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Catholic Social Services Salute Our Veterans

St. Francis Commons Flag RaisingAs Pennsylvanians prepare for the picnics and fireworks displays of the Fourth of July, our thoughts often turn to the veterans who have defended our country throughout the years.

Civilians may not be fully aware of the struggles that veterans face after their tour of duty.  According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the national unemployment rate for veterans is over seven percent. Many struggle with alcohol and drug addiction and others need help reconnecting with their families.

Catholic Social Services of the Diocese of Scranton opened St. Hedwig’s Veterans Village in Luzerne County to help meet the needs of these members of their community.

St. Hedwig’s Village is made up of 10 one-bedroom and 2 two-bedroom apartments designed for veterans and their families.  A full range of supportive services is provided, including counseling, job search assistance, educational opportunities and more.

Catholic Social Services of the Diocese of Scranton also provides residence for 30 more veterans at St. Francis Commons in Scranton.  In conjunction with the Veterans Administration, Catholic Social Services provides drug and alcohol treatment, job training, case management and counseling.

St. Francis Commons consists of 30 rooms with private baths, community dining rooms and kitchens, laundry rooms and TV lounges.  The men and women may live at St. Francis Commons for two years, during which time they can heal, work and reconnect with their families.

Monsingor Joseph Kelly, Diocesan Secretary for Catholic Human Services, said, “In the year since its opening, St. Francis Commons has seen a significant change in the veterans we are privileged to serve.  All are actively pursuing employment and volunteer at our food pantry and free clothing store.  I have never met a group of people who are more appreciative than our veterans.”

In addition to offering housing and other services to veterans, Catholic agencies help the poor, hungry, imprisoned, immigrants, refugees, and many more.

PA Bishops, Dioceses React to Supreme Court Decision

SCOTUSmarriageThe July 26 Supreme Court decision  interpreted the U.S. Constitution to require all states to license and recognize same-sex “marriage.” Here is a reaction from around the state:

Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia said, “The Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision on marriage is not a surprise. The surprise will come as ordinary people begin to experience, firsthand and painfully, the impact of today’s action on everything they thought they knew about marriage, family life, our laws and our social institutions. The mistakes of the court change nothing about the nature of men and women, and the truth of God’s Word. The task now for believers is to form our own families even more deeply in the love of God, and to rebuild a healthy marriage culture, one marriage at a time, from the debris of today’s decision.”

Bishop Barres of the Diocese of Allentown said, in part, “In the midst of these challenges, we joyfully anticipate the arrival of Pope Francis in September and his global witness that marriage is a loving and exclusive relationship between one man and one woman on which the family is founded and on which the global common good is truly promoted.”

Bishop Persico of the Diocese of Erie said, in part, “The Supreme Court has now ruled that the definition of marriage is to be changed to include people in same-sex relationships. We are moving into an era in which the civil definition of marriage has changed, but not the church’s teaching, Scripture or natural law. I hope that the rights of Christians will be honored as well. Rather than creating more division, we must acknowledge our differences and find ways to respect each other.”

Bishop Brandt in the Diocese of Greensburg said, in part, “Today’s decision on same-sex marriage is every bit as wrong as the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision that legalized abortion. The Church will continue to teach the truth about marriage which Jesus himself proclaimed when he said, “But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female. For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’” Pope Francis has reiterated that truth, as has every pope for 2,000 years. Man cannot change the order of creation and its natural law handed down by God. I call on the people of the Diocese of Greensburg to pray for our country and to pray that the Church will continue to have the strength and courage to proclaim Gospel truths.”

The Diocese of Harrisburg released a statement that said, in part, “We fear the Courts decisions redefining marriage and the rights of the States will have a long term corrosive effect on the institution of marriage which is the bedrock of our society. We pray that marriage between a man and a woman will remain a strong truth in our world. The common good of all, especially our children, depends upon a society that strives to uphold the truth of marriage.”

Bishop Zubik of the Diocese of Pittsburgh concluded his statement by saying, “The decision rendered today was an opinion of five of the nine Supreme Court Justices. It is my hope that in our nation, people who hold a traditional understanding of marriage may be respected, too. The rights of believers who hold marriage as a sacred, life-long commitment between a woman and a man need to be honored in the spirit of our country’s deep commitment to equality and religious freedom. I call on all people of good will to proclaim the goodness, truth and beauty of marriage as rightly understood for thousands of years. Where differences arise, we need to respectfully engage in dialogue in a spirit of truth rooted in love.”

Bishop Bambera of the Diocese of Scranton said, in part, “Catholic teaching regarding marriage is not a judgment about persons who experience same-sex attraction, but a statement about how the Church has always understood the nature of marriage itself. While the Church has been forthright in its long standing teaching on marriage, it has likewise proclaimed since its beginnings that every person has an inherent dignity. As our country seeks to come to terms with this decision, the Church condemns oppression and violence against all people, regardless of sexual orientation. Like every person, our gay brothers and sisters – members of our families, our communities and our churches – are beloved children of God who deserve to be treated with respect, dignity and compassion.”

 

USCCB: Supreme Court Decision on Marriage “A Tragic Error”

usccb1-150x150FROM THE USCCB—The U.S. Supreme Court decision, June 26, interpreting the U.S. Constitution to require all states to license and recognize same-sex “marriage” “is a tragic error that harms the common good and most vulnerable among us,” said Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).

The full statement follows:

Regardless of what a narrow majority of the Supreme Court may declare at this moment in history, the nature of the human person and marriage remains unchanged and unchangeable. Just as Roe v. Wade did not settle the question of abortion over forty years ago, Obergefell v. Hodges does not settle the question of marriage today. Neither decision is rooted in the truth, and as a result, both will eventually fail. Today the Court is wrong again. It is profoundly immoral and unjust for the government to declare that two people of the same sex can constitute a marriage.

The unique meaning of marriage as the union of one man and one woman is inscribed in our bodies as male and female. The protection of this meaning is a critical dimension of the “integral ecology” that Pope Francis has called us to promote. Mandating marriage redefinition across the country is a tragic error that harms the common good and most vulnerable among us, especially children. The law has a duty to support every child’s basic right to be raised, where possible, by his or her married mother and father in a stable home.

Jesus Christ, with great love, taught unambiguously that from the beginning marriage is the lifelong union of one man and one woman. As Catholic bishops, we follow our Lord and will continue to teach and to act according to this truth.

I encourage Catholics to move forward with faith, hope, and love: faith in the unchanging truth about marriage, rooted in the immutable nature of the human person and confirmed by divine revelation; hope that these truths will once again prevail in our society, not only by their logic, but by their great beauty and manifest service to the common good; and love for all our neighbors, even those who hate us or would punish us for our faith and moral convictions.

Lastly, I call upon all people of good will to join us in proclaiming the goodness, truth, and beauty of marriage as rightly understood for millennia, and I ask all in positions of power and authority to respect the God-given freedom to seek, live by, and bear witness to the truth.

Pennsylvania Catholics React to Laudato Si’

Pope Francis In CrowdLaudato Si’, the encyclical letter of Pope Francis on care for all of God’s creation, was released today. It can be read in its entirety here.

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, OFM CAP., of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia wrote, “Laudato Si speaks eloquently of inter-generational solidarity; the beauty of the family; the dishonesty of population control as an answer to poverty; the broad duties of rich nations to those that are poor; and the dignity of the human body in its God-given masculine and feminine forms. ‘It is not a healthy attitude,’ Pope Francis writes, ‘which would seek to cancel out sexual difference because it no longer knows how to confront it.’  For the Holy Father, a humane ecology includes much more than our treatment of the material world. It involves our bodies, our sexuality and our personhood as well.”

The Diocese of Pittsburgh has published several resources that can be found here. In part, a Q and A document reads, “Our ‘throwaway culture’ drives many of our environmental problems. We can resist this by taking small steps toward simpler, fuller lives. This will help us grow closer to God and each other. Small everyday actions matter. We can all take action in our homes and in our communities. Responsibly caring for the natural world is a global challenge and it needs a global response. We all need to do our part. This is an opportunity to witness to our faith. Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, the first American to be canonized, is attributed as saying: ‘Live simply so that others may simply live.'”

Bishop Joseph C. Bambera of the Diocese of Scranton said in a statement, in part, “In asking the question of what kind of world we want to leave to those who come after us, to children who are now growing up, Pope Francis calls us to be faithful and prudent stewards of the gifts that we’ve been given. In so doing, he reminds us that it is our responsibility to insure that all of creation is able to exist in harmony, sharing responsibly in the blessings it provides, yet always being mindful to protect its members, especially the poorest and most vulnerable.”

Archbishop Kurtz, the President of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said in a statement today, “In this beautiful and extensive treatment on care for our common home, the Holy Father calls all people to consider our deep and intertwined relationships with God, our brothers and sisters, and the gifts that our Creator has provided for our stewardship.”

Measure to Protect Women and Children Ready for Governor’s Signature

doctorAmong the many atrocities revealed at Dr. Kermit Gosnell’s “House of Horrors” abortion clinic in West Philadelphia was that several of his staff provided medical services without the proper training or license to do so. Consequently, a woman died and seven newborn babies were killed by infanticide in Dr. Gosnell’s abortion clinic. He is now serving three consecutive life sentences in prison for his role in the deaths.

Senate Bill 485, passed by both chambers of the General Assembly, will increase the penalty for those who commit the crime of impersonating a doctor of medicine. State Senator Joseph B. Scarnati III, (R- Cameron, Clearfield, Clinton, Elk, Jefferson, Mckean, Potter and Tioga), Senate Pro Tempore and prime sponsor of the senate bill, called this an important piece of legislation because “impersonating a physician can have dire consequences for individuals who unknowingly place their healthcare in the hands of someone who is not properly trained or experienced.” State Representative Matt Baker (R-Bradford, Tioga), sponsor of a similar measure in the House, said, “Those in the medical profession are generally highly respected and trusted individuals whom people seek out when they are sick, vulnerable and looking for help. It is unconscionable that a person, for whatever reason, would pretend to be a doctor.”

The legislation now awaits a signature from Governor Tom Wolf to become law.

Freedom to Bear Witness

Shereen Sabah, 34, a mother of three, holds her 2 month old daughter Alaa outside the tent in which she now lives in an IDP camp outside Erbil, Iraq, on December 4 2014. Shereen, and family, who are Iraqi Shabak people from the Sinjar area of northern Iraq, came to Erbil in August, after Islamic State militants overran their town. The so-called Islamic State is a radical Islamic militant group that controls territory in both Iraq and Syria. Thousands of Yazidis and other minorities fled from their advance in neighbouring provinces to Erbil. She has been registered to receive winterization assistance from Caritas.  Shereen, who gave birthing a hospital in Erbil, told Caritas: " It was very difficult when I was pregnant. Especially in my last month. It was very hot but there was no air cooler and no cold water to drink.  I would cry. I just stayed in the tent until i delivered." "I was five months pregnant when I first left. We went to many places and even had to stay in the street. By the time I got to the camp here I was too tired to go outside." "But it's more difficult now i have the baby. It's very cold in the tent, and draught too. The baby is always sick and vomiting. There are doctors here but still she's always sick of the cold. We can't use a stove because we're scared of the tent burning down. When I pick her up in the morning she's freezing cold" "It makes me  sad that my baby was born in a tent and will live in a tent. I'm afraid she will die. I just want to go home." "I took my baby to the hospital in Erbil to get vaccinated but i was very humiliated because I was so muddy from the camp and everyone in the street was looking at me."

Shereen Sabah, 34, a mother of three, holds her 2 month old daughter Alaa outside the tent in which she now lives in an IDP camp outside Erbil, Iraq. Credit: Catholic Relief Services

During this year’s Corpus Christi procession, Pope Francis asked us to remember “our many brothers and sisters who do not have the freedom to express their faith in the Lord Jesus.” About 100 million Christians are persecuted each year around the world.

“Let us be united with them,” he said. “And, in our hearts, let us venerate those brothers and sisters who were asked to sacrifice their lives out of fidelity to Christ. May their blood, united to the Lord’s, be a pledge of peace and reconciliation for the whole world.”

Closer to home, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives also condemned the worldwide persecution of Christians and called on global leaders to protect the religious liberty of Christians and all other faiths within their borders.

Representative Kathy Rapp (R-Warren, Crawford, Forest), recalled Pennsylvania’s heritage while urging her colleagues to support her resolution: “Our Founder William Penn, himself, was imprisoned several times for his faith. He was a leading defender in his time of religious freedom.” House Resolution 182 passed unanimously on April 1, 2015.

From June 21 to July 4, 2015, American Catholics will mark the annual Fortnight for Freedom with a focus on the “freedom to bear witness” to the truth of the Gospel. These two weeks will include prayers, liturgical celebrations, and special events across the nation.

While we unite our prayers for persecuted fellow Christians around the world, we must not overlook threats to our own religious liberty at home. For example,

  • The mandate of the Department of Health and Human Services forces religious institutions to facilitate access to products contrary to their own moral teaching or be punished. Further, the federal government tries to define which religious institutions are “religious enough” to merit protection of their religious liberty.
  • Boston, San Francisco, the District of Columbia, and the State of Illinois have driven local Catholic Charities out of the business of providing adoption or foster care services—by revoking their licenses, by ending their government contracts, or both—because those Charities refused to place children with same-sex couples.
  • After years of excellent performance by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services (MRS) in administering contract services for victims of human trafficking, the federal government changed its contract specifications to require MRS to provide or refer for contraceptive and abortion services in violation of Catholic teaching.

 

Religious freedom is a fundamental human right. “All men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power,” declared Dignitatis Humanae in 1965, “No one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limit.” This inviolable right is grounded in the human dignity from “the revealed word of God and by reason itself. This right of the human person to religious freedom is to be recognized in the constitutional law whereby society is governed and thus it is to become a civil right.”

The Pope and our state leaders are reminding us that we must be leading defenders of religious freedom now, in our time, and in every place where Christians are being persecuted across the globe or in our own public square.

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JUNE 2015 column. The Pennsylvania Catholic Conference is the public affairs agency of Pennsylvania’s Catholic bishops and the Catholic dioceses of Pennsylvania. Stay up-to-date with Catholic news and issues at www.pacatholic.org, www.facebook.com/pacatholic, and www.twitter.com/pacatholic.

Martha & Mary House: Providing Shelter in Cambria County

The Martha and Mary House in Johnstown, PA.

The Martha and Mary House in Johnstown, PA.

“There is no place like home.”

This common phrase, made famous by the Wizard of Oz, reminds us just how truly special home is. Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown established the Martha & Mary House earlier this year for men, women, families and handicapped individuals living in Johnstown without a home or a place to stay.

The Martha & Mary House is a 15-bed shelter with a comprehensive homeless assistance program where people in the community can come to find support.

Case managers on staff work with residents to help establish permanent residency after their stay at the shelter. Residents are allowed to stay up to 30 days in order to give them adequate time to secure financial stability and work toward a permanent residence.

“By far, the biggest achievements are seeing the residents who arrived with little hope that they would be able to stabilize their situations walk out of the shelter with keys in hand to a new apartment and a fresh start,” said Missy Kreutzberger, Director/Lead Case Manager of The Martha & Mary House.

Several residents attend parenting classes, AA and NA meetings, and receive other drug and alcohol treatments. Personal finance programs will be implemented soon, and the staff has established a rigid routine and schedule, including Sunday night dinners and weekly game nights, to provide opportunities for skill building and development.

In September of 2013, the Salvation Army homeless shelter closed its doors leaving homeless people in Johnstown to seek shelter elsewhere for 15 months. During that time, Catholic Charities worked with local hotels to provide housing for those affected. Catholic Charities worked to fill this need in the community. The Martha & Mary House was established with the help of many community partners and benefactors.

Since the shelters doors opened in March 2015 more than 35 Cambria County families have had a place to call home.  In Pennsylvania, Catholic Charities serves hundreds of thousands of people of all faiths and no faith every year.

Learn more about Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown here.

Protect International Religious Freedom by Passing H.R. 1150

Pope Francis has expressed increasing concern for the suffering of many Christians and others who are persecuted around the world simply because of their faith. The brutality inflicted on religious minorities has reached staggering proportions, causing them to flee the violence in places like Syria, Iraq, Pakistan, Nigeria, and Myanmar (Burma) with little more than the clothes on their backs. Millions of Syrians and Iraqis are displaced internally and in surrounding countries, trying to survive in cramped quarters, uncertain of their future.

As a way to address this suffering, USCCB strongly supports passage of The Frank Wolf International Religious Freedom Act of 2015, H.R. 1150, that updates the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) and provides more tools for the U.S. government to support the protection of religious minorities. This legislation’s provisions include:

  • Specifying actions to be taken against countries, individuals and non-state actors (e.g. ISIS) with severe religious freedom violations;
  • Increasing coordination within the U.S. government to advance international religious freedom (IRF) policies and raise the profile of IRF;
  • Expanding foreign assistance and counter-terrorism efforts to incorporate IRF concerns;
  • Reauthorizing the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) through 2021.

The House Committee on Foreign Affairs is expected to take up this important piece of legislation in early June and broad bipartisan cosponsorship is vital for building momentum for passage in the Committee.

Tell your Member of Congress how important it is to support quick passage of H.R. 1150.

The USCCB championed the 1998 IRFA that created the Office on International Religious Freedom in the Department of State and the USCIRF and over the years, advocated for other legislation in support of protecting religious minorities, including reauthorization of USCIRF.

The Catholic Church has long standing commitment to international religious freedom. In a June 2014 address, Pope Francis exhorted all to “recognize, guarantee, and protect religious freedom, which is a right intrinsically inherent in human nature, in man’s dignity as a free being, and is also an indicator of a healthy democracy and one of the main sources of the legitimacy of the State.”

Click here to send a message in support of H.R. 1150.

Hot Time for EITC

“The hot time is now” to contribute to an Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) scholarship organization, said Richard Bluis, partner in the accounting firm, Martin M. Sacks and Associates. He is a member of the school board and parent of a student at Saint Catherine Laboure School in Harrisburg. Bluis’s firm has received tax credits for contributing to the EITC program for many years and he encourages other businesses to take advantage of the program. “The Educational Improvement Tax Credits go fast,” said Bluis. “July 1 is the first day they are available, but it is also a deadline. The tax credits sell out fast, like concert tickets.”

Bluis joined others supporters at the Catholic school to rally support for House Bill 752 which would increase funding for the EITC and the Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit (OSTC) by $100 million, a similar program aimed at helping qualified students in continually low performing schools.

“About 30 percent of the families at Saint Catherine Laboure School benefit from EITC scholarships,” explained Kelly Rogers, advancement director. “But our need based on the qualifying income levels of our families far exceeds what is available for scholarships.” She said increasing funding for EITC and OSTC as proposed by HB 752 would be a “huge help … It would be amazing to be able to help more families.”

All parents should be able to select the school that best suits their children. The state should support parents in meeting their obligation to educate their children, not the other way around. Not every qualified student will choose a Catholic school, but as demonstrated by Saint Catherine Laboure School in Harrisburg, many do. The EITC and OSTC programs allow more families to choose Catholic school, without sacrificing our core mission and high standards.

Watch students from St. Catherine Laboure’s Bell Choir:

Catholic schools play a vital role in our communities. They provide an essential service that helps to create new generations of productive and engaged citizens, often for a fraction of the cost of educating the same student in a public school. If every nonpublic school student returned to public school, the costs would be unbearable. Given the average per pupil price tag, our Catholic schools saved the taxpayers more than $2.28 billion this year alone.

HB 752 passed the House of Representatives on May 11, and now it is time for the Senate to vote for it, so that even more parents can make a choice about the right school for their children. Click here to send a message to your elected officials urging support for this important legislation.