Hot Issues

Religious Liberty Under Attack in the Nation’s Capital

Congress Should Stop DC Council’s “Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Amendment Act” (RHNDA) and “Human Rights Amendment Act” (HRAA). Our help is needed to stop two dangerous pieces of legislation recently passed by the Council of the District of Columbia and signed by the mayor. These acts, RHNDA and HRAA, are subject to disapproval by Congress.  On March 6, 2015 the DC government forwarded these laws to Congress, which has 30 legislative days to pass resolutions of disapproval; after this time other avenues might be able to block the laws’ implementation.

These laws “violate the freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and freedom of association protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution, as well as by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and other federal laws,” according to letters sent to House and Senate on March 20 by the Archbishop of Washington along with the chairmen of five committees of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Congress should be urged to block these laws.

Click here to send a message today!

Parish Youth Groups Give Teens Opportunities to Explore Faith through Service

Pennsylvania Catholic
Pennsylvania Catholic

Teens in St. Gregory’s youth group ready to serve a meal to those in need in South Side, Pittsburgh.

Church youth groups provide a safe place where teens can explore their faith, learn from each other and help the greater community. High school students at St. Gregory Byzantine Church in Upper St. Clair, a parish of the Byzantine Catholic Archeparchy of Pittsburgh, come together each week and put their faith in action through service to the community.

“For today’s teenagers, life in high school is hard.  Thanks to electronics and the internet, they have access to so many pressures, messages and distractions,” said Father Valerian Michlik of St. Gregory Byzantine Catholic Church. “Our youth group provides teens an opportunity to get away from those distractions and actively participate in their community by getting to know and help others they may not otherwise meet.”

On a regular basis, the teens prepare and serve food to those in need in the South Side of Pittsburgh.  After the meal, the teens sit and talk with those they served. This fellowship and dialogue is as important as the meal itself.

The youth group at St. Gregory’s offer an example of faith in action, “If they chose to, these teenagers could easily go their whole lives without seeing poverty. But here they face it head on and look for ways to help. The youth group shows us that what we do outside of the church doors is crucially important. They remind me of Pope Francis’s example of serving the entire community, regardless of faith,” said Father Valerian.

Throughout the year, the youth group also collects clothing and toiletries for women at the Women’s Center and Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh, a resource for victims of domestic violence and their children. The teens also collect school supplies and clothing for the Southwood Residential Treatment Facility for young men.

The youth group at St. Gregory parish not only serves the homeless, but also the homebound.  They assemble Easter baskets and write holiday cards to shut-ins and nursing home residents of their community. The group heard from one elderly man after he received a Valentine ’s Day card who said it was the first card he’d received in decades. He was moved to tears by the group’s kindness and service.

The youth group at St. Gregory Byzantine Church in Upper St. Clair is just one example of these groups at the more than 1,000 Catholic parishes across the state.

Support HB 752

The longstanding EITC program has awarded over 450,000 scholarships to since its inception, allowing students to attend the school of their choice. The three-year-old OSTC program helps thousands more by giving special scholarships particularly for income eligible students who live in communities with the lowest performing public schools. Send a message to your legislators in support of HB 752 by clicking here.
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The High Return on Education Tax Credits

sacredheart raised handSavvy investors do their homework. Before buying stock they will research a company’s track record. Is the company making sales? Expanding its market? Are customers satisfied? It is smart to invest in proven success.

Providing a quality education for our children is the most critical investment we can make for our future. As Pennsylvania’s lawmakers debate and discuss the spending plan for the Commonwealth’s 2015-2016 fiscal year, they will have to consider where to put our money.

The Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) and the Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit (OSTC) are two programs proven worthy of investment.

Both programs are funded by companies that contribute to scholarship organizations in exchange for a tax credit. The longstanding EITC program has given more than 450,000 scholarships to help students attend the school of their choice, including Catholic schools. The three-year-old OSTC program has given nearly 9,000 more special scholarships, particularly for income eligible students who live in communities with the lowest performing public schools.

EITC tax credits are often depleted on the first day of their availability. OSTC credits are also exhausted, and every scholarship organization has a waiting list of potential scholarship recipients. The need for more credits, to help more parents pick the best school for their children, is evident. Demand is strong.

Representative Jim Christiana (R-Beaver, Washington) is the prime sponsor of House Bill 752 which would increase the EITC to $170 million and OSTC to $80 million. “Both the EITC and OSTC programs are very successful programs that have given thousands of Pennsylvania children school choice and the opportunity to participate in innovative educational programs,” he wrote in his memo encouraging other representatives to cosponsor the bill. “By expanding the EITC and OSTC programs, my bill will allow even more children to benefit.”

There is strong bipartisan support for expanding EITC and OSTC.

“Particularly in failing public school districts, young men and women need to have the exact same opportunities (as any student),” Speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny) told students at Philadelphia’s De Paul Catholic School. “We are convinced that the EITC and OSTC are making a difference.” Turzai is a cosponsor of HB 752 and a champion of the school choice provided through the tax credits.

Senator Jay Costa (D-Allegheny), Democratic Leader, called the expansion of the tax credit programs a “win-win.” At a luncheon in Pittsburgh he told EITC supporters, “This is more of a program to benefit students and the business community. It’s not full-blown school choice. It’s providing options and programs for some students.”

A generation of students who went to the school of their choice with EITC scholarships have demonstrated its successful track record. Catholic schools are the largest group of non-public schools in Pennsylvania. Most Catholic high schools boast graduation rates at or near 100%. Of those graduates, over 90% go on to attend either a two or four-year institute of higher learning. OSTC scholarship students will soon live up to their peers. These “customers” – our students and their parents – are indeed satisfied.

All parents should be able to choose a school that best suits their children. Financial realities often preclude parents from having that choice. Parents who pay their school taxes deserve some benefit from those taxes, in the form of some assistance in the exercise of their right to choose a nonpublic school, if that is best for their children. EITC and OSTC are making a difference for many families and for our communities. It is a smart investment to allow more to have that choice.

Urge your legislator to “invest in success” by cosponsoring and voting in favor of House Bill 752. Use the Pennsylvania Catholic Advocacy Network at to send your message today.

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APRIL 2015 column of the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference – 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 pacatholic.org, www.facebook.com/pacatholic, andwww.twitter.com/pacatholic.

House Bill 262: Protecting Sex Trafficking Victims

HB 262 aims to better protect potential sex trafficking victims by regulating adult-oriented establishments and training law enforcement. Many victims may start off dancing or stripping in clubs, but then are coerced into prostitution or pornography. This bill prevents individuals convicted of prostitution or child exploitation crimes from owning or working in such a place. Read Full Bill

PA House Passes Resolution Condemning Global Persecution of Christians

Representative Kathy Rapp (R-Warren, Crawford, Forest)

Representative Kathy Rapp (R-Warren, Crawford, Forest)

The Pennsylvania House of Representatives today unanimously passed House Resolution 182.  According to the United States Department of State, Christians are persecuted in over 60 countries.  It has been estimated that 100 million Christians are persecuted each year.

The resolution resolved, “That the House of Representatives condemn the global persecution of Christians and call on world leaders to implement policies that protect the religious liberty of Christians and all other faiths within their borders.”

The resolution’s sponsor, Representative Kathy Rapp (R-Warren, Crawford, Forest) said in her floor remarks, “We must speak out against this barbaric behavior. Our Founder William Penn, himself, was imprisoned several times for his faith. He was a leading defender in his time of religious freedom…Please join me in speaking up at this, our upcoming holiest day on the Christian calendar, rather than remaining silent whenever and wherever these unconscionable atrocities involving people practicing their religious faith are taking place by supporting HR 182.”

Easter Vigil to Bring Thousands into the Catholic Church Across the United States

Pope Francis carries palm fronds in procession at the start of Palm Sunday Mass in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican March 29. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis carries palm fronds in procession at the start of Palm Sunday Mass in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican March 29. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Thousands of people across the United States will be welcomed into the Catholic Church at this year’s Easter vigil, April 4, including a retired Marine captain who appeared on the cover of National Geographic, a woman from The Gambia now living in the Pacific Northwest and a woman from Pittsburgh whose faith journey has drawn her own mother back to the Church.

According to the 2014 Official Catholic Directory, there were 39,654 catechumens, or those being baptized, confirmed and receiving first Communion, and 66,831 candidates received into full Communion with the Catholic Church in the United States in 2013, the most recent year for which this data is available. Over 50 of the nearly 200 dioceses in the United States reported numbers for 2015 to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

In the Diocese of Oakland, California, Aaron Tam, a retired Marine sergeant, will receive the sacraments of initiation (baptism, confirmation and first Communion) at Easter Vigil, after twice having to delay his initiation into the Church due to deployments. Tam, who was seriously injured by a detonation during a tour of duty in Iraq, appeared on the cover of the February 2015 issue of National Geographic, dedicated to soldiers recovering from traumatic brain injuries. He is one of 349 catechumens in the Diocese of Oakland, along with 279 who are being received into full Communion.

Also in California, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, the largest diocese in the United States, reports 1,828 catechumens being baptized this year.

Among the 665 adults to be baptized by the Archdiocese of Seattle, Amie Bensouda of Mary, Queen of Peace Parish in Sammamish, Washington, is a native of The Gambia. She was raised Muslim but exposed to the Catholic faith attending a school run by nuns, the only education available to her as a woman.

Among the 196 catechumens and 383 candidates in the Diocese of Pittsburgh, a woman named Becky is completing the sacraments of initiation after being baptized Catholic but never receiving a formal religious education. Becky will be confirmed and receive first Communion. Becky was accompanied by her fiancé through her journey, and they will be married in August. After she and her fiancé shared their experience with her mother, Becky made her first confession and her mother made her first confession in 25 years, March 16.

Also in Pennsylvania, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia reports 243 catechumens and 404 candidates for full Communion, the Diocese of Harrisburg reports 100 catechumens, and the Diocese of Allentown reports 96 catechumens and 256 candidates.

More information on the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) process is available online: www.usccb.org/beliefs-and-teachings/who-we-teach/rite-of-christian-initiation-of-adults/index.cfm

Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral Open for Visitation, Prayer during Holy Week

gold domed ukrainian catholic cathedralThe golden domed Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, located at  830 North Franklin Street is Philadelphia, is now open for visitation, prayer, veneration and meditation.

Visiting hours  Holy Monday through Holy Thursday are 4 pm. to 6:30 pm;  Good Friday 12 noon to 8 pm; Holy Saturday 12 noon to 5:30 pm.

Beginning Wednesday, April 8 and thereafter, the Cathedral will be open Wednesdays 11:30 am to 3 pm and Saturdays 2 pm to 4:30 pm.

View the Vatican authorized full size replica of the Shroud of Turin, venerate the relics of Blessed Bishop Martyr Mykola Charnetsky, CSsR and Blessed Sister Josaphata Hordashevska, SSMI and experience the traditional Byzantine icons and mosaics.

All are welcome and encouraged to visit the golden domed Cathedral in Philadelphia.

 

The World Meeting of Families: What you can do

World Meeting of FamiliesThe World Meeting of Families is just six months away. Archbishop Chaput of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia offered the following advice about what we can do to get involved in this historic and life-changing event:

 

First, World Meeting of Families is a very expensive event. Much of the heaviest fund-raising for WMOF is being done by generous corporate and major individual donors, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, because WMOF will be a boost for our whole region. But many parishioners have also asked how they can personally help. And that’s a blessing, because we can use all the help that we can get.

Donating financially is the best way of ensuring that September’s family gathering and welcome for Pope Francis will be worth remembering for a lifetime. Every donation, no matter how large or small, counts. And there’s no better time than now to contribute. We all have a stake in renewing Catholic life in Philadelphia. So please consider a donation to the World Meeting of Families 2015 as we enter these last days of Lent and start the Easter season. Tax-exempt financial donations can be directed to: worldmeeting2015.org/get-involved/donate; or World Meeting of Families/Philadelphia 2015, 222 N. 17th Street, Philadelphia, PA  19103.

Second, WMOF will need 10,000 or more volunteers for the event. This is crucial, since volunteers will be the face of the local Catholic community throughout the meeting. Volunteer registration will open soon on the World Meeting of Families website at www.worldmeeting2015.org. All volunteers must be a U.S. citizen, at least 18 years old, and they must complete an online background check. The WMOF website has information on the wide variety of volunteer opportunities available.

Third, we’ve had many generous families step forward, especially in the last few weeks, offering to host WMOF visitors in their homes. But we need many more. Philadelphia-area hotels are rapidly filling the available rooms for the World Meeting of Families and papal visit. As I’ve said previously, we’ve partnered with Homestay, a global organization with a strong reputation and tourism track record. Homestay connects visiting families and individuals with local families willing to host them during events like World Meeting of Families. I strongly encourage families across the archdiocese to consider this kind of generosity. You can learn more on the “Host a Family” page atwww.worldmeeting2015.org.

Fourth, don’t forget to ready your own hearts by spending time with the excellent and very readable World Meeting of Families catechesis, Love Is Our Mission: The Family Fully Alive, from Our Sunday Visitor at www.osv.com. This is a wonderful, engaging text. It lays out the Catholic approach to marriage, family, sexuality and the essentials of human dignity with beautiful simplicity.

Finally and most importantly, register and attend the World Meeting of Families with your own loved ones. Registration for both the Adult and Youth Congress sessions is now open on the WMOF website at www.worldmeeting2015.org. You’ll find a variety of registration package options, and detailed information about each session.

 

Read the entire message from Archbishop Chaput here.