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December 14, 2017
Archive of March 19, 2017

Raymond Arroyo's books are having an astounding impact on at-risk kids

Washington D.C., Mar 19, 2017 (CNA/EWTN News) - Raymond Arroyo has an impressive resume.

He’s a New York Times bestselling author several times over. He’s an award-winning journalist and producer. And his weekly EWTN show, The World Over Live, reaches more than 350 million global households and 500 U.S. radio affiliates.

So when Arroyo says his Will Wilder series of books for young readers just might be “the most important work I’ve ever done,” it’s quite a statement.

What makes these books so important, in his view? The lifelong impact that they can have on kids.

“When an adult reads your work, they hold it at an arm’s length, even if they may be moved by it,” Arroyo told CNA.

“But a child enters that world with abandon. There are no limitations. The journey they go on is more profound, and because of how impressionable they are in that age, this book is helping them make sense of the world, and it becomes the language they’ll use to interpret that world.”

Reaching these young readers at a critical age is Arroyo’s goal with the second installment in his best-selling series, Will Wilder: The Lost Staff of Wonders (Random House Crown), which arrived in bookstores earlier this month.

The importance of childhood literacy is what led Arroyo to found Storyented a few years ago. The initiative, a project of DP Studios, works to connect best-selling authors with their readers, discussing their canon of work, allowing kids to ask questions, and creating online videos that parents and teachers can use to help excite kids about reading.

Arroyo said he hoped to be a sort of “passport agency” to literacy. And his Will Wilder books are doing just that.

St. Stephen’s Catholic School in uptown New Orleans serves many at-risk students. According to the school’s principal, Rosie Kendrick, some of the students don’t even own books, and it has been an immense struggle to encourage them to read.

But that all changed a year ago, when Arroyo visited the school and gave copies of the first Will Wilder book to the students.

“All they wanted to do was talk about the book,” Kendrick said. There were some students whom she had never seen read a book, now reading in the hallways, unable to put it down. “Will Wilder changed their reading habits by making them want to read.”

Arroyo said he was astounded by the book’s impact. Asked why he thought it was so successful, he pointed to two pieces of positive feedback that he was repeatedly given.

The first was that readers loved the idea that Will made mistakes, and that those mistakes had consequences, but that there were ways for him to go back and repair the damage that he had caused.

“That gave them a sense of hope,” Arroyo commented. He added that readers – especially kids from at-risk backgrounds – were reading about the demons that Will battles in the book and projecting onto these demons the challenges and battles of their own lives.

“The real world impact of how they project themselves into the story has really amazed me,” he said, explaining that numerous readers had told him, “Will gave me hope that I could conquer my own demons, that I could overcome the things that I’m struggling with.”

With some 67 percent of fourth graders reading beneath proficiency at the national level – and studies showing a correlation between illiteracy and jail or welfare later in life – the ability to excite kids about reading is no small feat.

“Kids really want to go on a fun adventure,” Arroyo said. If a book is exciting and has a protagonist that kids can identify with, “they want to go on a journey and find out how it ends.”

In the second installment of his young reader series, 12-year-old Will Wilder must find the Staff of Moses, which has vanished from a local museum, before supernatural terrors are unleashed upon his town.

Arroyo said the idea for the story originated after he read a piece in the London Times claiming that the Staff of Moses was actually in a museum in Birmingham, England. While he did not find the argument convincing, it started him thinking: What would happen if the staff was in a museum, and it went missing?

The Will Wilder books have been hailed as containing the excitement of the Indiana Jones and Percy Jackson series. But Arroyo noted that there are a few components that set his series apart.

“All the antiquities and relics mentioned in these books can be found in libraries, museums or churches throughout the world. So that grounds it in a certain reality that other series don’t have.”

In writing the books, he tried to be “excruciatingly accurate” with the descriptions of relics and other antiquities, spending extensive time researching to ensure that the details were correct.  

And kids love this accuracy, Arroyo said. He has received numerous letters and pictures from readers who have gone to museums and found the actual objects and artifacts from his books.

There’s another key point that sets the Will Wilder books apart. Will is not an orphan or an abandoned child. He goes on adventures with his entire intact family, along with his friends.

This was an intentional decision, stemming from Arroyo’s frustrations with was he described as an “orphan trope in middle school books.”

But it also served to give the book a wider appeal. The cast is multi-generational, and so, it turns out, are its readers.

Arroyo said he has heard from children, college students, parents and grandparents who have all enjoyed the first book. He said that while he wrote the series for middle grade students, he included deeper reflections and subplots that adults would appreciate.

Ultimately, there’s a universal sense of wonder at the supernatural world that draws all ages to the story, and makes it great for parents and children to read together, he said.

For parents who want to encourage a reluctant reader, Arroyo offered advice. “The most important thing is to read to your child as early as you can, from the time they’re toddlers.” He also stressed the importance of children seeing their parents read books for pleasure.  

“Kids are great mimics,” he remarked, adding that reading fiction is particularly important because “fiction enlarges the imagination and puts them not only in the shoes but in the hearts and soul of characters and people they’ll never meet. And the lessons they’ll draw from that are lessons you can’t repeat.”

Finally, Arroyo suggested, parents can take their kids to a library or bookstore and give them a chance to browse and find the topics and ideas that fascinate them.

As your children discover their natural interests, feed those interests regularly with good books, he said. “It’s a beautiful thing to see a kid get lost in reading.”


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Don't cut foreign assistance, Catholic leaders tell Trump

Washington D.C., Mar 19, 2017 (CNA/EWTN News) - The United States mustn’t cut foreign aid while conflicts, famines, and a worldwide refugee crisis rage, Catholic leaders are insisting.

Amid a “huge, unprecedented refugee situation” around the globe and four countries with famines or on the cusp of famine “we’re just extremely concerned that the resources won’t be there to respond to those really critical humanitarian needs,” Bill O’Keefe, vice president for government relations and advocacy at Catholic Relief Services, told CNA on Friday of President Donald Trump’s proposed budget that cuts some foreign assistance.

President Trump’s “skinny” proposed “America First” budget for FY 2018 – a more detailed plan will be released later -- increases defense spending and immigration enforcement, and makes significant cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency and the State Department, among other agencies and programs, to offset those increases.

“This includes deep cuts to foreign aid. It is time to prioritize the security and well-being of Americans, and to ask the rest of the world to step up and pay its fair share,” President Trump stated in the proposal.

The proposal trims almost a third – 29 percent – of the International Affairs Budget, David Beckmann, president of the group Bread for the World, told CNA.

And while the number of persons displaced from their homes is at its highest ever recorded at over 65 million, with over 21 million of those refugees, the U.S. should not be cutting its foreign aid to vulnerable populations, CRS insisted.

With huge movements of people comes instability, O’Keefe said. “If we don’t meet” the humanitarian needs of vulnerable populations, “people will move and that will be destabilizing.”

106 faith leaders signed a letter sent to congressional leaders on Thursday in “support for the International Affairs Budget that every day brings hope to poor, hungry, vulnerable and displaced men, women and children around the world.”

Signers of the letter included Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, Bishop Gregory J. Mansour of the Eparchy of Saint Maron of Brooklyn and chairman of the board of Catholic Relief Services, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, and Archbishop Jerome Listecki of Milwaukee.

“With just 1 percent of our nation’s budget, the International Affairs Budget has helped alleviate the suffering of millions; drastically cutting the number of people living in extreme poverty in half, stopping the spread of infectious diseases like HIV/AIDs and Ebola, and nearly eliminating polio,” they stated.

“Additionally, it promotes freedom and human rights, protecting religious freedom for millions around the world.”

In Trump’s budget proposal, foreign assistance would be targeted toward countries of greater “strategic importance” to the U.S.

This shifting of priorities could have serious consequences for the future of U.S. foreign policy, O’Keefe noted, as countries deemed “less strategic” for aid could see their societal problems greatly increase without assistance in the next few years.

“If you ignore countries that are fragile, poorly governed, with lots of poor and disenfranchised people, then they end up becoming strategic countries that you then have to fight wars in,” he said.

“We’d like to see our government investing more in prevention, and in building the capacity of societies to deal with their own problems and in the diplomacy to resolve conflicts without military action.”

He noted that the budget proposal keeps “much of the global health funding” like the PEPFAR program to fight AIDS in Africa, O’Keefe said, which is good.

However, the proposal targeted many other programs like the McGovern-Dole Food for Education Program, which “allows CRS to support basic education in rural school settings,” O’Keefe said. The president had said that program “lacks evidence that it is being effectively implemented to reduce food insecurity.”

The proposal also touches anti-trafficking programs and anti-gang programs, and the State Department’s 60 year-old Food for Peace program would see cuts, CRS noted.

“We understand the budget challenges,” O’Keefe insisted, while adding that “you’re not going to be able to balance the budget on the one percent that goes to foreign aid,” especially since it’s already been trimmed disproportionately for the last nine years.

He added that domestic and international anti-poverty programs have “been squeezed” to make room for military spending, which would prioritize short-term goals over long-term stability.

Some domestic programs saw cuts, including “housing and heating for poor people,” Beckmann noted, and certain block grants that provide funding for the program Meals on Wheels, a volunteer food delivery program to the elderly.

“How can you cut Meals on Wheels?” Beckmann asked.

The president of the organization, Ellie Hollander, explained what may be at stake in the proposal.

“The problem with a skinny budget is it is lean on details. So, while we don’t know the exact impact yet, cuts of any kind to these highly successful and leveraged programs would be a devastating blow to our ability to provide much-needed care for millions of vulnerable seniors in America, which in turn saves billions of dollars in reduced healthcare expenses,” Hollander stated.

Some of the other federal programs the President suggested cutting included the National Endowments for the Arts and the Humanities and some funding for Meals on Wheels and the National Institutes of Health.

Programs fighting opioid addictions would receive a half-a-billion dollar boost in Trump’s plan, however. The Centers for Disease Control has labeled opioid overdoses an epidemic, and said that 33,000 people died from using prescription opioids and heroin in 2015.

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Pope Francis: This Lent, seek the only ‘well’ that satisfies – Christ

Vatican City, Mar 19, 2017 (CNA/EWTN News) - On Sunday Pope Francis said that Lent is the perfect time to remind ourselves of the life-giving water we received at our Baptism, turning away from things of the world, which ultimately leave us unsatisfied.

“The water that gives eternal life has been poured out in our hearts the day of our Baptism; then God has transformed us and filled us by his grace,” Pope Francis said March 19.

“But it may be that we have forgotten this great gift, or reduced it to a mere piece of personal data; and maybe we go in search of ‘wells’ where the water will not quench.”

In this case, Francis said, then this Sunday’s Gospel on the Samaritan woman and her encounter with Jesus at the well is for us. “Jesus speaks to us like the Samaritan woman,” he said.

“Of course, we already know him, but perhaps we have not yet met him in person, and we have not yet recognized him as our Savior.”

Before leading the Angelus, the Pope spoke to a crowd of around 40,000 people in St. Peter’s Square about the encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well as recounted in the fourth chapter of John.

Asking for a drink of water, Jesus, a Jew, begins a dialogue with the woman, the Pope said. She asks why he would deign to ask something of her, a Samaritan. Jesus answers her that he alone can give her “living water, water that satisfies every thirst.”

At first, she thinks it is a type of temporal water that would mean she no longer has to go to the well to draw water. “But Jesus speaks of a different water.”

We are, in some ways, like this woman, he said. “Her thirst for affection and a full life was not satisfied” by the world – in this case, by her five husbands. “We know who Jesus is, but maybe we have not met him in person, talking with him, and we have not yet recognized him as our Savior.”

“This time of Lent is a good time to approach him, meet him in prayer in a heart to heart conversation, see his face in the face of a brother or sister suffering,” Francis explained.

By approaching the Lord in prayer and strengthening our personal relationship with him, he said, “we can renew in us the grace of Baptism, quench our thirst at the source of the Word of God and his Holy Spirit; and so discover the joy of becoming artisans of reconciliation and peace tools in everyday life.”

After the Angelus, the Pope prayed for Peru, which, because of heaving rains in the last few days, has been hit by floods and mudslides, resulting in the deaths of 72 people, BBC News reports.

“I want to assure my closeness to the dear people of Peru, hit hard by devastating floods. I pray for the victims and for those engaged in relief operations,” he said.

The worst floods the country has seen in 30 years, the capital city of Lima has been without water since Monday, services only now being restored, and more than 800 towns and cities have declared a state of emergency, according to BBC News.

Pope Francis also drew attention to the beatification Saturday of Blessed Josef Mayr-Nusser in Bolzano, Italy, who was martyred for his refusal to join the Nazis in faithfulness to the Gospel.

“For his great moral and spiritual stature, he is a model for the lay faithful, especially for dads,” Francis said, “that today we remember with great affection, though the liturgical feast of St. Joseph, their patron.”

Because March 19 is the feast of St. Joseph – also Father’s Day in Italy – Pope Francis concluded with a special greeting for all fathers, asking for a round of applause from the crowd.

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