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Martyred religious brother from Wisconsin farm family to be beatified in Guatemala 

Huehuetenango, Guatemala, Dec 7, 2019 / 03:58 am (CNA).- The son of Wisconsin farmers, Brother James Miller, FSC, will be beatified in Guatemala this Saturday, 36 years after he was shot and killed while working with school children and the indigenous poor in the country.

A graduate of St. Mary’s University in Winona, Minnesota and a member of the De La Salle Christian Brothers, Miller is remembered for his generosity, courage, and zeal to serve the children of Central America. He is the first member of his order in the United States to be beatified.

Brother Miller’s story strongly echoes that of Blessed Father Stanely Rother, another son of American farmers (this time from Oklahoma) who was murdered in Guatemala at his Santiago Atitlan mission, a mere seven months before Brother Miller’s murder. Rother was beatified in September 2017 in Oklahoma City. Both men are remembered for their courage, zeal for their mission, and their humility in their work.

“No one is perfect, and yet Jim, like a lot of people, did things very quietly, behind the scenes. He never asked for recognition,” Brother Pat Conway, who first knew Miller as a student and then as a fellow brother, told Minnesota newspaper Post Bulletin.

James Miller was born on Sept. 21, 1944, to a farming family near Stevens Point, Wis. He attended Pacelli High School, a Catholic school where he first encountered the Christian Brothers. Though he had also considered being a priest, Miller joined the order of brothers in September 1959, drawn to their apostolate in education.

Three years later in the novitiate program, he chose the religious name Brother Leo William, but eventually went back to using his baptismal name, which had become common among the brothers.

After teaching high school in Minnesota for three years, Miller made perpetual vows in 1970 and was sent to Bluefields, Nicaragua, fulfilling his desire to work in the missions in Central America. In 1974, he was transferred to Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua, where he became the director of a school.

Using the name Brother Santiago while in Central America, Miller more than doubled the enrollment at the school during his five years there and headed the building of 10 additional schools in the area.

In 1979, he was called back to the U.S. by his superiors, who feared for his life after the Sandinista revolution that overthrew the Somoza government, for which Miller had worked. Prior to his return to the U.S., Miller acknowledged in a letter that he was aware of the growing violence around him, but he was not afraid.

“Are you kidding? I never thought I could pray with such fervor when I go to bed,” he wrote in a letter home, according to his order.

In January 1981, Miller was again sent back to Central America to a mission in Huehuetenango, Guatemala, where he taught at the Casa Indigena School and worked at a center teaching experimental agricultural techniques to indigenous Mayans. The skills were useful for the indigenous poor people, who had been bought out of their land by rich corporations in prior years, and were attempting to scrape by on farming in the mountains.

After just more than a year at the mission, on February 13, 1982, Miller had returned from taking students on a picnic and was shot in the back three times while repairing a wall at the school, the Post Bulletin reported. Miller died instantly, and his attackers were never identified. He was 37 years old.

Just seven months prior, on July 28, 1981, Father Stanley Rother had been shot and killed in the middle of the night at his mission in Santiago Atitlan, 100 miles to the south of Huehuetenango.

Just a month before his death, Miller had written in another letter: “I am personally weary of violence, but I continue to feel a strong commitment to the suffering poor of Central America… the Church is being persecuted because of its option for the poor. Aware of numerous dangers and difficulties, we continue working with faith and hope and trusting in God’s Providence.”

“I have been a Brother of the Christian Schools for nearly 20 years now, and commitment to my vocation grows steadily stronger in my work in Central America. I pray to God for the grace and strength to serve Him faithfully among the poor and oppressed in Guatemala. I place my life in His Providence. I place my trust in Him,” he added.

Those who knew Brother Miller remember him for his kindness, his generosity and his jovial spirit.

Brother Francis Carr, who roomed with Miller while they attended St. Mary’s University, told Winona Daily News that he remembers him as “a common, good guy.”

One of his former professors remembered Miller as “attractive with an open and sociable personality, likeable, completely genuine; people were captivated by his simplicity: he was very intelligent and also very simple.”

Another fellow brother recalled Miller as “an intelligent person, although not an intellectual, jovial, easy to relate with, preferring physical work to sports, with a deep faith and love for his religious vocation, but with a certain tendency to come late to class and community prayers.”

Conway remembered his fellow brother as “big and boisterous” and “very human.”

“What's cool about him being beatified is that he was human,” Conway told the Post Bulletin. “The fact that someone so human would farm with these kids and taught them the skills to break the cycle of poverty. It speaks volumes about him.”

After his death, Miller’s body was sent back to the United States for burial in Wisconsin. Miller arrived in a dirty white robe, Conway told the Post Bulletin, because of all of the farmers who attended his funeral in Guatemala and wanted to touch his robes as they paid their respects.

Relics gathered during the exhumation of Miller’s body will be at the beatification in Guatemala, which will be celebrated on Saturday, December 7 in Huehuetenango.

Miller’s cause for canonization opened in 2009. Because Miller was officially declared a martyr by the Church, the typical requirement for proof of a miracle through his intercession in order to proceed with his beatification is waived. A miracle through his intercession will be needed before he can be canonized.

Representatives from St. Mary’s University will be present at the beatification in Guatemala, and a special concurrent commemoration ceremony will be taking place on campus.

“I think, particularly in the Catholic Church, in our faith, we highlight those who give their lives for the sake of the kingdom, the gospel, but also, in this case, as the gospel says, no one has greater love than to lay down his life for his friend,” SMU president Father James Burns told Winona Daily News.

“And so in following the example of Christ, this is what Brother James Miller did, laying down his life,” Burns added. “It’s a great honor for us to have someone for our local community being raised to this honor by the church.”

“I think people are instinctively drawn to goodness, that kind of goodness, even when it causes great sacrifice and we have to suffer. People are inspired by that.”

Our Lady of Guadalupe is the true Lady of the Amazon, priest says

Mexico City, Mexico, Dec 6, 2019 / 10:42 pm (CNA).- Our Lady of Guadalupe is the true Lady of the Amazon, a leading expert on the apparition said, pointing to Pope John Paul II’s recognition of Our Lady of Guadalupe as Queen of all the Americas.

Fr. Eduardo Chávez is the director of the Major Institute of Guadalupan Studies and the postulator for the cause for the canonization of Saint Juan Diego. He told ACI Prensa, CNA's Spanish language sister agency, that Our Lady of Guadalupe “takes nothing from syncretism, what she does is a perfect inculturation, as Saint John Paul II says” in his 1999 apostolic exhortation Ecclesia in America.

In the Guadalupe Basilica on January 23, 1999, by placing Ecclesia in America at the feet of the Virgin, he said, Saint John Paul II underscored that Our Lady of Guadalupe is “Mother and Queen of this Continent” and took the title used years prior in the Synod for America: “Patroness of all the Americas and Star of the First and New Evangelization.”

On that day, Saint John Paul II said that Our Lady of Guadalupe knows “the paths followed by the first evangelizers of the New World, from Guanahani Island and Hispaniola to the jungles of Amazonia and Andean peaks, reaching Tierra del Fuego in the South and the Great Lakes and mountains of the North.”

Chávez emphasized that for almost 500 years, the Virgin of Guadalupe has been “perfectly well known as the patroness of the entire American Continent.”

“She brings Jesus Christ Our Lord,” the priest said. “She brings the truth which is Jesus Christ, and puts it in the heart of every human being, over and above cultures, traditions and languages.”

 

This article was originally published by our sister agency, ACI Prensa. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

 

FBI investigating fourth church attack this year in El Paso

El Paso, Texas, Dec 6, 2019 / 04:59 pm (CNA).- The FBI is investigating the fourth case of church vandalism in El Paso this year, with authorities saying they are uncertain whether the incidents are related.

An unknown perpetrator vandalized St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church on Thursday, destroying nearly half a dozen windows and doors and starting a small fire in one of the parish offices.

ABC-7 reported that FBI officials are unsure if the vandalism is related to three other attacks that took place this year in the west Texas city, which borders both Mexico and New Mexico.

No one was in the church at the time of the vandalism, but a parish fire alarm alerted authorities to the intrusion. The damaged windows and doors were replaced on the same day.

Fernando Ceniseros, a spokesman for the Diocese of El Paso, encouraged anyone with information on the crime to reach out to the police, FBI, or the local crime stoppers initiative.

“If you see something, if you know something or if you hear something we are asking our people to say something,” he said, according to ABC-7.

Three other Catholic churches in the area have been subject to vandalism and arson in the last eight months.

St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and St. Matthew Catholic Church were both vandalized in May. Small fires had been set outside of each church, where the FBI found incendiary devices, according to local media.

St Jude Catholic Church was then attacked in June. Another incendiary device was used, starting a fire inside the church, which led to minor smoke damage.

The FBI has issued a $15,000 reward to help track down the offender in the church attacks.

In May, Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso questioned the motives behind the destruction, suggesting that the back-to-back attacks were beyond random acts of violence.

“When we see that two events happen like this in such short order it certainly concerns us that it wasn’t simply an act of random vandalism but two events targeting churches,” said Seitz, according to KTSM.

After the most recent attack, a parishioner of St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church told ABC-7 that they were shocked by the offense but that the community is not intimidated.

“To whoever did it, we are not afraid of you, we will continue to come here to worship God and we will continue praying for those who did it,” the parishioner said.

Prosecute pornographers for obscenity, Congressmen tell AG

Washington D.C., Dec 6, 2019 / 04:30 pm (CNA).- Four members of Congress have requested that the Department of Justice (DOJ) use obscenity laws already on the statute book to prosecute major pornography producers and distributors.

In a letter to the DOJ provided to National Review, Reps. Jim Banks (R-Ind.), Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.), Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), and Brian Babin (R-Tex.) all warned of an “explosion in pornography” that is fueling violence against women, human trafficking, and child pornography.  

The members asked Attorney General William Barr to bring back the Obscenity Prosecution Task Force in the DOJ’s Criminal Justice Division. The task force, founded in 2005 under the George W. Bush administration, was responsible for invesitgating and prosecuting producers of hard core pornography under obscentiy laws. The task force was dissolved by Eric Holder, Attorney General under President Barack Obama, in 2011.

Rep. Banks, who led the letters signatories, said in a statement provided to CNA that the internet and other technologies have brought about convenience, but that has a “dark side” to it.

“Anyone connected to the Internet – including children – has on-demand access to billions of photos and videos of people having sex or committing other lewd acts,” Banks stated.

“The prevalence of pornography in our society has consequences, especially for our children. It’s time we start talking about it,” Banks said.

Obscenity laws are already on the books forbidding obscene pornography online, on TV, at motels, and through retail, but the laws need to be enforced, the letter says.

“Given the pervasiveness of obscenity, it’s our recommendation that you declare the prosecution of obscene pornography a criminal justice priority and urge your U.S. Attorneys to bring prosecutions against the major producers and distributors of such material,” the letter stated.

Pornography has been declared a “public health crisis” by 15 state legislatures. President Trump, as a 2016 presidential candidate, signed the Children’s Internet Safety Presidential Pledge to prioritize enforcement of obscenity and anti-child pornography laws.

Pope Francis, in a recent meeting at the Vatican with technology executives from Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, Google, Facebook, and Paramount Pictures, emphasized the responsibility of technology companies to protect against the abuse and exploitation of children.

New McCarrick lawsuits brought as New Jersey litigation window opens

Newark, N.J., Dec 6, 2019 / 03:30 pm (CNA).- Two new lawsuits were filed against Theodore McCarrick and New Jersey dioceses this week, after the state temporarily lifted its statute of limitations on sexual abuse allegations.

The two lawsuits allege that McCarrick sexually assaulted two males while he was bishop of Metuchen and archbishop of Newark, in some cases at the cathedral rectories. One of the males was a minor at the time of the assault.

The other male was James Grein, who originally went public with his allegations against McCarrick in July of 2018 in the New York Times. Grein said he was abused by McCarrick, a family friend, beginning at age 11 when McCarrick was a priest in the Archdiocese of New York.

In his lawsuit filed on Thursday, Grein said the abuse continued while McCarrick was Bishop of Metuchen and Archbishop of Newark; the counts of sexual assault in Grein’s lawsuit were alleged to have taken place in the 1980s, by the time he was an adult.

Other counts include gross negligence by the Diocese of Metuchen and Archdiocese of Newark.

Theodore McCarrick was laicized for sexual abuse of minors and adults in February after a Vatican canonical penal process triggered by an initial complaint made in the Archdiocese of New York was found “credible” and subsequent investigation showed a history of alleged sexual abuse of minors and vulnerable adults.

In one of the two lawsuits in New Jersey courts this week, plaintiff John Bellocchio alleged that McCarrick “engaged in unpermitted sexual contact” with him when Bellocchio was a minor, “approximately 13 or 14 years old” in “approximately 1995 or 1996” while McCarrick was Archbishop of Newark.

The abuse allegedly occurred at a parish in the archdiocese as McCarrick was “presiding [at] ceremonial services as Archbishop.”

Bellocchio’s family attended St. Francis of Assisi parish in Hackensack, New Jersey, and he had “participated in youth activities and/or church activities at St. Francis”

In the other lawsuit, plaintiff James Grein alleged that McCarrick “engaged in unlawful sexual contact” with him “at times” when he was bishop of Metuchen, from around 1982 to 1986, and then while McCarrick was archbishop of Newark from around 1986 to 1989.

Grein also filed a lawsuit in August against the Archdiocese of New York for alleged abuse by McCarrick while he was a priest of the archdiocese.

Grein alleged that some of the abuse in the 1980s took place “at times” in the rectories of the cathedrals of Metuchen and Newark; McCarrick allegedly pressed his naked body against Grein’s and grabbed his genitals.

Grein also alleged gross negligence on the part of the Diocese of Metuchen and Archdiocese of Newark for not properly recognizing and addressing the threat McCarrick posed.

A spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Newark stated to CNA that “The Archdiocese of Newark takes all allegations of sexual abuse seriously. We are carefully reviewing the allegations in new lawsuits. Today and every day, we stand with survivors of clergy abuse on their journey towards healing.”

“We reassure the faithful that we continue to do all we can to promote the healing of victims, to enact structures of accountability, and to provide greater transparency into the activities of the Archdiocese of Newark. Cardinal Joseph Tobin’s Statement of Accountability on our website represents an important step in our ongoing efforts to heal the Body of Christ and uphold our commitment to the faithful,” the statement continued.

Anthony P. Kearns III, Esq., spokesperson and chancellor of the Diocese of Metuchen, stated that “it is our moral obligation to face any allegations, even those from long ago, with transparency and truth to ensure that justice is served and to make certain these actions can never be repeated.”

“The Diocese of Metuchen is aware of the pending lawsuits and while we cannot discuss pending litigation in detail, we can say with confidence that every allegation of abuse, as a matter of strictly adhered to policy, has been and will continue to be reported to law enforcement.”

The diocese also pointed to the Independent Victim Compensation Program of the five New Jersey dioceses which serves as “an efficient alternative to litigation; one that is both speedy and transparent, and which can resolve their claims with a significantly lower level of proof and corroboration than required in a court of law.” Claims through the program are accepted through Dec. 31, the diocese said. 

McCarrick was ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of New York by Cardinal Francis Spellman in 1958, and rose through the ranks to become one of the most prominent, powerful, and well-known ecclesiastical figures in the Church before he was laicized in 2019.

He was appointed as the bishop of Metuchen, New Jersey, in 1981, and appointed as archbishop of Newark in 1986. He served there until 2001 when he was appointed as archbishop of Washington, D.C. He served until his retirement in 2006, but even in retirement he traveled frequently despite reported sanctions placed on him by Pope Benedict XVI in 2008.

After the Archdiocese of New York found allegations against him to be “credible” and other allegations were publicized to the press, he was subsequently assigned by Pope Francis to a life of prayer and penance in August of 2018.

McCarrick was laicized in February of 2019 after the Vatican’s expedited investigation found him guilty of “solicitation in the Sacrament of Confession, and sins against the Sixth Commandment with minors and with adults, with the aggravating factor of the abuse of power.”

In a canonical deposition by the Archdiocese of New York in December of 2018, Grein reportedly said that McCarrick abused him during confession.