Catholic US News

Catholic US News

New State Department actions don’t go far enough, religious freedom leader says

Washington D.C., Apr 22, 2016 / 04:41 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Religious freedom leaders applauded the U.S. State Department’s recent re-designation of nine countries – and the inclusion of one more – as the worst situations for religious freedom, but urged the agency to do more.

After the State Department on April 14 added Tajikistan to its “Country of Particular Concern” list, keeping the nine countries already on the list, the chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom said it “welcomes the designation of these ten countries.”

The countries already on the list were Burma, China, North Korea, Eritrea, Uzbekistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkmenistan, and Sudan.

A “country of particular concern” is a term used by the State Department to denote the countries that present the worst situations for religious freedom in the world. Either these governments “engage in” or “tolerate” “severe violations of religious freedom that are systematic, ongoing and egregious,” USCIRF explained in its 2015 annual report.

Tajikistan, a Muslim-majority country in central Asia, was recommended to the list by USCIRF because its government has cracked down on minority religions in the country. The commission’s 2015 annual report explained that “numerous laws that severely restrict religious freedom have been implemented in the country since 2009.”

Restrictive actions include religions having to register with the government and ask permission for church meetings, heavy penalties for unregistered religious activity, and lack of due process for those tried under the country’s anti-extremism law.

Additionally, the State Department’s own International Religious Freedom report stated that “Tajikistan is the only country in the world in which the law prohibits persons under the age of 18 from participating in public religious activities.”

The USCIRF recommended in addition that Vietnam, Iraq, Central African Republic, Pakistan, Nigeria, Egypt, and Syria be designated as CPCs, though the State Department declined to include them on the list.

According to the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, the administration can legally pursue a number of actions, such as economic sanctions, against CPCs to hold them accountable and pressure them to honor freedom of religion.

The State Department also announced it would no longer be sanctioning four of the nations currently on the CPC list: Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.

The decision was made “following determinations that the important national interest of the United States required exercising this waiver authority,” State Department spokesman John Kirby said in an April 15 press briefing.

USCIRF responded by pressing the agency to take the actions against these offending countries as it is authorized to do.

“The CPC designation brings with it a unique toolbox of policy options to effectively promote religious freedom, and USCIRF encourages the Administration to use these tools,” Dr. Robert George, the commission’s chairman, responded April 20.

Catholic US News

Jesuit Father Raymond Gawronski remembered for witness of priesthood

Denver, Colo., Apr 21, 2016 / 10:22 am (CNA).- Father Raymond Thomas Gawronski, S.J., professor of dogmatics at St. Patrick’s Seminary and University in Menlo Park, California, died in the closing hours of April 14 of complications from cancer, at the age of 65.

He was remembered for his love of Christ, formation of seminarians, and witness to the beauty of the priesthood.

“Certainly he was an excellent classroom lecturer, but it was his real interest in the (seminarians), and their spiritual development, and his desire that they have a real relationship with Christ – that was his constant theme,” said Fr. Gladstone Stevens, the rector and president of St. Patrick’s Seminary.

“He was such a great witness to what priests could be.”

Fr. Stevens told CNA that while Fr. Gawronski had not been at the seminary for very long, “when you think about the disproportion between the time he was here and his impact, it’s just incredible: he was such a presence here, in such a positive way.”

Gawronski was born in Brooklyn Sept. 9, 1950, to Stanley and Blanche Gawronski, a family of Polish heritage. Growing up in New York and New Jersey, he graduated with a degree in philosophy from the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass. In 1971. He later earned a master’s degree in world religions from Syracuse University, where he studied under Dr. Huston Smith.

In 1977 Gawronski joined the Society of Jesus. His two years of novitiate were served in Wernersville, Pa., and he also served the poor in Washington, D.C., at St. Aloysius parish. He then earned an M.A. in Asian Studies at the St. Michael’s Institute of Gonzaga University, and an M.Div. from the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley.

Fr. Gawronski was ordained a priest of the Maryland Province of the Society of Jesus in 1986. He went on for further studies in Rome, earning a licentiate in theology at the Pontifical Oriental Institute, and a doctorate in theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University.

He taught theology at Marquette University in Milwaukee. He was for some 10 years spiritual director and a theology professor at St. John Vianney Seminary in Denver, Colo., where he helped to establish the spirituality year, with its Ignatian characteristics: a month of itinerancy and a 30-day retreat following the Spiritual Exercises.

Fr. Gawronski spent the last two years of his life serving as a spiritual director and professor at St. Patrick’s Seminary.

He is the author of Word and Silence: Hans Urs von Balthasar and the Spiritual Encounter Between East and West and A Closer Walk with Christ: A Personal Ignatian Retreat. He appeared in an EWTN series and his articles appeared in such publications as Communio, New Oxford Review, and America.

Fr. Stevens reflected that he appreciated Fr. Gawronski’s insistence that “we have to do a better job bringing together the intellectual and spiritual life” of seminarians, which he shares.

“That comes a lot from his work on von Balthasar,” he said. “This recognition that the life of the mind and the life of the spirit cannot be seen as two separate things to be cultivated: and that was certainly apparent when he put together the spiritually program, but that’s how he approached everything. In his homilies, his spiritual direction, in his class, he just went back and forth between his life of prayer and his scholarship without skipping a beat, and I admire that so much.”

Fr. Gawronski was preceded in death by his parents and by his sister Carol. He is survived by his brother-in-law Paul Sander, his niece Katie Sander, his nephew Peter Sander, and his cousin Donald Ferri.

His funeral Mass will be said at 10 a.m. April 26 at Shrine of St. Anne Catholic Church in Arvada, a Denver suburb. His body will be interred following the Mass, at the Jesuit plot of Mt. Olivet Cemetery.

A viewing and vigil will be held the preceding evening at Shrine of St. Anne at 5:30 p.m.


Catholic US News

Florida diocese mourns loss of priest in apparent murder

St. Augustine, Fla., Apr 21, 2016 / 06:24 am (CNA).- A Florida priest who went missing last week has been lauded by his diocese as a humble and generous servant after his remains were found in Georgia on April 18.

“He always saw the good in people he served reminding them that God created them for greatness with a good and noble purpose for others,” Bishop Felipe J. Estévez of St. Augustine said April 19.  

“While his life was taken from us tragically on Sunday, April 10 – the day of his disappearance – it is important that we remember how he lived his life in selfless love for others,” the bishop said.

Fr. Rene Wayne Robert, 71, was last seen Sunday, April 10. Parishioners grew concerned when he didn’t show up for a funeral service. Police received a request for a welfare check on April 12. After they failed to locate the priest, a missing persons investigation was launched.

The priest’s remains were found April 18 after Steven Murray, 28, the suspect in the case, directed investigators to his body in a rural area south of Augusta, Georgia. Murray was arrested early April 14 after police spotted him in Fr. Robert’s car speeding through a construction zone and later crashed it into a tree in Aiken, South Carolina.

Police said that Murray had been recently released from prison and was receiving help from Fr. Robert.

Although Fr. Robert’s body was not formally identified by the morgue, Sheriff David Shoar of the St. John’s County confirmed that the priest clearly “was the victim of homicidal violence.” Murray will be charged in Georgia with first degree murder.

“My brother died doing what he loved: helping people,” Debbie Bedard, Fr. Robert’s sister told Action News Jacksonville. “And if it wasn’t for the sheriff’s department, all the agencies, they wouldn’t have found my brother, and I thank God that they did so we can take him home.”

Fr. Robert served as the chaplain at the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind. He was known for his service in prisons and homeless ministries.

Bishop Estévez asked for prayers for Fr. Robert as well as the man who is believed to have taken his life.

“In this Year of Mercy, let us pray that our loving Lord will pour his merciful love upon the troubled soul of the one who took his life. And may Jesus Christ grant eternal rest to Father Rene and peace for his family and our community who suffer his loss, yet trust in the Good Shepherd’s care for all.”


Catholic US News

Harriet Tubman, new face of 20 dollar bill, praised for her faith

Washington D.C., Apr 20, 2016 / 03:23 pm (CNA).- As the U.S. treasury announces the legendary Harriet Tubman as the new face of the 20 dollar bill, she also drew praise from religious freedom advocates for her deep and abiding Christian faith.

“Harriet Tubman was a woman of faith who was not afraid to act on her beliefs to fight for justice,” said Kristina Arriaga, executive director of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.

“Her incredible moral and physical courage is an example to all Americans, as is her willingness to act on her Christian faith. She is an icon of religious liberty.”

Known for helping rescue hundreds of fugitive slaves through a network called the Underground Railroad, Tubman will replace former president Andrew Jackson – who will now be placed on the back of the bill, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew announced April 20.

Lew said Wednesday that Tubman’s life “reflects both American values and American democracy, but also the power of an individual to make a difference in our democracy.”

The civil-war era hero was a member of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, and credited her Christian faith for inspiring her to help slaves escape from the U.S. south and into a free life in Canada, the Beckett fund reported.

Catholic US News

A step closer to sainthood for Dorothy Day

New York City, N.Y., Apr 20, 2016 / 11:34 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A new stage has begun in the process toward possible canonization for Dorothy Day, the founder of the Catholic Worker Movement.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York has opened the canonical “inquiry on the life” of Dorothy Day, the archdiocese announced April 19.
Starting this week, the archdiocese will interview some 50 eyewitnesses who had firsthand experience with Dorothy Day. Their testimonies and other evidence will be collected, examined to determine whether Day lived a life of “heroic virtue,” and will eventually be presented to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Saints and to Pope Francis.

In addition, Cardinal Dolan will appoint experts to review the published and unpublished writings of Dorothy Day, considering their adherence to doctrine and morals.

George B. Horton, liaison for the Dorothy Day Guild, noted that this will be an extensive project.

“Dorothy Day created or inspired dozens of houses of hospitality throughout the English-speaking world, but she was also a journalist who published The Catholic Worker newspaper,” he said.

“Her articles in that paper alone total over 3,000 pages. Add her books and other publications and we will probably surpass 8,000 pages of manuscripts.”

Born in Brooklyn and eventually raised in Chicago, Day was baptized Episcopalian at the age of 12. She displayed signs at a young age of possessing a deep religious sense, fasting and mortifying her body by sleeping on hardwood floors.

Her life soon changed as the 1910s brought about a stark shift in the U.S. social climate. A key turning point in her life and personal ideology came when she read “The Jungle,” Upton Sinclair’s scathing depiction of the Chicago meat-packing industry.

Day dropped out of college and moved to New York, where she took a job as a reporter for the country’s largest daily socialist paper, The Call. After fraternizing with the Bohemians and Socialist intellectuals of her time – and after a series of disastrous romances, one of which included an abortion that she later deeply regretted – Day fell in love with an anarchist nature-lover by the name of Forster Batterham.

She eventually settled in Staten Island, living a peaceful, slow-paced life on the beach with Batterham in a common law marriage. Conflict arose, however, when Day became increasingly drawn to the Catholic faith – praying rosaries consistently and even having their daughter, Tamar, baptized as a Catholic. Batterham, a staunch atheist, eventually left them and Day was received into the Catholic Church herself in 1927.

She returned to New York City as a single mother where her deep-rooted and long-standing concern for the poor resurfaced. Along with French itinerant Peter Maurin, she founded the Catholic Worker Movement in 1933. Living the Catholic notion of holy poverty and practicing works of mercy, the two started soup kitchens, self-sustaining farm communities and a daily newspaper. In the course of her 50 years working among the poor and marginalized, Day never took a salary.

Her legacy lives on today in some 185 Catholic Worker communities in the U.S. and around the globe.

In a 2012 meeting of U.S. bishops, Cardinal Dolan called Dorothy Day “a saint for our time,” describing her as “a living, breathing, colorful, lovable, embracing, warm woman who exemplifies what’s best in Catholic life” and shows the Church’s commitment to both the dignity of human life and social justice.

The Vatican opened the canonization process for Dorothy Day, naming her a “Servant of God,” in 2000.

The road to canonization is a lengthy one, normally requiring many years and several stages, including examination by a diocesan tribunal and a Vatican congregation, as well as the approval of two miracles attributed to the saint’s intercession. Ultimately, the Pope has the final say in canonizing saints.  


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