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Encouragement a strong factor in priesthood discernment, study finds

Washington D.C., Apr 21, 2018 / 04:09 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A strong majority of the 430 men who are about to be ordained to the Catholic priesthood in the United States come from families where both parents were Catholic, and had several friends encouraging them in their vocation.


The findings were from the annual survey of new ordinands by CARA, the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate out of Georgetown University. Out of the 430 men to be ordained to the priesthood, 334 responded to the survey, including 252 ordinands to the diocesan priesthood and 78 ordinands to the religious priesthood.

While this year’s priesthood ordination class is slightly smaller than last year’s class of 590, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) said the report provides “reasons for hope and areas for growth.”

"Although the overall number of ordinations to the Priesthood is lower this year, the information gathered from this survey and the generosity of those to be ordained continues to inform the important work of vocations ministry for the future,” Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark, Chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations, said in a statement.

“It is essential that we continue to make the conscious effort to encourage young men to be open to hearing God's call in their life and assist them in the discernment process."

Encouragement from priests, parishioners and friends was a key factor in considering the priesthood for many of this year’s ordination class.

According to the survey, nearly nine in ten responding ordinands (86 percent) reported being encouraged to consider the priesthood by someone in their life - usually by a parish priest, friend, or another parishioner. On average, respondents said about four different people in their lives encouraged them to consider a vocation to the priesthood.

Father Ralph O'Donnell, Executive Director of the Secretariat for the USCCB, said that this was “one of the most encouraging statistics” from the report and that it should be a call to all the faithful to encourage vocations.

“This fact should enliven in the faithful a resolve to actively encourage the young people that they encounter to consider to what vocation God is calling them and to be generous in their response," he said in a statement.

The survey also found that most of the men being ordained this year were baptized Catholic as infants (90 percent) and that most also grew up in families where both parents were Catholic (83 percent). Slightly more than one-third of the respondents are also related to priests, the survey found.

This year’s class also included slightly more respondents who were born in the United States. In previous years, the average amount of foreign-born ordinands was around 30 percent, while only 25 percent of the 2018 ordination class is foreign-born. Of that 25 percent, the majority come from Mexico, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Colombia.

Many of the ordinands also had prior undergraduate school or work experiences before entering the seminary. The survey found that nearly half of all of this year’s class had completed an undergraduate degree before entering the seminary, with the most common areas of study being social science, theology, philosophy, business, or liberal arts. Two-thirds of the men also reported previous full-time work experience before entering the seminary.

Also included in the report were the ordinands’ answers to the prompt - “People might be surprised to know…”

Edgar Elamparo, of the Diocese of San Jose, responded with a story about going off to seminary.

“Before my family sent me off to the seminary, I saw my uncle in front of our house with tears in his eyes. I said, ‘Why are you crying?’ He replied, ‘When you were young, I asked you what would you want to become when you grow up? and you said, I want to become a priest, and now here, you are on your way to your dream.’”

Brett Garland of the Diocese of Columbus said he “preached at my twin brother's wedding just two months after I was ordained a deacon, and I will be the celebrant of my older brother's wedding this summer, just a month after I am ordained a priest.  By living out their particular vocations, both of my brothers have encouraged me in my own vocation.”

This year’s survey was conducted between Jan. 29 - March 11 via email. The findings of the annual CARA survey are sent to the USCCB’s Secretariat for Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations.

Chicago church leaders unite to oppose massive tax threat to religious groups

Chicago, Ill., Apr 21, 2018 / 06:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Religious leaders in Chicago are fighting to end a lawsuit filed by an atheist group that would impose upwards of $1 billion in taxes for churches around the nation.

The lawsuit, Gaylor v. Mnuchin, was filed by the Freedom From Religion Foundation. The case aims to end the parsonage allowance, a federal tax provision used by religious establishments such as churches, mosques, and synagogues, which offers a housing allowance to help religious leaders live in the communities they serve.

Chris Butler, pastor of the south-side Chicago Embassy Church requested April 19 that a federal appeals court throw out the lawsuit on discriminatory grounds. Butler is joined by other ecclesial communities and Churches, including leaders from the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia's Diocese of Chicago and Mid-America and Holy Cross Anglican Church.

“For the majority of churches, the pastors are like me and experience at some level the same problems that we’re trying to face in the community,” said Butler, according to a recent statement from the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.

“If you take away even a little bit, it can become a lot of trouble quickly.”

Butler serves a predominately African-American community where he ministers to at-risk youth and the homeless in his neighborhood. He also is involved with programs to decrease local crime.

According to the Becket Fund, which has been involved in the case since January 2017, ending the parsonage allowance would “discriminate against religious groups by treating them worse than many other secular employees who receive similar tax treatment,” and would also “harm poor communities by diverting scarce resources away from essential ministries.”

Ed Peecher, bishop of the Chicago Embassy Church, said a video released by Becket that “If I am here to pastor this community, if I am here to make an impact on this community, it has to be done in the context of a relationship and it’s hard to have a relationship over distance… there is no substitute for proximity. You have to be there.”

The parsonage allowance, which was enacted by Congress 64 years ago, allows tax exemptions for religious leaders similar to exceptions in place for teachers, business leaders, and military service members, among others.

For the past century, both Congress and the IRS have recognized the convenience-of-the-employer doctrine, which upholds that employees may exclude housing benefits from their income if the benefits contribute to the convenience of the employer. This doctrine has been applied to religious and non-religious groups alike, according to Becket’s opening brief at the federal appeals court April 19.

The Becket Fund believes that if the parsonage allowance is ended, then the IRS would be discriminating particularly against religious leaders, since other secular workers receive a similar exemption.

“The same group of atheists claimed it was unconstitutional to put Mother Teresa on a postage stamp, so it’s no surprise they’re trying to sic the IRS on churches,” said Luke Goodrich, deputy general counsel at Becket.

“Treating ministers like other professionals isn’t an establishment of religion; it’s fair tax treatment.”

Spiritual guidance belongs in politics, Bishop Tobin says

Providence, R.I., Apr 20, 2018 / 01:55 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Speaking out on political issues is not only a right, but a duty, for religious leaders, said Bishop Thomas J. Tobin of Providence in a recent interview.

“What we try and do is take the Gospel, the basis of our faith, and apply it to the issues of the day,” Bishop Tobin told the Providence Journal in an article published April 17.

“Now, some people will like it, some people won’t like it; some will agree, some will not. I think we have not just a right but the need to be involved in these public conversations.”

Bishop Tobin said that when he speaks about issues such as immigration and gun control, he draws criticism from conservatives, who say, “Stay out of it, it’s not your business.” When speaking about abortion or same-sex marriage, he said, he gets the same response from liberals.

“So sometimes I’m accused of being too conservative, and sometimes I’m accused of being a raging liberal.”

However, he said, it is important to preach the Gospel no matter how people respond.

One tool the bishop has been using to weigh in on political and moral debates is Twitter. In February, the prelate opened an account, @bishoptjt, which now has over 1,300 followers.

Because he alone controls the subject of his tweets, he said “there’s no filter there,” unlike his Facebook account which is managed by someone in his office.

“I thought, if the president can do it and the pope can do it, there’s no reason why I shouldn’t be doing it,” he said.

Bishops Tobin uses his Twitter account to discuss both serious topics – such as liturgy and politics – and lighthearted, personal interests.

“I’ve done some devotional things, some spiritual things, and some liturgical things and some prayerful things,” the bishop said. “I’ve also put some things up about the Steelers and about my dog and about some political things and about the weather and April Fools Day.”

 

How a new Utah law is promoting marriage prep classes

Salt Lake City, Utah, Apr 20, 2018 / 12:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Utah is encouraging its citizens to better prepare for marriage by discounting the cost of marriage licenses for couples who complete marriage preparation classes.  

The law, signed March 20 by Utah Governor Gary Herbert, will discount marriage licenses by $20 for couples who complete at least three hours of premarital counseling or six hours of premarital classes at least 14 days before applying for a marriage license. These services may be provided by either religious or secular organizations.

The bill’s sponsor, Republican Senator Allen Christensen, said it is an effort to counter the high divorce rate.

“Typically, in Utah, we have 25,000 marriages a year. About 10,000 of those are going to end up in divorce,” he said, according to the Brigham Young University student publication.

The co-chair of the Utah Marriage Commission, Alan Hawkins, said the premarital services ought to address marital commitment, the factors within successful marriages, and communication skills.

In a blog post on the Institute for Family Studies, Hawkins emphasized the importance that these premarital services have on lasting marriages.

“A substantial body of research has shown that premarital education can help newlywed couples get off to a stronger start and reduce the risk of divorce in the early, high-risk years of marriage,” he said.

Hawkins said the Utah Marriage Commission is partnering with the state to help spread the word, and encouraged wedding retailers to show support for the bill by matching the $20 discount.

The Commission will initiate a study to determine the success of the project over the next five years, when the law will be up for renewal. Hawkins said the goal of the law is to increase participation in premarital services from its current 30 percent of marrying couples to 50 percent.

Nine other states have created similar laws to promote marital counseling. While the discount is small, Hawkins said, “anecdotal data from other states that have adopted a similar marriage-license-discount policy suggests that lower-income couples are especially responsive to these discounts.”

“Ultimately, however, the discount is less a financial incentive and more a cultural nudge for couples to take seriously the need for marriage preparation.”

 

Vietnamese pastor who was jailed for faith says it was 'God's gift to me'

Washington D.C., Apr 19, 2018 / 04:09 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- After surviving six years of imprisonment and torture, Vietnamese pastor Nguyen Cong Chinh told CNA that prayer sustained him through his physical suffering and pain.

In 2011, the evangelical pastor was charged with “undermining national solidarity” for conducting his Christian ministry with the Montagnard ethnic minority groups that live in Vietnam’s Central Highlands.

Chinh had long been an outspoken critic of the government’s ban on preaching in the region and a pro-democracy advocate.

During his imprisonment, Chinh spent nearly one month in solitary confinement and his health quickly deteriorated. He was denied treatment or access to medication, according to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), who advocated on his behalf.

Chinh told CNA that he experienced consolation in knowing that his suffering was in imitation of Christ.

"Even though I suffered physical suffering and pain, I felt in my soul happiness,” Chinh told CNA through an English translator at the USCIRF summit April 18.

"I viewed it as God's gift to me,” said Chinh. “It was like what Jesus Christ went through, the same suffering that his disciples experienced, and now I'm going through the same experience. That is how the good news comes out."

Chinh explained his hope that sharing his experience will help increase the faith of other Christians.

Prayerful communion with Christ “gave me courage to survive the prison conditions until the day that I saw freedom,” Chinh explained.

The Vietnamese pastor was released from prison July 28, 2017, about halfway through his 11 year sentence. His release came with the condition that he leave Vietnam, so Chinh currently resides in the U.S.

Several months before his release, Chinh’s wife, Tran Thi Hong, was beaten and interrogated because she met with the U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom at the time, David Saperstein, who was advocating on her husband’s behalf.

At the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom summit, Chinh was the only released prisoner to take part in a panel highlighting the specific cases of prisoners of conscience detained throughout the world. USCIRF is currently advocating for the release of prisoners of conscience in Saudi Arabia, Eritrea, China, Turkey, and Pakistan.

Several other prisoners of conscience were released in 2017, including Maryam Naghash Zargaran, an Iranian Christian convert from Islam who was arrested and imprisoned in 2013.

"Every time you return a prisoner of conscience to his family that truly is a victory,” former USCIRF Chair Robert George told CNA.

The USCIRF has actively advocated for Andrew Brunson, an American evangelical pastor incarcerated in Turkey since 2016. His trial in Istanbul this week was attended by Sam Brownback, the current U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom. Brunson will face another hearing in Turkey May 7.

“Since my release, the government has arrested more prisoners of conscience,” said Chinh on the prisoners of conscience panel.

Although religious freedom has improved in Vietnam since the 1970s, USCIRF still designates the country as a “country of particular concern” due to ongoing violations of religious freedom within the country.

David Adams, the Cross Catholic Outreach vice president for missions, explained the current situation in Vietnam to CNA.

“On the one hand, churches are allowed to operate with some freedom, depending on where they are located, like in the urban areas. But in other areas, like the Central Highlands where Pastor Chin was ministering to in this case a minority, the Montagnards … the government can get quite repressive and forbid any proselytizing or evangelization or even worship,” said Adams.

Cross Catholic Outreach actively supports Catholic ministries in Vietnam, with an emphasis on potable water, medical aid, and educating young people in the faith.

"Even in the most repressive societies, we have to keep hope alive. There are ways to support freedom, including religious freedom at the grassroots level,” said Adams.

Five things Catholics can do to support international religious liberty

Washington D.C., Apr 19, 2018 / 03:09 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- At the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom Summit on Wednesday, Robert George shared five steps Catholics can take to support religious freedom at home and abroad.

“We need to remember we are our brother's keepers,” George, a Princeton professor who has twice served as chairman of the commission, told CNA.

“That is true whether our brother is someone here at home who is being persecuted and discriminated against or whether that person is in the Sudan or in Syria or Iran or in Vietnam or in China or in North Korea,” he continued.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) marked the 20th anniversary of the International Religious Freedom Act this year with a summit in Washington, D.C., focusing on the challenges and progress made in the state of religious freedom around the world.

USCIRF is a bipartisan federal commission that monitors global religious freedom violations.

"Whenever I speak about international religious freedom across the country, people always ask me what they can do to help. I always tell them first, to pray,” said current USCIRF Chairman Daniel Mark in his closing remarks at the summit April 18.

“First, pray … I want to second that motion,” George told CNA. The first step Catholics must take to address violations of religious freedom is prayer.

“Make your voice heard,” George pointed to as the second way to aid the cause of religious freedom. “Make clear to your elected representatives that religious freedom is a priority to you – domestic religious freedom and international religious freedom.”

“Third, there are wonderful organizations, including some that are Catholic, that deserve our financial support. People ask, ‘What can I do with my charitable giving? I'm not a millionaire. I don't have a lot of money, but I want to give back. I want to thank God for my blessings. I want to help others,’” said George, “I hope that some people think about religious freedom as a cause to support.’

Fourth, “educate yourself and then talk about these issues to people in your parish, people in your family, people in your community,” said George, “We now have the internet. Anybody can learn about religious freedom issues. Go to the USCIRF website.”

Finally, George recommends that religious leaders and communities work together for their shared values. He encourages leaders across historic, theological, and religious divides to communicate and to work together to make a positive impact on civil society.

Former USCIRF chairs Katrina Lantos Swett, Leonard Leo, and David Saperstein spoke on a panel along with George about the current state of international religious freedom.

The panel discussed current threats to religious freedom posed by non-state actors abroad,  such as al-Qaeda, the Islamic State, and al-Shabaab. The mistreatment of Rohingya Muslims in Burma and the Uyghurs in China were also highlighted.

“While we focus on extinguishing the flames of sectarian conflict and oppression in countries like these, we cannot ignore the less-physical deeply religious freedom violations in our own backyard,” said Leonard Leo, who served as the USCIRF chair from 2009 - 2012.

“To maintain our standing in the world as a beacon against oppression, we also must put our own house in order by addressing subtler forms of coercion,” continued Leo.

George told CNA after the panel that the U.S. currently faces serious religious freedom challenges.

“Catholics now are in many cases victims of discrimination from the forces of secular progressiveness in our own country,” said George. “You see efforts to try to coerce Catholics and other pro-life physicians into performing abortions or to shut-down Catholic adoption agencies because they insist on places children with a mom and a dad. Or closing Catholic hospitals because they won't perform abortions. These are serious violations of conscience.”

The current USCIRF chairman, Daniel Mark, is a political science professor at Villanova University. Mark told CNA he is encouraged that the world is “increasingly coming to understand the critical role that religious freedom plays in peace, stability, and prosperity.”

“It is such a foundational freedom,” said Mark. “We see that religious freedom, perhaps more than anything else, is the right that people are most willing to suffer and die for.”

He continued, “There is always the argument that we need to start with democracy and then build toward human rights. We've seen some cases, like Burma, where that hasn't really worked. Maybe it turns out that the direction is the other way … that we need to start by pushing in these countries the core human rights, and from there, the right kind of culture and the right kind of governance will develop.”

Appeals court blocks Ohio law defunding Planned Parenthood

Cincinnati, Ohio, Apr 19, 2018 / 02:07 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- An Ohio law which blocked federal taxpayer funding to Planned Parenthood clinics in the state was struck down by a federal appeals court on Wednesday.

The law, which was signed by Governor John Kasich in 2016, prohibited federal taxpayer money from going to clinics that perform abortions in the state of Ohio. That money, about $1.5 million, would be reallocated to organizations that do not perform abortions.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit unanimously overturned the Ohio law on April 18, saying that it overstepped Planned Parenthood’s “due process rights,” since Planned Parenthood would allegedly be using funds from six federal health programs for preventative health measures that are unrelated to abortion.

One of the panel judges, U.S. Circuit Judge Helene White, said that Planned Parenthood was simply claiming the “right not to be penalized in the administration of government programs based on protected activity outside the programs,” according to Reuters.  

White was joined by two other judges: Eugene E. Siler Jr. and Eric Clay.

However, the state of Ohio argues that Planned Parenthood is seeking “a constitutional guarantee to public funding – a guarantee that forces Ohio, against its own judgment, to give public money to large abortion providers. The Constitution contains no such guarantee.”

Last year, U.S. President Donald Trump signed a regulation allowing states to choose whether to give federal funding to health clinics that perform abortions. Shortly before leaving office, former President Barack Obama’s HHS Department had issued a rule prohibiting states from denying funding on the grounds of a facility performing abortions.

A spokesman for the Ohio attorney general Mike DeWine, who defended the lawsuit in court, said they were reviewing the ruling to see if they should pursue further appellate review, Reuters reports.

The Ohio law was originally passed in February 2016 after a series of undercover videos were released the previous year, appearing to show Planned Parenthood engaging in misconduct, including the illegal sale of aborted baby tissue.

Kasich, has signed the original law, has also introduced other pro-life legislation in Ohio, including a 20-week abortion ban and a prohibition of abortions due to a Down syndrome diagnosis within the state.

 

Archbishop Chaput thinks you should read this young Catholic's letter

Philadelphia, Pa., Apr 19, 2018 / 11:28 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In a time of cultural confusion and challenge, youth need clarity and guidance from the Church – and failure to give it could be disastrous, says a young father who wrote to Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia.

For Archbishop Chaput, who reproduced the letter April 18 at First Things, the man’s thoughts are worth considering as Catholics “seek a fuller understanding of the pastoral challenges facing young adults in a changing world.”

The Catholic Church will hold a Synod on Youth this October, and Archbishop Chaput is among the Church leaders preparing for it. He received the letter just after a pre-synod meeting in Rome where about 300 young adults gathered to discuss how they view the Church and the faith.

“We young people crave the truth and clarity of good teaching,” said the unnamed author, a self-described 26-year-old father of three. He suggested this craving is proved by the swift rise of Canadian professor and author Jordan Peterson, whose videos on YouTube have drawn a large following.

“We crave the truth, no matter how blunt or difficult it is for us to swallow or for the shepherds of our flock to teach,” the young father said.

“We urgently need the Church’s clarity and authoritative guidance on issues like abortion, homosexuality, gender dysphoria, the indissolubility of matrimony, the four last things, and the consequences of contraception (moral, anthropological, and abortifacient). My generation has never, or rarely, heard these truths winsomely taught in the parishes.”

The author claimed young Catholics hear most forcefully from the U.S. bishops’ conference and from dioceses about the federal budget, border policy, gun control, and the environment. Efforts to reach out effectively to those who don’t affiliate with a religion, colloquially known as the “nones,” may also be at risk.

“Though the Church’s growing focus on evangelization of the ‘Nones’ is encouraging, there have been recent discussions emanating from several prominent figures in Rome and throughout Church leadership regarding a so-called ‘paradigm shift’ relative to doctrine, the supremacy of individual conscience, and pastoral accommodation,” the man continued.

“My wife and I find these developments disturbing and potentially disastrous for the evangelization of the young and the fallen-away.”

“Our culture is roiled in confusion concerning the basic tenets of human nature,” the author continued, citing controversies over gender, masculinity, the family, and “propaganda” that “desecrates the nature of sex and its fruits, especially the unborn child.”

This letter prompted Archbishop Chaput to reflect: “The future of the Catholic faith belongs to those who create it with their fidelity, their self-sacrifice, their commitment to bringing new life into the world and raising their children in truth, and their determination to walk Christ’s ‘narrow way’ with joy.”

The archbishop prayed that God would grant the fathers of the 2018 Synod on Youth “the grace and courage to lead young people on that path.”

Greeks for God: College ministry brings fraternities, sororities to Christ

Denver, Colo., Apr 19, 2018 / 12:50 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Fraternities and sororities are widely known for two things on a college campus.

These communities, collectively known as Greek life, are known for attracting some of the highest achieving and most involved students. Some of the world’s most influential leaders, including numerous U.S. presidents, 40 Supreme Court justices, a majority of the members of Congress, and 43 out of 50 of the world’s most powerful CEOs were once involved in Greek life during their college years.  

But there is a flipside: Anyone who has been to college, or has seen movies about American college life, knows the stereotype of fraternities and sororities as the powerhouses of the party scene and hookup culture on a college campus.

Studies have shown that Greek college students are more likely to binge drink than their non-Greek peers, and are also twice as likely to engage sexually with someone without their consent.

It is within this intense culture of both achievement and partying that missionaries with the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) embed themselves, building friendships with Greek students and inviting them to bible studies, Mass, and a relationship with Christ.

“We’re just trying to meet people where they’re at in the beginning, so we’re going onto campus and finding people where they’re naturally going to be hanging out already,” Katie Moran, a FOCUS Greek missionary at the University of Alabama, told CNA.

“So we’re going to their philanthropies and going to their fraternity and sorority houses and places where they’re going to spend their time,” she said.

According to their mission statement, FOCUS “is a Catholic collegiate outreach whose mission is to share the hope and joy of the gospel with college and university students...FOCUS missionaries encounter students in friendship where they are, inviting them into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and accompanying them as they pursue lives of virtue and excellence.”

FOCUS’ main methods of outreach include bible studies, one-on-one student-missionary mentorships known as discipleships, mission trips, and other events. Within the organization, there are subgroups designed to reach more specific groups of students - such as FOCUS Greek for Greek students, or Varsity Catholic for student athletes.

The ultimate goal is to unite all students together at the Catholic Church, Moran said, but FOCUS Greek (and other subgroups) “helps expose (students) to others in Greek life who are experiencing the same things, and helps them to have a community of people striving for faith within the Greek community.”  

Moran has worked with FOCUS Greek on two different college campuses in the South. She said that while students in the South are fairly open to talking about Jesus, it can be a challenge to convince Greek students to prioritize their faith in their already-busy schedules.

“Naturally they’re all very strong leaders and involved not just in their house but in student government and other organizations on campus, and they have to have a certain GPA to be in a sorority or fraternity, so time is very limited,” she said.

Ashley Summerford was a nursing student and a member of Chi Omega sorority at the University of Alabama when she was first invited by friends to join Moran’s bible study.

While she wasn’t living according to her Catholic faith at the time, Summerford said that Moran’s friendship and bible study transformed her outlook on how she could live as a Catholic on a college campus.

“FOCUS helps us prioritize God into our college schedule and...talk to other college students about God without feeling uncomfortable,” she said. “It’s been really helpful to get students together to talk about God and how to live out your faith on a day-to-day basis.”

Now a senior, Summerford is putting her nursing career on hold for now and will join FOCUS as a missionary, where she hopes to continue to do more outreach with Greek college students.

“I’m excited to help college students live out their faith...because I needed that when I was in college,” she said. “Becoming a part of FOCUS Greek taught me way more (about living as a Catholic) than I would have ever been able to learn on my own.”

Alex Sanchez is a FOCUS Greek missionary at Kansas State University, and has served as a FOCUS Greek missionary on other college campuses for the past four years. While he was not Greek during his own undergraduate years, Sanchez says he thinks the FOCUS Greek ministry model is successful because it meets students in their natural environment and takes advantage of some of the positive aspect of Greek life.

“It just leverages what’s already in place,” he told CNA. “It’s a college-based ministry so the ministry looks at how the college campus is structured and it sends its missionaries strategically into these places as well. It acknowledges that the Greek world is really big on campus so it’s kind of like St. Paul, becoming all things to all people.”

Greek students, while they might not be in the most morally virtuous environments in their sororities or fraternities, are typically highly committed and loyal people, which are natural virtues that can be built upon in the Christian life, Sanchez said.

“A lot of Greek students go all out for their fraternity or sorority - they wear the letters, they go to the meetings, they’re committed to showing up to all the events, they’re committed to recruiting...and they’re contagious as well, they want to share what they have and bring other people to it, which is just a very natural foundation to build discipleship,” Sanchez said.

This year, Sanchez also got to serve as the master of ceremonies for a Legacy conference, the first conferences offered by FOCUS specifically for Greek students.

“It was for all Greek students but especially those on the fringe,” Sanchez said, “so it was cool because students who wouldn’t necessarily come to other conferences felt like this was a true open door. We had a lot of students who hadn’t gone to a bible study all year, had never gone to a conference, be open to coming.”

The conference was based on the basic questions of “What is the Christian life?” and “What does it look like to live the Christian life on a college campus?”

Summerford also attended a Legacy conference, and she said it was inspiring to be surrounded by Greek students who were all seeking God in some way.

“Just looking around when we’re in adoration and seeing other college students on their knees praying and realizing that you’re not alone when you’re living out your faith is really cool,” she said, “and I think that the conferences do a really good job of teaching us but also bringing us together.”

While Greek students often have the natural virtues of leadership and commitment, Sanchez added that FOCUS missionaries also address with their students what they call “The Big Three”: chastity, sobriety, and excellence.

“Obviously it can be a stereotype, but it’s also a reality that when you have a whole bunch of men or women living together there can be a lot of partying, drinking, the hookup culture, just really poor relationships in general,” Sanchez said.

There’s also the tendency to prioritize Greek life above all other commitments and to give in to moral temptation in order “to fit in, rather than to follow the relationship with the Lord,” Sanchez said.

But once Greek students start becoming friends with missionaries and seeing the fruits of the Gospel in their houses, they can become some of the most powerful evangelizers, Sanchez added.

Sanchez said that one of his students was leading a bible study in his fraternity, and one day realized that fraternity’s president, vice president and recruitment chair were all a part of his study.

“He started to realize - wow, if I really share the Gospel with these guys, it can change the entire culture of this fraternity from top to bottom and start to create good men who desire to follow the Lord,” he said.

“So it just clicked with him that once he started to really live for the Lord and allow the Lord into these relationships that he already had with these men, it would completely change the culture of the fraternity for God.”

“Once students in fraternities and sororities are reached, they just have such strong natural virtue and personal drive, that once they do have an encounter with the Lord, they can become huge witnesses on campus.”

 

Hartford archdiocese, Knights of Columbus partner to aid Islamic State victims

Hartford, Conn., Apr 18, 2018 / 10:06 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- In a partnership with the Knights of Columbus, Catholics in the Archdiocese of Hartford are fundraising money to aid the religious minorities persecuted by the Islamic State.

The Knights have supplied olive wood solidarity crosses, manufactured in the Middle East, to raise financial support for Christian towns in Iraq and Syria.

Knights of Columbus CEO Carl Anderson applauded the cooperation of the Hartford archdiocese, particularly its high schools.

“We are very grateful to the Archdiocese of Hartford for its support of those who have been persecuted for their faith in the Middle East, and we have been truly inspired by these high school students who have taken time and energy to learn about this important issue and raise money to help,” he said in an April 15 statement.

All of Hartford’s Catholic high schools have sought to educate their students on Islamic State terrorism and the victims involved. Each school has also adopted a town in the Middle East to keep within their prayers.

At an April 15 Mass at St. Mary’s Church in New Haven, Catholic leaders applauded the project on its efforts to promote Catholic solidarity and preserve Christian culture. In his homily, Bishop Bawair Soro of the Chaldean Eparchy of Mar Addai of Toronto expressed his gratitude.

“The message that I have for the Knights of Columbus is one of admiration, that you are amazing. We thank you,” the bishop said.

“We are encouraged by your model, please continue. I know many of the good things that have been done have been influencing us and I know that what you see publicly is only 10 percent of the things that the Knights have been doing. We pray that this will continue and God bless you all.”  

A question-and-answer session followed the Mass. In attendance were Stephen Rasche, Counsel to Chaldean Archeparchy of Erbil; Bishop Soro; Archbishop Leonard Blair of Harford; and Andrew Walther, the Knights of Columbus' vice president for communications and strategic planning.

“Our mission is to preserve the word and example of Christ in the Middle East, and this we are committed to do, whatever the cost,” said Rasche. “In this, we are grateful for the support and solidarity we have received from our brothers and sisters in Connecticut and elsewhere.”

In the past, the Knights have advocated for projects to aid Middle Eastern Christians. Since 2014, the organization has contributed $19 million to support the victims of the Islamic State. In 2016, the Knights of Columbus  campaigned for the U.S. Congress and Department of State to recognize the persecutions as an act of genocide.