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Biden on ending U.S. presence in Afghanistan: 'It was time to end this war'

WASHINGTON (CNS) ─ President Joe Biden said the decision to end 20 years of U.S. military presence in Afghanistan on Aug. 31 came down to limiting further loss of American lives in a place where the country no longer had vital interests.

"I give you my word: With all of my heart, I believe this is the right decision, a wise decision, and the best decision for America," he said in a televised 26-minute speech, where he defended the withdrawal, saying the U.S. faced other national security threats.

"We must stay clearly focused on the fundamental national security interest of the United States of America," he said.

The U.S. is facing serious competition with China and various "challenges" with Russia, he added.

"We're confronted with cyberattacks and nuclear proliferation," he said.

Getting out of Afghanistan marked a turning point in ending "an era of major military operations to remake other countries," Biden said.

"We saw a mission of counterterrorism in Afghanistan -- getting the terrorists and stopping attacks -- morph into a counterinsurgency, nation building -- trying to create a democratic, cohesive and unified Afghanistan -- something that has never been done over the many centuries of (Afghanistan's) history," he said.

The administration of President George W. Bush sent troops to Afghanistan after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that left 2,996 dead on U.S. soil, trying to pin down al-Qaida militants who planned the hijacking of airplanes, including Osama bin Laden, who was believed to be in and out of Afghanistan hiding with help from the Taliban.

Now bin Laden, killed by the U.S. in 2012, is dead and al-Qaida "decimated," Biden said.

And the support the U.S. tried to give the Afghan government so that one day it would defend the country from extremist groups such as the Taliban, he admitted, went up in smoke.

"The assumption was that more than 300,000 Afghan National Security Forces that we had trained over the past two decades and equipped would be a strong adversary in their civil wars with the Taliban," he said. "That assumption -- that the Afghan government would be able to hold on for a period of time beyond military drawdown -- turned out not to be accurate."

Instead, the people of Afghanistan "watched their own government collapse and their president flee amid the corruption and malfeasance, handing over the country to their enemy, the Taliban, and significantly increasing the risk to U.S. personnel and our allies."

Biden cited a figure from Brown University researchers who estimated that the U.S. spent more $2 trillion in Afghanistan over two decades, or $300 million a day.

"The American people should hear this: $300 million a day for two decades," he repeated.

The cost, the risk of American lives, and a changing mission led to the decision, he said.

Even among those who agreed with the decision to leave, criticism of Biden has focused on the execution of the withdrawal and came from far and wide, including the pope who said in an interview with COPE, the radio network owned by the Spanish bishops' conference, that "all eventualities were not taken into account."

Biden addressed much of the criticism of the last few days, including the decision to leave U.S. citizens in the country, estimated to be between 100 to 200, repeating what Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command, earlier had said: that there had been multiple efforts made to get them out but some, because of family or other ties, did not want to leave Afghanistan. Others were not able to make it to the airport in time for the last U.S. plane out but efforts to get them out would be ongoing, he added.

The president also said he didn't want to risk any more loss of U.S. lives even as others said U.S. presence could have been minimal.

"When I hear that we could've, should've continued the so-called low-grade effort in Afghanistan, at low risk to our service members, at low cost, I don’t think enough people understand how much we have asked of the 1% of this country who put that uniform on, who are willing to put their lives on the line in defense of our nation," he said.

The U.S. could remain engaged in fighting the "pernicious and evil" threat from terrorism but with different methods, he said, and the military showed that capability with a drone strike it employed in its last days in Afghanistan, killing a suspected suicide bomber remotely.

"We just don't need to fight a ground war to do it. We have what's called over-the-horizon capabilities, which means we can strike terrorists and targets without American boots on the ground -- or very few, if needed," Biden said.

The explosion also resulted in the killing of 10 civilians, many of them Afghan children. It was condemned by the Catholic group Pax Christi USA.

The drone strike took place after 13 U.S. service members were killed following blasts near the Kabul airport, carried out by suicide bombers. Biden told the perpetrators, suspected Islamic State fighters, "we are not done with you yet."

Though Biden seemed defiant in the speech, he owned the withdrawal, which he said he had made with advice from civilian and military advisors when faced with only two options for Afghanistan: escalate the war or leave.

"I take responsibility for the decision," he said.

The scale of the airlift of 120,000 people -- including about 5,500 U.S. citizens -- out of Afghanistan since mid-August was an "extraordinary success" and one of the biggest airlifts in history, he said, due to the skill and professionalism of the military, diplomats and other intelligence personnel.

"That number is more than double what most experts thought were possible. No nation -- no nation has ever done anything like it in all of history. Only the United States had the capacity and the will and the ability to do it, and we did it today," Biden added.

He thanked those welcoming Afghan refugees around the world, including those in the U.S., and though efforts would continue to defend their human rights, he said he simply had refused "to send another generation of America’s sons and daughters to fight a war that should have ended long ago."

"The fundamental obligation of a president, in my opinion, is to defend and protect America -- not against threats of 2001, but against the threats of 2021 and tomorrow," he said.

Indiana Catholic takes part in national 'Biking for Babies' ride

INDIANAPOLIS (CNS) ─ This is the way Emily Mastronicola dreamed it would be.

On the last day of a grueling, weeklong journey that tested people's hearts and spirits, the 26-year-old Catholic woman from Indianapolis took the lead of a team of cyclists preparing to meet with other groups from across the country for a triumphant, last-mile ride together toward the "Celebration of Life" finish line in St. Louis.

Even the challenge of riding her bike up a 15-mile stretch of daunting hills couldn't sap the joy that Mastronicola was feeling July 17, the final day of the national ride of "Biking for Babies."

The pro-life organization's mission is: "renewing the culture of life, one pedal and one pregnancy resource center at a time."

With those 15 miles behind her -- on a day when she rode 120 miles -- Mastronicola could not stop smiling as she lined up with the other 49 riders who had biked from Ohio, Alabama, Colorado and Wisconsin for that final mile together.

"Everyone was so tired but full of joy to be there and meet the other people," she recalled. "Riding in together was beautiful, really beautiful."

All her training since February, and the setbacks along the way, faded in that moment of knowing that everyone had poured everything they had into raising money and awareness to help pregnancy resource centers provide free services to young women and families in crisis -- all with the goal of standing for human life.

The pursuit of that goal also led Mastronicola to a personal revelation.

"Your goal is to transform the culture of life, but I feel like the ride really transforms you," she told The Criterion, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. "I definitely came home a different person."

That's where the full story -- the highs, the setbacks, the bonds, the self-discovery -- of Mastronicola's life-changing journey begins.

She was the only cyclist from Indiana when the 600-mile journey began July 11 in Columbus, Ohio. There, she joined 15 other members of the eastern route contingent, all between the ages of 18 and 35. There was also a priest from Virginia and riders from California, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

Mastronicola's passion for the pro-life movement has increased since she started working for the Indianapolis Archdiocese's Office of Youth Ministry in 2018. Yet while she enjoys endurance sports, she initially resisted the idea of joining the national ride.

"The more I resisted it, the more the Lord placed people in my life and affirmed that this was something I needed to do, to help me grow as a person," she said. "I felt called to be a witness for my community.

"Post-ride, as I look back on that, I know preparing for the ride was not easy, and I know the ride itself was not easy, but neither is defending life."

Mastronicola experienced how difficult her commitment can be.

A few weeks before the ride, she sustained an ankle injury that was bad enough to sideline her training. She was concerned that she would not be able to take part.

She recovered in time, but a combination of dehydration, physical sickness and a touch of vertigo limited the miles she was able to ride the first two days. Still, she got back on the bike for the Dayton to Indianapolis leg, gutting out 60 miles on that part of the trip.

"This was something I wanted to share with my friends and family," she said.

That stretch took a physical and mental toll, making Mastronicola do the last thing she wanted to do: stay behind.

As the other riders continued to Terre Haute, Indiana, the next morning, Mastronicola focused on regaining her strength and energy for two days.

"I was expecting to be tired that week. I wasn't expecting to have as many issues as I had," she said. "So there were definitely times of just feeling really desolate."

In the midst of those feelings, she received a message from one of her teammates: "Emily, I know this was really hard for you to do, but I think this was so mature of you to step away."

Mastronicola viewed it a sign of the bond the riders and the support group had formed and that everyone was there for her when she became ill.

The young rider did her best to return the favor. She prayed for everyone on the ride and affirmed them with positive messages. Regaining her strength, she wanted to return to the ride.

"There's a lot of humility and redemptive suffering with that," she said. "Even Jesus fell three times and he was able to get back up. The important thing when you do fall is to get back up, not to stay down.

"What gets you back up on the bike after you fall is remembering who you are riding for. ... The ride is beautiful, but you're doing it for these pregnancy resource centers, to advocate for them and the services they offer."

Mastronicola rejoined her group near Springfield, Illinois, and was greeted by warm hugs. The smiles continued the following morning when Mastronicola gave each team member a pair of socks depicting the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, patroness of unborn children. The bikers wore them for the final stretch.

She rode 120 miles to St. Louis that day, leading to another defining moment when her eastern group met the teams from the south, west and north.

Now, Mastronicola hopes her efforts and the efforts of all the riders will benefit people she likely will never meet: the young women and families in crisis who benefit from pregnancy resource centers, the children whose parents choose life.

"Going forth, the ride is only the beginning," she said. "The mission continues as we restore a culture of life -- within ourselves, our communities and the world."

- - -

Shaughnessy is assistant editor of The Criterion, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

German Christian Democratic chancellor candidate has been active Catholic

BERLIN (CNS) ─ Armin Laschet, candidate for chancellor of Germany's ruling Christian Democratic Union, hopes to succeed Angela Merkel to the highest German political office.

But in the latest polls, Laschet and his party have taken a sharp drop and are now lagging behind the Social Democratic Party, the current junior coalition party in Merkel's government. The Sept. 26 election remains wide open.

If Laschet wins, Germany would have its first Catholic chancellor since Helmut Kohl's 16-year term ended in 1998.

Laschet ─ currently the governor of North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany's most populous state ─ is a former member of the General Assembly of the Central Committee of German Catholics and the former editor of a Catholic newspaper, KirchenZeitung, in Aachen.

In June, Der Spiegel, the weekly magazine, wrote: "Laschet is a Catholic, he talks about it, he professes it. The CDU candidate for chancellor is not just a member of the Catholic Church. He is deeply rooted in it."

More than most German politicians in an increasingly secular society, he has, over the years, often spoken about his Catholic faith and what it means for him in daily life.

"My political decisions are based on the Christian vision (understanding) of man," Laschet has said.

Last October, Laschet had his third private audience with Pope Francis at the Vatican. He said they spoke about the pope's encyclical, "Fratelli Tutti," and about the German refugee policy. Afterward, Laschet met with Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican secretary of state.

In late August, North Rhine-Westphalia announced its intention to provide 1,000 refugee placements specifically for Afghan women. On Aug. 23, Laschet personally welcomed Afghan women's rights activist Zarifa Ghafari to his state and the city of Düsseldorf. After the meeting, Laschet called her "one of the most committed women in Afghanistan."

Laschet grew up in the predominantly Catholic area of Aachen, literally on the border of the Netherlands and Belgium. He and is seen as a Rhineland Catholic ─ a type of Catholicism closely linked to the Carnival rituals that takes place every year in towns and cities along the Rhine. Rhineland Catholics are seen as jovial people.

Living close to the border of two other European states meant that, from a young age, Laschet was pro-European Union. He served as a member of the European Parliament from 1999 to 2005.

In the Aachen suburb of Burtscheid, he went to Catholic primary and high schools. He was very active in his local parish, where he did youth work, was an altar server and sang in the church choir. The parish is also where he met his future wife, Susanne Malangré. According to several reports, as a teenager Laschet briefly considered becoming a priest, but then decided to study law. During his studies in Munich and Bonn, he was a member of two Catholic student fraternities.

But the former priest in his Burtscheid parish, Msgr. Heribert August, who has known Laschet since he was a teenager and officiated at his wedding, told Der Spiegel in April that although his faith has an influence on his life, Laschet is not as Catholic as he is made out to be in the media.

"As a young man, he was not someone who folded his hands all the time. He is more Christian than Catholic," Msgr. August told Der Spiegel.

"He has learned charity, fairness, loyalty. He has a religiously based composure, he has the strength to endure the complicated moments, and the trust in God that things will work out for the good."

He added that Laschet is not one to be "whiny or complaining" when there are problems. Shortly after, he stopped giving interviews at the request of Susanne Laschet.

Armin Laschet has faced some problems during the election campaign. One German commentator said he has a propensity for putting his foot in his mouth and has made mistakes from which he may not recover to gain the voter's trust in time for the election.

In mid-July, during the worst floods in a century in Germany, Laschet visited some of the affected areas of his state. He was seen on TV footage joking and laughing in the background while German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier addressed the media and aid workers. The result was an uproar on social media, and Laschet later apologized.

On Sept. 1, Catholic and Protestant church leaders issued a joint election statement calling for a commitment to human dignity, justice and solidarity and demanding a clear, unequivocal stand against extremism, "populist mood-mongering and inflammatory speech," reported the German Catholic news agency, KNA.

They gave four specific areas where the next government needed to take action: in social and labor market policy, technology and digital change, climate change and a refugee and asylum policy "oriented towards the dignity and the needs of people."

The statement did not endorse any candidate.

Michigan’s Catholic colleges take varied approaches to mask, vaccine mandates

Detroit Mercy is requiring vaccinations, while Madonna, Siena Heights and Aquinas are ‘strongly encouraging’ inoculation

DETROIT  As Michigan’s four Catholic colleges return to classes, the return of students this week marks the return of COVID-19 concerns. 

Across the four schools — including two in the Archdiocese of Detroit — administrators are taking different approaches to masking and vaccination requirements as the delta variant continues to spread throughout the state. 

In the Archdiocese of Detroit, the University of Detroit Mercy and Madonna University in Livonia have set their own coronavirus protocols, complete with indoor mask requirements, while the two out-state Catholic colleges — Siena Heights University in Adrian and Aquinas College in Grand Rapids — have done the same. 

The University of Detroit Mercy has taken the added step of mandating all students and faculty get vaccinated before coming on campus, while Madonna is using a less direct approach, hosting a “Get Vaccinated and Win!” contest to encourage more students to get vaccinated with a chance to win tuition money. 

Siena Heights and Aquinas College also aren’t mandating students get the vaccine, instead appealing to their Dominican values of caring for the community in encouraging students to get the shot. 

Detroit Mercy mandating vaccinations 

The Jesuit- and Mercy-run University of Detroit Mercy announced June 10 it would require all students, staff and faculty to be vaccinated by Aug. 16 in order to return to campus. 

“Detroit Mercy believes this decision is in the best interest of our community and is an important step toward returning to a more traditional experience of face-to-face instruction and events for students, and employees working alongside their colleagues,” the university said on it website. 

University of Detroit Mercy’s campus ministry welcomes students to campus for the 2021-22 academic year. The university is requiring all students be vaccinated this year, along with wearing masks indoors and at some outdoor events, in accordance with guidelines from the Wayne County Health Department. (Photo courtesy Detroit Mercy Marketing and Communications)

The university has a “Titans Together” COVID-19 information page that includes the number of active cases at the university and the cumulative cases the university has experienced since the pandemic began. As of Sept. 1, the school had three active case and 345 cumulative cases. Students and staff can fill out a COVID-19 referral report of anyone, be it themselves or someone they know, who is experiencing symptoms. 

On Aug. 5, the school announced all indoor activity would require the use of masks, regardless of one’s vaccination status. 

The school also has an online travel assessment form asking for a student’s name, email address, primary role at the university (residential or non-residential) along with the purpose of their travel on or off campus and their vaccination status. 

Those who are not fully vaccinated are asked to complete the form before returning to campus. While the university plans to have on-campus events throughout the year, it is asking all students, vaccinated or not, to be wary of others’ concerns. 

Fr. Gilbert Sunghera, SJ and Fr. Mark George, SJ, offer themselves as “Rent-a-Priests” to bless dorm rooms to begin the academic year at University of Detroit Mercy. (Photo courtesy Detroit Mercy Marketing and Communication Office)

Madonna organizes ‘Vax to Win!’ incentive 

While Madonna University is planning in-person classes this year, like all Wayne County schools, students and faculty will be asked to wear masks while indoors. 

Rather than mandating vaccination, however, the Felician-run school is encouraging students and staff to get the shot through a tuition-giveaway event. 

“Our plan balances respect for the individual concerns, beliefs and risks of each member of our community,” the school’s website said. “We will continue to monitor pandemic safety requirements as they evolve from the Federal Government, the State of Michigan, and county health departments, as well as the recommendations from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention.” 

The school’s campus health center provides updated information about the virus in the community, and plans to coordinate vaccination clinics as needed. 

Throughout the summer, Madonna has been conducting its “Get Vaccinated and Win!” campaign, working with the White House and the U.S. Department of Education to provide weekly drawings worth $1,000 in tuition credits to vaccinated undergraduate and graduate students. 

“Cruzer the Crusader,” Madonna University’s mascot, dons a mask as he helps students move into their dorms in 2020. This year, Madonna isn’t mandating vaccines, but instead “strongly encourages” students and faculty to get the shot. (Courtesy of Madonna University)

The school has done nine drawings so far, with another scheduled for Sept. 3. 

Madonna also is asking students, faculty and staff to take preventive measures regarding personal hygiene and social distancing, including avoiding campus while sick, self-isolating when experiencing COVID symptoms and reporting any positive cases. 

Before move-in day, students were required to complete a COVID-19 test and submit a negative test result five days before moving into the residential halls. For the fall semester, only registered Madonna University students may be guests in the residence halls. 

Siena Heights and Aquinas encourage vaccinations, but won’t require them 

Sr. Peg Albert, OP, president of Siena Heights University, has a letter posted on the university’s website welcoming back all students, faculty and staff to the Adrian school and outlining its COVID-19 policies. 

“Although COVID-19 continues to influence our lives, we want to offer the safest environment that we can to our students, professors and staff,” Sr. Albert wrote. “If you haven’t already, I would encourage you, if you are able, to get vaccinated. Although Siena Heights will not mandate vaccinations on the Adrian campus for the 2021-22 academic year, we strongly encourage you do so.” 

In the university’s COVID-19 guidelines, it does note off-campus experiences such as clinical placements, experiential learning activities or programs may require vaccination. 

Those who are fully vaccinated are not required to wear a mask when indoors or outdoors, but the school is asking them to be sensitive to others’ dispositions and adhere to changing mandates from the Lenawee County Health Department. 

For those who are unvaccinated, face coverings will be required while indoors unless alone or in a room separated by six feet of distance from others, and unvaccinated students will undergo random sampling. 

Students, faculty and staff who voluntarily reveal they are fully vaccinated will not have to automatically quarantine when they come into contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, whereas students who have not been vaccinated or have chosen not to reveal their vaccination status will be expected to quarantine if contact tracing shows they were near someone who is experiencing symptoms. 

Signs at Bennett College in Greensboro, N.C., remind students to wear their masks Aug. 30, 2021, amid the coronavirus pandemic. Catholic colleges across Michigan and the country have been updating its COVID protocols with the developing situation with the Delta variant. (CNS photo/Gabrielle Crockett, Reuters)

Students who are required to isolate will be expected to continue their academic requirements remotely. 

Meanwhile, in Grand Rapids, Aquinas College will require all people in indoor settings, including student activities, athletic activities, training and events, to wear masks, regardless of vaccination status. 

Masks aren’t required for students inside their own residential facility or with members of one’s household. 

The college’s Our Lady Seat of Wisdom Chapel, per guidelines set by the Diocese of Grand Rapids, strongly recommends visitors wear masks during Mass and gatherings at the chapel

Students are not required be vaccinated at Aquinas, but those who are will not be subject to contact tracing and or self-isolation upon coming into contact with a person who tests positive for COVID, provided they show no symptoms. 

“Our Catholic and Dominican heritage calls us to care for others, particularly the most in need,” Aquinas College President Kevin G. Quinn said on the school’s website. “We are a community of caring, so we each have individual responsibility to others on our campus. It will require the cooperation of all of us to ensure that our campus is as safe as possible.” 

As part of the college’s effort to encourage the vaccine, Aquinas has listed resources on where one could get a COVID-19 vaccine, along with a statement from the seven Catholic bishops on Michigan on the moral permissiveness of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines and a letter from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on the moral acceptability of receiving the shots. 

As Michigan’s marijuana industry grows, what does the Church teach on cannabis?

Marijuana use is covered by the Catechism’s teachings on physical and emotional health as a gift from God, local moral theologian says

DETROIT — In Michigan, the signs are everywhere. 

Driving down Interstate 94 in either direction, drivers are confronted with a host of billboards advertising specialty cannabis, kush delivery services, 1-800-get your medical marijuana card here –– it’s hard not to notice. 

Michigan legalized medical marijuana in 2008, and 10 years later, Proposal 1 passed, allowing for the legalized sale of marijuana beginning in 2019. At the time, Michigan was the 10th state to pass such a law; today, 19 states allow recreational use, plus Guam and the District of Columbia. 

In a recent study led by the Anderson Economic Group out of East Lansing, as commissioned by the Michigan Cannabis Manufacturers Association, Michigan had a nearly $3.2 billion cannabis market in 2020, including both recreational and medicinal usage. 

For all intents and purposes, the marijuana industry is blooming in Michigan, and its prevalence is nearly impossible to ignore. 

So where does the Catholic Church stand on this increasingly polarizing topic, and how should the 1.3 million Catholics in the Archdiocese of Detroit respond when asked whether medical and recreational marijuana is morally and ethically permissible?

The answer, like its subject, can appear hazy, but in fact is rooted in the Catechism of the Catholic Church’s teachings regarding physical and emotional health as a gift from God.  

Although marijuana is not explicitly mentioned by name, Fr. Peter Ryan, SJ, professor of moral theology at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, said the Catechism addresses the topic under its treatment of respect for life and health. A person’s physical health is a gift that ought to be taken care of for the person’s benefit and for the benefit of others, Fr. Ryan said. 

“We have to respect the life of the body, and at the same time, we have to avoid excesses with respect to various things, including food, alcohol, tobacco or medicine,” Fr. Ryan said. 

Specifically, paragraph 2291 of the Catechism touches on the use of drugs outside of a therapeutic setting, Fr. Ryan said. 

A marijuana leaf is displayed in 2012 at the Canna Pi medical marijuana dispensary in Seattle. (CNS photo/Anthony Bolante, Reuters)

“It says the use of drugs inflicts very grave damage on human health and life –– it means the use of it when it’s not warranted,” Fr. Ryan explained to Detroit Catholic. “Their use, except on strictly therapeutic grounds, is a grave offense, (as is) clandestine production of and trafficking in drugs or scandalous practices. And so, they obviously have to be avoided.”

Fr. Ryan said this passage extends to any psychoactive substance, which can include the mildest such as coffee, tea and aspirin, to the severe, such as LSD, heroin and cocaine. While some of these substances can be used within reason –– Fr. Ryan was careful to point out that not all of them can be used reasonably –– the use is often a matter of context and purpose, especially if used to promote health. 

“Even when you’re using them rightly to promote health, you have to be very concerned about side effects,” Fr. Ryan said. “Any merely emotionally motivated choice to use some substance, including cannabis, is an abuse.”

In other words, Fr. Ryan said, if a person is doing it without some good in view, and is simply seeking the altered state of consciousness as an end in itself, then that itself is unreasonable use. 

However, if used reasonably for medical purposes, it can be permissible in some cases, although Fr. Ryan expressed doubts as to whether medical wellness was Michigan’s true purported reason for legalization. 

Marijuana is a Schedule 1 substance, which is defined as a substance with a high potential for abuse, no current widely accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, and a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision. 

In a statement before an audience with the 31st International Drug Enforcement Conference in June 2014, Pope Francis stated explicitly that the use of illicit drugs is an evil where there can be “no yielding or compromising.”

People wait for the "high noon" grand opening at Cannabis City July 8, the first day of legal retail marijuana sales in Seattle in 2014. (CNS photo/Jason Redmond, Reuters)

“To think that harm can be reduced by permitting drug addicts to use narcotics in no way resolves the problem,” Pope Francis said at the time. “Attempts, however limited, to legalize so-called ‘recreational drugs’ are not only highly questionable from a legislative standpoint, but they fail to produce the desired effects.”

When Michigan’s ballot proposal was before voters, the Michigan Catholic Conference — backed by the bishops of the state’s seven dioceses — urged a “no” vote, citing negative consequences for emotional and physical wellbeing in other states, particularly among teenagers. 

Regarding marijuana as an acceptable alternative to “harder” drugs, Pope Francis was clear that any drug use for recreational purposes is illicit. 

“Substitute drugs are not an adequate therapy but rather a veiled means of surrendering to the phenomenon,” the pope said. “No to every type of drug use. It is as simple as that. … But to say this ‘no,’ one has to say ‘yes’ to life, ‘yes’ to love, ‘yes’ to others, ‘yes’ to education, ‘yes’ to greater job opportunities. If we say ‘yes’ to all these things, there will be no room for illicit drugs, for alcohol abuse, for other forms of addiction.”

Is prescribing medical marijuana ethically and morally permissible? 

For Dr. William Chavey, a Catholic physician practicing in southeast Michigan, the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes has not been proven to the point where he believes it can be morally justified and ethically prescribed. 

“We need better understanding of the risks and benefits of medical marijuana before we can answer whether it is ethically permissible,” Dr. Chavey told Detroit Catholic

Dr. Chavey, who practices with Emmaus Health Partners in Ann Arbor, said some attempt to use the social and legal acceptability of alcohol to justify the legalization and use of marijuana for both medical and recreational purposes. But while the science surrounding the risks of alcohol is widely available, marijuana research is not as robust. 

“With marijuana, I am not aware of any data that is complimentary,” Dr. Chavey said. “There are a lot of purported benefits of marijuana in terms of things like anxiety and well-being and things like that. The literature is mixed; I am really not seeing an evolving consistent pattern in the literature that marijuana is helpful in those regards, and so for the most part I would say that marijuana is more recreational than it is medicinal.”

Some physicians prescribe medical marijuana to treat pain, nausea and spasticity, but Dr. Chavey said the research regarding whether such treatment actually helps is unclear. While an individual might feel benefits, and some medical fields have found more use for it than others — Dr. Chavey referenced oncology as an example — Dr. Chavey said as a physician, he is making decisions based on aggregate data. 

An employee measures and fills 1-gram bags of marijuana for retail sale at Sea of Green Farms in Seattle. Medical and recreational marijuana laws have expanded nationally in a relatively short period. (CNS photo/Jason Redmond, Reuters) 

“I think as the literature becomes more robust, we will have a better sense of the risk-benefit ratio,” Dr. Chavey said. “And I think as we understand the risk-benefit ratio, we will be better able to answer the question of whether it would be ethical to prescribe medical marijuana.”

Considering the lack of research and the Church’s teachings on the use of drugs and other mind-altering substances, Fr. Ryan said Catholics should avoid ingesting marijuana for medical or recreational purposes. 

“You’ve got to ask yourself, all things considered, ‘What's the most likely thing to help with my health and help me with the health issue that I’m dealing with?’” Fr. Ryan said. “I think it’s going to be hard to say that the most likely thing that’s going to help me is marijuana. 

“If you really do come to that conclusion after actually weighing the issue, and you’re excluding emotional motivations and simply are just really trying to deal with the issue as well as you can, and you don’t have any other way of attaining the good end you’re seeking, then it could be OK. However, I’m skeptical that a person is likely to be able to come to that conclusion.” 

Laywoman assumes high position at Vatican's Latin America commission

VATICAN CITY (CNS) –– Pope Francis appointed Argentine theologian Emilce Cuda as the new head of office of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, a position she assumes Sept. 1. A laywoman and mother of two, Cuda will work with the new secretary, Rodrigo Guerra López, a Mexican philosophy professor and also a layman.

Cuda's nomination was seen in the South American country as a sign of Pope Francis' ongoing struggle against clericalism and as an important step to increase women's presence in the church hierarchy.

"I think her appointment is historic. Normally, very important positions like that are filled by members of the clergy," said Carlos Custer, a former Argentine ambassador to the Vatican.

A theology and political science professor at the Pontifical Catholic University of Argentina, she also works at the National University Arturo Jauretche, a state university, something that is not common among theologians in Latin America. She has been an invited professor at the University of Buenos Aires and at a number of U.S. institutions, including the University of St. Thomas and Boston College.

Custer, a labor leader and political activist, stressed that Cuda is not only "an important intellectual, but also a person who has intimate relations with the labor movement in Argentina and Latin America.”

"The Argentine labor movement has been strongly influenced by the church's social doctrine. There is a deep Christian humanism in the ideas of the working people. Emilce Cuda is a scholar, but she is also a person who follows the social and labor movements," he told CNS.

Custer first met Cuda years ago during an annual meeting of the bishops' social ministry; she was one of the speakers. Many trade unions and popular movements invite her to share her political and theological visions, he said.

One of them is the Latin American movement of base ecclesial communities, known in Portuguese and Spanish by the acronym CEBs. Francisco Bosch, an Argentine theologian and base communities activist, attended their regional conference in Ecuador in March 2020, only a few days before the outbreak of COVID-19.

"Emilce Cuda told the attendants, who had come from several Latin American countries, that one of our fundamental tasks was to re-enchant the world through the encounter of faith and politics from our Latin American perspective. That was very meaningful then and continues to be now," he told CNS.

Bosch defines Cuda as a "bridge-builder," a woman with a gift to promote dialogue, and an organizer who is always concerned with the "structuring of a collectivist spirit.”

Her ideas have emerged in the Argentine Catholicism's particular context, greatly influenced not only by the labor movement but also by the so-called theology of the people, a theological current related to liberation theology and centered on the people as a historical-cultural subject.

"Emilce Cuda was very close to (Jesuit Father and theologian Juan Carlos) Scannone, one of the theology of the people's main thinkers. But she developed her own kind of political theology," explained Maria Clara Bingemer, a theology professor at the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro.

Bingemer, who has met Cuda at several academic congresses over the years and became her friend, said one of her challenges will be to increase the "dialogue between the Global North and the Global South." Bingemer said Cuda is probably in a particularly favorable position to do so: Married to an American, she spends part of the year at their Arizona house.

"I think it is very important that a married woman, a mother has been appointed. Latin America still has a misogynistic and clericalist mentality," Bingemer added.

Guerra, the new secretary, stressed that his and Cuda's nominations are part of "Pope Francis' process of transformation of the church's structures.”

"We usually blame the clergy for clericalism, but it is really a disease that affects everybody, including laypeople," he told CNS.

By appointing laymen and women to occupy high positions, the pope is showing people that a deep transformation must take place among Catholics, both the clergy and the churchgoers, he said.

It is not a coincidence that a layperson and not a member of the clergy has written one of the most comprehensive works on Pope Francis' thinking. Cuda is the author of "Para Leer a Francisco: Teologia, etica y politica" ("Reading Francis -- Theology, Ethics, and Politics"), in which she discusses the central elements of his ideas and relates them with the Argentine and Latin American theological context.

"That is how I first met Emilce Cuda, by reading her book. The poor people appear in it as history's central character," Auxiliary Bishop Gustavo Carrara of Buenos Aires told CNS.

Bishop Carrara said Cuda's synthesis of Pope Francis' thought emphasizes the church's relations with the labor world, including the people who have been excluded from it by neoliberalism.

"That is what Blessed Enrique Angelelli (an Argentine bishop and member of the theology of the people movement) professed: One must keep one ear to the Gospel and one ear to the people," he added.

Over the past few years, Cuda has been an adviser to the Latin American bishops' council, which gave her the opportunity to learn more about the church's challenges in the entire region.

Now, she and Guerra will be the intermediaries between the Vatican and the Latin American church, Custer said.

"Pope Francis' work for Latin America will be mediated by them, and they will also take the needs of the church in the region to the pope," he said.

'Laudato Si' inspires young adults to faith-based action on climate change

OMAHA, Nebraska (CNS) –– It was after reading Pope Francis' encyclical, "Laudato Si', on Care for Our Common Home," that Emily Burke began wondering what she, as a student at Jesuit-run Creighton University, could do to help protect the environment.

"I was really energized," Burke recalled after reading the teaching document. "That message informed my time at Creighton.”

She became involved in a student-led campaign to convince university trustees to divest school resources from fossil fuel companies. The work, rooted in church teaching, led school officials to announce Dec. 31, 2020, that full divestment would occur within a decade.

Burke and other students had something to celebrate and realized their generation could make a difference.

After graduating from Creighton in May, Burke, 22, is ready to turn the pope's teaching into a career as she begins doctoral studies this fall in community and environmental sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

She is among a growing cadre of young adults who have been inspired by Pope Francis' calls to understand the integral connection between people and the Earth, care for creation and the harmful effects of climate change on all life.

Burke's role in the divestment movement led to an invitation to be a leader of the young adult track during the Catholic Climate Covenant's second biennial "Laudato Si' and the U.S. Catholic Church" conference in July. The conference saw more than 2,700 participants join a series of online programs to learn more about how to bring the encyclical's teaching on climate change into the U.S. church.

"It's excited a lot of people who were at the conference to realize that there's a mass of young people who are trying to move the needle on climate within the Catholic context," Burke said of the three-day online conference.

The interest and energy expressed by young adults is understandable, said Dan Misleh, executive director of the Catholic Climate Covenant. "Young people are concerned about the future," he told Catholic News Service.

The Catholic climate group is looking to tap that energy by encouraging young people to "challenge their own parish and diocesan leaders to listen to them and their concerns and to take creation care as seriously as the science demands," Misleh said.

He also expressed hope that the work on environmental concerns can be an evangelizing tool directed at young adults by helping them understand they can "fix their future with their faith.”

Annapatrice Johnson, 32, team leader for young adult empowerment for Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers, coordinated the young adult track for the conference from her base in Seattle. She said young people have a "feeling of angst of the impending doom" and want to be involved in protecting the Earth for future generations.

Sessions during the conference were designed to give participants skills in organizing, tools for action and ways to determine where they can impact the church's members to make creation care a priority, Johnson explained.

Participants came to realize they were not alone in their concerns and that they have the ability to influence parish and diocesan leaders when it comes to climate advocacy that is rooted in Catholic social teaching and backed by the pope's own words.

"What can the church do?" she asked. "Start changing the narrative. There's a lot of language that talks about us caring for creation, but we separate from it. We have to realize we are integrally connected. We're not different. We need to see ourselves as part of creation rather than apart from creation.”

It's the words of Pope Francis that have influenced the work of Brenda Noriega-Flores in different venues from the diocesan level to individual lifestyle choices.

At World Youth Day 2019 in Panama, Noriega-Flores, led a contingent from the Diocese of San Bernardino, California, where she was young adult ministry coordinator. She was invited with other young adults to attend a lunch with the pope where they discussed various issues, including climate change. She was struck by the pope's concern that the window to act to prevent climate catastrophe was limited.

"I realized there's no time to waste," she said. "He made me reflect about how I was living my own life."

In her ministries since, most recently working alongside Johnson with Maryknoll, Noriega-Flores has made Laudato Si' the primary focus of her work. She said she has shared its message with other young adults, including Latino farmworkers in California.

"For me, it implores me to live it myself and teach others," Noriega-Flores said.

Personally, that meant planning for her wedding July 24, 2021, at Our Lady of Victory Church in Fresno, California, to be a simple celebration: traditional cotton clothing reflecting her and her husband's Mexican heritage, simple wedding bands made of recycled gold, and a reception at a restaurant with only the closest family and friends present.

"Some would ask, 'Isn't this too much?' I said, 'No, we want to live the Franciscan life,'" she explained. "This is the sacrament of marriage and let's get it out of the marketing."

Another conference participant, Colby Cox, 24, joined sessions from Germany, where he serves as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army. He said he was glad to know that other young people share his concerns about a warming planet.

Cox grew up as a member of the Southern Baptist convention and became Catholic in college. While going through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults a deacon told him about the Catholic Climate Covenant's work on the environment and he has been exploring church teaching on the topic ever since.

His interest lies in the science of climate change. Cox told CNS he wants to use his interest in science to verify for himself the effects of global warming. "When you see (the effects) in every sphere of what you study," he said, "you ask, 'What's the root cause?'”

The consequences of climate change are readily apparent to Teresa Tsosie, director of religious education at St. Jude Parish in Tuba City, Arizona, where she serves the Navajo people. Her work around climate issues got the attention of Johnson, who invited her to join the conference as a track leader.

The farms and grazing land of the Navajo are experiencing prolonged drought, something that Tsosie, 34, said she does not recall from her childhood. She tells how her grandmother was a sheepherder, but that these days it is difficult for the Navajo people to keep animals. She cited a recent memo from Navajo leaders that called for ranchers to reduce the size of their herds because of a water shortage.

Such realities have spearheaded Tsosie to lead an effort to reduce waste at St. Jude by ending the use of single-use cups and containers. She also has made connections among Native Americans between traditional teaching on the necessity to respect Earth and the papal encyclical similar call.

"As a Native American, you're always taught from when you're small you have to take care of Mother Earth and she takes care of you, she returns it to you," Tsosie said.

As a Native American, she told CNS she also is motivated to act to protect the planet for her 11-year-old nephew. She's concerned because it has become rare for him to see snow, or even much rain, during northern Arizona winters.

"I wonder what the world will be like for him," she said. "We're trying to save the planet for the younger generation."

Not all 'eventualities' considered in Afghanistan withdrawal, pope says

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — The chaotic withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan was due in part to a lack of foreseeing all possible eventualities, Pope Francis said in a new interview.

"The way to negotiate a withdrawal, an exit, from what we see here it seems that –– I don't want to judge –– not all the eventualities were taken into account," the pope said in an excerpt of an interview with COPE, the radio network owned by the Spanish bishops' conference, released Aug. 31.

During the 90-minute interview, which will be broadcast Sept. 1, the pope will address health concerns, the legalization of euthanasia in Spain, the question of Catalan independence as well as the situation in Afghanistan, COPE said.

When asked if the Vatican could use its diplomatic power to discourage the new regime from waging reprisals against the people, the pope said, "Yes, in fact, the secretary of state (Cardinal Pietro Parolin) is doing that.”

During his Sunday Angelus address Aug. 29, the pope appealed to all Christians to fast and intensify their prayers for Afghanistan in the wake of increased violence in the country.

"I ask everyone to continue to help the needy and to pray that dialogue and solidarity may lead to the establishment of a peaceful and fraternal coexistence and offer hope for the country's future," he said, after praying the Angelus with visitors in St. Peter’s Square Aug. 29.

He said he had been following the news out of Afghanistan "with great concern.”

"I take part in the suffering of those who are grieving for the persons who lost their lives in the suicide attacks that happened last Thursday and of those who are seeking help and protection," he said.

The pope was referring to the Aug. 26 attack when a suicide bomber detonated an explosion among the crowds of people desperate to leave the country at the gate of the Hamid Karzai International Airport. The blast killed at least 169 civilians and 13 U.S. service members, who were set to withdraw from the country by Aug. 31. Thousands of Afghans were seeking to be evacuated as well. The Islamic State claimed responsibility, saying the suicide bomber was targeting Afghan collaborators with the U.S. Army.

The pope said, "I entrust the deceased to the mercy of almighty God and I thank those who are striving to help" the people who have been through so much, in particular the women and children.

"In historic moments like this one, we cannot remain indifferent; the history of the church teaches us this," he said.

"As Christians this situation obligates us," he said, launching an appeal to everyone "to intensify your prayer and practice fasting. Prayer and fasting, prayer and penance. This is the moment to do so. I am speaking seriously: intensify your prayer and practice fasting, asking the Lord for mercy and forgiveness.”

Jesuit brother’s Lake Michigan swim raises funds for Cristo Rey school

CHICAGO (CNS) -- Jesuit Brother Matt Wooters went the extra mile, or extra eight miles actually, to raise money for Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Chicago.

On Aug. 18, he swam eight miles in Lake Michigan, starting near Loyola University Chicago and finishing at the Navy Pier to celebrate the founding of the Cristo Rey school and attempt to raise at least $25,000 for it.

The Chicago school was the first school in what has become the national Cristo Rey Network. The schools operate on a unique model where students receive a college-preparatory education and spend five eight-hour days a month working at local corporations gaining valuable work experience and earning about 60% of their tuition.

Brother Wooters, 34, has served on the school's board for six years. The day before his swim, he had raised over $27,000 for the school.

He started swimming when he was 5 and competed on swim teams until he entered college. He took up swimming again during the pandemic.

In May, he got the idea to do a long swim to raise money for Cristo Rey's anniversary.

"I pitched this idea to (the school) and they thought I was nuts," Brother Wooters said.

He said he liked that his swim route "models the pipeline of success for Cristo Rey grads from higher ed to downtown -- from Loyola to Navy Pier.”

He also deliberately set his course at a length of which qualifies as a marathon for swimming.

Principal Lucas Schroder confirmed that he questioned Brother Wooters' sanity upon learning of his plan.

"I thought he was crazy, but it didn't shock me, let's put it that way," Schroder joked. "I said, 'Well, at least that makes sense for him, but I still think he's nuts.'”

He said the Jesuit brother has been an asset to the school in his role on the board.

"It's really incredible to us that he's willing to do this for us," Schroder told the Chicago Catholic, archdiocesan newspaper.

Brother Wooters trained by swimming in the lake four times a week for about two hours at a time. He expected it to take between four and five hours to swim the eight miles accompanied by a boat.

The brother is a native of Washington, D.C., and moved to Chicago in July. Trained as a therapist and having worked with migrant communities for many years, he now serves as a vocations promoter for the Midwest Jesuits.

"God can use everything. When I joined the Jesuits, I never thought swimming would be part of my life again," he said.

This endeavor has combined his passion for swimming and his passion for Jesuit life.

"When I'm swimming, I'm praying for the students and I'm praying for an end to the migrant crisis," he said. "I'm delighted to raise awareness of Cristo Rey.”

Describing the school, he said that in today's world where companies are seeking to diversify their staff, the students are assets to the places they work.

"The students have value. They're not just the recipients of charity," Brother Wooters said. "Their experience is incredible and different from yours and mine.”

Cardinal calls on monastic communities to pray ahead of synod

VATICAN CITY (CNS) –– Without prayer, especially from the many religious men and women in contemplative life, the journey of the next Synod of Bishops "will surely not bear the hoped-for fruit," said Cardinal Mario Grech, secretary-general of the Synod of Bishops.

"Today I, as interpreter of the meaning that the pope wants to give to the synodal path, ask you: Pray for the synod!" Cardinal Grech wrote in an Aug. 28 letter addressed to monastic communities around the world.

"You are for everyone, as were the Levites and the priests in the psalm, 'ministers of prayer' who, through praise and intercession, remind everyone that without communion with God, there can be no communion among ourselves," he said.

The theme chosen by the pope for the next synod is: "For a synodal church: communion, participation and mission.”

The pope will formally open the synod process at the Vatican Oct. 9-10 this year, the synod office said. The bishop of every diocese will open the process in his diocese Oct. 17.

Cardinal Grech told Vatican News in May that, although originally scheduled for 2022, the synod will take place in October 2023 to allow for broader consultation at the diocesan, national and regional level.

In revisions to the synod process announced in May, Pope Francis asked that it begin with consultations with laypeople on the diocesan level before the discussion and discernment moved to a national level, then to the 2023 synod assembly itself.

In his letter, Cardinal Grech said that with the opening of the synod process in October, he wished to reach out to the monastic communities "because you are custodians and witnesses of a fundamental reality for the synodal process that our Holy Father invites us to realize.”

"I am convinced that there are three words, central to monastic and contemplative life, which you safeguard in the church's life in your sharing with sisters and brothers: listening, conversion, communion,' he wrote.

Listening, he explained, is a crucial aspect in their religious lives, evidenced by the fact that various monastic rules are based on biblical and Gospel expressions which confirm that "monastic and contemplative life is an 'incarnation' of the word of God that has been listened to, meditated upon and interiorized.”

"The invitation to listen permeates your entire life, from your listening to the word of God in the sacred Scriptures all the way to your listening to your brothers and sisters in community as well as to the men and women of our time," the cardinal wrote.

Monastic communities also stand as a reminder and an invitation to conversion which is "at the heart of the proclamation made by Jesus" and a fundamental aspect of the discussions that will take place in the coming synod.

"Even from a purely human point of view, we know that true listening also requires reciprocal conversion that invites us to leave our securities behind so that we might enter the difficult but indispensable terrain of dialogue," he said.

Lastly, Cardinal Grech said communion "is the ultimate criterion for discernment by which the synodal journey is verified.”

"Ecclesial communion is discernment's true seal, confirming the synodal journey," he said. "In fact, in community life, in religious life, you experience how much communion (which is not the same as uniformity) is effectively 'the' verifying criterion of an authentic, shared journey in faith.”