New York Archdiocese, One of the World’s Grandest, Shrinks

Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan prays during a Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York. RNS photo by Gregory A. Shemitz/RNS.

The Archdiocese of New York, with the second-largest Catholic population in the country and an unparalleled place in U.S. church history, is shrinking: Cardinal Timothy Dolan on Nov. 2 announced that nearly a third of the archdiocese’s 368 parishes would be merging, and some would close.

“This time of transition in the history of the archdiocese will undoubtedly be difficult for people who live in parishes that will merge,” Dolan said in a statement. “There will be many who are hurt and upset as they experience what will be a change in their spiritual lives, and I will be one of them.”

The reorganization was years in the making and some downsizing appeared inevitable, as happened in the last round of cutbacks, in 2007. While the sprawling archdiocese is still home to 2.8 million Catholics, fewer of them are attending Mass or Catholic schools, and costs are rising. The archdiocese said it is spending $40 million a year to prop up failing or redundant parishes.

Still, the extent of the changes, the largest in the more than 200-year history of the archdiocese, upset many Catholics, especially in neighborhoods where waves of immigration had built and revived parishes across the decades.

“I feel very sad; I was baptized here,” Sonia Cintron, 75, a member of the Church of the Holy Rosary in East Harlem, told The New York Times. “Here we’re family; we loved each other.”

Some parishioners have vowed to try to keep their churches open through petitions and protests.

Putting the Immigration Debate in Human Terms

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush recently stated that people who come into the country unauthorized to find work and support their families are doing so as “an act of love.” In a Miami Herald op-ed, Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski is of Miami echoed the idea that this conversation is fundamentally about people:

To demonize irregular migrants as “lawbreakers” certainly generates heat but does not give any light to the urgent task of fixing our broken immigration system. This is not to condone the violation of the law — but as Gov. Bush suggests, these migrants are not criminals. Being in the United States without proper documents is not a criminal felony but a civil misdemeanor.

With his comment, Gov. Bush hit a nerve that runs through the immigration debate… With one three-word phrase, Gov. Bush has helped humanize these migrants — they are human beings who love their families, just as Americans do . This runs counter to the rhetoric of many shrill anti-immigrant voices and reframes the debate in human terms.

Read full article HERE .

Attendees: They Came, They Saw, They Said...

“The more I listened to Jim Wallis, the more that word ‘engagement’ is what entered my mind. And all I could think of is that we are a very entertainment-centered culture, and I’m kind of entertainment-centered in many ways myself. But ‘engagement’ — that is the only choice that we can make as Christians. We have to be engaged in the world: ‘I was hungry, and you gave me to eat.’ You didn’t sit there and watch a movie about hunger; you did something about it.

Our Lady of the Watershed

OUR LADY QUEEN of Peace church sits atop a low bluff overlooking the Army Navy golf course. This vibrant Arlington, Va. Catholic community has a history of staring hopelessness in the eye and declaring, “Not on our standing ground!”

Queen of Peace was founded by African Americans in the midst of virulent segregation. In the 1940s, Arlington’s black Catholics had to travel two hours by buses to attend a Mass where they were welcome. There was a closer church, but black Catholics were relegated to the back pew and prevented from receiving communion before whites. In 1945, 16 families pooled their money, hired a black real estate agent, and purchased small parcels of adjoining property under various names so as to not arouse suspicion. In an era when redlining and “neighborhood covenants” protected white enclaves and economic power, this was a courageous act. A little less than two acres—their standing ground—was purchased for $14,000. The bishop blessed Queen of Peace, Arlington’s first black Catholic congregation, on Pentecost Sunday 1947.

Now, nearly 70 years later, this multicultural community is asking a new question: With global temperatures rising and changes visible everywhere in nature, how do we face the truth of climate change?

During a speaker series in March focused on “the integrity of creation,” I encouraged them to overlap the ecclesial concept of “parish” with the ecological one of “watershed.” For life to persist, there must be living water. Scientists tell us that each watershed, no matter how small, is responsive to climate change. Since human activity has destabilized the climate, changing human activity is important in undoing the harm. And since the earth’s biosphere is made up of interlinked watershed communities, perhaps restoring our particular watershed is analogous to healing the earth at its “cellular” level, which would be a positive contribution.

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Catholic Throwback Thursday: Remembering The Other "Bishop Of The Slums"

Remembering Dom Hélder, 1999: The periodical “Sojourners: Faith in Action for Social Justice” wrote of Dom Hélder at the time of his death in 1999: "The gospel is so contrary to the way of the world that it has to be shown, not merely told. Dom Helder Camara is one who showed the way. Helder Camara was the Brazilian Catholic archbishop who became renowned throughout the world as the inspirer of Latin America’s liberation theology movement. Barely five feet tall, Dom Helder never embraced the pomp and ceremony of his rank. He wore a plain brown cassock and a simple wooden cross. As a young priest he served in the ghettos of Rio de Janeiro. It was here that he first began to speak of the unjust structures of poverty, saying, "When you live with the poor, you realize that, even though they cannot read or write, they certainly know how to think." In 1955, Camara founded CELAM, the Latin American bishops’ council, the first organization of its kind in the world. In 1960, during the preparatory meetings for Vatican II, Dom Helder brought to Rome the agenda of a "preferential option for the poor." He even suggested that the pope give the Vatican and all its art to the United Nations for its work with the poor, and live in a humble manner as bishop of Rome. Camara himself refused the episcopal mansion, choosing instead a modest three-room house behind the church in Recife, Brazil. When Mother Teresa asked him how he managed to maintain his humility, Camara replied that he had just to imagine himself making a triumphant entry into Jerusalem—not as Jesus, but as the ass. Dom Helder Camara died on August 27, 1999, at age 90, lying in his hammock surrounded by his closest friends. We offer these memories of Dom Helder from more of his "friends," far and wide. —The Editors”

One Year In: The Joyful Surprise Of Pope Francis

Today the world celebrates Pope Francis' first year. Notice I didn't say the church is celebrating, but the world. The pope has graced the covers of every magazine from TIME to Rolling Stone over the past year. People all over the world are delighted by the breath of fresh air he has brought. His popularity has moved beyond Catholics to Christians of all kinds, believers from other faith traditions, agnostics, and the "nones," who are very drawn to this pope who emphasizes love and simple living.

Questions and Answers About Ash Wednesday

Rev. John G. Vlasny, archbishop of Portland, performs the Ash Wednesday ceremony. Photo by Michael Lloyd. Via RNS

This Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent with Ash Wednesday. For Christians, Lent is a 40-day season of fasting, reflection, and penance culminating in Holy Week and the Easter Sunday commemoration of Jesus’ Resurrection.

The Rev. Arne Panula, director of the Catholic Information Center in Washington, D.C., said his experience is that more people go to church on Ash Wednesday than any other holiday, including Christmas and Easter.

Here are a few basics on the Ash Wednesday tradition.

Are Those Really St. Peter’s Bones on Display at the Vatican?

St. Peter in Prison (The Apostle Peter Kneeling). Photo courtesy Rembrandt [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons/RNS

When Pope Francis cradled the small box said to contain nine bone fragments believed to be the mortal remains of St. Peter, the first pope, he fanned the flames of a long-standing debate over the authenticity of ancient church relics.

Most old churches in Italy contain some ancient relic, ranging from a glass tube said to hold the blood of St. Gennaro in Naples to a section of what is believed to be Jesus’ umbilical cord in the Basilica of St. John of Lateran in Rome. Perhaps the most famous religious relic in Italy — the Shroud of Turin, believed by many to be Jesus’ burial cloth — will go on display again in early 2015, and Turin Archbishop Cesare Nosiglia this week invited Pope Francis to attend its public debut.

But St. Peter’s bones are of particular importance, since they are the very basis — both architecturally and spiritually — for Catholicism’s most important church. And yet the bones were only discovered during a series of excavations in the 1940s, almost 1,900 years after Peter died, in either 64 or 67 A.D.

Brazil Tries to Combat Religious Intolerance of Minority Faiths

Juliana Lima and Jenifer Felicio, Candomble young women, pose for a photograph. Photo via RNS/by Robson Coelho

The couple practiced Candomble, an African-Brazilian faith with roots in Brazil’s slave trade.

They dressed in white and believed in an all-powerful God who is served by lesser deities, blending Catholicism with African spiritualism, or the belief that the dead communicate with the living.

But their neighbor, who attended a local evangelical church, disapproved. On a balmy day one year ago he shot and killed the husband as he was screwing in a light bulb in his yard.