Browsing News Entries

Browsing News Entries

Inmates at Louisiana prison built casket for Billy Graham

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy BillGraham.or

By Peter Finney Jr.

NEW ORLEANS (CNS) -- In 1995, as inmates at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola lowered the makeshift, cardboard casket containing the body of fellow inmate Joseph Siegel into freshly dug ground at the prison's cemetery, Siegel's body fell through the bottom of the coffin.

Then, as the pallbearers positioned the casket with care over his body and began shoveling dirt, the top collapsed.

Burl Cain, in his first year as warden at the nation's largest maximum-security prison, where all but a fraction of the 5,000 men will die without ever walking back through the gates, had seen enough.

Cain gathered inmates for what, by Angola standards, would be an unusual warden-prisoner talk. Many of the prisoners were skilled craftsmen, who had worked for years to set up the popular Angola Prison Rodeo.

"I told them, 'Men, you're going to die here, and we've got to do this with dignity,'" Cain recalled. "'Y'all are going to build a coffin, and it's going to be a nice coffin. When you die, you've served your sentence, and there's no reason for anybody to kick your body.'"

That event more than two decades ago led to inmates at the prison building the casket for the Rev. Billy Graham, the charismatic evangelical Christian leader who died Feb. 21 at age 99.

Cain served as warden at Angola for 21 years and is credited with changing the violent and deadly prison culture through an emphasis on what he calls "moral rehabilitation."

"I coined that term because everybody liked 'morality' and everybody liked 'rehabilitation,' and the ACLU would leave me alone," Cain said. "I couldn't say 'faith-based' and I couldn't say 'Christian.' That would get me sued."

Cain established seminary education, sponsored by the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, and built several interdenominational chapels, including a hospice chapel funded by Catholic entities and an Alamo chapel, a replica of the original Alamo in San Antonio, Texas, used often by Catholic inmates.

Cain said he was being "selfish" when he decided to open Angola to the outside world, with an emphasis on theological training.

"I realized this: Moral people don't rape, pilfer and steal," Cain said. "So, if I could get these guys to become moral, I'd have a safer prison, I could survive."

In 1997, Chuck Colson, an evangelical Christian who had served prison time for obstruction of justice in the Watergate scandal and who had begun a national prison ministry, visited Angola with Tex Reardon, who was associated with the Rev. Graham and his worldwide evangelical crusades.

"In the 1950s, my mother would send a check for $5 every month to Billy Graham, even though she was a school teacher and my parents were poor," Cain said. "So, I asked Tex Reardon if there was any way he could get Billy Graham to come here -- because this prison needed him."

Not long after that, Graham's son Franklin visited Angola and was so impressed he set the wheels in motion for the construction of two more chapels -- one for the inmates and another, Cain said, for "the employees of our little city."

"They wanted their own people to come build it, because it was a ministry for them," Cain said. "They wanted the pews to be just old-timey so that it would look like an old-timey church."

They put an old bell in the top of an imposing steeple. The bell came from a locomotive that hauled sugar cane around the 18,000-acre Angola plantation the late 1800s, before it became a prison that was larger than the island of Manhattan.

"The Grahams wanted that steeple to be tall enough so that you could see the church from death row," Cain said.

During one of Franklin Graham's visits to Angola, he walked into the prison museum and saw an inmate-made casket. He was overwhelmed by the beauty and simplicity of the treated plywood. The white bedding for the inside of the coffins comes from Walmart.

"He told me, 'This is one my Dad would want to be buried in. It's so plain, but it's built by prisoners. We've got to have these,'" Cain said.

Franklin Graham ordered six coffins, including for Rev. Graham and his wife Ruth, who died in 2007.

Three inmates -- Richard "Grasshopper" Leggett, Clarence "Mr. Bud" Wilkerson and David Bacon -- had the special assignment. Of the three, only Bacon is still alive. He was paroled in December 2012.

"They would pray before they started every day and ask that God would anoint their work, because this was a very serious thing," Cain said. "Billy Graham was a human -- he wasn't God -- but he was one of the godliest humans on the earth. They took it very seriously. And, it was a reverent operation."

At Franklin Graham's request, the three inmates wood-burned their names into the outside of each casket.

Rev. Graham was to be laid to rest March 2, in that Angola coffin, after lying for two days in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda.

Cain said the convergence of sacred circumstances -- how Rev. Graham and faith brought peace to Angola and how Angola brought peace to the Graham family -- leaves him almost speechless.

"If my mother in heaven knows what's going on down here, she would be so proud, because when she wrote those little $5 checks, it influenced her son to like Billy Graham," Cain said. "She led me in that direction."

While, because of ill health, Rev. Graham never could visit Angola, Cain sent him a key to one of Angola's old cells. A few years ago, Cain traveled to the mountains of Montreat, North Carolina, to offer his thanks for all that Rev. Graham and his son had made possible at Angola.

"I got to spend the afternoon with him, and he said, 'I pray for you every day, and my nurse can verify it,'" Cain said. "And then he took out that key and he said, 'Every day, I have a devotional, and I hold that key in my hand, and I pray for you and I pray for your prison.' No wonder we were successful."

- - -

Peter Finney Jr. is executive editor/general manager of the Clarion Herald, newspaper of the Archdiocese of New Orleans.

- - -

Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. 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

Update: As DACA deadline nears, Catholics urge fix for immigration woes

IMAGE: CNS photo/Shannon Stapleton, Reuters


WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Last September, as President Donald Trump pulled the plug on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, he also gave Congress a March 5 deadline to find a permanent legislative solution that would help some 800,000 young adults living the U.S. who were brought into the country without legal permission as children.

As the deadline approaches, with no legislative solution in sight for DACA, the U.S. Catholic bishops and other Catholic leaders as well as Catholic organizations from around the U.S. have been loudly clamoring for relief for the young adults.

So far, lawmakers have failed to deliver any solution even as the deadline approaches and the president's repeal of DACA gets tangled up the courts. Some beneficiaries already face deportation and the loss of permits that allow them to work, drive and attend school.

On Feb. 23, officials of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops again urged all U.S. Catholics to participate a "National Catholic Call-In Day to Protect Dreamers" they have declared for Feb. 26. Participants can call lawmakers by calling (855) 589-5698 and visiting for resources in English and Spanish. The phone number is for the Capitol switchboard' callers press "1" to connect to senators and "2" to connect to representatives.

"With the March 5th deadline looming, we ask once again that members of Congress show the leadership necessary to find a just and humane solution for these young people, who daily face mounting anxiety and uncertainty," said a joint statement from Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, USCCB president; Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles, USCCB vice president; and Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Migration.

They are asking Catholics to contact their members of Congress to urge them to: "Protect 'Dreamers' from deportation; to provide them a path to citizenship; and to avoid any damage to existing protections for families and unaccompanied minors in the process."

Many U.S. bishops have been making personal pleas, peppering various social media channels, posting videos on Facebook and YouTube, and tweets urging Catholics to push lawmakers for action.

In the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, a Mass dedicated to Dreamers will be celebrated at Our Lady Queen of Angels Church in Los Angeles Feb. 25. It will include testimonials from Dreamers, as DACA recipients are known.

San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone made two videos, in English and Spanish, urging participation in the Feb. 26 call-in day. The archbishop's videos can be viewed at or at

In his video message, Archbishop Cordileone said Catholics need to call members of Congress to demand "a legislative fix for DACA, so our brothers and sisters, young people who are here without proper documentation, can get on a track for citizenship and continue contributing to our country, to ask as well for reform of immigration policy that will favor keeping families together. Families are the basic unit of society and society stands and falls on family unity."

In the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, New Mexico, Archbishop John C. Wester issued his second action alert in a week asking Catholics in the state to participate in the national call-in day.

"As Catholics, we believe the dignity of every human being, particularly that of our immigrant and refugee children and youth, must be protected," he said in a late Feb. 22 statement. "The sanctity of families must be upheld. The Catholic bishops have long supported undocumented youth brought to the United States by their parents, known as Dreamers, and continue to do so.

"We ask you to engage with your elected officials to voice your support for these young people and call on your members of Congress to find a bipartisan legislative solution to protect Dreamers immediately," added the archbishop, who also pointed Catholics to to view a video of Bishop Vasquez discussing the issue.

To help tell the story of DACA recipients, the Archdiocese of Santa Fe also calling attention to a music video by the local band Reviva that depicts agents with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement picking up three workers, including a teacher and a construction worker. Its message reflects that reality some in the country are facing.

Workers are handcuffed and taken into custody in the "Take Me Away" video, as a little girl arrives home from school to find her parents gone. The songwriter graduated from St. Pius X High School, a Catholic school in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and the University of Notre Dame in Indiana. The video can be seen at

The Ohio-based Association of U.S. Catholic Priests urged its members to fast and pray, but also to call their lawmakers in Washington asking that Congress pass permanent relief for the young adults affected. The group also asked priests to encourage their parishioners to take part in personal and public actions on behalf of DACA.

In a Feb. 21 newsletter, the association asked its members via email to "fast on Fridays in union with Father Gary Graf, the Chicago priest who has been fasting in support of Dreamers every day," and to support Father Ray Pineda, an ordained priest in Atlanta, who has benefited from DACA and also is facing an uncertain future in the country.

Father Graf has announced he will march in front of the White House for 40 hours straight, from 9 a.m. (local time) March 4 through 5 p.m. March 5. The priest said it will be his final attempt to encourage Trump to extend DACA. As he marches he will hold placards illustrating the number of Dreamers who are losing their status per day, 916, and per week, 6,412. By the end of March, he said, 25, 648 will have lost DACA status.

Hundreds of Catholic leaders have declared Feb. 27 a "Catholic Day of Action" in Washington and planned to pray and sing inside the Russell Senate Office Building.

A news release that the group of leaders includes women religious, who will call on House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, a Catholic, to remember Catholic social teaching about the obligation to protect immigrants, and lead House Members in passing a clean DREAM Act.

The measure -- the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act -- has long been proposed. The bill is what gives DACA recipients the "Dreamer" name.

The USCCB also has created a series of videos available on its YouTube channel and

- - -

Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. 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

Prayer for peace in Congo, South Sudan a call to action, cardinal says

IMAGE: CNS photo/Goran Tomasevic, Reuters

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis' call for a day of prayer and fasting for peace in war-torn countries like South Sudan and Congo is also a reminder for world leaders to protect their countrymen from violence and injustice, a Vatican official said.

In an article for L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, Cardinal Peter Turkson, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, said leaders have "the duty of securing a peaceful life for their fellow citizens."

"We will ask the Lord to tear down the walls of enmity and strengthen the will of government leaders to look for peaceful solutions through dialogue and secure negotiations," the cardinal wrote in the article, published Feb. 22.

In early February, Pope Francis had called for a day of prayer and fasting for peace Feb. 23, with special prayers for Congo and South Sudan.

"Our heavenly Father always listens to his children who cry out to him in pain and anguish; he heals the brokenhearted, and binds up their wounds," the pope had said.

Fighting involving government troops, rebel forces and militias continues in Congo, especially in the East, but tensions also have erupted as protests grow against President Joseph Kabila, whose term of office ended in 2016. New elections have yet to be scheduled.

Expressing sadness over the violent deaths of peaceful protestors, Cardinal Turkson said the international community has "the responsibility of guaranteeing a nonviolent transition toward a new presidency in Congo."

He also highlighted the need for action in South Sudan, which became independent from Sudan in 2011 after decades of war. But, just two years after independence, political tensions erupted into violence.

Noting that the situation was so dire that Pope Francis was forced to cancel a planned visit in 2017, the cardinal said action was needed to aid refugees and displaced people "who represent one-fourth of the population."

"They, too, are men and women, children, young and old who are looking for a place to live in peace," the cardinal said.

Cardinal Turkson said the pope's call for a day of prayer "once again shows his care for the universal church and its closeness to the people who suffer most," as well as a way bring attention to those forgotten by the world.

The day of prayer and fasting is just the latest initiative of Pope Francis "to draw the attention of the international community to extremely painful situations of violence that do not find adequate coverage in the media," the cardinal said.

- - -

Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

- - -

Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. 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

Update: Rev. Graham dies; famous evangelist was admired by most Americans

IMAGE: CNS photo/Shannon Stapleton, Reuters


MONTREAT, N.C. (CNS) -- The Rev. Billy Graham, a fiery Baptist preacher who was easily the most famous evangelist of the 20th century and for decades one of the world figures most admired by Americans, died early Feb. 21 at his home in Montreat, according to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. He was 99.

He had suffered from Parkinson's disease for many years, although he continued to lead crusades until 2005, when he held his last one in New York. In recent years, he also suffered from cancer, pneumonia and other ailments.

Rev. Graham will lie in honor the U.S. Capitol Rotunda Feb. 28-March 1. Senate Majority Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, and House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, will receive the casket with his body when it arrives at the Capitol and will take part in a bicameral service. Members of the public will be able to pay their respects. Rev. Graham will be the first private citizen to lie in honor on Capitol Hill since civil rights heroine Rosa Parks in 2005.

His body will be returned to North Carolina for his funeral March 2 at the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte. The service will be private and by invitation only.

During his more than 60 years of ministry, Rev. Graham welcomed representatives of other denominations, including Catholics, to attend his crusades. In many places local Catholic authorities welcomed him and formed pastoral follow-up programs to welcome lapsed Catholics who were prompted by the preacher to return to the church.

In 1964, Cardinal Richard J. Cushing of Boston said that no Catholic who heard Graham preach "can do anything but become a better Catholic."

At his final crusade, for example, Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn, in whose diocese the crusade was held, said: "As a fellow Christian, I pray that the Lord will continue to bless him in his ministry to preach the Gospel to all who are willing to listen." 

He noted that Rev. Graham encouraged church members who make commitments during a crusade to return to their own churches, and his evangelization office scheduled listening sessions, revival missions and other forms of pastoral outreach in parishes.

Rev. Graham -- who preferred to be called Mr. Graham -- was sometimes regarded as a pastor to presidents because he was known as a spiritual adviser to 13 U.S. presidents, from Harry S. Truman to Donald Trump. He delivered the invocation at eight presidential inaugurations.

He was best known in the United States and worldwide, however, for his crusades -- revival meetings, often held in large stadiums -- that took him to more than 185 countries to preach the message of Jesus Christ and invite people to accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior. In 1957, he filled New York's Madison Square Garden for 16 consecutive weeks.

He preached the Gospel in person to more people than any other evangelist in history -- he reached at least 210 million through his personal appearances and through his radio and television ministries. In 1950, he launched his weekly "Hour of Decision" radio program that became a staple of Christian broadcasting for 60 years.

He reached many more through his films, more than two dozen books, an internationally syndicated newspaper column, "My Answer," and a monthly magazine, Decision, which comes out in six languages and has more than 2 million subscribers.

His 1975 book, "Angels: God's Secret Agents," sold more than a million copies in three months. He wrote more than 30 books, starting in 1947 with "Calling Youth to Christ" and ending in 2015 with "Where I Am: Heaven, Eternity and Our Life Beyond."

When he first met with St. John Paul II in 1981, it was a meeting that had been delayed three years. In 1978, Rev. Graham, on a crusade in Poland, preached at the Catholic cathedral in Krakow and was to have dined with Krakow's Cardinal Karol Wojtyla. But the cardinal had been called out of town on short notice for important business in Rome -- attending the conclave at which he was elected pope.

In an interview with Catholic News Service after a meeting with St. John Paul in 1990, Rev. Graham said being known as an evangelical is misunderstood in some parts of the world.

"Some think in terms of extreme fundamentalism," he said. "But an evangelical is a person who believes in the authority of the Bible, the atonement of Christ on the cross for our sins, of course the virgin birth of Christ, the Resurrection and the need to respond to the good news of the Gospel by repentance and faith."

He praised the pope for his Bible-based vision and message and said the pontiff's homily at the inauguration of his ministry "was a straight evangelistic address."

"Of course Protestants cannot accept everything (the Catholic Church teaches), but they're beginning to find out that we have a great deal in common, and perhaps far more in common than we have differences," he said.

Rev. Graham made common cause with popes later in his life on matters of morality, but in August 1960, he played a role -- though behind the scenes -- in the efforts of a group of Protestant ministers, most of them Baptists, to oppose on religious grounds the election of the Catholic Democratic nominee, John F. Kennedy. The ministers made the decision because, as one of them said: "I fear Catholicism more than I fear Communism."

Reports about how involved Rev. Graham was in this effort are mixed. An associate evangelist of his stated that the preacher had rejected a request from Kennedy that he sign a pledge not to make religion an issue in the campaign. Some accounts say that while he refused to issue such a pledge, he would not come out "publicly" against a Catholic candidate as some Protestants leaders urged him to do. After the election, Rev. Graham and Kennedy were cordial to each other.

He was a friend of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., held integrated rallies beginning in 1953 and was considered a major influence in the civil rights movement. Rev. Graham appeared on the Gallup list of world's most admired men 60 times in his life -- every single year the polling company asked the question.

He founded the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association in Minneapolis in 1950 after a photo in what is now The Atlanta-Journal Constitution daily newspaper showed an usher counting a $16,000 "love offering" from a crusade in Atlanta.

Ashamed at the insinuation that he was making a fortune through his ministry, he formed the association and made it the recipient of crusade offerings as well as all his speaker's fees and book royalties. In 2003, the association was moved to North Carolina to be based in Charlotte, Rev. Graham's hometown.

He received from the association the salary of a community pastor. Today the association, run by his son, William Franklin Graham III, has about $300 million in assets and a yearly budget of more than $100 million. The younger Graham has stirred controversy for the ministry with his criticism of Islam in recent years. Rev. Graham's grandson Will also preaches, and he saw Will preach via a television feed during an August 2012 hospital stay for bronchitis.

With his reputation for integrity and simplicity of life, the sex and money scandals that rocked the ministries of the Rev. Jim Bakker and the Rev. Jimmy Swaggart in the 1980s had no effect on Rev. Graham's organization or ministries.

William Franklin Graham Jr. was born in Charlotte Nov. 7, 1918, and raised on a dairy farm in a strict Presbyterian family. At age 16 he attended a revival meeting led by the Rev. Mordecai Fowler Ham. It led him to commit himself to Christ.

Another conversion experience in college led him to commit his life to preaching the Gospel.

He was ordained a Southern Baptist minister in 1939, graduated from Wheaton College in Illinois in 1943. After two years as a pastor in a Chicago suburb, he began working as a traveling tent evangelist.

From 1945 to 1948, he was first vice president of Youth for Christ International, and from 1947 to 1952, he was president of Northwestern College in Minneapolis, dividing his time between those duties and preaching at revivals.

He formed a lasting partnership with singer George Beverly Shea and song leader Cliff Barrows to lead the revival meetings, which he came to describe as crusades. They came to national attention in 1949, when a meeting in Los Angeles, expected to draw about 3,000 people, attracted 10,000.

Among the many awards Rev. Graham received over the years were numerous honorary doctorates and a wide range of religious, humanitarian and broadcasting honors. They included the prestigious Templeton Foundation Prize for Progress in Religion, the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal, one of the nation's highest civilian honors.

The Billy Graham Library was dedicated in Charlotte May 30, 2007, just two weeks before the death of Ruth Graham, his wife of 64 years. Rev. Graham was to be buried alongside her on the library grounds.

He is survived by two sons and three daughters, 19 grandchildren and 41 great-grandchildren.

- - -

Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. 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

Update: Sisters from Minnesota Catholic schools play on separate Olympic teams

IMAGE: CNS photo/Grigory Dukor, Reuters

By Matthew Davis

ST. PAUL, Minn. (CNS) -- Few schools can claim an Olympic athlete among their alumni base.

Even fewer schools have more than one, especially from the same family. But Hill-Murray High School in Maplewood and St. Odilia School in Shoreview -- both Catholic schools -- are proud to make this claim.

That's because Hannah and Marissa Brandt, graduates of both schools, play on women's Olympic ice hockey teams competing in this year's Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.

Hannah Brandt, a recent standout with the University of Minnesota women's hockey team, is a forward for the U.S. Olympic team, which won the gold medal Feb. 22 in Pyeongchang. Team USA beat Canada, 3-2, in a  shootout, capturing its first gold since 1998.

Marissa Brandt, who was adopted as a baby from South Korea, used her birth name, Park-Yoon Jung, for the Olympics and played defense for the combined Koreas, which lost 8-0 to Switzerland Feb. 10.

Hill-Murray and St. Odilia recognized the sisters' achievements in the weeks leading up to the games. The St. Odilia school office has a display of the Brandts' successes.

Brian Ragatz, St. Odilia principal, said students are encouraged knowing that these athletes sat in the same desks as they do. He said it "really inspires them a little bit more to go out and reach their goal, because it seems a little bit more attainable."

Students at Hill-Murray held a red, white and blue dress-up day during National Catholic Schools Week. They wore the colors to raise funds for parents of Olympians to attend the games.

Hill-Murray had T-shirts and sweatshirts made to celebrate the Brandts. The school will also televise their games in the commons area.

Principal Erin Herman said the Brandt sisters excelled on and off the ice in high school.

"Not only are they great athletes, both Hannah and Marissa were outstanding students and all-around wonderful young women," Herman said. "They are both humble and kind; you would not have known they were Olympic athletes when you met them in the hall."

At St. Odilia, music teacher Carrie Northrop told the elementary school students about the schools' two Olympians, whom she taught.

"This had been a goal of Hannah's since she was a little girl. This was something she talked about when she was going through elementary school," Northrop said.

Northrop said Marissa Brandt originally was more of a figure skater but chose hockey because of her closeness to her sister. Marissa Brandt had a standout career at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter before making the Korean team.

- - -

Davis is on the staff of The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

- - -

Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. 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

Chileans speak to Vatican team sent to investigate abuse cover-up charges

IMAGE: CNS photo/Claudio Santana, Reuters

By Jane Chambers

SANTIAGO, Chile (CNS) -- Chilean clergy sex abuse victims gave testimony to a Vatican team sent to investigate charges that church officials covered up the abuse.

But many of the victims gave their testimony to a Spanish-speaking Vatican official after the main Vatican envoy underwent emergency surgery.

Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta underwent emergency gallbladder surgery in Chile Feb. 21. The next day, on Twitter, the archbishop thanked "all those who have kindly expressed their support and generously offered their prayers as I continue in my recovery. God bless!"

Archbishop Scicluna decided to make the trip to Chile even though he was not feeling well. While listening to testimony Feb. 20, he started feeling worse, but was determined to finish the day. He went to the hospital for a checkup later that evening.

After Archbishop Scicluna was hospitalized, Spanish Father Jordi Bertomeu Farnos, an official of the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, continued hearing testimony. He also met with some Catholics from Osorno, a town in the south of Chile. 

Abuse victims allege that Osorno Bishop Juan Barros -- then a priest -- had witnessed their abuse by his mentor, Father Fernando Karadima. In 2011, Father Karadima was sentenced to a life of prayer and penance by the Vatican after he was found guilty of sexually abusing boys. Father Karadima denied the charges; he was not prosecuted civilly because the statute of limitations had run out.

The victims' spokesman, Juan Carlos Claret, said he was glad they could meet with Father Bertomeu.

"Unlike Scicluna, he's a native Spanish speaker, so he doesn't need a translator to help with our conversations," Claret told Catholic News Service.

Claret said the controversy over Bishop Barros was dividing the Catholic community, and many people do not want a bishop they are convinced covered up for Father Karadima.

Pope Francis sent Archbishop Scicluna and Father Bertomeu to Chile after a controversy that reignited during the papal visit to Chile in January. Speaking to reporters, Pope Francis supported Bishop Barros and said, "The day they bring me proof against Bishop Barros, I will speak. There is not one piece of evidence against him. It is calumny."

He later apologized to victims and admitted that his choice of words wounded many.

After their meeting with the Spanish priest, Claret and the other members of his team said they were very pleased that they are finally getting a chance to be heard. He said they spoke about the atmosphere in Osorno and how it is affecting the people living there.

Officials expect it will take Archbishop Scicluna up to 72 hours to recover and said he is determined to carry on with the hearings.

Archbishop Scicluna is president of a board of review within the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith; the board handles appeals filed by clergy accused of abuse or other serious crimes. The archbishop also had 10 years of experience as the Vatican's chief prosecutor of clerical sex abuse cases at the doctrinal congregation.

On Feb. 20, the archbishop spoke to Chilean James Hamilton, who first met Father Karadima many years ago as a teenager in his parish in Santiago. Hamilton's testimony about his abuse helped lead to Father Karadima's conviction by the Vatican.

After Hamilton met with Archbishop Scicluna, he said, "I am sure that the information that comes from these talks will be truthful and sincere."

Hamilton criticized Chilean church leaders, claiming they were "even capable of misleading the pope." Hamilton accuses them of blocking his and other victims' efforts to have their voices heard by the Vatican.

Jaime Coiro, spokesman for the Chilean bishops, said of the investigation, "This is a process where people are invited to be listened to, but there will be no response until the investigation is complete."

Before coming to Chile, Archbishop Scicluna traveled to New York to hear from another of Father Karadima's victims, Juan Carlos Cruz.

Cruz called the four-hour meeting "a good experience ... I feel that I was heard, it was very intense and very detailed and sometimes eye-opening for them."

During their visit to Chile, the Vatican team was scheduled to hold around 20 meetings with people who want to denounce Bishop Barros. All of them have been asked to send written documents containing their accusations.

"The pope needs to understand that is what survivors need -- to be heard," said Cruz.

- - -

Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. 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

U.S. Catholic Bishops Chairman of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs Offers Condolences on the Death of the Rev. Billy Graham

WASHINGTON—His Excellency, Bishop Joseph Bambera of Scranton, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' (USCCB) Office for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, has issued the following statement on receiving the news of the Rev. Billy Graham's death:

"Headlines today will describe Billy Graham as the preacher to millions and the advisor of presidents but first and foremost, he was a man of deep Christian faith. Committed to the Gospel, his personal witness and preaching of Jesus Christ touched the hearts of Americans spanning many generations.

In a particular way, Catholics feel the loss of one of the greatest pastors of our time. His ecumenical approach in ministry helped to forge bonds of friendship and understanding between Catholics and Protestants. He reminded us that what we had in common in Christ was greater than what divided us.

We pray for God to comfort his family and we join Christians throughout the nation and the world who pray today with blessed assurance, 'Well done, good and faithful servant…enter into the joy of your master!'" (Matt 25:23)

Keywords: U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, USCCB, Bishop Joseph Bambera, Office for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, Rev. Billy Graham, prayers, condolences


Media Contact:
Judy Keane 

USCCB President Offers Condolences on the Death of the Rev. Billy Graham

WASHINGTON—His Eminence, Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, Archbishop of Galveston-Houston and President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, has issued the following statement on receiving the news of the Rev. Billy Graham's death:

"Today, we pray for the soul of the Rev. Billy Graham to the Lord he so dearly loved and offer our condolences to his family. Billy Graham was a preacher of God's Word not only in his sermons, but also in the very life he lived. His faith and integrity invited countless thousands around the world into a closer relationship with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God for the ministry of Billy Graham."

Keywords: U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, USCCB, Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, The Rev. Billy Graham, prayers, condolences


Media Contact:
Judy Keane 


Pope reassures foster kids, says life events can make adults 'fragile'

IMAGE: CNS photo/Mohammed Badra, EPA

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- When people are unable to love or accept a child with problems or illness, many times it's because they are too weak themselves to be able to bear someone else's vulnerabilities, Pope Francis told a group of children and young people who are wards of the state.

"If I have a giant rock, I can't put it on top of a cardboard box because the rock will crush the box," he said, explaining how some adults "don't have sufficient strength to bear fragility because they themselves are fragile."

The pope met with the group, which included minors living in foster care or receiving other forms of support and help from the Romanian-based NGO, called "FDP: Protagonists in Education." The Vatican released Feb. 19 a written transcript of the meeting, which was held at the Vatican Jan. 4.

The pope said he received the group's questions beforehand so he could better prepare to answer them. One question in particular, he said, had made him cry.

The question, which the young man read aloud at the audience, was why his mother didn't want or accept him. He said he was given up when he was 2 months old and when he turned 21 he got in touch with his birth mother and even stayed with her for two weeks; but he said it didn't go well and he was forced to leave.

"My father is dead. Am I at fault if she doesn't want me? Why doesn't she accept me?" the unidentified man asked the pope.

"Your mother loves you, but she doesn't know how to, she doesn't know how to express it. She can't because life is hard and unjust, and that love that is trapped inside her, she doesn't know how to say it or how to caress you," the pope said.

He urged the young man not to despair or become cynical, but to hold on to hope. "I promise to pray that one day she can show you that love."

These terrible situations have nothing to do with anyone's fault, the pope said. "It's a question of the immense fragility in adults, due to, in your case, much poverty, many social injustices that crush the smallest and the poorest."

"Spiritual poverty," too, is to blame, he said, because it leads to "hardened hearts, and it causes what seems impossible: a mother who abandons her own child. This is fruit of material and spiritual poverty, fruit of a mistaken, inhuman social system that hardens hearts, that leads to mistakes, makes it so we cannot find the right path."

This question, the pope said, was much like another question from another young person who asked, "Why are there parents who love healthy children and not those who are sick or have problems?"

"When facing other people's fragilities, such as illnesses, there are some adults who are weaker, who don't have enough strength to bear fragility and this is because they themselves are fragile," Pope Francis said.

Some parents are fragile or weak because they are human beings with their own limitations, sins and vulnerabilities, he said.

"And perhaps they were not lucky to be helped when they were young" to find a person who could take them by the hand and help them grow, become strong and overcome their weaknesses, he added.

"It's difficult to get help from fragile parents and sometimes it's us who has to help them" and not blame life for how it turned out, he said, but use one's own strength so "the rock doesn't crush the cardboard box."

Another young person asked, "Why did we end up with this destiny" or lot in life?

While no one knows "the why" or reason that allows these situations or suffering to happen, the pope said, Christians do know "the why, in the sense of the ending God wants to give" to each person's destiny -- that is, healing and new life.

No one knows why things start out a certain way, he said, but there is no doubt where people should be headed: finding and experiencing Christ who always loves and heals; "that's the why."

Another young person said that when a friend of theirs at the orphanage had died, the priest told them the boy died a sinner and would not go to heaven.

The pope said no one can ever claim someone -- even Judas -- has not gone to heaven. "God wants to bring all of us to heaven, nobody excluded."

God doesn't just sit around waiting for things to happen, he said. He is the Good Shepherd who is always searching for the lost sheep and is never upset when he finds them, even if they are "dirty with sin" or have been abandoned their whole lives.

"He embraces them and kisses them," puts them on his shoulders and brings them home, the pope said, adding that according to what he knows about Jesus, "I am sure this is what ... the Lord did with your friend."

- - -

Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. 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

Pope Francis Names Auxiliary Bishop of the Military Services as Auxiliary Bishop of Rockville Centre

WASHINGTON—Pope Francis has transferred Auxiliary Bishop Robert J. Coyle of the Archdiocese for the Military Services to the office of auxiliary bishop for the Diocese of Rockville Centre.

The appointment was publicized in Washington on February 20, 2018, by Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States.

Bishop Coyle was born on September 23, 1964 in Brooklyn, New York. He received a bachelor of arts degree in economics from Fordham University in 1986, and he attended the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception in Huntington, New York, earning a master of divinity degree and master of arts degree in theology in 1991.

He was ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Rockville Centre on May 25, 1991, by Bishop John R. McGann at St. Agnes Cathedral.

Bishop Coyle was commissioned an ensign in the U.S. Navy on June 3, 1988 and served 24.5 years on Active and Reserve Duty before his retirement from the Naval Reserve on January 1, 2013. As a Navy Reserve Chaplain, Fr. Coyle served as Associate Pastor at St. Dominic Church in Oyster Bay, NY (1991-1996) and St. Patrick's Church in Glen Cove, NY (1996-1999). He served as a Navy Reserve Chaplain from 1991-1999, and on Active Duty from 1999-2009. He was assigned to the 3rd Marine Division on Okinawa, Japan, from 1999-2000, during which time he was promoted to Lieutenant. He deployed to the Middle East (2000-2001) and served in Operation Southern Watch and Operation Iraqi Freedom (2002-2003). In 2005, he was promoted to the rank of Commander, U.S. Navy. From 2007 to 2009, he served on the USS Dwight D. EISENHOWER (CVN69) Aircraft Carrier and deployed to the Middle East in 2009 for Operation Enduring Freedom. In 2008, he was named by Pope Benedict XVI a Chaplain to His Holiness, a recognition that carried the honorary title of Monsignor.

On February 11, 2013, Pope Benedict XVI named Msgr. Coyle auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese for the Military Services. His episcopal ordination took place in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, DC, on the Feast of Saint Mark, April 25, 2013.

The Diocese of Rockville Centre, NY, comprises 1,198 square miles. It has a total population of 2,889,841 people of which 1,524,639, or 53 percent, are Catholic. Bishop John O. Barres is currently the fifth bishop of Rockville Centre.

Keywords: U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, USCCB, Pope Francis, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio, Auxiliary Bishop Robert Coyle, Archdiocese for the Military Services, Diocese of Rockville Centre


Media Contact:
Judy Keane