Tucson, Ariz., Apr 26, 2009 (CNA) - Separated by an international border, the communities of Douglas, Ariz., and Agua Prieta, Sonora, Mexico, are rife with special needs. In an effort to understand those needs better, and to develop ministries to meet them, an entourage that included Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas and Archbishop Ulysses Macias of the Archdiocese of Hermosillo made a daylong tour of the region last month.
“As brother bishops serving neighboring dioceses,” Bishop Kicanas said, “we saw and listened to concerns expressed by our priests and people on both sides of the border.”
The tour group gathered at St. Luke Parish in Douglas for a general discussion of the “realities” faced by people in the region.
Chuck Fisher, executive director of Catholic Community Services in Southeastern Arizona, told the group that since 2000 he had noticed that the border had “become militarized” and it is often difficult to gain easy passage.
He said the “anti-immigrant militia” that operates in the region is “a major challenge.”
Sister Mary Aloysius Marques, principal of Loretto Catholic School in Douglas, noted that two-thirds of her elementary students are Mexican, and some must endure long waits at the border as they commute to classes.
She said the drug situation “is a lot worse” these days and relatives of students are often victims of violence – a relative of one student was shot and killed. The drugs, she said, are “a huge temptation to get money.”
The group visited a domestic crisis shelter, House of Hope, operated in Douglas by Catholic Community Services to provide temporary housing, counseling and safety for families suffering abuse.
The bishops and other group members spoke with the caregivers and met and talked with some of the residents at the shelter, including a number of young children.
“It was moving,” said Bishop Kicanas. “They want to live ordinary lives, but they have faced extraordinary difficulties.”
Crossing the border into Agua Prieta, the entourage visited a house for migrants sponsored by the Archdiocese of Hermosillo and the detention center where the Mexican government holds Central American migrants in search of work and a better life for their families.
A stop was made at the “Just Coffee” operation, a cooperative that is trying to provide just wages and opportunities for families in Chiapas, Mexico. The Just Coffee products are marketed in the U.S., including at several parishes in the Diocese of Tucson.
The group celebrated Mass together at Holy Family Parish in Agua Prieta and later enjoyed supper together.
Participants in the day’s activities were Father Gilbert Malu, pastor of St. Luke Parish, Father Sean Carroll, executive director of the Kino Border Initiative in Nogales, Father Ivan Bernal, pastor of Holy Family Parish, Joanne Welter, director of social missions for the Diocese of Tucson, and others.
“The day solidified our relationship as brothers and sisters in Christ,” said Bishop Kicanas. “We will continue to look for new ways of working together in our pastoral outreach to our communities.”
Printed with permission from The New Vision, newspaper from the Diocese of Tucson, Arizona.
Washington D.C., Apr 26, 2009 (CNA) - Cardinal Justin Rigali, chair of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, has written a letter to U.S. Representatives encouraging them to co-sponsor the Pregnant Women Support Act (PWSA) which has recently been reintroduced in the House. The bill would provide money to pregnancy support centers, more options for prenatal care and services to protect women from domestic violence.
According to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the bill (H.R. 2035) was reintroduced on Wednesday by Rep. Lincoln Davis (D-TN).
While acknowledging that there are "disagreements on abortion and the rights of the unborn," the cardinal noted that "there are some statements that almost everyone can endorse" such as that steps must be taken "to reduce abortions" in the U.S.
Following reports that economic hardship has resulted in more women having abortions, Rigali stated that "no woman should ever have to undergo an abortion because she feels she has no other choice or because alternatives were unavailable or not made known to her."
Among other provisions, the PWSA will ensure that pregnant women are not denied coverage by insurance companies; establish a toll-free number for resources during pregnancy and after birth; provide life-affirming pregnancy services and parenting education in maternity group homes and other centers; provide new mothers with free home visits by registered nurses; and codify the current regulation allowing states to provide State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) coverage to unborn children and their mothers. It will also encourage adoption by expanding adoption tax credit and adoption assistance programs.
In addition, Cardinal Rigali wrote, the Act would improve the information women are given regarding "supportive services available to them during and after pregnancy, through a public awareness program as well as a basic requirement that abortion facilities provide informed consent (including information about alternatives to abortion)."
Debate over the way to reduce the number of abortion in the U.S. was recently rekindled by the $200 million set aside for contraceptives in the stimulus package, an allocation that was later removed.
Citing studies that show increased access to contraceptives does not reduce the number of abortions, Cardinal Rigali said that Rep. Davis' bill would provide "authentic common ground," and offers "an approach that people can embrace regardless of their position on other issues."
"Regardless of your stance on other issues related to abortion or family planning, I hope you will join Representative Davis in ensuring that the Pregnant Women Support Act will be considered and enacted by this Congress," wrote the cardinal bringing his letter to a close.
Des Moines, Iowa, Apr 26, 2009 (CNA) - As the Iowa Attorney General insists that county recorders must issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, two groups have offered free legal defense to state county recorder offices that adopt a policy protecting employees’ rights of conscience.
The Iowa Supreme Court ruling mandating same-sex “marriage” takes effect on Monday. The proposed policy would protect an employee from being forced to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples if doing so would violate the employee’s convictions.
In a Tuesday statement Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller said county recorders are required to comply with the Iowa Constitution “as interpreted unanimously by the Iowa Supreme Court” and must issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples “in the same manner as licenses issued to opposite-gender applicants.”
“Our country lives by and thrives by the rule of law, and the rule of law means we all follow the law as interpreted by our courts -- not by ourselves. We don’t each get to decide what the law is; that would lead to chaos,” he said.
“If necessary, we will explore legal actions to enforce and implement the Court’s ruling, working with the Iowa Dept. of Public Health and county attorneys,” Miller warned.
Doug Napier, Senior Legal Counsel for the Scottsdale, Arizona-based Alliance Defense Fund, responded to what he characterized as Miller’s “threatening” statement in a Wednesday press release.
Napier said that Iowa citizens enjoy the rights of conscience guaranteed in the U.S. and Iowa constitutions. He said these are “the very constitutions that county recorders swore to uphold when taking office.”
“Mr. Miller conveniently omitted any discussion of their rights of conscience or the recorders’ duty to protect the rights of their employees. This right of conscience protects individuals against heavy-handed coercion by the state, including the attorney general, and serves as the first line of defense against the cancer of tyranny.”
The Alliance Defense Fund and the Iowa Family Policy Center, based in Pleasant Hill, Iowa, announced an offer of free legal help in an April 22 letter to county recorder offices.
The letter cited the Iowa legal code’s recognition of the right of conscience which the letter said is based upon “the simple truth that it is wrong to force anyone to violate his or her conscience.”
The two groups proposed policy language and offered to defend the policy and provide free legal review and defense if it is challenged on the basis of its content.
The proposed policy says that employees “shall not be required to issue or process a marriage license, or to perform, assist, or participate in such procedures, against that individual's religious beliefs or moral convictions.” It also requires that objecting employees not be subject to discrimination in employment, promotion, advancement, transfer and several other areas.
Napier argued for the benefits of the policy in a Wednesday statement.
"Government employees who believe in marriage as the union of one man and one woman should not be penalized for abiding by their beliefs," he said. "This policy allows an employee who does not wish to violate his or her own conscience by issuing a marriage license to a same-sex couple to abstain and allow the transaction to be performed by someone who is willing to do it. Forcing them to participate in offensive acts contrary to their deeply held beliefs in order to remain employed is unconstitutional."
At least one Iowa magistrate, Third District Magistrate Francis Honrath of Larchwood, has decided to stop performing Iowa marriages in part because of the Supreme Court’s decision allowing same-sex couples to “marry,” the Des Moines Register reports.
“The Supreme Court ruling had something to do with it, but the truth is it's not just same-sex marriage I had problems with,” said Honrath, a Catholic father of seven who has served as magistrate for Lyon County since 1997.
He explained that he has often had reservations about conducting marriages for heterosexuals but until the Iowa Supreme Court’s April 3 ruling he did not realize that he could refrain from conducting any marriages and keep his job.
"It's a discretionary function," District 3 Chief Judge Duane Hoffmeyer told the Des Moines Register. "Some have never done any marriages. It's up to the individual and, to be honest, with everything that's going on, some are still unresolved on whether they will or won't."
More judges are expected to refrain from conducting marriages, which could possibly affect couples who wish to contract legal marriages.
Vatican City, Apr 26, 2009 (CNA) - On Sunday at around noon, following the proclamation of five new saints in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Benedict XVI told the crowds in the square that he hopes the examples of the new saints will help everyone run towards “the prize of God's upward calling, in Christ Jesus.”
At 10 a.m., Pope Benedict celebrated a Mass at which he canonized four Italians (two men and two women) and one Portuguese religious brother.
Before praying the Regina Coeli, the Pope greeted all those who came to render homage to the saints, acknowledging the presence of the delegation from the Italian government and one from the Sovereign Order of Malta.
The Holy Father said that he hopes the canonizations, in this Pauline Year, will help all to run with more joy toward “the prize of God's upward calling, in Christ Jesus.”
He also spoke about the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart. This day marks the fiftieth anniversary of the death of its founder Father Agostino Gemelli. Benedict XVI expressed his desire that the university be always faithful to its roots and that it continue to offer a valid formation for future generations of youth.
The Pontiff addressed the following words to English-speaking pilgrims: “I greet the English-speaking pilgrims who are here with us today, especially those who have traveled to Rome to be present at the canonization of today’s new saints. Through their intercession, may all of you be filled with joy in the Risen Lord, and bear witness to him courageously in your daily lives. I invoke God’s abundant blessings upon all of you, and upon your families and loved ones at home.”