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Archbishop Wenski: Deportations to Haiti ‘unconscionable’ amid violence, instability

A U.S. archbishop has denounced the Biden administration’s decision to resume deportations of Haitian migrants, given the rampant violence and instability in Haiti.

« These deportations are unconscionable given the realities on the ground, » said Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski of Miami in a statement to OSV News April 22.

On April 19, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced it had « continued to facilitate removal flights of single adults (and) family units » between April 15-19, with Haiti among the destinations listed.

Some 50 Haitian nationals were repatriated on an April 18 flight, the first such U.S. deportation to Haiti since January.

Wenski — who is fluent in Haitian Creole, and whose archdiocese is home to an extensive and historic Haitian expatriate community — said that the U.S. government’s move equates to « sending people back into a burning house, » since Haiti has been ravaged by « increasing gang violence and (a) growing humanitarian and health crisis, with no real functioning government. »

The nation’s systemic kidnappings, rapes, killings and widespread civil unrest led the U.S. Embassy in March to urge its citizens to leave Haiti as soon as possible.

Conditions in Port-au-Prince have continued to rapidly worsen, with gang attacks taking place throughout the city and the port itself — upon which the island nation is crucially dependent for supplies — strangled by gang feuds, leading the International Organization for Migration’s chief in Haiti, Philippe Branchat, to call Port-au-Prince « a city under siege. »

For years, Haiti has been plagued by multiple, sustained crises such as political instability, natural disasters, foreign intervention and international debt.

In July 2021, Haitian President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated; in April 2023, the head of the United Nations office in Haiti warned the nation was sliding into « a catastrophic spiral of violence. »

The Biden administration’s deportation of Haitians is « inconsistent with our international treaties regarding ‘non-refoulement’ of asylum seekers, » Wenski told OSV News.

Under international human rights law — such as the United Nations’ 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol — the fundamental principle of non-refoulement provides that refugees cannot be expelled to territories where substantial threats to life or freedom exist.

« President (Joe) Biden has deported more than 28,000 Haitians to Haiti in the last three years, » said Wenski.

Among those deported was « a convicted drug dealer and one-time insurgent who is now seeking to take power in Haiti’s very complicated political system, » the archbishop added.

He noted that in the past year some 100,000 Haitians have been granted two-year humanitarian parole by the U.S. The program — also available to Cubans, Venezuelans and Nicaraguans — provides work authorization for vetted individuals who have an approved U.S.-based financial sponsor, such as a relative, and can pay for their travel to a U.S. airport.

Yet « at the same time, hundreds of Haitians have crossed the Mexico-Texas border, » said Wenski. « Because of the temporary nature of the parole and the numbers crossing the border, Haitians are very apprehensive. »

He said that « what is needed is the renewal and extension of TPS (Temporary Protective Status) for all Haitians in the U.S. without a permanent legal status. »

Under that program, the secretary for Homeland Security can designate a given country for TPS due to temporary conditions — such as armed conflict or environmental disaster — that prevent the safe return of its nationals. Individuals recognized as TPS nationals are not removable from the U.S., for a set period of time, during which they can obtain employment and possible travel authorization.

Wenski said the Haitian community in the Archdiocese of Miami « feels increasingly apprehensive.

« The political solution championed by the U.S. (a commission made up of political parties that would appoint an acting president and prime minister and welcome foreign policemen from Kenya) does not inspire much confidence, » he said. « Haitians fear that things will get worse before they get better. »

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Vie de l'église

Ave Maria professor: Earth Day needs Catholics’ full engagement and hopeful vision

Catholic university professor Samuel Shephard suggests that Catholics can bring a unique viewpoint to Earth Day, celebrated April 22, because « as Catholics, we can understand we’re doing that as stewards of creation. »

« When we get involved in Earth Day, we can do the same kind of things that everyone else is doing — they’re talking about, this year, reducing use of plastics; how we think about ethical clothes purchasing; that sort of thing, » Shephard, who teaches biology at Ave Maria University in Ave Maria, Florida, told OSV News. But « when we become stewards of creation, we participate in his loving plan for salvation. So we do the same sort of practical things — but we do it in a kind of transcendent context. »

Earth Day, now a day when the world calls for environmental change and the protection of the planet, was originally envisioned as a college campus teach-in by its founder, Sen. Gaylord Nelson, D-Wis.

At the time of the inaugural Earth Day, celebrated on April 22, 1970, U.S. skylines were thick with smog, gasoline contained dangerous levels of lead, and two-thirds of the country’s lakes, rivers, and coastal waters were declared unsafe for either fishing or swimming. About 20 million Americans expressed the need to do something about it on that first Earth Day.

Within the same year, the Environmental Protection Agency was established by a Republican president, Richard M. Nixon, who earlier declared, « Clean air, clean water, open spaces — these should once again be the birthright of every American. »

While 72% of U.S. Catholics recently surveyed by Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate believe « environmental justice is a legitimate issue that needs urgent attention, » only one-third are apparently aware of Pope Francis’ landmark 2015 environmental encyclical, Laudato Si’.

Pew Research Center also reports 41% of regular Mass attendees in 2022 said there is no discussion about climate change in their parish.

Whether the reason is discomfort with the perceived political activism of the environmental movement, or concerns about possible over-divinization of nature, those numbers indicate something of a disconnect between the Catholic Church’s long-standing « care for creation » teaching and the practical ecological activity of American Catholics.

For Shephard at Ave Maria, it’s time that changed. A contribution to this change is a robust, hands-on, university-level course of instruction designed to equip students with the tools they need to be effective everyday environmental stewards.

« The new minor in Agriculture and Catholic Environmental Stewardship (ACES) will draw from both existing curriculum and include two new focused classes that will explore technical, theoretical and highly practical aspects of sustainable agriculture and environmental stewardship, » Ave Maria announced in a news release April 9.

Ave Maria University was established in 2003 as a Catholic university and today boasts 1,270 students, who can choose from about 66 majors and minors, and have access to seven daily Masses and 33 faith-based clubs on campus.

Shephard explained what the new ACES minor will include, in addition to ecology, biology and environmental science.

« There’s going to be a class in theology, dealing with Laudato Si’ and all these aspects of what it is to be human and care for nature, » he said. « There’s going to be a class on small business, because I want people to be able to start small enterprises, perhaps growing sustainable food or making ethical clothing. »

« But, » he added, « what I’m really excited about is that, within that context, we’re actually starting a farm here in Ave Maria. We’ve got 55 acres — and it’s going to be partly a community endeavor, and partly a university process. »

Ten acres of the plot will be a « permaculture » organic farm with vegetables and eventually animals. Permaculture refers to the concept of utilizing land, resources, people and the environment in a way that doesn’t produce any waste.

« It’s going to (be) as absolutely natural and holistic and sustainable as we can manage, » said Shephard. « And so the students in the minor will be able to spend quite a lot of time outside, literally digging and growing vegetables and keeping hens, and then maybe selling their produce in the local farmer’s market. I really hope it’s going to be very hands-on, » he shared. « People so far have got quite inspired — and I think that’s what’s attracting them. »

Shephard’s own environmental journey took him from his birthplace on a small island in the northwest of Scotland to the west coast of Ireland’s commercial fishing industry, where he fished for a time with his wife’s family.

Shephard became keenly aware of environmental issues during this time, which motivated him to earn both a graduate degree and a doctorate in fisheries management. The last two decades of his career have been spent working around the world on sustainability issues.

« As a secular environmentalist, I always felt a bit despairing; everything seemed like it was already lost, » Shephard recalled. « But then when I became a Catholic » — he was 23 — « I really felt a lot more hope, and a lot more optimism and inspiration. »

Shephard proposes a sort of « theology of ecology, » emphasizing Catholicism’s rich care for creation tradition.

« The Catholic Church has a really distinct and very beautiful understanding of care for nature, » he said. « I think secular environmentalism just says we’re kind of part of nature; looking after nature — mainly for utilitarian reasons. The church says that we’re, yes, part of nature — but we’re also set apart by intellect and will, and by the fact that we’re made in the image and likeness of God. So that kind of places us right in the middle, but also gives us a unique, transcendent role. »

« Which is quite a terrifying responsibility, isn’t it, in a way? » he reflected. « We can’t just drop that, » Shephard cautioned.

« But I love this idea of creation; I love this idea of being part of God’s plan. It kind of picks us up into something much bigger than ourselves — and points all of the things we do towards a kind of ultimate end point, » he added.

« So we’re not just doing this because we’re flying through space with a set of resources that we have to conserve for the future, but we’re actually headed towards an ultimate destination in heaven; the fulfillment of God’s plan for the human person, » Shephard emphasized. « It’s about as non-trivial as it could get. »

Shephard stressed that Catholic engagement with their role as stewards of creation brings extended value to Earth Day and beyond. He expanded on two foundational ideas.

One is to look to Catholics within the church who aren’t that interested in environmental issues, and say, « We can’t — for reasons of our political alignment, or any other thing — pretend that we don’t have a responsibility here, or/and pretend that this doesn’t matter, » he explained.

« This is absolutely part of what it is to be a Catholic — to take care of the poor; to take care of creation. It’s a matter of justice — of giving due to God, and to our neighbor, » he said.

The other, Shephard said, « is to look to the world and say, our (Catholic) understanding of what nature is, and what the human person is, is actually really powerful — and it can really help as perhaps a uniquely valuable mode of understanding environmental problems and responding to them in a really humanitarian, person-focused, and loving way. »

Francis’ environmental focus — but also that of St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI — has, in Shephard’s view, elevated the global environmental conversation.

« I think we have something incredible to offer, » he said. « But it has, until Laudato Si’, gone a little bit unnoticed. »

Reflecting on his pre-Catholic ecological awareness, Shephard is quick to praise the secular environmentalists he met — « They’re really smart, and really motivated, » he said — but his Catholic faith in Jesus Christ now urges him to share his expanded perspective.

« I want to say, ‘Well look — I think what you’re doing is great,' » said Shephard. « ‘But perhaps it can be even better if you understand that what you’re doing is God’s work.' »

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Vie de l'église

Fourth Sunday of Easter: No longer I, but Christ in me

They say that no good deed goes unpunished. Today’s reading from Acts depicts the irony of the human mindset at just about any time in history. What leads us to react negatively to someone who is doing good? Is it that they are not part of our party — be it the Sadducees, the Republicans or the Democrats? Is it that they did the good thing in a way that we didn’t like or was in competition with us? Perhaps we just don’t like the person and nothing they do can seem good to us.

Peter and his companions were arrested for doing a good deed — for healing a cripple. As Peter explains why he did what he did, we see how he was interiorizing Jesus’ way of being. As Acts tells the story, Peter claimed no glory or power for himself, but explained that all he did was done in the name of Jesus. 

That obviously rankles the powers who had recently approved of Jesus’ execution. They thought they were done with him — but not only did his newly audacious disciples declare that he lived, they acted like him and went about doing what he did. Instead of dying, the Jesus movement was spreading!

This story offers a prelude to the Gospel of the good shepherd. The selection we read today says nothing about the good shepherd abandoning 99 and going after one. Rather, here we meet the pastor who says that he will do anything — even give his life — for his sheep. 

Jesus contrasts a good shepherd with one who works for pay rather than for love of the sheep. Folks like that aren’t necessarily bad, but they aren’t much good when evil strikes and divides the flock. 

A key to understanding the good shepherd is that she or he (many women tend sheep) knows the sheep and they know their shepherd. That knowledge is more than the ability to recognize a voice or a familiar figure. 

The knowledge Jesus is talking about — now referring to people — is an intimate, interior knowledge. Those who know one another like this are bound together from their insides out. Jesus claims that their mutual relationship mirrors his relationship with God the Father. They exist in one another more purposely, consciously and lovingly than unborn children live in their mothers’ wombs. 

The First Letter of John describes this relationship with God by calling us children of God. It echoes John 1:13, explaining that we are born, not in the natural way, but by God’s own decision. 

In a sense, we might understand our being born of God as the process and goal of our lives. In nature, we are born as God’s creatures, part of the creation that naturally exists in God. Being born of God or being children of God adds unfathomable quality to that natural state of blessedness. 

Now we turn back to Peter.

Peter claimed that he did what he did « in the name » of Jesus. This isn’t about magic words or power. This is Peter’s way of saying that he lives in Christ and Christ in him. Peter has known the earthly Jesus and the risen Christ and he has made a choice to live in Christ. 

It’s a new and humbling state for him. At last, like Paul, he could say, « I live, no longer I, but Christ in me » (Galatians 2:20). 

This is what Peter preached to the religious leaders. He proclaimed that the resurrection of Jesus Christ opened up a new route to God. He wasn’t simply talking about a new belief; he was explaining the Spirit-given power that allowed him to enter ever-more purposely and consciously into the very life of God, participating in the unity of the one flock continually being gathered by the Good Shepherd.

Today’s readings invite us into long and oft-repeatable contemplation and action. They invite us to stand alongside Peter and search our hearts until we can explain why it is that we do what we do and what kind of power we are exercising. 

Jesus’ image of the good shepherd is another variation on the theme we hear throughout John’s Gospel: The Son of God became flesh in order to draw us into unity with God and one another, a unity that can be called eternal life.

For Peter, as for us, taking in and taking on the effects of the Resurrection is the task of a lifetime. We accomplish it at least as much in action as in contemplation. While we can believe much about Jesus, the real invitation is to believe « through him and with him and in him, » becoming ever-more identified with him by loving whom he loves and allowing him to work through us.

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Vie de l'église

Regina King stands out in uneven biopic about political trailblazer Shirley Chisholm

As the first Black woman to run for the presidency of the United States in 1972, seven-term Brooklyn Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm made way for Jesse Jackson in 1984 and, eventually, America’s first Black president Barack Obama in 2008. Hillary Clinton’s historic, if bittersweet, 2016 presidential campaign as the first woman to lead a major party’s ticket also owes something to Chisholm. The feature film « Shirley » recalls her quixotic campaign.

Besides playing the lead, Oscar-winning actress Regina King produced the film, a 15-year-long pet project of hers and her sister and fellow actress Reina King. Having collaborated with Regina King on the ABC television drama « American Crime, » Academy Award-winning screenwriter John Ridley (« 12 Years a Slave ») wrote and directed « Shirley. » Released in theaters March 15 and on Netflix March 22, the movie is available on the streaming service.

At a 1971 Christmas party at her Brooklyn home, the first Black Congresswoman discusses a prospective race for the nation’s highest office with trusted advisers: Mac Holder (Lance Reddick), fundraiser Arthur Hardwick Jr. (Terrence Howard) and her husband Conrad (Michael Cherrie). Chisholm is reminded of the promise she made to the Committee to Elect Chisholm in Florida. If they raised $5,000, she would put her name on the ballot. 

The late Reddick is memorable in one of his final screen roles as Holder, who tells the congresswoman, « they raised almost $10,000, » which indicates to Chisholm she should run. Mac quickly adds, however, « If you run, you can’t win. »

Referring to her experiences speaking on college campuses, Shirley counters: « If there are white boys who think I could be president, who think I should be president, then how am I not going to try for everybody else? » 

During the campaign, in which she declared she was unbought and unbossed, Chisholm encountered greater challenges regarding her sex than her race. As she says at Mills College in Oakland, California: « We are just beginning to admit that this country has a problem with gender politics. We need to get over ourselves and redirect the priorities of this nation to make it a haven for all kinds of people. »

When her staff lobby Shirley to attend the Black Liberal Convention in Gary, Indiana, Chisholm resists because women weren’t invited to speak at the event. She tells her protégé and future congresswoman and Senate candidate Barbara Lee (Christina Jackson): Men are « always plotting and planning. »

Most of the drama’s principal characters were actual people. But Ridley introduces fictitious political operative Stanley Townsend (Brian Stokes Mitchell) to become Shirley’s chief male foil as her campaign manager. Frustrated by Chisholm’s unwillingness to heed his clear-minded advice, when he quits, Townsend reflects mainstream attitudes when he says: « This isn’t a campaign. It’s a joke. You have no organization. You have no infrastructure. … The only thing anybody is going to remember is that there were a bunch of Black folks who made fools of themselves. »

The Chisholm campaign wasn’t a juggernaut. Competing in a field of multiple candidates in 12 primaries, Shirley garnered more than 430,000 votes nationally, less than 3% of those cast, and 28 delegates for the Democratic National Convention in Miami. There, Democratic South Dakota Sen. George McGovern secured the nomination. The 1968 party standard bearer Minnesota Sen. Hubert Humphrey released his Black delegates to Chisholm, a symbolic move that gave her the majority of her total 152 delegate votes.

The film, to its credit, isn’t interested in a hagiographic portrait of its subject. Shirley struggles with her marriage and copes with her sister Muriel St. Hill’s (Reina King) resentment. Conrad, from whom she divorced in 1977, says about their relationship: « I try as hard as I can to be the man you want: attentive, and mindful. … I know all the good that you can do. So I’ll be your shadow because I know, for whatever reason, a shadow of a man is what you want. »

For her part, Muriel says this of her older sister: « All people do, Shirley, they talk about you. They say you’re crazy. » But Muriel reveals she criticizes Shirley because their father provided financially for her after his death. Nonetheless, her sister’s disapproval engenders self-doubt in Shirley. « Am I crazy? » she asks future husband Hardwick. Acknowledging implicitly how difficult she is to live with, she says Conrad is « 200 pounds of patience. »

In a wonderfully complex performance, these frailties coexist seamlessly with the regal, public bearing King’s Shirley projects with her voice. To achieve that effect, King de-emphasizes the lisp for which Chisholm was known and stresses her character’s lilting Barbadian accent. Commanding a stage, King also masters Shirley’s intimate moments. In the film’s most memorable scene, Chisholm controversially visits Democratic rival and inveterate segregationist George Wallace (W. Earl Brown) in the hospital. In May 1972, at a campaign event in Laurel, Maryland, Arthur Bremer shot Wallace, leaving him paralyzed the rest of his life.

Chisholm had good cause not to visit Wallace, but having escaped an attack on her life, and as a Christian, Shirley felt compelled to go. Wallace is deeply moved when she says, « You have an opportunity to keep on how you’ve been or be more than what you were. And you better figure it out quick. Because the next time the Good Lord may not be satisfied with taking just half of you. »

« Shirley » needed more scenes like this. Regina King’s magnificent performance anchors the film, but its dramatic lulls cancel out the high points and the film struggles to maintain viewers’ interest consistently. Ridley’s direction falters with the content, failing to generate enough narrative momentum to fully explain why Chisholm’s campaign mattered and why people supported her, and culminating in an awkward, abrupt ending. 

« Shirley » could have been better, but it is doubtful that Regina King could be.

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Vie de l'église

Animal cruelty officer-turned-animal chaplain Matty Giuliano loves ferrets and St. Francis

Matty Giuliano is the kind of chaplain who doesn’t mind if you drop an f-bomb mid-sentence.

The animal cruelty officer-turned-interfaith animal chaplain from Queens, New York, wants everyone he serves to feel at ease, nonhumans included. And part of his ability to connect with those of all backgrounds comes from the authenticity of his own dynamic personality.

Giuliano, 50, lives in Monmouth County, New Jersey, with his wife, four dogs, three ferrets and one cat. He drives a car with the license plate CHPLAIN, speaks with an unmissable New York accent and has multiple credenzas brimming with St. Francis collectibles.

 

« It’s like walking into a monastery, » he jokes.

 

After a decade of over 2,000 often gruesome animal cruelty cases, in 2015 Giuliano traded his badge for a stole and began volunteering as the animal chaplain for the Monmouth County SPCA. There, Giuliano is in his element — blessing animals (including pigeons), conducting animal funerals, offering bereavement counseling and providing the kind of support for SPCA volunteers and staff he once craved.

 

« Matty, as the chaplain, has brought peace and harmony to the hearts of many, many pet owners, » said Ross Licitra, executive director of the Monmouth County SPCA. Barbara Lovell, associate executive director of the Monmouth County SCPA, added that Giuliano’s support is « key, » particularly during the summer when the intake period is intense.

 

« Not only is he watching out for signs of anxiety or grief during these moments, he has worked right along beside us in crisis — such as unloading dogs from trucks arriving back from hoarding situations, » said Lovell.

 

Giuliano grew up in a 600-square-foot apartment in the Electchester housing project in Queens. The only child of his Jewish mother and Italian Catholic father, he grew up attending a Unitarian Universalist congregation on Long Island. Though Giuliano said his Jewish grandmother mourned his lack of a bar mitzvah, he credits Unitarian Universalism for introducing him to several different religions.

« I got to form a much broader spiritual background than a lot of other people get to experience, » said Giuliano.

Dogs weren’t allowed in the apartment, so his family had three cats: Samson, Delilah and later Bathsheba. « They were Old Testament pussycats, » Giuliano quipped. By 1998, Giuliano had moved to the New Jersey suburbs and graduated from Rutgers University, and in 2005 he took a gig as an animal cruelty officer.

 

Often, Giuliano recalled, the cases were seasonal — pets left to suffer in extreme heat or cold. He remembers the man who left his dog in a hot car for hours while fishing at the beach; the guy who jumped out of a second-floor window to avoid arrest after advertising dogfighting; the woman who had over 350 dead birds in her house. 

 

« We had to wear Tyvek suits, » Giuliano remembered.

 

By 2013, the terrible things Giuliano witnessed left him longing for peace. Gradually, he began to embrace Catholicism, and was especially drawn to St. Francis of Assisi, patron saint of animals.

 

« He’s who I would turn to, since we didn’t have anyone in the agency to go to, » Giuliano told Religion News Service. « I saw s— you couldn’t imagine. »

 

Giuliano found comfort in both prayers to the saint and the stories about him — particularly the tale of the Wolf of Gubbio, where St. Francis rescued both a village and the wolf terrorizing it.

Then, in August 2013, Giuliano’s longtime dog Remy was diagnosed with lymphoma and died a few months later in January 2014.

 

« That was the big push that led me into wanting to be the chaplain for Monmouth County SPCA, » said Giuliano. « I felt compelled to find out more about how I could be a spiritual service to these animals, and to the people who serve them. »

After learning about animal chaplains online, in 2015 he enrolled in an animal chaplain program through Emerson Theological Institute, a California-based organization grounded in New Thought philosophy. He also obtained two certificates in bereavement counseling and became ordained online through the Universal Life Church.

 

These days, Giuliano goes to the Monmouth County SPCA animal welfare facility two to three times a week, making himself available to the staff and volunteers.

 

« I had a cat who stopped eating, and we were sure this was it for the cat. I had Matty bless him, and don’t you know, the next day he started eating again, » said Ruth Schwartz, a feline specialist at the SPCA. « I mean, it was as if it was some sort of miracle. »

Giuliano also looks out for the animal cruelty officers at the Monmouth County SPCA, taking them out to dinners and providing spiritual support on an ad hoc basis.

 

« He’s always somebody you can count on, » said Mike Goldfarb, chief of human law enforcement at the Monmouth County SPCA. « And he’s good to talk to for a variety of reasons, not just spiritual support and SPCA knowledge, but just a good overall person. … We have a deal: He’s doing my funeral, but I hope not for another 30, 40 years. »

 

Giuliano offers pet loss support and funerals free of charge, and each year on Oct. 4, World Animal Day and the feast day of St. Francis, Giuliano hosts an interfaith event where people bring their pets to receive a blessing and prayer in their own faith tradition. He also visits the Monmouth County SPCA and offers prayers and treats to the hundreds of animals in their care.

 

« I know there are plenty of people out there who believe animals have no souls, » said Giuliano. « I cannot accept one of God’s creation is, spiritually, the equivalent of a cup of ice cream. »

 

Giuliano also offers grief counseling to people across the country. In June 2019, Bill Keys, a retired member of the Air Force, connected with Giuliano by calling a pet loss support hotline after the passing of his 15-year-old dachshund, Duffy. Giuliano’s prayers and presence, he said, conveyed God’s love for animals. They spoke at least once a week for several months and still speak today.

 

« I can’t put into words the impact that Chaplain Matty had in helping me work through the grief, the loss, of Duffy, » Keys told RNS.

 

In recent years, Giuliano’s animal chaplaincy has taken an unexpected turn. Though he long considered himself a « traditional dog and cat guy, » in August 2018 at the SPCA’s annual « clear the shelter » event, he met and adopted a ferret he named Musky. Giuliano has since published two children’s books, « My Name is Musky, » and « Stubby’s Story, » after his second ferret. The proceeds are donated to animal welfare causes.

 

« It became a huge success in the ferret world, because there aren’t any ferret children’s books, » said Giuliano. « Cats, dogs, bunnies? Absolutely. Ferrets? None. So Musky ended up creating a social media ferret empire. Musky has over 10K followers on Facebook. »

 

Every day, Giuliano drafts posts detailing the antics of his pet ferrets. And to his surprise, doing so has become an extension of his ministry — people from across the country message him to share about their struggles and their appreciation brought by the page, which has become an online community.

 

In 2022, the New Jersey state Senate passed a resolution honoring Musky the Ferret. New Jersey Sen. Vin Gopal, who has worked with Giuliano on animal welfare legislation, told RNS he initiated the resolution to « recognize all the great work (Giuliano) was doing to protect ferrets and other animals. » Giuliano is currently partnering with Gopal and Sen. Michael L. Testa Jr. to pass a resolution that would mandate all animal testing facilities in the state make cats, dogs and ferrets used for testing or research available for adoption.

 

Giuliano says the principles of St. Francis — poverty, chastity and obedience — continue to guide his work and life, even amid personal hardship. Musky died in 2022 and it was devastating, Giuliano said, but he was also comforted by the condolences he received from around the world. People attended Musky’s funeral from as far away as Chicago.

 

« It’s been a remarkable journey, » said Giuliano. « I feel that it’s my connection with St. Francis that’s allowed me to do all that I’ve been able to do for the animal welfare world. »

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Vie de l'église

Ukrainian Catholic bishop calls Russian strike against civilians ‘devastating’

The head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church has responded to a « devastating » strike by Russia on civilians in a northern Ukrainian city.

At least 17 were killed and 61 wounded when three Russian missiles slammed into the center of Chernihiv, located some 95 miles from Kyiv, during the morning of April 17.

The buildings struck in the attack included an eight-floor apartment building, a hospital and an education facility — targets banned by international humanitarian law, which specifies that attacks may not be directed against civilian objects.

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the casualties point to his nation’s dire need for Western military aid, a major portion of which has been stalled in the U.S. Congress due to political gridlock, partisan infighting and openly anti-Ukrainian sentiment.

In a brief April 17 statement posted to Facebook, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk said the losses at Chernihiv were « tragic. »

« In this challenging time, we pray for the souls of those killed and extend our heartfelt condolences to their families, » he wrote. « We also ask the all-merciful Lord for the healing of the injured! »

Later the same day, Shevchuk addressed participants at the International Ecumenical Conference in Lviv, the theme of which was « Overcoming together the horrors of war: The experience of post-Yugoslav states and Ukraine. » The gathering was organized by the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church’s Commission for Interfaith and Interreligious Relations and the Institute for Ecumenical Studies at Ukrainian Catholic University.

Speaking by video link from Kyiv, the archbishop said that « war is always a tragedy and a crime, especially when someone conducts it under the guise of God. Then this war turns into blasphemy. »

Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, has openly blessed and encouraged Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, saying in a September 2022 sermon that those who die fighting with the Russian military will see their sins washed away.

The invasion, which continues attacks initiated in 2014 with the annexation of Crimea and the backing of military separatists in Ukraine’s Luhansk and Donetsk provinces, has been declared a genocide in two joint reports from the New Lines Institute and the Raoul Wallenberg Center for Human Rights. Ukraine has reported more than 129,842 war crimes committed by Russia to date in Ukraine since February 2022.

The International Criminal Court has to date issued four arrest warrants against Russian officials, including two for Russian President Vladimir Putin and his commissioner for children’s rights, Maria Lvova-Belova, for the unlawful deportation and transfer of at least 19,546 children from occupied areas of Ukraine to the Russian Federation.

« We believe in victory not only over the Russian aggressor, but over the war itself, over the reasons that led to this war in the post-Soviet space, » said Shevchuk in his conference address.

The churches of Ukraine, along with those of the Balkan countries, have been tasked with a special mission to heal the wounds of war, which is « impossible » to do « without Christian understanding, » he told conference participants.

« We understand that we need to heal not ideas, but hearts. And this is a process that we Christians consider impossible without the power and grace of the Holy Spirit. Because the Holy Spirit is the divine power of love, which eliminates hatred, » said Shevchuk. « May the Lord God bless us, may this conference bear worthy fruits, may the suffering stop, may peace and grace have the last and most important word between us today. »

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Pope, Council of Cardinals continue discussion of women in the church

Pope Francis and his international Council of Cardinals continued their discussions about the role of women in the church, listening to women experts, including a professor who spoke about how culture impacts women’s roles and status.

The pope and the nine-member Council of Cardinals invited women, including an Anglican bishop, to make presentations at their meetings in December and in February as well.

The council met April 15-16 in the Domus Sanctae Marthae, the pope’s residence, the Vatican press office said.

On the first day, Sister Regina da Costa Pedro, a member of the Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate and director of the Pontifical Mission Societies of Brazil, shared « concrete stories and the thoughts of some Brazilian women, » the press office said.

Stella Morra, a professor of theology at Rome’s Pontifical Gregorian University, « examined the role cultures have in the recognition of the role of women in different parts of the world, » the press office said.

A priest and two women made presentations at the council’s December meeting and published their papers in Italian in a book with a foreword by Francis, « Smaschilizzare La Chiesa? » (« De-masculinize the Church?).

During the preparation for the synod on synodality and during its first assembly in October, the pope wrote in the foreword, « We realized that we have not listened enough to the voice of women in the church and that the church still has a lot to learn. »

« It is necessary to listen to each other to ‘de-masculinize’ the church because the church is a communion of men and women who share the same faith and the same baptismal dignity, » he wrote.

At the February meeting, the pope and cardinals heard from: Bishop Jo Bailey Wells, deputy secretary-general of the Anglican Communion; Salesian Sister Linda Pocher, a professor of Christology and Mariology at Rome’s Pontifical Faculty of Educational Sciences « Auxilium »; and Giuliva Di Berardino, a consecrated virgin and liturgist from the Diocese of Verona, Italy.

Bailey Wells said she was invited to « describe the Anglican journey in regard to the ordination of women, both in the Church of England and across the (Anglican) Communion. »

At the April meeting, the Vatican said, the second day began with a report about the ongoing Synod of Bishops on synodality by Cardinal Mario Grech, secretary-general of the Synod of Bishops, and Msgr. Piero Coda, secretary general of the International Theological Commission.

The meeting concluded « with reports from each cardinal on the social, political and ecclesial situation in his home region, » the press office said.

« Throughout the session there were references — and on several occasions prayer — dedicated to the scenarios of war and conflict being experienced in so many places around the world, particularly in the Middle East and in Ukraine, » the statement said.

« The cardinals — and with them the pope — expressed concern about what is taking place and their hope for an increase in efforts to identify paths of negotiation and peace, » it said.

The council will meet again in June.

The members of the council are: Cardinals Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state; Seán P. O’Malley of Boston; Sérgio da Rocha of São Salvador da Bahia, Brazil; Oswald Gracias of Mumbai, India; Fernando Vérgez Alzaga, president of the commission governing Vatican City State; Jean-Claude Hollerich of Luxembourg; Gérald C. Lacroix of Québec; Juan José Omella Omella of Barcelona; and Fridolin Ambongo Besungu of Kinshasa, Congo. Bishop Marco Mellino serves as the council’s secretary.

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NJ pastor says parish ‘heartbroken’ over arson fire at their church, prays for perpetrator

After an early morning fire April 4 reportedly set by a resident damaged the sanctuary of Our Lady of the Lake Church in Verona, the church could reopen its doors for Mass the weekend of April 20-21, said Father Peter G. Wehrle, pastor.

On April 4, Elliot Bennett, 42, allegedly broke into the church using a crowbar and set fire to about 10 pews, statues of Mary and Joseph, and the altar, according to police reports. Bennett turned himself into the Verona police station just hours after the incident admitting to the crime, and faces nine charges including burglary, arson, weapons and bias intimidation, according to the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office.

Fire alarms alerted the fire department, which quickly extinguished the fire. In a Facebook announcement to the community on April 4, Wehrle, said the fire did not damage the structure of the church, which was built in 1964 to replace a smaller church and accommodate a then-burgeoning parish.

« Fortunately, the structure appears to be sound, but the church is heavily damaged, » he wrote. « However, we are grateful that no one was injured. … Faith teaches us that we are all created in the image and likeness of God and that we must ask him to help guide everyone into the way of his peace. »

Wehrle said a restoration company was brought in to clean up the soot. The pipe organ and pews were scheduled to be assessed by professionals. The statues, the kneelers in front of them and altar linens were destroyed.

« Unfortunately, the church is heavily damaged, and the parish community is heartbroken, » the Archdiocese of Newark said in a statement. « However, we have faith that we will get through this difficult time and request the community to keep those affected in their prayers. »

Rabbi Robert Tobin of B’nai Shalom in West Orange comforted Father Wehrle as he assessed the damage from the fire. Pastor Anthony Giordano of the Calvary Lutheran Church, which is located around the block from Our Lady of the Lake, also offered the parish community his church.

« Sanctuaries are supposed to be a place of peace, » he said, adding that the fire was « devastating to someone like myself who treasures all houses of worship. »

Just hours before the fire, Muslims, Jews and Christians joined together at an Iftar dinner held in town. Wehrle said faith leaders discussed the shared values of their faiths including the importance of fasting.

« We have received an outpouring of support from various houses of worship and individuals and by the grace of God, we will work together to help instill a sense of peace in our community, » Wehrle said.

« Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time Elliot has caused damage at our church, » Wehrle told Jersey Catholic, Newark’s archdiocesan news outlet. Bennett was arrested last year after he admitted to defacing a statue of Jesus outside the church, police said. In 2018, he was arrested after he smashed statues of Jesus, St. John and the Blessed Mary, saying people should not « worship false idols made from stone, » according to police.

Although the items around the church sustained damage, the fire did not damage the faith of the 2,700 parishioners, many of whom attended last weekend’s Masses relocated to the neighboring school auditorium.

During Mass on April 7, Wehrle asked for prayers for Elliot and his family while calling for a reconsideration of how we approach mental illness.

« We need to be helping him and praying for him and his family, » Father Wehrle said in his homily.

The church had just celebrated a joyous Easter season. Newark Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin celebrated Palm Sunday at Our Lady of the Lake on Palm Sunday, March 24. Father Wehrle said over 2,000 of the faithful attended Easter Masses. The church is also celebrating its centennial this year.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has documented over 300 acts of vandalism, arson, and other destruction at parishes and other Catholic sites in the United States since 2020. These include arson and statues getting beheaded, cut, smashed, and painted. Gravestones have also been defaced with swastikas and anti-Catholic language, and American flags next to the graves have been burned.

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Father Byron, author, professor and former university president, recalled as ‘visionary leader’

Jesuit Father William J. Byron, known for his leadership of Jesuit institutions of higher learning and his many years of lecturing, teaching and writing on the relationship between business practices and Catholic spirituality, died at Manresa Hall, the health center of the Jesuit community at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia April 9. He was 96.

Byron was a former president of the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania, 1975-1982, and The Catholic University of America in Washington, 1982-1992. He spent a year as acting president of Loyola University New Orleans, 2003-2004, and served as president of his high school alma mater, St. Joseph’s Preparatory School in Philadelphia, 2006-2008.

His other leadership roles for the Society of Jesus included rector of the Jesuit community at Georgetown University in Washington, 1994-2000.

A funeral Mass for Byron will be celebrated April 20 at St. Matthias Church in Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania. A viewing will take place in the church at 10 a.m. followed by the Mass at 11 a.m.

Jesuit Father Joseph Marina, current president of the University of Scranton, said Byron « will be greatly missed. »

« As I walked into his room at the Jesuit infirmary, Father Byron was sitting up in his chair, alert but struggling, » Marina said in an April 9 message to the university community. « He managed to ask if I was the president at Scranton now. When I nodded yes, he said, ‘Take good care of it.' »

« Father Byron is among those who have given greatly to build a solid foundation for our mission and success at Scranton on which we continue to flourish to this very day, » Marina added.

During his tenure at Scranton, among other things, Byron launched a multimillion-dollar capital campaign for the school. Also, a new undergraduate college, the School of Management, was created, along with new programs including nursing and physical therapy.

After serving as Scranton’s 21st president, Byron became the first member of a religious order to be named president of The Catholic University of America in Washington. He was the school’s 12th president.

« Father Byron was an exceptional leader in Catholic higher education, » Catholic University’s current president, Peter Kilpatrick, said in an April 9 message to the university community. « Father Byron was known for being an inspiring intellectual who had an ability to connect powerfully with people and with ideas. Alumni remember him fondly for his close relationships with students, and for his leadership. »

He tripled the university’s endowment while fundraising the first $50 million that went toward the construction of more undergraduate housing, the Columbus School of Law building and the Pryzbyla Center, a venue at the heart of the campus for concerts, live stage performances, public forums and lectures.

After helming the nation’s only papally chartered university, he became a professor at Jesuit-run Georgetown University in Washington. At the same time he was rector of the Jesuit community at Georgetown and director of the university’s Center of Advanced Study of Ethics. He then was pastor for three years at nearby Holy Trinity Church, 2000 to 2003. Next, he was acting president at Loyola University New Orleans, followed by two years as a professor of economics at Loyola Maryland in Baltimore, 2004 to 2006, the year he became president of St. Joseph’s Prep.

Before retiring from academia in 2009, Byron taught a graduate course in the Haub School of Business at St. Joseph’s University. In his later years, he continued writing and publishing. In 2019, he moved to Manresa Hall at St. Joseph’s University, « where he enjoyed visits with students and never missed an opportunity to sing the St. Joseph’s prep fight song, » said a news release from the Jesuits’ USA East Province, based in New York.

Whether he was serving « as an administrator, professor or parish priest, » Byron « always made a concerted effort to build up community with his Jesuit brothers in unassuming ways and to promote the apostolates of the Society of Jesus with a discerning, generous, and upbeat spirit, » the province said in a statement.

Byron was the author of more than 20 books and dozens of articles. In 2001, he became a regular columnist for Catholic News Service. The biweekly column, titled « Looking Around, » covered current issues. He wrote his last column, which ran April 18, 2017, as a « fond farewell » to « those who have enjoyed my writing over the years. »

« Writing a column is like putting a note in a bottle and tossing it into the river so it can float down and across the bay and out into the ocean. You never know whose shore it will wash up on, » he said, noting that the latest of his many books, « Growing Old Gratefully, » would be published later that year by Paulist Press.

« Old age is a gift, » he said. « I can attest to that, so why not welcome it with gratitude? »

A Pittsburgh native who grew up in Philadelphia, William James Byron was born May 25, 1927. His father, a physician, died when Bill was 1, and his mother moved with him and his older brother, Harold, to Philadelphia’s East Germantown neighborhood. Both boys graduated from St. Joseph’s Preparatory School.

After Bill turned 18, he registered for the draft and subsequently spent 17 weeks in the Army’s basic training camp near Macon, Georgia, but was never deployed overseas. After the war, he went to Germany as part of the Army of Occupation, where he joined the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 82nd Airborne Division. He finished his tour of duty there in November 1946 and returned to Philadelphia.

He joined the Jesuit order in 1950 and was ordained a priest in 1961 by Archbishop Francis P. Keough of Baltimore. He held degrees in philosophy and economics from St. Louis University, two theology degrees from Woodstock College and a doctorate in economics from the University of Maryland. Over his lifetime, he received 30 honorary degrees.

Byron’s career as an administrator began in October 1969 as an associate professor and rector of the Jesuit community at the now-closed Woodstock College, the Jesuit seminary in New York. It was relocated to New York from Baltimore in 1969 and closed in 1974.

He served on a number of boards for Catholic entities including the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities and the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities, which in 1999 bestowed on him its Theodore M. Hesburgh Award for his contributions over the years to the advancement of Catholic higher education. He was a founding director and chairman of Bread for the World, a Christian lobby group that fights hunger.

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‘Struggle for Racial Justice’ urges Catholic conversions of hearts and minds

In The Catholic Church and the Struggle for Racial Justice: A Prophetic Call, Mathew Kappadakunnel offers a unique perspective as a first-generation American of South Indian descent, who is a member of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church. 

As a brown-skinned son of immigrants, Kappadakunnel once assumed his « place in society was that of an outsider, » but he also admits there was a time when he looked down on people who crossed the Mexican border without documentation for not immigrating legally, like his parents. It was only when he spent time on the Mexican side of Nogales with a Catholic initiative called El Comedor that Kappadakunnel experienced a conversion of heart and mind. There, he encountered people — God’s people — who were « desperate, trying to escape treacherous circumstances that threatened their lives, their safety, and their families, » and he was filled with compassion and understanding for their plight. 

Likewise, it wasn’t until the death of George Floyd in 2020 that Kappadakunnel felt called to speak out against anti-Black racism. For most of his life he assumed the role of the « model minority, » which meant he would « fall in line with American society » and align with « white American beliefs and values. » For him, « recognizing and challenging racism in both society and the Church » were considered taboo. 

Kappadakunnel describes his former belief that social justice was the responsibility of nonprofit organizations, while his vocation was prayer and leading people to Jesus. Then during the pandemic, after watching a video that showed a police officer callously murder Floyd, Kappadakunnel realized that he was not living in a post-racial society. He knew he had to speak out against racial injustice. Written in a prophetic voice, The Catholic Church and the Struggle for Racial Justice is Kappadakunnel’s forceful and compelling plea for all Catholics still asleep to wake up.

Kappadakunnel also gets personal. He relays how the Eurocentric teachings of St. Francis Xavier, a Spanish Jesuit missionary who arrived in Goa, India, in 1540, led him to internalize harmful, negative views of fellow Indian people. Though Xavier is still revered by many Indians today, in the 16th century he wrote about Goan people in ways that can only be described as racist.

For example, in The Letters and Instructions of Francis Xavier, Xavier wrote that Indians made for poor vocations due to their lack of commitment — both to the order and to celibacy. Xavier also made more explicitly colorist condemnations of Goans’ skin color writing: « [Indians] being black themselves, consider their own color the best, they believe that their gods are black … the great majority of their idols are as black as black can be … and seem to be as dirty as they are ugly and horrible to look at. » 

Kappadakunnel humbly repents of his past view of himself as superior to Indian people since he was American born. His honesty may resonate with Catholic readers who hold their own internal bias and spur them to an examination of conscience.

Aside from his personal story of conversion and spiritual awakening, Kappadakunnel’s book is a clarion call urging all Catholics to work toward racial and social justice. It convincingly makes the case that the Catholic Church is not only universal and therefore multicultural, but that her diversity is one of the reasons the church was able to spread to all corners of the world and last until today. Racism and discrimination, therefore, are clear contradictions to Catholicism and God’s kingdom. 

After making the case for why racism is incongruous with Catholicism, Kappadakunnel critically examines the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops’ writings and actions on the topic of racism. He delves into the world of prominent, wealthy conservative donors that are heavily influencing the direction of the Catholic faith. When he discusses the Napa Institute’s annual conference at Timothy Busch’s Meritage Resort and Spa in Napa Valley — an event with registration that costs nearly $2,000 and nightly rates over $500 — Kappadakunnel states, « Based on the criteria of this conference, Jesus would not have been welcomed, since his message encompassed inviting ‘the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind’ to the banquet (Luke 14:13), none of whom would be able to attend … »

My biggest critique of the book involves the repeated references to working with the Black Lives Matter Global Network (BLMGN), which has in many respects fallen from grace and lost much public support. Black Lives Matter Grassroots organizations, a collective of community groups across the country, sued BLMGN, claiming had fundraised off the work of the chapters, but mismanaged the funds and had shut local chapters out of decision making and profits. The lawsuit was dismissed, However, while Black Lives Matter as a global network has diminished in power and efficacy, the truth that Black Lives Matter and the convictions behind the statement still remain true and relevant today. 

Overall, I commend Kappadakunnel for his book and believe it would be beneficial for Catholics to read.