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Mother of three Dreamers holds fast on Hill for passage of DREAM Act

IMAGE: CNS photo/Jaclyn Lippelmann, Catholic Standard

By Kelly Sankowski

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Antonia Alvarez, the mother of three DACA recipients and one U.S. States citizen, began a 10-day fast Dec. 4 outside of the Capitol in Washington to advocate for the passage of the DREAM Act.

The measure would allow her children and 800,000 other Dreamers to remain in the country and gain a path to citizenship.

Alvarez is originally from Mexico City and said she immigrated to the United States 16 years ago because of dangerous conditions in Mexico. She currently lives in New Brighton, Minnesota, where she has done similar fasts throughout the past few years.

But after President Donald Trump announced in September that he would end DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, there was added urgency to Alvarez's advocacy.

To get the attention of members of Congress, she decided she would need to travel to hold a fast right in front of their offices. In ending DACA, Trump called on Congress to come up with a legislative solution to keep the program by March. Many are calling for passage of the proposed Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, or DREAM Act, to do just that.

Alvarez, a parishioner of Incarnation Sagrado Corazon in Minneapolis, traveled to Washington with a group of leaders from the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis to speak with congressional leaders, then stayed behind to carry out the fast.

She said she planned to fast until passage of the DREAM Act or when Congress is scheduled to recess for the holidays Dec. 15.

Every day from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., she planned to sit in a section of the Capitol grounds directly between the House office buildings and the Capitol, urging lawmakers take action on the bill.

"Sometimes I said, 'God, I stay alone,'" she said, expressing fear about doing this by herself. "But I listen, (and hear) 'You're not alone.'"

Now she really isn't alone. Daniel Galan, a 25-year-old electrician from Chicago, who saw on Facebook what Alvarez was doing and decided to hop on a bus from Illinois to join her.

Galan, a parishioner of St. Paul Catholic Church on Chicago's South Side, was brought to the United States from Mexico City at age 8. He and his girlfriend are both DACA recipients, so he said he was doing the fast for the both of them, as well as for many other Dreamers he knows who couldn't make the trip to Washington.

"Our family is poor. My mom didn't see any future for me in Mexico, so she brought me here so I could go to school, work, and become something of myself," Galan told the Catholic Standard, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Washington.

Alvarez's three children who are DACA recipients are 24, 25 and 28 years old. Her oldest child is a businessman, and the other two are in school, with one getting her bachelor's degree and the other pursuing her master's degree. She also has a 12-year-old daughter who is a United States citizen.

"Every day she is crying for her brother and two sisters," Alvarez said.

Alvarez, who has a house cleaning business in Minnesota, said her family has paid for all of her children's education.

"We don't want crumbs," she said. "We are working for everything."

Unlike herself, Alvarez's kids are now in the legal system, she pointed out, since they had to give personal information and go through a vetting process to be covered by DACA. This would make it easier for them to get deported.

"ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) has all of our information," said Galan. "They know where to find us, know where we live and know where we work."

Alvarez was catching the attention of several members of Congress who have come out to speak with her, some of them bringing her hot water or inviting her inside for a break. But Alvarez declined to go inside, and instead invited them to come visit her whenever they want a break.

As the two stood outside next to their table that supports a large cross, Galan spoke about his hopes for the future. He has not seen his dad since he left Mexico, but speaks to him frequently; Galan's mother and brother live in the United States.

Galan hopes to someday get a green card so he will be able to travel back and forth to visit his dad, and maybe someday bring him to the U.S. legally if he becomes a citizen.

He hopes to start his own electric company. But he fears that he will lose his job once his DACA benefits expire, since the company he works for checks on employees' legal status. He recently renewed his DACA participation; it expires in March 2019.

But until Congress passes a more permanent piece of legislation, Galan said he would "be contemplating the day I lose everything I've worked for."

Noting her family's situation, Alvarez said, "My kids are afraid, but I'm not afraid. I'm fighting for protecting my children 'Always I pray to God, always I believe in God, always my faith is in God."

With tears in her eyes, Alvarez said one of her daughters feels so afraid that she wants to leave the country and move to Ghana, where her boyfriend is from, because she thinks they would not be discriminated against there.

Alvarez said she not only prayed for her own family and for Dreamers, but also for Trump, asking God to bless him.

"I'm angry, but (I don't) hate. That is not my position," she added.

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Sankowski is a reporter at the Catholic Standard, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Washington.

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Copyright © 2017 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.

Nativity scene, Christmas tree are visible signs of God's compassion

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- A Nativity scene and Christmas tree, like those displayed in St. Peter's Square, are visible reminders of God's benevolence and closeness to all men and women, Pope Francis said.

The traditional Christmas displays are "the signs of the heavenly Father's compassion, of his participation and closeness to humanity who experience not being abandoned in dark times, but instead visited and accompanied in their difficulties," the pope said.

"Every year, the Christmas Nativity scene and tree speak to us through their symbolic language. They make more visible what is captured in the experience of the birth of the Son of God," Pope Francis said Dec. 7 in a meeting with delegations from Poland and Italy, responsible respectively for the 2017 Vatican Christmas tree and Nativity scene.

The centerpiece of the Vatican's Christmas holiday decorations is the towering 92-foot spruce tree.

Measuring nearly 33 feet in diameter, the tree was donated by the Archdiocese of Elk, Poland, and transported to the Vatican on a flatbed truck traveling over 1,240 miles across central Europe.

Thanking the members of the Polish delegation, the pope said the tree's soaring height "motivates us to reach out 'toward the highest gifts'" and to rise above the clouds to experience "how beautiful and joyful it is to be immersed in the light of Christ."

"The tree, which comes from Poland this year, is a sign of the faith of that people who, also with this gesture, wanted to express their fidelity to the see of Peter," the pope said.

The Nativity scene was donated by the Benedictine Abbey of Montevergine, located in southern Italy. Created in a traditional 18th-century Neapolitan style, it covers a surface of over 860 square feet and features 20 terracotta figures, some as tall as 6 feet.

The representation of the night of Jesus' birth, the pope said, is "inspired by the works of mercy" and is a reminder "that Jesus told us: 'Do to others what you would have them do to you.'"

"The crib is the evocative place where we contemplate Jesus who, taking upon himself human misery, invites us to do the same through act of mercy," Pope Francis said.

As it was last year, the Christmas tree was adorned with ornaments made by children receiving treatment at several Italian hospitals.

"These children, with their parents, participated in a ceramics recreational therapy program" organized by the Countess Lene Thune Foundation for young boys and girls suffering from oncological and hematological disorders, the Vatican said Oct. 25.

Additionally, children from the central Italian Archdiocese of Spoleto-Norcia, which was devastated by earthquakes in 2016, also made ornaments for the Christmas tree.

Pope Francis thanked the children and told them their ornaments are a personal witness of Jesus "who made himself a child like you to tell you that he loves you."

After the Vatican's tree-lighting ceremony later that evening, he added, "pilgrims and visitors from around the world will be able to admire your work."

"Tonight, when the lights of the nativity scene are turned on and the Christmas tree lights up, even the wishes you have transmitted through your decorative works will be bright and seen by everyone," he said.

The tree will remain in St. Peter's Square until the feast of the Lord's Baptism Jan. 7, the Vatican said.

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

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Copyright © 2017 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: Mideast Christian leaders to Trump: Jerusalem move could have dire results

IMAGE: CNS/Mohamad Hamed, Reuters

By Judith Sudilovsky

JERUSALEM (CNS) -- In an open letter to U.S. President Donald Trump, Christian leaders in Jerusalem said U.S. recognition of the city as the capital of Israel could have dire regional consequences.

"We have been following, with concern, the reports about the possibility of changing how the United States understands and deals with the status of Jerusalem. We are certain that such steps will yield increased hatred, conflict, violence and suffering in Jerusalem and the Holy Land, moving us farther from the goal of unity and deeper toward destructive division," the Christian leaders said, just hours before Trump announced the U.S. was recognizing Jerusalem as the capital and relocating the U.S. embassy.

They appealed to Trump to take their viewpoint into consideration, as did the leaders who met at Camp David in July 2000 to decide the status of Jerusalem. The Christian leaders said their "solemn advice and plea" for the president was to continue recognizing the international status of Jerusalem.

"We ask you, Mr. President, to help us all walk toward more love and a definitive peace, which cannot be reached without Jerusalem being for all," they said Dec. 6.

"Any sudden changes would cause irreparable harm. We are confident that, with strong support from our friends, Israelis and Palestinians can work toward negotiating a sustainable and just peace, benefiting all who long for the Holy City of Jerusalem to fulfill its destiny."

The Christian leaders, who include Catholic and Orthodox patriarchs as well as the Franciscan custos of the Holy Land, said Jerusalem could be "shared and fully enjoyed" once a political process helped "liberate the hearts of all people that live within it from the conditions of conflict and destructiveness that they are experiencing."

With Christmas approaching they asked that Jerusalem "not be deprived" of peace; they wished Trump a Merry Christmas and asked that he help them "listen to the song of the angels."

"As the Christian leaders of Jerusalem, we invite you to walk with us in hope as we build a just, inclusive peace for all the peoples of this unique and Holy City," they said.

In 1967, Israel annexed East Jerusalem, which had been under Jordanian control since 1948. In 1980 Israel declared a united Jerusalem as its capital. Palestinians see East Jerusalem as the future capital of an independent Palestine.

Earlier Dec. 6, Pope Francis expressed concern that a U.S. move recognizing Jerusalem as the capital would further destabilize the Middle East.

The internationally unsettled status of Jerusalem and its central importance to Jews, Muslims and Christians explains why, while recognizing the state of Israel, no nation has its embassy in the holy city. Since the early 1990s, the Vatican has called for a special status for the city. It has insisted the political question of the city's status must be the result of negotiation.

Although the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops did not comment on Trump's announcement, earlier this year, Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, New Mexico, chairman of the bishops' Committee on International Justice and Peace, urged U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to keep the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv.

"Relocating the embassy to Jerusalem is tantamount to recognizing Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel," which would destabilize the region, Bishop Cantu said in the letter dated Feb. 1.

The bishops' former adviser on Mideast issues, Jesuit Father Drew Christiansen, said declaring Jerusalem the capital of Israel "is a serious step, signaling diplomatic approval for Israel's seizure of the city by force and eroding what had been united international opposition to the idea that the Holy City could be claimed through Israel's military victory."

"In quiet acts of ethnic cleansing, Palestinian Jerusalemites are denied residency because of extended absences or because they have married residents of the West Bank," he wrote in America magazine. "Their neighborhoods are rezoned for public uses; their homes are occupied by Jewish settlers and they have no legal recourse. Moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem means giving the seal of approval to 'facts on the ground' that despoil Palestinian Jerusalemites of their birthright."

In Jerusalem, Wadie Abunassar, chairman of media relations for the Christian leaders, said the status of Jerusalem is not only an issue for Israelis and Palestinians, but also for other Muslim countries as well. He noted that already a gathering of Arab foreign ministers has been organized for Dec. 11 as well as a meeting prepared by Turkey for Muslim countries.

"Jerusalem is a sensitive issue for all, so the Christian leaders, (following) the pope, are making an appeal to President Trump to be wise -- there is a need for wisdom ... especially in such an explosive situation," he said.

With violent demonstrations already in evidence even before any announcement had been made, Abunassar said more steps that produce confidence-building measures are needed rather than steps that "add oil to the flame."

Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic political party with an armed faction, called for more protests in the coming days, particularly Dec. 8, the Muslim day of prayer. The U.S. labels Hamas a terrorist organization.

In Lebanon, Abdul Latif Derian, grand mufti of Lebanon's Sunni Muslims, called on Arab Islamic leaders to counter the U.S. embassy's relocation to preserve the Arab identity of Jerusalem. The mufti is an important figure for Sunni Muslims, not just locally but regionally. Most of the Palestinian population in the region is Sunni Muslim.

"The transfer of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem and the recognition of the Holy City as the capital of Israel is a blatant challenge and provocation to the feelings of Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims," the mufti said in a statement Dec. 6. "This step would turn the region into a flame of conflicts that will inevitably lead to disastrous consequences and would adversely affect the region and the international community. This will have serious repercussions on the Arab and Islamic region."

"The recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is unacceptable and represents a step toward the elimination of the Palestinian cause, which will not be allowed by Arabs and Muslims," the mufti said, calling to confront the Israeli enemy in various ways.

"Confrontation is a legitimate right aiming to defend the occupied land of Palestine," he said.

Many Israelis celebrated the move; U.S. Jewish groups were split in their reaction.

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Contributing to this story was Doreen Abi Raad in Beirut.


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Copyright © 2017 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.

Gregorian chant called seminarian to Catholicism

IMAGE: CNS photo/Chaz Muth

By Chaz Muth

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- As Gabe Bouck enters Advent, a season in which Catholics are urged to answer God's call for conversion, the seminarian is reminded of the melodic voice that inspired him to become Catholic.

The former Baptist recalled attending his first Mass nearly six years ago where he encountered sounds he had never before heard in a church and it was coming from the priest.

"The priest sung the entire Mass," said Bouck, a first-year seminarian at Theological College, a national seminary at The Catholic University of America in Washington.

This priest sang the liturgy in ethereal tones, mysterious sounds to the young Protestant with a musical background. He was used to music that came in more predictable forms with standard rhyme or meter.

But the reverberations coming from the priest defied the musical logic Bouck had come to expect and it mesmerized him throughout the Mass.

"It absolutely took me to another place altogether," he told Catholic News Service during an October interview. "There was something about it that immediately brought to my mind, 'I am experiencing something that is holy right now. There's something very solemn and very reverent going on in a way that I have never experienced in a Protestant church.'"

Bouck hadn't realize he'd encountered Gregorian chant.

He did realize at that moment that he wanted to become Catholic and the sounds he deemed mystifyingly beautiful called him to conversion.

Gregorian chant is a monadic and rhythmically free liturgical chant considered the official music of the Catholic Church.

Not to be confused with liturgical hymns and other sacred music, Gregorian chants are typically unaccompanied sung prayers and official texts of the liturgy and congregation responses.

When the priest is singing portions of the Mass and the congregation sings the response, they are practicing a form of Gregorian chant, said Timothy S. McDonnell, director of the Institute of Sacred Music at The Catholic University of America.

Choirs in some Catholic churches also sing Gregorian chant, both in Latin and English, as part of a repertoire that may include other sacred music.

Though documents from the Second Vatican Council gives Gregorian chant -- developed between the seventh and ninth centuries in the Diocese of Rome -- pride of place in the Mass, it's no longer the dominant sound in most Catholic parishes, McDonnell told CNS.

Gregorian chant was largely replaced by more vernacular music following Vatican II, when the traditional Latin Mass was changed to the dominant language of each country.

However, Gregorian chant began to regain popularity in the 1990s and some Catholic parishes began reintroducing it during worship.

Bouck believes it was no mistake that he happened to attend his first Mass where the priest celebrated it completely in Gregorian chant.

Once he settled into parish life at the Catholic Church of the Ascension in Memphis, Tennessee, Bouck joined the choir and eventually became its director.

"We did Gregorian chant, we did contemporary worship type music and traditional hymns," he said. "But chant was always something that moved me and something that meant a lot to me."

Bouck's music ministry and involvement in the church would eventually lead him to consider the priesthood, a vocation he is now seeking in seminary, where he offers his considerable singing talents in the school's schola.

It's not uncommon for someone involved in a music ministry to hear the call to the priesthood, said David Lang, music director of Theological College.

"Those men are really engaged in the liturgy, especially if Gregorian chant is featured in their music," Lang told CNS. "The texts are divinely inspired and when you are singing them it's like you are praying twice. We shouldn't be surprised that someone hears God's call in that circumstance."

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Follow Muth on Twitter: @Chazmaniandevyl.

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Copyright © 2017 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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Update: Pope concerned by U.S. move to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital

IMAGE: CNS photo/Jonathan Ernst, Reuters

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Following reports that U.S. President Donald Trump planned to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, Pope Francis expressed his concern that such a move would further destabilize the Middle East.

Pope Francis said he could not "keep silent about my deep concern" for Jerusalem and urged respect for "the status quo of the city in accordance with the relevant resolutions of the United Nations."

The pope spoke at the end of his weekly general audience Dec. 6, the same day Trump announced his decision to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, fulfilling a promise he made during his presidential campaign.

Former presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush had made the same promises during their campaigns, but once in office, they did not carry through with the move, citing its potential negative impact on Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

Trump drew warnings from Middle Eastern and European leaders that overturning the United States' long-standing policy would further complicate peace negotiations.

According to Vatican Radio, the pope received a telephone call from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas Dec. 5 regarding Trump's plan to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem.

The conversation was "part of a series of contacts made by the president of the Palestinian National Authority after his conversation with Donald Trump during which -- according to Abbas' spokesman -- the U.S. president announced his intention to move the American embassy," Greg Burke, Vatican spokesman, told Vatican Radio.

The Vatican supports a "two-state solution" for the Holy Land with independence, recognition and secure borders for both Israel and Palestine.

At the same time, the Vatican consistently has called for a special status for Jerusalem, particularly its Old City, in order to protect and guarantee access to the holy sites of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

In his appeal, Pope Francis said, "Jerusalem is a unique city, sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims who venerate the holy places of their respective religions, and has a special vocation to peace."

Since the early 1990s, the Vatican has seen as separate issues the need for a special status for the city and questions over the political sovereignty or control of Jerusalem. The political question, it has insisted, must be the result of negotiation.

The internationally unsettled status of Jerusalem and its central importance to Jews, Muslims and Christians explains why, while recognizing the state of Israel, no nation has its embassy in the holy city.

"I pray to the Lord that this identity would be preserved and strengthened for the benefit of the Holy Land, the Middle East and the whole world and that wisdom and prudence would prevail, to avoid adding new elements of tension in a world already shaken and scarred by many cruel conflicts," the pope said.

Before the audience, Pope Francis met with religious leaders from Palestine attending a meeting sponsored by the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.

Dialogue, the pope said, takes place at every level, especially "in our families, in our religious communities, between different religious communities, and also in civil society."

However, a key condition for dialogue is mutual respect and a commitment to strengthen that respect "for the sake of recognizing the rights of all people, wherever they happen to be," he said.

"Dialogue is the source of greater mutual knowledge, greater mutual esteem and cooperation in the pursuit of the common good, and generous cooperation in ensuring that those in need receive all necessary assistance," Pope Francis said.

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

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Copyright © 2017 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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