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Why this Spokane Catholic school is going classical

June 3, 2020 CNA Daily News 0

Spokane, Wash., Jun 3, 2020 / 06:30 pm (CNA).- St. Charles Catholic School in Spokane, Washingon adds its name to a growing list of Catholic schools across the country that hope to find a renewal through an embrace of a classical liberal arts educational model.

St. Charles sits in a part of the Spokane metro area that is thick with Catholic schools. Four other parochial schools are within a ten minute drive from St. Charles. With so many Catholic schools in the area, the question for each school is, “what sets us apart?”

St. Charles’ decision to embrace a classical liberal arts model follows a track record of schools making the same transition. In Denver, Colorado, Our Lady of Lourdes School had only 104 students enrolled when it decided to switch to a classical curriculum. The following year, enrollment increased to 180 and the growth has continued. In the fall of 2018, Lourdes opened a second campus.

St. Charles’ move to classical was not a forgone conclusion; the school has had several changes of leadership over the last few years. In 2019, the school welcomed a new pastor and principal, Fr.  Esteban Soler and principal Heather Schlaich. As school leaders looked at the future of the school, they hoped to bring stability and growth to the school.  

Soler said he “has a heart” for classical liberal education and for the humanities. Growing up in Argentina, the priest was classically educated from 6th grade through high school. For Schlaich, the appeal of a classical liberal arts curriculum was multifaceted.

“In doing our research, we found it is an idea that is spreading nationwide,” she said. The emphasis on the arts also impressed Schlaich, whose background is music education.

“Knowing that we needed something new and exciting in our community, and knowing that there is a need to fill because there isn’t a Catholic elementary school that is classical in Spokane, we felt this is a niche we could fill,” she added.

The decision to fill a niche role with a classical curriculum is expected to help neighboring Catholic schools. Rather than competing for the same pool of students, St. Charles hopes to bring new families into the Catholic school system.

“I’m hoping we meet that need and get more kids into Catholic school,” Schlaich said.

For those who are not familiar with it, the idea of classical education can seem mysterious.  But Schlaich said there is a simple way to define the underlying principle of classical liberal arts education: “I would describe it as an integration of subjects with the faith.”

Explaining further, Soler stressed the unity of the curriculum, all subjects are rooted in faith and in the Catholic vision that all truth comes from God.

“The curriculum is oriented to help the kids to grow in a coherent base, where everything is understood as a whole, before they can go to different specifications.”

A classical education can seem old-fashioned to many, and in a way, it is. The roots of classical curriculum go right back to ancient Greece. The educational model continued to develop in Mediterranean and European countries. The curriculum is not stuck in the past though; technology is incorporated into the classroom on an as-needed basis and the curriculum meets current educational standards, school leaders told CNA.

What about Latin? The students at St. Charles will learn Latin, starting in kindergarten. The study of one or more of the classical languages, Greek or Latin, is a hallmark of classical schools. Soler will teach the students Latin himself, having an extensive background in Latin himself, studying the language for 10 years both in Argentina and in Rome.

Schlaich said that compared to a typical secular, modern school, the focus of a classical school is on “cultivating wisdom and virtue.” The school does this by “teaching the students Latin, exposing them to high quality literature, and focusing on appreciation of beauty, goodness, and truth.”

After the change was announced in the spring of 2020, those in the school community had many questions.  

“I have had a lot of positive feedback, [but] there is anxiety in some people, I would say, because it is a change, and there is anxiety with any change,” Soler noted.

Priest and principal met with families to explain the changes, and while many families are supportive, some have decided to move to neighboring schools.

Heather Morrisson, a parent of St. Charles’ students said she is excited for the change in curriculum. “I love that we are integrating religion into every aspect of the curriculum and I like that we are encouraging critical thinking in the students.”

Schlaich said the response from teachers has also been enthusiastic.

“Our teachers are very loyal,” she said. “They are excited we are going to be digging deeper, looking at deeper meanings.”

Soler said he is looking forward to the adventure of undertaking this change.

“We will be the only Catholic school in the area – not in the state because we have St. Monica on Mercer Island, and there are other schools in the Seattle area looking to make the change – but we will be the only one in the area to make the change.”

Looking to the future, both Soler and Schlaich are hopeful about the transition.

“We are excited,” Fr.  Soler said. “It is a challenge, but overall, I think it will be good. I think it will attract families who are not served by Catholic schools now. The school is part of the life of the parish. The mission of the parish, like every Catholic parish, is to evangelize. I hope the school will help bring the students to a deeper knowledge of Christ.”



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Better to engage WHO than leave, UN observer says 

June 3, 2020 CNA Daily News 0

Denver Newsroom, Jun 3, 2020 / 03:26 am (CNA).- While President Donald Trump has threatened to withdraw the U.S. from the World Health Organization, a better strategy would be engagement and linking U.S. funding to reform, says the head of U.N. advocacy for a pro-life legal group.

“Defund, don’t disengage. Don’t leave. There’s still good that can be done if the U.S. really takes a stand,” Elyssa Koren, director of United Nations advocacy at ADF International, told CNA June 1.

On May 29, President Donald Trump said he would withdraw from the WHO, charging that the agency failed to alert the world when the novel coronavirus emerged. He accused the U.N. agency of helping China cover up the threat.

Last month, Trump put a temporary freeze on U.S. funds during a review of U.S. membership. The U.S. had typically given $400 million per year to the organization, whose budget is about $4.8 billion per year.

“This situation actually warrants a middle-ground approach,” Koren said. “It doesn’t make sense for the U.S. to back out.”

Koren, author of the ADF International white paper “The United Nations Population Fund and the Illicit Promotion of Abortion,” is among the observers who has criticized WHO for its involvement in abortion. She suggested the U.S. could defund the agency without completely cutting ties.

It is not appropriate “for taxpayer dollars to go for abortion in developing world,” she said. However, the U.S. has the ability to make funding dependent on reforms.

“We understand the value of the U.N. We understand the value of the WHO,” she said. According to Koren, the popes “always underscore that there has to be a place for those global conversations to be had.”

“I don’t think recreating these institutions, abandoning one and setting up shop in another, is really going to change the dynamics or avoid the pitfalls,” she said.

Koren said problems in pro-life issues are serious enough to warrant defunding. The WHO’s Department of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Research has as its main funder the International Planned Parenthood Federation, a major abortion advocacy group. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is also heavily involved.

She has found other areas of worry that may be benefitting in part from U.S. funding: “Labeling abortion as an essential response to the pandemic. Listing abortificacients as essential medicines. Home abortions, do-it-yourself abortions. That’s egregious enough that now is the time to defund.”

“American policy under the current administration is that we shouldn’t be using taxpayer dollars to promote abortion abroad,” Koren continued, labeling WHO funding a “fundamental violation” of these policies. “It doesn’t make sense to be giving hundreds of millions of dollars to the WHO if they will be channeling that money into the provision of abortion in these countries.”

This tendency is evident even in the UN global coronavirus response plan, which calls for $2 billion for coronavirus relief.

Koren explained that the United Nations Population Fund, known by the acronym UNFPA, provides Minimum Initial Service Packages. In these packs are instruments used in the context of abortion: vacuum extractors, craniocrasts for the crushing of fetal skills, and drugs to perform abortions.

While the UNFPA would say the equipment is used for complications from miscarriages, Koren said, “that’s largely refuted because it comes with manuals from IBIS, an abortion provider, explaining how they can be used for abortions.”

UNFPA and related agencies has a long history of sending this packages in tandem with abortion referral services.

Koren voiced alarm that the WHO refers to these kits in its coronavirus pandemic plans for Ecuador, which has suffered heavily from the disease and requested priority response from the WHO. It received $8 million in aid.

“Ecuador is a country that doesn’t have abortion. Abortion is illegal,” Koren said.

However, the coronavirus response plan for the country both says that Ecuador should implement legal, safe abortion and says that the MISP kits will be sent.

“It’s very clear that at the end of the day, the implicit or explicit understanding is that Ecuador should legalize abortion if it wants to get money for the coronavirus,” said Koren.

Some groups have asked Trump to reverse his decision to withdraw from the WHO, including the American Medical Association.

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., who heads the Senate Health Committee, said the move could disrupt clinical trials for high-demand vaccines, Politico reports.

“Certainly there needs to be a good, hard look at mistakes the World Health Organization might have made in connection with coronavirus, but the time to do that is after the crisis has been dealt with, not in the middle of it,” he said.

It is unclear whether Trump needs congressional approval to withdraw from WHO. He had told WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus that after 30 days he would make the funding freeze permanent unless unspecified changes took place. However, he announced the move to withdraw only 11 days later.

Asked whether abortion foes would be blamed if WHO faces resource shortages in fighting the novel coronavirus, Ebola or malaria, Koren replied: “I would say ‘isn’t it tragic that the WHO brought this on itself’.”

“We have to be careful not to discredit the good work it’s done in the past,” she said. “But at the end of the day, the primary reason the U.S. defunded it wasn’t on pro-life grounds.”

Koren suggested the U.S. Agency for International Development could distribute aid instead. Beneficiary countries like Ecuador would then take its money from the U.S., without U.N. policy.

However, she acknowledged U.S. policy on foreign aid and abortion could change with the presidential administration.

Citing her 10 years of experience working at the U.N., Koren said pro-life advocates’ goal there is to partner with countries to help make sure their voices are heard. The U.N., in theory, is supposed to listen.

“The member states are supposed to set the agenda. No member state, no matter how small, should be subsumed by the larger voices,” she said. “A vast majority of countries, particularly in the developing world, have highly restrictive laws on abortion.”

Koren said ADF international helps pro-life countries “stand up to the system” and tries to unite countries “to have one pro-life voice.”

“The good news is right now we have a big country on our side: the U.S. is actively working to create pro-life coalitions to stand up to the aggression of the U.N. Bureaucracy.”

She alleged that pro-abortion rights advocates are not working to elevate the voices of member states, but are instead trying to advance their agenda “at all costs” rather than “asking what the countries have to say.”

Some reports call into question President Trump’s claim that the U.N. agency was involved in cover-up. On June 2 the Associated Press reported that while WHO publicly praised China’s response to the new coronavirus, it encountered significant delays in collecting data from the Chinese government. WHO officials were frustrated they did not get the information they needed.

Experts have debated whether WHO should have been more confrontational, or whether that approach would have put it at risk of being kicked out of China.

WHO has agreed to an independent probe of how it handled the global pandemic.

A Department of Homeland Security report dated May 1, acquired by the Associated Press, showed that some U.S. officials believe China covered up the extent of the outbreak and the contagiousness of the new coronavirus in order to stock up on medical supplies.


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Minneapolis archbishop, priests join in prayerful George Floyd protest

June 2, 2020 CNA Daily News 2

Denver Newsroom, Jun 2, 2020 / 05:38 pm (CNA).- Minneapolis clergy, including Archbishop Bernard Hebda of St. Paul-Minneapolis, participated in a silent walking protest Tuesday afternoon to the spot where George Floyd died in police custody last week, stopping to pray at the memorial that had been set up for him.

Hundreds of local leaders from Christian denominations and other religious traditions were present for the prayerful event.

“While many faiths were represented, there was great unity as we prayed for justice and peace,” Archbishop Hebda said in a tweet Tuesday.


It was a great privilege to pray alongside faith leaders #stpfaithleadersforjustice in our communities today both in Minneapolis and Saint Paul. While many faiths were represented, there was great unity as we prayed for justice and peace.

— Bernard Hebda (@ArchbishopHebda) June 2, 2020


Archbishop Hebda had offered a Mass for the soul of George Floyd and for his family May 27.

Other Catholic cergy present included Father Kevin Finnegan, pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish southwest of the city. Father Finnegan was glad to see Archbishop Hebda at the protest, though “he was not at all the center of attention.”

“I ended up being “up front” for the prayer part…not where I intended,” Finnegan told CNA in an email.

“But a [great] place to ask God to grace our community.”

Dozens of cities across the country have seen widespread protests in the wake of the death of George Floyd. Some protests have turned to nights of rioting, or conflicts with police. At least five people have died amid the protests.

In the video of the May 25 arrest, an officer with the Minneapolis Police Department can be seen kneeling on Floyd’s neck for several minutes after the man was taken into custody. Floyd could be heard saying “I can’t breathe” several times. Floyd died soon after.

Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was arrested May 29, and has been charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter. He and the three other officers present at Floyd’s arrest were fired from the Minneapolis Police Department.

Catholics across the Twin Cities have called for justice and unity in the wake of Floyd’s death.


Hundreds join Mpls clergy on silent march to block where George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police officer. Diverse crowd prayed at memorial that has become sacred ground.

— maury glover (@maurygloverFOX9) June 2, 2020


“The love of God, revealed in Jesus Christ, clearly shows us that we are all children of one God, and that we are all equally subjects of Christ our King, in the Kingdom of God our Father. We are all brothers and sisters,” Fr. Erich Rutten, pastor of St. Peter Claver Parish in St. Paul, said in a YouTube message May 27.

“This particular case is so egregious, that it’s just maddening,” Rutten— who shepherds the largest African-American Catholic community in the Twin Cities— told CNA.

“Our faith calls us way beyond racism, into a radical unity, in the Kingdom of God. A Kingdom we’re all brothers and sisters. I mean truly: Really brothers and sisters,” he said.

St. Albert the Great Parish, located in the Longfellow neighborhood, sheltered 34 neighbors as riots destroyed surrounding businesses and damaged homes the night of May 28. Less than a mile from the church, thousands of protesters gathered to burn the Minneapolis Third Police Precinct, many of them inflicting violence on the surrounding area as well.

The Basilica of Saint Mary in Minneapolis sustained fire damage May 29 amid riots in the city, and graffiti was found on the Church of St. Mark in St. Paul, over two miles away from the heart of the violence.