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Bishops' pastoral letter on racism on track for November vote

IMAGE: CNS photo/Bob Roller

By Dennis Sadowski

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (CNS) -- A planned pastoral letter addressing racism is on schedule for a November vote by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Bishop Sheldon J. Fabre of Houma-Thibodaux, Louisiana, chairman of the bishop's Ad Hoc Committee on Racism, said during the bishops' spring general assembly June 14 that the document would reflect recommendations from the various audiences that have reviewed drafts of the document.

The bishop said the document will focus on contemporary concerns affecting Native Americans and African-Americans and the "targeting" of Hispanics with racist language and actions.

Among its components, he added, the document will:

-- Reflect "grave concerns for the rise in racist expressions" in American society, public discourse and social media.

-- Address ways racism affects institutions and public policy.

-- Condemn racism and raise awareness of its impact "on all of us."

-- Assist pastors, educators, families and individuals in confronting racism.

-- Encourage honest self-reflection.

He added that recommendations that the document be "not too long" will be followed.

The pastoral letter will be rooted in the clear message of Micah 6:8, which calls on the faithful "to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God," the bishop said.

Plans are being developed to implement the document in dioceses and parishes so that people witness "the healing hand of God through it," Bishop Fabre said.

After the report, retired Bishop Michael D. Pfeifer of San Angelo, Texas, suggest that the committee incorporate listening sessions in schools beginning this fall so that young people are "aware of this critical issue."

When it comes to implementation of the pastoral letter, Bishop Pfeifer stressed, "we want people to read it," urging that supporting documents that summarize its content be prepared and distributed for families and individuals.

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Follow Sadowski on Twitter: @DennisSadowski

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Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. 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

Update: 'Tag' movie based on three-decade chase game of Catholic school friends

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy Father Sean Raftis

By Carol Zimmermann

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- A group of Catholic high school friends has kept in touch -- literally -- since graduating more than 30 years ago from Gonzaga Preparatory School in Spokane, Washington.

The way they've stayed connected -- through essentially continuing a version of tag they started in high school -- has received mixed reaction from people over the years, but that all changed five years ago when The Wall Street Journal ran a front-page article about them.

The piece gave the group almost instant notoriety, as it was followed up by an ESPN segment and a slew of other interviews. The group of 10, who call themselves the "tag brothers," hired an agent and started talking about movie potential.

Fast forward years later and now, they're "it" -- to use a tag expression -- because the story of the elaborate ways they've sneaked up on each other, sometimes in disguise, for one month of the year -- as per their signed agreement -- is now on the big screen in the movie "Tag," which releases nationally June 15.

The movie takes the story of this group and runs with it, so to speak, with a fictionalized account. The original 10 friends -- nine graduated in 1983 and one in 1984 -- includes one priest, Father Sean Raftis, pastor of St. Richard's in Columbia Falls, Montana. At a reunion, the group was talking about their competitive high school tag and came up with a plan to continue it long distance every February.

In the movie, the group is made up of five friends who have been together since elementary school played by Ed Helms, Jeremy Renner, Jon Hamm, Jake Johnson and Hannibal Buress. Like real life, the movie tags occur at unlikely places including a funeral home and the hospital delivery room.

The tag game, like what kids play at recess, involves tagging someone and making them "it" until they tag someone else. This grown-up version isn't so much running around as it is sneaking up on people who live in different states and have careers, families or ministries. The last person tagged at the end of February is "it" for the year.

The Wall Street Journal story that made this group famous points out that "players get tagged at work and in bed. They form alliances and fly around the country. Wives are enlisted as spies and assistants are ordered to bar players from the office."

The story highlighted one of the tags in the 1990s that involved Father Raftis hiding in the trunk of a Honda Accord waiting for Joe Tombari, who lived in California at the time but now teaches math and physics at Gonzaga Prep where the game began.

Mike Konesky, another tagger, drove the car over to Tombari's with the idea of showing him new golf clubs in his trunk. When the trunk opened, the priest reached his hand out to tag Tombari but didn't realize he actually reached his friend's wife who was shocked to see a hand reach out of the trunk, fell backward and hurt her knee.

When everyone attended to Tombari's wife, Tombari, of course, was tagged.

In a June 10 interview with Father Raftis from Montana days after he returned from the premiere of "Tag" in Los Angeles, the priest told Catholic News Service that the 15 minutes or so he was in the trunk felt like hours. He also felt bad that it involved an injury.

A decade or so later after this tag, Tombari and Konesky went to Montana to nab Father Raftis at church. The two sat in the front row and when the priest saw them he ended up mentioning the game in his homily, stressing the importance of friendship. His friends waited until Mass was over to tag him and then they went out for coffee and doughnuts with parishioners after.

The best tag Father Raftis remembers was when his friend since first grade, Mark Mengert, dressed up like Gonzaga's mascot, except in the high school's costume, and tagged Brian Dennehy with a note while he was attending a Gonzaga University basketball game with his wife, all while the real mascot looked over and raised his arms in confusion and security questioned the fake mascot.

All of this sneaking around, at its core, is about friendship and staying connected, said Father Raftis, adding that our whole faith is based on friendship with the communion of saints and angels.

The movie, he said, "gets the friendship thing right." He notes that it has an age-appropriate R rating for language but the "overwhelming arc of the movie is on the beauty of friendship and staying friends."

The CNS classification for "Tag" is O-- morally offensive. The reviewer said the film had "skewed moral values, physical violence, drug use, partial nudity, references to aberrant sexuality, fleeting profanities and pervasive rough language." 

The end of the movie features a clip of the original group. But this moment of fame isn't stopping them. Father Raftis said they plan to keep playing "indefinitely, as long as we can."

All of the tag brothers attended the movie's premiere in Los Angeles June 7 and they joined several members of the cast the night before at a dinner at Renner's home.

This has all been pretty surreal for the Montana priest, who was surprised to see "Tag" on billboards and bus advertisements in Los Angeles. When there was initial talk about a movie about the group, he said he thought it would be for DVD release or on the Hallmark Channel, which is fine, he added.

The movie openings, including one June 12 in Spokane where the original tagging began, is providing a rare chance for the group of tag brothers to be together.

And that's where the movie comes full circle because, as he put it, the point is: "Get a hold of someone you haven't been in touch with for a long time and rekindle the friendship."

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Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim

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Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. 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


NEW YORK (CNS) — First off, to answer everyone’s question about “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” (Focus), the cheerful and...

Bishops adopt 'pastoral response' for Asian, Pacific Island Catholics


By Dennis Sadowski

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (CNS) -- A new document focused on guiding the American church in addressing the pastoral needs of Asian and Pacific Island Catholics was approved by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops during their annual spring assembly.

Adopted 187-2 with two abstentions, "Encountering Christ in Harmony" is described as a "pastoral response" meant to provide support and to offer ideas for ministry to the nation's nearly 3 million Asian and Pacific Island Catholics.

Bishop Oscar A. Solis of Salt Lake City, chairman of the bishops' Subcommittee for Asian and Pacific Islander Affairs, told the assembly a day before the vote that the document addresses the fastest growing minority community in the United States church and includes.

"Asian and Pacific Islanders are ready for pastoral engagement in the church's mission of evangelization," he said.

"Our approval of this document is indicative of an essential pastoral outreach to the mission of the church in the United States. It's a response to the call of Pope Francis to go to the peripheries to proclaim the Gospel," he added.

The document has been in the works for more than two years. It follows a report by a team of social scientists based on a nationwide questionnaire and online survey that asked the Asian and Pacific Island community about their pastoral needs and concerns.

It also serves as a follow-up to the USCCB's 2001 pastoral statement "Asian and Pacific Presence: Harmony in Faith," which outlined the cultural, social and ethnic diversity in the Asian and Pacific Island communities and at the same time recognized and celebrated the gifts and values common to the communities.

"The goal of this response is to make Asian and Pacific Island Catholics feel at home, both in the church and in the United States, while being able to reserve the richness of the spiritual and cultural background that they bring as contributing members to the body of Christ," the document said.

The Asian and Pacific Island community is the fastest growing in the United States, according to document.

One of every five Asian and Pacific Islanders in the U.S. is Catholic. Filipinos comprise the largest segment of the community followed by Vietnamese, Chinese and Koreans.

By design, the document does not address members of the Eastern Catholic churches except for the Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara Catholics with roots in India.

Scalabrinian Sister Mryna Tordillo, assistant director of the Secretariat of Cultural Diversity in the Church, told Catholic News Service that "Encountering Christ in Harmony" addresses four central concerns that surfaced in the responses: identity, generations, leadership and culture of encounter and dialogue.

The document is the product of collaboration between the bishops' Committee on Cultural Diversity in the Church and the Subcommittee on Asian and Pacific Island Affairs.

Originally it was thought that "Encounter Christ in Harmony" would be a formal pastoral plan for ministry, but that as work continued, those involved decided to issue it as a pastoral response instead to guide dioceses and parishes in ministry to Asians and Pacific Islanders, Sister Myrna explained.

"The hope is that this document will assist dioceses, pastoral leaders, and other Catholic entities and Asian and Pacific Island Catholics in the pastoral care of Asian and Pacific Island Catholics wherever they are, and continue to welcome and integrate them," Sister Myrna said.

The 71-page document offers suggestions for action at the national, diocesan and parish levels.

"We the Catholic bishops of the United States, offer this pastoral response to assist diocesan and parish leaders and all the faithful in welcoming and integrating our Asian and Pacific Island brothers and sisters as they strive to live a faith-filled life in the Catholic Church," the document said in its introduction.

It acknowledged that the communities continue to confront "racial discrimination, stereotyping and the clash of values with mainstream United States culture."

Citing the call of Pope Francis to encounter Christ in one another, the document said "the cultural diversity of a community, therefore, is necessarily an integral factor in the encounter with the Gospel."

The document explained that harmony is a "very common theme in Asian and Pacific Island cultures, and therefore it makes sense that in the encounter with the Gospel, the Holy Spirit would transform this jewel of Asian and Pacific Island cultures and make it a blessing to the church."

Being Catholic is part of being Asian and Pacific Islander and it becomes important when ministering within these communities to "recognize how religion and culture are so intimately intertwined," the document said.

It also noted the challenges confronting Asians and Pacific Islanders, among them racism. It cited the Chinese Exclusionary Act of 1882 and the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II as examples of racist actions. Because of these incidents, it said, for many Asian and Pacific Islanders, "the reality of being linguistically or physically different from the larger U.S. population is a constant reminder of their marginalized status."

It encourages the church at all levels to "include and invite" Asian and Pacific Islanders who may be geographically or socially isolated into ministry and church leadership. It also calls for active encouragement of religious vocations.

Suggestions for outreach include establishing resource centers, recognizing "local gifts." It encourages Asian and Pacific Islanders to seek opportunities to teach native languages and customs, share music at liturgies, decorate worship spaces or pastoral centers with native textiles and fabric and raise funds for national and international Catholic organizations that benefit the communities.

"Encountering Christ in Harmony" also acknowledges the importance of Marian devotions within the communities and urged the incorporation of Asian and Pacific Island traditional celebrations at parishes and within diocese.

Noting that family life is central to the communities, the pastoral response urges intergenerational dialogue to help the communities work through challenges posed by interfaith and intercultural marriages. It also calls for celebrating liturgies "with an ear to the youth," supporting young adult Catholic communities and planning ecumenical, interreligious and intercultural gatherings.

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Follow Sadowski on Twitter: @DennisSadowski

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Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. 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


WASHINGTON (CNS) — Recollections and tributes to Robert F. Kennedy on the 50th anniversary of his assassination have mainly highlighted...

Migration is about people, not numbers, pope says

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Migrants seeking a better life in other countries must not be viewed with suspicion but rather defended and protected, no matter their status, Pope Francis said.

International cooperation is needed "at every stage of migration," especially for countries where higher influx of migrants "often exceeds the resources of many states," the pope said June 14 in a message to participants of the Holy See-Mexico Conference on International Migration at the Casina Pio IV, a villa located in the Vatican Gardens.

"I would like to point out that the issue of migration is not simply one of numbers, but of people, each with his or her own history, culture, feelings and aspirations. These people, our brothers and sisters, need ongoing protection, independently of what migrant status they may have," he said in the message read by Archbishop Paul R. Gallagher, Vatican foreign minister.

Among the attendees at the conference were Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state; Luis Videgaray Caso, Mexican secretary for foreign affairs; and Miguel Ruiz Cabanas, Mexican sub-secretary for foreign affairs.

Thanking participants for their work "on behalf of the needy and the marginalized in our society," the pope said the current challenges in confronting the migration crisis "demand a change in mindset."

"We must move from considering others as threats to our comfort to valuing them as persons whose life experience and values can contribute greatly to the enrichment of our society," he said.

He also called on the international community to defend the rights of migrant children and their families who are "victims of human trafficking rings and those displaced due to conflicts, natural disasters and persecution."

"All of them hope that we will have the courage to tear down the wall of 'comfortable and silent complicity' that worsens their helplessness; they are waiting for us to show them concern, compassion and devotion," he said.

In his address at the conference, Cardinal Parolin said that while most U.N. member states are continuing "paths of dialogue and negotiation" on the protection of migrants and refugees, the changing political climate "has made the issue more complex."

The steps taken so far, he added, can hopefully "reverse the logic of the globalization of indifference, replacing it with the globalization of solidarity that attends to the needs and the just expectations of people and know how to help those in the human family who find themselves in need and in situations of vulnerability."

However, the cardinal also said that people's rights to live in their land must also be protected to "avoid the flow of uncontrolled migration."

Among the concerns raised by Videgaray was the anti-migration efforts taken by the U.S. government, including the separation of families and the Trump administration's decision to abandon the U.N. Global Compact for Migration, an agreement that sought to improve the global flow of migration and refugees.

Although dismayed by the U.S. government's decision "to abandon the conversation," Videgaray said Mexico remained "undeterred" in its commitment to protect the rights and dignity of migrants.

He also expressed concerns regarding the separation of families, saying "there are 2,000 cases of children separated from their parents" in the United States.

"We understand the legal foundation of this action. However, we cannot agree to actions of this nature," he said.

After the conference's first session, Cardinal Parolin told journalists that the Vatican shared Mexico's concerns regarding policies that are "violations of rights of peoples and families."

"Unfortunately, the general atmosphere isn't the most positive, and that is why I insisted on a change of image regarding migration; from a solely negative image to a positive image."

Regarding the United States' decision to exit the Global Compact for Migration, Cardinal Parolin told journalists that "it wasn't good" and that "everyone must participate" in finding a solution to the migration crisis.

The issue of migration, he said, is a challenge that the international community cannot afford to ignore.

"It is a problem, or rather a global phenomenon, that needs everyone's participation. Nobody can turn their back," Cardinal Parolin said.

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju


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Listen to those in need, pope says in World Day of Poor message

IMAGE: CNS/Tyler Orsburn

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- How is it that God in heaven can hear the cries of the poor, but so many people watching or standing nearby either cannot or just do not care, Pope Francis asked.

People must make "a serious examination of conscience to understand whether we are really capable of listening to the poor," the pope said in a message for the World Day of the Poor.

The recently established commemoration and the period of reflection and action preceding it are meant to give Christians a chance to follow Christ's example and concretely share a moment of love, hope and respect together with those in need in one's community, the pope said in the message dated June 13, the feast of St. Anthony of Padua, patron saint of the poor. The Vatican released the message to the public June 14.

The World Day of the Poor -- to be marked each year on the 33rd Sunday of ordinary time -- will be celebrated Nov. 18 this year and will focus on a verse from Psalm 34, "This poor one cried out and the Lord heard."

"We can ask ourselves, how is it this cry, which reaches all the way to God, is unable to penetrate our ears and leaves us indifferent and impassive?" the pope asked in his message.

To become aware of people's suffering and know how best to respond with love, people must learn to be silent and listen, the pope said.

"If we speak too much ourselves, we will be unable to hear them," he said.

That is often what happens when otherwise important and needed initiatives are carried out more as a way to please oneself "than to really acknowledge the cry of the poor," he said.

"We are so entrapped in a culture which forces us to look in the mirror" and unduly "pamper ourselves," he said. Such people come to believe their act of altruism is enough without having to feel any empathy or the need to sacrifice or "endanger" themselves directly.

Nobody seeks poverty or its many forms, which include marginalization, persecution and injustice, the pope said.

Poverty "is caused by selfishness, pride, greed and injustice. These are evils as old as humanity, but also sins in which the innocents are caught up, leading to consequences on the social level, which are dramatic," he said.

"God's answer to the poor is always an intervention of salvation in order to heal the wounds of body and soul, restore justice and assist in beginning anew to live life with dignity. God's answer is also an appeal in order that those who believe in him can do the same," he added.

The World Day of the Poor is meant to be a small contribution that the whole church can make so the poor may know their cries have not gone unheard, the pope said in his message.

"It is like a drop of water in the desert of poverty; and yet it can be a sign of sharing for those who are in need, that they might experience the active presence of a brother or a sister," he said.

This encounter is a call for personal involvement, not delegation to others, he said. And it is not cold, distant giving, but an act that requires "loving attentiveness" just like God offers everyone.

So many people in need are seeking the meaning of their existence and a response to their questions about "why they have fallen so far and how they can escape! They are waiting from someone to come up and say, 'Take heart; rise, he is calling you,'" the pope said.

Unfortunately, people are often repelled by, not drawn to the poor, he said. The cries of the poor are often met with rebuke and they are told, "to shut up and put up."

There is a real "phobia of the poor," who are seen not only as destitute, but also as carriers of "insecurity and instability," to be rejected and kept afar.

But this tendency to create a distance means people distance themselves from Jesus himself, "who does not reject the poor, but calls them to him and consoles them," he said.

Even though members of the Catholic Church who offer their care and assistance are motivated by their faith and the desire to share the Good News with others, he said bishops, priests, religious and lay Catholics should recognize that "in the immense world of poverty, our capacity for action is limited, weak and insufficient."

The church should cooperate with others so joint efforts can reach their objectives more effectively, he said.

The church should give freely with an attitude of humility, "without seeking the limelight," he said.

"In serving the poor, the last thing we need is a battle for first place," he said. The poor don't need heroes, but a love which knows how to remain hidden from worldly recognition, he said.

"The true protagonists are the Lord and the poor," and those who serve are mere instruments "in God's hands in order to make manifest his presence and salvation."

Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization, told reporters the pope hopes the day will remind everyone in the church to turn their gaze to the poor, truly listen to their needs and respond directly with love in a way that aims to restore their dignity.

Local churches, associations and institutions are again asked to creative initiatives that foster moments of real encounter, friendship, solidarity and concrete assistance.

The archbishop said the pope will celebrate Mass in St. Peter's Basilica Nov. 18 with the poor and volunteers, and he will have lunch afterward with about 3,000 people in the Vatican's Paul VI audience hall. Other volunteer groups and schools were also set to offer free meals in an atmosphere of "celebration and sharing," he added.

Medical tents and mobile clinics will again be set up in the square adjoining St. Peter's Square Nov. 12-18, with extended evening hours until midnight for some services, he said. Anyone in need can find general and specialist care, including cardiology, dermatology, gynecology and ophthalmology.


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Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. 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


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