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LCWR award recipient embraces 'holy chaos' of her ministry to migrants

IMAGE: CNS photo/Global Sisters Report, courtesy of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley

By Soli Salgado and Dan Stockman

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (CNS) -- "Holy chaos" is how Sister Norma Pimentel describes her ministry.

As the executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley on the U.S.-Mexico border, Sister Pimentel sees up to 800 migrants every day pouring into her center in the Diocese of Brownsville, Texas. The center is often their first stop after being released from U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Here, the Missionaries of Jesus sister and her staff help them organize the rest of their journey to their final destinations, and provide them with new clothes, a hot meal and shower.

More than 150,000 migrants have passed through her ministry's doors.

That work has led to her being praised by, and later meeting, Pope Francis, being featured on "60 Minutes," "20/20," CNN and in newspapers around the world. On Aug. 16, she received the Leadership Conference of Women Religious Outstanding Leadership Award during the organization's annual assembly in Scottsdale, Arizona.

"There are times we must decide who we are, what we stand for," Sister Pimentel told the nearly 700 Catholic sisters attending the assembly. "We must ask ourselves, dear sisters, 'What else must I do in the world today?'"

The need is urgent, she said.

"If it is not now, then when? If it is not you, then who?" Sister Pimentel asked. "For it is in times of extreme pain and suffering, extreme measures of love are needed."

In 1980, the bishop of Brownsville asked the Missionaries of Jesus if they could oversee a shelter for refugees called Casa Oscar Romero. There Sister Pimentel became "100 percent absorbed in really advocating and defending immigrant families and children. Since then, that was very much a part of who I am."

Sister Pimentel worked and lived at Casa Oscar Romero for 10 years until 1992, when she went back to school to "better prepare myself to respond to families and the people who needed help."

She became the executive director in 2004. Back then, she said, seeing 200 migrants would have been considered a busy day, as new detention facilities had been built in McAllen, Texas, which meant fewer families would be released to them.

But 10 years later, in June 2014, the border experienced one of the most memorable waves of migrants, particularly of unaccompanied children.

Sister Pimentel said she took the lead in organizing the humanitarian response to migrants U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Border Patrol dropped off at a McAllen, Texas, bus station, visiting the detention facilities where they were apprehended and processed, and teaming up with local parishes to utilize their parish halls for additional space during the 2014 surge.

"To visit the detention facility where they were apprehended and processed and seeing the children in those cells was very heartbreaking for me," she said. "(It was) like I had a dagger in my heart when I saw the suffering children with faces full of tears asking me to help them and not being able to remove them from there."

"That experience has marked me forever," she said. "That triggered in me a profound sense of commitment and dedication to make sure that I become that voice for them, that I can be that force that can defend and protect life, especially the immigrants."

"What connects me to what I'm doing is the face of a child," she said. "Bringing a smile to their face always gives me focus as far as the importance of what I do. No matter how tired I am, if my presence and efforts bring a sense of relief to a family or child in distress, my sense of self is energized, and I go to sleep knowing I've done something good."

Though the number of incoming migrants may vary over the years, their reasons for leaving their home countries remain consistent, Sister Pimentel said.

"It's the gangs and instability and how easily they're abused," she said. "They're afraid for their children, afraid of how easily someone can break into their house and kill their children or themselves if they don't cooperate, if they don't hand over their children to join the gang."

Such instability also makes finding work more difficult, she said, and families are often extorted for more money than they have, and having to work for gangs to pay off whatever is asked.

"That's the constant message we hear over and over again on why they come," she said.

Traffickers and the cartel are "part of the cause and effect of all this," taking advantage of the deterrence policies the U.S. puts forward by exploiting those who forgo the journey, Sister Pimentel said. "President (Barack) Obama was strong in deterrence and deportation, and this new administration under President (Donald) Trump has just followed up on that and amplified it more, with greater emphasis on this negative narrative toward immigrants."

There's an "unwillingness to see immigrants as people," she added, and instead view them "as just intruders or as people who are here to hurt us. ... I feel that I must protect the immigrants and keep them from being exposed too much to the community so the community doesn't feel threatened."

"The fact that they're immigrants is not a reason to be afraid," she said. "Learning to help people make that distinction is important to me, and I find it more challenging to do because sometimes they're so close-minded in their beliefs," which she said she attributes to the influence of the current political climate.

Sister Pimentel said in a video shown before the leadership award was presented that through her work, something inside her had changed. She no longer feels boundaries between people, no matter their station in life. "It is as if we all have become one," she said.

There were murmurs and gasps in the audience at the assembly as Sister Pimentel described the fear on children's faces as they appear at her door, the tears of relief on mothers' faces when they see volunteers welcoming them, fathers kneeling in prayer, thanking God for a place they are finally respected, and the shame on a child's face as they pull her close and ask in a whisper for clean pants because theirs are soiled.

The sisters rose in one accord in a standing ovation for Sister Pimentel, who wiped away tears as the award was presented.

In an interview with the Global Sisters Report, she elaborated, saying, "that connectedness to each other as human beings -- that is key in every relationship and every ministry we do. If we put that as secondary, then we've lost why we're doing what we're doing."

"As consecrated people dedicated to our ministries, we must never lose sight of why we're doing this," she said. "I can be comfortable with chaos, and sometimes the Humanitarian Respite Center can be chaotic (in) how it looks, but there's a sense of order within that chaos, and that's why I call it 'holy chaos.'"

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Salgado and Stockman are staff writer and national correspondent, respectively, for Global Sisters Report.

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Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Voracious goats keep Wisconsin cemetery looking beautiful the natural way

IMAGE: CNS photo/Brad Birkholz, for The Compass

By Patricia Kasten

APPLETON, Wis. (CNS) -- Goats tend to get a bad rap in church traditions -- with the devil often portrayed with goat horns and hoofs, and Jesus speaking of separating goats from sheep, as told in Matthew 25, verses 32 and 33.

But at St. Mary Cemetery in Appleton, goats are getting positive reviews.

In early July, five goats arrived in the cemetery from a farm in nearby Black Creek. They're helping tackle the cemetery's problem with buckthorn, an aggressive, invasive species of shrub that had overtaken the cemetery's riverbank.

"We had been working the last couple of years to clean up the riverbank, to give a little better view of the river," explained Brian Dresang, cemetery director. "We ran into an issue of buckthorn. Buckthorn will tear you apart if you get into it. We had a couple of trees down, or with branches down, and we wanted to get that cleaned up. And right under those trees is buckthorn. Obviously, that was trouble."

The cemetery considered using herbicides to kill the shrub.

"Herbicide is quicker, but we thought it was better to do it naturally," Dresang told The Compass, newspaper of the Diocese of Green Bay. "We were afraid of killing off other things we didn't want to kill off: lots of deer, turkeys, squirrels, chipmunks. We figured it would harm them too. This is a definitely longer process but, in the long run, it's a lot better."

Cemetery officials also worried that the rain would carry the chemicals into the nearby river.

The solution came from landscaper Ron Wolff, who owns Lakeshore Cleaners in Appleton. Wolff was working with a property owner near the cemetery and suggested using goats to clear the pesky plants there.

It turns out goats don't hate buckthorn like humans do. In fact it's the opposite. Dresang quoted what Wolff told him: "Buckthorn is like hot apple pie to goats, it's like their favorite thing."

Using goats for weed control is becoming popular around the country. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has used goats in state parks. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the Nebraska Department of Transportation and various fire departments in California also have turned to goats to clear weeds and brush. They've been used at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, since 2011.

The Sierra Club's website notes that, "thanks to their voracious appetites -- goats can eat up to 10 pounds of vegetation per day -- and (with an) ability to navigate difficult terrain -- the ravenous ruminants are on the front lines of fire prevention."

St. Mary Cemetery got clearance from the town of Grand Chute, purchased and placed electric fencing to keep the goats from the cemetery's hedges, roads and gravesites, and turned them loose. Seven goats were added Aug. 2.

"It's amazing the amount they eat," said Dresang. "They are about 3 feet high, but do they eat a lot of stuff. ... Ron said they would make a big dent. ... I didn't believe him, but I have to admit, they eat a ton."

The goats have been welcomed by visitors, who come to see the voracious weed-eaters. Many people take photos and children love to watch them. One father brings his four small sons almost daily.

Since the goats find their own food, the cemetery only needs to supply a source of fresh water daily. The goats will remain onsite until fall.

Funding to rent the goats came through an anonymous grant from a family fund within the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region. For several years, the same family's fund has helped the cemetery with upkeep, replanting large trees after a storm several years ago and repairs to their dump truck.

"Not a lot of cemeteries have a family foundation that wants to keep the cemetery beautiful," Dresang noted. "A small cemetery like us loses money every year. The cemetery business is a hard business anyway. There is no way we would be able to do this without them.

"When we pitched the idea (of goats)," Dresang added, "(the family) loved it because of the more natural way of doing it and because they like creative, out-of-the-box thinking."

Dresang estimated the nine-acre cemetery has at least two acres of ravines and riverbank. So, if the goats don't finish their work this year, they'll return in spring.

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Kasten is associate editor of The Compass, newspaper of the Diocese of Green Bay.

 

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Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Update: Sustainable land use urged to ease growing threats to food, water

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy Franciscan Friars Conventual

By Dennis Sadowski

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Leading five friars in formation on an eight-week summer service program largely through Appalachia and South America, Conventual Franciscan Father Michael Lasky saw a new awareness rising in the young men's minds.

It started by talking with visitors to the Shepherd's Table meal program at Our Lady of Hope Parish in Coal Township, Pennsylvania, outside of the eastern town of Shamokin, and learning about people's sense of place in the once-burgeoning coal mining region.

From there, they moved on to planting trees in Robinson Forest in eastern Kentucky in an effort to reclaim a mountaintop stripped bare by coal mining. They learned, too, that the forests were shrinking because of the mining, leaving fewer nesting areas for the migrating Cerulean warblers from Colombia.

The connection deepened during a hike in an old-growth forest in Colombia, one of the warbler's wintering homes. By the end, Father Lasky saw how the young friars began to better see their connection as part of God's creation.

The venture -- including time in El Salvador and New Mexico -- was designed to help the friars in formation become "lesser before God" and to listen the stories of the people, seeing connections across land and community.

"I want them as a minister when they're done with the seminary training to look beyond the collar and see themselves as a member of the community in a holistic sense ... that they are interwoven in all of this," said Father Lasky, director of Justice, Peace and Care for Creation Ministry for his order's Our Lady of Angels Province based in Ellicott City, Maryland.

It's that sense of interconnectedness that all people are called to understand and live that underlies the recently released report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change on global land usage, in Father Lasky's view.

In its report, the IPCC -- the United Nations body assessing the science related to climate change -- examined the growing human impact on land and how climate change compounds the stresses placed on land around the world: degradation, soil depletion, flooding and water shortages.

The report determined that only by reducing greenhouse gas emissions from all sources -- including land use and food production -- can global warming be kept well below 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, the target set in the 2015 Paris climate accord to avoid catastrophic effects on the environment.

Scientific studies have found that global temperatures are about 1 degree Fahrenheit higher than 100 years ago and suggest that the burning of fossil fuels, land clearing, agriculture and other human activities are the primary sources of global warming.

"There are some huge challenges here. The report says we have to undertake fairly quickly a massive rethinking about how we use our land globally," said Dan Misleh, executive director of the Catholic Climate Covenant.

Father Lasky and others told Catholic News Service the need for sustainable land use practices is crucial, especially in an era when land is viewed primarily as a commodity without regard to the needs of local communities or the future of the planet.

Agencies such as Catholic Relief Services, working with national governments and nongovernmental organizations, have helped small farmers implement sustainable practices that involve water management, conservation of natural resources, companion planting of crops and trees and reducing fertilizer usage, said Olaf Westermann, senior technical adviser on climate change at CRS.

"Our main approach is improving natural resource management because that is what poor people depend on mostly," he said.

Although thousands of small farmers have seen their crop yields increase through sustainable practices, problems persist because of the widespread desire to exploit land for economic gain, said Michael Schuck, associate professor of theology and co-director of the International Jesuit Ecology Project at Loyola University Chicago.

"The number one environmental crisis going on, now of all, where the most environmental activism is taking place worldwide, is not with respect to climate change, but the question of land grabbing," Schuck told Catholic News Service.

Among others, he cited areas of Honduras and Guatemala where forests are being bulldozed and replaced with tracts of palm trees to meet the growing worldwide demand for palm oil.

"We have a production system that doesn't respect land as a living breathing entity," he said. "It has commodified it."

Schuck and others said they do not outright oppose profit-making, but rather they echo the call of Pope Francis in his 2015 encyclical, "Laudato Si', on Care for Our Common Home," to recognize that the long-term future of Earth is at stake unless practices related to high consumption and natural resource exploitation change.

The IPCC report said much the same, projecting that food production will suffer if unsustainable land use persists.

Indigenous lands have become increasingly sought for development, said Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, U.N. special rapporteur for the rights of indigenous peoples.

"No one knows the conflicts between food, fuel and forests better than indigenous people and local communities. Indigenous and local people continue to face murder and criminalization when we face agro-industry, mining, logging and infrastructure projects that threaten our forests, our lives and the animals and plants we protect," she said during a news conference Aug. 8 at which the report was released.

Nowhere is such land conflict better exemplified than in the Amazon forest of Brazil. A recent announcement by President Jair Bolsonaro's administration declared that Brazil will open indigenous lands -- primarily in the Amazon region, where 60% of the country's indigenous people live -- to mineral exploration.

The number of recent requests for research and mining has generated concern among indigenous peoples, environmentalists and human rights advocates who defend the territories of indigenous peoples.

Sonia Guajajara of Brazil's Indigenous Peoples Articulation, representing about 300 indigenous groups, has criticized the model of large-scale agricultural production.

"Our mission is to defend Mother Earth, to defend nature," she said. "When we do this, we not only benefit the indigenous people, but we benefit everyone. They want to make them believe that indigenous people no longer need land."

Further, German climatologist Hans-Otto Portner, vice chairman of an IPCC working group, said in early August that the new Brazilian policies represent the opposite of what the IPCC report recommends.

In Africa, Father Charles Odira, of the Kenyan bishops' conference, chairs the Kenya Interfaith Network of Action on the Environment. He told CNS climate change is disturbing the normal planting schedule for local farmers. Rains that once fell in February now have shifted by as much as a few weeks, he said.

In addition, the unpredictability of water access causes some herding communities to expand where their herds of cattle graze, leading to confrontations over the land, he said.

But there are successes. Father Odira recalled meeting one man during a pastoral visit in the territory covered by his parish in the Diocese of Homa Bay who managed to boost millet and corn yields significantly. Asking how, Father Odira learned that the man had implemented new practices on his arid land and he asked the farmer to share those practices with others.

"From the church's perspective, it's better," he explained. "You can reach more families. And with the church involved, people trust it more."

Schuck told CNS that kind of understanding and cooperation is needed on a broad scale and that it must begin immediately.

"There's a reason for hope, but the timing is so critical," he said. "Do we have the time needed to slow us down before the precipice?"

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Contributing to this story was Lise Alves in Sao Paulo.

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Follow Sadowski on Twitter: @DennisSadowski

 

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Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Christ's love gives hope to forgotten ones, cardinal says

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- In a world where many are often marginalized and discriminated against, the message of Jesus' love must continue to be proclaimed, a Vatican official wrote on behalf of Pope Francis.

In a message sent Aug. 16 to the 40th Meeting in Rimini, an annual event sponsored by the Communion and Liberation movement, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, said that countless men, women and children, especially those fleeing war and poverty, "are often treated as statistics and numbers" rather than as human beings with faces, names and stories.

The theme of the Aug. 18-24 meeting -- "Your name was born from what you gazed upon" -- was inspired by a poem written by St. John Paul II which referred to St. Veronica who, according to legend, wiped the face of Christ on his way toward Calvary.

"In an age where people are often faceless, anonymous figures because they have no one to look at, the poetry of St. John Paul II reminds us that we exist because we are connected," Cardinal Parolin wrote.

Reflecting on the event's theme, the Vatican secretary of state said that only by "fixing one's gaze upon Jesus' face and attaining familiarity with him" can Christians be purified and prepared "to look at everything with new eyes."

"By meeting Jesus, by looking at the son of man, the poor and the simple found themselves, they felt profoundly loved by an immeasurable love," the cardinal wrote.

This experience, he added, is what makes Christians "a presence in the world that is different from all others" because of their calling to be mirror images of Christ in the world.

"This is the origin of the profound joy that nothing and no one can take away from us: our name is written in the heavens, and not for our merits, but rather because of a gift that each of us has received through baptism. It is a gift that we are called to share with everyone, without exception. This means being missionary disciples," he wrote.

Conveying Pope Francis' best wishes for the annual event, Cardinal Parolin expressed the pope's desire that in celebrating its 40th anniversary, the Rimini meeting "will always be a hospitable place where people can talk face to face."

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju

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Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

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Vatican official: Church must be prudent judging Medjugorje apparitions

IMAGE: CNS photo/Sarah Mac Donald

By Sarah Mac Donald

KNOCK, Ireland (CNS) -- Medjugorje, Bosnia-Herzegovina, is a place of prayer, conversion and pilgrimage for millions of people, but the church must be prudent and not rush to any judgment on the alleged Marian apparitions there, said Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization.

Speaking to Catholic News Service at Knock Shrine in County Mayo Aug. 15, the feast of the Assumption, Archbishop Fisichella spoke of attending the first officially approved church festival at Medjugorje in early August.

"I confess the experience was very beautiful, seeing about 70,000 young people praying and living together and listening to catechesis," he told CNS, describing it as a mini-World Youth Day.

The presence of so many young people there was, he suggested, "one of the fruits" of the pastoral efforts of Medjugorje.

Visionaries claim to have seen than 40,000 Marian apparitions since June 1981, when six teenagers first claimed they first saw an apparition of Our Lady while herding sheep.

As always, when confronted with an apparition, the church "is always prudent," Archbishop Fisichella said.

In May 2018, Pope Francis named Polish Archbishop Henryk Hoser as apostolic visitor to the shrine, after a papal commission recommended that Medjugorje, which attracts up to 3 million visitors annually, be designated a pontifical shrine with Vatican oversight. A ban on pilgrimages organized by dioceses and parishes was then lifted by papal decree.

Some of the six visionaries say Mary still appears to them daily and gives them messages. However, in 2017, when asked about this, Pope Francis appeared to doubt the ongoing nature of these apparitions.

Differentiating between the Vatican's pastoral care of Medjugorje and the doctrinal study of the apparitions, Archbishop Fisichella said that, following the papal commission's conclusions, "we are now in another step (phase) in order to understand what happened in Medjugorje."

"I think that for the moment it is necessary to evaluate the richness of the work in Medjugorje. We need to understand all of this together: why there is such a huge number of pilgrims, of prayers and to understand also how the possible apparitions in Medjugorje (relate) to the life of the church. For that we should wait the judgment the Holy Father will give. To rush this delicate matter is a mistake."

Archbishop Fisichella was in Knock as the keynote speaker for the feast of the Assumption as part of the annual novena at the Irish church's national shrine, which draws up to 100,000 pilgrims over the nine days of the novena.

This year marks the 140th anniversary of the apparition in Irish village. On Aug. 21, 1879, 15 people, ages 6-75, witnessed the silent vision of Mary, St. Joseph and St. John the Evangelist as well as the Lamb of God standing on the altar in driving rain.

Speaking to CNS about the message of Knock, Archbishop Fisichella said he was "touched by the vision of St. John," who was seen in the apparition giving the sign of silence. "Probably not many people know that this was the request for silence made by the master among the disciples" in medieval times.

He suggested that the message of Knock and its "request of silence" was "extremely important" for today's contemporary "era of chat."

"We need to help people today, especially people who don't know the profound value of silence, to understand better the value of silence," he said.

At a seminar the same day on the theme, "Mary in the life of the church," the archbishop also expressed concern over the number of millennials who feel isolated and have no friends.

Discussing the concept of koinonia -- communion and community -- Archbishop Fisichella told the Knock seminar that "in a culture like ours, where there is such a strong individualism, we need to discover the necessity of community and relationship."

He said he had been shocked to learn of a recent finding in the United States that showed as many as 30 percent of millennials identified solitude and a lack of friends of one of their main problems.

"It is unbelievable but true. Normally we think of solitude as a problem for people in their 70s or 80s due to their condition of life. Millennials are people born in 2000, and today they are 19 years old. This solitude stems from a culture in which people close in on themselves. Without relationships you cannot trust; if you don't trust you can't communicate; if you don't communicate there is no possibility of friendship; and if there is no friendship there is no possibility to learn to express yourself."

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Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

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