in the country and all 50 states, but I do know this: It cannot have been cheap.

We’re talking about renting a Hyatt convention center in Orlando for four days for an awful lot of folks, plus all the expenses of putting such an event together. The logistics were daunting — a member of the bishops’ conference IT team told me they’d brought down 60 laptops and 30 printers just for conference staff, all of which had to be shipped there and back.

Theoretically, that expense of time and treasure was motivated by the lofty aim of the gathering: “To form leaders who will be equipped and reenergized to share the Gospel as missionary disciples, while offering fresh insights informed by new research, communications strategies and successful models.”

After four days, did that actually happen? Time will tell, especially as the delegations who gathered in Orlando return to their dioceses and parishes and try to implement whatever it is they picked up here.

In the meantime, however, there are at least three immediate takeaways that suggest the event was significant, whether or not, over time, it lives up to the elevated billing.

First, I was struck by how basically apolitical the summit was.

For sure, topics with clear political relevance surfaced along the way, from immigration and the LGBTQ community to abortion and euthanasia. However, those were not the dominant notes, which were instead evangelization, mercy, formation in the faith, prayer and the sacraments, and the spiritual life.

No one thundered away from the lectern about political subjects, and during breaks and over lunches and dinners, there frankly wasn’t much buzz about them. You had a much better shot at stirring a good conversation if you asked someone about their parish than their congressman.

In a similar vein, it was also striking how essentially uninterested most people here seemed about Church politics.

At one point, my colleague Inés San Martín and I were walking down a hallway with Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C., when someone came up who apparently once heard a talk Cardinal Wuerl gave and wanted to thank him. As he was walking away, the guy turned around and said, “Good to see you, Father … Bishop … I don’t know.”

I turned to Cardinal Wuerl and said, “Don’t worry, Cardinal, he’ll get there eventually … only two more stops to go!”

In other words, this guy — presumably a fairly committed Catholic in his diocese or he wouldn’t have been here — barely knew what office Cardinal Wuerl holds, let alone what his role was, say, on the drafting committee during two Synods of Bishops that led up to “Amoris Laetitia,” Pope Francis’ controversial document on the family which, in a footnote, includes a cautious opening to Communion for the divorced and civilly remarried.

In the middle of the convocation I had to step out briefly to do a bit for CNN about recent shake-ups at the Vatican, with Australian Cardinal George Pell taking a leave of absence to fight sex abuse charges and German Cardinal Gerhard Müller being replaced at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The host asked me if people were up in arms about all this in Orlando, and I had to choke back the instinct to laugh out loud.

“Listen, the vast majority of Catholics here don’t even know who those guys are, let alone care about what’s happening to them,” I said. “Sure, among bishops and some of the clergy there’s a lot of talk, but it’s just not a rank-and-file concern.”

That’s a useful lesson for journalists everywhere, who tend to assume that the Catholic Church is a debating society racked by political tensions. Sure, those tensions are real, and trying to gloss over them or pretend they don’t exist is silly, but they’re hardly the main event for most folks.

Second, as Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark, New Jersey, said in a July 4 interview, this was really the first time the bishops of the United States have brought people together to reflect explicitly on Pope Francis and his vision for the Church.

The touchstone for the convocation was Pope Francis’ 2013 document “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”) and several American prelates — including Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, the current president of the bishops’ conference, and Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York and Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, both past presidents — said that one sound bite way of stating the event’s aim is to figure out how to apply “Evangelii Gaudium” in the American here-and-now.

“I think if somebody said, ‘Tell me in 30 seconds the goal of this,’ I’d say, ‘To make “The Joy of the Gospel” real, doable in the Catholic Church in the United States, and to demonstrate that in fact it’s already happening,’” said Cardinal Dolan.

It remains to be seen what exactly bishops and other Church leaders will take away about the document, but all by itself the fact that the American bishops made a Pope Francis text the basis for one of their highest profile initiatives in history is probably a helpful corrective to attempts to pit them against the pontiff.

It also may have the effect of undercutting the rather surreal tendency in some limited but vocal quarters to suggest that speaking positively about the pope, on anything, is somehow a hallmark of suspect orthodoxy.

“What I think is the really novel thing about this meeting is that it’s the first time, at least that I’m aware of, that Church leaders in the United States have come together to reflect on Pope Francis,” Cardinal Tobin said. “This is a noteworthy event.

“Evangelii Gaudium,” Cardinal Tobin said, is Pope Francis’ “programmatic statement, and subsequent actions and words of the Roman pontiff have been consistent with that. I’ve been very pleased with the way people [here] have engaged with it.”

Third, while it’s impossible to say what else may result from this meeting, most people with whom I spoke in Orlando seemed to have a blast, and also seemed to feel energized simply by hanging out for four days with other Catholics from all over the country who are as committed as they are.

Bishop James Conley of Lincoln, Nebraska, who worked in the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops from 1996 to 2006, probably captured that dimension of the experience best.

“It’s kind of like World Youth Day for adults, without the pope,” he said, laughing.

“You’ve got all these Catholics together in one place, you’ve got these great speakers, beautiful liturgies, time for prayer where everybody can be together, a very diverse crowd, and a cross-section of the Church in the United States all here because of our Catholic faith,” he said.

“I think for a lot of our lay faithful, they’ve never been in a place like this before with so many other Catholics, and it sort of recharges their batteries,” Bishop Conley said.

Over and over, I heard the same thing. Participants from dioceses around the country told me that quite apart from the formal program, the thing that most excited them was the experience of being with each other — sharing stories, swapping experiences and ideas, and just getting the sense that they weren’t in this alone.

Bottom line: Whatever else may result from the “Convocation of Catholic Leaders,” it lifted up a less politically charged image of what Catholicism is about, ratified “Evangelii Gaudium” as the blueprint for the Catholic future and left almost 3,500 people with a positive and energizing experience of the Church.

All that, probably, wasn’t bad for four muggy days in Orlando.

As a footnote, it will be interesting to see if the U.S. bishops decide the event was valuable enough that it shouldn’t just be a one-off affair, but perhaps something that happens every two or three years. That was the trajectory for World Youth Day, after all, so why not for “World Youth Day for adults?”

Charlie Gard's family allowed permanent US residency

Washington D.C., Jul 19, 2017 / 04:41 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Amid the Gard family's legal battle in the U.K. to pursue experimental treatment for their infant son, the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation granting them permanent residency in the states.

“We just passed amendment that grants permanent resident status to #CharlieGard and family so Charlie can get the medical treatment he needs,” Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.) said in a July 18 tweet.  

The amendment was passed after Republican congressmen Trent Franks and Brad Wenstrup proposed legislation in favor of an additional treatment for Charlie, who suffers from a rare mitochondrial disease which paralyzes muscles and causes brain damage. “Congressman Brad Wenstrup and I have proposed legislation to grant lawful permanent status in the U.S. to Charlie Gard and his family, so they can at least pursue their best hope for Charlie,” Rep. Franks told Fox News July 11.

Charlie Gard has made headlines over the past few months as U.K. courts denied his parents the right to transfer him to other hospitals for treatment. The Gard family appealed to the EU court and was denied a hearing. Claiming that prolonging Charlie's life would cause unnecessary suffering, British judges had ruled that London's Great Ormond Hospital could remove life support without the consent of the parents.

The hospital granted Charlie an extension on life support so his parents may have a few more moments with him. During the extension, a team of seven medical experts told the hospital that unpublished data on an experimental drug suggest a treatment which may improve the condition of Charlie’s brain. One of the experts is a neurologist and a researcher located at the Bambino Gesu Hospital in Rome – a Vatican hospital who's request to transfer Charlie to their facility was also recently denied.

Additionally, a U.S. specialist in mitochondrial diseases speculated in a video last Thursday that the experimental treatment, nucleoside therapy, has a success rate of at least 10 percent and a potential high of 56 percent. Since experts have submitted new data that advocates for Charlie’s possible recovery, the Great Ormond Hospital has asked the courts to reopen the baby’s case that Charlie be transferred to the U.S. for nucleoside therapy, which his parents have successfully fundraised over $1 million for.

Charlie was diagnosed with Mitochondrial Depletion Syndrome – a fatal disease which progressively weakens the muscles and causes brain damage. The genetic disease is very rare, and Charlie is thought to be only one out of 16 people in the world diagnosed with the disease.

Despite Charlie’s low potential for survival, his parents have received U.S. and Vatican support for their right to fight for his life. A statement was issued July 2 on behalf of Pope Francis, saying that the pontiff “prays for them, wishing that their desire to accompany and care for their own child to the end will be respected.”

Facebook restores blocked Catholic pages, citing malfunction

Denver, Colo., Jul 19, 2017 / 08:10 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Facebook has restored more than 20 Catholic pages in Portuguese and English that were blocked yesterday, citing a malfunction in the system. In a statement to ACI Prensa, a Facebook spokesperson said, "The pages were reestablished. The incident was a malfunction of the spam detection mechanism in our platform. We sincerely apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused."  

Between the night of July 17 and the morning of July 18, Facebook unpublished at least 25 pages - 21 in Portuguese and four in English - without giving an initial explanation to page administrators. The blocked Catholic pages each had between hundreds of thousands and 6 million followers.

Hours after CNA and other media published a story about the blocked pages, around 1 a.m. in the morning July 19, all blocked pages had been returned to normal.

In statements collected by ChurchPop.com, Carlos René, administrator of the page "Papa Francisco Brazil," said that the page was available again "without notification. I just realized that it was already on the air." While Facebook has now clarified the incident, the site did not immediately provide an explanation to page administrators for the restorations. The owners and administrators of sites such as "Father Rocky," "Catholic and Proud," and "Jesus" and said they simply realized that their pages had returned after seeing their accounts were back online.

In 2016, Facebook came under fire for allegedly censoring trends to news deemed "conservative." On that occasion, Mark Zuckerberg rejected the allegations of censorship, and met with conservative U.S. leaders to assure them Facebook's neutrality. In the past, user accounts have also been inadvertently blocked on Facebook due to system glitches, or numerous complaints against the page in a short time period. In these cases, Facebook restored the accounts after reviewing their content.  

Affordable housing may soon get $75 million in funding thanks to efforts of interfaith organization

This summer could mark the beginning of more affordable housing for the city of Los Angeles — where the housing shortage and skyrocketing rents have reduced many families, veterans and undocumented residents to homelessness or stranded in shelters.

On July 16, members of One LA-IAF (Industrial Areas Foundation), an interfaith organization for social reform, met with elected officials at St. Thomas the Apostle School to confirm their commitment to various key policies. More than 350 community members and civic, labor and faith leaders from the Los Angeles area attended the meeting, including Bishop David O’Connell, episcopal vicar for the San Gabriel Pastoral Region.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti pledged his support for the linkage fee, a plan to make luxury real estate developers pay a fee for each new building in order to finance the Affordable Housing Trust Fund. Linkage fees would result in an estimated $75 million to $92 million each year for building new (or renovating existing) affordable housing units.

The mayor promised to pass the new legislation this summer. “We are going to make a pledge to you that we are going to support you in your efforts to get that legalization passed,” he said.

Garcetti added that Los Angeles is currently the homelessness capital of the U.S., a title that he said he wants removed as quickly as possible. Affordable housing is a necessary step. In 2014, nonprofit developers found that L.A. County was lacking 490,340 affordable housing units.

The systematic mistreatment of undocumented workers has played a large role in poverty and lack of education, according to several young people who took to the stage to share their immigration experiences.

Carolina Palomares told the assembly of her experience being an “alien,” a term she heard as a child but did not understand. Later she began to realize the connotations of the word. “I was too young to understand that I was considered of less value, less important than someone who was born here,” she said.

Sheriff Jim McDonnell of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department also addressed the topic of immigration. He said that as a first-generation citizen, whose parents hailed from Ireland, he had “a sensitivity to what many of our immigrant families are dealing with.”

McDonnell said he would work to place a stay of deportation on the 200,000 undocumented workers in L.A. County, who are waiting to receive visas that they are eligible for due to their status as victims of crime, sex trafficking or forced labor.

But he stressed that the Sheriff’s Department was not responsible for deporting undocumented workers. “We are not here to enforce immigration laws. We are here to maintain a balance between public trust and public safety.” He said this trust was critical to ensuring safe communities.

McDonnell added, “We don’t stop anyone to find out their immigration status. We don’t ask that at any point during the process.”

The only dealings his department has with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is to allow them into the county jails to remove violent offenders slated for deportation, usually murderers or sex traffickers. This relationship, he noted, is necessary to prevent these offenders from re-victimizing the community.

McDonnell also said that ICE will go to the streets to find those offenders if they are not allowed into the jails. Doing so could result in the deportation of any undocumented persons they find with, or in the vicinity of, the offenders they seek.

“If they don’t have access to the jails, they are going to go into the community and they have told us very clearly that if there are undocumented people in the room or in the environment, then they go too,” he explained.

Deputy Chief Robert Acros of the L.A. Police Department also spoke. He wanted to reassure parents of undocumented children that they are safe to attend school. “We are a sanctuary school district,” he said, “which means that fear stops at our door.”

Sheriff McDonnell thanked One LA-IAF for their work. The organization has already scheduled more meetings and seminars to work with government officials on social issues that affect Los Angeles. Many people see problems and think, “Someone should do something about that,” he said.

“We are all somebody. You’ve taken that step forward to make our community better and safer.”

Looking ahead: NBCC Pastoral Plan for Action

The 12th National Black Catholic Congress concluded in Orlando, Florida, on July 9 with the participating 2,000-plus delegates committing to the principles outlined in the new Pastoral Plan of Action. The pastoral priorities include:

> We believe the Holy Spirit, who is Lord and giver of life, is upon us.  Because of this, we recommit ourselves to live our baptism as Catholics, be “authentically black and truly Catholic” and seek leadership in our Church on all levels.

> We commit ourselves to promote the causes for canonization of the five holy women and men being considered for sainthood in our Church.

> We commit ourselves to act justly by living in proximity with those who are suffering and neglected. Specifically, we seek to promote the dignity and life of every person, from the unborn to natural death. We commit ourselves to dismantle racism in all forms, which is an obstacle to justice and evangelization. We also commit ourselves to address the challenges of mental illness, mass incarceration, domestic violence and others.

> We commit ourselves to love goodness by sharing our faith with others using creative ways, especially social media, as we evangelize in our community.  We commit ourselves to support our Catholic schools in our community.

> We commit ourselves to walk humbly with our God and affirm the universal call to holiness as it is lived out in all forms of vocations in our Church — marriage, single life, consecrated women and men and clergy.

> We commit ourselves to listen and respond to the needs of the youths and young adults in our community as we pass on this legacy of our faith.

> We commit to align these priorities with the outcomes of the Convocation of Catholic Leaders as “missionary disciples” called to spread the joy of the Gospel.

> Finally, we commit ourselves to apply these priorities on the local diocesan, regional and national levels and review them on a yearly basis.

Connected: National Black Catholic Congress unites members to evangelize

Following a series of fortuitous events (facilitated, she is quite sure, by the Holy Spirit), Dione Grillo found herself surrounded by more fellow African American Catholics than she had ever seen gathered in one place in her entire life. The experience was both beautiful and spiritually uplifting, filling her with a range of unexpected emotions and a newfound sense of “connection.”

“There was such a sense of community, such a sense of familiarity — it was a truly communal [encounter], feeling like you were in the bosom of a community,” Grillo described to Angelus News about her early July experience. “It’s about being able to go and be with people who have a similar life experience.”

Grillo was among more than 2,000 delegates from across the U.S. who gathered in Orlando, Florida, July 6-9 for the 12th National Black Catholic Congress (NBCC), which is presented every five years. The theme for 2017 was “The Spirit of the Lord is Upon Me: Act Justly, Love Goodness and Walk Humbly with Your God.”

For Grillo, coordinator of advanced catechetical ministries and basic catechist formation for the Office of Religious Education of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, her first-ever NBCC gathering was a memorable succession of back-to-back “wow” and “aha” moments — beginning with the first time she attended a Catholic liturgy led by a U.S.-born African American bishop.

“I never realized how important it was until I saw him,” she recalled, pausing as she choked back tears. “I thought, ‘I get it now.’ I always say that representation matters, but it wasn’t until I saw [that] bishop leading us in the liturgy — so knowledgeable, such a man of God, but also a man of color.

“That was the first moment that stood out,” she added. “I think it was at that moment that I realized that maybe this is more important to me than I realized.”

Notable NBCC speakers included Bishop Edward K. Braxton, bishop of Belleville, Illinois; Father Maurice Emelu, founder of Gratia Vobis Ministries, Inc., a global ministry for New Evangelization; Dr. Tricia Bent-Goodley, a renowned speaker and professor at Howard University; and Bryan Stevenson, a lawyer and founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, who praised black Catholics for “raising their voice in support of social justice and all the commands of the Gospels.”

The workshop and presentation topics addressed throughout the NBCC included discussions about Catholic faith/spirituality — such as the power of prayer and the meaning of the holy Eucharist — but also explored a wide range of issues related to race/multiculturalism and social justice, such as leadership, domestic violence, mental illness, prison ministry, mass incarceration, the racial divide and the challenges and opportunities facing black families and more.

According to Valerie Washington, executive director of the NBCC, the overall goal of the gathering was for “Congress XII attendees [to] learn about issues impacting our brothers and sisters, and [then] leave Congress equipped to serve and better [those] situations. … That is what the Congress theme — ‘Act Justly, Love Goodness and Walk Humbly with Your God’ — is all about.”

Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and archbishop emeritus of Cape Coast in Ghana, presented the keynote address on July 7. Drawing on the theme of the NBCC, he described the Holy Spirit as a force for the “reintegration and re-enfranchisement of all of God’s children in a mission of inclusion — leaving no one on the periphery.”

Ministering to those on the peripheries was an important message conveyed at both the NBCC and during the Convocation of Catholic Leaders, which was held just days earlier, also in Orlando, noted Anderson F. Shaw, director of the African American Catholic Center for Evangelization (AACCFE) in Los Angeles.

“This whole concept of evangelization, starting at home and then reaching out to those on the peripheries” — including the homeless, those with same-sex attractions and other groups who are being (or feeling) left out of the Church — “this is what missionary discipleship is all about,” explained Shaw, who attended both gatherings. “We even incorporated what we discussed [about missionary discipleship] into the new [NBCC] pastoral priorities plan.”

For Shaw, who was one of several individuals from dioceses and archdioceses across the U.S. who collaborated on the NBCC pastoral priorities, the joint effort was a major highlight of the NBCC. “[Archbishop José H. Gomez] asked me if I would represent the Archdiocese of Los Angeles,” he said.

The group members commissioned to work together on the pastoral priorities met several times throughout the four-day gathering to share and discuss ideas, and the final version of the plan “took a lot of deliberation,” noted Shaw.

The updated pastoral plan addresses existing concerns and long-term goals to provide a general guideline for moving forward in faith and community for African American Catholics, he said. Highlights include:

> We commit ourselves to dismantle racism in all forms, which is an obstacle to justice and evangelization. We also commit ourselves to address the challenges of mental illness, mass incarceration, domestic violence and others.

> We commit ourselves to love goodness by sharing our faith with others using creative ways, especially social media, as we evangelize in our community.

> We commit ourselves to listen and respond to the needs of the youths and young adults in our community as we pass on this legacy of our faith.

“The NBCC was [initially] started in an attempt to create a vision and a pastoral plan for the African American Catholic community and so that has been the backdrop for all the congresses,” said Shaw. “At every congress there are always a lot of fantastic speakers, a lot of great friends from across the country and different liturgies and other great things going on, but if you don’t have something to bring back home to share with people as you move through the next five years, then maybe [the NBCC] was just a wonderful gathering and that’s where it ends.”

To help ensure that the hope and enthusiasm cultivated during this year’s congress doesn’t dissipate over the coming months and years, NBCC staff members will be working on developing specific strategies to accompany the pastoral priorities, to put its components into action, according to Shaw.

Grillo said she is eagerly looking forward to suggestions for “practical, concrete steps to help put that hope into action, to put those good feelings into action, so that I can be a positive influence in my community and in the world.”

“[Realizing] there are still so many communities that are underserved — including mine — what that meant for me as a minister, as a woman of God, as an African American woman was a very humbling experience,” she said. “We have a lot of work to do. … It’s a social justice issue. … Who is on the peripheries? Who is not at the table? — or who feels like they don’t have a seat at the table?”

It’s about “being intentional” in reaching out to those who are underserved, she added, “to make them feel invited” so they won’t fall away from the Church.

Archbishop presents prayer requests before miraculous image of Our Lady of Guadalupe

Archbishop José H. Gomez celebrated a Mass at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City during the first archdiocesan pilgrimage with the archbishop to the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

During the July 8 Mass, the archbishop presented hundreds of prayer requests asking for the intercession of Our Lady of Guadalupe. He collected requests during a Mass at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels recognizing the contributions of all immigrants to the U.S. Requests were also collected on TheNextAmerica.org.

“I am really looking forward to this time of prayer and devotion so we can show our love for our Blessed Mother,” Archbishop Gomez said. “I will be carrying with me and offering the prayers of the whole family of God and especially the prayers that we all have for our families on both sides of the borders. Let’s ask the Virgin to go with us and guide and help us to grow in our love for God and our brothers and sisters.”

More than 100 pilgrims made the journey to the shrine that houses the original tilma (cloak) of St. Juan Diego, on which Our Lady of Guadalupe left her miraculous image in 1531. For nearly 500 years, the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe has been the symbol of hope, peace and love, uniting peoples around the world as one family of God. The basilica at Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe is the most visited Catholic pilgrimage site in the world.

Prayer requests will continue to be collected at TheNextAmerica.org. They will be presented during the next archdiocesan pilgrimage Mass to the basilica on July 7, 2018. The dates of next year’s pilgrimage are July 5-9, 2018. For more information, call 213-637-7636