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IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy BillGraham.or

By Peter Finney Jr.

NEW ORLEANS (CNS) -- In 1995, as inmates at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola lowered the makeshift, cardboard casket containing the body of fellow inmate Joseph Siegel into freshly dug ground at the prison's cemetery, Siegel's bo...

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy BillGraham.or

By Peter Finney Jr.

NEW ORLEANS (CNS) -- In 1995, as inmates at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola lowered the makeshift, cardboard casket containing the body of fellow inmate Joseph Siegel into freshly dug ground at the prison's cemetery, Siegel's body fell through the bottom of the coffin.

Then, as the pallbearers positioned the casket with care over his body and began shoveling dirt, the top collapsed.

Burl Cain, in his first year as warden at the nation's largest maximum-security prison, where all but a fraction of the 5,000 men will die without ever walking back through the gates, had seen enough.

Cain gathered inmates for what, by Angola standards, would be an unusual warden-prisoner talk. Many of the prisoners were skilled craftsmen, who had worked for years to set up the popular Angola Prison Rodeo.

"I told them, 'Men, you're going to die here, and we've got to do this with dignity,'" Cain recalled. "'Y'all are going to build a coffin, and it's going to be a nice coffin. When you die, you've served your sentence, and there's no reason for anybody to kick your body.'"

That event more than two decades ago led to inmates at the prison building the casket for the Rev. Billy Graham, the charismatic evangelical Christian leader who died Feb. 21 at age 99.

Cain served as warden at Angola for 21 years and is credited with changing the violent and deadly prison culture through an emphasis on what he calls "moral rehabilitation."

"I coined that term because everybody liked 'morality' and everybody liked 'rehabilitation,' and the ACLU would leave me alone," Cain said. "I couldn't say 'faith-based' and I couldn't say 'Christian.' That would get me sued."

Cain established seminary education, sponsored by the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, and built several interdenominational chapels, including a hospice chapel funded by Catholic entities and an Alamo chapel, a replica of the original Alamo in San Antonio, Texas, used often by Catholic inmates.

Cain said he was being "selfish" when he decided to open Angola to the outside world, with an emphasis on theological training.

"I realized this: Moral people don't rape, pilfer and steal," Cain said. "So, if I could get these guys to become moral, I'd have a safer prison, I could survive."

In 1997, Chuck Colson, an evangelical Christian who had served prison time for obstruction of justice in the Watergate scandal and who had begun a national prison ministry, visited Angola with Tex Reardon, who was associated with the Rev. Graham and his worldwide evangelical crusades.

"In the 1950s, my mother would send a check for $5 every month to Billy Graham, even though she was a school teacher and my parents were poor," Cain said. "So, I asked Tex Reardon if there was any way he could get Billy Graham to come here -- because this prison needed him."

Not long after that, Graham's son Franklin visited Angola and was so impressed he set the wheels in motion for the construction of two more chapels -- one for the inmates and another, Cain said, for "the employees of our little city."

"They wanted their own people to come build it, because it was a ministry for them," Cain said. "They wanted the pews to be just old-timey so that it would look like an old-timey church."

They put an old bell in the top of an imposing steeple. The bell came from a locomotive that hauled sugar cane around the 18,000-acre Angola plantation the late 1800s, before it became a prison that was larger than the island of Manhattan.

"The Grahams wanted that steeple to be tall enough so that you could see the church from death row," Cain said.

During one of Franklin Graham's visits to Angola, he walked into the prison museum and saw an inmate-made casket. He was overwhelmed by the beauty and simplicity of the treated plywood. The white bedding for the inside of the coffins comes from Walmart.

"He told me, 'This is one my Dad would want to be buried in. It's so plain, but it's built by prisoners. We've got to have these,'" Cain said.

Franklin Graham ordered six coffins, including for Rev. Graham and his wife Ruth, who died in 2007.

Three inmates -- Richard "Grasshopper" Leggett, Clarence "Mr. Bud" Wilkerson and David Bacon -- had the special assignment. Of the three, only Bacon is still alive. He was paroled in December 2012.

"They would pray before they started every day and ask that God would anoint their work, because this was a very serious thing," Cain said. "Billy Graham was a human -- he wasn't God -- but he was one of the godliest humans on the earth. They took it very seriously. And, it was a reverent operation."

At Franklin Graham's request, the three inmates wood-burned their names into the outside of each casket.

Rev. Graham was to be laid to rest March 2, in that Angola coffin, after lying for two days in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda.

Cain said the convergence of sacred circumstances -- how Rev. Graham and faith brought peace to Angola and how Angola brought peace to the Graham family -- leaves him almost speechless.

"If my mother in heaven knows what's going on down here, she would be so proud, because when she wrote those little $5 checks, it influenced her son to like Billy Graham," Cain said. "She led me in that direction."

While, because of ill health, Rev. Graham never could visit Angola, Cain sent him a key to one of Angola's old cells. A few years ago, Cain traveled to the mountains of Montreat, North Carolina, to offer his thanks for all that Rev. Graham and his son had made possible at Angola.

"I got to spend the afternoon with him, and he said, 'I pray for you every day, and my nurse can verify it,'" Cain said. "And then he took out that key and he said, 'Every day, I have a devotional, and I hold that key in my hand, and I pray for you and I pray for your prison.' No wonder we were successful."

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Peter Finney Jr. is executive editor/general manager of the Clarion Herald, newspaper of the Archdiocese of New Orleans.

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Posted: February 23, 2018, 9:04 pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Shannon Stapleton, Reuters

By

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Last September, as President Donald Trump pulled the plug on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, he also gave Congress a March 5 deadline to find a permanent legislative solution that would help some 800,000 young a...

IMAGE: CNS photo/Shannon Stapleton, Reuters

By

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Last September, as President Donald Trump pulled the plug on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, he also gave Congress a March 5 deadline to find a permanent legislative solution that would help some 800,000 young adults living the U.S. who were brought into the country without legal permission as children.

As the deadline approaches, with no legislative solution in sight for DACA, the U.S. Catholic bishops and other Catholic leaders as well as Catholic organizations from around the U.S. have been loudly clamoring for relief for the young adults.

So far, lawmakers have failed to deliver any solution even as the deadline approaches and the president's repeal of DACA gets tangled up the courts. Some beneficiaries already face deportation and the loss of permits that allow them to work, drive and attend school.

On Feb. 23, officials of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops again urged all U.S. Catholics to participate a "National Catholic Call-In Day to Protect Dreamers" they have declared for Feb. 26. Participants can call lawmakers by calling (855) 589-5698 and visiting https://tinyurl.com/ycjrrxoa for resources in English and Spanish. The phone number is for the Capitol switchboard' callers press "1" to connect to senators and "2" to connect to representatives.

"With the March 5th deadline looming, we ask once again that members of Congress show the leadership necessary to find a just and humane solution for these young people, who daily face mounting anxiety and uncertainty," said a joint statement from Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, USCCB president; Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles, USCCB vice president; and Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Migration.

They are asking Catholics to contact their members of Congress to urge them to: "Protect 'Dreamers' from deportation; to provide them a path to citizenship; and to avoid any damage to existing protections for families and unaccompanied minors in the process."

Many U.S. bishops have been making personal pleas, peppering various social media channels, posting videos on Facebook and YouTube, and tweets urging Catholics to push lawmakers for action.

In the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, a Mass dedicated to Dreamers will be celebrated at Our Lady Queen of Angels Church in Los Angeles Feb. 25. It will include testimonials from Dreamers, as DACA recipients are known.

San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone made two videos, in English and Spanish, urging participation in the Feb. 26 call-in day. The archbishop's videos can be viewed at https://www.facebook.com/SFHLD or at sfarchdiocese.org/immigration.

In his video message, Archbishop Cordileone said Catholics need to call members of Congress to demand "a legislative fix for DACA, so our brothers and sisters, young people who are here without proper documentation, can get on a track for citizenship and continue contributing to our country, to ask as well for reform of immigration policy that will favor keeping families together. Families are the basic unit of society and society stands and falls on family unity."

In the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, New Mexico, Archbishop John C. Wester issued his second action alert in a week asking Catholics in the state to participate in the national call-in day.

"As Catholics, we believe the dignity of every human being, particularly that of our immigrant and refugee children and youth, must be protected," he said in a late Feb. 22 statement. "The sanctity of families must be upheld. The Catholic bishops have long supported undocumented youth brought to the United States by their parents, known as Dreamers, and continue to do so.

"We ask you to engage with your elected officials to voice your support for these young people and call on your members of Congress to find a bipartisan legislative solution to protect Dreamers immediately," added the archbishop, who also pointed Catholics to https://tinyurl.com/y8jznv2z to view a video of Bishop Vasquez discussing the issue.

To help tell the story of DACA recipients, the Archdiocese of Santa Fe also calling attention to a music video by the local band Reviva that depicts agents with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement picking up three workers, including a teacher and a construction worker. Its message reflects that reality some in the country are facing.

Workers are handcuffed and taken into custody in the "Take Me Away" video, as a little girl arrives home from school to find her parents gone. The songwriter graduated from St. Pius X High School, a Catholic school in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and the University of Notre Dame in Indiana. The video can be seen at https://youtu.be/f4N5OuNfofc.

The Ohio-based Association of U.S. Catholic Priests urged its members to fast and pray, but also to call their lawmakers in Washington asking that Congress pass permanent relief for the young adults affected. The group also asked priests to encourage their parishioners to take part in personal and public actions on behalf of DACA.

In a Feb. 21 newsletter, the association asked its members via email to "fast on Fridays in union with Father Gary Graf, the Chicago priest who has been fasting in support of Dreamers every day," and to support Father Ray Pineda, an ordained priest in Atlanta, who has benefited from DACA and also is facing an uncertain future in the country.

Father Graf has announced he will march in front of the White House for 40 hours straight, from 9 a.m. (local time) March 4 through 5 p.m. March 5. The priest said it will be his final attempt to encourage Trump to extend DACA. As he marches he will hold placards illustrating the number of Dreamers who are losing their status per day, 916, and per week, 6,412. By the end of March, he said, 25, 648 will have lost DACA status.

Hundreds of Catholic leaders have declared Feb. 27 a "Catholic Day of Action" in Washington and planned to pray and sing inside the Russell Senate Office Building.

A news release that the group of leaders includes women religious, who will call on House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, a Catholic, to remember Catholic social teaching about the obligation to protect immigrants, and lead House Members in passing a clean DREAM Act.

The measure -- the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act -- has long been proposed. The bill is what gives DACA recipients the "Dreamer" name.

The USCCB also has created a series of videos available on its YouTube channel and Facebook.com/USCCB.


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Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Posted: February 23, 2018, 7:18 pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Goran Tomasevic, Reuters

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis' call for a day of prayer and fasting for peace in war-torn countries like South Sudan and Congo is also a reminder for world leaders to protect their countrymen from violence and injustice, a Vati...

IMAGE: CNS photo/Goran Tomasevic, Reuters

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis' call for a day of prayer and fasting for peace in war-torn countries like South Sudan and Congo is also a reminder for world leaders to protect their countrymen from violence and injustice, a Vatican official said.

In an article for L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, Cardinal Peter Turkson, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, said leaders have "the duty of securing a peaceful life for their fellow citizens."

"We will ask the Lord to tear down the walls of enmity and strengthen the will of government leaders to look for peaceful solutions through dialogue and secure negotiations," the cardinal wrote in the article, published Feb. 22.

In early February, Pope Francis had called for a day of prayer and fasting for peace Feb. 23, with special prayers for Congo and South Sudan.

"Our heavenly Father always listens to his children who cry out to him in pain and anguish; he heals the brokenhearted, and binds up their wounds," the pope had said.

Fighting involving government troops, rebel forces and militias continues in Congo, especially in the East, but tensions also have erupted as protests grow against President Joseph Kabila, whose term of office ended in 2016. New elections have yet to be scheduled.

Expressing sadness over the violent deaths of peaceful protestors, Cardinal Turkson said the international community has "the responsibility of guaranteeing a nonviolent transition toward a new presidency in Congo."

He also highlighted the need for action in South Sudan, which became independent from Sudan in 2011 after decades of war. But, just two years after independence, political tensions erupted into violence.

Noting that the situation was so dire that Pope Francis was forced to cancel a planned visit in 2017, the cardinal said action was needed to aid refugees and displaced people "who represent one-fourth of the population."

"They, too, are men and women, children, young and old who are looking for a place to live in peace," the cardinal said.

Cardinal Turkson said the pope's call for a day of prayer "once again shows his care for the universal church and its closeness to the people who suffer most," as well as a way bring attention to those forgotten by the world.

The day of prayer and fasting is just the latest initiative of Pope Francis "to draw the attention of the international community to extremely painful situations of violence that do not find adequate coverage in the media," the cardinal said.

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

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Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Posted: February 23, 2018, 2:06 pm
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