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Revenge can't heal wounds, Pope Francis tells Burma's Catholics

Tue, 11/28/2017 - 10:03 PM

Yangon, Burma, Nov 28, 2017 / 08:03 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Encouraging Burma's minority Catholic community on Wednesday, Pope Francis preached the forgiveness and compassion of Christ in the face of violence and injury.

“I know that many in Myanmar bear the wounds of violence, wounds both visible and invisible. The temptation is to respond to these injuries with a worldly wisdom that … is deeply flawed. We think that healing can come from anger and revenge. Yet the way of revenge is not the way of Jesus,” the Pope said during his homily at Mass Nov. 29.

Christ “responded with forgiveness and compassion” when “hatred and rejection led him to his passion and death,” Francis reflected during the Mass, said at the Kyaikkasan Ground in Yangon, the largest city of Burma (also known as Myanmar).

“By the gift of his Spirit, Jesus enables us each to be signs of his wisdom, which triumphs over the wisdom of this world, and his mercy, which soothes even the most painful of injuries,” the Pope added.

Francis arrived in Burma Nov. 27, and has already met with military and government officials and with religious leaders. He will remain in the country until midday Nov. 30, when he will travel to neighboring Bangladesh.

Burma was ruled by a military junta for 50 years, and has only recently begun a transition toward democracy. International attention has focused recently on the Rohingya, a predominantly Muslim ethnic minority who have been denied citizenship and who face general persecution. In recent months, more than 600,000 Rohingya have fled the country for Bangladesh amid state-sponsored violence against them.

The country's Christian minority (about one percent of the population) has also faced persecution from the government and the Buddhist majority. The US Commission on International Religious Freedom reported last year that Burmese Christians face discrimination, forced conversions, violence, and the desecration of churches.

Pope Francis' words to the country's Catholics have, therefore, a certain poignancy to them.

“Many of you have come from far and remote mountainous areas, some even on foot. I have come as a fellow pilgrim to listen and to learn from you, as well as to offer you some words of hope and consolation,” he told them.

Christ is “the ultimate interpreter of God’s mysteries,” he said. “Jesus did not teach us his wisdom by long speeches or by grand demonstrations of political or earthly power but by giving his life on the cross.”

“Sometimes we can fall into the trap of believing in our own wisdom, but the truth is we can easily lose our sense of direction. At those times we need to remember that we have a sure compass before us, in the crucified Lord. In the cross, we find the wisdom that can guide our life with the light that comes from God.”

The cross is also a source of healing, Pope Francis taught, exhorting them: “May we always have the wisdom to find in the wounds of Christ the source of all healing!”

Turning to the re-presentation of Christ's sacrifice on the cross, Pope Francis said that in the Eucharist we “learn how to rest in his wounds, and there to be cleansed of all our sins and foolish ways. By taking refuge in Christ’s wounds, dear brothers and sisters, may you know the healing balm of the Father’s mercy and find the strength to bring it to others, to anoint every hurt and every painful memory.”

“In this way, you will be faithful witnesses of the reconciliation and peace that God wants to reign in every human heart and in every community.”

He noted with appreciation that the Church in Burma is already working “to bring the healing balm of God’s mercy to others, especially those most in need. There are clear signs that even with very limited means, many communities are proclaiming the Gospel to other tribal minorities, never forcing or coercing but always inviting and welcoming.”

The Pope commended the local Churches for offering “practical assistance and solidarity to the poor and suffering … regardless of religion or ethnic background.”

“I can see that the Church here is alive, that Christ is alive and here with you and with your brothers and sisters of other Christian communities. I encourage you to keep sharing with others the priceless wisdom that you have received, the love of God welling up in the heart of Jesus.”

Christ “will surely crown your efforts to sow seeds of healing and reconciliation in your families, communities and the wider society of this nation,” he said. “His message of forgiveness and mercy uses a logic that not all will want to understand, and which will encounter obstacles. Yet his love, revealed on the cross, is ultimately unstoppable.”

Pope Francis concluded his homily by invoking Mary, Mother of God, recalling that “she accompanies us at every step of our earthly journey. May she obtain for us the grace always be to messengers of true wisdom, heartfelt mercy to those in need, and the joy that comes from resting in the wounds of Jesus, who loved us to the end.”

“May God bless all of you! May God bless the Church in Myanmar! May he bless this land with his peace! God bless Myanmar!”

Analysis: Cardinal Rai begins strategic call for Saudi religious freedom

Tue, 11/28/2017 - 10:00 PM

Vatican City, Nov 28, 2017 / 08:00 pm (CNA).- The first cardinal to be officially invited to visit Saudi Arabia, Cardinal Bechara Boutros Rai, Maronite Patriarch of Antioch, has begun a strategic call for religious tolerance among the Saudi Arabian royal family.
“I mentioned the importance of the [royal family’s] work for dialogue with the KAICIID, the center for interreligious dialogue based in Vienna. I told them that it was important to have such dialogue in Saudi Arabia, thus implying that they should open to further dialogue,” he told CNA.
Cardinal Rai was in Saudi Arabia Nov. 13-15, and met with Pope Francis Nov. 23 in a private audience to report about the visit.
Although the visit had long been planned, his trip took on more importance after former Lebanese premier Saad Hariri announced his resignation from government while in Riyadh Nov. 4, and remained in the city thereafter.
In Riyadh, Cardinal Rai met King Salman, Prince Mohammed bin Salman and with Hariri.
The meetings were mostly behind closed doors and short, and the official Saudi agency SPA offered the only reports of most meetings. However, the event was groundbreaking, because it was the first official visit of a top-ranked Catholic priest in the holiest territory of Islam, the nation where the cities Medina and Mecca are located.
“I received an official invitation from the King, and I accepted. I was welcomed almost as a head of state, the protocol of the visit was very official,” he said.
The cardinal stressed that Saudi Arabian king and crown prince showed “great openness” toward inter-religious dialogue.
He said that there were already “friendly relations between Saudi Arabia and Lebanon,” considering that “there is a big Lebanese community in Saudi Arabia, very much respected,” and that the Maronite Patriarchate and Saudi king were “very much in good relations.”
Cardinal Rai addressed religious freedom in Saudi Arabia, noting that “Saudi Arabia has not recognized the possibility to build churches or practice Catholicism. The Catholic religion is discreetly practiced in the embassies or in the Apostolic nunciature, and the Saudis know and pretend not to know.”
Cardinal Rai recounted that he told the crown prince that his presence there was already a sign of opening, and that the crown prince responded “that today times have changed, Islam is now spread all over the world, and we are called to be open to other culture and other religions.”
The cardinal said that, rather than tackling the issue of religious freedom directly, he expressed appreciation that Saudi Arabia established its center for inter-religious dialogue in Vienna.
The cardinal was referring to KAICIID, the King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz International Center for Inter-religious and Intercultural Dialogue. Established in 2012, it is funded by Saudi Arabia with Austria and Spain as cofounder states. The Holy See is a founding observer of the center.
Cardinal Rai praised the fact that Saudi Arabia has “already practiced inter-religious dialogue with the center.”

This, he said, was “an indirect way to tell him that it is time to have this inter-religious dialogue also in their homeland,” he maintained.
Cardinal Rai also explained to the Saudis that Lebanon is a “model that shows how Islam and Christianity can live together, because Christians and Muslims are equal in Lebanon, they jointly manage power and the separate state and religion.”
The Maronite Patriarch also noted that Lebanon is “a light of hope for Christians in the Middle East,” since Christians in other nations live in fear of persecution, and often flee their homelands.
“We encourage Christians to stay [in their homelands], we tell them that Christianity has been in the Middle East for 2000 years. Saudi Arabia was Christian at the beginning, and Christian culture was present in Saudi Arabia 600 years before Islam,” Cardinal Rai said.
He added that “these words are not enough when there is war, fear, economic crisis and diaspora.”
The situation in the Middle East, and the appeal for Christians to stay, was emphasized in Ecclesia In Medio Oriente, Benedict XVI’s 2012 post-synodal apostolic exhortation, which followed a Special Synod for the Middle East.
“The Synod for the Middle East was a Benedict XVI’s prophetic act,” Cardinal Rai said. “But there is no more conscience, the conscience is dead. States seek their own interests, whether they are economical, political, strategic or commercial interests. They do not listen to the Church’s words.”
Despite this, the cardinal concluded, “the Church must speak out to shake up consciences. She cannot stay silent.”

Memorial Mass held in US for victims of Islamic State

Tue, 11/28/2017 - 9:26 PM

Washington D.C., Nov 28, 2017 / 07:26 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- In observance of a week promoting awareness of Christians persecuted internationally, the Chaldean Archbishop of Erbil offered a Mass in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday for victims of the Islamic State, stating that suffering offer opportunities for kindness.

“Is there a blessing in being persecuted for the faith?” Archbishop Bashar Warda asked Nov. 28.

“The grace of being persecuted: God shows his love and care through the solidarity being shown by those outside. Also, the suffering gives a chance to people of a good will to show their love.”

Organized by Catholic agencies including Knights of Columbus and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Mass was held at the Saint John Paul II National Shrine in Washington, D.C. A day of prayer was held on the previous Sunday for Islamic State victims, all part of “Solidarity in Suffering: a Week of Awareness for Persecuted Christians.”

Islamic State invaded Iraq in 2014, forcing a large majority of Christians to seek refuge in or near Erbil. There, Archbishop Warda has helped displaced Christians return to their homes and has overseen a humanitarian efforts to provide basic necessities for displaced communities.

Although it is not the positive will of God for his people to suffer, he said, it is an opportunity for Christians to learn how to love and to find their identity in God.

“When we give with love and receive with love, we learn to be the children of God who gives with love and delights in our prayers,” he said.

Archbishop Warda applauded a promise of US vice president Mike Pence to provide more aid to the people in Iraq, and thanked the humanitarian aid funded thus far by the Knights of Columbus.

The Knights of Columbus has committed more $17 million to aid minorities persecuted in the Middle East, including $2 million to help rebuild the predominantly Christian town of Karemlesh, located fewer than 20 miles southeast of Mosul.

An Irish virtual calendar for an authentic Advent

Tue, 11/28/2017 - 7:00 PM

Armagh, Northern Ireland, Nov 28, 2017 / 05:00 pm (CNA).- Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh, Northern Ireland, and Primate of All Ireland, has launched a 2017 virtual Advent calendar, saying that the online prayers and reflections will help parishioners spiritually prepare for this Christmas season.  

“The season of Advent marks the beginning of the Catholic year and the time of spiritual preparation for the Lord’s coming at Christmas. It is a time of waiting, conversion and hope.”

“Our online calendar is a helpful resource in this journey,” Archbishop Martin told Derry Now.

The online calendar will include virtual “doors” which can be opened daily for prayers and reflections. In preparation for the 2018 World Meeting of Families in Dublin, the calendar will also provide prayers for the entire family and suggested acts of charity.

The calendar will be available online on Dec. 3, the first Sunday of Advent.

“Pope Francis has described the family as the first school, the nearest hospital and the best place to grow old,” he said, noting that specific attention this Advent should be given to Amoris Laetitia.

This season, he said, is a greater opportunity to reflect on the gift families are to their communities, and applauded an Amoris based program - Let’s Talk Family, Let’s Be Family - also available online.

Archbishop Martin said that “as Christians, we must always be prepared for the coming of the Lord” but that the process takes time and efforts to set aside the busy holiday schedule.  

“Preparation does not happen at once but over time and so each day of Advent amounts to a period of time which allows us to journey and reflect on the joy of the Gospel,” he said. “I encourage the faithful, notwithstanding our hectic schedule over the coming weeks, to make time to pray – alone, and with their family.”

What are banned from DC buses? Catholic Christmas ads.

Tue, 11/28/2017 - 7:00 PM

Washington D.C., Nov 28, 2017 / 05:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Christmas-themed ads about the “perfect gift” of the Advent season have been wrongly barred from District of Columbia buses, the Archdiocese of Washington has said in a lawsuit challenging a policy of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority against religious ads.

“Really the issue here isn’t so much our specific ad, or how we present it,” said Ed McFadden, the archdiocese’s secretary for communications. “It’s shutting down our ability to promote our faith or to share our faith in the public square, that is really what we’re talking about here.”

McFadden told CNA Nov. 28 that the ad policy removes “any respectable promotion of faith in the public square.”

“We believe that that’s just a violation of our First Amendment rights,” he said.

The advertisement depicts the silhouette of shepherds against a night sky in which an apparent Star of Bethlehem is shining. The ad reads “Find the perfect gift,” adding the website and the hashtag “#PerfectGift.”

The website describes Christ as “the perfect gift” and exhorts the visitor to “Find the perfect gift of God’s love this Christmas.” It invites visitors to Mass and hosts a video reflection from Fr. Conrad Murphy,  the archdiocese’s director of worship, about his favorite Christmas carol.

The site links to Christmas Mass times and Advent and Christmas traditions, as well as opportunities to give to families in need or volunteer to serve the homeless or others through Catholic Charities.

Metro spokeswoman Sherry Ly said that the agency’s advertising policy changed in 2015 to ban “issue-oriented advertising, including political, religious and advocacy advertising.”

“The ad in question was declined because it is prohibited by WMATA’s current advertising guidelines,” Ly said, according to the D.C.-based news radio station WTOP.

The transit agency in previous legal filings has said it rejected other ads, like those against trafficking wildlife, anti-prostitution ads, and Birthright Israel ads.

However, the archdiocese’s lawsuit noted that the agency has accepted ads for yoga and for the Salvation Army, a Protestant religious movement famous for its red kettle charitable campaigns ahead of Christmas.

According to McFadden, WMATA’s legal counsel had said the archdiocese’s ad “depicts a religious scene and thus seeks to promote religion.”

Kim Fiorentino, archdiocese chancellor and general counsel, said the archdiocese believes rejection of the ad is “a clear violation of fundamental free speech and a limitation on the exercise of our faith.”

“We look forward to presenting our case to affirm the right of all to express such viewpoints in the public square,” Fiorentino said in a statement.

The archdiocese has made a separate agreement to place similar ads on the District of Columbia’s bus shelters, whose advertising is operated by Clear Channel Outdoor.  These ads contain a Bible verse.

McFadden said the archdiocese has been using bus ads for major campaigns for close to ten years. City traffic creates a “captive audience” and the buses tend to go into areas that lack bus shelters.

“This is our best way to reach different communities where other forms of media aren’t necessarily available on the street,” he said. The campaign strategy promotes ads on multiple platforms to remind people about Christmas and perhaps encourage them to go to Christmas Mass or volunteer to help others.

In McFadden’s view, the proposed WMATA ad was “comparatively mild” in terms of promulgating religion.

“This ad campaign is really just as much about the joy of the holiday season, reminding people why we do what we do, but also giving them the option to help their neighbor through various volunteer efforts,” he said. “This wasn’t simply about going back to Mass, this was also about trying to be a positive voice in the community at the time when we probably need it.”

Susan Timoney, secretary for pastoral ministry and social concerns for the archdiocese, was among those who helped develop the campaign.

“Our ad was designed to be placed on metro bus exteriors to reach the broadest audience and to invite everyone to experience the well-accepted joyful spirit of the season, or to share their many blessings with others less fortunate through service opportunities,” she said.

Timoney said the archdiocese wanted to encourage society to help care for “our most vulnerable neighbors,” to “share our blessings,” and to “welcome all who wish to hear the Good News.”


Congolese bishops urge President Kabila to announce peaceful transfer of power

Tue, 11/28/2017 - 4:00 PM

Brazzaville, Republic of the Congo, Nov 28, 2017 / 02:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Catholic bishops of the Democratic Republic of Congo have requested that President Joseph Kabila affirm that he will not claim a third term of presidency at the conclusion of his constitutionally-limited two terms in power.

“We urge you to reassure the public opinion by a public statement that you will not be a candidate for your own succession,” read a statement from the National Episcopal Conference of Congo (CENCO) on Monday.

“We are convinced that this would contribute to easing political tensions,” the statement continued.

President Kabila has been in power since 2001, when his father Laurent Kabila was assassinated. His two-term limit expired in December 2016, but he has refused to step down and did not allow elections for the next president.  A Dec. 31 agreement between Kabila’s government and opposition parties calls for elections to be held by the end of 2017

The bishops conference, CENCO, aided in negotiating the so-called New Year’s Eve Agreement.  
However, observers say the terms of the deal have not been upheld, and Kabila has cited reasons to stall ongoing negotiations, and the election.

“CENCO wishes to remind all political actors and the entire Congolese people that the New Year’s Eve Agreement is not dead,” said the bishops.

“It is and remains the only consensual roadmap to emerge from this political crisis that has lasted too long,” they continued.

On Tuesday, the UN urged the country to hold elections in December 2018 in order to peacefully maneuver the transition of power, and Congo’s elections authority says a vote will take place before then.

“The members of the Security Council emphasized the critical importance of ensuring the elections are not postponed further,” read a statement from the UN Security Council.

The UN also encouraged that the next elections be held “with the requisite conditions of transparency, credibility and inclusivity, and lead to a peaceful transfer of power.”

Kabila’s refusal to stand down has escalated political violence within the country. The Congolese bishops noted their disappointment with the ongoing negotiations with Kabila, saying the country’s citizens are suffering the consequences of his intransigence.

“The political imbroglio and the suffering of the population which results from it exceed the tolerable threshold. We are deeply disappointed to find ourselves in the same context of tension as at the end of 2016,” the bishops said.

“The people will not tolerate this being repeated in 2018.”

Could Catholic actor Eduardo Verastegui be the next President of Mexico?

Tue, 11/28/2017 - 8:00 AM

Mexico City, Mexico, Nov 28, 2017 / 06:00 am (CNA).- Several Mexican media outlets reported on Nov. 24 that Eduardo Verastegui, internationally known Catholic actor and producer, could be a serious candidate in the country’s 2018 presidential elections.

“Eduardo Verastegui could be the Social Encounter Party candidate in 2018” an El Universal headline read.  

On the same day, El Debate led with “Eduardo Verastegui, a candidate for the presidency in 2018?”  

Mexican media speculated on the possibility of Verastegui’s candidacy after statements made by the president of the Social Encounter Party, Hugo Eric Flores, who confirmed to the press that he is in “conversations” with the Catholic actor and producer for an “important” position on their slate of candidates.

If his candidacy is confirmed, Verastegui would not be the first to take the unusual route from acting to the presidency; Ronald Reagan who served as U.S. president from January 1981 to January 1989, had a decades-long film career before entering politics.

The Social Encounter Party is the newest national party in Mexico, officially registering in 2014. This will be the first time that it participates in the country’s presidential elections.

The new party says it wants to “reconcile political activity with the ethical principles and values based in the building block of society: the family.”

Since the rediscovery of his Catholic faith 15 years ago in Hollywood, Verastegui has pushed for the right to life of the unborn, the strengthening of marriage and family, and religious freedom.  These principles align with the platform of the Social Encounter Party.  

To further these goals, Verastegui founded the production company Metanoia Films, along with associates Alejandro Gomez Monteverde and Leo Severino. The company was created to propagate the values of life and marriage and family in order to “reach people’s hearts and minds.”

Their first production, “Bella” directed by Alejandro Monteverde, and starring Verastegui, won the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2006. The film depicts a journey to redemption involving the central characters’ commitment to the right to life of an unborn child.

Their most recent project is the movie “Little Boy,” in which a young boy learns how to live the virtues, starting with faith, and in turn teaches them to others.  The film became a blockbuster in Mexico.

Verastegui is now developing “Sound of Freedom,” a film which addresses the trafficking of children for sexual exploitation. The film, which is in pre-production, traces the true story of Tim Ballard, a former Department of Homeland Security agent. Ballard quit his job to launch an international organization aiming to rescue children who had been kidnapped for the purposes of sexual exploitation.

Verastegui told ACI Prensa that “the story is hard hitting, full of hope and very encouraging. Ballard is acting as an adviser to the project and I’m sure the film will help liberate thousands and thousands of children enslaved right here in the 21st century.”

Metanoia Films has also completed a documentary entitled “The Other Party” which addresses the issue of crime prevention in Mexico. Verastegui has a tour planned to premiere the documentary in 20 Mexican cities, encouraging public dialogue on personal safety, one the greatest concerns to the Mexican electorate.

Besides his performance as an actor and work as a producer, Verastegui has been promoting life, the family and religious freedom through numerous solidarity initiatives, especially those developed by his non-profit organization “Manto de Guadalupe” --The Mantle of Guadalupe—and the pro-life clinic, Guadalupe Medical Center, which opened its doors in Los Angeles on August 10, 2010.

In addition, the Catholic actor and producer is president of the “Let’s be Heroes” foundation dedicated to encouraging volunteerism throughout the world.

Verastegui has not confirmed whether he will run for any political position, or his affiliation with the Social Encounter Party.

This article was originally published by our sister agency, ACI Prensa. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.


Pope in Burma: Peace requires justice, respect for human rights

Tue, 11/28/2017 - 6:13 AM

Naypyitaw, Burma, Nov 28, 2017 / 04:13 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In a major speech in Burma, Pope Francis told the nation's leaders to leave conflict behind and work for peace by promoting justice and respect for the rights of all citizens, regardless of religion or ethnicity.

“The arduous process of peace-building and national reconciliation can only advance through a commitment to justice and respect for human rights,” the Pope told Burmese civil authorities Nov. 28.

Speaking from the capital of Naypyitaw on the first full day of a six-day visit to Burma and Bangladesh, Francis noted how justice is historically understood as “a steadfast will to give each person his due,” and is often viewed as “the basis of all true and lasting peace.”

This understanding is what, after the experience of two world wars, led to the formation of the United Nations and their subsequent declaration on human rights as the foundation for global efforts to promote justice, peace and human development, and to resolve conflict through dialogue, “not the use of force.”

With a past marred by internal conflict and a present filled with ongoing political tensions, Pope Francis said the future of Burma “must be peace.” This peace, he said, must be “based on respect for the dignity and rights of each member of society,” as well as respect “for each ethnic group and its identity.”

It must also be founded on a keen respect “for the rule of law, and respect for a democratic order that enables each individual and every group – none excluded – to offer its legitimate contribution to the common good.”

Pope Francis landed in Yangon Nov. 27 for the first phase of his third tour of Asia, which will take him to both Burma – also called Myanmar – and Bangladesh. He will be in Burma Nov. 27-30, and will visit two cities before moving on to Dhaka, Bangladesh, where he will stay Nov. 30-Dec. 2.

His visit to Burma, in particular, is significant not only because the country has a small Christian minority, but also due to a contentious political situation that has roots in both a recent regime change and an ongoing crisis over their minority Rohingya Muslim population.

Francis' visit comes amid a spike in state-supported violence against the Rohingya, the largely Muslim ethnic group who reside in Burma's Rakhine State. The staggering scope of the crisis has prompted the U.N. to declare the situation “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”

The Burmese government refuses to recognize the Rohingya, and considers them illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. They have been denied citizenship since Burma gained independence in 1948.

Facing heightened persecution in their home country, many Rohingya have fled to neighboring Bangladesh, with millions camping along the border as refugees. More than 600,000 Rohingya have fled Burma for Bangladesh in the past few months alone.

The Pope's visit also falls as Burmese officials continue to work out a recent transition to democracy after more than 50 years of military dictatorship, which began to come unhinged as democratic reforms started taking root in 2011.

In November 2015, Aung San Suu Kyi, who belongs to the National League for Democracy, was elected by an overwhelming majority, putting an end to military rule.

However, despite the win, she is still barred from officially becoming president, and holds the title of “State Counsellor” and Foreign Minister, while a close associate is acting as president. The military also still wields considerable political authority, including the appointment of cabinet ministers, and one-quarter of the nation’s legislature, making the ongoing transition rocky.

In his speech to Aung San Suu Kyi, civil authorities and the diplomatic corps in Burma, Pope Francis praised the efforts of all those working to build “a just, reconciled and inclusive social order” in the country.

While Burma is known for its beauty and natural resources, the nation's greatest treasure are its people, he said, noting that they have suffered and continue to suffer from civil hostilities “that have lasted all too long and created deep divisions.”

“As the nation now works to restore peace, the healing of those wounds must be a paramount political and spiritual priority,” he said.

To this end, Francis said the country's various religious traditions and its youth will have key roles to play in working toward national reconciliation and building a better, more just future.

Religious differences in Burma, a majority Buddhist country, “need not be a source of division and distrust, but rather a force for unity, forgiveness, tolerance and wise nation-building,” he said, adding that religions can play an important role in healing the emotional, spiritual and psychological wounds of years of unrest.

“They can help to uproot the causes of conflict, build bridges of dialogue, seek justice and be a prophetic voice for all who suffer,” he said, and pointed to current joint efforts among religions to work together in peace efforts through education, assistance to the poor and in promoting human values.

By seeking to build a culture of encounter and solidarity, religions contribute to the common good and lay “the indispensable moral foundations for a future of hope and prosperity for coming generations.”

Youth also have an essential role to play, the Pope said, calling them “a gift to be cherished and encouraged, an investment that will yield a rich return if only they are given real opportunities for employment and quality education.”

This attention to youth is “an urgent requirement of inter-generational justice,” he said, noting that the future of the nation is changing at an increasing pace.

Given these rapid changes, youth will need to be trained not only in the technical field, but also in “the ethical values of honesty, integrity and human solidarity that can ensure the consolidation of democracy and the growth of unity and peace at every level of society,” he said.

Future generations must also be guaranteed that the natural environment and beauty Burma enjoys is “unspoilt by human greed and depredation,” he said, and stressed the importance of not allowing youth to be “robbed of hope and of the chance to employ their idealism and talents in shaping the future of their country and, indeed, our entire human family.”

Pope Francis closed his speech encouraging fellow Catholics in the country to persevere in faith and to continue spreading a message of “reconciliation and brotherhood” through both charitable and humanitarian works.

“It is my hope that, in respectful cooperation with the followers of other religions, and all men and women of good will, they will help to open a new era of concord and progress for the people of this beloved nation,” he said.

Thanking his audience for their attention and service to the common good, he said “long live Myanmar!” and asked God to bless its leaders with “wisdom, strength and peace.”

In a speech to Pope Francis, Aung San Suu Kyi told the Pope that “you bring us strength and hope in your understanding of our need, our longing, for peace, national reconciliation and social harmony.”

She said his words on justice resonate, and serve as a “reminder that in our quest for peace we must be guided by the wisdom and aspirations of our fathers.”

Burma currently faces various challenges, Aung San Suu Kyi said, noting how the country is made up of people from various ethnic and religious backgrounds.

“It is the aim of our Government to bring out the beauty of our diversity and to make it our strength, by protecting rights, fostering tolerance, ensuring security for all,” she said, adding that the road to peace is not always smooth, but is the only way to ensure the people of a “just and prosperous land.”

Among the greatest of the challenges the nation faces is the refugee crisis involving Rohingya Muslims from Burma's Rakhine State, she said, adding that the Pope's “compassion and encouragement” for the situation “will be treasured” as the country seeks to address the longstanding social, economic and political issues that have “eroded” trust, understanding and cooperation between different communities in the area.

Aung San Suu Kyi closed her speech saying the Pope's blessing will be shared by everyone in Burma as they seek to spread “goodwill and joy” throughout the nation.

The nation's leaders “will strive to discharge our duties with probity and humility,” she said, adding, “we wish to leave to the future a people united and at peace, secure in their capacity to grow and prosper in a changing world; a compassionate and generous people, always ready to hold out a helping hand to those in need; a people strong in skills and whole in spirit.”

“The road ahead is long,” she said, “but we will walk it with confidence, trusting in the power of peace, love and joy.”


Pope stresses peace in unscheduled meeting with Burma's religious leaders

Tue, 11/28/2017 - 5:50 AM

Yangon, Burma, Nov 28, 2017 / 03:50 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In an impromptu meeting on Tuesday morning, Pope Francis urged religious leaders in Burma to work toward peace, each according to the gifts and traditions of their faith.

“Each one of you has their values, their wealth, and also their shortcomings. And each confession has its richness, its tradition, its wealth to give. And this can only be if we live in peace,” the Pope said Nov. 28.

Peace itself is built “in the chorus of differences,” he said.

On the morning of the first full day of his visit to Burma - also known as Myanmar - Nov. 27-30, Pope Francis met with religious leaders at the residence of Cardinal Charles Maung Bo of Yangon, in what was an unscheduled meeting.

The meeting included 17 interreligious leaders from the Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish, Muslim, Anglican, Baptist and Catholic faiths. After a short introduction from Catholic bishop John Hsane Hgyi, a leader from each faith gave a short speech, followed by the off-the-cuff address of Pope Francis.

The Pope’s visit comes amid an uptick in state-supported violence against the Rohingya, a largely Muslim ethnic group who reside in Burma's Rakhine State. In recent months, the violence has reached staggering levels, causing the United Nations to declare the situation “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”

In May, a senior United Nations envoy warned that the country was failing to stop the spread of religious violence.

In his discourse, Francis said that when the leaders were speaking, it brought to his mind a prayer from the Book of Psalms that says “how beautiful it is to see brothers united.”

He stressed, however, that to be united does not require uniformity, but rather that we must “understand the richness of our ethnic religious and popular differences...and from these differences” create a dialogue.

Pointing to the great geographical and natural wealth of Burma, he said they can learn from each other “as brothers,” in what ways each faith is helping to build the country.

He then thanked the leaders for coming to meet him at the place he was staying, since he was the one who had come to Burma to meet them. He also recited a few verses of the well-known prayer from the Book of Numbers, which he called “an old blessing that includes everyone.”

“May the Lord bless you and protect you. May his face shine upon you and show you his grace. May you discover his face and may he grant you peace,” he prayed.

After the meeting, Pope Francis also met briefly with the Buddhist leader Sitagou Sayadaw before celebrating Mass in private and then continuing on to his meeting with the president.


Across Ireland, Catholics pray rosary to strengthen pro-life cause

Tue, 11/28/2017 - 2:03 AM

Dublin, Ireland, Nov 28, 2017 / 12:03 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Hundreds of groups of Catholics gathered across the island of Ireland on Sunday to pray the Rosary for the preservation of the Catholic faith and for the defense of life against the threat of abortion.

“Firstly, we thank Christ our King, and the Most Immaculate Heart of Mary, Queen of Ireland for all the graces and blessings,” Rosary on the Coast for Life and Faith organizers said on the group’s Facebook page Nov. 27. “From the bottom of our hearts we humbly thank everyone who organized one of the 300 plus locations around the coastlines of our beautiful country.”

“We are incredibly grateful to each and every one of you, that braved the elements to pray for the protection of life, from conception to natural death, and for the preservation and increase in faith in Ireland,” they said.

The events took place both in Northern Ireland, which is legally part of the United Kingdom, and in the Republic of Ireland at 2:30 p.m. Sunday afternoon, the feast of Christ the King.

Secular tendencies have increased in Ireland, especially in the Republic.

The Republic of Ireland’s national constitution recognizes the right to life of the unborn child under the Eighth Amendment, approved in a 1983 referendum by 67 percent of voters. However, the amendment has been targeted for repeal by pro-abortion rights advocates, and public opinion appears to have shifted against it.

Unlike other parts of the U.K., Northern Ireland’s laws only permit abortion in cases where a woman’s life is at risk, or where there is a permanent or serious risk to her mental or physical health. Pro-abortion activists are working to make these laws more permissive.

One organizer of the all-Ireland rosary, Kathy Sinnott, co-hosts EWTN’s Celtic Connections radio show. She spoke with the National Catholic Register ahead of the event.

“Whatever happens in one half is going to affect the whole,” she said. “In terms of the threat to life, we’re one island.”

She also reflected on the prayer intention for the preservation of faith.

“If our faith is strong, we wouldn’t be even looking at abortion,” she said, adding that organizers want “the blossoming of the faith, once again, in the hearts, in the souls, in the minds and in the lives of the Irish.”

Organizers cited various motives for the event, including the 100th anniversary year of the Our Lady of Fatima apparitions; a 33-day personal consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary that is currently ongoing; and the Polish and Italian versions of the Rosary on the Borders.

Activist group apologizes to priest after lawsuit dismissed

Mon, 11/27/2017 - 10:19 PM

St. Louis, Mo., Nov 27, 2017 / 08:19 pm (CNA).- An advocacy group has issued an apology to a St. Louis priest for "any false or inaccurate statements" regarding allegations of abuse, after criminal charges against him were dropped and subsequent lawsuits were settled or dismissed.

The Archdiocese of St. Louis published the apology from the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) on Monday.

“The SNAP defendants never want to see anyone falsely accused of a crime. Admittedly, false reports of clergy sexual abuse do occur. The SNAP defendants have no personal knowledge as to the complaints against Fr. Joseph Jiang and acknowledge that all matters and claims against Fr. Jiang have either been dismissed or adjudicated in favor of Fr. Jiang,” the group stated.

SNAP also apologized for the harm that false accusations can cause to the priest as well as to the Catholic Church as a whole.

“SNAP apologizes for any false or inaccurate statements related to the complaints against Fr. Joseph Jiang that it or its representatives made which in any way disparaged Fr. Joseph Jiang, Archbishop Robert J. Carlson, Monsignor Joseph D. Pins and the Archdiocese of St. Louis,” the group stated.

A statement from the Archdiocese of St. Louis said the apology was issued “as part of a settlement with the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) in a defamation lawsuit filed by Father Jiang in 2015.”

Criminal charges filed against Father Xiu Hui “Joseph” Jiang, after an allegation of abuse, were dismissed in 2015. Jiang had also passed a polygraph test, during which he denied that he had ever abused a minor, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.  

Following the dismissal of the charges, Jiang filed a lawsuit against SNAP officials and against the parents of the minor, on the grounds that the false accusations had had a detrimental impact on his life.  

In 2016, a federal judge ruled that SNAP had made false statements against Fr. Jiang “negligently and with reckless disregard for the truth.” The first part of the lawsuit with SNAP and the parents of the minor was settled last month. A federal judge dismissed the second part of the case earlier this month, on the grounds that too much time had passed before Jiang decided to add the additional parties to the lawsuit.

Fr. Jiang had been previously accused of improper contact with a teenage girl who attended the Basilica of St. Louis, where he was associate pastor. Charges of child endangerment and witness tampering were dropped in 2013.

In January of this year, a former SNAP employee, Gretchen Rachel Hammond, filed suit against the organization, claiming that SNAP accepts “kickbacks” from plaintiffs’ attorneys to whom it refers alleged victims.  SNAP denied those claims, but SNAP president Barbara Blaine resigned from the organization shortly after the suit was filed.

“SNAP does not focus on protecting or helping survivors – it exploits them,” Hammond said in the lawsuit.

South Sudan joins Pope Francis in prayers for peace

Mon, 11/27/2017 - 9:00 PM

Juba, South Sudan, Nov 27, 2017 / 07:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Catholic bishops of South Sudan urged Catholics to join Pope Francis in a prayer for peace in the newest African country, which has been entrenched in a three yearslong civil war.

On Nov. 23, Pope Francis presided over a prayer service at the Vatican for South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The event was organized by the humanitarian organization “Solidarity with South Sudan.”

“Let us pray with our Holy Father for the grace to see every human being as a child of God, regardless of tribe, regional attributes, race, language or culture,” Bishop Barani Eduardo Hiiboro Kussala of Tombura-Yambio, President of the Conference of Catholic Bishops in Sudan and South Sudan, said in a statement released Thursday.

“We have to pray together with Pope Francis indeed for the wisdom to receive the stories and experiences of those different from ourselves and to respond with respect.”

Bishop Kussala, has continually called for respectful dialogue, during the civil war, which has forced millions to flee, fight, or starve.

Just years after the country gained its freedom in 2011, South Sudan was launched into a civil war between forces loyal to President Salva Kirr, and those loyal to former vice-president Reik Machar.  The conflict’s cause is complex; decades of ethnic disputes, political factionalism, economic hardship, and corruption have led to a brutal war, and Africa’s largest refugee crisis.

Around 4 million South Sudanese have fled the country looking for safety, food, and stability. In February, a UN-backed report declared the country to be in a state of manmade famine. Even after increased in aid lifted the country out of famine in July, the UN’s Integrated Food Security Phase Classification says that 1.7 million people still face emergency levels of hunger.

Bishop Kussala encouraged the country’s people to pray for increased compassion, so that healing might take place where ethnic rivalries have sown hatred.

“We pray with Pope Francis for solidarity and true compassion in our human family, that we may work together to protect those who are most vulnerable and most in need,” Bishop Barani said.

Additionally, Bishop Kussala urged Catholics to pray for the country’s clergy, especially the dioceses still in need of bishops.

“With Pope Francis let us pray for our faith community, our dioceses, also that God may give us new Bishops into the four vacant dioceses of Malakal, Torit, Rumbek, Wau.”

Bishop Kussala concluded the message with a prayer, asking God to protect and guide the South Sudanese to long-lasting peace.

“May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit inspire and guide all our families as we sail through the stormy times in our countries into true durable peace.”

Why priests can’t break the seal of confession, despite UK lawyers’ recommendation

Mon, 11/27/2017 - 6:50 PM

London, England, Nov 27, 2017 / 04:50 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Lawyers in the United Kingdom have recommended that mandatory reporting laws apply to priests in the confessional, in order to curb incidents of child sexual abuse.

The recommendation came during an investigation of Benedictine abbeys and their associated schools, after numerous victims came forward alleging clergy at the schools had committed acts of child sexual abuse.

Richard Scorer, a representative with the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA), said during a hearing that mandatory reporting laws should apply even to information bound by the seal of confession.  

“A mandatory reporting law would have changed their behaviour,” Scorer said, according to The Guardian. “At Downside Abbey, abuse was discovered but not reported, and abusers were left to free to abuse again and great harm was done to victims.”

“The Catholic Church purports to be a moral beacon for others around it yet these clerical sex abuse cases profoundly undermine it … Why has the temptation to cover up abuse been particularly acute in organisations forming part of the Roman Catholic church?”

David Enright, a lawyer representing numerous victims in the investigation, echoed Scorer’s sentiments.

“Matters revealed in confession, including child abuse, cannot be used in governance,” Enright told The Guardian. “One can’t think of a more serious obstacle embedded in the law of the Catholic church to achieving child protection.”

The seal of confession often arises during cases of the abuse of minors in the Church.

According to Church law, a priest is under the gravest obligation not to reveal the contents of a confession, or even whether a confession took place. He cannot do so even under threat of imprisonment or civil penalty, and can incur a latae sententiae excommunication if he breaks the seal of confession.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 1467, explains the Church’s view on the seal of confession:

“Given the delicacy and greatness of this ministry and the respect due to persons, the Church declares that every priest who hears confessions is bound under very severe penalties to keep absolute secrecy regarding the sins that his penitents have confessed to him. He can make no use of knowledge that confession gives him about penitents' lives.”

The Church has long taught that allowing violations of the seal of confession would discourage the confession of sins, and prevent penitents from seeking forgiveness and rectifying their lives.

According to the Code of Canon Law, “a confessor who directly violates the sacramental seal incurs a latae sententiae excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See; one who does so only indirectly is to be punished according to the gravity of the delict.”

In 2016, the Supreme Court of Louisiana heard a similar case, in which a priest was asked to reveal the contents of a confession of a minor, which he was alleged to have heard. The court upheld the priest’s right to the seal of confession. Louisiana’s law makes an exemption for priests as mandatory reporters in cases of abuse of minors  if he “under the discipline or tenets of the church, denomination, or organization has a duty to keep such communication confidential.”

Earlier this year, the bishops of Australia indicated that they would resist the Royal Commission's proposal to criminally punish priests who do not break the seal of confession in cases involving the abuse of minors. The proposal was made in response to a widespread clerical sex abuse scandal that broke in the country in recent years.

While the Catholic Church upholds the seal of confession, it also recognizes clerical abuse of minors as criminal and gravely sinful.

In recent years, the Vatican has expanded its efforts to protect children from sexual abuse. In 2001, the Church issued norms strengthening its approach to prosecuting crimes committed against children, requiring that allegations of abuse be forwarded to civil authorities and to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF).  

In March 2012, Pope Benedict XVI issued guidelines to prevent abuse of minors and to involve the faithful in abuse prevention.

Pope Francis has continued these efforts during his pontificate, creating a special group within the CDF to hear the cases of high-ranking clerics charged with the most serious crimes. He has also begun to study the possibility of introducing to canon law the crime of “abuse of office” for bishops who fail to fulfill their responsibilities to prosecute sex abuse.

In addition to disciplinary measures against abusers, the Church has also worked at the highest level to reach out to victims and provide them with counseling and support.


Polish lawmakers consider closing shops on Sundays

Mon, 11/27/2017 - 5:00 PM

Warsaw, Poland, Nov 27, 2017 / 03:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Poland could gradually end Sunday shopping in the next three years, if lawmakers approve a bill under consideration in the national legislature.

Backers of the legislation want to make it possible for workers to spend more time with their families, the British magazine The Catholic Herald reports. The bill was initially supported by trade unions, then received support from the Law and Justice Party, Poland’s ruling party.

Poland’s lower house, the Sejm, passed the bill by a vote of 254 to 156. It still requires approval from the Senate and President Andzrej Duda.

The bill would allow Sunday shopping only on the first and last Sunday of each month through the end of 2018, then allow shopping only on the last Sunday of the month in 2019, then ban all Sunday shopping in 2020. There would still be exemptions for some bakeries and online stores. Sundays before holidays like Christmas will also be exempt from the ban

The bishops’ conference of Poland said that the bill did not go far enough, arguing that everyone should have the freedom from Sunday work.

Last year Poland’s Solidarity trade union collected 350,000 signatures for a citizens’ bill to ban Sunday shopping, far more than the 100,000 required to initiate a legislative process.

Solidarity official Alfred Bujara told Agence France Presse last year that supermarket employees are “poorly paid, over-worked, and their family life suffers as a result.”

“In Poland, capitalism and consumerism have gotten out of control,” he said.

In his 1991 encyclical Centissimus Annus, Pope St. John Paul II, a Polish citizen, suggested that nations ask “whether existing laws and the practice of industrialized societies effectively ensure, in our own day, the exercise of [the] basic right to Sunday rest.”

There have been at least three attempts on such a ban in Poland in the last 20 years. One survey indicated that only 30 percent of Polish voters supported the ban, while 62 percent opposed it, Agence France Press said.

A similar ban put forward in Hungary proved to be unpopular when it was enacted in 2015.  The law was largely rolled back in 2016.

US tax reform bill could repeal Johnson Amendment

Mon, 11/27/2017 - 4:38 PM

Washington D.C., Nov 27, 2017 / 02:38 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Johnson Amendment, a 1954 provision which prohibits churches and nonprofit groups from making public endorsements of political candidates, could be repealed through the tax reform bill currently in the US Senate.

The repeal was packaged into the bill which passed the House a few weeks ago, but has yet to be approved by the Senate. Congressional action is required to formally repeal the law.

As the Johnson Amendment currently stands, religious ministers, churches, and nonprofit charitable organizations are barred from engaging in political activity, including endorsing candidates, at the risk of losing their 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status.

The Johnson Amendment was named after then-Senator Lyndon B. Johnson and his re-election campaign in 1954. He wrapped the amendment into the tax code overhaul in order to ban nonprofit groups from engaging in political campaigns.

The repeal would overthrow the 63-year old amendment, and churches could begin receiving as much as $1.7 billion from donors each year – money that traditional political committees would normally receive, according to the New York Times.

Some of the repeal’s critics believe that the shift would create sham churches and increase the amount of untraceable political spending.

In addition, many religious groups, such as the United Methodist Church, the National Council of Churches and the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty are opposing the repeal, saying it could threaten the stability of the mission of religious groups.

However, other Christian groups have applauded the repeal, including the legal group Alliance Defending Freedom, who believes the current law suppresses free speech.

“The law has a chilling effect on free speech,” said Michael Farris, president of Alliance Defending Freedom, according to the New York Times.

The Senate will be voting this week on its own version of the tax bill, which does not currently include the Johnson Amendment reform.

Five things to look for during Francis' trip to Burma, Bangladesh

Mon, 11/27/2017 - 1:15 PM

Yangon, Burma, Nov 27, 2017 / 11:15 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Monday Pope Francis touched down in Yangon for what will likely be a politically charged and religiously significant six-day trip bringing him to both Burma and Bangladesh as the two countries face an escalating refugee crisis.

Pope Francis is in Burma and Bangladesh Nov. 27-Dec. 2, in what is now his third tour of Asia since his election in 2013. It is the first papal visit to Burma, the Holy See having established formal diplomatic relations with the country earlier this year.

His visit to Bangladesh, however, is the second time a Pope has visited, the first being St. John Paul II in 1986. Bl. Pope Paul VI made a brief stop in the territory in 1970, when it was still East Pakistan.

Throughout his six-day visit, Pope Francis will give 11 speeches total: five in Burma, consisting of three formal speeches and two homilies, and six in Bangladesh, counting five official speeches and one homily.

On the plane ride over, Francis told journalists he hopes it will be a fruitful visit. Here are a few key things for which to keep an eye out as things move forward.

The Pope's meetings with Burmese civil and military authorities

This trip is one of the most diplomatically complicated international voyages Pope Francis taken so far, so much so that Vatican Spokesman Greg Burke described the trip to journalists as being “very interesting diplomatically” in last week's briefing on the visit.

Aside from the very small Catholic population in each country, political circumstances in Burma have been precarious for years, as they are in the midst of a transition from military leadership to diplomacy.

The country is also called Myanmar, and while the Vatican uses this name in their official diplomatic correspondence, 'Myanmar' is considered by the U.S. government and many democracy activists to have been illegally imposed on the country by its military dictatorship.

Burma functioned as a military dictatorship for more than 50 years, until democratic reforms began taking root in 2011. In November 2015, Aung San Suu Kyi and her party, the National League for Democracy, were elected by an overwhelming majority, putting an end to a five-decade military dictatorship.

Aung San Suu Kyi and her party had also won the election in 1990, but the results weren't recognized by the military government, and she was put under house arrest. However, despite her success in 2015, she is still barred from officially becoming president, and holds the title of “State Counsellor” and Foreign Minister, while a close associate is acting as president.

Despite emerging signs of democratic reform in Burma, the military still wields considerable political authority, including the appointment of cabinet ministers, and one-quarter of the nation’s legislature.

A key element of the Pope's visit to watch for, then, is his formal meetings with both Aung San Suu Kyi Nov. 28, and his meeting with Min Aung Hlaing, commander-in-chief of the country’s armed forces.

The meeting with Min Aung Hlaing wasn't initially on the Pope's schedule; however, during a recent visit to Rome Cardinal Charles Maung Bo of Yangon recommended that a meeting with the military leader be added.

Pope Francis took the cardinal's advice and scheduled the meeting for Nov. 30 at the archbishop's house in Yangon, where he is staying while in Burma. However, the meeting was bumped up, and took place on the first day of Francis' visit, shortly after he landed.

Lasting a total of 15 minutes, including conversation via interpreters and an exchange of gifts, the private encounter was the Pope's first official meeting of the trip. Several of Min Aung Hlaing's deputies were present.

According to Burke, the two spoke of “the great responsibility of the country's authorities in this moment of transition.”

Min Aung Hlaing said on Twitter that he told Pope Francis, “there's no religious discrimination” in the country, and “there is the freedom of religion.”

That Francis bumped the trip to the first day of his visit, when nothing else was scheduled, is noteworthy, and will be important to keep in mind as he meets with  Aung San Suu Kyi, the president,  and civil authorities Nov. 28. His words during the meeting are sure to carry a weighty significance.

The term 'Rohingya'

With this political backdrop in mind, another thing to look out for is whether or not Pope Francis will use the term Rohingya to describe the largely Muslim ethnic group who reside in Burma's Rakhine State.

His visit comes amid an uptick in state-supported violence against the Rohingya, which in recent months has reached staggering levels, causing the United Nations to declare the situation “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”

With an increase in persecution in their home country, many of the Rohingya have fled to neighboring Bangladesh, with millions camping along the border as refugees. More than 600,000 Rohingya have fled Burma for Bangladesh in recent months.

However, despite widespread use of the term Rohingya in the international community, the term is controversial within Burma.

The Burmese government refuses to use the term, and considers them illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. They have been denied citizenship since Burma gained independence in 1948.

Because of the touchy nature of the term, Cardinal Bo also suggested to the Pope that he refrain from using the word on the ground, arguing that extremists in the area are trying to rouse the population by using the term, making the risk of a new interreligious conflict ever-more present, with Christians in the crossfire.

According to Bo, the correct term to use is “Muslims of the Rakhine State.” He also stressed that other minorities in Burmese territory face persecution and displacement, including the Kachin, Kahn, and Shahn peoples, yet their plight often goes unreported.

Burke said the recent worsening of the humanitarian situation in Burma will be a strong element of the Pope's visit, and that Francis is coming “at a key time” in this sense.

However, while the situation of the Rohingya has escalated in over the past few months, Burke said it wasn't the primary reason for the Pope's visit. “The trip was going to happen anyway,” he said. Recent developments have now “drawn attention to it, but it was going to happen anyway.”

Burke himself used term “Rohingya” to describe the persecuted Muslim minority, saying “it's not a forbidden term” in the Vatican, and the Pope himself has used it before. But Cardinal Bo made a suggestion that Francis “took into account,” he said, adding, “we'll see together” whether or not Pope Francis uses the term during his visit.  

Interreligious encounters

Throughout his visit, Pope Francis will have several moments of interreligious encounter, with Rohingya Muslims also participating. Combine this with that fact that Burma is a majority Buddhist country and Bangladesh majority Muslim, and these meetings will be of special interest.

Of importance is a private meeting of interreligious leaders scheduled to take place Nov. 28 at the archbishop's residence in Yangon, which wasn't initially on the Pope's slate, but was also added upon the suggestion of Cardinal Bo.

Though there is not yet a list of who will participate, Bo said around 15 leaders will be present representing Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, and Muslims, including the likely presence of a member of the Rohingya community.

On the same day Francis will also meet with members of the “Sangha,” the Supreme Council of Buddhist clergy in the country. Catholics in Burma are a small minority, making up just 1.3 percent of a population of nearly 52 million.

Pope Francis will also meet with Rohingya Muslims during a Dec. 1 interreligious encounter in Bangladesh where five testimonies are expected to be given. Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and Christians will all be present for the gathering.

In Bangladesh, 86 percent of the population practices Islam. The 375,000 Catholics there represent less than 0.2 of the total population.

Words to the Catholic community

As is by now well-known, Pope Francis has a special affinity for the peripheries. Both Burma and Bangladesh fall into this category ecclesiastically speaking, as well as economically. Bangladesh is among the poorest countries in the world, with nearly 30 percent of the population living under the poverty line.

Francis already boosted the profile of these nations by appointing the first-ever cardinals, giving Cardinal Bo a red hat in 2015, and elevating Cardinal Patrick D'Rozario of Dhaka in November 2016.

With Christians being a small minority in both Burma and Bangladesh, the Pope's appointments were considered an encouragement for the small Catholic populations, and his visit is seen as a further sign of his closeness to a demographic that also faces discrimination in the area.

Christians in Burma also face blatant persecution, which some fear could increase if the Pope offends the government regarding the Rohingya.

Last year the United States Commission on Religious Freedom issued two separate reports on Burma, one of which focused on the plight of the Rohingya, and the second, titled “Hidden Plight: Christian Minorities in Burma,” highlighted the discrimination and persecution Christians face.

Encounters with youth

The Pope's visits to both Burma and Bangladesh will be closed with meetings with the countries' youth.

According to Burke, this was a decision the Pope himself made in order to show that they are an essential part of the Church, and that in each country, it is “a young Church with hope.”

In his meetings with youth, the Pope typically tosses his prepared remarks after listening to testimonies and speaks more freely and casually to the youth as he tries to enter into the raw reality faced by the local population, giving them a message of hope and some instructions for the future.

In messages sent to both countries ahead of his visit, Pope Francis said he was coming to spread the Gospel and to bring a message of peace, forgiveness, and reconciliation.

Though he will likely offer paternal advice to priests and religious, the meeting with youth is where his more pastoral side is most likely to come out stronger, and where he will likely go beyond the politics in order to offer a message of hope, peace and reconciliation for youth to carry forward into the future.

The original Image of Divine Mercy: It's not where you might think

Sun, 11/26/2017 - 6:33 PM

Vilnius, Lithuania, Nov 26, 2017 / 04:33 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Among Catholic devotions, the Divine Mercy message is well-known: the iconic image of Christ, with rays of red and white pouring from his heart; St. Faustina, called the “Apostle of Divine Mercy;” and the Basilica of Divine Mercy in Krakow, Poland.

But what you might not know is that more than 450 miles north of Krakow, in the small town of Vilnius in Lithuania, there is another Sanctuary of Divine Mercy, one which houses the first image of the merciful Jesus created, and the only Image of Divine Mercy St. Faustina herself ever saw.

Archbishop Gintaras Grusas of Vilnius told CNA that the capital of Lithuania, often called the “City of Mercy,” is not only “a place of the Divine Mercy revelations, but also a place that is in need of mercy, throughout history, and a place that in the last couple decades has been a place where we need to show mercy.”

Since long before St. Faustina and the Divine Mercy revelations, the Mother of Mercy has been the patroness of Vilnius, Grusas said.

In fact, in the 1600s, a painting of Our Lady of the Gate of Dawn was created and placed in a niche above one of the prominent city gates. Many miracles are attributed to the image, which was canonically crowned Mother of Mercy by Pope Pius XI in 1927.

It was in this small chapel of the Mother of Mercy, above the gate, that the Image of Divine Mercy was first displayed. So Vilnius has had “mercy upon mercy,” Grusas noted.

The story of St. Faustina and Divine Mercy

St. Faustina Kowalska was a young Polish nun born at the beginning of the 20th century. Over the course of several years she had visions of Jesus, whereby she was directed to create an image and to share with the world revelations of Jesus’ love and mercy.

St. Faustina received her first revelation of the merciful Jesus in Plock, Poland in February 1931. At the time, she had made her first vows as one of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy.

In 1933, after she made her perpetual vows, her superior directed her to move to the convent house in Vilnius. She stayed there for three years and this is where she received many more visions of Jesus. Vilnius is also where she found a priest to be her spiritual director, the now-Bl. Michael Sopocko.

With the help of Fr. Sopocko, St. Faustina found a painter to fulfill the request Jesus had made to her in one of the visions – to “paint an image according to the pattern you see, with the signature: Jesus, I trust in You” – and in 1934 the painter Eugene Kazimierowski created the original Divine Mercy painting under St. Faustina’s direction.

In its creation, St. Faustina “was instrumental in making all the adjustments with the painter,” Archbishop Grusas said.

The image shows Christ with his right hand raised as if giving a blessing, and the left touching his chest. Two rays, one pale, one red – which Jesus said are to signify water and blood – are descending from his heart.

St. Faustina recorded all of her visions and conversations with Jesus in her diary, called Divine Mercy in My Soul. Here she wrote the words of Jesus about the graces that would pour out on anyone who prayed before the image:

“I promise that the soul that will venerate this image will not perish. I also promise victory over [its] enemies already here on earth, especially at the hour of death. I Myself will defend [that soul] as My own glory.”

When the image was completed, it was first kept in the corridor of the convent of the Bernardine Sisters, which was beside the Church of St. Michael where Fr. Sopocko was rector.

In March 1936 St. Faustina became sick, with what is believed to have been tuberculosis, and was transferred back to Poland by her superiors. She died near Krakow in October 1938, at the age of 33.

“St. Faustina, because of her illness, was brought back to Krakow by her superiors. But she left the painting in Vilnius because it was the property of her spiritual director, who paid for the painting,” Grusas explained.

Jesus, in one of St. Faustina's visions, had expressed his wish that the image be put in a place of honor, above the main altar of the church. And so, though St. Faustina had already returned to Poland, on the first Sunday after Easter in 1937, they hung the image of Merciful Jesus next to the main altar in the Church of St. Michael.

The history of the image

Archbishop Grusas explained that many people have only recently learned about the image because it was hidden for many years, and it was only rediscovered and restored within the last 15 years.

During World War II, Lithuania was under Soviet occupation and in 1948, the communist government closed the Church of St. Michael and abolished the convent. Many of the sacred objects and artworks were moved to another church to be saved from Soviet hands, but the Divine Mercy image was left undisturbed in St. Michael's for several years.

In 1951, two women were able to pay the keeper of St. Michael's church and save the image. Since it couldn't be taken across the border to Poland, they gave it to the priest in charge of the Church of the Holy Spirit for safekeeping.

Five years later it was moved to a church in Belarus, where it remained for over a decade. In 1970 this church too was shut down by the government and looted, but miraculously, again the Image of Divine Mercy was untouched.

Eventually it was brought back to Lithuania in secret and again given to the Church of the Holy Spirit. In the early 2000s its significance was rediscovered and after a professional restoration it was rehung in the nearby Church of the Holy Trinity in 2005, which is now the Shrine of Divine Mercy.

So though it is a more recent arrival on the international scene, the painting “is also probably the most profound of the Divine Mercy paintings,” Grusas said. “It has a very deep theology, very closely tied with St. Faustina's diary.”

The Shrine of Divine Mercy

Today in Vilnius the archdiocese has begun to set up a guide for pilgrims who come and wish to visit the holy sites, such as the place where St. Faustina lived, the room where the image was painted, and the several churches which all held the painting at different points.

The Shrine of Divine Mercy itself is not a large place, since it’s only a converted parish church, but its sacramental life “is really quite something,” said Justin Gough, an American seminarian studying in Rome who spent a summer working in the Archdiocese’s pilgrim office in Vilnius.

He said that “between Mass, the Divine Mercy chaplet every day in Lithuanian and Polish, adoration 24/7… vespers every Sunday night led by the youth of Vilnius,” the rosary and the sacrament of Confession, there is always some sort of prayer or sacrament taking place.

Of course the original Image of Divine Mercy is also there, he pointed out, and yet the shrine is not just about the image, but about connecting the image and what it represents to prayer and the reception of God’s mercy through the sacraments.

“I think it's ironic in a certain sense that God teaches us about his mercy through a holy woman who died at the age of 33,” he said. “She lived a very devout life, endured great sufferings for the sake of Christ, and yet it's through people like her that we're taught, great sinners that we are, how to actually receive God's mercy and to be merciful to others.”

In Vilnius, it’s a great blessing “to know a saint of the 20th century walked here, prayed here, and experienced Christ here, and that we can do that as well.”


Pope Francis: What matters in the end is how well we loved

Sun, 11/26/2017 - 8:07 AM

Vatican City, Nov 26, 2017 / 06:07 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Sunday Pope Francis said that when the Final Judgment comes, what will matter most is how much we loved God and others, especially through daily, concrete acts of charity toward those most in need.

“At the end of our life we will be judged on love, that is, on our concrete commitment to love and serve Jesus in the least of our brothers and the needy,” the Pope said Nov. 26.

“Jesus will come at the end of time to judge all the nations, but he (also) comes to us every day, in so many ways, and asks us to welcome him.”

Pope Francis spoke to around 30,000 people gathered in St. Peter’s Square before leading the Angelus prayer. Celebrating the Solemnity of Christ the King, the Pope offered a reflection on the Last Judgment and Jesus’ “criteria” for entering the Kingdom of Heaven.  

He explained how at the second coming, when Jesus appears “in divine glory,” he will summon all of humanity to him, separating the righteous from the unrighteous. And to the righteous he will say: “Come, blessed of my Father, receive as inheritance the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.”

This is because: “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you dressed me, sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to see me.”

Francis noted how when Jesus speaks about the Final Judgment to his disciples, the men are surprised by his words, because they don’t remember meeting Jesus, let alone helping him in this way. So Jesus explains what he meant: “All you did to one of these the least of my brothers, you did to me.”

“This word never ceases to hit us,” Pope Francis said, “because it reveals to what extent God's love comes to us: to the point of being identified with us, but not when we are well, when we are healthy and happy, no, but when we are in need.”

In this way Jesus reveals “the decisive criterion of his judgment,” the Pope said, which is “concrete love for the neighbor in distress.”

We should ask the Virgin Mary to help us to not only meet Jesus in his Word and in the Eucharist, he continued, but “at the same time in the brothers and sisters suffering from hunger, illness, oppression, and injustice.”

“May our hearts welcome him into our life today, for we are welcomed by him into the eternity of his Kingdom of Light and Peace.”

After the Angelus Pope Francis expressed his sorrow for the attack on a mosque in Sinai, Egypt on Nov. 24 which killed more than 230 people and wounded hundreds more.

“I continue to pray for the many victims, for the wounded and for the whole community, so severely affected. God frees us from these tragedies and sustains the efforts of all those who work for peace, concord, and coexistence,” he said.

Just as those people were praying at the time of the attack, he then asked for a moment of silent prayer for those affected by the attack.

The Pope also recalled the beatification of Bl. Catalina de María Rodríguez, founder of the Congregation of Hermanas Esclavas of Corazón de Jesús, in Argentina on Saturday.

She lived in the 19th century and was first married. But when she became widowed she decided to consecrate herself to God and dedicate herself “to the spiritual and material care of the poorest and most vulnerable women.”

“We praise the Lord for this ‘passionate woman of the Heart of Jesus and of humanity,’” he said.

US, Mexican bishops call for 'people's voice' in NAFTA negotiations

Sun, 11/26/2017 - 8:01 AM

Washington D.C., Nov 26, 2017 / 06:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The U.S. and Mexican bishops’ conferences have issued a joint statement saying NAFTA renegotiations must respect the poor, alleviate the need for migration, protect laborers and intellectual property rights, and care for creation, indigenous people, and small farmers.

The statement, issued Nov. 21, urged leaders to remember the “human and moral dimensions” of the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement, which eliminated many tariffs on trade and investment among the US, Mexico, and Canada.

In July 2017, President Donald Trump initiated talks to renegotiate the agreement, criticizing the impact of the agreement on the American labor market. Talks stalled this week after five rounds, as the Mexican and Canadian government have shown little interest in proposals for revision suggested by the Trump administration.

The joint statement from U.S. and Mexican bishops called for measures beyond NAFTA to “prevent the deepening of inequality between families and regions.”   The statement also called for negotiators to develop mechanisms respecting “participation rights” in the negotiation process, noting that “human dignity demands that people have a voice in decisions that touch their lives.”        

“The Church believes that trade must, first of all, benefit people, in addition to markets and economies. It is crucial that these complex and multifaceted agreements arise from a sound legal and moral framework that protects the common good and the most vulnerable,” the statement said.

“If adequate compensatory economic, political, and social policies are not adopted that mitigate and counteract the previously mentioned adverse effects, as has been the case thus far,” the bishops warned, “inequalities between regions, sectors, and various groups will deepen, as well as forced displacement and disordered, involuntary and unsafe migration, as well as violence, will continue to predominate.”

As ratifying NAFTA was considered by Congress in 1993, the US bishops wrote a letter to the Senate expressly declining to take a position on the proposed agreement, “given the many specific prudential judgments required, the lack of a clearly compelling case for or against this particular agreement and the absence of strong consensus among the bishops here or in Mexico.”

The 1993 letter called for any international trade agreement to be attentive to the poor, laborers, migration, small farmers, and others, expressing concerns similar to those raised by the 2017 joint statement.

Vatican to UN: We must work together to eliminate causes of human trafficking

Sat, 11/25/2017 - 5:00 PM

New York City, N.Y., Nov 25, 2017 / 03:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The international community must join forces to eliminate human trafficking and its root causes, the Vatican’s representative to the United Nations said Tuesday.

“To eradicate trafficking in persons, we must confront all its economic, environmental, political, and ethical causes, but it is particularly important to prevent and end the wars and conflicts that make people especially vulnerable to being trafficked,” Archbishop Bernardito Auza, Apostolic Nuncio and Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, said in an address this week.

“Wars and violent conflicts have become the biggest driving force of forced human displacement,” he said, noting that traffickers take advantage of the chaos of war to exploit vulnerable people, using them for sexual slavery or forced labor.

One typical consequence of war is a large population of displaced people, who usually become migrants and refugees in other countries, Auza added, which makes it especially important that countries also work to protect these populations.

In recent years, Europe has experienced a refugee crisis at a level unseen since World War II, with millions of people fleeing violence and instability largely in the Middle East, leaving a large number of people, particularly women and children, vulnerable to trafficking. According to reports from The Guardian, the European Union reported more than 15,000 cases of sex trafficking from 2013-2014, though authorities expect the actual number is much higher.

The United States had more than 5,000 reported cases of human trafficking in 2016.  

“When states and the international community have failed to protect people from war and atrocities, such that people have felt compelled to flee their homes, we all have a great and urgent responsibility to protect them from further harm, including falling into the hands of human traffickers,” he said.

“The criminalization of forced migrants, and of undocumented and irregular migrants in general, exacerbates their vulnerabilities, drives them further into the clutches of traffickers and other extreme forms of exploitation, and renders them less likely to collaborate with the law enforcement authorities to catch and punish the traffickers,” Auza added.

While Auza praised previous efforts by the U.N. to eliminate human trafficking, “much more still needs to be done to achieve better coordination among governments, the judiciary, law enforcement officials and civil society.”

He also thanked faith-based communities and organizations who fight human trafficking and who accompany its victims, “in particular women religious, who have long been at the forefront in the fight against trafficking in persons,” he said.

“On the World Day against Trafficking in Persons this July, Pope Francis warned us all against ‘getting used’ to trafficking in persons, treating it as if it were a ‘normal thing,’ when in reality it is, he said, ‘ugly, cruel, criminal, an aberrant plague, a modern form of slavery, a crime against humanity,’” he said.

“In his name, my delegation renews the appeal for a universal commitment to ending this heinous crime.”