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Federal coronavirus financial relief: What Catholic groups need to know

Washington D.C., Apr 6, 2020 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- After the federal government clarified Friday that religious non-profits are eligible for small business loans during the coronavirus pandemic, legal experts have said the news could prove welcome relief for cash-strapped Catholic dioceses and parishes.

“The bottom line is that Friday’s rule is very good news for religious organizations,” said Eric Kniffin, a partner in the religious institutions practice group at Lewis Roca Rothgerber Christie law firm, about new federal guidance on coronavirus relief for religious non-profits.

“Parishes should coordinate with their dioceses before moving forward, but this is a huge relief to religious organizations as they seek to support their employees in the midst of this pandemic,” he said.

On March 27, Congress passed, and President Trump signed into law, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act which provided relief for businesses, non-profits and workers affected by the new coronavirus pandemic.

The law allows eligible non-profits to apply for small business loans. One of the requirements for loan applicants is that they have 500 or fewer employees, which made Planned Parenthood ineligible for the relief.

As some Catholic parishes and institutions have already begun cutting or furloughing employees during the economic downturn from the pandemic, the new federal relief was seen as a possible solution to help Catholic non-profits keep employees on payroll, but many groups had questions about their eligibility under the law’s provisions.

If the Small Business Administration considered Catholic dioceses along with all their related entities—such as parishes, schools, and charities—as one large non-profit entity governed by bishop, then many, if not all, dioceses would exceed the 500-employee limit to apply for relief.

However, if each Catholic parish, school, and charity were eligible to apply for a small business loan under the CARES Act, then it could be a significant boost to their ability to keep employees on payroll as donations dried up.

Over the weekend, the SBA published a document clarifying its new rule on the eligibility of religious groups for paycheck protection and economic injury loans during the pandemic.

While not all questions have been answered, ultimately the updated rule summary is “deferential toward religious groups,” Kniffin said, as “government is prohibited from second-guessing church’s interpretation of their own doctrine or ecclesiology.”

New affiliation rules for the SBA Paycheck Protection Program issued by the Treasury Department clarify that if a smaller entity—such as a parish—and a larger one—a diocese—are tied together on religious grounds, they do not have to be considered as one large entity.

"If the tie between your local entity and a larger entity is the result of your religious beliefs, then you do not have to count that tie when you are counting up your employees,” Kniffin said.

The SBA’s updated guidance is “a grace” for Catholic institutions, said Jeremy Reidy, a partner at Barnes & Thornburg, LLP who is also a member of the Fort Wayne-South Bend diocesan review board.

Before the new rule was issued, “I don’t think any diocese across the country would have qualified [for small business loans],” Reidy said. The bishop “has ultimate control over everything” in a diocese including smaller entities such as parishes and Catholic charities, he said, and each diocese could have been considered by the government to be one big organization.

Yet the government now treats the smaller entities as separate from dioceses “so long as they’re tied together for religious purposes,” he said.

Not all dioceses are structured the same, Reidy cautioned. While in “the vast majority” of U.S. dioceses, the parishes and schools are separate non-profit corporations, in some other cases the diocese is the only incorporated entity.

In these select cases, Reidy said, a “potential obstacle” to a parish or school still receiving federal relief might be that they do not file payroll taxes and tax returns separately from the diocese, and thus would be aggregated into the diocese.

A tie between a parish and diocese that is “practical” and not just religious in nature might also pose an obstacle to their obtaining relief, Kniffin said.

Yet, both Kniffin and Reidy said, Catholic institutions should consider applying for the loans under a “good-faith interpretation” of eligibility.

As the rules are “deferential” to the eligibility of religious organizations, Kniffin said, lenders are also being directed “to accept applicants’ good-faith representations at face value.”

As long as Catholic groups have their own employer identification number and 500 or fewer employees, they could apply on their own.

“I think all dioceses, with this new regulation, can make that good-faith certification,” Reidy said.

In its guidance, SBA emphasized that non-profit loan recipients can have a religious mission, and will not be penalized for employing only people who abide by the religious mission of the organization.

Each recipient “will retain its independence, autonomy, right of expression, religious character, and authority over its governance,” SBA said. Loans can be used to pay the salaries of ministers and staff.

The new rules do require that loan recipients do not discriminate when they provide goods and accommodations to the public. Depending on the interpretation of existing civil rights protections, some charities might be ruled ineligible for loans because they do not provide services in certain cases.

Examples of this might include a religious adoption agency refusing to place children with a same-sex couple, or a homeless shelter refusing to house a man identifying as a woman with other women.

The SBA says it “will not apply its nondiscrimination regulations in a way that imposes substantial burdens on the religious exercise of faith-based loan recipients, such as by applying those regulations to the performance of church ordinances, sacraments, or religious practices, unless such application is the least restrictive means of furthering a compelling governmental interest.”

This question of compliance with nondiscrimination provisions is one that religious groups are still asking about, Kniffin said.

Yet with a Catholic group providing social services, such as a soup kitchen or a homeless shelter, they most probably have received government funding and would thus would already be in compliance with federal regulations.

The ultimate goal of providing the loans, SBA added, is to ensure quick relief for many small businesses and non-profits which have been severely impacted by the recent coronavirus crisis.

The SBA loan is a “forgivable loan” that “can become basically a stimulus check” if non-profits abide by certain provisions such as keeping the same number of employees on payroll, Reidy said.

“It’s a great deal,” he said. “I encourage every organization to do it.”

Blessed Pierina Morosini

Pierina Morosini is the patron saint of rape victims and a martyr to chastity. She was born into a poor family of eight children in 1931 in the Diocese of Bergamo, Italy. She was trained to be a seamstress and began to work in a factory at 15 years of age.Pierina had made a private vow to God to live a life of chastity. She taught catechism and considered religious life, but continued to live at home to help her mother care for their family. One day, as the 26-year-old Pierina returned home from work, she was attacked by a would-be rapist, however she fought against him for the purpose of protecting her chastity, and he stoned her to death for refusing to comply with him. Pope John Paul II beatified Pierina on October 4, 1987.

Monday Morning Offering: 4/6

Image: George Mendoza

And so it has begun, Lord:
the Week we call Holy...

I've read how theologians debate 
whether any unit of time or time itself
can actually be or become holy -
but I'll leave that to the scholars, Lord,
and simply wonder about my being holy,
my growing in holiness,
especially in the week ahead...
(Why am I afraid of this word: holy?
Why am I put off by it? 
Why am I so easily convinced
that holiness may be for others - but not for me?

(I want to be strong, healthy, wise, just,
honest, fair, loving, prayerful, faithful,
kind, forgiving and compassionate - 
so why do I shy away from wanting to be holy?

(Could it be I just don't understand
what it means to be holy?
Help me understand, Lord,
especially this week,
and help me want to be holy...)
One thing I know for certain:
I could be a whole lot holier than I am right now… 

But just how holy do I want to be?

I want to be holy enough to stand before you, Lord,
without shame or embarrassment…

I want to be holy enough to know that I've helped the poor
- and generously so…

I want to be holy enough to know 
that my intentions and desires, my dreams and schemes,
are honest, pure and just...

I want to be holy enough to love you with a good heart,
cleansed of selfishness and pride…

I want to be holy enough to recognize my lack of holiness
and to ask the help of your grace
whenever and wherever I need it...

Just four days left* in Lent, Lord: 
four more days to be holy in this season of praying, fasting
and serving the needs of others...

I have four days left in Lent
to be more faithful to prayer, morning and night
- or whenever you and I can sit down 
and just have a chat, one-on-one, just the two of us, Lord... 

Four days left in Lent to deny myself 
some taste or sip, some pleasure or toy, some "whatever,"
and in doing so, begin to discover
the hunger that self-denial reveals to me,
that empty space in which to wonder 
how I might better feed and fill the void... 

Four days left in Lent to care for the poor, 
to give to the poor, to be with the poor, 
to work for the poor
- to discover how rich I am -
and learn to share my bounty
with those whose needs are so much greater
than my own...

Four days left in Lent, Lord, 
and then three days of prayer so holy 
they are but one-day-in-three, the Triduum:
Holy Thursday, Good Friday, the Easter Vigil...

Each of these days invites me
to enter the holiest of all mysteries, 
your mystery, Jesus:
the mystery of God loving me
- even though I'm not so holy... 

So, I ask you this week, Lord,
to make me at least a little more holy
than I have been...

I offer you this holy week 
and pray you keep me faithful to all it offers: 
the promise of a life, a depth, a gift of peace 
greater than all my hurts and fears... 

I offer you this week, Lord:
make me holy
day by day, one day at a time...


Amen.

*Lent ends at sundown on Thursday of Holy Week. With the Evening Mass of the Lord's Supper on Holy Thursday, the Triduum begins, followed by the 50 days of the Easter season, ending on Pentecost Sunday.





    
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NIGHT PRAYER: Sunday 4/5


The sun has set on this first day of Holy Week, Lord:
our shouts of Hosanna were muted by social distancing
but we lifted our hearts to you in prayer
and pondered the story of your suffering and death...

No services in church today,
so no palm to weave into crosses tonight
but I'm grateful, Lord,
for how you weave your way into my story,
sometimes so quietly that I fail to notice:
   how faithfully you help carry my cross,
      especially when I fall beneath its weight;
   how present you are to me always,
      in my worries and troubles and fears;
   how graciously you hear my every prayer,
      be it spoken, mumbled or silent...

Weave strands of your grace through my suffering, Lord;
weave threads of hope through my doubt and despair;
weave chains of strength where I'm weak and tired;
weave your peace in my sleep and my dreams tonight...

So many, these days, live with suffering and death:
lift up the sick with healing, Lord,
strengthen those who care for them,
console those who grieve and mourn
and guide us all through this Holy Week
to a feast of Easter joy...

Be with us, Lord, as we stay awake
and watch over us as we sleep,
that awake we may keep watch with you
and asleep, rest in your peace...

Amen.

Moonlight Sonata: Beethoven, performed by Lola Astanova and Hauser


 

    
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Archbishop Fulton Sheen was more than the man on television, 92-year-old niece says

Denver, Colo., Apr 5, 2020 / 12:35 pm (CNA).- Archbishop Fulton Sheen's niece has recounted her view of the famous Catholic television personality and author in a new book that aims to show his Christian devotion and his deep concern for the poor, even as he engaged with Hollywood celebrities, American leaders, and an audience of millions.

“I hope that you learn he was not just the man in the red robe on TV. He was a very humble man, and very religious,” Joan Sheen Cunningham, co-author of the book “My Uncle Fulton Sheen,” told CNA March 31. “His whole life was working for the Church. That was the most important thing about him. I certainly think he did his job well!”

Cunningham’s book, published by Ignatius Press, is co-authored by Janel Rodriguez, author of the 2006 book “Meet Fulton Sheen.”

Sheen was the oldest of four brothers. Cunningham was the eldest daughter of Sheen’s brother, a lawyer and father of eight, who was the second oldest to Sheen.

“It’s a history of my life, in a way,” she said. “I’m 92, so that was a long time ago!”

At the suggestion of Sheen, Cunningham left Illinois at a young age to enroll in a private school in New York City, where she lived with friends of Sheen.

This allowed her to take part in weekend outings with her uncle for Mass, confession, and dinners with Hollywood stars and influential politicians.

Venerable Fulton Sheen was born in 1895 in Illinois and was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Peoria at the age of 24. He was appointed auxiliary bishop of New York in 1951, and remained there until he was named Bishop of Rochester in 1966. After he retired in 1969 at the age of 74, he was named titular Archbishop of Newport, Wales. He died at the age of 84, and was declared venerable by Pope Benedict XVI in 2012.

Cunningham’s book puts Sheen's life in a new perspective. She recounts his family’s devout Catholicism, his excellent academics and talent for public speaking, but also his deep distaste for farm life. He showed great fondness for France and the French language, but was sometimes hospitalized due to overwork.

The clergyman showed a great love for Christmas and for dogs. He famously clashed with the deeply powerful Cardinal Francis Spellman of New York.

Sheen is perhaps most famous for his roles as host of the “Catholic Hour” radio show, which he started in 1930, and the television shows “Life is Worth Living” and “The Fulton Sheen Program,” which ran in the 1950s and 1960s, respectively. For a time, his television show was among the most popular on the airwaves.

Cunningham reflected on his influence.

“He wasn’t teaching the rules of the Church. He was just teaching them how they should be,” she said. “He wanted to follow the teachings of the Church and teach others about that. He was just following what his faith told him to do.”

Cunningham couldn’t think of anyone with as much influence as Sheen, saying this was because “he appealed to all kinds of people.”

“Often the cardinals and the popes can write wonderful things about how one should behave and what you should do and the rules of the Church, but I think he went beyond the rules of the Church. He saw people as people. That was his universal appeal.”

Sheen authored many books explaining Christianity and discussing Christian devotion. Proceeds from the book sales supported foreign missions. He headed the Society for the Propagation of the Faith for years.

Cunningham said this position was his favorite role. He proved to be capable at raising awareness of the Catholic missions in other countries and in fundraising for them. He would visit the missions in Africa and other parts of the world.

Sheen was also a man of deep Christian devotion.

“I think he prayed every day that he'd do whatever God wanted him to do,” she said.

His life showed a strong devotion to the Virgin Mary and he would speak of her in many of his sermons. He helped popularize the Mary Dixon Thayer poem “Lovely Lady Dressed in Blue.”

“I don't know how many statutes of the Blessed Mother I have, because every time he would see one he'd have to buy it,” Cunningham told CNA. “His chapel in his apartment was all done in blue for the Blessed Mother.”

He went to confession weekly, engaged in frequent self-examination, and often prayed before the Blessed Sacrament.

She also recalled his kindness, sympathy, and his ability to listen and to understand people's difficulties.

“We would walk down the street in New York and there would be someone there begging. He couldn’t help but stop and talk to them and give them some money,” Cunningham said. “That was his way. He felt very badly to see so many poor people. He tried to tell people they should have a little sympathy for them and help them out.”

Being in such close contact with her uncle taught her “great faith,” she said.

“I certainly learned not to judge people by their religion or their race or anything like that. He was very open. He taught me that it doesn't matter if someone is important or just a regular person. You should treat them all the same.”

“That I remember very well, growing up. I would meet people and he would never tell me if they were very important. I just had to be gracious and talk to them like anyone else. Then later I would find out they were somebody,” she said.

Cunningham's book recounts meeting various famous people in Sheen's social circles: New York’s Gov. Al Smith, the first Catholic to run for president; the actress and philanthropist Irene Dunne; the famous journalist, radio broadcaster and gossip columnist Walter Winchell; actress Loretta Young; and the former child star Shirley Temple.

Converts aided by Sheen included prominent people like writer and politico Clare Booth Luce, but also ordinary people, like a homeless leper named Victor. Sheen’s work in engaging communists and communist polemics led to conversions of communist activists like Bella Dodd.

Another communist, Louis Budenz, personally attacked Sheen in his paper, and Sheen replied in a pamphlet. A personal encounter with Sheen deeply affected Budenz, Cunningham said, and seven years later he converted.

Cunningham’s account tells of going with her uncle to see the movie “Snow White,” to visit the ice skating rink, and to taste sweets at cafes. She recounts her memories of his vocation story, and how he integrated his work as a broadcaster, professor and author with his priesthood.

“He had a wonderful, wonderful sense of humor. He was very kind and thoughtful about everything,” she said. “I had an awful lot of fun with him, to be sure, from the time I was young to the time I had children. He was always fun.”

In some ways, Sheen was like a second father to Cunningham. He showed an ability to understand her and help her talk over questions and quandaries, even from a young age.

“if you had a quandary, he could help you find an answer to it,” she said. “He was understanding, and I think he wanted everyone to have a great faith in God and rely on God. He led me down the right path, when I would wonder about school, and of course my faith.”

His engagement with people on the street, whether admirers, critics, self-proclaimed relatives, or fallen away Catholics, also touched Cunningham. Sheen was not universally popular. Sometimes he was the subject of an angry confrontation on the street.

“He would just pretend that they were being nice to him. He would overlook it,” Cunningham said. “He always hoped that they would change their mind about it. A lot of people didn't like him, I’m sure, because of what he was teaching.”

For Cunningham, more Catholics need to continue his legacy.

“It's too bad there aren’t more people like him to carry on in the Church like he did. I think the world needs somebody like that,” said Cunningham. “If there were more people who would approach others like he did, maybe things could be turned around.”

She suspected her uncle would have this advice: “Pray to God to turn the world around. My uncle would say ‘just pray pray pray’.”

Cunningham recounts her family life and her marriage to a Georgetown Law student. Sheen gave them a copy of his book on marriage, “Three To Get Married” and helped the newlyweds find and set up their new apartment—drawing on his clergy friends to help furnish the place.

Her book has won praise from Bishop Daniel Jenky of Peoria, Illinois, Fulton Sheen’s hometown.

“This book should be essential reading for anyone interested in the life and heroic Christian witness of Fulton Sheen,” Jenky said in a foreword to the book. “Reading Joan’s fascinating account of her beloved uncle’s story gives a richly human context to the inspiring life of this good, gifted and holy man.”

The Peoria diocese opened the cause for Sheen’s canonization in 2002, after the Archdiocese of New York said it would not explore the case. Jenky had suspended the beatification cause in September 2014 on the grounds that the Holy See expected Sheen’s remains to be in the Peoria diocese. A lengthy legal battle followed, in which Cunningham sided with Peoria and Bishop Jenky due to the work they had put into the cause of beatification.

His beatification had been scheduled for Dec. 21, 2019, but it was postponed only weeks prior at the request of Bishop Salvatore Matano of Rochester, N.Y. The bishop was concerned that Sheen could be cited in investigations into handling of sexually abusive priests and alleged cover-ups during his three years as head of the diocese. Catholic News Agency reported in December that the concern focused on Sheen’s handling of a priest who allegedly committed abuse or misconduct with adults in West Virginia, then returned to New York.

Cunningham hoped the conflict with the New York archdiocese could fade with time. She voiced disappointment with the last-minute cancellation and voiced sympathy with Sheen admirers who lost money on hotel and plane reservations.

She also acknowledged she did not understand the concerns that halted the beatification..

“My uncle had been investigated many times before Rome would even look at him as a possible candidate (for beatification),” said Cunningham.

Pause for Prayer: PALM SUNDAY

Christ of St. John of the Cross - Dali

One of my favorite liturgical texts is the former Eucharistic Prayer for Reconciliation I:  its beautiful language and rich Paschal theology stir my heart. From a presider's point of view, this text seemed to pray itself, so easily did it lend itself to proclamation.  And this is a perfect prayer for Palm Sunday, following the proclamation of the gospel of Christ's suffering and death.  Pause and Pray with these words as we begin Holy Week today...

Father, all-powerful and ever-living God,
we do well always and everywhere
to give you thanks and praise.

You never cease to call us to a new and more abundant life.
God of love and mercy, you are always ready to forgive;
we are sinners, and you invite us to trust in your mercy.

Time and time again we broke your covenant,
but you did not abandon us.
Instead, through your Son, Jesus our Lord,
you bound yourself even more closely to the human family
by a bond that can never be broken.

Now is the time for your people to turn back to you
and to be renewed in Christ your Son,
a time of grace and reconciliation.

You invite us to serve the family of humankind
by opening our hearts to the fullness of your Holy Spirit...

Father, from the beginning of time
you have always done what is good for us
so that we may be holy as you are holy...

When we were lost and could not find the way to you,
you loved us more than ever:
Jesus, your Son, innocent and without sin,
gave himself into our hands 
and was nailed to a cross.

Yet before he stretched out his arms
between heaven and earth,
in the everlasting sign of your covenant,
he desired to celebrate the Paschal feast
in the company of his disciples.

While they were at supper,
he took bread and gave you thanks and praise.
He broke the bread, gave it to his disciples, and said:
Take this, all of you, and eat it:
this is my Body which will be given up for you.

At the end of the meal,
knowing that he was to reconcile all things in himself
by the blood of his cross,
he took the cup, filled with wine.

Again he gave you thanks,
handed the cup to his friends, and said:
Take this, all of you, and drink from it:
this is the cup of my blood,
the blood of the new and everlasting covenant.
It will be shed for you and for all so that sins may be forgiven.
Do this in memory of me..

When we eat this Bread and drink this Cup 
we proclaim your death, O Lord, 
until you come in glory.

Sacrament of the Last Supper - Dali
We do this in memory of Jesus Christ,
our Passover and our lasting peace.
We celebrate his death and resurrection
and look for the coming of that day
when he will return to give us the fullness of joy...

Father, look with love on those you have called
to share in the one sacrifice of Christ.
By the power of your Holy Spirit
make them one body, healed of all division.

Keep us all in communion of mind and heart...
Help us to work together for the coming of your kingdom,
until at last we stand in your presence
to share the life of the saints,
in the company of the Virgin Mary and the apostles,
and of our departed brothers and sisters
whom we commend to your mercy.

Then, freed from every shadow of death,
we shall take our place in the new creation
and give you thanks with Christ, our risen Lord...

This text above is the version in use up until the unfortunate retranslation of the Roman Missal in 2011.

 

    
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NIGHT PRAYER: Saturday 4/4



I pray for a good night’s rest Lord,
and I pray for those who've been robbed of their sleep
by fear of impending illness,
by haunting worries and troubled dreams,
by the sounds, the fury, the menace of war,
by the heart-wrenching cries of a hungry child,
by the chill of another homeless night...

I pray you not let me take for granted, Lord:
those who stand vigil all night for my safety;
the town I live in, the home I call mine;
the bed I sleep in, comfy and warm;
the breakfast I'll have when morning dawns...

Forgive me, Lord:
for the times today I was selfish;
for hoarding instead of sharing;
for carelessly wasting what's mine,
for closing my eyes to the poor;
for taking more than my share...

Hold tight in your arms, Lord, the sick and the dying
and those who care for them all through the night...

Ride with those standing ready to roll
to come to our aid when danger strikes...

Be our beacon of hope, for in so many ways
we're all just a little afraid of the dark...

Over all of us, Lord,
spread the mantle of your protection
and cover us all in your mercy:
deliver us from every evil
and grant your peace in our day,
the peace that's yours alone to give...

Grant me deep and restful sleep, Lord,
that tomorrow I might rise to serve you
by serving the needs of my neighbor
with an open and generous heart...

Amen.

Sleep Chant by Karen Drucker
 

Sleep in peace.   Wake in joy.    Always know that I am loved.
I sleep in peace.  I wake in joy.  I always know that I am loved.
Today I live in gratitude.  Today I give my love.
And tonight when I lay my head to rest, I give thanks, I give thanks.
 
Sleep in peace.  Wake in joy.  Always know that I am safe.
Sleep in peace.  Wake in joy.  Always know that I am safe.
Each day I wake is a miracle.  Each day is a precious gift.
I count my blessings and feel such grace.  I give thanks. I give thanks.

I sleep in peace.  I wake in joy.  I always know that all is well.
I sleep in peace.  I wake in joy.  I always know that all is well.


I sleep in peace.  Wake in joy.  Always know that I am loved.
Sleep in peace.    Wake in joy.  Always know that I am loved.

Sleep in peace.  Wake in joy.  Always know that I am safe.
Sleep in peace.  Wake in joy.  I always know that I am safe.

I sleep in peace.  I wake in joy.  I always know that all is well.
I sleep in peace.  I wake in joy.  I always know that all is well.


 

   
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US bishops: Jesus' Sacred Heart is open for you, despite 'bitter affliction' of coronavirus

Washington D.C., Apr 4, 2020 / 01:22 pm (CNA).- The novel coronavirus pandemic's effects on victims and the closure of churches have deeply pained the Catholic faithful and clergy, but Holy Week is a time to join together to seek God's mercy and love in the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Archbishop Jose Gomez, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, has said.

“In the heart of Jesus, pierced as he hung on the cross on Good Friday, we see the love of God for humanity, his love for each one of us,” Gomez said in an April 3 message for Holy Week.

“This Holy Week will be different. Our churches may be closed, but Christ is not quarantined and his Gospel is not in chains,” he said. “Our Lord’s heart remains open to every man and woman. Even though we cannot worship together, each of us can seek him in the tabernacles of our own hearts.”

“Because he loves us, and because his love can never change, we should not be afraid, even in this time of trial and testing,” said Gomez. “In these mysteries that we remember this week, let us renew our faith in his love.”

Gomez said he will pray the Litany of the Sacred Heart of Jesus on Good Friday, April 10, for an end to the coronavirus pandemic. He asked Catholics to join him via internet livestream at 9 a.m. Pacific Time / noontime Eastern Time. The livestream will be hosted at the Archdiocese of Los Angeles website and the U.S. bishops' conference Facebook page.

“Let us join as one family of God here in the United States in asking our Lord for his mercy,” said Gomez, who added that Pope Francis has granted a special plenary indulgence to those who pray the litany for an end to the pandemic.

The novel coronavirus has created a situation “almost without precedent” in the Church, he said.

The virus, formally known as COVID-19, has infected over 1.1 million people and killed 63,800 worldwide as of Saturday afternoon, according to figures from the John Hopkins University COVID-19 Map. In the U.S., about 274,000 have tested positive, 36,000 have been hospitalized, and 7,000 have died since the epidemic began, according to the COVID Tracking Project.

More contagious and deadly than influenza, the virus has strained the resources of hospitals in the U.S. and worldwide. The virus has ravaged Italy and Italy's Catholics, whose dead include dozens of priests. It is especially deadly for the elderly and those with health conditions.

Many businesses and social activities deemed non-essential have been ordered closed by government authorities. Catholic churches closed, sometimes in advance of government orders, for fear of spreading the disease. The closures have caused major economic and social disruption, putting millions of people out of work.

The closure of churches and restrictions on the administration of the sacraments have been especially painful for some Catholics, a situation Gomez acknowledged.

“My brother bishops and I are painfully aware that many of our Catholic people are troubled and hurt by the loss of the Eucharist and the consolation of the sacraments,” he said. “This is a bitter affliction that we all feel deeply. We ache with our people and we long for the day when we can be reunited around the altar of the Lord to celebrate the sacred mysteries.”

“In this difficult moment, we ask God for his grace, that we might bear this burden together with patience and charity, united as one family of God in his universal Church,” he said.  

The Litany to the Sacred Heart of Jesus draws on centuries-old Christian devotions. It asks mercy from the Heart of Jesus, describing it as the “glowing furnace of charity,” “rich to all who invoke thee,” “desire of the everlasting hills,” “source of all consolation,” “our life and resurrection,” “victim for our sins,” “salvation of those who hope in thee,” and “hope of those who die in thee.”

The indulgence applies to those who pray the Litany of the Sacred Heart on Good Friday, pray for the intentions of the pope, are “truly sorry for their sins,” and desire to go to confession as soon as possible. In Catholic teaching, which recognizes that every sin must be purified on earth or in Purgatory, an indulgence remits “the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven.”

Gomez said we should ask the Virgin Mary to intercede for us, that God “might deliver us from every evil and grant us peace in our day.”

His April 3 message further reflected on the situation.

“Future generations will look back on this as the long Lent of 2020, a time when disease and death suddenly darkened the whole earth,” he said. “As we enter into Holy Week, these most sacred days of the year, Catholics across the United States and the world are living under quarantine, our societies shut down by the coronavirus pandemic.”

“But we know that our Redeemer lives. Even in this extraordinary and challenging moment, we give thanks for what Jesus Christ has done for us by his life, death, and resurrection,” said Gomez. “Even now, we marvel at the beautiful mystery of our salvation, how precious each one of us is in the eyes of God.”

The Los Angeles archdiocese website has dedicated a web page to the Good Friday Sacred Heart litany and livestream.

Monks offer free caskets amid coronavirus

Denver, Colo., Apr 4, 2020 / 12:30 pm (CNA).- An Iowa monastery of Trappist monks is offering an unusual but necessary act of charity amid the global pandemic - free caskets to financially struggling families who have lost a loved one.

New Melleray Abbey has been making caskets for the public and offering prayers for the deceased since 1999. The monastery announced last week its new initiative to support families affected by COVID-19.

“The COVID-19 virus will visit many families that are financially vulnerable and unprepared. In addition to their grief, they will wonder, ; ‘Where will we lay’ our loved one who has been unexpectedly taken from us,” Father Mark Scott, the order’s abbot, wrote in an announcement of the policy.

“To financially stressed families directly impacted by the COVID-19 virus, the monks of New Melleray offer free of charge pine caskets made from trees from the abbey forest,” he added.
 
New Melleray Abbey supports itself by building solid wood caskets made from fully matured trees harvested at the order’s acreage in Dubuque County, Iowa.

All of the donated caskets will be blessed and, as the order continues to pray for the deceased, the monks will send a card of remembrance to families on the first anniversary of the person’s death. The order also plants a tree for each casket made, as a living memorial.

Marjorie Lehmann, director of administration for New Melleray Abbey, told CNA that the order has already received a few requests for free caskets since the initiative was announced March 25.

“The free casket offer is a temporary measure designed to provide some financial relief to families who are undergoing financial distress because of COVID-19,” she said.

While the monks live a hidden life of prayer, she said, they are keenly aware of the current events. She said the order has provided this service to be close to the pandemic victims, and provide a service to those families facing financial difficulties as well.

“In the crisis of COVID-19, [they] make the offer of the casket as an expression of their solidarity with all those who are suffering because of the virus,” Lehmann said.

“They believe that it's a corporal work of mercy to bury the dead and … since they are a cloistered group of monks, this is how they can reach out to the world and help in a time of need.”

More than one million people have been infected with the novel coronavirus and more 50,000 have died. More than 10 million people in the U.S. have filed for unemployment in the last two weeks, as mandatory lockdowns have forced numerous businesses and organizations to close their doors.  

Lehmann said the virus is a potential danger for anyone, noting that the full ramifications of the pandemic have yet to be seen.

“[It] could really be anyone who might be out of a job because their workplaces needed to close down because of this pandemic. It really could be anyone finding themselves in financial stress or needing that comfort of burying their loved one and a small part of relief in their life from a donated casket,” she said.

“[It’s] honoring someone's life, respecting the person that passes away is honoring that person's life and validating that person's life,” Lehmann added.

“People need people to show compassion. This is a very small gesture of something that a lot of people would need in this pandemic. So to be compassionate and know that people are not alone, that we're thinking of them, we're praying for them, and we're here to help in this manner. There's no reason not to do it.”

 

How the Phoenix diocese is helping families celebrate Holy Week at home

Phoenix, Ariz., Apr 4, 2020 / 12:01 pm (CNA).- Holy Week this year is going to look different for almost every Catholic in the United States.

On Palm Sunday, people will wave last year’s palms, or this year’s pine branches, or, if they’re lucky, palms from their parish, from the confines of their home instead of the pews of their parish. On Holy Thursday, feet will be washed by a family member, or not at all. For the veneration of the Cross, Catholics will kiss their personal crucifixes instead of lining up to kiss the crucifix at their parish. Candle-lit Easter Vigils will be celebrated by solitary priests livestreaming Mass from empty chapels.

It’s going to be different, and it’s going to be hard. That’s why a group of priests and laypeople at the Diocese of Phoenix compiled “A Journey Through Holy Week for Families”, an online flipbook resource to guide Catholic families through celebrating Holy Week from their homes.

“We had a meeting last week...specifically about Holy Week and how to enter into Holy Week knowing that we couldn't have public Masses at this time,” Fr. John Parks, the Vicar for Evangelization for the Diocese of Phoenix, told CNA. “We just thought - what are ways that we could really strengthen the family and invite the family to pray as the domestic Church?” he said.

“You're not going to be able to see the washing of the feet at Mass. So can we include a little rite from home that a family could do the washing the feet of their family members?” Parks said.

“Or on good Friday, again, you can't see or experience the veneration of the Cross at Mass, could we equip a family to do a little veneration of the Cross from home?”

After the brainstorming session, Parks’ colleague compiled all the readings, prayers and resources into a 150 page online “flipbook” for families. The books covers the Mass readings as well as prayers and other liturgically-themed activities from Palm Sunday through the Triduum and Easter Sunday, as well as the readings and resources for Divine Mercy Sunday, which comes eight days after Easter.

The online book includes links to videos that include everything from livestream Masses from St. Mary’s Cathedral in Phoenix to talks by Bishop Robert Barron to recordings of songs to sing during prayer time at home.

It also includes links to recipes, virtual pilgrimages, coloring pages for kids, a guide to cut out palms from green construction paper, and a Holy Thursday puppet show script.

“There is so much...there's all these different activities and songs you can play. So my only fear that it'd be a little overwhelming. But we’re trying to tell parents, just pick two or three things and have a little game plan for the day,” he said.

“So it’s like reading a playbook for sports - they don't run every play, you just pick the play that you think will help your team, so that's what we're thinking of.”

Parks said while he understands that this Holy Week will be different than what families are used to experiencing, he thinks that this is a special time of grace for families, who are acting as the domestic Church.

“I really believe that God is pouring out a grace now to strengthen the domestic Church in the family. And that there's a great thing poured out specifically for parents, to live deeper in their natural authority that they have over their children, to make them saints and to help them,” he said.

“This little book, it's like ‘ut vadat tecum’, in Latin, ‘to go with’ you. It goes with you. It's a tool that we hope to put in the hands of parents and pastors to help them equip families to walk through this week,” he said.

“That would be my desire, is that even though people can't participate in public liturgies, there's still a way to participate, to a lesser degree of course, but from the home. And I think for some families that might be unique. They've never done a washing of the feet. They've venerated the Cross. They've never prayed the Stations of the Cross in their own home. It can be a really beautiful moment of experiencing holy things in the home.”