Browsing News Entries

'I've encountered Him' - how one inmate lost everything and found Christ

Vancouver, Canada, Apr 18, 2019 / 04:39 pm (CNA).- Ryan Prasad desperately wanted to change his life.

“Every single day before I left my house, I would pray to a God, asking him to help me out of my lifestyle, because there was no way I was going to be able to do it on my own,” he told CNA.

The then-24-year-old was battling multiple addictions and heavily involved in the sale of drugs. He knew that if he continued down the path he was on, he would wind up dead. But he didn’t know how to escape.

It would take a prison sentence, nearly two years in a recovery home, and a conversion to the Catholic faith for Ryan to turn his life around – a stretch of time that he says is marked by the grace of God and the support of a faith-based community that was there for him every step of the way.

Ryan grew up in British Columbia, Canada. His parents were Hindu, but the religion never sank in for him, and he never practiced it very seriously.

When he was growing up, his household was disrupted by alcoholism, infidelity, and domestic violence. His parents eventually split up, and his mom remarried.

Struggling to process what was going on at home, Ryan starting smoking marijuana in high school. He started college, but dropped out, as the drug began to consume his life.

“I don’t think youth really realizes how much [marijuana] can take from you,” he reflected. “It kills you. It kills your motivation. It kills your drive.”

Ryan worked part-time and also sold marijuana to fund his partying habits.

When he realized that a friend was making more money than he was, by selling cocaine and heroin, he made the leap to dealing hard drugs.

At first, he was successful, and he moved quickly into positions of increasing responsibility in the drug business – which meant more money. Over the next two years, he moved into a nice apartment, bought expensive cars, and dated a series of girls. But he still wasn’t happy.

Frustrated that the one girl he was really interested in was not willing to give him a chance, he struggled to deal with his emotions.

“I ended up using drugs as a coping mechanism to numb my feelings…I was so numb and disconnected…I was just a zombie.”

From there, things began to get worse. Addicted to cocaine and pills, Ryan lost his apartment. Responsibilities started to be taken away from him at work, until he was only a driver. He no longer had the money to support his drug habit, and he started to get desperate.

“I put myself in a situation where now I didn’t have a choice,” he said. “What I was doing was the easiest route for me to pay for my addiction, especially on a daily basis, because I’m getting paid cash every day, versus having to wait for a paycheck.”

Ryan’s life was spiraling downhill. His girlfriend left him when she realized that he had been hiding a drug addiction from her. Several of his friends were shot, went missing, or died of an overdose.

Then, in October 2016, he ended up doing several transactions with an undercover cop. He was caught with drugs in his car and an illegal firearm at his house.

Ryan was convicted. He was supposed to be in jail until his sentencing, but his lawyer advocated for him, saying that he had potential, it was his first set of charges, and what he really needed was a change to break free of his addiction. He was released on bail to a Christian recovery house called Luke 15.

“I was definitely at a point of surrender…enough was enough, and I really wanted to turn around,” he said.

Ryan embraced the recovery house and all of the resources it had to offer. He started attending self-development groups and every church group available. He began going to a Baptist church nearby. He would read the Bible and ask questions.

“I had this eagerness to learn. I just really believed that there was something really helping me to get to this point.”

One day, Ryan attended a charismatic prayer group at St. Mary’s Catholic parish. The founder of the prayer group prayed over him, and he experienced something he can only describe as otherworldly.

“I was overcome with this bright white light. And it just…came over me and into me, such a profound feeling of peace and love…such a strong presence,” he said. “I’ve done a lot of crazy drugs in my life, and there’s nothing that could compare to that…It was so divine and supernatural.”

In that moment, Ryan said, his life changed. The bitterness he had been carrying from the dark and traumatic experiences he had endured was erased, and replaced with a profound joy.

“I was just so happy,” he said, adding that he become a different person on that day.

Three years later, he still thinks about that moment.

“Because of that day, I can’t doubt that there is a God…I can’t pretend that he doesn’t exist, because I know he exists. I’ve encountered him.”

Although he had been attending a Protestant church, Ryan knew he needed to learn more about the Catholic faith. He enrolled in RCIA classes and devoted every spare moment at the recovery house to reading about the Catholic Church.

On April 17, 2017, Ryan was baptized and confirmed. His mother and stepfather attended the Mass.

“They were really seeing the changes that were happening in my life – my language, the way I carried myself, my mannerisms. They knew I was changing,” he said.

Ryan spent a total of 21 months at Luke 15. During that time, he sponsored other residents in the AA program, volunteered at a local soup kitchen and shelter, and got heavily involved with the St. Mary’s church community. He felt like a new person.

But throughout it all, there was a weight hanging over his head. “The worst part about this, in my circumstance, is I didn’t know whether I was going to go to jail or not,” he said.

Prosecutors were seeking eight years in prison for him, a prospect that he said took his breath away.

“[J]ust hearing that number, the possibility of me going to jail for eight years – I really had to persevere in prayer,” he said.

When he was finally sentenced, his family members and friends from the St. Mary’s community came to support him. His lawyer presented all the progress he had made and the good work that he had been doing, asking for leniency in his sentence.

He was given 12 months for the firearm charge and 11 months for the drug charge. It was far less than the eight years prosecutors had originally sought, but still a devastating prospect for someone who had come so far in his fight against addiction and just wanted to move forward with his life.

In jail, Ryan said, “I did not fit in with anybody. I was so rehabilitated and so religious…People were wondering, ‘What are you doing here?’”

He spent his first month in the medium security section of the jail and was then moved to minimum security, where he had more freedom to come and go from his room and was able to get a minimum-wage job with the BC Wildfire Services.

But despite the increase in freedom, he continued to struggle. The minimum security section of the jail did not offer any Catholic services, and there were few to no other Catholic inmates there. He felt isolated in his faith.

“It was hard. But I definitely relied on God and read my Bible a lot,” he said.

Ryan said God answered his prayers through a man named Bob Buckham. The head of prison ministry for the Archdiocese of Vancouver, Bob would visit Ryan periodically. He became Ryan’s lifeline to the Catholic faith.

“I told him about how I really wanted to have Communion again, and he became [an extraordinary] minister of the Eucharist,” Ryan said.

When Bob visited, he would bring Communion and read the Bible with Ryan, and the two would discuss the faith. This was helpful, because the other inmates would challenge Ryan’s beliefs.

“I would get questions about my faith a lot. And I would defend it,” he said.

“All the time that I spent in Luke 15 taught me a level of tolerance and patience and understanding…I was able to really diplomatically communicate with these people…I was just equipped. I just knew what to say and how to say it.”

After serving a little over six months of his sentence, Ryan was granted full parole. He went to a halfway house, where he was able to once again attend Mass and get involved with the Catholic community.

With parole came freedom – more than he had experienced in years.

“I had to really make a conscious decision every single day, planning my day – What am I going to do? Who am I going to talk to? How am I going to do this? How long am I going to be there?” he said. “And I started really being focused and really taking my own time seriously, because all that ambition and drive that I had before, I was finally given a little bit of an opportunity to use it.”

Today, Ryan is 27 years old. He lives with his family and is training to be a mobile crane operator and get his trucking license. He works six days a week and spends his free time reading the Bible and going to the gym.

He goes to Mass twice a week and attends RCIA meetings, where he shares his experience with the people who are currently in the program.

“I stay busy, and I’m only going to get busier,” he said.

Looking back on his experience, Ryan is grateful to God and to all the people who supported him in his journey of recovery and faith.

“I’ve got to express my gratitude – me being where I was to where I am at now, and just to have the support and people I can reach out to and ask for prayer and help, and they’re willing to help me and talk to me and give me their time,” he said. “It’s done a lot for me...It’s really helped me grow. And I’m still growing.”
 

Arson charges for man who carried gasoline into NYC’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral

New York City, N.Y., Apr 18, 2019 / 04:08 pm (CNA).- The man who attempted to enter New York’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral carrying gasoline, lighter fluid, and a lighter will face criminal charges. The attempted entry was the second time this week the man was arrested at a Catholic cathedral.

Marc Lamparello, 37, was apprehended April 17 by St. Patrick’s Cathedral security around 8 p.m. and taken into police custody by officers with the NYPD Critical Response Command. He apparently intended to start a fire, and police said he had a car nearby to escape the scene.

Lamparello was charged Thursday with attempted arson, reckless endangerment, and illegally transporting flammable materials in public places.

Earlier this week, Lamparello was arrested for refusing to leave the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark, New Jersey.

On Monday evening, Lamparello refused to leave the Newark cathedral when it was closing. He was seated in a pew, and told a sheriff’s deputy that he would only leave the cathedral in handcuffs.

“If you want me to leave tonight, you’re gonna have to handcuff me and arrest me tonight and take me to jail,” he told the officer.

According to the Daily Beast, Lamparello resisted attempts by two officers to take him into custody, apparently throwing himself on the church floor and telling them “I’m not leaving. God wants me here. I know all the sins the priests have committed.”

He was charged April 15 with criminal trespassing and resisting arrest.

NYPD have also confirmed that Lamparello had recently purchased a one-way airplane ticket to Rome, scheduled to depart Thursday evening.

According to the NYPD, Lamparello had four gallons of gasoline, two cans of lighter fluid, and two lighters with him when he attempted to enter St. Patrick’s Cathedral Wednesday night. He was prevented from entering by cathedral security, but was able to spill some of the gasoline on the floor as he was leaving.

About 90 minutes before he attempted to enter the cathedral, Lamparello pulled up to the church in a minivan. He then wandered around for about an hour, before taking the gasoline, lighter fluid, and lighters out of his car. He tried to go into St. Patrick’s around 8 p.m. and was apprehended shortly thereafter.

NYPD said that Lamparello’s story was “not consistent” and suspicious, though they have not yet determined any sort of motive. He claimed he cut through the cathedral as a shortcut, as his van had run out of gas. The minivan had in fact not run out of gas, which led to police taking him into custody. Lamparello was reportedly cooperative and conversational with police.

Police do not suspect terrorism, and have described Laparello as “emotionally disturbed.”

Lamparello graduated from Boston College, a Jesuit school, in 2004. Since then, he has been a philosophy instructor at several universities, including Seton Hall University in New Jersey. Seton Hall is a diocesean Catholic school administered by the Archdiocese of Newark. He previously worked as a music director for a Catholic parish in New Jersey.

His brother, Adam Lamparello, told the Daily Beast that he was “shocked” to hear of his arrest, and said that “this is something that is so not him.”

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio praised NYPD for their quick action in apprehending the suspect.

“We are all focused on keeping our congregations and houses of worship safe as they celebrate this Holy Week,” tweeted de Blasio.

 

‘Nones’ rise amid declining church attendance, survey shows

Washington D.C., Apr 18, 2019 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- Church membership in the United States has dropped considerably in the last two decades, and the number of people who say they have no religion has increased, a new report from Gallup shows.

The decline in “membership” of a specific church or parish community appears especially pronounced among Catholics and young people.

Nearly one out of three millennials, defined as people born between 1980 and 2000, describe themselves as having no religion. Of the 68% who said they do have a religious faith, only 57% said they belong to a church.

Twenty years ago, when members of “Generation X” were the same age as millennials, 62% --nearly two out of three--were members of a church. Today, 54% of Generation X members belong to a church, and 79% said they have a religious belief of some sort.

Those born in 1945 or earlier were the most religious age group surveyed. Only nine percent said they did not have a religion, and nearly three out of four believers consider themselves to “belong” to a church.

Since 1998-2000, the percentage of Catholics who say they belong to a church has dropped by 13 points. In 1998-2000, 76% of Catholics said they were members of a church. By 2016-2018, this figure had dropped to 63%.

Church “membership” is difficult to tabulate among Catholics. Parish membership is primarily defined in canon law according to residence in the territory of a parish.

While many parishes operate registration programs for sacramental or pastoral purposes, “registration” does not actually define or confirm belonging to the parish community, which is conferred de facto by domicile within the territory of the parish.

In Catholic theology, Church “membership” is not ordinarily defined by registration or self-identity.

Even without taking this into account, according to the data American Catholics still appear belong to churches at higher rates than nondenominational Protestants. Only 57 percent of Americans who call themselves “nondenominational” are members of a church.

Both of these figures lag behind Protestants affiliated with a denomination, as well as Mormons. Seventy percent of denominational Protestants, and 90 percent of Mormons say they belong to churches. Mormons, unlike Catholics and Protestants, have kept relatively stable church membership numbers of the past 20 years.

Women were considerably more likely than men to say they belong to churches, with 58 percent of women and 47 percent of men identifying themselves as church members. Membership among men and women experienced a large decline in the last 20 years, with men dropping by 17 points, and women by 15.

All demographic categories now say they belong to churches at a lower rate than they did 20 years ago.

The demographics that experienced the smallest decline were Protestants (which Gallup combined with people who identify simply as “Christian”) and Republicans, who dropped six points and eight points, respectively.

Conversely, Hispanics and Democrats both dropped 23 percentage points in church membership over the last 20 years. Democrats dropped from 71 percent to 48 percent, and Hispanics from 68 to 45. Those between the ages of 18 and 29 were not far behind, declining by 22 points from 1998.

Supreme Court hears petition to overturn Louisiana abortion law

Washington D.C., Apr 18, 2019 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- Louisiana abortion providers presented arguments to the Supreme Court Wednesday, asking the court to strike down a state law requiring abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at a local hospital.

The Center for Reproductive Rights formally presented its petition April 17, after the court granted a stay in February which blocked the law from coming into effect while lower courts heard the case.

The District Court found against the law in 2016, preventing it from coming into effect, but the decision was reversed by the U.S. Court of Appeals’ 5th Circuit.

The abortion providers argue that the Louisiana law would, if allowed to come into effect, leave the state with only one doctor qualified to perform abortions. They also contend that the law is near-identical to a Texas statute struck down by the Supreme Court in 2016, calling the similarities “crystal clear.”

The law requires that any abortion doctor have “active admitting privileges” at a hospital within 30 miles of the abortion facility.

The appeal filed Wednesday argued that the result of the law would be to deny the vast majority of Louisiana women access to their constitutionally protected right to an abortion.

The 2016 decision was rendered 5-3 before the appointment of a replacement for Justice Antonin Scalia.

Chief Justice John Roberts voted to uphold the Texas law, but also agreed to grant the stay in February. The case is expected to be heard by the court during its next session after the summer.

Since the 2016 case was decided, Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch have joined the court. Both opposed the granting of the February stay, with Kavanaugh issuing a widely read dissenting opinion.

Speaking in February, Louisiana’s Attorney General Jeff Landry vowed to continue the legal fight, and pointed out that the law was passed by the state legislature with nearly unanimous consent.

“Unfortunately, the Supreme Court has put enforcement of this pro-woman law on hold for the time being,” said Landry.

“We remain hopeful that if the Supreme Court grants certiorari in this case, it will to be to re-affirm that court's rule in fact-specific cases; because the facts in our case show [the law] is constitutional and consistent with our overall regulatory scheme for surgical procedures.”

Jesuit Father James Schall has died at age 91

San Jose, Calif., Apr 18, 2019 / 01:01 pm (CNA).- Father James Schall, S.J., a longtime professor of philosophy at Georgetown University and the author of numerous books and essays, died Holy Wednesday aged 91.

Schall was born Jan. 28, 1928 in Pocahontas, Iowa, and after high school spent time at the University of Santa Clara and in the U.S. Army.

He entered the California Province of the Society of Jesus in 1948, receiving a masters in philosophy from Gonzaga University in 1955 and a doctorate in political philosophy from Georgetown in 1960.

Schall was ordained a priest in 1963, and earned a masters in theology from Santa Clara the following year.

Before his appointment as a professor at Georgetown in 1978, he taught at the University of San Francisco and at the Pontifical Gregorian University. He taught in Georgetown's Department of Government until his 2012 retirement.

Schall served on the National Endowment for the Humanities' National Council on the Humanities from 1984-90, and was part of the Pontifical Commission on Justice and Peace from 1977-82.

He spent his last years at the Jesuit retirement home in Los Gatos, Calif., where he had lived as a novice more than 60 years earlier. He continued to write during his retirement. He died April 17 after a short hospitalization.

Perhaps his best-known book is Another Sort of Learning, published in 1988.

Schall spoke to CNA in 2013 about some of his recent books, Political Philosophy and Revelation: A Catholic Reading, and Reasonable Pleasures: The Strange Coherences of Catholicism, which were guided by the thought of Plato and Aristotle, respectively.

The priest told CNA that in “all the dialogues that Plato wrote, he asked the question, 'was it necessary that Socrates be executed by the best city?',” which question he called “the foundation of political philosophy.”

Schall explained that a Christian reading Plato will be struck by the fact “that the death of Christ and the death of Socrates are paradigmatic to each other: … they are both in a trial, both are in the best cities of their time.”

“So the question” central to political philosophy is: “how is it possible that the two best men were killed by a trial?”

“That enigma of the similarity in their deaths has always been in my mind the link between reason and revelation, and why (the two deaths) must be considered both together, and uniquely in themselves.”

The deaths of these just men raise this problem, Fr. Schall explained: “the just man will be persecuted, and the unjust will have rewards in this life.”

“The question (of injustice in the world) is unanswerable without revelation, but revelation's idea of the resurrection of the body brings to completion several strands of thought.”

Christianity “says the resurrection of the body, once it is revealed to you by the source of intelligence, is understandable to you, if you are asking the right questions.”

Pope Francis urges inmates to be at service to one another

Rome, Italy, Apr 18, 2019 / 11:19 am (CNA).- Pope Francis celebrated the Mass of the Lord’s Supper at a prison in the suburbs of Rome Thursday, urging the inmates to reflect on how they can treat each other with servants’ hearts.

“It is true that in life there are problems: we quarrel among ourselves,” the pope said April 18, “but this must be a thing that passes, a passing thing, because in our hearts there must always be this love of serving the other, of being at the service of the other.”

“This is the rule of Jesus and the rule of the Gospel,” he said, “the rule of service, not of dominating, of doing evil, of humiliating others. Service.”

Recalling the moment when Jesus’ apostles were arguing among themselves about who was the most important, Pope Francis said: “Jesus took a child and said, ‘The child. If your heart is not a child’s heart, you will not be my disciples.’ The heart of a child – simple, humble, but a servant.”

Pope Francis said the Mass of the Lord’s Supper at the Velletri men’s prison, located about one hour south of the Vatican on the outskirts of Rome.

This was the fifth time in his pontificate Pope Francis celebrated Maundy Thursday Mass at a prison. The first was in 2013, just after becoming pope, when he visited the Casal del Marmo youth detention center.

Subsequent Maundy Thursday Masses have been held at the historic Regina Coeli prison, a center for asylum seekers, Rebibbia prison, and Paliano prison.

In 2014, the pope said Mass at the Don Gnocchi center for the disabled.

After his brief homily, Francis washed the feet of 12 prisoners: one Moroccan, one Ivorian, one Brazilian, and nine Italians. After washing the men’s feet, he kissed each one.

In his homily, the pope explained that Jesus’ gesture of washing the feet of his disciples was that of a servant, because at the time, streets were not paved, and people’s feet would get covered in dust.

Therefore, when they entered a house to visit or share a meal, a servant would wash the feet of the guest, he said. “And Jesus makes this gesture: he washes their feet. He makes the servant’s gesture: He, who had all the power, He, who was the Lord.”

Francis emphasized what happens next in the Gospel: that Jesus turns to his disciples and advises them to do the same to each other.

“In other words, serve one another, be brothers in service, not in ambition, as someone who dominates the other or who tramples on the other, no, be brothers in service,” he urged. “Do you need something, a service? I’ll do it for you.”

This is what real fraternity is like, he said, explaining that the Church asks the bishop to imitate Jesus in the washing of the feet every year on Holy Thursday.

This is because, he said, “the bishop is not the most important, but must be the best servant.”