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Pro-life advocates hope new flag becomes unifying symbol of movement

BALTIMORE (CNS) -- The rainbow flag is an instantly recognized symbol of the LGBTQ movement, just as the Thin Blue Line flag is synonymous with support for law enforcement.

Now, leaders in the pro-life community hope a new flag featuring baby's feet held in a mother's hands will serve as the universal symbol for protecting the lives of the unborn.

The new flag was selected in an online vote organized by the Pro-Life Flag Project, a grassroots effort involving over 70 partners including the March for Life Education and Defense Fund, Students for Life of America, New Wave Feminists, Democrats for Life, Save the Storks, Maryland Right to Life and Focus on the Family.

James Chapman, spokesman for the Pro-Life Flag Project, said Will McFadden, the project's founder, conceived the idea in 2017 while attending the March for Life in Washington, where he observed no unifying symbol.

The effort gathered steam as McFadden saw the rainbow flag become increasingly entrenched in the culture.

Chapman said there were "several thousand" entries in the international design contest for the pro-life flag. Two rounds of final online voting in mid-July resulted in nearly 6,000 votes cast, he said.

The winning flag, which features two stripes that highlight the two distinct lives present in a pregnancy, came out on top among three design finalists. It was designed by Nanda Gasperini, a pro-life graphic artist in São Paulo, Brazil.

Erin Younkins, director of the Office of Life, Justice and Peace in the Archdiocese of Baltimore's Institute for Evangelization, said she hopes the new flag will be a source of unity in what she sees as a sometimes fractious pro-life movement.

"There is a lot of division in the movement with different political ideologies and different religious backgrounds and motivations," Younkins told the Catholic Review, the Baltimore Archdiocese’s news outlet. "Especially last year, we saw a lot of friendly fire and fighting among pro-life groups.”

Younkins, a parishioner of St. Peter in Libertytown, Maryland, said the flag clearly reminds all pro-life supporters that fighting to protect the lives of the unborn is what they share in common.

"Bringing the movement together as much as we can is an important goal for me," she said. "I think the fact that it's being done on a national and international level is really exciting.”

Some social media commentators have criticized the winning flag's design because it focuses solely on the protection of the unborn and leaves out other pro-life concerns such as outlawing the death penalty and assisted suicide.

Chapman noted the message on abortion was the "singular issue" the Pro-Life Flag Project sought to represent.

"Throughout the course of the project, we received a few requests to broaden the scope of the flag to include different topics other than the anti-abortion, pro-life message," he said. "These requests, however, varied significantly and were often at odds with each other.”

The winning flag includes a white background that symbolizes nonviolence in the womb as well as the innocence of the unborn child. A white heart in between baby's feet symbolizes the pro-life movement's love for both the mother and her child, according to the Pro-Life Flag Project's website.

The featured pink and blue colors are associated with baby boys and girls, but also reemphasize the two lives of the mother and child. The stripes form an equal sign, which the Pro-Life Flag Project said emphasizes that the unborn child is "equally and fully human, and therefore deserving of equal human rights," while also representing the role of both the father and mother in creating and raising a child.

If the flag is flown ubiquitously, Chapman said, it will raise awareness for the pro-life cause among both pro-life advocates and those who support choice on abortion.

"We think that the existence of a pro-life flag will allow the everyday pro-lifer to show support and stand in visible solidarity with the worldwide movement," he said.

Chapman said he hopes the symbol gets used "in any possible way that it can be helpful to the pro-life movement.”

"We hope to see the pro-life symbol on clothing, lapel pins, magnets, yard signs, pro-life pictures, logos, banners and more," he said. "We hope it becomes as prominent as the rainbow flag.”

The Pro-Life Flag Project is arranging flag licensing so that any pro-life, nonprofit organization may freely copy, reproduce, promote and sell any products containing the design. The design may not, however, be used as an organization's official logo.

Bad blood: Old rivalry revives at Vatican property trial

VATICAN CITY (CNS) ─ On the first day of his trial at the Vatican, Cardinal Angelo Becciu turned to members of the press behind him to comment on the grueling seven-hour hearing.

"I am serene, I feel calm in my conscience, I have faith that the judges will know well the facts, and my great hope is that certainty they will recognize my innocence," Cardinal Becciu said July 27 after the hearing concluded.

During the trial, however, the cardinal's lawyers questioned the fairness of the accusations against him, saying that he was not given the opportunity to give a statement to prosecutors during their investigation, while Msgr. Alberto Perlasca, the former head of the Vatican Secretariat of State's administrative office, went from suspect to star witness.

According to the indictment, Msgr. Perlasca, whose office and home were raided by Vatican police during their investigation, provided investigators "with a precious contribution for the reconstruction of some central moments relating to the case of the London property."

The Vatican's chief prosecutor countered the claims about flipping a suspect, saying that it was Msgr. Perlasca who had approached them on several occasions to give his testimony.

Cardinal Becciu's lawyers also argued that they had yet to receive the full contents of Msgr. Perlasca's testimony. Vatican judges ordered the prosecution to provide video tapes of his testimony to defense lawyers by Aug. 10.

Unsurprisingly, Cardinal Becciu, who has filed lawsuits against several news agencies for libel and/or defamation, announced that he instructed his lawyers to file a similar lawsuit against Msgr. Perlasca.

However, he also announced a lawsuit against an old foe: Francesca Immacolata Chaouqui, a member of the now-defunct Pontifical Commission for Reference on the Economic-Administrative Structure of the Holy See.

For many, the reappearance of Chaouqui, who was found guilty by a Vatican court in 2016 of leaking confidential documents about Vatican finances, added an unforeseen twist worthy of a modern-day court drama or soap opera.

According to the 488-page indictment, Chaouqui "spontaneously presented herself" at the offices of the Vatican Gendarmerie on Oct. 28, 2019, several weeks after Vatican police raided the offices of the Secretariat of State and the financial oversight office, formerly known as the Financial Information Authority or AIF.

The day after the raid, the Italian magazine L'Espresso published what it said was an internal notice from the Vatican police barring certain individuals from entering Vatican City State and alleged that the raid was part of a Vatican investigation into how the Secretariat of State used $200 million to finance a property development project in London's Chelsea district in 2014.

"In addition to some important details regarding the figure of His Eminence Rev. Angelo Becciu, Francesca Immacolata Chaouqui, referring to the leak of information regarding the documents published by L'Espresso, stated that she was certain that the leak came from a source inside AIF," the indictment stated.

No longer tied to the Vatican after she was given a 10-month suspended sentence, Chaouqui has remained active on social media, commenting and speculating over Vatican intrigue.

Dubbed by the Italian media as "La Papessa" ("The Female Pope") -- a nickname she has since adopted, at times tweeting the hashtag #teampapessa -- the tone of Chaouqui's statements have changed little from the time of her trial.

She often claimed that she was trying to help the pope and, for that, was a victim of power plays and internal strife by members of the Roman Curia allegedly opposed to financial reform, particularly Cardinal Becciu, whom she blamed for her arrest in the leak scandal.

In a declaration made to the court during her 2016 trial, Chaouqui said then-Archbishop Becciu "promoted the arrests" and that he "pushed for and wanted" the trial to end in her conviction.

Her statement prompted a rare denial from then-Vatican spokesman, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, who denied her accusations that Cardinal Becciu, the former chief of staff within the the Secretariat of State, acted "unfairly toward her."

"It has therefore become necessary -- without desiring in any way to condition the action of the court -- to deny, in a most absolute way, such accusations and to state that, since they are calumnious affirmations, they are absolutely unacceptable, and subject to legal action," the statement said.

While it is believed that Cardinal Becciu's lawsuit against Chaouqui is due to her 2019 deposition to Vatican police, she also has spoken to various Italian media outlets about the cardinal's current legal troubles, implying that Msgr. Perlasca chose not to be the cardinal's "fall guy."

In a July 14 interview with Italian magazine Panorama, Chaouqui said Msgr. Perlasca "was faced with a difficult choice: to either protect the cardinal as he did in his first interrogation or to speak the truth to protect the interests of the Holy See and of the Holy Father."

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju

In South Sudan, church works to keep young people off streets, drugs

JUBA, South Sudan (CNS) –– On the streets of Yei in southern South Sudan, dazed youths meet for their daily dose of cocaine and marijuana. Others are seen in neglected structures consuming alcohol and using illegal substances.

John Sebit is one of them.

"I don't know how I found myself in the street," said the 20-year-old who has used a variety of drugs while on his own for the last three years. "I have no one to take care of me. I lost all my parents and some of my siblings.”

Sebit is haunted by the memories of what he experienced in 2017 when the South Sudan army raided his family's home in the middle of the night, dragged out his parents and shot them. His sisters were raped and two of his brothers were kidnapped, he told Catholic News Service.

"I still remember and get flashbacks of everything that happened that night. Whenever I think how they killed my people, I cry," he said. He escaped by hiding in a water storage tank.

"When I use drugs ... it makes me go high and I forget my problems," he explained.

Sebit's story is far from unique. Thousands of young people have turned to cannabis, cocaine, heroin, alcohol, tobacco and khat, a plant that releases a stimulant when it is chewed. The result has been slowed social and economic development for a significant number of young people.

Religious leaders have cited psychological effects of violence as the major reason for the rise in the number of children and young adults abusing drugs.

In December 2013, South Sudan, a country of more than 11 million people, descended into civil war following a political struggle between President Salva Kiir and then Vice President Riek Machar. The conflict evolved into an ethnic battle between the country's two largest tribes – the Dinka, to which Kiir belongs, and the Nuer, to which Machar belongs – after Kiir fired Machar.

The country's army splintered along ethnic lines. The outbreak of the conflict led to massacres, with armed groups targeting civilians, again along ethnic lines. The civil war has displaced millions of people and seen widespread hunger emerge.

"The majority of youths are using drugs and alcohol to help them forget the violence they have gone through, such as the loss of their loved ones and forced displacement caused by war," James Kenyi, a catechist in the Diocese of Yei, told Catholic News Service. "Others have no place to live, and they end up in the streets (using) illicit drugs to cope with stress.”

Fr. Tom Poru Martin of Christ the King Parish in Yei agreed, saying the COVID-19 pandemic has led to worsening conditions for young people because schools were closed, leaving them with little to do but be on the streets, where drugs are readily available.

In a bid to help recovering drug users regain hope and overcome their addiction, priests throughout South Sudan are running programs that offer psychological and social support for displaced and orphaned children, reintegration programs for children living on the street and counseling services.

Fr. Martin, for example, has launched an awareness campaign to raise awareness about the dangers of illicit drugs. Since early in 2021 the Diocese of Yei has trained dozens of people with basic skills to identify and manage the drug abuse among the youth.

"The people we have trained are helping us by talking to the youths about the dangers of drugs in their lives," he said. "We have also tried to keep them busy by engaging in sports. The strategy works well as it keeps youths away from using drugs.”

Kenyi said the Yei Diocese has been involved in outreach that involves going to the places where drug users abuse drugs. For those who have been on drugs for a long time or are visibly ill, workers transport them to a hospital for treatment, he said.

"When I reach the drug users, I try to convince them about the dangers caused by the drugs, particularly heroin, which they seem to have easy access to despite it being a very dangerous substance," Kenyi said.

The South Sudanese government has lauded the church for helping end drug use.

"The church is doing a great job in the war against drug abuse," said Maj. Jimmy Lomoro Cosmas, Yei County acting police inspector. He urged religious leaders to intensify their outreach program and expand drug abuse treatment and abuse prevention efforts.

"The war against drug abuse can be won through partnership among residents, victims, church and law enforcement agencies," he said.

Sebit said he and other young people believe that peace is the solution to drug abuse. He called on the government and the broader international community to step up efforts to achieve lasting peace.

"Without peace in the country youths are going to continue engaging in drugs because a majority of them are idle due to lack of employment and closure of schools," he said.

"We can't go back home because of the war, and our future is uncertain because we are not going to school. We want peace.”

Fifth Chinese bishop ordained with both government, papal approval

VATICAN CITY (CNS) –– When Fr. Anthony Li Hui was ordained a bishop July 28 in the cathedral of the Diocese of Pingliang, China, he became the fifth Chinese bishop appointed under the terms of a Vatican-China agreement signed in 2018 and renewed in 2020, the Vatican press office said.

Bishop Li was appointed coadjutor bishop of Pingliang by Pope Francis Jan. 11, 2021, said Matteo Bruni, director of the Vatican press office.

He eventually will succeed Bishop Nicholas Han Jide, who is 81 years old and has led the diocese since 1999. Bishop Han was one of the concelebrants of Bishop Li's ordination.

Bishop Li was born in 1972 in Mei County, Shaanxi province, and, after completing his studies at the diocesan seminary in Pingliang and at the national seminary, he was ordained to the priesthood in 1996.

The Vatican-China provisional agreement outlines procedures for ensuring that Catholic bishops are elected by the Catholic community in China and approved by the pope before their ordinations and installations.

Vatican officials have said that giving up full control over the choice of bishops would not be what the Vatican hoped for, but that the agreement was a good first step toward ensuring greater freedom and security for the Catholic community in China.

Pope Francis has told reporters that the agreement envisions "a dialogue about potential candidates. The matter is carried out through dialogue. But the appointment is made by Rome; the appointment is by the pope. This is clear. And we pray for the suffering of some who do not understand or who have many years of clandestine existence behind them.”

The nomination and assignment of bishops was a key sticking point in Vatican-Chinese relations for decades; the Catholic Church insisted that bishops be appointed by the pope, and the Chinese government maintained that would amount to foreign interference in China's internal affairs.

UCA News reported that Bishop Joseph Ma Yinglin of Kunming, president of the state-sanctioned Bishops' Conference of the Catholic Church in China, presided over the Mass and ordination of Bishop Li. Bishop Joseph Guo Jincai of Chengde, the conference vice president, and Bishop Joseph Han Zhihai of Lanzhou also participated.

Moving from ‘How dare you market God?’ to ‘How do you market God?’

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- How do you market somebody you can't even take a lunch with?

Fortunately, if you remember the Baltimore Catechism, there's no need for lunch since God, after all, is "everywhere.”

But another issue persists in religious circles. How do you advertise God, and your church, without coming off like some kind of huckster? Talk about a camel passing through the eye of a needle!

Some take umbrage to "the idea of marketing God," but "the point of marketing is to help create loyalty, and we need to create people who are more and more loyal to God," said Donna A. Heckler, who has written a book called "Marketing God: Inspired Strategies for Building the Kingdom," published by Our Sunday Visitor.

Heckler, who was long the brand manager for Energizer batteries -- think "bunny" -- shares in the book some secrets from the world of brand marketing on how to get people to join your church and your parish, and to keep them there.

"You have to be precise in your promise and you have to consistently say it over and over and over again," Heckler told Catholic News Service in a July 21 phone interview from Venice, Florida, where she now advises a handful of parishes, as well as Ave Maria Law School, on marketing matters.

But what's this about a promise? "Instead of the word 'brand,' which is what we say (in the marketing milieu), we would use 'promise,'" she replied. "What do we say? What's your promise? Make it compelling, make it simple.”

Heckler added, "It really is a promise: What is the promise of the parish to the parishioners? How is the parish going to bring the parishioners closer to God?”

Snazzy slogans are one thing, but Heckler said she looks for three things in a marketing campaign.

"It has to be meaningful" to the person you're trying to reach, she said. "It's got to be motivating. And it has to be relevant in their lives. If you talk about the thing that's not meaningful to them or relevant to them, it's not going to motivate them." The kiss of death in marketing, according to Heckler, is that "you don't want to put something out there and not have anybody do anything about it.”

How long should a parish stick with its marketing plan? "One of the challenges that we see in marketing in general," she said, is that "those who work in a company or those who work in a parish get tired of the message far earlier than anyone. So they shift from message to message," diluting its impact.

"If you can identify a core promise. The core promise of what you do and how you're going to risk them with that, and you use God well and consistently over several years, these messages will build on each other," she said.

Yes, years.

"Most people are so busy they don't really pay attention to these messages," she added. "If you put something in the bulletin one day and you don't mention it again for three months, it's in one ear and out the other.”

Parishes need a campaign that lasts several years "because it's now permeating their consciousness," Heckler said.

There is a path to creating brand loyalty, even when that brand is God, according to Heckler.

"You cannot be loyal if it's not available," she said. "You have to know that a particular product or service -- God -- is available. You need to try it. You need to try Mass. You need to try God, you need to try God on," she added. "And you need to do that over and over again. And then you become loyal to it.”

Heckler didn't even need to have lunch with God to come up with the idea for "Marketing God." It was just the power of prayer.

"After Mass, you always say the rosary. After saying the rosary, this thought came to me: 'If you can make people loyal to batteries, why can't you make them loyal to me?'”

Heckler said, "We can bring some things if we removed the veneer of money, money, money" that deters many suspicious people from considering God, equating it with a cash grab by the clergy. In fact, she added, "to me, marketing is possible without the enormous expenditure" common in today's advertising campaigns.

"Where do you start? For me, you start at the smallest common denominator, and I see that as the parish. It may be in a particular (parish) ministry," Heckler told CNS.

"Marketing starts with understanding a few things. One is understanding what your target audience is. If we don't understand who the parishioner is," she said, "it's going to be difficult to engage with them. Loyalty begins at the parish. We would ultimately see, down the road, all the parishes are going to ladder up, ultimately, to God.”

Heckler acknowledged that marketing is not a typical seminary class. "There's just not a lot of course work and information. But I will also say that because of COVID, there are some universities and some organizations (that can provide marketing education). Are they certificate programs, are there ways we can help our staff be more effective?”

She added, "I'm just one person. The issue is bigger. Our parishes don't know what to do.”

If a pastor understands the need for marketing, "it makes it so much easier," Heckler said. "I will say this is new for parishes. They have not had to think about this before but COVID has forced a reconsideration of we engage.”

My flesh for the life of the world: Letting the Eucharist be our ultimate guide

This series of Sundays, during which we hear from the Bread of Life Discourse in John 6, causes us to consider the incomparable love of Jesus, revealed and given to us in the Holy Eucharist. It is good for us to consider a bit further what this love “looks like,” and especially what it means for Jesus to describe the Bread of Life as His “flesh for the life of the world” (John 6:51).

After my first year as a seminarian at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, my classmates and I spent eight weeks in Mexico during the spring and early summer, and the last two weeks of the trip were spent doing mission work in the mountains about four hours outside of Acapulco. The mission to which we were sent included three villages, the largest of which had about 5,000 residents who lived in a primitive kind of poverty I had never experienced before. 

The mission was entrusted to two PIME missionary fathers from Italy. One day we tagged along with one of priests, Fr. Graziano, on a Communion call to a woman living on a hill some distance from the mission church. We entered the woman’s house, and again I was struck by a simplicity I had never seen before. Some of the poorest homes I’ve visited here in the States were much nicer than this house. On a small bed in the living room — I don’t think there was a bedroom — lay an elderly woman who appeared not to be able to move. Fr. Graziano walked up to her bedside and we followed like curious ducklings, sidling up to Father and getting a closer look at the woman we were visiting.  

Clearly, such devotion is very much to be admired, and, by God’s grace, imitated. But we do well to think also, and even first, not about that poor woman’s love for Jesus, but about His love for her.

After leaving the house, Father would explain to us that the woman had cancer and could not afford any treatment for it; she had no insurance and no way even to travel to the hospital in Acapulco. At her bedside, I only knew that I was seeing the largest protrusion I had ever seen sticking out of the poor woman’s neck — a grapefruit-sized tumor. It was all she could do to smile and raise her hand to greet us. Father began the ritual for Holy Communion outside of Mass, and I’ll never forget that when the moment came for her to receive Our Lord, this woman used what was obviously all the energy she had — more energy than she had to perform any other kind of act — sat up almost straight and said “amen,” receiving Holy Communion with a devotion so obvious and sincere that it still stirs me with awe and a touch of shame for loving Jesus so little.

Clearly, such devotion is very much to be admired, and, by God’s grace, imitated. But we do well to think also, and even first, not about that poor woman’s love for Jesus, but about His love for her

She did all she could to greet Our Lord with love and devotion, but she only had the opportunity to do so because He loved her enough to come from heaven under the appearance of bread, to travel the dusty village roads in Father’s little pyx, to enter the cramped house, and to allow her to eat the Bread of Life which is Himself. Dante in his Paradiso describes the love of God as “the love that moves the sun and other stars.” Beautiful as that description is, it leaves out the truth that in love God Himself moves toward us, seeks us, finds us, knocks on the door of our hearts and asks for our welcome. And He does this because He greatly desires our union with Him and will do anything, short of overwhelming our freedom, to give us the gift of salvation.

We know that the Eucharist is the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise in Matthew 28 that He would be with us “until the end of the world.” And certainly, the presence of Jesus by itself is consoling beyond measure to those who believe in Him. The Eucharist, however, is not only about Our Lord’s presence, but also about His action. As St. John Paul II wrote in his encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia

The Church has received the Eucharist from Christ her Lord not as one gift — however precious — among so many others, but as the gift par excellence, for it is the gift of himself, of his person in his sacred humanity, as well as the gift of his saving work.

Jesus makes Himself present in the Eucharist, and He continues His saving and life-giving work in the Eucharist. His sacrifice becomes sacramentally present at every Mass. He allows Himself to be handled and distributed by the Church’s priests and other ministers so that His faithful might receive Him. Once received, He works on us from within, transforming us and drawing us into closer intimacy with Himself. And even as we adore Him, when He seems most passive, He is silently active, drawing our hearts to Himself and teaching us the wisdom of God.

The work of Jesus — His self-giving for the life of the world — is to become our work as well. The French Bishop Dominique Rey once wrote in a book about the Eucharist and evangelization, “Prayer commits us to radicalizing our relationship with Christ.” Bishop Rey added, “Eucharistic Adoration is a school of fervour. In contemplating the Eucharistic Jesus, given so that the world might have life, we are invited to give our own life in return, to Christ and to our brothers.”

Jesus gives His flesh for the life of the world, and we are to give our flesh for the life of the world. We can trace the saying “a pound of flesh” back to Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice (4:1), in which the lender Shylock insists upon receiving the pound of flesh promised him in payment for a loan made to Antonio. Portia, advocating for Antonio, responds that Shylock may have it but without an ounce of blood, since blood had not been promised. So Portia outwits Shylock by making the payment impossible. In this story, the demands of a sinful world meet with a correspondingly shrewd response. In the story of our salvation, Jesus pays the price of our redemption with both His flesh and His blood, and He calls us to imitate His self-emptying love.

It goes without saying that our imitation is not easy. And we are all too aware these days of the destruction wrought by our failure to love. The sex abuse crisis is very much rooted in a self-centered distortion of love, one which is so extreme that those who give in to it would even destroy another person’s life in order to satisfy the corrupt desires of the flesh. That is the very opposite of Christ’s sacrifice of His flesh “for the life of the world.” 

The sex abuse crisis is very much rooted in a self-centered distortion of love, one which is so extreme that those who give in to it would even destroy another person’s life in order to satisfy the corrupt desires of the flesh. That is the very opposite of Christ’s sacrifice of His flesh “for the life of the world.”

Yes, living Christ’s love is difficult. It requires that we suffer with perseverance. There are many crosses to bear in this life, many situations we find especially trying, whether we are tried spiritually, psychologically, physically, or in any other way. But one lesson we can all draw from this shameful chapter in the history of the Church here in the United States is that the love of Christ is the only true love, the only love that can save us.

Also, our moments of suffering in love are times when the Eucharistic Jesus can reveal to us, if we let Him, that His “yoke is easy and (His) burden light” (Matthew 11:30). Jesus comes to us every time we celebrate Holy Mass and gives us strength through our union with Him. We also draw close to each other every day, the distances between us melting away in the mystical nearness that happens when we all draw close to the Eucharistic Lord. In the Eucharist we are equipped by God to do the saving work of Jesus, to love what frail nature often loathes, and to lay down our lives in sacrifice not in some hypothetical future, but in whatever “here and now” we find ourselves.

We might feel alone during difficult times, but every time we see the Blessed Sacrament, we remember that we are never alone. As Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron (my bishop here in Detroit) has often said, in the Incarnation God has come to live with us, and He is never going away. By making His flesh and blood sacramentally present to us, Jesus makes good on His promise to remain with us always.  

The fulfillment of Christ’s promise is a tremendous consolation to us, but here we also have a challenge. “Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give,” Jesus says in Matthew 10:8. In Luke 6:38, He says, “Give and gifts will be given to you; a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap. For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.” We are not mere consumers at a kind of heavenly Walmart. We receive the consolation of Jesus in large part so that we will be ready to share His consolation, to bring the presence and love of Christ to everyone we meet.

There was a spate of ecclesiastical documents on the Holy Eucharist in the early-to-middle years of the last decade, which in some ways culminated in the 2007 post-synodal apostolic exhortation of Pope Benedict XVI, titled Sacramentum Caritatis, the “Sacrament of Charity.” The special focus of several of these writings was on the link between the Eucharist and the mission of the Church, which is to share Christ and His saving Gospel. 

The Eucharist reveals God’s existence and presence among us. The Eucharist continues the work of redemption in Jesus Christ. The Eucharist is a model of humility. The Eucharist is our food for the journey from earth to heaven. The Eucharist is the fuel of evangelization, and the reception of the Eucharist by new members of the faithful is the summit of that to which evangelization aspires. In all of this, the Eucharist is the Sacrament of Charity, because “God is love” (1 John 4:8), Jesus is God, and the Eucharist is Jesus here with us. And the Eucharist is also the Sacrament of Charity because the Sacrament strengthens us in charity, calling us to join Jesus in giving our flesh, making a sacrifice of our lives, for the life of the world. 

Fr. Charles Fox is vice rector and dean of seminarian formation at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit. He holds an S.T.D. in dogmatic theology from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas (Angelicum), Rome. 

Habit forming: In religious life, young women gain interior freedom, more family

While some might view religious life as a renunciation of the world, for these young sisters, it’s an opportunity to live authentically 

DETROIT — When a young woman becomes a religious sister, she commits her life to God, taking vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. 

It’s well known what she’ll be giving up to do so — marriage, and the option to have children of her own, for one. A renunciation of the modern way of life, a religious sister also gives up material comforts, owning everything in common with her religious community. 

But a religious vocation involves another hidden sacrifice — saying goodbye to a relationship with one’s parents and family as one knows it. 

On paper, there are many reasons this countercultural choice might not seem like a good idea. But talk to any sister and her biological family, and it’s clear that the moment she says “yes” to a vocation as a bride of Christ, much is gained — not only for her, but those close to her. 

Growing up in a small town in Indiana as one of three children, Sr. Irenaeus Schluttenhofer, OP, was committed to her faith, but the thought of religious life was never commonplace in her family. She always assumed she was going to be a wife and mother. 

Part of a religious vocation is taking on a new identity in Christ, said Sr. Irenaeus, who along with another sister interviewed for this article requested Detroit Catholic omit her given name for this reason. 

As a teen, Sr. Irenaeus said her “life was beautiful,” full of wonderful activities and friends, but deep in her heart, she had a sense that God had something more for her. 

While a freshman at Purdue University studying agriculture, she was invited to attend a retreat with the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, in Ann Arbor. 

“I met the sisters, and I saw their joy and I saw their authentic love for the Lord,” Sr. Irenaeus said. “I realized that was kind of the peace I had been missing; while I had always done all the things that were absolutely required to live the faith, I didn't know Him.”

While studying agriculture at Purdue University, the future Sr. Irenaeus Schluttenhofer, OP, was invited to attend a retreat with the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, in Ann Arbor, where she was drawn to their joy and authentic love for the Lord. (Photo courtesy of Mike Schluttenhofer)

Returning to campus, she became involved at St. Thomas Aquinas, the Catholic center on campus run by Dominican friars. Through their example, she again observed the same authenticity she had seen in the sisters. 

“I think young people long for something real. They long for something that will draw them out of themselves. They long to give themselves totally,” Sr. Irenaeus said. “And I saw that lived in the Dominican order. It was becoming more and more attractive, but I still wasn’t sure it was for me.” 

She returned again to the motherhouse for another retreat during her junior year, and it was during an all-night Eucharistic adoration that she felt Christ was not only calling her, but he had made a place for her in the community of sisters. 

“I definitely did have fear — fear of the unknown, fear of giving things up — but as time went on, and as (Jesus) started to draw me closer and closer into His heart, the little things started to be less important,” Sr. Irenaeus said. 

Christ wasn’t calling her to sacrifice her life, she realized. Rather, he had made her heart for this life. 

“Those other things had started to fade away, and they weren’t what I wanted,” Sr. Irenaeus said. “In the first letter of St. John, it says, ‘perfect love casts out fear.’ I wouldn’t say my love is perfect — there is still some degree of fear at times. But the more we love, the more fear takes a backseat. It doesn’t drive our decisions.”

Sr. Irenaeus entered the community in 2012. Prior to entering, on the day after asking for her application, she met her parents for lunch and shared the news. 

Mike and Roberta Schluttenhofer, who have been married for 37 years, said they watched their daughter embrace and grow in her faith over time, starting in high school and continuing into college. 

While the news wasn’t a shock to them –– they had watched Sr. Irenaeus return over and over again to the motherhouse in Ann Arbor –– the prospect of not being able to see and communicate with their daughter as regularly was initially daunting. 

Sr. Irenaeus is pictured with her family, including her parents, Mike (far left) and Roberta (third from left) Schluttenhofer. (Photo courtesy of Mike Schluttenhofer) 

“I guess the hardest thing for me was, we were a very close family. We did a lot of stuff together,” Roberta said. “I thought, ‘Well, she won’t be there at Christmas and holidays and stuff.’ So that was a little hard to adjust to.’”

Sr. Irenaeus said the family is still close and loves one another, but just as a bride who leaves her family to follow her husband and start a family of her own learns to love her family in a whole new way, so it is when entering religious life, becoming a bride of Christ with a whole new family of sisters. 

“I think, across the board, it is oftentimes a harder adjustment for our parents than it is for us because we know why we’re doing what we’re doing — that we’re giving things up for love of someone,” Sr. Irenaeus said. “We’re making these changes for the love of someone, someone who’s called us, who has invited us into a deep and personal love.”

Now, when Sr. Irenaeus and her parents talk on the phone and visit in person, they focus on the deeper important topics, making the most of their shortened time to communicate. 

Gaining a big family

While the Schluttenhofers knew some nuns and even had some in their extended family, by the time they came around to raising their own children, nuns were no longer a staple at Catholic parishes and schools. 

Sr. Irenaeus stood alongside her fellow sisters in June 2020 and professed her final vows, saying that she would remain with the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, for all her life. (Photo courtesy of Sr. Irenaeus) 

Interest in religious life has declined steadily since the mid-20th century, when religious accounted for 90 percent of Catholic school staff. According to the National Catholic Educational Association, today, they account for only 3 percent. 

The number of sisters has steadily declined in the United States, from 160,931 in 1970 to only 41,357 in 2020. While the number has fallen, anecdotally, people are reporting seeing a deluge of young millennial women being drawn to religious life, despite being less exposed to the example of religious life even within many Catholic families. 

The expectation for most parents is that their children will grow up and have children of their own, not that they will leave their families and join a religious community, Mike Schluttenhofer said. However, Mike and Roberta’s outlook changed as they saw how happy their daughter was. 

“You could tell she just really loved what she was doing,” Roberta said. “So that really helped us to understand, too, that if you love something, just like any profession, it’s easy to pursue it.”

For Sr. Irenaeus, the natural instinct and expectation of motherhood also required a shift in perspective. 

The number of sisters has steadily declined in the United States over the last half-century. While the numbers have fallen, anecdotally, more young millennial women are being drawn to religious life, despite being less exposed to the example of religious even within many Catholic families. (Detroit Catholic file photo)

“When I would envision my family, I would always envision a really big family, with lots of kids,” Sr. Irenaeus said. “And then, as I was feeling this call to religious life, I realized that even with the biggest biological family, I wanted to love even more. It became a realization that all of God’s children could truly be my children, that I could help them grow in grace, through my prayers, through sacrifices. It was realizing that I could live those things out, but in a different way, and in a deeper way.”

For their part, the Schluttenhofers gained more daughters than they could have imagined as a result of their daughter’s vocation. Sr. Iraneaus said when her parents come to visit, they bring food to give to the sisters. 

“(They realized) they could love the sisters — all of the sisters, not just me — in the same way,” Sr. Irenaeus said. By extension, Sr. Irenaeus said her parents and others like them are participating in the mission, the sacrifices and the charism of the Dominicans. 

Sr. Irenaeus took her final vows in July 2020. She said she and her fellow sisters live each day as an adventure as they explore their differences, their gifts and the way God brought them together to live a life of joyful laughter, friendship and the mission of their order. 

In order to live one’s vocation, God calls each person to holiness and has made each individual heart in a particular way, Sr. Irenaeus said. (Detroit Catholic file photo)

“Sometimes we look at each other and say, ‘Never in my life would I have met you. I would never have gotten to know you, spent time with you, and now you’re someone who is walking with me to heaven. We can have beautiful, really enduring friendships,’” Sr. Irenaeus said. 

When she made her perpetual profession, Sr. Irenaeus vowed that she would remain with her community throughout her lifetime. 

“I’m going to be walking with them for all my life, to try to follow the Lord’s will,” she said. “We laugh so much, we play games, we enjoy ourselves. I’ve truly gained a family and friends. But the thing is, it wouldn’t work if we didn’t keep our eyes on Christ.”

Not losing an identity, but gaining one

Like Sr. Irenaeus, as a child, Sr. Maryja Czarna Madonna, SSVM, had never really considered religious life. Growing up in Troy with her parents and younger sister Lea Wojciechowski Ross, they attended St. Anastasia Parish. 

Sr. Maryja, pictured, said that, as a child, she had a vague idea of religious sisters and thought religious life was something of the past. Though she can’t place her finger on exactly what attracted her to religious life, she says it’s enriched her understanding of the person God made her to be. (Photo courtesy of Lea Wojciechowski Ross)

Now, Sr. Maryja is a missionary sister of the institute Servants of the Lord and the Virgin of Matará. She entered the convent in 2007 at age of 20. After her initial period of formation in Washington, D.C., she was sent to Italy in 2010 to collaborate in the Cornelio Fabro Cultural Project, an apostolic work she continues today. She lives in Celleno, a small town in central Italy.

“I had a vague idea about religious sisters and the convent from what I knew about St. Faustina and St. Therese, but not much beyond that,” Sr. Maryja wrote to Detroit Catholic. “I didn’t really know about religious sisters or religious priests because I didn’t see them and I didn’t know anyone who talked about or knew about them. Religious life seemed like something from the past; I never considered that people still entered the convent.”

At the age of 15, Sr. Maryja was introduced to some lay consecrated men and women. Although she couldn’t place her finger on what attracted her to her vocation, she knows this encounter was a pivotal moment that led her to think about religious life. 

Now, Sr. Maryja, left, is a missionary sister of the institute Servants of the Lord and the Virgin of Matará. After her initial period of formation in Washington, D.C., she was sent to Italy in 2010 to collaborate in the “Cornelio Fabro Cultural Project,” an apostolic work that she continues today. (Photo courtesy of Lea Wojciechowski Ross)

Similar to Sr. Iraneaus, by the time Sr. Maryja had accepted her vocation, the distance and separation required of her from her family did not stand in the way of her path toward following her vocation. 

“I didn’t find my new life particularly difficult because I knew I was following the path that God had prepared for me, and He gave me that strength and enthusiasm so common among novices,” Sr. Maryja said. “Religious life, by its very definition, entails separation from the world, which includes separation from family and friends. Religious are consecrated, or set apart, for the praise and service of God and, as a consequence, the service of neighbor.” 

However, Sr. Maryja added, the founder of her congregation, Fr. Carlos Miguel Buela, considers contact with family very important, fitting into the community’s charism, which is evangelization — something that must begin with the sisters’ own families. 

Having a religious sister in the family, even though it took some adjustment, allows her family an opportunity to grow in their faith, beyond simply going to Mass on Sunday, Sr. Maryja said.

Sr. Maryja is pictured with her mother, sister and brother-in-law and their child. Far from losing a family when she joined her religious community, Sr. Maryja said her family has grown closer to God because of her vocation. 

“My family’s vision of the Church has expanded as they learn more about the missions, community, and evangelization from my experience as a missionary sister.” Sr. Maryja wrote. “They have also learned about the richness of diverse vocations within the Church and have deepened their understanding of their own vocation to marriage and family life. 

“My family also greatly appreciates my prayers for them (as I am very grateful for their prayers for me); they’ve experienced the fact that spiritual bonds strengthen family ties, and that prayer unites us across time and space,” she added. “Even though we don’t talk on the phone or see each other as often as some other families, I’m closer with the members of my family than many families that live in the same town.”

Lea Wojciechowski Ross is two years younger than Sr. Maryja, and said she looked up to and enjoyed a very intellectual relationship with her sister, having deep conversations about life and theology as they grew up together. 

Wojciechowski Ross said the experience of having a sibling join a religious order is often difficult for people to understand.

Although part of a congregation with an individual practice, charism and service, Sr. Maryja said the most important part of religious life is one’s consecration as a spouse of Jesus Christ. (Detroit Catholic file photo)

“I think sometimes people think of religious as overly contemplative, and she’s very active (in her community). She’s using her same talents and skills and personality that she had before,” Wojciechowski Ross said. “It’s not like she’s totally changed or completely dead to the world. She’s still herself, and she’s just complex. Something I’ve really enjoyed seeing is how she’s still using who she is, her God-given charisms and talents. It’s not like she had to stop being herself in order to be in religious life.”

Although part of a congregation with a charism of evangelization and service, Sr. Maryja said the most important part of religious life is the individual’s consecration.

“First and foremost, a religious sister is a Spouse of Christ and Mother of souls,” Sr. Maryja wrote. “Her personal relationship with Christ must be nourished by her participation at daily Mass and her life of prayer; her apostolic work is sustained by her spiritual life.”

Ultimately, Sr. Irenaeus said, the things that look like a renunciation to the world allow sisters to live with the freedom to keep their eyes on Christ. 

“In order to live one’s vocation, God calls each person to holiness, and He’s made each individual heart in a particular way,” Sr. Irenaeus said. “It’s in living our vocation that we find how we’re meant to give ourselves to the world. And in that has been deeper joy than I ever could have imagined.”

Runner's surge to become Olympian starts with faith in God and self

INDIANAPOLIS (CNS) –– As Cole Hocker approached the starting line for the biggest race of his life, he paused for a moment to follow his usual prerace routine of saying a prayer.

In that moment, he asked God to be with him as he pursued his goal of representing the United States in the Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

Ever since middle school, Hocker has been writing down his goals as a runner – and what he needs to do to reach them.

It's a ritual that helped the 2019 graduate of Cathedral High School in Indianapolis become the state champion in cross country in Indiana in the fall of 2018.

And less than three years later, on June 27, he was at the U.S. Olympic Track Trials in Oregon, getting ready to race against the best middle-distance runners in the country, including the reigning Olympic champion in this 1,500-meter race.

Earlier this year, Hocker –– now a 20-year-old sophomore at the University of Oregon –– had written his goals for the 2021 track season, including one that seemed more of a reach than a goal: to do well enough in the 1,500-meter race at these Olympic Trials so he could represent the United States at the Tokyo Games.

Yet that reach became reality as Hocker roared from sixth place with 150 meters to go in that race, winning it all in a blistering, breathtaking sprint to the finish line.

"I'd be lying if I said I wasn't surprised that it happened so fast," Hocker said about his ascent from Indiana cross country champion to being the youngest national champion in the 1,500 meters or mile in 110 years. "It hasn't fully set in yet. It brings me such pride knowing I'm representing America. I've always dreamed of that. I want to represent my country the best way I can.”

In Tokyo, Hocker will run the next biggest races of his life. He is set to compete in the first round of the 1,500-meter race Aug. 3, with the hope of advancing to the semi-finals Aug. 5 and the finals Aug. 7.

He will bring that same faith in God and that same faith in himself to the Olympics.

"The reason I run is because I have a God-given talent," he said in a telephone interview from Oregon before he left for Tokyo. "I just feel God has given me the gift of running, and my job is to give it my best.

"On top of that, because I've been given that, I want to take advantage of it. And it's more gratifying because of how hard I have worked," he told The Criterion, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. "This year, more than ever, I've held myself to a higher standard. Every race I've entered, I thought I could win."

"After years of thinking about running in the Olympics and dreaming about it," he said, "to have it all come to fruition is awesome.”

He feels the same way about the support he has received from his family, friends and the communities of Cathedral High School and the University of Oregon.

"I've had so much support the past few weeks and even the whole season," he said.

A large group of family and friends, including his brother Stone and his parents  –– Kyle and Janet –– were at the U.S. Olympic Track Trials when he won the 1,500-meter race. Now, his family won't be able to cheer for him in Tokyo because fans are restricted from attending the Summer Olympics because of COVID-19 concerns. Instead, they will watch him race on television at home.

"I still have a sheet of all the goals he wrote down in middle school, or even prior to that," said his father, who started coaching Cole when he was in the third grade. "He wanted to be a champion at something.”

Besides the Olympic Trials victory, Hocker also was the men's 1,500-meter champion in the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championship this spring.

Ahead of the Olympics he had some thoughts for a list of goals for the Games he wanted to write down.

"My goal is to make it to the finals," he said. "And then when I get there, my mentality is to win.”

Cardinal urges religious to join local preparation for Synod of Bishops

VATICAN CITY (CNS) ─ Consecrated virgins, hermits and members of religious orders, individually and as communities, should take part in the consultations for the Synod of Bishops, because "to ensure that the synodal church is not a mirage, but rather a dream to be realized, it is necessary to dream together, to pray together and to work together," said Cardinal João Braz de Aviz.

The cardinal, prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, asked consecrated men and women to participate in the diocesan-level listening sessions scheduled to begin in October as the first step of preparation for the 2023 assembly of the Synod of Bishops, discussing the theme, "For a synodal church: communion, participation and mission."

Pope Francis is scheduled to formally open the synod process at the Vatican Oct. 9-10, the synod office said. And the bishop of every diocese should open the process in his diocese Oct. 17.

The diocesan phase will go through April 2022, featuring a consultation with local Catholics discussing a preparatory document and questionnaire that the synod office will send out along with guidelines for how the consultation should work.

Writing to consecrated men and women, in a letter posted on the synod website in late July, Cardinal Braz de Aviz said the synodal process can benefit from the "prophetic dimension" of consecrated life, its focus on communion with the church and its experience with discerning God's will.

"No one should feel excluded from this ecclesial journey," the cardinal said. "Various methods of participation will be possible, both on a personal and community level: the potential participation of individual consecrated men and women in the existing local church structures, the drafting of a proposal formulated by the individual communities within a specific diocese (and), national or international input" from conferences of religious or religious superiors.

"Be open to the challenge offered by the three significant words of the theme of the Synod of Bishops on the synodal church: communion, participation and mission," the cardinal said. "Pray, reflect, discuss and share your experiences, insights and desires. Do it with the freedom of those who place their trust in God and are thus able to overcome timidity, a sense of inferiority or worse still, reproaches and complaints."

While "avoiding arrogance," he said, members of religious orders must have "a sense of co-responsibility" in the process, because all the baptized share in the mission of the church.

DHS announces 'expedited' deportations for some migrant families

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced July 26 it would begin "expedited removal" proceedings, or fast-tracking deportations, of some immigrant families who entered the U.S. illegally and do not qualify for asylum.

On its website, the department said the policy is "a lawful, more accelerated procedure to remove those family units who do not have a basis under U.S. law to be in the United States."

The process would apply to families who can't be turned away under a section of the Public Health Safety Act the Trump administration invoked that is known as Title 42, the statement said.

Title 42 turns away certain immigrants at the border, citing public health measures to contain the coronavirus. It was activated by the Trump administration in March 2020 as COVID-19 infections began to surge in the U.S. — and around the world. President Joe Biden has kept it in place.

But the new implementation of the expedited removal policy the Biden administration will be using seems to focus on rapidly deporting those who don't have valid asylum claims.

The published DHS statement warns that "attempting to cross into the United States between ports of entry, or circumventing inspection at ports of entry, is the wrong way to come to the United States. These acts are dangerous and can carry long-term immigration consequences for individuals who attempt to do so."

Presidents from both main political parties in the U.S. have used the policy in some form since it was created in 1996 by the Clinton administration to expedite deportations of immigrants who "are undocumented or have committed fraud or misrepresentation," the American Immigration Council explained on its website.

Some analysts said the DHS statement signals a move by the Biden administration to begin using deterrence in its immigration approach as the number of immigrants at the U.S.-Mexico border increases and immigration courts face a backlog of more than 1.2 million asylum claims.

The statement said that "the Biden-Harris administration is working to build a safe, orderly and humane immigration system, and the Department of Homeland Security continues to take several steps to improve lawful processing at ports of entry and reforms to strengthen the asylum system."