• Amelia Martinez holds up a sign as she and members of her family gather July 15 in support of undocumented immigrants in Oracle, Ariz. Dozens in the small community are donating their time, talent and treasure to make sure children fleeing danger in their home countries are welcomed and supported.

    America is facing a humanitarian crisis: tens of thousands of children coming to the United States unaccompanied by a parent or guardian, a majority from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala, where violence has permeated the fabric of their communities. They come here to escape desperate circumstances. They have faced new perils every step along the way.

    It is important to understand the root causes of this crisis, why these children are coming to the United States. Violence and poverty in their home communities has made life all but impossible. Gangs rule in many places and recruit children. They terrorize students and teachers in schools. They control whole neighborhoods, outnumbering the police. Many young people and their parents live in constant fear.

    Honduras has the highest homicide rate in the world. El Salvador and Guatemala have the 4th and 5th highest murder rate in the world. Drug cartels have strengthened their hold on these countries as shipping routes for drugs to Mexico and the United States. Children are specifically targeted to join gangs and are threatened with death or rape or both. The governments of these countries are increasingly unable to protect these children and their citizens.

    Many Americans are concerned about the violation of our immigration laws. I urge you not to look at these children through an enforcement lens, but through a child protection lens. In fact, a number of these children could qualify for refugee protection, consistent with U.S. and international law. Most importantly, I urge you to look at this issue through the lens of the Gospel, with the eyes of faith, faith in the One who said: I was a stranger and you welcomed me (Matthew 25:35) and who also said: Whoever receives a child such as this in my name receives me (Matthew 18:5).

    This issue is not just a political one. It is a moral one. Sadly, there has been a lot of political posturing regarding this issue, forgetting or ignoring the fact that this issue involves at-risk children! Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has called for the care and protection of these children. In a recent letter, he wrote: “Such an humanitarian emergency demands as its first measure the urgent protection and properly taking in of the children.” The Holy Father also said that the root causes of their flight should be addressed, such as violence and endemic poverty.

    I was thinking recently about the refugees taken in by other nations, such as Lebanon and Jordan, which each host one million Syrian refugees. We have 60,000 children who have entered our country since October, the majority of whom could qualify for international protection as refugees. It would be morally wrong to send them back to their home countries without due process, without the chance to go before an immigration judge. God forbid that they be forced to return to possible harm or even death at the hands of gangs and criminal networks! We need to protect these children who, without protection, are vulnerable to trafficking, kidnapping, extortion and other abuses.

    The Catholic Church continues to be at the forefront in efforts to help these children. Catholic Relief Services is working on behalf of these vulnerable children in tough neighborhoods in Central America. Catholic Charities USA is engaged in activities both at the national and local level responding to the needs of the thousands of children coming to the United States, working with government agencies to find shelter for the children, finding bilingual volunteers and certified social workers. Migration and Refugee Services (a department of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops) is providing community-based services to support the reunification of unaccompanied children with their family members in the United States. This program serves as an alternative to detention, allowing children to live with their families while they undergo immigration proceedings. USCCB/MRS also provides community-based residential services to unaccompanied refugee and immigrant children through its network of 12 Unaccompanied Refugee Minor foster care programs.

    Many have asked me how they can help these children. Of course, we must keep them in our prayers. We can provide donations to Catholic Relief Services, Catholic Charities, or the USCCB Migration and Refugee Services. Our own diocesan Catholic Charities is looking at the possibility of how we can help with caring for these children. I also invite you to contact our elected representatives in Washington, urging them to protect these children. We need to strengthen protections for unaccompanied, migrating children, focusing on the best interest of the children. We must continue to advocate for family reunification as an essential part of immigration reform. Resettlement in the United States should be allowed for those who cannot return safely to their countries of origin. And we should assist the Central American countries in protecting their own children from violence, gangs, and other criminal organizations, the root causes of their migration north.

    We must not look at these unaccompanied minors as mere numbers or statistics. These are real children, human beings created in the image and likeness of God. They are our young brothers and sisters in Christ. They are children of God and must be treated with dignity and respect, care and compassion.

    May our Lord bless them and our Blessed Mother watch over them! And may God forgive us and our nation if we turn our backs on them. To neglect to receive and to help these children is to neglect to receive and to help Jesus.

    Posted on August 5, 2014, to:

  • “A faith centered on Christ and on the power of His grace inspired the mission of the first Christians,” says the encyclical “Lumen Fidei” (“The Light of Faith”) from Pope Francis. Pictured is the painting “Christ Salvator Mundi” by Quentin Metsys.

    Relativism claims there is no objective truth. Proclaiming and living the truth of the Gospel can be more challenging today than it was 30 or 40 years ago due to strong currents of relativism in our culture today. Even the objective and universal truth about the nature and meaning of marriage is doubted or rejected by many today. Many truths of the Gospel and of natural law are dismissed as mere “opinions.”

    In this cultural context, committed Christians are often criticized as being narrow-minded, intolerant, or even bigoted for standing up for the rights of the unborn or for the dignity of marriage. To speak of the inalienable right to life of every human being or the essential male-female complementarity for a true marriage opens one to criticism or even ostracism in some places.

    Lest one thinks that committed Christians are only criticized on issues of human life, sexuality, and marriage, attacks and accusations also arise when one affirms fundamental principles of Catholic social teaching (e.g. the universal destination of goods). We’ve seen this, for example, when Pope Francis has spoken of the “idolatry of money” and against economic injustices in the world.

    There are not two Gospels: a “pro-life” Gospel and a “social justice” Gospel. There is one Gospel, the Gospel of Jesus Christ: the Gospel of life, the Gospel of peace, the Gospel of love. Adhering to the truth of the one Gospel opens one to criticism from those who embrace contrasting political ideologies.

    Where does all this leave the committed Catholic individual, family, or community? We should remind ourselves of Jesus’ words: we are “in the world,” but we are not to be “of the world.” We are called to live Christ’s teaching and obey the commandments, to adhere to divine truth. The Church in this age of relativism is calling people back to the reality of objective truth. This is part of the new evangelization. This truth, of course, must be embraced not only theoretically, but in everyday life.

    In today’s cultural context, some committed Christians think we need to withdraw from today’s culture, kind of like the Amish community. I have much respect and admiration for our Amish brothers and sisters, but I don’t think we should withdraw from our engagement with the world. Some say we should close many of our Catholic institutions because of government attempts to coerce us to violate our beliefs (e.g. HHS mandate). Though we must be faithful to Catholic teaching in all our institutions and apostolates, I don’t think the answer is giving up or surrendering, closing or withdrawing. Though it is difficult and sometimes quite discouraging (e.g. recent defeats in our efforts to defend marriage), we are still called to evangelize our culture.

    Some fear engaging the culture because of the danger of assimilation to the values of the culture. This is indeed a danger. We see the danger especially to our children and young people who are influenced or led into error by some entertainment media or in some educational settings. That is one reason I think we need our Catholic schools today more than ever. Parents need to be especially vigilant today concerning the moral formation of their children lest they embrace the destructive relativism so prevalent in our culture.

    Not everything about today’s culture is bad. Good discernment is always needed — affirming the good and opposing the bad. True discernment is carried out in the light of faith and right reason. This is necessary for good moral decision-making and for how to live “in the world,” but not “of the world.”

    We can easily become discouraged given the increasing hostility of our culture to the perennial teachings and values of the Catholic faith. It is good to remember that there have been many periods of Church history worse than our situation today. There have always been persecutions and martyrs. There are many places in the world today where Christians are suffering and even dying for the faith.

    I think sometimes about the difficult situation of the early Christians. They lived out their beliefs in an often very hostile culture. They loved one another and built Christian communities. They loved their enemies. And they spoke out. They spread the good news of salvation in Christ. They converted many to the Lord. They weren’t discouraged because they were such a small minority in the pagan Roman Empire with its many values and practices contrary to the Gospel. They persevered in the faith. They shared the Gospel. They lived “in the world,” but not “of the world.” They accomplished, by God’s grace, a Christian revolution as Christ’s Church was planted and grew in the Mediterranean region and beyond.

    We shouldn’t let discouraging statistics, cultural trends, or political defeats get us down. How do we avoid discouragement? We must not forget the treasures we possess. We have Christ and His Gospel, the sacraments and the Church, Mary and the saints. We have hope in the One who has conquered the world by His death and resurrection. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. The only thing we should ever be afraid of is losing or turning away from Him. We are called to bear witness to Him today and everyday, to live the truth with love. This is how the early Christians evangelized the culture of the Roman Empire. This is how we can evangelize our culture today. We must put the Gospel into practice in our daily lives and live as true disciples of Jesus Christ!

    Posted on July 22, 2014, to:

  • St. Maximilian Kolbe’s devotion to the Blessed Mother is studied as part of the “33 Days to Morning Glory” retreat in preparation of consecration to Jesus through the Blessed Mother. Throughout his life and to the very end, Father Kolbe experienced help and inspiration from Mary, whom he affectionately called “the Immaculate.” He had a lifetime devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary and let himself be led by her hand. He established little “cities of the Immaculate” in Poland and Japan. These were centers of great apostolic and missionary work, under the banner of the Immaculate Conception.

    This Sunday, July 13th, we begin our spiritual journey of 33 days in preparation for our consecration to Jesus through Mary. So many people throughout our diocese have shared with me their joyful anticipation of these days when we will prepare as individuals and communities to make the Marian consecration on August 15th. I think it is a beautiful thing that we will be meditating on the same spiritual reflections during these 33 days, creating a real “spiritual communion” among us. We will together be guided by the lives and examples of Saint Louis Marie de Montfort, Saint Maximilian Kolbe, Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, and Saint John Paul II.

    You may wish to view the audio-visual introduction that I have prepared for the beginning of the 33 Days. It can be found on our diocesan website’s homepage.

    Why does Father Gaitley (whose book we are using) speak of the 33 days until our Marian consecration as 33 Days to MORNING GLORY? He explains on page 20: I chose this part of the title (Morning Glory) because I think it best captures what Marian consecration is all about: A new way of life in Christ. The act of consecrating oneself to Jesus through Mary marks the beginning of a gloriously new day, a new dawn, a brand new morning in one’s spiritual journey. It’s a fresh start, and it changes everything. Father Gaitley then goes on to explain how making his own consecration to Mary was an experience of a gloriously new morning in his own spiritual journey.

    My hope for the Marian consecration we will make is precisely this: a new impetus for all of us in our journey of faith. From my own experience, our mother Mary truly does help us grow in Christ and to live more fully our baptismal promises. As Father Gaitley writes: The whole goal of true devotion to Mary is our ongoing, post-baptismal transformation in Christ (page 109).

    In the second week of our 33 days of preparation, we will be guided by the wisdom of a great apostle of Marian consecration, Saint Maximilian Maria Kolbe. You probably know about his heroic death as a “martyr of charity” in Auschwitz. While he was imprisoned in Auschwitz, at the end of July 1941, three prisoners escaped the concentration camp. The Nazi SS picked ten men to be starved to death in order to deter further escape attempts. One of the ten cried out for them to spare his life since he had a wife and children who needed him. Father Kolbe stepped forward and asked that they take him in place of the man who had cried out. And so they did.

    Father Kolbe led the other condemned prisoners in prayer and songs as they lay starving in an underground bunker. He encouraged them in faith. After two weeks, they were all dead, except for Father Kolbe. The guards then gave him a lethal injection of carbolic acid. Witnesses say he died praying the Hail Mary. His body was cremated the next day, August 15th, 1941, the feast of Our Lady’s Assumption.

    In Auschwitz, a place of unspeakable hatred and evil, Father Kolbe brought goodness and love. He made himself like Christ by laying down his life for a brother. Throughout his life and to the very end, Father Kolbe experienced help and inspiration from Mary, whom he affectionately called “the Immaculate.” He had a lifetime devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary and let himself be led by her hand. He established little “cities of the Immaculate” in Poland and Japan. These were centers of great apostolic and missionary work, under the banner of the Immaculate Conception.

    Like Father Kolbe, we can find in Mary Immaculate a support in difficult times and a sure guide to holiness. We allow ourselves, like Father Kolbe, to be led to Jesus by the hand of Mary. The day before we make our consecration, August 14th, is the feast of Saint Maximilian Kolbe. It is the day he was killed by that lethal injection. We know that his life was not a defeat. His death was a victory, a triumph of love over hate, of grace over sin.

    My brothers and sisters, Saint Maximilian Kolbe teaches us that when we welcome Mary into our lives, she brings us to a deeper knowledge and love of the Gospel. And when we consecrate ourselves to her, we become instruments of divine love and mercy in her hands. So let’s let Mary take us by the hand and lead us on our pilgrim way to heaven!

    Saint Maximilian Maria Kolbe, pray for us! O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee!

    Posted on July 8, 2014, to:

  • A Peruvian relief sculpture depicts Sts. Peter and Paul. The Catholic Church commemorates the martyrdoms of both apostles with a June 29 feast.

    This Sunday we celebrate the Solemnity of the Saints Peter and Paul, the Princes of the Apostle and the Pillars of the Church. We remember their faith, the faith that has come down to us, the Church’s unchanging faith in the one Simon Peter confessed to be “the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”

    Peter was the first to profess that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. Paul spread this profession to the Gentiles, throughout the Greek and Roman world. The Church first received the faith through the preaching of the Apostles Peter and Paul. Both ended their missionary lives in Rome, the center of the empire, where they poured out their blood for the faith. On June 29th, we remember their martyrdom. Consumed by love for Christ and His Gospel, Peter and Paul fulfilled their apostolic mission and made the field of the Church fertile with their blood.

    The lives of Saints Peter and Paul show us the great power of God’s grace. As human beings conscious of our own weaknesses, we can identify with their failings. Peter had denied Jesus three times. Paul had persecuted Jesus by persecuting His Church. Both experienced, by God’s grace, a deep conversion to the Lord.

    Peter repented and wept bitterly for his sin of denial. The Holy Spirit strengthened him to declare to Jesus three times that he loved Him. Jesus then gave him the mandate to tend His sheep. Jesus gave Peter the primacy as the Rock of His Church.

    Paul’s conversion is well-known. On the road to Damascus, Jesus called him and radically transformed him. The persecutor of the newborn Church became the tireless Apostle of the Gentiles. God gave him the grace of belief in the mystery of the redemption accomplished in Christ.

    Saints Peter and Paul teach us the power of conversion and are models for us of trust in divine grace. The Lord delivered them both from their sins. And He delivers us when we turn to Him for forgiveness.

    As apostles, Peter and Paul faced many difficulties and a lot of suffering. They faced these hardships with trust in God and His love. Their trust wasn’t focused on themselves or based on their own resources, but on the grace of the Lord who gave them courage in their mission. Saint Paul wrote to Timothy: The Lord stood by me and gave me strength. This must be our conviction as well. Saints Peter and Paul teach us to trust that the Lord stands by us and gives us strength in our daily lives of faith. This is especially important to realize when we face difficulties and trials in our lives.

    On July 13th, we will begin our 33 days of spiritual preparation for the Marian consecration on August 15th. Reflecting on the faith of Saints Peter and Paul, we are also reminded of the faith of the Queen of the Apostles. The faith of the princes of the apostles, confirmed by their martyrdom, is the same faith as that of Mary, the Mother of the Church. This is the same faith we proclaim, profess, and strive to live. The Marian consecration is a means that the Church recommends to deepen our faith in Jesus, the Savior of the world.

    I conclude this column with words from the Preface of this Sunday’s feast:

    Lord, by your providence the blessed Apostles bring us joy: Peter, foremost in confessing the faith, Paul its outstanding preacher; Peter, who established the early Church from the remnant of Israel, Paul, master and teacher of the Gentiles that you call… each in a different way gathered together the one family of Christ; and revered together throughout the world, they share one Martyr’s crown.

    Saint Peter and Saint Paul, pray for us!

    Posted on June 23, 2014, to:

  • This Sunday we celebrate the Solemnity of Pentecost, the day when the Holy Spirit descended on the apostles who were assembled in prayer in the upper room with Mary and the first community of Christ’s disciples. We can speak of this event as “the birth of the Church.” The Church had her origins in Christ’s death on the cross and was manifested to the world on Pentecost.

    With the coming of the Holy Spirit, the apostles became capable of fulfilling the mission Christ entrusted to them. They became ready to bear witness to the crucified and risen Christ. The Holy Spirit made them missionaries. From Pentecost on, the Church remains in a state of mission, going out like the apostles on Pentecost to share the truth, joy, and beauty of the Gospel. The Holy Spirit moves us out of ourselves and drives us to communicate the joy of our faith to others.

    Pope Francis speaks about “the delightful and comforting joy of evangelizing.” He teaches that “egoism makes us bitter, sad, and depresses us. Evangelizing uplifts us.” The Holy Spirit gives us the zeal, energy, and courage for our mission of evangelization.

    How do we evangelize? How do we communicate the faith to others? The most important thing is our witness. This involves living our faith in everyday life, witnessing to Christ through love in our families, in our work, and in our communities. Let us remember Jesus’ words: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35). Can people tell that we are disciples of Jesus by our speech and conduct? Do we allow the Holy Spirit to shape our lives with His gift of counsel and right judgment? Do we speak the Gospel by living our faith with consistency?

    We hear in this Sunday’s Gospel the mandate of Jesus to go and make disciples of all nations. This is the Church’s mission. It is not just the mission of the clergy. We are all called to spread the Gospel by proclaiming and living the Gospel. To do so, we must open ourselves to the gifts of the Holy Spirit we received in Baptism and Confirmation. This happens especially through prayer. The Apostles prayed with Mary for nine days in the upper room and then received the fire of the Holy Spirit who helped and inspired them for mission.

    Do you ever pray to the Holy Spirit? Last year, at a general audience, Pope Francis asked the crowd “How many of you pray every day to the Holy Spirit?” The Holy Father invited them to pray every day to the Holy Spirit to open their hearts to Jesus. He gave this sample prayer: “Holy Spirit, make my heart open to the word of God. Make my heart open to goodness. Make my heart open to the beauty of God every day.” When we call on the Holy Spirit to guide us on the path of discipleship, He helps us and strengthens us to go forth from our comfort zone, to live our faith with conviction, and to go out to others in need of the light of the Gospel.

    The Church is missionary from its very beginning. We need spiritual energy for the new evangelization, what our Holy Father calls “a renewed missionary impulse.” There are many difficulties and challenges in the world today. Throughout the history of the Church, there have been times of darkness and evil. The light of Christ can always illumine the darkness and the power of the Holy Spirit can overcome all evil. Easter and Pentecost are not merely events of the past. They are present realities in the life of the Church.

    May the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, help us, guide us, and direct us to live our faith with conviction, to bear witness to the love of Christ, and to go out like the apostles at Pentecost to make disciples of all nations and right here in the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend!

    Posted on June 3, 2014, to: