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Betsy Kneepkens: Camp Survive’s transformations are best seen up close

Every August I look forward to the same bus ride: I get to chaperone middle schoolers from the east side of our diocese to Camp Survive.

I see this as a privilege, and I am left wondering why others are not vying for this job. Few situations place you in the midst of adolescents at a time when they are most real. For many, this week is the first time away. For others, they go without knowing anyone else. And still others think they have everything all figured out. The one-and-a-half hour bus trip is an annual education in the lives of young people, and I love every second of it.

Betsy Kneepkens
Betsy Kneekpens
Faith and Family

A little background on Camp Survive. This week-long church camp is held in McGregor each year. The effort is organized by our Department of Youth Ministry and is probably the most sought-after activity the Diocese of Duluth offers. The 205 open spots fill up in ten days without any formal advertising.

Also, the camp staffing is by trained high school camp returners who serve as junior counselors or prayer team participants. Youth ministers, as well as several priests and seminarians, are responsible for the senior leadership. Whether it is campers, junior counselors, or prayer team members, there are always considerably more young people interested in being part of this particular event than space will allow.

For the past several years I have been the “go to camp” bus chaperone. I greet the campers and families, collect permission slips, and make sure everyone is accounted for. I watch the gentle goodbye hugs and words of affection from the parents as the kids enter the bus. I observe more children being nervous than excited. We begin the bus ride with a prayer, and the parents wave as we leave the parking lots.

Most of the middle schoolers are quiet, anxious, and difficult to engage in conversation. Several of the more reserved students select the first few seats so they can sit alone. I do my best to engage these kids, asking questions about their parish and if they have any experience with this camp before. The students that sit in the front of the bus are typically first-time camp-goers.

I know what fun lies ahead of them at camp because all six of my children have had at least one Camp Survive experience. More importantly, I know what sort of transformations occur at camp, and I can hardly wait for that same thing to happen to these middle schoolers who are so apprehensive as travel the highway to McGregor.

This year my experience was significantly different. Instead of being the “go to” bus supervisor, I was the “go home” chaperone. This new role positioned me perfectly to see the amazing work of the Holy Spirit. The bus arrived on time to pick up the campers, but the entire camp looked like a ghost town. I made my way to the lodge’s large conference room. Once inside, I came upon 300-plus young people finishing Mass.

As the priests were processing, the youths were bursting with praise and worship, making it obvious no one had any intention of leaving anytime soon. The song ended, but the campers did not. These young people continued to sing praise from the tops of the lungs, all the while signing the song and moving to the beat. The best way to describe this is these kids had joy in their hearts, and that happiness was rooted in the Holy Spirit. It was the most glorious sight.

Right before the (much delayed) departure, I witnessed endless hugs, high fives, and “let’s keep in touch” comments by campers from other parts of the diocese who were not taking the bus home. As the driver managed to navigate the large vehicle around the tall pine trees to the main highway, no one needed me to help start a conversation. They talked about their small groups and how cool their leader was, they exchanged adoration and Mass time experiences, they laughed about the jokes they played on each other and how their first impressions of some people were all wrong. They talked about coming back next year, some as campers and some as leaders. It was obvious to me that if these young people did not have an affection for the church before camp, they certainly do know.

These campers were stinky, and they just glowed with the love of the Lord. They were fed at camp, but with a lot more than s’mores. They tasted the beauty and richness of our church. Camp Survive sets that bar high, opening up these children to all that is good and true about our Catholic faith. Any parent that greeted their child after camp can sense the change in their kid. They are bubbling with excitement and are confident about the faith their parents are handing down to them. They are open to more and will take more if given to them.

This is not the first time these sorts of life-changing experiences have happened at Camp Survive, it is just the first time I observed this in the multitudes leaving camp. My children have always returned with a transformational experience. I have tried to take this opportunity to elevate the experience they had into the faith life of our family. I think it would be prudent for our larger faith family to get a better understanding of what happens at Camp Survive so we can continue to feed these kids at this level.

It is beyond words to explain the connection these young people made with Christ, but it is obvious they are have the capacity to go deeper. What should our parishes look like so that this transformation continues to happen? What adjustment must be made so that this energy and truth can be the foundation of every parish?

The future of our parishes is already here, and they are preparing themselves. When we continue to embrace these young people, they will be part of the catalyst which will continue to evolve our parish communities. I am convinced these youth are an important part of the Holy Spirit’s work, which is intended to further enrich and renew the splendor of our church.

Next August, it will be the first time I will not have one of my children on the bus to Camp Survive. Sadly, they have outgrown the camper age. I am hopeful they will be selected to be a prayer team member or a junior counselor, but that leaves them off the bus.

I feel strongly that I should not have to retire from my bus chaperone duties simply because my children have grown up. The education and joy I receive from this experience brings me so much hope for our church, but it also helps keep part of my aging heart young. Next August, I would put my money on being on that Camp Survive Bus.

Betsy Kneepkens is director of the Office of Marriage and Family Life for the Diocese of Duluth and a mother of six.

Bishop Paul Sirba: Camp Survive was an opportunity to consult with young people

The energy was palpable. The welcome was hearty and sincere. The enthusiasm was contagious. Where else can you experience the fruits of the Holy Spirit in a forum with hundreds of young people, junior counselors, a prayer team, and some extraordinarily dedicated chaperones in a beautiful setting? Camp Survive is the place.

The Diocese of Duluth, under the leadership of Father Mike Schmitz and Heather Serena and their collaborators, have been hosting Camp Survive at Big Sandy Camp and Retreat Center for years. This work of the Lord continues to bear great fruit.

Bishop Paul Sirba
Bishop Paul Sirba
Fiat Voluntas Tua

I had the opportunity to go to camp this year with an added mission. In response to the invitation of Pope Francis and in preparation for the upcoming Synod of Bishops on Young People and discernment, I thought I would bring the questions posed in the synodal document and ask our young people, youth ministers, and local youth experts to see what they would say. What a wonderful opportunity for consultation!

How would you respond to questions like: How can we help the young people hear and respond to the call to become disciples of Christ in this world? Or: We can often underestimate the potential of youth — how do we change our mindset? What are the ways in which we can engage them and help them offer their gifts to building of the Kingdom and making the world a better place? What are the roadblocks? How can we as a Church walk with them? Listen to their voice? In John’s Gospel, when Jesus was asked by his disciples where he was staying, he replied, “Come and see.” That has not changed — Jesus still invites — he looks at you and invites you to go with Him. Pope Francis asks you — “Dear young people, have you noticed this look toward you? Have you heard this voice? Have you felt this urge to undertake this journey?” What is it you most need today from your Church? At a parish, diocesan, and universal level?

The responses to the questions will help me frame a response to be prepared for the Synod and our Holy Father. The Diocese of Duluth and our young people will make a difference in the discussion the universal Church will be having with Pope Francis in 2018. The gift of Camp Survive will continue to help our young people grow in their personal relationship with Jesus Christ and form the intentional disciples of the future. Or rather, form the intentional disciples of the present!

One of the many great takeaways for me was the power of Eucharistic Adoration. It was the most frequently mentioned response to the question: What did you most like about camp? Another very important lesson for me was the importance of the good example and witness of each successive generation on the one before. I mean, the sixth, seventh, and eighth graders greatly valued the example of the junior counselors, who esteemed the witness of college students, who learned from slightly older adults on up.

We have a trajectory which supports the faith of others and makes it credible. It also needs to be formed at an ever earlier age. Some young people are making decisions about whether to remain in the faith by the time they are entering junior high. Twelve-yearolds are asking why they didn’t hear about something when they were six. Also, few if any read newspapers.

The seeds of faith are being nurtured and sustained by Camp Survive, TOBIT, confirmation retreats and youth programs, religious education programs, and schools, but we must respond to the promptings of the Holy Spirit and the ever-changing needs of our young people. I do believe we are on the front end of the New Evangelization in the Diocese of Duluth.

Our words of wisdom to the Synod will help us and the universal Church fan into flame faith in Jesus Christ, who is the same, yesterday, today, and forever.

Bishop Paul Sirba is the ninth bishop of Duluth.

Father Michael Schmitz: Let’s renounce our sins, not just confess them

Question: I’m not sure what to do. I’ve been praying and I’ve been to confession (repeatedly), but I seem to commit the same sins. Even worse, I know that Jesus promised that we would receive a closeness to God when we call out for him, but I haven’t experienced that.

Answer: Thank you so much for writing. I think that your experience sounds a lot like most people in the church. Now, when I say that, I don’t mean “most people who don’t care about getting close to the Lord” in the church. What you described is what most people who are showing up and who long to be closely connected with God are experiencing every day. We want God so desperately, but we don’t seem to be able to experience his presence and his power. So what do we do?

Father Michael Schmitz
Ask Father Mike

Well, it sounds like you already know what to do: prayer and the Sacrament of Confession. But it might be possible that you could enter into the Sacrament of Confession in a way that will be much more profitable for you. (Actually, I know that you could, but I thought that I would say it in a more “Minnesota Nice” way.) And it is going to involve approaching your sins and the Sacrament of Confession in a different way.

That being said, am I implying that you aren’t genuine in the confessions you are making now? Not at all. I have no idea what level of genuineness you are at. And God is so good that he can even take some pretty lame and half-hearted confessions of sin and do miracles with them. Very few of us are truly sorry for our sins because of our purified and perfect love for God. Many times, we approach confession because we know it is something we need to do or because we fear the reality of hell. If either of those are your primary reasons for going to confession, please keep going! God is so good that he will take even the minimal amount of contrition and respond with his mercy. Do not avoid confession simply because you aren’t perfect. (That would be a little ironic, wouldn’t it?)

But we can definitely grow in our approach. The first area is our awareness of sin and how it relates to the Sacrament of Confession.

Consider the words you use when you go to confession. Along those lines, what do you call the sacrament? Many of us call it the Sacrament of Reconciliation. This is a good thing, because it is the end result: We are reconciled to God and to his church. I often refer to confession as “reconciliation.” But remember: That is the result. Forgiveness and reconciliation are words that describe what God does. But what is our part in it? What do we do? We confess. And what do we confess? We confess our sins.

It might sound strange that I am belaboring this point. But I have found that many people come to the Sacrament of Confession to tell a story rather than confess their sins to almighty God. We will say things like, “Bless me, Father …. I’m really working on my temper lately and being short with my kids.” Or people will say things equally ineffective like, “I am struggling with selfishness (or anger or lust or pride, etc.).” I say that this is “ineffective” because I am not confessing my sins, I am merely “sharing” what I am “working on” or “wrestling with.”

Are these sins being forgiven, even if we haven’t “worded it right”? Absolutely. But you will not see a change as a result. Why not? Because a person who confesses in that way is often not interested in a change. They merely want to be forgiven. I’ve been there. Maybe we all have. Many of us have shown up to the Sacrament of Reconciliation because we knew that we needed forgiveness or because we knew that we needed absolution before we could receive Holy Communion. That is a good thing! But that is not a life-changing thing. We confessed and received forgiveness, but we did not change. Why?

Because we did not renounce the root of the sin.

See, every turning to God requires us to turn away from something that is not of God. I know that I have gone to confession many times, honestly turning to God, but without intentionally and firmly turning away from my sin and my attraction to sin. I have gone to confession because I wanted mercy, but not because I wanted a real and lasting change.

This is where renouncing our sins comes into effect. Rather than saying, “I’m working on anger,” it makes a real difference when we say, “I am guilty of acting out in anger” or “I am guilty of the sin of anger in the following ways ….” It goes even deeper to say, at the end of the confession of this sin, “In Jesus’ Name, I renounce the sin of anger.” One could also say, “In the Name of Jesus, I renounce the root of the spirit of anger in my past/in my heart/etc.”

Believe me, this could make all the difference in the world in your life with Christ. You have been showing up and praying and asking for mercy. You have received it. (Again: God is so good that he does not hold back what we ask for!) But you may have not renounced the lies that you’ve become comfortable with. You may not have renounced the attraction or dependence you have towards the sins you commit. You may not have named and renounced (in Jesus’ Name) the sins you have asked him to forgive. Once you get into the practice of renouncing these lies, wounds, and sins (even outside the Sacrament of Reconciliation), you will experience an awakening in your spiritual life that you may have never known before.

Father Michael Schmitz is director of youth and young adult ministry for the Diocese of Duluth and chaplain of the Newman Center at the University of Minnesota Duluth. Reach him at fathermikeschmitz@gmail.com.

Father Richard Kunst: Parents should never force children to be confirmed

The Sacrament of Confirmation can be a very challenging and very rewarding sacrament. In my experience as a pastor, the most rewarding aspect of the sacrament comes through the RCIA process (Rites of Christian Initiation for Adults).

There can be any number of different scenarios as to why someone is getting confirmed through RCIA, but pretty much every time it is just a great event. Those who go through this process have usually done it with much discernment, prayer, and commitment, and I love walking through this life-changing event with the people who are called to it.

Father Richard Kunst
Apologetics

And then there is the challenging form of confirmation which reminds me of an old joke. A rabbi told a priest friend about all the bats they were getting in the synagogue. At a loss as to how to get rid of them, the priest said, “When we have bat problems in the church I simply confirm them, and I never see them again.”

Over my years of being a pastor, I have witnessed the strong faith of many young adults as they have approached their confirmation. At times it has been inspiring. Sadly, though, that is the exception. Unfortunately, the majority of kids (though far from all) look at their confirmation either with a lukewarm faith or with a practically non-existent faith. And yes, all too often, once they have been confirmed I rarely see many of them again.

What makes this particularly sad is that it flies in the face of why we confirm in the first place. There is an objective grace that comes from any sacrament, so even if the young person could not care less, there is still a value to their being confirmed. But as St. Augustine once said, “The God who created us without our cooperation does not intend to save us without our cooperation.” And although there is an objective grace, there is also a responsibility.

When we get confirmed, we are “confirming” the faith and promises our parents made on our behalf at our baptism. When we got baptized, most of us were too young to speak on our own behalf, so our parents and godparents did it for us. Two times in the context of the baptism ritual parents promise to raise their children in the practice of the faith. Sometimes, unfortunately, people put themselves under a false oath with this, because some promise to bring their children up in the practice of the faith with no intention of doing so. This hurts the children in an immeasurable way.

When young adults get confirmed, they are confirming that responsibility for themselves. What their parents promised on their behalf, they are now saying they will do, which is why the vanishing act of newly confirmed Catholic kids is tragic.

For faithful Catholic parents, the faith life of their growing children is very important, but sometimes their desires are misplaced. It is not uncommon for me to speak with confirmation students who tell me they are doing this because their parents tell them they have to.

That is wrong. Parents should never, ever force their children to be confirmed. Confirmation students need to decide for themselves if they want to get confirmed or not. They are taking on the responsibility their parents had at their baptism. They should not be forced to do that.

Canon law addresses this very matter in Canon 889: “Apart from the danger of death, to receive confirmation lawfully a person who has the use of reason must be suitably instructed, properly disposed, and able to renew the baptismal promises.” If a child is unwilling to receive confirmation they are certainly not properly disposed and should not be confirmed.

The hope is that parents, pastors, and religious educators help children understand the importance of their faith so that they continue to practice it after they have been confirmed. This can be done in any number of ways. And we have hope and confidence that the graces received through the sacrament will bear much fruit.

But it should never be forced, nor can it be.

Father Richard Kunst is pastor of St. John the Evangelist in Duluth and St. Joseph in Gnesen. Reach him at rbkunst@gmail.com.

St. Vincent de Paul helping to bridge school lunch gap in Crosby-Ironton

The Society of St. Vincent de Paul builds in a certain flexibility for local conferences, and the group at the neighboring parishes in Crosby and Ironton have found an important niche: helping children who may go hungry in the summer months, when they do not have access to free or reduced- cost school lunches.

Mary Becker, president of the Western Duluth Diocese District Council of the society, said there are a few conferences in the area, following the parish clusters, all of which started four to five years ago. In addition to Crosby-Deerwood, there are conferences in Walker-Hackensack and Nisswa-Pequot Lakes-Pine River.

“Every conference can decide what their specialty is or what their community needs,” she said, “and they set it up according to what they discover through time, what their community needs.”

She said this is something that is continually being discerned. One of the conferences focuses on home visits to help with whatever people need, such as gas, rent, or electricity bills. Another does home visits with a particular attention to the Native American population, with a majority of visits taking place on the reservation.

For the conference in Crosby and Deerwood, it was the local school district that made the need known to two members of St. Vincent de Paul four years ago. This drew immediate attention and a contact to school officials. Within weeks, the conference began preparing nutritious bag lunches to distribute to local children two days a week, at first in fairly minimal sessions.

But the school social worker notified families who had used the school lunch program of the new opportunity, and within a few weeks, other church groups and a local hospital and clinic had contacted them to join in serving the kids.

Now, four years in, the program is serving 75 to 100 children a day. Joining the St. Vincent de Paul Society are Salem Lutheran of Deerwood, Immanuel Lutheran of Crosby, Cascade Methodist of Deerwood, and Cuyuna Regional Medical Center, known collectively as the “Lunch Bunch.” Each group handles its own preparations, costs, and volunteers.

Becker said the stories are sometimes moving.

“One little boy came in and said, ‘Do you have some for my brother?’” she said. Then he mentioned that his mom and dad probably needed lunch too.

“Those requests are made. So it’s a need that’s being filled.”

Becker said the ecumenical aspect of the Lunch Bunch is typical of the work of the St. Vincent de Paul Society and something they hope to do more. “It’s something that national is encouraging us to do,” she said.

In fact, the last four people who joined are Lutheran.

Becker says that for the Vincentians, it’s not only about helping the poor materially, it’s a spiritual mission.

“Our No. 1 goal for St. Vincent de Paul is the spirituality of the Vincentians,” she said. “Because if we’re not growing spiritually, this will not work.”

To that end, not only does every conference have a spiritual advisor and include prayer and Scripture in every meeting, they also pray with those whose homes they visit when possible.

The Vincentians also strive to be a resource to other assistance agencies and are working to provide mentoring to help people out of poverty.

Those who would like to assist the Lunch Bunch can send contributions to the St. Catherine LaBoure Conference, SVdP of Crosby, Deerwood, MN, at PO Box 451, Deerwood, MN 56444.

— Kyle Eller / The Northern Cross

Editorial: Time of divisions calls for rosary devotion

In the month of August alone, how many crises have there been? In addition to the natural disaster striking the Gulf of Mexico, on the human side of the equation we have faced a renewed threat of nuclear war, an appalling resurgence of racial bigotry, a despicable act of domestic terrorism, shocking riots that reflect a growing embrace of political violence as a means of resolving disputes or enforcing ideology.

Those are just some of the lowlights of a culture given over to sins that cry out to heaven for justice and seemingly descending into factions full of mutual loathing, with pundits openly discussing the relatively likelihood of a second civil war.

If dark clouds have been forming on the horizon for years, it seems now the storm has arrived.

In these difficulties, we turn to God. As we pray to him in the Psalms, “In the shadow of your wings I take refuge, till the storms of destruction pass by.”

But in the midst of all this, we are also called to be peacemakers.

Fortunately, one of the tools God has given us both for taking refuge in the shadow of his wings and for working for peace comes readily to hand — the rosary. Over the years, some of the intentions most closely associated with the rosary are prayers for peace, for the conversion of sinners, and for our families. These are certainly very fitting intentions right now.

Some of these intentions appear prominently in the message of the Fatima apparitions, the 100th anniversary of which the church is honoring even now. In them, the Blessed Virgin Mary asked people to pray the rosary daily. Another effort has many Catholics currently in the midst of a 54-day rosary novena for our nation.

This all comes with a special poignance in our diocese, where Our Lady of the Rosary is our patroness. If you haven’t already, please prayerfully consider making the rosary a regular, even daily part of your prayer life.

Pray for peace. Pray for the conversion of sinners. Pray for families.

‘Thirsting’ artist wants to bring people to ‘nuclear bomb inside every tabernacle’

Daniel Oberreuter was working for a church in Vancouver, Washington, when he realized there was a need for two parts of his life.

“I realized I could put music together with my faith,” said Oberreuter, frontman for the Portland, Oregon-based The Thirsting, which will headline the Built Upon a Rock Fest Sept. 17 at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Rosary in Duluth.

The ThirstingAnd not just Duluth — the band has toured nationally and even played the main stage at World Youth Day in Krakow, Poland. Oberreuter also does solo acoustic parish mission concerts.

In an interview with The Northern Cross, Oberreuter said he was a cradle Catholic but didn’t take his faith too seriously until a first confession at age 16 where his penance was to pray a daily rosary. “I began to do that,” he said.

He ended up going to the University of Portland for a degree in theology and even considered the priesthood.

He had played guitar in high school, and music was a part of his life, he said. So with “more zeal than brains,” he says, he started The Thirsting in 2006. The band has now released two albums, “Companion of the Lamb” and “Universal Youth,” with work on a third wrapping up, but probably not in time for their visit to Duluth.

“I just really felt called to promote the rosary and the Eucharist, those two things,” he said.

If you’re looking for a list of Catholic bands that influenced him, you might be surprised. “I grew up with REM, U2, and Green Day,” Oberreuter said. He adds that if you combined those three and made them Catholic, “that’s The Thirsting.”

And as that suggests, the band is enjoyed not only by youth but also by people who “are like 30, 40, 50,” Oberreuter said.

He said touring has brought perspective, seeing both the good things happening in the church and problems, especially on what he considers “mission creep” in the church, with different groups — good in themselves — ending up creating division. The main focus, he said, should be “getting our town or our country to heaven” through an authentically Catholic life.

And by “authentic” he means being rooted in the Eucharist, which he calls a “nuclear bomb inside every tabernacle.”

“My rock band isn’t going to fix these issues,” he said. “But I’m trying to offer help.”

During the outdoor concert in Duluth, set for the grounds of Holy Rosary School, there will be Eucharistic Adoration happening in the Cathedral, and Oberreuter says he often will tell people if they need to go see Jesus rather than hearing part of the concert, they should go.

But that doesn’t mean it won’t be entertaining. The Thirsting is known for its live shows with “lots of energy.”

“My goal as an entertainer is I want to make each person in that audience connect with me,” Oberreuter said. “… My whole goal is that each person that goes to that walks away feeling like ‘I was a part of that event.’”

If you go

For those who want to be part of the event, good news: It’s free! Gates open at 5 p.m., and a local act, the Aly Aleigha Band, will open things from 5:45 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. The Thirsting will play from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. In addition to Eucharistic Adoration during the concert, confession will be available in the Cathedral afterwards. To check out the bands, see www.aly-aleigha.com and www.thethirstingcatholic.com. You can also text the word “Catholic” to 31996 to get a free album by The Thirsting. For more information on the Built Upon a Rock Fest, visit www.builtuponarockfest.com.

— By Kyle Eller / The Northern Cross

USCCB officials denounce DACA decision, urge legislative solution

The president and vice president along with chairmen of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops have issued a statement denouncing the Administration’s termination of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program after six months.

The following statement from USCCB President Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, along with USCCB Vice President Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angles, Bishop Joe S. Vásquez of Austin, chairman, Committee on Migration, and Bishop Joseph J. Tyson of Yakima, chairman of the Subcommittee on Pastoral Care of Migrants, Refugees, and Travelers, says the “cancellation of the DACA program is reprehensible.”

Over 780,000 youth received protection from the DACA program since its inception by the Department of Homeland Security in 2012. DACA provided no legal status or government benefits but did provide recipients with temporary employment authorization to work in the United States and reprieve from deportation.

Full statement follows:

The cancellation of the DACA program is reprehensible. It causes unnecessary fear for DACA youth and their families. These youth entered the U.S. as minors and often know America as their only home. The Catholic Church has long watched with pride and admiration as DACA youth live out their daily lives with hope and a determination to flourish and contribute to society: continuing to work and provide for their families, continuing to serve in the military, and continuing to receive an education. Now, after months of anxiety and fear about their futures, these brave young people face deportation. This decision is unacceptable and does not reflect who we are as Americans.

The Church has recognized and proclaimed the need to welcome young people: ‘Whoever welcomes one of these children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me' (Mark 9:37). Today, our nation has done the opposite of how Scripture calls us to respond. It is a step back from the progress that we need to make as a country. Today’s actions represent a heartbreaking moment in our history that shows the absence of mercy and good will, and a short-sighted vision for the future. DACA youth are woven into the fabric of our country and of our Church, and are, by every social and human measure, American youth.

We strongly urge Congress to act and immediately resume work toward a legislative solution. We pledge our support to work on finding an expeditious means of protection for DACA youth.

As people of faith, we say to DACA youth – regardless of your immigration status, you are children of God and welcome in the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church supports you and will advocate for you.

Source: U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

Bishops’ annual Labor Day statement scores ‘excessive inequality’

“Excessive inequality” threatens cooperation among all people in society “and the social pact it supports,” said Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, in the U.S. bishops’ annual Labor Day statement.

In the message, Bishop Dewane cited the words of Pope Francis, who told factory workers in Genoa, Italy, “The entire social pact is built around work. This is the core of the problem. Because when you do not work, or you work badly, you work little or you work too much, it is democracy that enters into crisis, and the entire social pact.”

Worker
Women work in the sewing area in 2014 at UTC Aerospace Systems in Phoenix. Labor Day, honoring U.S. workers, is observed Sept. 4 this year. (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)

Dated Sept. 4, the federal Labor Day holiday, the statement was released Aug. 30.

Bishop Dewane, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, pointed to a “twisted understanding of labor and laborers” that fosters deepening inequality.

In Genoa, the pope “acknowledges that ‘merit’ is ‘a beautiful word,’” Bishop Dewane said, “but the modern world can often use it ‘ideologically,’ which makes it ‘distorted and perverted’ when it is used for ‘ethically legitimizing inequality.’”

“Wages remain stagnant or are decreasing for the vast majority of people, while a smaller percentage collect the new wealth being generated. Economic stresses contribute to a decline in marriage rates, increases in births outside of two-parent households, and child poverty,” Bishop Dewane added. “Economic instability also hurts the faith community, as Americans who have recently experienced unemployment are less likely to go to church, even though such communities can be a source of great support in difficult times.”

He said, “When a parent — working full time, or even working multiple jobs beyond standard working hours — cannot bring his or her family out of poverty, something is terribly wrong with how we value the work of a person.”

“Pope Francis has said it is ‘inhuman’ that parents must spend so much time working that they cannot play with their children. Surely many wish for more time, but their working conditions do not allow it.”

He quoted St. John Paul II’s encyclical “Centesimus Annus”: “Profit is a regulator of the life of a business, but it is not the only one; other human and moral factors must also be considered which, in the long term, are at least equally important for the life of a business.”

“A culture that obsesses less over endless activity and consumption may, over time, become a culture that values rest for the sake of God and family,” Bishop Dewane said.

He added, “Our Lord’s ‘gaze of love’ embraces men and women who work long hours without rest to provide for their loved ones; families who move across towns, states, and nations, facing the highest risks and often suffering great tragedy in order to find better opportunities; workers who endure unsafe working conditions; low pay and health crises; women who suffer wage disparities and exploitation; and those who suffer the effects of racism in any setting, including the workplace.”

Bishop Dewane suggested several approaches to right the imbalance brought by inequality.

“Worker-owned businesses can be a force for strengthening solidarity, as the Second Vatican Council encouraged businesses to consider ‘the active sharing of all in the administration and profits of these enterprises in ways to be properly determined,’” he said. “The Catholic Campaign for Human Development has helped in the formation of many employee-owned companies which provide jobs in communities where work opportunities may be scarce.”

Workers’ legal rights to “a just wage in exchange for work, to protection against wage theft, to workplace safety and just compensation for workplace injuries, to health care and other benefits, and to organize and engage in negotiations, should be promoted,” he added.

“Workers must be aided to come to know and exercise their legal rights. As an example, CCHD has supported the Don Bosco Workers in Westchester, New York, which has launched a successful campaign to combat wage theft. Persons returning from prison also need support to understand their legal rights as they seek new employment. CCHD has helped the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in Cincinnati and elsewhere as they work with returning citizens to find stable and meaningful jobs.”

Labor unions play an important role in this effort, according to Bishop Dewane, as he quoted from Pope Francis’ remarks in June in an audience with delegates from the Confederation of Trade Unions: “There is no good society without a good union, and there is no good union that is not reborn every day in the peripheries, that does not transform the discarded stones of the economy into its cornerstones.”

“Unions must retain and recover their prophetic voice, which ‘regards the very nature itself of the union, its truest vocation. The union is an expression of the prophetic profile of society,’” he said, quoting further from Pope Francis, who added, “The union movement has its great seasons when it is prophecy.” Bishop Dewane added that unions should “resist the temptation of becoming too similar to the institutions and powers that it should instead criticize.”

Bishop Dewane said, “Unions are especially valuable when they speak on behalf of the poor, the immigrant, and the person returning from prison.”

— By Mark Pattison / Catholic News Service

Where to give to assist with Hurricane Harvey recovery

Several organizations have established emergency relief operations for the thousands of people affected by Hurricane Harvey and the floods in Texas and Louisiana.

Contributions can be made to:

  • Catholic Charities USA: online at https://catholiccharitiesusa.org; telephone at 800-919-9338; mail to P.O. Box 17066, Baltimore, Maryland, 21297-1066 and write "Hurricane Harvey" in the memo line of the check.
  • Texas Catholics Conference is coordinating emergency services. A listing by diocese of where to give has been posted online at https://txcatholic.org/harvey/.
  • Local dioceses are expected to initiate special collections during weekend Masses Sept. 2-3 or Sept. 9-10. Funds will benefit Catholic Charities USA's disaster relief efforts as well as pastoral and rebuilding support through the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

— Catholic News Service