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USCCB Welcomes Relief For Immigrant Families

Bishop Eusebio Elizondo

In a statement issued Thursday, Bishop Eusebio Elizondo, M.Sp.S., auxiliary bishop of Seattle and chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Committee on Migration, welcomed President Obama’s decision to defer deportations for many undocumented immigrants and their families.
Even though the bishops applauded the effort to keep families together, they also reaffirmed their call for both the President and the U.S. Congress must work together for permanent reforms. 
“I strongly urge Congress and the President to work together to enact permanent reforms to the nation’s immigration system for the best interests of the nation and the migrants who seek refuge here. We will continue to work with both parties to enact legislation that welcomes and protects immigrants and promotes a just and fair immigration policy,” Bishop Elizondo said.
View the USCCB's full statement on Bishop Elizondo's comments at http://www.usccb.org/news/2014/14-196.cfm.

Texas Bishops Featured at USCCB Fall General Assembly

Bishop SisThe bishops of Texas played prominent roles in the 2014 Fall General Assembly of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) on November 10 – 13, in Baltimore. Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller, M.Sp.S. of San Antonio was selected as chairman-elect of the Committee on Cultural Diversity in the Church.  The man he is succeeding in that post, Bishop Daniel E. Flores of Brownsville, delivered a stirring presentation on underserved communities and Catholic schools.  In addition to the committee chair elections and discussions, the bishops also approved several liturgical items and endorsed the sainthood cause of Father Paul Wattson.

San Antonio Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller outpolled Bishop Joseph J. Tyson of Yakima, Washington, by a 160-60 margin to become chairman-elect of the Committee on Cultural Diversity in the Church. The committee assists dioceses in bringing Catholics from various culturally diverse communities into a fuller participation in the faith, life, and evangelizing mission of the Church. The committee focuses on building awareness of cultural diversity, including Pastoral care of Hispanic Catholics, African American Catholics, Native American Catholics, Asian Catholics, African Catholics, Pacific Island Catholics, Catholic migrants and refugees, and people on the move.

In other voting of note, Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond of New Orleans, former Shepherd of the Diocese of Austin, was selected as USCCB secretary-elect in a narrow 100-94 vote over Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio of the Archdiocese for Military Services.  Archbishop Aymond will serve one year as secretary-elect and then serve a full three-year term as secretary.

Bishop Daniel E. Flores of Brownsville addressed the General Assembly about diversity in Catholic education, with Archbishop George J. Lucas of Omaha, Nebraska. “Welcoming more children from diverse populations in our Catholic Schools, and particularly making an effort to reach out to underserved communities, is important for the future of Catholic schools and of our Church,” he noted.

Bishop Flores quoted from a 2014 Boston College study, which found that Catholic schools are less available in areas where the Catholic population has experienced rapid growth recently, fueled by the rising number of Latinos in the South and the West. Major initiatives by dioceses to provide consistent cultural competency training and financial investments have produced positive results. The percentage of Latino children enrolled in Catholic schools in the United States has grown from 12.8 percent to 15 percent over the last four years. “The needle is moving in the right direction, even if slowly,” Bishop Flores remarked.

In other activity, the bishops approved several liturgical items and voted overwhelmingly in favor of a request by the USCCB's doctrine committee to proceed with a revision of a section of the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, dealing with Catholic and non-Catholic health care partnerships. Participants in the General Assembly also accepted a 2015 budget of just under $189.5 million for the USCCB and endorsed the sainthood cause of Father Paul Wattson, co-founder of the Society of the Atonement and a leading advocate of Christian unity.

Bishops Seek Protection for Foreign and Domestic Programs to Aid Poor

Migrant ChildrenIn a letter to the U.S. Congress, the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops (USCCB) urged for a metaphorical “circle of protection” to be placed around appropriations for U.S. programs serving the poor and vulnerable both at home and abroad.

The letter, signed by Bishop Oscar Cantú of Las Cruces, New Mexico, and Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski of Miami, pressed the newly elected Congress “to protect poor and vulnerable people, promote human life and dignity, and advance the common good.”

“As pastors, we see every day the human consequences of budget choices. Our Catholic community defends the unborn, feeds the hungry, shelters the homeless, educates the young, and cares for the sick, both at home and abroad. These voices are too often missing from public policy debates, but they have the most compelling moral claim on our consciences and our common resources,” wrote Bishops Wenski and Cantú, who serve as chairmen of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, and the Committee on International Justice and Peace, respectively.

They highlighted several domestic programs that are in jeopardy of being cut, including nutrition, affordable housing, healthcare and workforce development.  The prelates also stressed the importance of preserving international humanitarian assistance, global disaster relief, long-term development, and international agriculture programs.

As Bishop Richard Pates of the Diocese of Des Moines said on behalf of the USCCB in July, “We cannot separate the humanitarian crisis of migration from the fundamental ‘root causes’ existing in these countries … violence, gang activity, narcotics, weapons and human trafficking, inadequate institutions of law enforcement and corruption/impunity, poverty, as well as unequal and inadequate economic development. These factors mutually reinforce one another.”

In an attempt to curb this vicious cycle, the Obama Administration and the Inter-American Development Bank recently announced that they are scaling up their investments in Central America over the long term and providing migration processing for some child refugees in their home countries. This plan also includes collaboration initiatives with faith-based organizations to provide at-risk youth with life skills, job training, and recreation activities, as well as a strategy to improve 900 schools.

“The announcement for a long-term strategic investment in Central America is critical to address the root causes of the economic, social, and political crises in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala,” said Bill O’Keefe, vice president for Government Relations and Advocacy for Catholic Relief Services (CRS). “For far too long, children and youth have borne the brunt of these crises.” 

CRS and the USCCB’s Migration and Refugee Services plan to advocate for an expansion of these programs to serve even more Central American children in need. “Too often, so called economic development has not reached the poor and marginalized,” O’Keefe said. “Economic success in Central America will be measured in job creation, educational improvements and school attendance, and strengthening of families.”

Fall Sparks Activities for Texas Catholic Youth and Young Adults

YouthAflame14GroupThe cooler fall temperatures have given rise to more activities for Catholic youth and young adult ministries across the Lone Star State.  These activities offer attendees a much-needed spiritual break from the busyness of their active lifestyles. From the Piney Woods to the River Walk, young Catholics and the ministers who serve them are able to deepen their faith through a vibrant combination of dynamic presentations, social media, music, and sacred liturgy. 

The “8th Annual Youth Aflame Retreat” attracted over 100 young Catholics from across East Texas to Twin Oakes Ranch, near Lindale, on the weekend of November 14-16. The Diocese of Tyler teamed up with Kerygma Texas to take these attendees beyond Confirmation and start them on the path to discipleship. The goal of the retreat was to spark a desire for missionary work so that the youth may be motivated to share the Gospel of the Lord to their parishes and communities. 

Father Justin Braun, Vocations Director of the Diocese of Tyler, celebrated Holy Mass for the young Catholics and Bishop Joseph Strickland sent a buzz through the crowd by sending a “selfie” video greeting from his travels. Kerygma Texas and the Diocese of Tyler are planning three more retreats for youth, young adults and women in early 2015. Complete information on these upcoming events can be found at http://kerygmatexas.com.  

That same weekend in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, hundreds of young adults also came together for the “THRIVE: Transforming Our Culture” conference at St. Ann’s Catholic Church in Coppell. This third-annual event was designed to inspire attendees to be reinvigorated in their spiritual lives.  The young adults were challenged by a series of candid breakout sessions, covering the difficulties of being a Catholic in the modern culture, and a compelling roster of nationally recognized speakers.  The crowd also enjoyed contemporary Catholic musicians, social time, and liturgical activities like Eucharistic Adoration, Holy Mass, and Reconciliation.

Before the start of Advent, thousands of youth and campus ministers, religious education leaders, clergy and religious, young adult ministers, performers, artists and volunteers will gather at the Henry B. Gonzales Convention Center on San Antonio’s River Walk for the National Conference on Catholic Youth Ministry (NCCYM) on December 4-6. The NCCYM is the largest event in the country for adults who minister to Catholic youth.

These three days of the NCCYM will be filled with keynote presentations, workshops, prayer and worship, extensive networking, hundreds of resource exhibits, and uplifting Catholic entertainment. Programs are conducted in both English and Spanish.  One of the unique features of this year’s event is the onsite and online Catholic Parent Revival. This track aims to support the daily effort of growing deeper in faith as a family and breathe new life into the vocation of parenthood. More details on the NCCYM conference are available at http://www.nccym.info.

Texas Catholic Conference Touts Tax Credits Before Senate Committee

Senate HearingWhile the 84th Texas Legislature does not open until January 13, 2015, the Texas Catholic Conference got an early start in promoting the public policy agenda of the Texas Bishops. 

Education will be a top issue of the upcoming Texas Legislature and the Senate Public Education Committee scheduled the last of its hearings on interim charges before the new session starts.

Jennifer Carr Allmon, TCC associate director, testified before the committee on the Bishops’ support for school choice tax credits to provide equal educational choices for low-income families.

Allmon pointed to a similar tax credit scholarship program that was established in  Florida in 2001 to encourage private, voluntary contributions from corporate donors to non-profit scholarship funding organizations that award scholarships to children from low-income families.

“A Tax Credit Scholarship program in Texas would allow businesses to invest in their future workforce by receiving a tax credit from state taxes when they contribute to nonprofit agencies that award scholarships to students with financial and academic need. These scholarships would defray educational costs so parents can choose the best education for their children,” Allmon said.

Allmon responded to critics of parental choice for a child’s education who complain that scholarships drain schools of both funding and students.

“That couldn’t be further from the truth. A Tax Credit actually provides an opportunity for public schools to increase their per pupil spending because the local property taxes are not reduced by the state tax credit,” Allmon said.

The Texas Bishops maintain that Universal education has long been a foundation of the Catholic faith, and it is an issue of equity and justice for families who want to make the best choices for their children.  They strongly believe that parents have a right and responsibility to educate their children, including choosing the best school for them.


Catholic Church Ready to Kickoff A Year of Consecrated Life

Year of Consecrated Life LogoPope Francis has called on the Catholic Church to celebrate a Year of Consecrated Life (YCL) throughout the world, beginning on the First Sunday of Advent, November 30, 2014. It will close on the World Day of Consecrated Life on February 2, 2016. The purpose of the YCL, as stated by the Vatican is to “make a grateful remembrance of the recent past,” while embracing “the future with hope.”

This special year will mark the 50th anniversary of Perfectae Caritatis, a decree on religious life, and Lumen Gentium, the Second Vatican Council’s constitution on the Church. These documents serve as “signs and guidelines to help all consecrated persons to be witnesses of God's transfiguring presence," according to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations is promoting “Days with Religious” initiatives and resources to help families learn about the consecrated life of religious men and women. YCL activities will focus on sharing prayer, service and community life with those living a consecrated life. Numerous tours, open houses, receptions, family activities, and presentations on the history of religious communities will be held at convents, abbeys, monasteries and religious houses across the country.

Another highlight of the YCL in the United States will be the first-ever visit from Pope Francis on September 25, 2015, for the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia. Officials are expecting tens of thousands of Catholics for the conference, as well as up to 2 million people for Holy Mass on the Ben Franklin Parkway two days later. Few details of the Pope’s visit are confirmed, but the Holy Father is also expected to announce additional stops in New York and Washington, D.C. to address the United Nations General Assembly and a Joint Session of the United States Congress.

A Thanksgiving Blessing

archbishop-gustavo-thumbnail"A happy and blessed Thanksgiving holiday."

With the following words, President Abraham Lincoln established the fourth Thursday of November as a day of thanksgiving and a national holiday: “I do therefore invite my fellow citizens … to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens … and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.”1

Reflecting on the spirit of his proclamation, we can see that his intention went beyond just words and banquets, but expressed his deep desire to inspire a gratitude that had a wider purpose. Today, as we live in a nation that is deeply divided in so many ways, we would do well to share in President Lincoln’s hope for the healing of its wounds and disunity. As we give thanks we should remember that the many blessings we enjoy are not ours to keep, but ours to share. Let our prayer of thanksgiving be an expression of gratitude to God and love for one another, coming to the realization that thanksgiving is more than a feeling, it is a way of life.

President Lincoln established the Thanksgiving holiday in one of the darkest times in this nation’s history. The Civil War had raged since 1861 and soon would experience the Battle of Gettysburg, in which 51,0002 casualties resulted. President Lincoln’s desire to give thanks, even in the darkness of the worst of times, showed us that we must give thanks to God even in the moments when we discover how fragile our tranquility can be and how dependent we are on the grace of God for the peace we seek. St. Paul reminds us in his letter to the Colossians: “And let the peace of Christ control your hearts, the peace into which you were also called in one body. And be thankful.”3

Our thanks should not only provide us with a contrast to the burdens and suffering that others experience, our gratitude should also awaken in our hearts a desire to heal the wounds of others, feed their bodies and souls, mourn their suffering and bring about freedom and dignity to those who have such great need that our many blessings are evident by any comparison.

As we give thanks for the abundance God has placed in our lives, let us recognize the many people who have enriched us in so many ways. Pope Francis reminds us, “Saying thank you is such an easy thing, and yet so hard. How often do we say ‘thank you’ to one another in our families? These are essential words for our life in common.” However, let us not thank only those who give to us, but also let us give thanks for those who provide us the opportunity to be generous in faith and love. Our salvation comes in our love and service to the poor and the marginalized, the suffering and the stranger among us who is isolated and afraid.

Our thanksgiving is authentically expressed as we share our providential inheritance, not to possess, but to share all that we have been given as a gift from God. I wish you a happy and blessed Thanksgiving holiday.

1. The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln edited by Roy P. Basler, Volume VI, “Proclamation of Thanksgiving” (October 3, 1863), p. 497.
2. The Gettysburg Foundation website. http://www.gettysburgfoundation.org/37
3. Colossians 3:15-17


The Church the State and the Shifting Dynamics of Public Secularity

Flores You TubeThe following remarks are taken from the presentation “The Church the State and the Shifting Dynamics of Public Secularity”, delivered by Brownsville Bishop Daniel E. Flores at Baylor University’s Institute for Studies of Religion in Waco, Texas, on October 28, 2014. To view the entire presentation, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LkjMsSpzrAY or click the video frame to the left.

We speak about the common good in a culture where our interlockers in public policy are engaged in a race to come to consensus about the popular good. The popular good and the common good are two different notions. Democratic and Republican governments since Plato and Aristotle have been recognized as forms of public order that work well when they work well, but very badly when they work badly.

The popular good; sometimes I would describe it as the will moving unconsidered reason to judgment, while the common good is reason moving the will to well considered judgment. Perceptions of the popular good can change radically and fairly quickly. It just takes a good campaign. The common good does not change radically. It is rooted in human nature and it is rooted in being made in the image and likeness of God.

What the common good needs is a land post upon which to stand. It has its own unique power to persuade. The good and the true do have a way of speaking for themselves. It is our responsibility, however, to witness to these so they can speak for themselves. The societal space in which religious bodies can offer a land stand or a field hospital is reduced when people in general never get the chance to decide if they think they might benefit from the light or from the field hospital.

From the perspective of the Christian doctrine of religious freedom, it is a necessary good for human society that religious bodies have space to operate freely in such a way, organizing society to respect this aspect of the common good. The space religious bodies have to operate freely in society is no longer understood, however, as a common good for society giving them perspectives on the deeper purposes of life the state could not. If this part were understood as a good, that is a religious dimension as an organized body present in society, it would not easily be controverted.

To a large degree, popular good has replaced the common good as the focus in political discourse because to discuss the common good you have to think that reason can adjudicate reality fairly on most of the big issues. With the decline of confidence in reason has come a collapse of political discourse in the single criteria of popular will. Hence, all the efforts made at shaping at least what the perception of what the popular will actually is. I am not overly optimistic that in this environment, a reasoned discourse can be had about what public policy is or is not, in keeping with the common good.

5th Circuit Court Sets Date for Next Legal Arguments on HB2

Gavel-Lone-StarThe 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans has scheduled oral arguments about the constitutionality of House Bill 2 (HB2), the State of Texas' new abortion law, for the first week of the new year. Solicitor General Jonathan Mitchell and lawyers representing four Planned Parenthood affiliates, Whole Woman’s Health and other independent abortion providers will present their cases during the week of January 5, 2015. The appeals court could rule at any time after the arguments.

House Bill 2 bans abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, places stringent regulations on the use of abortifacient drugs, requires abortion doctors to obtain admitting privileges at a nearby hospital and mandates that abortion clinics meet the standards of hospital-style surgical centers. The law has faced legal challenges ever since the Texas legislature passed it in 2013 and Governor Rick Perry signed it.

On October 14, 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court placed a hold on implementing the law’s surgical care standards and also exempted clinics in McAllen and El Paso from the requirement on admitting privileges until the legal challenge has been settled. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans has twice reversed lower court orders that found the law unconstitutional because of how greatly it reduced abortion access.

In a filing on November 3, 2014, the State of Texas urged the appeals court to again uphold the law because clinics would remain in all major metropolitan areas and within a 250-mile drive for the vast majority of Texans. The state also argued, “even if one were to think that the Supreme Court's order portends disagreement with the motion panel's reasoning, it cannot absolve this court of the responsibility to follow its previous abortion pronouncements.” Now that oral arguments are slated for the first week of January, a rapid timeline has been established that may accelerate the case's expected trip to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Bishops Set Second Conference on End-of-Life Care Policy

Doctor HandBuilding upon the success of its first "Principles and Policies for End-Of-Life Care" event in Austin, the Texas Catholic Conference has scheduled additional presentations for December 9, from 12:00 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the University of St. Thomas in Houston.

According to Dr. Jeffery Patterson, executive director of the Texas Catholic Conference, the event draws attention to the flaws in Texas’s current laws governing end-of-life care and the need for reform that defends life, preserves the dignity of the human person, and protects the rights of the disabled.

“Currently, Texas law lacks clarity given the complexity of end-of-life care. It contains definitions that could be interpreted to permit the withdrawal of basic care for patients, who may have an irreversible, but non-terminal, condition,” said Patterson.

“If nothing else, reform is needed to provide less adversarial and more compassionate communication between medical professionals and patients’ families when disagreements arise,” Patterson remarked.

The conference will include three panels: The first will deal with the pastoral issues in caring for someone at the end of life. The second panel will highlight the flaws of current law, while the third will discuss areas of proposed reform. Featured speakers at the University of St. Thomas gathering will include Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston and Bishop Michael Olson from the Diocese of Ft. Worth.

Registration for the conference is now available at www.txcatholic-advance-directives.org. There are a limited number of seats so interested participants are encouraged to register early. The Texas Catholic Conference is the public policy voice of the Roman Catholic Bishops of Texas before the Texas legislature, the Texas delegation in Congress, and state agencies. For more information, visit www.txcatholic.org.

Texas Bishops Will Play Prominent Roles at USCCB Fall General Assembly

Texas Catholic BishopsThe Bishops of Texas will be traveling to Baltimore to take active roles in the 2014 Fall General Assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) on November 10 - 13. Liturgical matters will be on center stage of the event’s agenda, with five items up for consideration. In addition, the Bishops will choose a new secretary-elect and the chairmen-elect of five committees, conduct the canonical consultation on the sainthood cause of Father Paul Wattson, and consider possible revision to the “Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services.”

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, who is president of the USCCB, will deliver his first presidential address. He was elected to a three-year term last November. As is customary, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, apostolic nuncio to the United States, also will address the assembly. On the first day of the meeting, the bishops will concelebrate Mass at the Basilica of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Baltimore to honor the 225th anniversary of the establishment of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the first diocese founded in the United States.

In USCCB elections, Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond of New Orleans, the former Shepherd of the Diocese of Austin, and Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio of the Archdiocese for the Military Services have been nominated as secretary-elect. Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller of San Antonio, has been nominated to lead the Committee on Cultural Diversity in the Church, with Bishop Joseph J. Tyson of Yakima, Washington.

Several presentations are also scheduled for the Fall General Assembly. Bishop Daniel E. Flores of Brownsville, the outgoing chairman of the Committee on Cultural Diversity in the Church will join Archbishop George J. Lucas of Omaha, Nebraska, chairman of the Committee on Catholic Education, for a discussion on underserved communities and Catholic schools. There will also be updates on USCCB’s religious liberty and defense of marriage efforts.

The 2014 Fall General Assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops will be live streamed on the Internet. The live stream will be available at www.usccb.org/about/leadership/usccb-general-assembly/index.cfm. News updates, vote totals, addresses and other materials will be posted to this page. Those wishing to follow the meeting on social media can do so at http://twitter.com/USCCBLive with the hashtag #usccb14. Updates will also be posted to www.facebook.com/usccb.

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The Texas Catholic Conference is the association of the Roman Catholic Bishops of Texas. We accredit the state's Catholic Schoolsmaintain records that reflect the work of the Church in Texas, and represent the Bishops in the public policy sphere.