• Bishop reflects on the pope's encyclical

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    The earth, which was created to support life and give praise to God, is crying out with pain because human activity is destroying it, Pope Francis says in his long-awaited encyclical. La Tierra, que fue creada para apoyar la vida y alabar a Dios, está gritando de dolor porque la actividad humana está destruyéndo, dice el papa Francisco dice en su largamente esperada encíclica.

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Russian bishop to return to Ellis County

By Doug Weller
The Register

Schoenchen —Russian Bishop Joseph Werth will return next month to reconnect with long-lost relatives.

The newly consecrated bishop first visited Ellis County in 1992. There, many residents, like him, are descendants of the German immigrants who had settled the Volga River region of Russia in the late 1700s.

With Bishop Werth’s return, residents will have a chance to learn what has changed in Russia in the two decades since his last visit.

He will be in Kansas from Sept. 15 to 20. Plans include a morning talk on Sept. 16 at Thomas More Prep-Marian High School in Hays; visits with Salina Bishop Edward Weisenburger and Dodge City Bishop John Brungardt, both descendants of Ellis County’s Volga-Germans; an afternoon Mass on Sept. 19 at the Basilica of St. Fidelis in Victoria; and a morning Mass on Sept. 20 at St. Anthony Church in Schoenchen.

Bishop Werth is traveling to the United States for the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, which Pope Francis also will attend.

The bishop contacted Capuchin Father Blaine Burkey, formerly of Hays, to tell him he planned to visit again.

Father Burkey, now of Denver, was head of the Center for Research at TMP-Marian when he first discovered that a Father Joseph Werth was back in the old Volga-German region of Russia ministering to the Catholics who had returned after being exiled.

Father Burkey wrote the priest and discovered his grandfather was born in Schoenchen, Russia, the home of the immigrants who founded Schoenchen, Kan.

Local residents quickly raised the funds to pay for his trip. By then, the Soviet Union had dissolved, and Pope John Paul II had made the 38-year-old Jesuit priest one of two bishops of Russia. He was put in charge of the massive Apostolic Administration of Siberia, which encompassed 4.6 million square miles.

Bishop Werth, now 62, heads the Diocese of the Transfiguration at Novosibirsk. It covers 772,000 square miles, or roughly the size of Nebraska, Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas.

“He’s had a big change. The pope cut down the amount of space he’s responsible for,” Father Burkey, now 79, quipped.

The Capuchin priest last saw Bishop Werth in Italy in 2001. He also attended the 1997 dedication of the cathedral in Novosibirsk. But he has had difficulty keeping in touch with the bishop.

“He doesn’t speak English, and I don’t speak German or Russian. Any communication has to be between someone else,” Father Burkey said.


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  • IMAGE: CNS photo/Peter Foley, EPABy Mark PattisonWASHINGTON (CNS) -- Even after a half-century of election law that was intended to settle the question of who is eligible to vote in the United States, contentious issues remain on who gets that right. The battles, just like those before the bill was signed into law Aug. 6, 1965, are held long before someone gets to the voting booth. Before the law, especially in the Jim Crow South, African-Americans were routinely denied the right to vote. Some city or county clerk offices established a "poll tax," set so high that low-income blacks could not afford to pay it. Sometimes blacks were made to take tests to determine their eligibility to vote -- tests that were designed to fail them. Sometimes clerks just outright refused to register black voters, and there was no higher legal authority to tell them otherwise. And, before the Civil War, African-American suffrage in the South was virtually nil. Blacks weren't regarded as citizens, but property. Yet the "three-fifths compromise" allowed slaveholding states to count every five blacks as three persons for purposes of voting strength. Alarmed at declining turnout for presidential elections and even worse turnout for off-year elections, Congress passed a law in 1993 requiring states to offer voter registration with the issuance of driver's licenses -- the "motor-voter" law. Some states even adopted same-day registration laws. Later, some Republicans objected to motor-voter laws because younger drivers, who took the most advantage of the easier voter registration process, tended to vote more Democratic on Election Day. After the highly contested 2000 presidential election, which George W. Bush won despite getting fewer votes nationally than Al Gore -- not to mention the drawn-out process in Florida featuring hanging chads and "butterfly ballots" -- the nation's focus was turned toward the issue of whether every voter's vote had been counted. Somewhere along the way, the conversation changed from making sure everyone who voted had their votes counted to battles over expanding -- or contracting -- the franchise. Disputes have arisen over the eligibility of former prison inmates to vote. In some cases, voters have been purged from the rolls in the belief that they and the ex-con are one and the same when they were not. Ridding from voter lists the names of people who have not voted in recent years has been an issue. The expansion and curtailment of early voting -- depending on which party is in power at the state capital -- has also proved nettlesome. Extending the franchise to those younger than 18 -- 16-year-olds in some jurisdictions -- and to noncitizen residents in the District of Columbia, which has no vote in Congress, has also raised eyebrows. The most visceral of the disputes has come in the form of voter ID laws. Proponents contend the laws cut down on voter fraud; opponents contend the laws discourage voting. In races that seem to be won ever more now by razor-thin margins, every vote -- and every vote not cast -- counts. The Supreme Court decision of 2013 overturning key sections of the Voting Rights Act that required states with history of voter suppression to subject any changes in voting law to federal approval only served to add more fuel to the fire. Gerrymandering that concentrates the minority party in states into ill-drawn districts while leaving the majority party with breathing room to withstand a contested election is increasingly being looked askance upon by the Justice Department. And a three-judge panel of a federal appeals court in New Orleans struck down Texas' voter ID law, saying it violated the Voting Rights Act and discriminated against the state's blacks and Hispanics, saying it was tantamount to a poll tax. "The importance of the ruling has not been lost on advocates battling on the frontlines to expand our nation's access to the ballot and thwart legislative attempts at voter suppression," said Marc H. Morial, the Catholic former mayor of New Orleans and Louisiana state senator who now heads the National Urban League. "It's all about politics," declared Charles Steele Jr., president and CEO of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, at an Aug. 6 Voting Rights Act anniversary rally on the National Mall. "Where people figure if they can suppress 10 to 15 percent of the black vote, they can steal an election." Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Alabama, introduced the Voting Rights Advancement Act in June. If passed, the law would, among other things, give federal courts jurisdiction to enforce constitutional voting guarantees, and forbid discrimination in voter access due to race, color or membership in a language minority group. The bill was referred in July to the House Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice. Changing the law is not enough, according to the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who made two bids for the Democratic presidential nomination in the 1980s. For him, the Constitution should be amended to guarantee the right to vote. "The Constitution does not explicitly guarantee an individual right to vote to all Americans," Rev. Jackson wrote in a column syndicated to black newspapers. "The 15th, 19th and 26th Amendments only outlaw discrimination in voting on the basis of race, sex and age," while leaving the rest to the states. In the past 50 years, "we've gone from protecting the right to vote to suppressing it," he said. "It took a grassroots voting rights movement to gain a Voting Rights Act. It will again take a grassroots voting rights movement to add a right to vote amendment to the U.S. Constitution on the road to a more complete democracy." The Urban League's Morial called widespread voter ID fraud a myth and "nothing more than a political fraud orchestrated by officials eager to shift political fortunes to their party." Morial added, "If our elected officials truly do believe that all votes matter, Congress must commit to stemming the tide of suppression." President Barack Obama, during a White House commemoration of the Voting Rights Act, suggested that turn-aways at the precinct are less important than turnout. "Far more people," he said, "disenfranchise themselves than any law does, by not participating, by not getting involved."  - - -Copyright © 2015 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

  • IMAGE: CNS photo/Robert DuncanBy Robert DuncanVATICAN CITY (CNS) -- As ZZ Top's "Sharp Dressed Man" bellowed across an immaculately groomed sports field not far from St. Peter's Basilica, a new class of U.S. seminarians faced off against their peers in a fraternal game of softball. The onlooking fans, who included Vatican officials and seminary staff, said they perceive God's providence in the starting lineup of 72 men who are beginning their studies at the Pontifical North American College, the U.S. seminary in Rome. Seeing so many new seminarians "gives us the security that good things are happening in the church," said Mexican Archbishop Jorge Patron Wong, secretary for seminaries at the Vatican Congregation for Clergy. "When I see the new class of North American seminarians," he said, "I see the presence of God, the presence of the love of God." The men are signs that "God loves so much the church, humanity and especially the United States" that he is leading many young people to "experience the call of Christ to give their lives to others." Archbishop Patron spoke to Catholic News Service in late August on the sidelines of the softball game as innings changed over and the music of Aerosmith and Bruce Springsteen reverberated over the loudspeaker. "Thank God we are growing in the numbers," the archbishop said, "but we are also growing in the quality" of vocations. Having grown up in a secular country, the young men's willingness to follow a vocation to priesthood shows they "really want to give a profound sense to their life," Archbishop Patron said. The "new men," after having spent six weeks intensively learning Italian outside the capital, are given time in August to get to know their brother seminarians. "There are different age groups, different professions," said Msgr. James F. Checchio, the seminary rector. There are "two medical doctors in the group, there are (a) couple lawyers who practiced before they came, and then just all kinds of good young men giving their lives to the Lord." Most who are sent to the seminary make it to ordination, he said. Out of the total enrollment, which this year is 252 men, only eight or nine leave each year, he added. Half of those who leave go back to seminaries in the United States and the others "discern out" of a vocation to the priesthood. "Many men when they come here are pretty certain, and I think that's why the bishops trust them, send them overseas," Msgr. Checchio said. "So it's a blessing for us. It gives us great soil to work with." Msgr. Checchio, who has been on the staff of the seminary since 2003 and rector since 2005, has guided men to the priesthood under St. John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, and now Pope Francis, who is making his own mark on this generation of seminarians. "The men are very conscientious of his emphasis on the poor, and reaching out to the poor," Msgr. Checchio said. Avery Daniel, a 22-year-old from the Archdiocese of Atlanta, initially discerned his vocation during the pontificate of Pope Benedict. The election of Pope Francis has greatly affected his understanding of the priesthood, he said. "The Holy Father stresses all the time that a priest has to be a shepherd who smells like the sheep, a shepherd who is with his people, who knows his people, who loves his people, and serves them all the time, who is always willing to be bothered, to be a true father, a spiritual father, and certainly that's something that I've taken to heart and something that I want to be," Daniel said. For 21-year-old Andrew Auer of the Archdiocese of St. Louis, Pope Francis influenced his thoughts also about life in the seminary. "One line that I always have to hearken back to and has been very challenging to me and I think a lot of other seminarians," Auer explained, is when Pope Francis said, "seminarians are not to be princes of the church," but rather servants of the church. "That's what I'm called to be and that's what I'm working toward," Auer said. Joe Cwik, 23, from the Archdiocese of Washington, said seminarians have many opportunities to minister to the poor and sick. "Some of us go to college campuses and work, others to nursing homes, visiting the ill and the sick and the homebound," Cwik said. "Our Holy Father is spearheading this effort," Cwik said, "really reaching out and helping those who need it the most." Following Pope Francis' lead on these fronts is becoming a trend at Rome's U.S. seminary, Archbishop Patron said. "The example of Pope Francis, following Christ in the way the Blessed Virgin Mary did it is very clear for us," he said. "To say yes, yes to Christ, yes to the church and do it joyfully, I find those characteristics in the North American seminarians of today."- - -Copyright © 2015 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

  • IMAGE: CNS photo/Sean Gallagher, The CriterionBy Sean GallagherINDIANAPOLIS (CNS) -- Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Bashar Warda of Irbil, Iraq, placed his face in his hands when asked how his faith has been challenged and changed in the crisis he has helped manage over the past year. He said he has outwardly encouraged the Christians whom he welcomed to Irbil when they fled Islamic State, but within his heart he would frequently "quarrel with God." "I don't understand what he is doing when I look at what has happened in the region," Archbishop Warda said. "I quarrel with him every day." However, the arguments take place within his intimate relationship with God, one that, with the help of grace, withstands even the previously unimaginable challenges to his faith that he has faced over the past year. "Before going to sleep, I usually hand all my crises, wishes, thoughts and sadness to him, so I can at least have some rest," Archbishop Warda told The Criterion, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. "The next day, I usually wake up with his providence that I would never dream about." Looking back over the year since more than 100,000 Christians and other minorities sought refuge in Irbil, Archbishop Warda said he sees the care of God coming to suffering believers more effectively than he could have ever devised himself, in part through local lay and religious Catholics and organizations like the Knights of Columbus, Catholic Relief Services, the Catholic Near East Welfare Association and Aid to the Church in Need. His archdiocese in the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq has, with the help of Catholic relief agencies, provided shelter, food, medical care and educational services to the displaced. "(God) did it in a way that a state could not really offer to its citizens in such a situation," Archbishop Warda said. "He did it through the church and through the generosity of so many people." His own faith is bolstered as well when he sees the undaunted faith of displaced Christians. "People come and tell their stories of persecution and how they were really terrified, having to walk eight to 10 hours during the night," Archbishop Warda said. "In the end, they would tell you, 'Thank God we are alive. Nushkur Allah. We thank God for everything.' That's the phrase they end with. That's strengthening, in a way." In contrast to the goodness he sees in the suffering faithful that have filled Irbil, Archbishop Warda recoils when he describes the Islamic State, which he often refers to by its Arabic "criminal name," "Daesh." "Daesh is evil," he said. "The way they slaughter, the way they rape, the way they treat others is brutal. They have a theology of slaughtering people." And he knows that the evil that overtook Mosul could also strike Irbil. "It's quite possible, but the coalition, led by the Americans, has stopped Daesh from advancing," Archbishop Warda said. "This has given some sense of security to the people. But Daesh is just 40 kilometers (25 miles) from Irbil. It's not far away. Anything could happen." This uncertainty and the horrific experiences of the past year have led many Christians who fled to Irbil to move on to refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey with the intention of emigrating from the Middle East for good -- something that saddens Archbishop Warda. "They lost trust in the land and their neighbors," he said. "Everyone has betrayed them and treated them as a treasure to be stolen, took their houses and property. Their daughters were under threat at any time." The thousands who remain in Irbil have moved from makeshift shelters on church properties and in public schools to prefabricated houses and pre-existing homes provided or rented by the church. Some want to stay in the region and are seeking jobs to support their families. "All of them are waiting for Mosul to be liberated so that they can go back again and start their life again," Archbishop Warda said. An important step that he thinks will help galvanize the international community to help Iraqi Christians is for national leaders to join with Pope Francis and recognize what is happening there as a genocide. He spoke of this in Indianapolis -- where he visited his fellow Redemptorist, Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin -- and in Washington. "It's genocide. It has all the facts, events, stories and experiences to meet the definition of genocide," Archbishop Warda told The Catholic Standard, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Washington. Recognizing the genocide would mean "those people are not forgotten," the archbishop said. "They are remembered and acknowledged. Their sacrifices and experiences are not forgotten. We'd be giving them just status, to help the world not repeat (this)." "Do not wait another 20 years and look back to what happened and say, 'Well, I'm sorry that we did not do something really decisive,'" he told The Criterion. - - - Contributing to this story was Mark Zimmermann in Washington.  - - -Copyright © 2015 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

  • IMAGE: CNS photo/Ettore Ferrari, EPABy Cindy WoodenVATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Parents who juggle packed work and family schedules deserve a Nobel Prize in mathematics for doing something not even the most brilliant scientists can do: They pack 48 hours of activity into 24, Pope Francis said. "I don't know how they do it, but they do," the pope told thousands of people gathered Aug. 26 for his weekly general audience. "There are moms and dads who could win the Nobel for this!" Focusing his audience talk on the family and prayer, Pope Francis said he knows modern life can be frenetic and that family schedules are "complicated and packed." The most frequent complaint of any Christian, he said, is that he or she does not have enough time to pray. "The regret is sincere," the pope said, "because the human heart seeks prayer, even if one is not aware of it." The way to begin, he said, is to recognize how much God loves you and to love him in return. "A heart filled with affection for God can turn even a thought without words into a prayer." "It is good to believe in God with all your heart and it's good to hope that he will help you when you are in difficulty or to feel obliged to thank him," the pope said. "That's all good. But do we love the Lord? Does thinking about God move us, fill us with awe and make us more tender?" Bowing one's head or "blowing a kiss" when one passes a church or a crucifix or an image of Mary are small signs of that love, he said. They are prayers. "It is beautiful when moms teach their little children to blow a kiss to Jesus or Mary," the pope said. "There's so much tenderness in that. And, at that moment, the heart of the child is transformed into a place of prayer." "Isn't it amazing that God caresses us with a father's love?" he asked the crowd in St. Peter's Square. "It's beautiful, so beautiful. He could have simply made himself known as the Supreme Being, given his commandments and awaited the results. Instead, God did and does infinitely more than this. He accompanies us on the path of life, protects us and loves us." If you learn as a child to turn to God "with the same spontaneity as you learn to say 'daddy' and 'mommy,' you've learned it forever," he said. By teaching children how to make the sign of the cross, to say a simple grace before meals and to remember always that God is there and loves them, he said, family life will be enveloped in God's love and family members will spontaneously find times for prayer. "You, mom, and you, dad, teach your child to pray, to make the sign of the cross," Pope Francis said. The simple little prayers, he said, will increase family members' sense of God's love and presence and their certainty that God has entrusted the family members to one another.- - -Editors: A video to accompany this story can be found at https://youtu.be/mWRmByVhp30.- - -Copyright © 2015 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

  • By VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation should be a time for individuals to examine their lifestyles and the way they impact the environment, Pope Francis said. At the end of his weekly general audience Aug. 26, the pope asked Catholics and "all people of goodwill" to join members of the Orthodox Church in the special day of prayer Sept. 1. "We want to make our contribution to overcoming the ecological crisis that humanity is experiencing," the pope said, explaining why he decided the Catholic Church should mark the annual day of prayer begun by the Orthodox Church in 1989. Around the world, the pope said, church groups are planning prayer and reflection initiatives in order to make the day of prayer a key moment for "assuming coherent lifestyles" that have less negative impact on nature. Pope Francis invited everyone to join him and Vatican officials for an evening prayer service Sept. 1 in St. Peter's Basilica.- - -Copyright © 2015 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.