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Suicide is on the rise - What can the Catholic Church do to help?

Denver, Colo., Sep 15, 2019 / 04:42 pm (CNA).- This past week marked National Suicide Prevention Week in the United States, a week where mental and public health advocates share tips and advice on suicide prevention and spotting the warning signs of suicide.

On Monday of that week, popular evangelical pastor and mental health advocate Jarrid Wilson, 30, reportedly committed suicide. Just hours prior to his death, Wilson had posted a message on Twitter about Jesus’ compassion for the depressed and suicidal.

“Loving Jesus doesn’t always cure suicidal thoughts,” Wilson wrote. “Loving Jesus doesn’t always cure depression. Loving Jesus doesn’t always cure PTSD. Loving Jesus doesn’t always cure anxiety. But that doesn’t mean Jesus doesn’t offer us companionship and comfort. He ALWAYS does that,” Wilson tweeted.

Wilson had been a long-time advocate for mental health, and founded “Anthem of Hope,” a Christian outreach for the depressed and suicidal, with his wife. His death followed that of Pastor Andrew Stoecklein, another young, vibrant evangelical pastor and mental health advocate, who committed suicide last year. 

In the span of just 16 years, suicide rates among working-age Americans (aged 16-64 years) spiked 34% between 2000 and 2016, according to data from the Center for Disease Control. Among Americans aged 10-24, the spike was even more dramatic - CDC data shows a 50% increase in suicides among this group between 2000-2017.

The suicides of these two pastors highlight this concerning upward trend in suicide, especially among young people, even among those who are part of a Christian community.

CNA spoke with three mental health professionals about why suicide rates, particularly among young people, are increasing, and what the Catholic Church and other faith communities can do to help.

Overconnected, and under pressure

Deacon Basil Ryan Balke is a licensed therapist at Mount Tabor Counseling in the Denver area, and the co-host of the podcast “Catholic Psyche,” which aims to educate people on the integration between the psychological sciences and Catholic spirituality, philosophy and theology. He is also a married deacon with the Ruthenian Byzantine Catholic Church.

Balke told CNA that he thinks one of the driving factors of an increase in suicide among teens and young adults is their constant connectedness to the world through mobile devices, coupled with a lack of greater meaning in their lives.

“When I was in high school...I would go home, and I wouldn't really have any contact with my friends unless I wanted it,” Balke said.

“And now with the saturation of the iPhone...you get the communication that is constantly there and constantly moving and so you can never unplug, and you can never continue on with life outside of the image you have to put out into the world (through social media),” he said.

“They’re always distracted, always moving forward. I was a youth minister for many years as well, and it was just - these kids never had a moment's peace,” he added.

Tommy Tighe is a licensed marriage and family therapist in the Bay area in California, who also hosts a podcast on Catholicism and mental health called “St. Dymphna’s Playbook.” Tighe told CNA that despite having more connections, young people today are more isolated than ever.

“There's so much more pressure...there’s so much more of a drive to be popular,” Tighe said, but social media connections often do not equate to “a close-knit community of close friends.”

According to a 2015 article from the peer-reviewed research journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, frequent social media use in children and teenagers is associated with poor psychological functioning, as it limits their daily face-to-face interactions, impairing their ability to keep and maintain meaningful relationships.

The study found that students who reported using social media for two or more hours daily were more likely to poorly rate their own mental health, and experienced high levels of psychological distress and suicidal ideation.

“There’s a trend towards superficial relationships, and of course you don't post on Instagram ‘I'm depressed’ or something like that, so I think people don't know who to reach out to,” Tighe noted.

Furthermore, Balke said, “I think what is also happening is the younger people have lost meaning in their day-to-day lives as well. I think all of us have lost meaning as a force in our lives.”

Balke said especially for young people, there is an increasingly intense pressure to perform academically or athletically that has replaced the things that used to bring people a sense of greater purpose, such as faith or virtue or close familial connections.

“Whether it be sports, they have to be track stars, they have to be in all AP (advanced placement) classes, they have to have like 30 college credits before they graduate high school, a 4.0 is not good enough anymore it's gotta be a 4.3 or something,” he said. “I don't even know how you do that. They're pushing themselves so aggressively to the point where there's no meaning behind it all because they don't have an overarching purpose. These things are substitutes for that.”

“You might do something stupid like literally eating a tide pod, laundry detergent, and you become world-famous for thirty seconds. It's so crazy,” he said. “It's like these kids are just waiting for their next big break.” 

The lingering stigma of mental health care

Another driving factor in the spike in suicides among young people and other populations is the lingering stigma of seeking out therapy or other mental health interventions, Tighe said.

“I think we try to act like we’ve really changed (as a society) in our perception of mental health, but I don't think that's really true,” Tighe said.

“Especially...it seems like every time there's one of these mass tragedies in our country, mental health gets brought up and I think that pushes people even further away from wanting to reach out or identify as having an issue,” he added.

Additionally, Tighe said, not only do young people today have a harder time making meaningful relationships with their peers, parents are also often afraid to broach the subject of suicide and mental health with their children.

“I'm hoping that the younger generation of parents will be a little bit more willing, but it's scary, right? That’s super scary to talk about.”

But talk about it parents must, Balke said, and the more specific they are, the better.

“You want to use that exact phrase: ‘Are you thinking about killing yourself?’ Or ‘Are you thinking about suicide?’ You don't want to use the phrase ‘self harm,’ or ‘Are you thinking about hurting yourself?’” he said. “You want to be very clear.”

Some people fear that bringing up suicide may plant the idea of suicide in their child’s head, or may worsen their depression, but Balke said that studies show that these fears are unfounded.

“Statistically speaking - you can't catch suicidal thoughts,” Balke said. “You're not going to be pushing kids to become suicidal by asking, ‘Are you thinking about suicide?’ That’s actually... helping them come out of that isolation.”

The Soul Shop movement: helping congregations prevent suicide 

In 1999, Fe Anam Avis was the pastor of a Presbyterian church in a small suburban town in southern Ohio when the suicide of three students within seven months rocked his community.

Searching for help and resources for his grieving congregants, he found that there was little to nothing when it came to faith-based resources for suicide prevention and mental health. He started traveling to speak about suicide, but noticed that clergy and church leaders weren’t among his audience members.

“He said, ‘I would go to these towns and they would have me in a fire hall and I would give a presentation about suicide and a hundred people would show up in a small town. And not one of them would be a clergy person,’” Michelle Snyder told CNA. Snyder is the director of Soul Shop, an organization founded by Fe that trains clergy and congregations in suicide prevention and interventions. Fe has since retired.

“(Fe) said consistently it felt like people in the church were not connecting this issue of suicide prevention with faith, and pastors were just not showing up to engage with this as an issue as a matter of faith.”

That’s what spurred Fe to found Soul Shop movement, a group which now travels the country to give workshops to congregations on how to speak about suicide, how to prevent it, and what the warning signs are.

“I'll often say to a group of faith community leaders, if you're asking yourself the question, is anybody in my parish thinking about suicide? You're asking yourself the wrong question. Because the right question is, which six people out of the hundred here are thinking about suicide right now?” Snyder said.

Part of the training consists in simply raising the awareness among clergy and church leaders that there are people in desperation within their own congregations who are at risk for suicide and need help. Snyder said they also train congregations on how to support people who have been impacted by the suicide of a family member or friend.

In addition, they study the stories about suicide, or suicidal ideation, found in Bible passages.

“There's quite a few,” she said. “We've got Judas, the story of Judas, and that's a suicide. But you've also got stories like Elijah (who was) praying to die. You've got Saul, who fell on his own sword and killed himself...you've got Job, who said death would be better than what I'm experiencing. You've got lots of heroes in the Bible who thought about (it) or else just said, ‘I'm in so much pain. Death would be better,’ but who didn't attempt (it). So you've got lots of suicide - you've got suicide attempts, you've got suicides, you've got suicide intervention.”

They also train church leaders in spotting some of the warning signs of a person who is at risk for suicide.

Tighe said some of those warning signs include people who have been noticeably depressed for long periods of time, social withdrawal, talking about suicide or self-harm, or the giving away of prized pocessions, among other things.

A warning sign that might seem strange, Tighe said, is when someone who has been depressed for a while is suddenly and inexplicably happy again.

“If someone's been super depressed and then all of a sudden they're sort of feeling really good...that makes us very nervous, because sometimes it’s because they’ve made the decision like, okay, on Friday, I'm going to do it. And they feel like a burden lifted off their shoulders, because there's an end in sight,” he said.

When those risk factors are spotted, those are the times to specifically ask people if they’re considering suicide, Tighe added.

During the Soul Shop trainings, Snyder said, the group takes a public health approach to suicide, meaning that they train faith communities to take a collective responsibility for the health of their own people.

“We spend a whole day equipping communities of faith on how to be communities of faith in relationship to this issue,” she said.

One of the biggest suicide prevention tools that communities of faith can provide, Snyder said, is being "soul-safe" communities of faith, where people feel connected and valued as whole people, and not just for one aspect of their identity.

People who are more resilient to suicide are those whose don’t have all of their “eggs in one basket,” Snyder noted.

“If every egg is in the basket of being on a full scholarship for football, and then I get injured, every egg was in that basket. I have no Plan B, and so that becomes a risk. And helping our people in our congregation become well-rounded people with lives that are full and rich and diverse can be a suicide prevention initiative.”

Soul Shop, church communities that are trained in suicide awareness and prevention are called “soul-safe communities,” Snyder said, which are “communities where people are intentionally connected to each other...communities where everybody knows what to look for. Communities where we are aware of our tendency to shun when we get uncomfortable and are challenged to not do that.”

What else can be done?

Besides hosting a Soul Shop or other suicide prevention training, what else can pastors and parishes do to help prevent suicide?

Balke said he would encourage all pastors to meet with their staff and frequent volunteers in order to familiarize them with locally available mental health resources. They should know the location of clinics, the hours of those clinics, and what crisis numbers to call, he said.

“They need to have quick access to them, so that when someone is coming in their office, or after a bible study or whatever it is when this kind of conversation comes up, they have it on their phone ready to go and they won't have to go searching for it,” he said.

Tighe said he recommended that parishes have flyers posted on their bulletin boards with information on local mental health resources, as well as local crisis hotlines to call or text. In the United States, texting “741741” will connect users to a crisis text line.

Text lines get great response rates, Tighe said, because “everyone's like, okay I would send a text, because it's easier. And they're incredible. We get people who come to our clinic who are like, ‘I was driving to the bridge, (because that's a very popular thing here in the Bay Area for people who are suicidal), and for whatever reason texted these people and they told me to come to your clinic before I went.”

Pastors and clergy should also make it a point to build a personal relationship with the mental health professionals in their congregation, Balke said.

“Someone that they can just phone and say, ‘Hey, what do you think about this? What should I do in this situation?’” he said. “I have a number of priests and deacons who have phoned me on a regular basis and say, ‘You know, someone came into my office and said this this and this. What's going on here?’”

Pastors and other church leaders also need to treat suicide and mental health issues with the seriousness they deserve, Balke said, and not treat them as something that is either not a serious issue, or something that can be solved solely by prayer or spiritual direction.

“Mental health in the Church is a real problem, and...it's not necessarily being addressed with the seriousness, from an institutional level, that it deserves. People are committing suicide in our parishes and in our churches.”

Snyder said that she is confident that, if properly trained, churches and parishes have a key role to play in preventing suicides in their communities.

“We talk a lot about putting your seatbelt on before the accident happens. And that's kind of what we're describing here, is how do we do that in faith communities long before crisis strikes,” she said.

 

 




Correction 9/17: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified "soul-safe" communities as "full faith" communities. It has since been corrected. 

 

Memorial of Sts. Cornelius, Pope, and Cyprian, Bishop, Martyrs

Memorial of Sts. Cornelius, Pope, and Cyprian, Bishop, Martyrs Readings: 1 Timothy 2:1-8 Psalms 28:2, 7, 8-9 Luke 7:1-10 Memorial of Saints Cornelius and Cyprian Readings: 2 Corinthians 4:7-15 Psalms 126:1BC-2AB, 2CD-3, 4-5, 6 John 17:11B-19

The post Memorial of Sts. Cornelius, Pope, and Cyprian, Bishop, Martyrs appeared first on Catholic Digest.

St. Cyprian-When we pray

Memorial of Sts. Cornelius, Pope, and Cyprian, Bishop, Martyrs When we pray, we pray not for one person, but for all, because we are all one. God, the master of peace and harmony, desires that we should pray for all even as he himself bore us all. — St. Cyprian

The post St. Cyprian-When we pray appeared first on Catholic Digest.

Pope Francis: God forgets our sins after confession

Vatican City, Sep 15, 2019 / 07:00 am (CNA).- Pope Francis said Sunday that God forgets sins absolved within the confessional.

“How do you defeat evil? Accepting God's forgiveness … It happens every time we go to confession; there we receive the love of the Father who overcomes our sin. It is no longer there, God forgets it,” Pope Francis said in his Angelus message Sept. 15.

“God, when He forgives, loses His memory. He forgets our sins, forgets. God is so good with us,” he added in a departure from his prepared remarks.

In the sacrament of confession, God completely erases the evil confessed, making one new inside, reborn in joy, Pope Francis explained.

“Brothers and sisters, have courage. With God, no sin has the last word,” the pope said.

Pope Francis reflected upon Sunday’s Gospel from Luke in which the Pharisees complain that Jesus “welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

“Jesus 'welcomes sinners and eats with them.' This is what happens to us, in every Mass, in every church: Jesus is happy to welcome us to his table, where he offers Himself for us,” Pope Francis said.

“It is a phrase that we could write on the doors of our churches: 'Here Jesus welcomes sinners and invites them to his table,’” he added.

The pope focused on the lessons of God’s mercy and justice contained within Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son. He said that the elder brother’s rejection of the father’s mercy for the prodigal son contains an important warning.

“The eldest son, who does not accept the mercy of his father ... makes a worse mistake: he is presumed to be just … and judges everything on the basis of his thought of justice,” he said. “It is also a risk for us: to believe in a more rigorous than merciful god, a god who defeats evil with power rather than forgiveness.”

“We are also wrong when we believe ourselves to be right, when we think that the bad ones are the others. Let us not believe ourselves good because alone, without the help of God who is good, we do not know how to overcome evil,” Pope Francis said.

“Our Lady, who unties the knots of life, frees us from the pretense of believing we are righteous and makes us feel the need to go to the Lord, who is always waiting for us to embrace us, to forgive us,” he said.

After praying the Angelus, Pope Francis expressed his joy because of two beatifications this weekend. Benedetta Bianchi Porro, an Italian laywoman, who died in 1964 of a lifelong illness at the age of 28, was declared blessed on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.

At her beatification Sept. 14, Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu called Porro a shining example of “what the cross can and must be for us Christians.”

On Sept. 15, Father Richard Henkes will be beatified in Limburg, Germany. Henkes was a Pallottine priest, who died a prisoner in the Nazi concentration camp in Dachau in 1945 while caring for sick prisoners in the camp.

“The example of these two brave disciples of Christ also supports our journey to holiness,” Pope Francis said.

“Don't be afraid: God loves you, loves you as you are,” the pope said. “Only His love can change your life.”

A bowl of soup, and a chance for compassion

Elmira, NY, Sep 14, 2019 / 04:25 am (CNA).- For nearly 15 years, a Catholic charity in south-central New York has sold ceramic bowls to raise both money for a local food pantry and awareness about the problem of homelessness in the region.

Catholic Charities of Chemung and Schuyler Counties is preparing for its 14th annual Empty Bowls Luncheon on Oct. 15, where donors will eat soup and hear the stories of homelessness.

Lindsay Baker, director of development for Catholic Charities in the area told CNA that the project informs people on poverty statistics and provides them with a souvenir bowl as a reminder of all the “empty bowls in the community.”

The project is a major event for the region. Local artists, including high-schoolers and students and faculty from nearby Elmira College, handcraft commemorative bowls for the luncheon.

“[We have partnered] with our local potters. They create commemorative bowls for each participant to take home with them. It’s meant to be a reminder of hunger in the community,” Baker said.

Most of the bowls are made by professional artisans, like Gene Carr, a local artist who helps each year with the pottery. Bowls are also made by two Elmira professors - Doug Holtgrewe, a former teacher of ceramic, and Chris Longwell, a professor of art. So far, they have made more than 200 bowls for the event.

Participants choose a custom-created bowl when they enter the luncheon, and are served soup from a local deli. Baker said last year the soup was chicken noodle and pumpkin squash.

“The idea is that you are satisfied but you are not stuffed. It’s a hunger awareness event so you may not leave extremely full, but people leaving the soup kitchen don’t always leave full too,” she told CNA.

During the event, those who have been homeless, or whose family members have been homeless, tell their stories.

“Last year, we had a woman share her story. Her son had been in a homeless shelter and he’s a heroin addict. She talked about the struggle she went through and how Catholic Charities met him where he is at and how is on a much better path,” Baker said.

She said the testimonies are a cause for personal reflection, but they’re also fun.

During lunch this year, Baker will read three testimonies from community members who have struggled with poverty. After the three people gather on stage, the crowd will guess which story belongs to whom.

She said the testimonies emphasize the work of Catholic Charities and the success of people who have overcome homelessness. She said stories help contextualize the reality of poverty because the testimonies are from ordinary people in the local community.

“I think this is one of the few events that highlight that it can happen to anybody. We have community members, we have volunteers, we have donors who will share their story. It’s not just somebody else’s problem. It’s actual human beings you can see.”

Proceeds will go to the Samaritan Center, an emergency shelter and a food pantry for homeless families and individuals. According to Catholic Charities, $40, the cost of a single ticket, will allow the organization to feed a family for a week, and $320, the cost for a table of eight, will cover the cost to temporarily shelter 15 people.

Baker said the event is a force for good in the region. She said the project is not only a fundraiser for the Samaritan Center, but it also promotes mental healthcare and awakens people to a reality which is often neglected.

“I think people are kind of numb to the reality of what life is like for some people,” she said. “[This event], in a nice way, slaps them in the face and tells them what life is like. People really leave moved. They have a better appreciation for what is going on behind the scenes.”

Pope Francis: Tradition is ‘the guarantee of the future’

Vatican City, Sep 13, 2019 / 01:11 pm (CNA).- Fidelity to tradition ensures a fruitful future, Pope Francis said in a meeting Thursday with a contemplative-missionary community rooted in the spirituality of St. Augustine.

“To be modern, some believe that it is necessary to break away from the roots. And this is their ruin, because the roots, the tradition, are the guarantee of the future,” Pope Francis said Sept. 12.

In an audience with nearly 200 members of the General Chapter of the Discalced Augustinians, the pope explained that “true tradition” is like the roots that bring a tree sap that allows it to grow, flourish, and bear fruit.

“Never break away from your roots to be modern, that's suicide,” Francis told the Augustinians.

The Order of the Discalced Augustinians (OAD) was founded 1610 as a reform movement of the Order of St. Augustine (OSA), which dates back to 1244.

“In this long religious tradition begun by St. Augustine, you Discalced Augustinians have your roots,” the pope said. “I encourage you to love and deepen your roots again and again.”

“St. Augustine is one of those figures who make us feel fascinated with God, who attracts us to Jesus Christ and attracts us to the Word of God,” he said.

In addition to the normal vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, the contemplative-missionary order based on the Rule of St. Augustine takes a fourth vow of humility, which the order has chosen to emphasize and reflect upon this year with their motto: “Happy to serve the Most High in a spirit of humility.”

Pope Francis said that he is enthusiastic about their decision to focus on humility this year.

“Humility is a ‘key’, a key that opens the heart of God and the hearts of men,” he said.

“And, first of all, it opens your own hearts to be faithful to your original charism, to always feel yourselves disciple-missionaries, available to God's call,” he added.

Pope Francis said we are living in an age in which the mission ad gentes is being renewed, necessitating docility to the Holy Spirit.

“We must always be attentive and docile to the voice of the Spirit: He is the protagonist, it is He who makes the Church grow! Not us, Him. The Holy Spirit is the wind that blows and keeps the Church going with that great strength of evangelization,” he said.

Irish abuse survivor disappointed with global reforms, accountability

IMAGE: CNS/Carol Glatz

By Christopher Gunty

BALTIMORE (CNS) -- Clergy sexual abuse survivor Marie Collins kicked off a five-city U.S. speaking tour on "The Catholic Tipping Point" in Baltimore Sept. 10, noting that she is disappointed with the results of the Vatican summit on child protection and efforts toward accountability and transparency.

Collins, who was one of the original members of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, resigned from that group in 2017 because she was concerned that promised reforms were not being implemented and Vatican leaders were impeding the commission's work.

Speaking to a crowd of about 100 people at the First Unitarian Church of Baltimore, she said the abuse crisis has brought the church to a tipping point. "The church has come to a crossroads," she said. "It's got to decide where it's going to go next because if it doesn't change, it's going to lose everything."

And this change, she said, needs to come from the laity.

Collins told the group she had been molested by a hospital chaplain in Ireland when she was 12.

She said when she finally reported the abuse to a local priest many years later, she was told that she must have tempted the priest who abused her. The priest later lied about that meeting, she added.

Ten years later, she reported the incident to the Dublin Archdiocese and the hospital where the abuse occurred. The hospital offered counseling and reported the allegation to the police; the archdiocese said at the time that the priest had never had any such allegations against him, which was later was found to be false.

"I was lied to in the worst way," she said. When the archdiocese made a statement that it had followed church guidelines in reporting and dealing with the abuse, Collins said she later met with the archbishop, who told her that the archdiocese was allowed to ignore the guidelines because they had no bearing in canon or civil law.

She said that Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, the next archbishop of Dublin, set up a strong child protection office -- a "gold standard" that other bishops should follow. At the archdiocese's invitation, she joined a committee drafting child protection guidelines. "You can't criticize if you're not willing to help if asked," she said. The committee later voted to disband when the committee was encouraged to weaken the document.

"The document released was very weak," Collins said, and it noted that a complaint against a layperson would be reported to civil authorities, but a complaint against a priest would be handled internally.

In 2014, she was invited to be part of a new Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, and she agreed to participate in the group, which was half laypeople and half clergy. Collins was the only member who was a survivor of clergy sexual abuse.

"Sadly, the promises were not kept," she said. The commission could not get adequate staffing and resources or access to other Vatican departments. She resigned in 2017 when she said it was clear the commission wouldn't be able to do what it had intended.

"We put forward a lot of good recommendations to the pope," she said. "They were sent to the Curia. None of the recommendations from 2014 to 2018 were implemented."

She praised Boston Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley, who chaired the commission, for doing what he could. "I don't believe he's a liar," but she thinks Pope Francis has people "whispering in his ear" who don't have the best interests of children as a priority.

"I believe the pope is doing his best," she added, "but I believe he's not being told the truth."

She said she met with Pope Francis when he visited Dublin in August 2018 for the World Meeting of Families and on his flight back to Rome, she said the pope said: "Marie Collins is fixated about accountability."

"I am," she said, to applause. "I take pride in that."

She also told the Baltimore audience that the church "cannot continue to be an institution where clerical secrecy and total dysfunction can continue."

The church needs to remove anyone who would abuse children, she said. "They should all be cleaned out and any colleagues who protected them."

The laity have power in the church, she said. "It's our church. It's our children. We must act."

After Baltimore, Collins' "Catholic Tipping Point" tour was to visit Philadelphia (Sept. 12), Chicago (Sept. 14), New Orleans (Sept. 17) and Los Angeles (Sept. 20).

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Gunty is associate publisher/editor of Catholic Review Media, the media arm of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

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Search for God should be 'first apostolate', Pope Francis tells Augustinians

Vatican City, Sep 13, 2019 / 11:47 am (CNA).- Pope Francis told members of a men’s religious order Friday that the first goal personally and in their apostolates should be an orientation of their hearts toward God, who is Love.

“Your hearts always reaching out to God. Always! Each member of the community should be oriented, as the first ‘holy purpose’ of every day, to the search for God,” the pope told about 150 members of the Order of Saint Augustine Sept. 13.

“This ‘direction’ should be declared, confessed, witnessed among you without false modesty,” he continued.

“The search for God cannot be obscured by other purposes, although generous and apostolic. Because that is your first apostolate. We are here – you should be able to say among yourselves every day – because we walk towards God. And because God is Love, we walk towards Him in love.”

Members of the Order of Saint Augustine, also referred to as Augustinians, live as mendicants directed by the Rule of St. Augustine. The order was gathered in Rome this week for its general chapter.

In the order’s audience with Pope Francis, he noted a writing of Fr. Agostino Trapè, now deceased, who was prior general of the Augustinians from 1965 to 1971.

Fr. Trapè wrote that according to the Rule of St. Augustine, “charity is not only the end and means of religious life, but it is also its center: from charity it must proceed and charity must be oriented, with a perennial movement of circular causality, every thought, every affection, every attitude, every action.”

Pope Francis advised thinking on a meditation St. Augustine once gave on the Church as “‘mater charitas,’ a mother who cries for the division of children and calls and calls for unity of charity.”

St. Augustine wrote to St. Jerome about the experience of charity in community, the pope noted. St. Augustine said he finds it “very natural to abandon myself entirely to the affection of such people, especially when I am oppressed by the scandals of the world: in their hearts I find rest free of concern, being convinced that there is God in it.”

“Dear brothers, this is also the challenge and responsibility for you today,” the pope urged, “to live in your communities in such a way as to make the experience of God together and be able to show it alive to the world!”

He explained that this is a big responsibility and asked them to focus on living their community life well, so that they can show God to the outside world “in a clear, courageous way, without compromise or hesitation.”

“You Augustinians have been called to bear witness to that warm, living, visible, contagious charity of the Church, through a life of community that clearly shows the presence of the Risen One and his Spirit,” he said.

He quoted his 2018 apostolic exhortation on the call to holiness in today's world, Gaudete et exsultate, saying, “Community life ... is made up of many small daily details ... The community that preserves the small details of love, where the members take care of each other and constitute an open and evangelizing space, is the place of the presence of the Risen One who is sanctifying it according to the plan of the Father.”

German bishops respond to Vatican intervention, but documents indicate ongoing disagreement

Vatican City, Sep 13, 2019 / 10:38 am (CNA).- The German bishops’ conference has responded to the Vatican’s intervention in preparations for a binding synodal process to be held in that country beginning in Advent. The conference said Friday that detailed criticisms from the Vatican’s legal department concerned older draft documents, and did not take into account changes made to the German plans.

But a review of conference documents indicates that issues flagged by the Vatican remained unaddressed by the German bishops’ draft statutes, provisionally approved Aug. 19, and still unchanged Aug. 30, 5 days before the Vatican’s intervention.

On Sept. 4, Cardinal Marc Ouellet, Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, wrote to Cardinal Marx as head of the German bishops’ conference, expressing concerns at the German plans to form a Synodal Assembly as part of the “binding process” announced by Marx earlier this year.

CNA reported that the letter, and an accompanying four-page legal assessment of the German plans by the Pontifical Commission for Legislative Texts, expressed reservations about the German plans, especially the intention to consider and pass binding resolutions on matters of universal Church teaching and discipline.

On Sept. 13, the German bishops’ conference published both Ouellet’s letter and the accompanying legal assessment, but rejected the concerns expressed in them, saying the Vatican’s critique was not based on the current version of German plans.

“The opinion of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts addresses the draft version of the Statutes as of June 2019 and does not take into account the version updated July and after the Permanent Council meeting in August, which already no longer contains some passages to which the opinion refers,” a statement from the conference released said Friday.

Cardinal Marx will travel to Rome next week to meet with Ouellette and to “dispel any misunderstandings” about the German plans, the German bishops’ conference said Sept. 13.

Several key “misunderstandings” which could be addressed in that meeting appear to be reflected in the version of the synodal plan approved by the German bishops’ executive committee on Aug. 19.

That document, obtained by CNA, shows that nearly all provisions flagged as problematic by the PCLT assessment remain a part of the German bishops’ plans. 

The Vatican’s legal critique, dated Aug. 1, explained that both proposed content areas and the method proposed for addressing them exceed the German bishops’ authority.

The analysis draws attention to the intention that the Synodal Assembly pass resolutions on four areas concerning universal Church teaching and governance: “authority, participation, and separation of powers,” “sexual morality,” “the form of priestly life,” and “women in Church ministries and offices.” 
All four subject areas remain intact in the August version, passed by the executive committee.

The Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts' assessment also responded to the proposal that the synod would have deliberative power, saying that the German plan seemed to convene a particular council “but without using this term.”
 
“How can a particular Church deliberate in a binding way if the topics dealt with affect the whole Church?” asked Archbishop Filippo Iannone, head of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts.

“The episcopal conference cannot give legal effect to resolutions, this is beyond its competence,” his analysis said.

Despite the German bishops’ insistence that the Vatican had critiqued an earlier version of the proposed statutes, the version passed by the executive committee in August provides, in Article 3, that “The Synodal Assembly is the superior body and has deliberative power. Members of the synodal assembly have an equal right to vote in decision-making matters.”

Also retained in the August draft were provisions for the co-equal representation in the assembly for the German bishops' conference and the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK).

Iannone’s analysis said this particular arrangement would not be acceptable.

“There is an impression that the Episcopal Conference and ZdK are equal to each other: they send an equal number of participants, belong with equal rights to the presidency [of the Assembly], have a deliberative vote, and so on.”

“This parity between bishops and laity is not ecclesiologically valid,” Iannone concluded.

Another key point of concern in the Vatican’s assessment is the lack of Vatican involvement in ratifying any resolutions presented.

“Article 12, 2, determines with respect to the publication of decisions, that those which concern issues that are reserved to the Universal Church are to be transmitted to the Apostolic See. As has already been said, the aforementioned topics exceed the competence of a particular Church,” Iannone wrote, before drawing particular attention to the intent to “transmit” the decisions to Rome.

“One asks: what does it mean, ‘transmit’? Is it only a matter of making the deliberations known, or is it a request for the recognitio [formal approval] as foreseen for the decrees of a particular Council? The draft of the statutes leaves many open questions.”

In the revised draft, approved by the executive committee of the German bishops on Aug. 19, Article 11, 2, states that “Resolutions that concern issues that fall under the authority of the Universal Church will additionally be transmitted to the Apostolic See.”

The Friday statement from the German bishops’ conference said that PLCT concerns are largely moot after revisions made to the synodal statutes in “July and after the Permanent Council meeting in August.” But internal documents of the German bishops’ conference, obtained by CNA, say the most recent version of the statutes was “drafted Aug.1, 2019” with “no changes through Aug. 30, 2019.”

It is not known whether relevant changes were made between Aug. 31 and Sept. 4, when Ouellet sent his letter to Cardinal Marx.

Central Americans want to stay home; development programs help that happen

IMAGE: CNS photo/Julian Spath, Catholic Relief Services

By Dennis Sadowski

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Vanessa Urbina understands how young people in Central America, not seeing an opportunity for work or a good education, could be attracted to make the dangerous trip north in the hope of a better future in the United States.

"Some live in neighborhoods dominated with guns, violence and drug trafficking," she said. "It discourages them from wanting to go to school. It closes the door for them."

As coordinator of Fe y Alegria (Faith and Joy), a training and support program for teenagers and young adults in El Progreso, Honduras, Urbina is working to overcome such negative influences and engender a belief that emigration is not the only option.

The operation partners with Catholic Relief Service's YouthBuild program, which helps unemployed and out-of-school young people, ages 16 to 24, return to school, find work or start their own business.

Fe y Alegria enrolls 400 to 600 young people in each session, said Urbina, 37, who has been coordinator for more than six years after completing her master's degree in Taiwan.

The program's goal is to keep people in local communities so that they can help build a stronger economy in one of the poorest nations in the Western Hemisphere. Students learn various skills in automotive and motorcycle repair, graphic arts, website development, baking and agriculture.

About 20 similar YouthBuild programs exist in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua, said Rick Jones, senior technical adviser in Latin American and the Caribbean for CRS, the U.S. bishops' overseas relief and development agency.

The program is adapted from a model of the same name developed in the United States in the 1970s. Coursework is based on demands of the local labor markets.

Beyond skill development, the programs help students develop interpersonal and life skills, including self-esteem, conflict resolution and teamwork.

Despite Fe y Alegria's efforts, some students are enticed to leave because their families decide to head north, Urbina told Catholic News Service. Last winter about 20 students -- of 467 enrollees -- joined caravans headed to the U.S., their fate unknown, she said.

The training lasts up to two years and focuses on developing the skills most in need locally. After completion, Urbina and her staff connect students with local companies seeking to hire people at reasonable wages. Some students even open their own business.

"There are many possibilities because they get a job. They don't have to leave. They have income," Urbina said.

"You can notice the difference in the young people from when they start and then when they finish," she continued. "They are more mature about their future. They want to be a different person. Some of them only know the violence in the towns and when they're in the program, they change their mind. They think they have a better future. If they have the right attitude, that can be possible."

Jones said about 80% of YouthBuild graduates find work. He credited the high success rate to not just skill development but also to providing the emotional support young people need to cope in the challenging environment in which they live.

Most young people want to stay in Honduras with their families, he explained.

"They'd much rather stay here because they're home," he told CNS. "There's a saying: 'Nobody leaves home unless home is in the mouth of a shark.' When you're threatened, people don't have any other choice (but to leave)."

YouthBuild also has been developing an agricultural program for young people. Trainers have encouraged young people to develop new products beyond the traditional crops.

Jones identified beekeeping as an area of growing interest. There's also an emerging specialty dairy market in which graduates are producing yogurt, cheeses and other in-demand products.

"A lot of young people are willing to do agriculture," Jones said. "This idea that they don't want to do agriculture is a myth. What they don't want to do is be tied to corn and beans. So what we're trying to do is find the crops that are in demand and finding more markets for what's being grown."

YouthBuild also is training young people to monitor the environment, a need that is growing in a region that is seeing changing weather patterns that has disrupted traditional planting and harvesting cycles.

"We just reactivated a rural high school degree in agriculture," he explained. "Right now education doesn't train people to stay on the land in the rural areas. We've got to get people reconnected and give young people exciting options where they use technology to create new opportunities and not feel the only action they have is to leave."

Elsewhere in Central America, largely in the region's so-called dry corridor that stretches across 10 of Guatemala's 22 departments and much of Central America, efforts are underway to help farmers better respond to a changing climate so they are not forced to migrate.

Dan McQuillan, technical adviser for agriculture for CRS in Latin America, said the U.S. bishops' relief and development agency is implementing Water-Smart Agriculture, or Agua y Suelo para law Agricultura, known in Spanish as ASA.

He said the program has moved from watershed management for household consumption to managing limited water resources, especially among subsistence farmers. The evolution emerged because of less predictable rain patterns caused by climate change.

The program also is working on a broader scale, educating urban and rural dwellers about water management.

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Food Program warned in an April report that prolonged droughts and brief heavy rains destroyed more than half the corn and bean crops of subsistence farmers, leading to declining production and more food insecurity. About 1.4 million people are facing food shortages, the agencies said.

In years past, farmers could anticipate when rain would come and prepare their fields appropriately. When necessary, they would borrow money for planting and then pay off the loan when they sold part of their crop beyond what they needed to feed their family.

With erratic rain patterns, however, farmers can misjudge when to plant and lose a substantial portion of their crop if they plant too early or too late. With reduced yields a family could face a greater risk of hunger or a loss of income. Further, common illnesses such as infectious disease, diarrhea and pneumonia compound hunger. Such a situation can fuel emigration to the U.S.

Under ASA, McQuillan said, farmers are learning about crop rotation, cover crops and other practices that hold water in the soil and limit the impact of inconsistent rainfall.

McQuillan said the practices farmers are implementing seem to encourage farmers to "stick it out." "One coffee farmer told us that he was thinking about leaving, and the last three years the yield has increased so he's working at it," McQuillan said.

ASA also has begun discussing how to more effectively use satellite data and other technology to the benefit of farmers. For now, McQuillan said, local efforts will concentrate on tracking rain and weather patterns to aid in the hope finding the optimal time for planting.

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Follow Sadowski on Twitter: @DennisSadowski

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