Denver, Colo., May 23, 2015 / 04:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- In an unprecedented change for an archdiocese, Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila of Denver announced that the Sacraments of Initiation – Baptism, Confirmation and First Communion – will be restored to their original order.

“In an increasingly secular world, the reality is this: the souls of our children are the battleground. As the shepherd of the Archdiocese of Denver, I must do everything I can to help those who form children win that battle,” he explained in his pastoral letter “Saints Among Us” released May 24.

“The world needs saints. Even as our society becomes more distant from faith and more forgetful of God, it still hungers for joyful witnesses who have been transformed by Christ,” he explained. “At the same time, new generations of Catholics need grace to sustain them in a non-Christian environment.”

In response to those needs, Archbishop Aquila said he’s chosen to restore the sacraments to the original order.

While the majority of dioceses and archdioceses have children baptized in infancy, receive the First Communion in first or second grade and Confirmation sometime in middle or high school, the original order placed Confirmation and First Communion in the same ceremony.

“This will make available every sacramental grace the Church has to offer to children who have reached the age of reason,” he explained.

When he made the change in his then-Diocese of Fargo in 2002, he said he was convinced by the “theological and pastoral reasons” that it was the right decision, but the feedback from parents after it was implemented further confirmed the change.

In his pastoral letter, Archbishop Aquila detailed a five year plan that will help parishes in Northern Colorado implement the changes by 2020.

It is his hope that after the change, Confirmation will no longer be the “sacrament of farewell” as Pope Francis regretfully called it, but rather “a profound encounter with each person of the Holy Trinity.”

As a result of the change, youth groups will need to adapt from sacramental preparation to “building community, fostering deeper relationships with each person of the Holy Trinity, and preparing them to be witnesses to the poor, those in need, and those who do not know Jesus Christ.”

This model, which is based on Jesus’ preparation of the Twelve Apostles, is already present in many parishes of the Archdiocese and is “bearing great fruits.”

The Denver archdiocese has set up a web page with more information as well as answers to frequently asked questions.

Washington D.C., May 22, 2015 / 12:08 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A 50 year-old declaration of the Second Vatican Council established a new era in Christian-Jewish relations and enabled members of both religions to unite against present-day secularism, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York reflected on Wednesday.

Nostra aetate, the council's declaration on the relation of the Church to non-Christian religions, acknowledged what is true and holy in other religions, particularly Judaism, and began a period of dialogue with them.

The declaration "has borne much fruit," remarked Cardinal Dolan May 20, at a conference celebrating the 50th anniversary of the document held at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.

The declaration enabled dialogue between Christian and Jewish leaders, which spurred St. John Paul II to lead a joint response to atheism and secularism.

The shortest of Vatican II's documents, Nostra aetate was widely approved by the Council's fathers (2,221 to 88), though it met with sharp opposition from some Catholic circles for its perceived indifferentism.

Despite this, it marked a turning point in the Church's relationships with other religions, and Jewish leaders are still marveling 50 years later at the positive effects it has produced.

It was "nothing short of a life-saving document," Rabbi Noram Morans, director of interreligious relations for the American Jewish Committee, told the conference in response to Cardinal Dolan's address. Prior to the declaration there existed a centuries-old tension between Catholics and Jews, marked by harrassment and violence of Jews for alleged deicide and scorn for them not recogizing Jesus as the Messiah.

The welcoming tone of Nostra aetate was well received by the Jewish community, as they were now seen as the "elder brothers" to the Christians, remarked Morans.

The document was only the first step toward improving Catholic-Jewish relations, noted both Cardinal Dolan and Morans. Leaders of both religions had to put it into practice and they did exactly that. The U.S. bishops conference played a "singular role" in strengthening the relationship after Vatican II, Morans said.

The relationship has "never been stronger," remarked Cardinal Dolan, adding it "has been remarkably successful" in the United States.

It carries an immense importance with it today as Christians and Jews unite to discuss the most pressing problems for both religions. Chief among these problems is secularism, especially among the youth, Cardinal Dolan insisted.

The "most obvious imperative," he said, is "to reclaim the primacy of God in a world that prefers not to take him seriously, to ignore him, or even to deny him," Cardinal Dolan said. St. John Paul II put this fight against secularism at the core of the Church's post-Vatican II relationship with the Jews because he saw secularism as the chief enemy of the Church, and the Jews among her greatest allies, the cardinal added.

Both devout Jews and Christians acknowledge they world they live in is "simply irreligious," Cardinal Dolan said, quoting Bl. John Henry Newman.

What hasn't helped is the many Christians who ignore talk of sin and redemption, he said, which columnist David Brooks has pointed out in his recent work. Churches preach that everyone is "okay" without acknowledging the need for a savior and redeemer, so attendees begin to look at other ecclesial communities, particularly evangelial megachurches, that preach the need for repentance and salvation.

If people only attended church to make friends, they would have an easier time doing it at a coffee shop or a bowling alley, Cardinal Dolan added.

Both Catholics and Jews can preach the "Biblical reality that popular soothing spiritually would rather have us forget, namely sin and redemption," Cardinal Dolan said.

"They must proclaim 'I am flawed'," he continued. "That is our forte. That's the Jewish and Christian vocabulary. That's what the prophets and the saints proclaimed."

Other problems that both religons face are an abandonment of faith by young members once they become adults or teenagers. Cardinal Dolan related how one rabbi told him that a boy's bar mitzvah would be the last time he would attend synogogue until his son's bar mitzvah. “We Catholics have that, it's called the Sacrament of Confirmation,” he recalled jokingly.

The problem is real and serious, he added. "We can hardly ignore their challenge," he said of the youth leaving the religion of their childhood. "It's alarm clock time for both of us."

Another problem that unites the two religions is the international persecution of both Christians and Jews, Morans noted. Christians are the victims of ethnic cleansing by Islamist terrorists in the Middle East and North Africa, and anti-Semitism is making an ugly resurgence in Europe.

These threats demand "mutual admiration and support," he added.

The two religions have found much common ground, particularly through "mutual theological study" and a new candor between leaders over controversies that have arisen since the document. Arguments that previously tore the two faiths apart now strengthen the relations like arguments between members of a family, Cardinal Dolan remarked.

Tensions do exist. Among them, from the Jewish perspective, are the Vatican's official recognition of the state of Palestine, and the role of Venerable Pius XII in the Second World War,  Morans suggested.

However, "we have come a long way in 50 years," he admitted, and there is "too much at stake" for these tensions to divide Christians and Jews.

Lincoln, Neb., May 21, 2015 / 05:11 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Nebraska’s Catholic bishops on Wednesday praised the Nebraska legislature’s veto-proof vote to end the death penalty, saying  capital punishment “cannot be justified” in the state at present.

The bishops said their support for the bill was based on Catholic teaching and their prudential judgement that the death penalty is now unjustifiable. Their support “also flows from our prayerful reflection on the words of Jesus Christ himself: ‘love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father’,” they said.

Nebraska’s unicameral legislature on May 20 voted 32-15 to pass LB 268. The legislation replaces the death penalty with life in prison without parole.

The state last executed a prisoner in 1997, and there are currently 11 men on death row in Nebraska, the Associated Press reports.

Legislators opposed to the death penalty voiced various objections including religious reasons, the cost to taxpayers of executions and legal appeals, and whether government can be trusted to administer the death penalty.
 
Gov. Pete Ricketts, who supports capital punishment, said he would veto the bill, though only 30 votes in the Nebraska Legislature are needed to override a governor’s veto.

The Republican governor said the state has imposed the death penalty judiciously and charged that the legislature’s vote is “completely out of touch with the overwhelming majority of Nebraskans that I talk to.”

Prior to Nebraska, Connecticut was the last U.S. state to end the death penalty, in 2013.

In a March 17 statement, the Nebraska bishops voiced compassion for the victims of violent crime and their families, while adding that the dignity even of the guilty must be recognized.