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Arlington priest reveals former KKK membership, takes voluntary leave of absence

Arlington, Va., Aug 22, 2017 / 02:57 pm (CNA).- An Arlington priest revealed Monday that he was a former member of the Ku Klux Klan before converting while in prison, and has asked for a temporary leave of absence from ministry.

The Diocese of Arlington released a statement saying that Fr. William Aitcheson, a parochial vicar at St. Leo Catholic Church in Fairfax, Va., wrote an article in the diocesan newspaper “with the intention of telling his story of transformation” from being a Klan member to abandoning his racist beliefs and becoming a Catholic priest.

“He left that life behind him 40 years ago and since journeyed in faith to eventually become a Catholic priest,” the diocese said.

“He voluntarily asked to temporarily step away from public ministry, for the well-being of the Church and parish community, and the request was approved.”

In the wake of the recent white nationalist rally at Charlottesville, Va. on August 11-12, Fr. Aitcheson wrote in the Arlington Catholic Herald of his past membership in the Ku Klux Klan and “despicable” acts like burning a cross on someone else’s lawn and writing threatening letters. His article was entitled, “Moving from hate to love with God’s grace.”

According to the Washington Post report of Aitcheson’s arrest in 1977, he was an “exalted cyclops” in the Robert E. Lee Lodge of the Maryland Knights of the Ku Klux Klan and was charged with six cross-burnings in Prince George’s County, Md., as well as one count of making bomb threats and two counts of making pipe bombs.

The New York Times reported that he was convicted of criminal misdemeanor for burning a cross in the yard of a black family in College Park, Md. and was sentenced to 90 days in prison.

In his article for the Herald, Fr. Aitcheson said that although he was baptized and raised a Catholic, he did not practice the faith as a young man. But after leaving the “anti-Catholic” Klan, he came back to the Church, “a reminder of the radical transformation possible through Jesus Christ in his mercy.”

He entered the seminary and was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Reno-Las Vegas, Nev. in 1988. He came to the Arlington Diocese in 1993. The Arlington Diocese stated that “there have been no accusations of racism or bigotry against Fr. Aitcheson throughout his time in the Diocese of Arlington.”

“While 40 years have passed, I must say this: I’m sorry. To anyone who has been subjected to racism or bigotry, I am sorry,” he wrote in the Arlington Catholic Herald. “I have no excuse, but I hope you will forgive me.”

Bishop Michael Burbidge of Arlington stated that “while Fr. Aitcheson’s past with the Ku Klux Klan is sad and deeply troubling, I pray that in our current political and social climate his message will reach those who support hate and division, and inspire them to a conversion of heart.”

“Our Lord is ready to help them begin a new journey, one where they will find peace, love, and mercy. The Catholic Church will walk with anyone to help bring them closer to God,” he said.

While we believe in God’s forgiveness, we should not forget the sins of our past, Fr. Aitcheson wrote.

“Our actions have consequences and while I firmly believe God forgave me – as he forgives anyone who repents and asks for forgiveness – forgetting what I did would be a mistake,” he said.

The recent rallies of white nationalists in Charlottesville, held to protest the removal of a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee, included Klan members and neo-Nazis, and featured racist chants. On August 12, a 20-year-old man from Ohio drove a car into the counter-protest to the rallies, killing one and injuring 19.

“The images from Charlottesville brought back memories of a bleak period in my life that I would have preferred to forget,” Fr. Aitcheson said of the rallies.

He wrote that the hate manifested in the rallies “should bring us to our knees in prayer.” Catholics should condemn racism “at every opportunity” and pray for its victims, and pray for the conversion of those holding racist beliefs, he said.

“If there are any white supremacists reading this, I have a message for you: you will find no fulfillment in this ideology. Your hate will never be satisfied and your anger will never subside,” he wrote. “I encourage you to find peace and mercy in the only place where it is authentic and unending: Jesus Christ.”

 

This church sheltered 800 people during the Barcelona terror attack

Barcelona, Spain, Aug 22, 2017 / 02:26 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Amid the horror and chaos of the Aug. 17 terrorist attack in Barcelona, more than 800 people found shelter in the Basilica of Santa Maria del Pi.

The Gothic church, situated in the historic center of Barcelona, is next to one of the streets exiting Las Ramblas, the popular tourist area where a van plowed into a crowd on Aug. 17, killing 13 people and injuring more than 100.

Jordi Sacasas, the basilica's archivist, told CNA that he was with the church sacristan and several other people in the basilica archives when the attack took place. From the balcony of the archives, they could see people stampeding.

“When we saw this, we went down to the church doors and brought in those fleeing. Police orders were for people to take shelter, and as the basilica has a large entrance, we could offer shelter to a lot of people,” he said.

Once the doors were closed, the basilica employees worked to calm the terrified masses. “We were providing information in French, English and Italian over the church's sound system, since the majority of the people were tourists and we had a person who could speak several languages…We were providing information that the regional government and the police were sending us, so there would be clear information.”

Local businesses also showed their solidarity with those taking refuge inside the church, offering food and drink during the three-hour lockdown before the police allowed people to leave the area.

“One bakery almost emptied its shelves bringing us bread, sandwiches. A cafe brought us water. What was impressive and so moving was the solidarity of people in such dramatic moments,” Sacasas said.

Church employees also worked to help those who were injured from falling in the stampede that resulted from the attack.

“We cared for the injured who were hurt as they fled, especially the older people, because the emergency services were overwhelmed with more serious injuries,” he said.

The Basilica of Santa Maria del Pi, built in the 14th century, has a long history of welcoming those in need. It has previously opened its doors to immigrants, offering them use of its facilities.

ISIS has claimed responsibility for the Aug. 17 attack. Police said they had shot and killed the suspected driver of the van, while also arresting several other individuals believed to be possibly involved in a local terror ring. One of those arrested said that the larger plot had involved the bombing of several major monuments, including the iconic Sagrada Familia basilica.

 

Michigan nun killed in hit-and-run remembered for her faith

Saginaw, Mich., Aug 22, 2017 / 11:46 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Michigan nun Sister Joseph Marie Ruessman of the Alma Sisters of Mercy, who was killed in a hit-and-run on Thursday, was remembered for her fidelity to Christ, tireless hard work in her community, and her joyful laugh.

“I think her faith and her relationship with Christ was everything,” said Sister Mary Sarah Macht, RSA, of the Alma Sisters of Mercy in the Catholic Diocese of Saginaw, according to the Morning Sun.

“She’s a person who is the epitome of the person who works behind the scenes. Just because she was quiet, doesn’t mean she wasn’t sharp. She was just a very fine lawyer,” Sister Macht said, recalling that Sister Joseph Marie had the “best” laugh.

Sister Joseph Marie, 64, was last seen the night before she died, on Wednesday, Aug. 16, at St. Mary's of the Assumption Cathedral in Saginaw, where many members of the Alma Sisters of Mercy were attending the final vows of fellow sisters.

The next morning, she was riding her bike around 7 a.m. on Michigan Avenue, when a car hit Sister Joseph Marie and fled the scene. Pieces from the vehicle were found next to her body.

She was discovered alive but unresponsive not long after the incident by pedestrians, who then called 9-11. Police and EMS workers arrived around 7:20, and she was then transported to MidMichigan Medical Center.

The police are now investigating the event as a hit-and-run and are offering a $500 reward for relevant information that would lead to the person responsible for driving the car.

Sister Joseph Marie died from sustained injuries later that night around 8 p.m., surrounded by members of her religious order and family, who prayed and sang hymns next to her hospital bed.

“Any time, to be with someone during that process, is a profound experience,” said Sister Macht. “This is the way He called her home, and we had the privilege of being with her in that.”

Sister Joseph Marie’s funeral took place on Monday at Our Lady of Grace Chapel in Alma, and she was laid to rest at the cemetery of the Religious Sisters of Mercy in DeWitt.

US military archbishop prays following USS John S McCain collision

Singapore, Aug 22, 2017 / 11:18 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the US military archdiocese offered prayers Monday after a US Navy destroyer collided with a tanker off the coast of Singapore, resulting in five injured and 10 missing US sailors.

Remains of some of the missing sailors were found in sealed crew compartments by divers the following day. It was the second crash involving a US Navy ship in as many months, and the fourth in a year.

“Once again the shepherds and faithful of the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA, raise our voices in prayer for the deceased, injured, and remaining members of the crew of the USS John S. McCain, which collided with another ship last night,” Archbishop Broglio said Aug. 21. “We pray for the repose of their souls and for the families who mourn such a tragic loss.”

“Mindful of those who defend the nation in troubled times and in danger, we renew our prayers for a just and lasting peace in the world,” he concluded.

The collision between the USS John S. McCain and a commercial oil tanker Alnic MC occurred east of the Malacca Strait off the coast of Singapore around 5:20 am.
 
Four of the five injured sailors were airlifted to a hospital in Singapore, though their injuries are not considered life-threatening. According to CNN, a search and rescue mission for the 10 missing sailors is ongoing and has recovered one body, which they are working to identify.

Tuesday US Navy Admiral Scott Swift said that “some remains” of the other missing U.S. sailors have been found in sealed compartments aboard the ship. “Until we have exhausted any potential of recovering survivors or bodies, the search and rescue efforts will continue,” Swift stated.

The USS John S. McCain is named in honor of John S. McCain, Sr. and John S. McCain, Jr., who were admirals. They are the grandfather and father, respectively, of Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.). The destroyer was commissioned in 1994.

According to a Navy official, the collision was caused when the crew lost control of the ship through a steering failure.

In response, the Navy ordered a rare, one-day pause of operations. This means that over the next few weeks, fleets will take a one-day, safety stand-down at the discretion of individual fleet commanders.

Admiral John Richardson, chief of naval operations, said that the "trend demands more forceful action" and that there will be "a deliberate reset for our ships focused on a number of areas, such as navigation, ship's mechanical systems and bridge resource management."

The Alnic MC sustained some damage above the waterline, but none of its crew were injured and no oil spilled.

On June 17 a similar accident occurred when the USS Fitzgerald, also a destroyer, collided with a container ship off the coast of Japan. Seven sailors died as a result of the accident. The bodies of the deceased sailors were all recovered aboard the ship.

At the time of the accident, Archbishop Broglio expressed his “heartfelt sympathy to the families whose loved ones perished in this unfortunate incident.”

“Deeply saddened by the tragic loss of life on the USS Fitzgerald, I ask all of the faithful to remember in prayer the victims and their families.”

“The Naval community at Yokosuka has responded with great care in attempting to meet the physical, psychological, and spiritual needs of those who survived the collision,” he continued. “May Almighty God give them continued fortitude in the days ahead.”

In May, a US Navy guided missile cruiser collided with a fishing vessel, and in August 2016 one of its submarines collided with a support vessel.

Top Vatican diplomat focuses on Ukraine, Middle East in Russia talks

Moscow, Russia, Aug 22, 2017 / 10:23 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The need to find peaceful solutions to global conflicts, particularly in Ukraine and the Middle East, has taken a front seat so far in the Vatican Secretary of State's meetings with Russian government and Russian Orthodox Church officials.

In a statement following his Aug. 22 meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Cardinal Pietro Parolin said the meetings so far have been intense, and offered his thanks to the Russian authorities for their cordial welcome to the country.

He met with Lavrov on the second day of his Aug. 21-24 visit to Russia, which marks the first time a Vatican Secretary of State has traveled to Moscow in 18 years. It also falls 18 months after Pope Francis' meeting with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill in Havana.

While conversation with Lavrov touched on several issues, Cardinal Parolin said that when it came to topics of international interest, he first of all reiterated the Holy See's desire to find “just and lasting solutions” for the global conflicts raging in “the Middle East, Ukraine and various other regions of the world.”

“If, in such dramatic situations, the Holy See is more directly active in the effort to promote initiatives aimed at alleviating the suffering of peoples, at the same time it clearly expresses the appeal that the common good prevail; principally justice, lawfulness, the truth of facts and the abstention of manipulating them, and the safe and dignified living conditions for civilian populations,” Cardinal Parolin said.

He stressed that the Holy See does not, nor can it, affiliate itself with any particular political position. As such, he reminded the parties of their duty “to strictly adhere to the principals of international law.”

Respect for these laws, he said, “is indispensable for the protection of world order and peace, for the recovery of a healthy atmosphere of mutual respect in international relations.”

On the situation in the Middle East, Cardinal Parolin said that while the two states have different approaches to the issue, they share a “strong concern for the situation of Christians in some countries of the Middle East and the African continent, as well as in some other regions of the world.”

He also voiced the Holy See's concern for religious freedom, specifically that it is “preserved in whatever state and whatever political situation.”

Discussion also touched on bilateral relations between Russia and the Holy See, and special attention was paid to the positive experiences the countries share in terms of collaboration between scientific and medical institutions.

To this end, both Cardinal Parolin and Lavrov affirmed their commitment to continuing this collaboration, and the two signed a joint agreement to waive visa requirements for individuals who travel with diplomatic passports.

Concern was also raised for the life of the Catholic Church in Russia, specifically in regards to the ability to obtain working residence permits for non-Russian religious who come to serve in the country, as well as the return of Church property which is “necessary for the pastoral care of Catholics in the country.”

Cardinal Parolin said that when these issues were voiced, Lavrov showed “great attention to the solution to these problems and the desire to follow them.”

He met with Lavrov a day after speaking with Russian Orthodox Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, whose role as President of the Department for External Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate makes him more or less number-two in the Russian Orthodox Church.

During the discussion, concerns surrounding conflicts in Ukraine and the Middle East also came up as major talking points.  

Attention was immediately brought to the “tragic situation of Christians in the Middle East,” which Metropolitan Hilarion called “one of the most burning problems today.”

Reference was made to the efforts on the part of the Moscow patriarchate to provide humanitarian aid to suffering populations in Syria, as well as an ad hoc working group that has been established to help broker greater cooperation with the Presidential Commission for Cooperation with Religious Associations, and includes several representatives from the Russian Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church, as well as Muslim communities and several other Christian confessions.

Both parties agreed that in order to reach a peaceful solution to the Syrian crisis “it is necessary to put an end to terrorism in the territory of Syria,” and only after peace has been reached should “its political future be determined.”

The two voiced their agreement on the need to consult each other more often on the Middle Eastern crisis, and to continue cooperation in providing humanitarian aid to the area.

On Ukraine, Metropolitan Hilarion took issue with several bills he said are aimed at “discriminating against the Ukrainian Orthodox Church” and which are still on the agenda for Ukraine's parliament. He thanked Cardinal Parolin and the Holy See for supporting the stand taken by the Moscow patriarchate on the issue.

Concern was raised by Metropolitan Hilarion regarding what he called “cases of politicized statements and aggressive actions” on the part of some members of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.

However, he and Cardinal Parolin were able to voice a shared conviction that “politics should not interfere in Church life,” and stressed the important role that Churches in Ukraine play in terms of peacemaking and in helping to “establish a civic accord in the country.”

Discussion between the two closed after touching on various opportunities for greater bilateral collaboration in the cultural and educational fields.

Following his meeting with Lavrov this morning, Cardinal Parolin is set to visit with Patriarch Kirill later on in the evening, and the two will hold a brief press conference afterward.

On Aug. 23, the last day of his visit, Cardinal Parolin will head to Sochi for an official meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The meeting marks the last official event on the cardinal's schedule before his return to Rome Aug. 24.