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Vatican delegation in Iran discuss human rights with Muslim leaders

Vatican City, Nov 15, 2019 / 08:00 am (CNA).- A Vatican delegation traveled to Tehran this week to discuss opportunities for Catholics and Muslims to serve humanity together.

“Muslims and Christians, along with all persons of good will who do not profess any particular religion, are called to promote fundamental human rights for everybody, everywhere, at all times,” participants in the interreligious meeting concluded in a final statement released by the Vatican Nov. 15. 

The interreligious colloquium in Iran focused on shared values found within Shia Islam and Catholicism. The event was organized by the Vatican Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and the Iranian government’s Islamic Culture and Relations Organization.

At the end of the colloquium, participants agreed to a final statement of broad support for fundamental human rights, religious freedom, environmental protection, and service to others.

“Freedom of conscience and of religion is the cornerstone of the edifice of human rights and therefore should be preserved and promoted,” the final statement of the conference declared.

In Iran, Muslim converts to Christianity have suffered persecution and arrest by the Iranian government, according to a 2019 report by the  U.S. Council for International Religious Freedom. At least 171 Christians were arrested in Iran in 2018, the report found.

Among the Iranian participants in the colloquium were Iranian clerics and diplomats: Ayatollah Mohammad Ali Taskhiri, Ayatollah Dr. Ahmad Beheshti, Ayatollah Dr. Reza Ramezani, and Ayatollah Abolghasem Alidoust Abarghouei. 

Cardinal Miguel Ángel Ayuso Guixot, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, co-chaired the colloquium along with Dr. Abuzar Ibrahimi Turkaman, president of the Islamic Culture and Relations Organization.

Cardinal Ayuso has degrees in Arabic and Islamic studies, in addition to a doctorate in dogmatic theology from the University of Granada. He previously served as dean of the Pontifical Institute of Arabic and Islamic Studies in Rome. Pope Francis named made Ayuso a cardinal in Oct. 2019.

The Tehran colloquium was the 11th interreligious dialogue meeting between the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and the Islamic Culture and Relations Organization since 1996. The participants decided to hold the next colloquium in Rome in 2021.

“Service to others, especially the sick, the poor and the needy, is of capital importance to Christians and Muslims,” the colloquium’s final statement declares. “Serving others witnesses to the universal love of God for all human beings, because He created everyone and everything, and cares for all His creation with the same love.”

Pope Francis' message to those suffering 'at the foot of the cross'

Vatican City, Nov 15, 2019 / 03:45 am (CNA).- Pope Francis told those who are sick and suffering Friday that the world needs their prayers.

“You, who are at the foot of the cross, perhaps alone, isolated, abandoned, homeless, expelled from your family or from your country, victims of alcohol, prostitution, disease. Be aware that God loves you. God especially listens to your prayer,” Pope Francis said in a video message Nov. 15 to pilgrims in Lourdes, France.

“Brothers and sisters, I need you all, each one of you,” the pope said. “The world suffers and your prayer moves the Lord.”

In the message, Pope Francis greeted those gathered in Lourdes, France Nov. 14-17 for the World Day of the Poor.

Millions of people travel to Lourdes each year to pray at the site where the Virgin Mary appeared to St. Bernadette Soubirous in 1858 under the title “the Immaculate Conception,” and manifested  healing spring water.

“It is Mary who welcomes us here. She is the Immaculate. She appeared to Bernadette, a poor shepherdess. It is good news for all of us who recognize ourselves as poor and small: ‘What God has hidden from the wise and learned, he has revealed to the little ones,’” Pope Francis said.

“You who are small, you who are poor, fragile, you are the treasure of the Church. You are in the heart of the pope, in the heart of Mary, in the heart of God,” he said.

Pope Francis established the annual World Day of the Poor at the end of the Jubilee Year of Mercy in 2016.

This year, the pope will celebrate the World Day of the Poor with a Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica on Nov. 17 followed by a lunch at the Vatican with over 1,000 impoverished people invited as guests.

In his video message, Pope Francis invited each person to “live the sacraments,” adding that they are gifts from the Church.

“I invite you to discover especially confession, the sacrament of forgiveness in which God shows us his tenderness and frees us,” the pope said. He also invited the sick to receive the sacrament of anointing.

Pope Francis said that to receive the Eucharist is to welcome God into one’s body and soul, filling it with faith and joy.

“Do you want to be a Christian? Ask for the baptism,” he added.

“Let us ask the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Love, to inspire acts of charity, of benevolence towards those around us,” he said. “There is no one so poor as to have nothing to give.”

“Love saves the world and God wants to go through us to save the world,” Pope Francis said.

Pope Francis: Tech companies have a responsibility to protect children

Vatican City, Nov 14, 2019 / 10:39 am (CNA).- In a speech to the head of major global tech companies, Pope Francis said Thursday that protecting children from evils such as trafficking and pornography requires a recognition of the limits of online freedom.

“A crucial aspect of the problem” of child safety online “concerns the tension – which ultimately becomes a conflict – between the idea of the digital world as a realm of unlimited freedom of expression and communication, and the need for a responsible use of technologies and consequently a recognition of their limits,” the pope said.

“A fitting balance must be found between the legitimate exercise of freedom of expression and the interests of society,” he continued, “so as to ensure that digital media are not used to perpetrate criminal activities against minors.”

The pope underlined the huge potential of digital technology, but noted also its negative impact when abused for “human trafficking, the planning of terrorist activities, the spread of hatred and extremism, the manipulation of information and – we must emphasize – in the area of child abuse...”

He noted that many children use cellphones, and current protections against access to pornography are inadequate; studies show, he said, that the average age of first encountering pornography is 11 – and it is lowering.

“This is in no way acceptable,” he stressed.

Pope Francis spoke in the Vatican’s apostolic palace to participants in a Nov. 14-15 Vatican meeting on promoting child dignity online.

Sponsored by the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, the meeting included the participation of high-level executives from Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, Google, Facebook, and Paramount Pictures.

The pope said companies have long considered themselves to be mere “suppliers” of technological platforms, without having a legal or moral responsibility for how they are used.

But freedom and protection of privacy must be balanced with concern for the common good, he urged.

Leading technology-based companies can no longer consider themselves unaccountable for the services they provide their customers, the pope said.

“I make an urgent appeal to them to assume their responsibility towards minors, their integrity and their future,” he said.

To protect minors in the digital world requires the “full involvement of companies in this sector,” he added. It also requires the companies’ “full awareness of the moral and social repercussions of their management and functioning.”

“Such companies are bound not only to respect the law, but also to be concerned with the direction taken by the technological and social developments which they produce and promote, since such developments are far ahead of the laws that would seek to regulate them,” he said.

The Vatican meeting, which continues through Friday, also has an interreligious focus, with speeches by Orthodox leader Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople, Lutheran Queen Silvia of Sweden, and Muslim Grand Imam Ahmed Al-Tayeb Sheikh of Al-Azhar.

Vatican City State’s new president of the tribunal Giuseppe Pignatone and Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin will also speak.

The meeting is a follow-up to the 2017 Vatican and the 2018 Abu Dhabi conferences on digital child dignity.

Pope Francis urges dialogue in face of ongoing jihadist violence in Burkina Faso

Vatican City, Nov 14, 2019 / 07:10 am (CNA).- Pope Francis urged interreligious dialogue in Burkina Faso Wednesday as ongoing violence by jihadist groups has killed more than 750 people in the West African country this year. 

“I address a special thought to dear Burkina Faso, who for some time has been tried by recurrent violence,” Pope Francis said in St. Peter’s Square Nov. 13.

At least 38 people died and 60 were injured in an attack on Canadian mining company convoy, Semafo, Nov. 6.

“I entrust to the Lord all the victims, the wounded, the numerous displaced persons and those who suffer from these tragedies. I appeal for the protection of the most vulnerable,” the pope said.

Violence involving jihadist groups -- some affiliated with al Qaeda or the Islamic State -- has killed at least 755 people in Burkina Faso between January and October 2019, according to Reuters.

Attacks on Burkina Faso’s gold mines have provided the armed groups with new sources of funding.

Following the most recent attack, Pope Francis appealed to civil and religious authorities “to multiply their efforts, in the spirit of the Abu Dhabi Document on Human Brotherhood, to promote interreligious dialogue and harmony.”

In May 2019, ten Catholics were murdered by gunmen in one week. During Mass, attackers shot and killed five men, including the priest, and then burned down the Catholic church in Dablo. The following day,  gunmen killed four more Catholics during a religious procession and then burned the Marian statue.

Following the wave of violence against Catholics this year, Bishop Laurent Birfuoré Dabiré of Dori, Burkina Faso told the papal charity Aid to the Church in Need of an attack that occurred on July 27, 2019:

“When the people of the village of Bani had gathered together to speak among themselves, the Islamists arrived and forced everybody to lie face down on the ground,” he said. “Then they searched them. Four people were wearing crucifixes. So they killed them because they were Christians.”

The bishop said this was the fifth attack against Christians in Burkina Faso in 2019.

“Today their main target appears to be the Christians and I believe they are trying to trigger an inter-religious conflict,” he said.

“If the world continues to do nothing, the result will be the elimination of the Christian presence in this area and quite possibly in the future from the entire country,” Bishop Dabire said.

Pope Francis names Spanish Jesuit head of Vatican's economy secretariat

Vatican City, Nov 14, 2019 / 04:47 am (CNA).- Pope Francis Nov. 14 appointed Spanish Jesuit Fr. Juan Antonio Guerrero Alves as prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy, following the expiration of Cardinal George Pell’s term in February.

From Merida, Spain, Guerrero, 60, will begin his term as prefect in January 2020.

Pope Francis established the Secretariat for Economy in 2014 as part of his financial reform of the Vatican. Its task is to oversee the financial aspects of both the Roman Curia and the Vatican City State administration, including a review of financial reports.

The position of prefect of the economy secretariat has been empty since Feb. 26, when Pell was confirmed to no longer hold the position via a tweet from Alessandro Gisotti, then-interim Holy See press office director.

Pell, who is in a prison in the Australian state of Victoria following his 2018 conviction on five counts of sexual abuse, was the first prefect of the Secretariat for Economy. The cardinal took a leave of absence as prefect starting in June 2017, when he returned to Australia to face trial.

Pell’s five-year-term as prefect was to have expired in February 2019. His resignation was not noted in the Vatican’s daily news bulletin, so it is believed his term lapsed and was not renewed, and he was not removed from office.

Guerrero, who has been a Jesuit since 1979, has a degree in economics from the Autonomous University of Madrid, as well as degrees in theology and in philosophy and letters.

Ordained a priest in 1992, since 2017 Guerrero has been in Rome serving in the positions of general counsellor and delegate of the superior general for the interprovincial houses and works of the Jesuits.

From 2014-2017, he was treasurer and project coordinator of the Jesuits in Mozambique.

“This call was something completely unexpected. Initially, it filled me with anxiety, and I felt quite numb,” Guerrero said in an interview with Vatican News published Nov. 14.

“But I welcome it with humility, with confidence in the Lord and in the team that is already working in the Secretariat for the Economy. I will collaborate in the service of this mission by offering the best of myself.”

According to Vatican News, Guerrero, who speaks Italian, English, French, Portuguese, and Spanish, asked Pope Francis to not require his ordination as a bishop, so that after his term as prefect he can return to normal religious life.

“I come to this task from outside the Vatican Curia, and I will be entering a new world,” the priest said. “I thank the Holy Father for allowing me to carry out this mission as a Jesuit, so that I can continue to remain a Jesuit when this service ends.”

“I hope to contribute to the economic transparency of the Holy See, and to help to use efficiently the goods and resources that are at the service of the important evangelizing mission of the Church,” he told Vatican News.

 

Pope Francis denounces rise in anti-Semitism 

Vatican City, Nov 13, 2019 / 04:30 am (CNA).- Pope Francis denounced rising anti-Semitism Wednesday as an attitude that is inhumane and unchristian.

"The Jewish people have suffered so much in history … And, in the last century, we saw so many brutalities on the Jewish people and we thought that this was over,” Pope Francis said in St. Peter’s Square Nov. 13.

“Today the practice of persecuting the Jews has begun again here and there. Brothers and sisters, this is neither human nor Christian. The Jewish people are our brothers, and they should not be persecuted,” the pope said in a departure from his prepared remarks.

Anti-Semitic violence and harassment has been on the rise in Europe, particularly in Germany, the Netherlands, and Belgium, according to the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights.

In October, a man with anti-Semitic beliefs shot and killed two people at a synagogue in Germany on Yom Kippur, and last year a far-right extremist attacked the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, killing 11 people.  Other deadly attacks on a Jewish supermarket and a school in France in recent years were linked to the Islamic State and Al-Qaeda.

The pope’s comments were a part of his reflection on the Biblical account of the expulsion of the Jewish people from Rome by Emperor Claudius in the first century.

The Acts of the Apostles describes how this order affected a married couple, Priscilla and Aquila, who were forced to move from Rome to Corinth.

Pope Francis praised Priscilla and Aquila as Biblical models of married life, hospitality, and lay evangelization.

“These spouses prove to have a heart full of faith in God and generous towards others, capable of making room for those who, like them, experience the condition of a foreigner,” he said.

By welcoming Paul into their home in Corinth, Aquila and Priscilla also welcomed the Gospel of Christ, the pope said. “From that moment their home is imbued with the fragrance of the living Word that vivifies the hearts.”

The home of Priscilla and Aquila became a “house church” for the local Christian community to listen to the Word of God and celebrate the Eucharist, Francis said.

“Even today in some countries where there is no religious freedom and there is no freedom for Christians, Christians gather in a home, some hidden, to pray and celebrate the Eucharist. Even today there are these houses, these families that become a temple for the Eucharist,” the pope added.

In his ongoing weekly catechesis on the Acts of the Apostles, Pope Francis described how Aquila and Priscilla traveled with Paul on a missionary journey to Ephesus, and later returned to Rome.

The pope noted that this married couple were among the recipients of Paul’s letter to the Romans, where St. Paul described them as “my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their own necks to save my life.”

“How many families in times of persecution risk their necks to keep the persecuted hidden,” the pope added. “This is the first example: family hospitality, even in bad times.”

Pope Francis prayed, asking God to “pour out his Spirit on all Christian couples so that, following the example of Aquila and Priscilla, they will be able to open the doors of their hearts to Christ and to their brothers and transform their homes into domestic churches.”

“A house is a domestic church, in which to live communion and offer the worship of a life lived in faith, hope and charity. We must pray to these two saints Aquila and Priscilla, so that they teach our families to be like them,” Pope Francis said.

New York bishops to vote remotely in Rome for USCCB elections

Vatican City, Nov 12, 2019 / 04:45 am (CNA).- New York bishops will be voting remotely from Rome Tuesday for the election of the next leaders of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The 21 bishops from New York State will vote by paper ballot at the North American College in Rome and tune into the video livestream of U.S. bishops’ General Assembly taking place in Baltimore Nov. 10-13.

A vote in Baltimore on a proposed increase in diocesan payments to the USCCB was declared inconclusive Nov. 11 because 28 of the eligible voting bishops were not present. Once the results of the bishops’ remote votes are called in to Baltimore, the final voting outcome will be able to be announced.

The New York bishops are in Rome for their ad limina apostolorum visit in which they will meet with Pope Francis and curial officials this week while making a pilgrimage to the tombs of St. Peter and St. Paul. These visits are required for all diocesan bishops approximately every 5 years.

For the first time, the ad limina visit coincides with the U.S. bishops’ General Assembly in Baltimore at which presidential and vice-presidential elections will occur Nov. 12.

The nominated candidates on the ballot in these elections are Archbishops Timothy P. Broglio of the Military Services, Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City, Salvatore J. Cordileone of San Francisco, Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles, Jerome E. Listecki of Milwaukee,  Allen H. Vigneron of Detroit, Frank J. Caggiano of Bridgeport, Daniel E. Flores of Brownsville, Thomas John Paprocki of Springfield (IL), and Kevin C. Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend.

The first round of voting will elect the president by a simple majority of the bishops. If a candidate does not receive 50%-plus-one of the votes, an additional ballot is taken. If there is still no winner, a run-off between the two bishops with the most votes is held until a winner is determined.

The elected president and vice-president will each serve a term of three years.

In addition to the presidential and vice-presidential elections, the members of the USCCB will be voting for the new chairmen of six conference committees: the Committee on Canonical Affairs and Church Governance, Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis, Committee on International Justice and Peace, Committee on the Protection of Children and Young People, and the Committee for Religious Liberty.

Following the Nov. 12 vote, the U.S. bishops in Rome will visit the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls where Bishop Richard J. Malone of Buffalo is scheduled to celebrate Mass.

The Diocese of Buffalo recently underwent an Apostolic Visitation -- a canonical inspection and fact-finding mission ordered by the Vatican -- after a year of controversy surrounded the bishop’s handling of claims of clerical sexual abuse in the northern New York state diocese.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan will celebrate Mass with the New York bishops in the crypt of St. Peter’s Basilica on Nov. 14.

“I’m being called into the principal’s office! … next week I’ll be examined by the Pope and his closest collaborators in the pastoring of the Church universal,” the cardinal wrote on the Archdiocese of New York website Nov. 6, about the ad limina visit to Rome.

“While, at the tombs of the apostle Peter and Paul, I’ll pray an act of faith, an act of hope for my continued ministry, and an act of contrition for my multiple failings and I’ll also pray for you,” Dolan said.

 

Cardinal O'Malley: Pope Francis will publish Vatican McCarrick report 'soon'

Baltimore, Md., Nov 11, 2019 / 03:41 pm (CNA).- The results of the Vatican’s investigation of Theodore McCarrick should be published by early 2020, Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston told U.S. bishops on Monday.

“The intention is to publish the Holy See’s response soon, if not before Christmas, soon in the new year,” Cardinal O’Malley said on Monday afternoon

O’Malley presented a brief update on the status of the Vatican’s McCarrick investigation during the annual fall meeting of the U.S. bishops in Baltimore, Maryland, held from Nov. 11-13.

Earlier on Monday morning, Bishop Earl Boyea of Lansing, Michigan, had requested that an update on the Vatican’s McCarrick investigation to be added to the agenda of the bishops’ meeting. Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Texas, seconded the motion and the bishops approved it by a voice vote.

The Vatican announced that it would conduct a review of files on McCarrick in October 2018.

In March 2019, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s Secretary of State, said the Vatican was still engaged in its investigation into McCarrick and that the Holy See would issue a declaration once it was finished.

On Monday, O’Malley provided the update on the Vatican’s investigation shortly after he and other bishops from New England arrived back in the U.S. from a visit with Pope Francis at the Vatican.

“We were not afraid to bring up the question of the report on Theodore McCarrick, and we insisted on the importance of publishing a response to the many serious questions of this case,” O’Malley said.

O’Malley sad the New England delegation made it clear to Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin that bishops, priests, religious and the lay faithful in the U.S. were all anxiously awaiting the results of the investigation, of how McCarrick “could become an archbishop and cardinal, who knew what and when.”

“The long wait has resulted in great frustration on the part of bishops and our people, and indeed a harsh and even cynical interpretation of the seeming silence,” O’Malley added Monday.

Cardinal Parolin “assured” the U.S. delegation of the Vatican’s original intent to publish its response to the investigation before the U.S. bishops’ November meeting in Baltimore, but the scope of the investigation and quantity of the information discovered in the process necessitated a later publishing date.

“There is a desire, a commitment, to be thorough and transparent so as to answer peoples’ questions and not simply to create more questions,” O’Malley said of the Vatican.

The cardinal said he shown a “hefty document” by the Vatican, which is being translated into Italian for a presentation to Pope Francis, with an intended publication by early 2020.

Reports of McCarrick’s history of sexual abuse were initially made public in June of 2018, when the Archdiocese of New York had announced that a sexual abuse allegation against then-retired Cardinal McCarrick was “credible and substantiated.”

Subsequent reports of sexual abuse or harassment of children and seminarians by McCarrick surfaced, and Pope Francis accepted his resignation from the College of Cardinals and assigned him to a life of prayer and penance, in July of 2018.

In August 2018, former apostolic nuncio to the U.S. Carlo Maria Vigano claimed that Pope Francis knew about existing sanctions on McCarrick but chose to repeal them.

At their November 2018 meeting, just months after settlements of the Archdioceses of New York and Newark of abuse cases involving McCarrick were made public, the bishops were set to vote on a number of measures to deal with the clergy sex abuse crisis including a call for the Vatican to release all documents about McCarrick in accord with canon and civil law.

However, after the Vatican requested shortly before the meeting that the bishops not take action on the abuse crisis until an international summit of bishops in Rome in early 2019, the bishops did not end up voting on the McCarrick measure because of fears they could be viewed at odds with Rome.

Pope Francis laicized McCarrick in February 2019, shortly before convening a summit of bishops from around the world on clergy sexual abuse. The Vatican’s accelerated investigation into McCarrick’s case was reportedly an “administrative penal process,” not a full juridical process but one used when the evidence in the case is overwhelming.

In June, the U.S. bishops’ National Advisory Council unanimously requested the bishops to urge the Holy See to “make public the results of diocesan and archdiocesan investigations of Theodore McCarrick.”

Pope Francis: Inclusive capitalism leaves no one behind

Vatican City, Nov 11, 2019 / 07:01 am (CNA).- Pope Francis Monday called for the renewal and purification of existing economic models to be fair, trustworthy, and capable of extending opportunities to all, not only a few.

“An inclusive capitalism that leaves no one behind, that discards none of our brothers or sisters, is a noble aspiration,” Pope Francis said Nov. 11 in the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace.

“A glance at recent history, in particular the financial crisis of 2008, shows us that a healthy economic system cannot be based on short-term profit at the expense of long-term productive, sustainable and socially responsible development and investment,” he said.

The pope met with members of the Council for Inclusive Capitalism, whose vision he said involves “overcoming an economy of exclusion and reducing the gap separating the majority of people from the prosperity enjoyed by the few.”

“You have set before yourselves the goal of extending the opportunities and benefits of our economic system to all people,” he said. “An economic system that is fair, trustworthy and capable of addressing the most profound challenges facing humanity and our planet is urgently needed.”

Pope Francis said that those who engage in business and economic life have “a noble vocation” to serve the common good by creating jobs, increasing prosperity, and working to make the goods of this world more accessible to all.

“When we recognize the moral dimension of economic life, which is one of the many aspects of Catholic social doctrine that must be integrally respected, we are able to act with fraternal charity, desiring, seeking and protecting the good of others and their integral development,” he explained.

The pope warned that “an economic system detached from ethical concerns” leads to a “throw away” culture of consumption and waste.

Pope Francis recalled his meeting in 2016 with participants in the Fortune-Time Global Forum in which he called for “more inclusive and equitable economic models that would permit each person to share in the resources of this world and have opportunities to realize his or her potential.” The pope said that the Council for Inclusive Capitalism was born out of that forum.

“Rising levels of poverty on a global scale bear witness to the prevalence of inequality rather than a harmonious integration of persons and nations … I encourage you to persevere along the path of generous solidarity and to work for the return of economics and finance to an ethical approach which favors human beings,” the pope said.

“As my predecessor St. Paul VI reminded us, authentic development cannot be restricted to economic growth alone, but must foster the growth of each person and of the whole person,” he said. “This means more than balancing budgets, improving infrastructures or offering a wider variety of consumer goods."

“What is needed is a fundamental renewal of hearts and minds so that the human person may always be placed at the centre of social, cultural and economic life,” Pope Francis said.

Catholic couple brings the love of family to young people with mental illness

Vatican City, Nov 10, 2019 / 04:10 pm (CNA).- For Catholic couple Austin and Catherine Mardon, mental illness is personal.

Austin has schizophrenia, Catherine has PTSD, and together they foster children and young adults with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.

Austin and Catherine have been married since 2003. Both are writers, and their experiences have led them to devote themselves to working on behalf of people with mental illnesses, many of whom, they said, end up without a family and living on the street.

The Mardons met Pope Francis after the general audience Nov. 6. They were inducted, in 2017, into the Pontifical Order of Pope Saint Sylvester, a papal Order of Knighthood, for their work on behalf of the disabled.

A native of Oklahoma, Catherine told CNA she has always remembered what one of her childhood teachers, a Carmelite nun, once said: “We don’t help people because they’re Catholic, we help people because we’re Catholic and we're called to do it.”

“Look around,” she said. There are people in need of love and support all around, but “don’t be afraid, don’t be afraid” to reach out.

Austin, a Canadian, is an assistant adjunct professor of psychiatry at the University of Alberta.

A scientist by education, Austin was part of a NASA meteorite recovery expedition to the Antarctic in the 1980s at the age of 24. Unfortunately, the extreme difficulties of the expedition affected him mentally and physically.

Despite these challenges, he earned master’s degrees in science and education and published more articles and books, before being diagnosed at age 30 with schizophrenia, which he manages with medication.

He has since also obtained a PhD in geography and continued to publish and speak extensively in the fields of science, mental illness and disability.

Catherine was previously a lawyer focused on social justice issues, including death row appeals. She also helped the homeless and people with AIDs, and her work brought her into contact with many people struggling with mental illness.

“I have helped people that most other ordinary people didn’t want to be in the same room with,” she said.

After testifying in a case, Catherine was brutally attacked, leaving her with physical injuries, a traumatic brain injury, and PTSD. She was no longer able to practice law.

But Austin and Catherine have taken their sufferings and transformed into an opportunity to help others.

“When I got hurt and couldn’t practice law anymore, I didn’t just sit on a beach or curl up in a corner somewhere. I started taking care of people. Because that was something I could do, including [helping] a couple of kids who had Fetal Alcohol [Syndrome],” Catherine said.

The difference between Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and other severe mental illnesses, like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, they said, is that there is no treatment, because it is caused by permanent brain damage before birth.

The best thing for someone in this situation is early identification and intervention, Austin said, “to give them coping mechanisms to manage it, teach them techniques.”

“It’s almost like teaching someone who is blind or deaf how to maneuver around a world that they can’t quite perceive,” he said.

Catherine and Austin discovered, however, that many children and young adults with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome do not get early intervention. In many cases, due to poor family situations or a loss of their parents, they end up in foster care, and then, when they age out of the system, on the streets.

So, the Mardons started taking some of these teenagers and young adults into their home. They also reach out to other young adults suffering from mental illness. They throw parties for them and invite them over for the holidays.

“The most important thing when it comes to dealing with the disenfranchised is first you have to recognize their equal human dignity. And secondly, you have to take them where they are,” Catherine said.

People automatically expect the mentally ill to be scary, she said. “They’re humans.”

“They want to be invited to Sunday dinner... They want somebody to remember their birthday. They want somebody to invite them to Christmas.”

The Mardons encourage others to find ways to support young people with mental illness, especially, they said, older adults who either do not have children or whose children are grown.

Young adults leaving the foster care system are in need of the kind of support a family would offer, they said. While there are charities to provide financial support and resources, these individuals often miss out on the practical advice of a loved one and the chance to form healthy relationships with others.

“Somebody’s got to take care of them,” Catherine said.

Austin said what he would like Catholics - both priests and laity - to understand about mental illness is “that today there are effective treatments,” through both medication and therapy.

He added that some Catholics think mental illness is a character flaw that can be solved by prayer. This is a dangerous misconception, he warned.

“We don’t say that you should pray instead of take medication for your heart, but many Christians and Catholics believe that [mental illness] is a character flaw…It’s not a character flaw,” he emphasized.

Austin often speaks on the topic, and he said his faith always informs his advice for people with mental illness or for their family members.

“I think that faith without action can be very hollow,” he added, “but then action without faith can sometimes be misguided.