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Canada: Groups fight policy that bases job grants on abortion support

Thu, 01/11/2018 - 12:09 PM

OTTAWA, Ontario — Faith-based groups and pro-life organizations are mobilizing to fight a new federal government policy that allows summer job grants only for employers who endorse abortion.

The Toronto Right to Life Association has sued the federal government over the policy, announced just before Christmas. The policy requires all applicants to the Canada Summer Jobs program to sign a statement attesting support for “safe and legal” abortion and gender identity theory.

Canada Summer Jobs provides wage subsidies to eligible charity and small-business employers to encourage them to hire high school and university-age students.

“Our conscience compels us to not sign that attestation,” said Blaise Alleyne, president of Toronto Right to Life. “It is a violation of our freedom of conscience and freedom of expression for the government to compel speech or else punish us by withholding an unrelated benefit.”

The pro-life educational group is seeking to have the “attestation be declared unconstitutional” because it contravenes the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Alleyne said.

“It’s not illegal to disagree with the government on a social issue,” he said.

The Toronto Right to Life Association successfully sued the government last year. It joined with the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform and Guelph & Area Right to Life after the three groups were denied summer jobs grants due to pro-life positions.

The government settled that suit by paying them the funds to which they were entitled under the program. Then it rewrote the funding criteria for 2018 to explicitly require applicants to affirm that the “core mandate of the organization” and the jobs it creates respect a woman’s reproductive rights, as well as several other rights, including sexual orientation and gender identity or expression.

Canadians in general should be concerned about this issue, no matter where they stand on abortion, Alleyne said.

Jack Fonseca, a spokesman for Campaign Life Coalition, the political arm of the pro-life movement, supports the lawsuit.

“It’s important (that) when all else fails, we go to court,” he said.

The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada and the Canadian Council of Churches are urging people to write the minister of employment and their local members of Parliament. The Canadian Council of Christian Charities is also mobilizing its members.

“A literal reading of this policy would prevent churches, summer camps, soup kitchens and many other Christian and religious charities from having access to the Canada Summer Jobs program,” the Canadian Council of Churches said on its website.

David Guretzki, vice president of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, said his organization hopes to rally an interfaith coalition to oppose the change in policy.

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops is “working closely on this with the EFC, as well as considering other possible approaches,” said Rene Laprise, director of communications.

The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada has received responses from at least 120 organizations and businesses that will be adversely affected by the new policy, Guretzki said. These groups provide a wide range of services — from youth programming to work with indigenous populations and the homeless — that may be compromised, he said.

“This is an employment grant. We’re trying to understand how this doesn’t open the door to all kinds of places where the government could say, unless you pass an ideological test, we don’t have to give you services.”

Guretzki said the timing of the policy change is concerning. The application deadline for the program is Feb. 2.

“It came the week before Christmas, and so all of this has taken place in the last two weeks over the Christmas break,” he said, noting that Parliament was not in session.

In some communities, Christian organizations are the only ones operating summer youth programs. Without the grant, these programs may not run and the “whole community suffers,” he said.

Gyapong is Ottawa correspondent for Canadian Catholic News.

Pope to meet with victims of Chile’s dictatorship on trip

Thu, 01/11/2018 - 11:05 AM

ROME — Pope Francis will meet with two victims of Chile’s military dictatorship during his upcoming trip, and isn’t ruling out a private encounter with victims of clerical sex abuse, the Vatican said Thursday.

Spokesman Greg Burke made the comments in announcing details of the Jan. 15-21 trip to Chile and Peru, Francis’s 22nd foreign trip as pope and sixth to his home continent of South America.

The encounter with two victims of the 1973-1990 Pinochet regime will take place Jan. 18 in the northern city of Iquique. Burke didn’t provide details other than to say they would give Francis a letter.

Burke was also asked if Francis would meet with abuse victims. Burke said no meeting was planned “but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible” and added that such meetings are best when conducted in private. He said it was “clearly an important theme” in Chile, where the scandal has seriously hurt the Catholic Church’s credibility.

Just this week, online database www.BishopAccountability.org said it had found 78 priests or members of religious orders credibly accused or convicted of abuse against minors.

Francis in the past has met in previously unannounced encounters with victims of abuse in the Vatican and in the United States, but his record in fulfilling his stated “zero tolerance” for abuse has been questioned by survivors.

While Francis never had to deal with the abuse crisis in his native Argentina, he is intimately familiar with the region’s experience with military dictatorships in the 1970s and 1980s. History’s first Latin American pope was in charge of the Argentine Jesuits during the “Dirty War,” when thousands of suspected leftists were killed or “disappeared” at the hands of Argentina’s military junta.

In neighboring Chile, after a bloody coup brought Gen. Augusto Pinochet to power, around 40,000 people were killed, tortured or imprisoned for political reasons. The government estimates that 3,095 were killed, including about 1,200 who were forcibly disappeared.

Francis studied in Chile in 1960 during his novitiate with the Jesuits, and counts some of its churchmen as close friends and advisers.

Francis’s aim in visiting Chile and Peru is to highlight the plight of indigenous peoples and the delicate Amazon ecosystem.

In keeping with his ecological concerns, he’ll be traveling around both countries in used popemobiles, rather than have new ones outfitted, as is the norm. In Chile, the three popemobiles he’ll ride in were first used during his 2015 trips to the U.S. and Bolivia, while his Peruvian popemobiles were shipped from Colombia after his trip there last year, Burke said.

Catholic soccer star considers legal options after being accused of using “voodoo”

Thu, 01/11/2018 - 10:55 AM

LEICESTER, United Kingdom – A star soccer player in England is considering his legal options after a previous employer allegedly accused him of using “voodoo” in his decision to leave his team.

Belgian forward Romelu Lukaku, a practicing Catholic, left the Liverpool-based Premier League team Everton last year, and now plays for Manchester United.

The BBC reported Everton’s owner, Farhad Moshiri told club shareholders Lukaku received a “voodoo message” while on a “pilgrimage to Africa.”

Moshiri claimed the message told Lukaku to go to the London-based team Chelsea, where the player began his English career before moving to Everton.

Lukaku played for four seasons at Everton, and scored 87 goals for the team. He moved to Manchester United over the summer in a deal worth over $100 million, even though Everton offered him a new contract.

“Romelu’s decision had nothing to do with voodoo,” Lukaku’s representative told the BBC.

“He distances himself from these beliefs and this statement and will now see what judicial steps can be taken in relation to them,” the representative said.

In this 2014 Instagram photo, Romelu Lukaku visits Lourdes. The caption read: “Belief has always been important to me. Live from Lourdes. God is great.” (Credit: Instagram.)

“Romelu is very Catholic and voodoo is not part of his life or his beliefs,” he continued. “He simply had no faith in Everton and no confidence in Mr. Moshiri’s project. That is why he did not want to sign on any condition.”

Manchester United is the most successful team in English soccer, winning 20 league titles and the European championship three times. This year, it is competing in the UEFA Champions League, the top-level European competition; Everton competed in the second-tier Europa League, and has already been knocked out.

“He [Lukaku] wanted to make the next step in his career and wanted the security to be able to leave,” the representative told the BBC.

Lukaku, 24, is often seen making the sign of the cross before games, and after he scores a goal. In 2014, he posted a photo on social media of his pilgrimage to Lourdes.

Last summer, the player was involved in another controversy over his religion, when several British tabloids reported he couldn’t be photographed with alcohol, due to his “Muslim faith.”

His representatives expressed bewilderment over the stories, stating, “He reads his Bible every night.”

Ending DACA will lead to ‘humanitarian crisis,’ says Archbishop Gomez

Thu, 01/11/2018 - 10:51 AM

LOS ANGELES — Congress must separate “the conversation about DACA” from the “larger issues” about U.S. immigration policy, because allowing the program to expire will lead “to a humanitarian crisis,” especially in Los Angeles, said Archbishop Jose H. Gomez.

“As a nation, we have a moral and humanitarian obligation to the ‘Dreamers.’ These young people have done nothing wrong. And their futures hang in the balance of these debates,” he wrote in a column. “So, I hope you will join me in urging our leaders in Congress to help them in a spirit of generosity and justice.”

He urged Americans “to tell our leaders that fixing DACA should be the first step in the systematic immigration reform that has long been overdue in our country.”

Gomez’s column, dated Jan. 9, was posted on the websites of the Los Angeles Archdiocese and Angelus News, its multimedia platform.

“Once again, we begin a new year with uncertainty and fear over immigration, and this year our leaders in Congress face a hard deadline” to preserve the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, said Gomez.

Within the borders of the Los Angeles Archdiocese, he said, there will be a humanitarian crisis if DACA ends because an estimated 125,000 young people protected by the program live there. DACA protects between 700,000 and 800,000 young people.

“The story of these young people … is well-known. Brought to this country as children by undocumented parents or family members, they are not ‘illegal’ through any fault of their own,” Gomez wrote. “The ‘Dreamers’ have lived their whole lives in this country — many are now in their 30s.”

“And during their lifetime, leaders in Washington have not been able to reach an agreement to fix the broken immigration system that allowed them to enter in the first place.”

In September, President Donald Trump announced that in March, he would end DACA, which President Barack Obama created by executive order in 2012. At the same time, Trump called on Congress to come up with a legislative solution by then to keep the program in place.

Obama instituted the program to protect young people whose parents brought them into the country as minors when they entered the U.S. without legal permission. DACA has allowed them to receive a renewable two-year period of deferred action from deportation and get a work permit.

Advocates around the country have rallied to urge passage of the DREAM Act — the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act — to provide a pathway to citizenship for DACA beneficiaries.

On Jan. 9, Trump and a bipartisan group from Congress met to discuss a measure that would keep DACA intact and include Trump’s demands for a border wall and other security measures.

The same day, a U.S. District Court judge in San Francisco temporarily blocked Trump’s decision to rescind DACA, saying the U.S. government must start accepting renewal applications again from current beneficiaries of the program. The ruling, which is certain to be appealed, also said the government does not have to accept applications from those not currently covered by DACA.

“Today, the ‘Dreamers’ are the ‘poster children’ for how broken our system is and how unhealthy and unproductive our political discourse has become,” Gomez wrote. “By any measure, these are the kind of young people that our country should be encouraging.”

“Nearly everyone — 97 percent — is either in school or in the workforce. About 5 percent have already started their own business; 15 percent have bought their first homes,” he continued. “These are good kids and we should want to help them to develop their God-given potentials, to keep their families together and to make their own contribution to the American dream.”

The archbishop said U.S. business leaders feel DACA recipients “are vital to our economic future.”

“In a letter to congressional leaders in September, more than 800 executives representing every sector of the economy agreed that DACA youths contribute more than $460 billion to our economy and another $24 billion in taxes,” he said.

Since so many Americans agree on their contributions to the country, fixing the program that protects them “should be easy,” he said, but instead “these young people find themselves stuck in the middle of a much broader debate about border walls, national security and the inner workings of our visa system.”

“This debate is passionate and partisan, as it should be,” Gomez said. “Systematic reform of our immigration policy is absolutely vital to our nation’s future. And we need to have this conversation.”

The nation’s immigration system “has been broken for too long and there is too much that is wrong,” he added, saying that “a serious debate about border security” is also important.

“No one disagrees that we need to secure our borders and protect ourselves from those who would do harm to us,” he explained, but he urged the larger debate about border security and other immigration reforms be handled separately from the DACA issue.

“Congress should take the time to debate the issues properly and to truly fashion an immigration system that reflects the global realities of the 21st-century economy,” the archbishop said.

Besides discussing various proposals for protecting the border, he said, other issues to be debated should include how the country grants visas; what types of guest-worker programs are needed to provide workers, especially for the agricultural industry; and an honest examination of assumptions that immigrants take jobs from Americans.

Also, “we need to think more clearly about our labor needs in renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement,” Gomez said.

“The point is that we need a total reform of our immigration system, and it should not be tied to the current debate over DACA and the ‘Dreamers,’” he added.

Speaker Paul Ryan will headline March for Life

Thu, 01/11/2018 - 10:43 AM

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) will address the upcoming March for Life, organizers announced on Wednesday. This is the first time Ryan has spoken at the March for Life in person since he was elected speaker in 2015.

The 45th annual March for Life will take place on January 19th in Washington, D.C., and is the country’s largest pro-life protest. The event is held each year near the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in the United States.

Last year, Ryan appeared at the march via a video message, encouraging marchers and thanking them for their passion and courage in fighting for the unborn.

On Twitter, Ryan said that he looked forward to attending the March for Life, and said that he will “march to defend the rights of those who cannot defend themselves.”

March for Life President Jeanne Mancini said in a press release that she was honored that Ryan would be speaking at the March for Life. Ryan, said Mancini, is an “unwavering champion” for the cause.

We march to defend the rights of those who cannot defend themselves. I look forward to attending the 45th annual #MarchForLife next week. https://t.co/GVz2oVRtsQ

— Paul Ryan (@SpeakerRyan) January 10, 2018

“It is an honor to have Speaker of the House Paul Ryan address the 45th annual March for Life. Speaker Ryan has been an unwavering champion for the pro-life cause since taking office, and continues to utilize his post to promote the inherent dignity of the human person at all stages of life,” she said.

Ryan will be joined at the March for Life by his congressional colleagues, Reps. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.) and Chris Smith (R-New Jersey), along with Tim Tebow’s mother, Pam Tebow, and Sister Bethany Madonna of the Sisters of Life. More speakers will be announced in the future.

The theme of this year’s march is “Love Saves Lives.” Over 100,000 people are expected to attend.

Pope aide says tensions around ‘Amoris’ reflect a ‘paradigm shift’

Thu, 01/11/2018 - 5:43 AM

ROME – According to the pope’s top aide, the sometimes-tumultuous debates unleashed in Catholicism by Pope Francis’s 2016 document on the family, Amoris Laetitia, aren’t primarily due to “certain aspects of its content,” but rather the “paradigm shift” for the Church the document represents.

“At the end of the day, what resulted from Amoris Laetitia is a new paradigm that Pope Francis is carrying forward with wisdom, with prudence, and also with patience,” said Italian Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s Secretary of State and effectively the most senior figure in the Church after the pope himself.

“Probably, the difficulties that came up [around the document] and that still exist in the Church, beyond certain aspects of its content, are due precisely to this change of attitude that the pope is asking of us,” Parolin said.

“It’s a paradigm change, and the text itself insists on this, that’s what is asked of us – this new spirit, this new approach! … Every change always brings difficulties, but these difficulties have to be dealt with and faced with commitment,” Parolin said.

Parolin’s comments came in an interview with Vatican News, a news portal launched by the Vatican’s new Secretariat for Communications. The text of the interview was released Thursday in Rome.

In English, the term “paradigm shift” was popularized in the early 1960s by physicist and philosopher Thomas Kuhn, who used it to refer to a fundamental change in the concepts and practices underlying a particular branch of science.

Parolin didn’t unpack what sort of paradigm shift Francis intended with Amoris, but most of the controversies have pivoted on its cautious opening to allowing divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to receive Communion under some circumstances.  Some analysts have suggested the move is part of a broader “pastoral conversion,” one which accents a pastoral approach to concrete situations over a more doctrinal or legal framework.

The document followed two contentious Synods of Bishops on the family, called by Francis in October 2014 and 2015.

On other matters, Parolin addressed Francis’s ongoing project of reform of the Roman Curia, meaning the administrative bureaucracy of the Vatican. In recent months, some observers have suggested those reforms appear to be stalled, pointing in particular to efforts to inject greater transparency and accountability in Vatican finances that seem to have either been rolled back or abandoned.

Parolin insisted that “notable steps forward have been achieved,” but also argued that what Francis is really after isn’t so much structural change, but conversion.

“It’s not so much a matter of structural reforms, with the promulgation of new laws, new norms, personnel appointments, and so on,” he said. “It’s more about the deep spirit that has to animate every reform of the Curia, and it’s the fundamental dimension of the Christian life, which is conversion.”

The idea, Parolin said, “is that the Curia – ever more and ever better, stripping away those shadows that can obscure its duty and mission – can become truly a help to the pope in announcing the Gospel, in giving witness to the Gospel, and in evangelizing the world of today.”

Parolin also took a question on Francis’s upcoming Jan. 15-22 trip to Chile and Peru, saying it won’t be a “simple” trip, but an “exciting” one.

Specifically, Parolin cited two broad issues he believes Francis wants to focus on during the week-long outing to his native Latin America:

  • Challenges facing indigenous populations and persons, asking “what’s the role, the contribution, of these populations to their countries, their societies, in order to make a contribution to those societies?” Parolin said that’s also an important theme for the Synod on the Amazon Francis has called for 2019.
  • Corruption, “which impedes development and also gets in the way of overcoming poverty and misery.”

Finally, Parolin said that 2018 will be a year of a “special concentration of attention by the Church at all levels on youth,” culminating in the Synod of Bishops on youth called for by Francis and set for October.

Here, too, Parolin said there’s a “new paradigm” at work.

“The most innovative thing of this approach is the search for a new relationship between the Church and youth, shaped by a paradigm of responsibility and shorn of any kind of paternalism,” he said.

“The Church wants to enter into dialogue with the realities facing youth today,” he said. “It wants to understand the young, and wants to help them.”

Citing U.S. President John F. Kennedy’s famous “Ask not what your country can do for you” line from his 1961 inaugural address, Parolin said the focus on youth in 2018 is animated by a similar spirit.

“The Church is asking young people, the pope and the Church are asking them, what they can do for the Church, what contribution they can make to the Gospel, and to spreading the Gospel today.”

In a briefing for reporters on Thursday, an official from the Vatican’s office for the Synod of Bishops laid out an ambitious social media campaign in the run-up to the gathering of bishops in October, intended to maximize the participation of youth in the pre-synod preparation.

The campaign is organized under the hashtag #Synod2018, with preparatory materials collected on the campaign’s website. (Laughingly, the official noted that even the French bishops’ conference has signed off on using a single English hashtag in every language, saying, “If the French are okay with it, everybody will be!”)

The synod run-up will also feature a gathering of 300 youth in Rome, chosen by bishops’ conferences around the world, March 19-24.

Connecticut chief justice nominee accused of anti-Catholic bias

Thu, 01/11/2018 - 1:30 AM

NEW YORK – Earlier this week Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy announced that he was nominating associate Supreme Court Justice Andrew McDonald to be the state’s next chief justice. While McDonald’s nomination has received much attention as it would make him the first openly gay chief justice, some Catholics are opposed to the nomination and cite McDonald’s championing of a 2009 bill that they argue would have given the state control over the Church’s finances.

In March 2009, McDonald, who at the time chaired the legislature’s judiciary committee, introduced the bill, along with co-chair Michael Lawlor, and argued that the bill was in response to a recent case of embezzlement after it was revealed that the pastor of St. John’s Roman Catholic Church in Darien had stolen more than $1 million from the parish.

Under their proposed legislation, Bill 1098, “An Act Modifying Corporate Laws Relating to Certain Religious Corporations,” a corporation would have to be established for “any Connecticut Roman Catholic Church or congregation.”

This new structure would have allowed the bishop of the diocese to serve as an ex-officio member of the board, but would bar him from voting on any decisions. Instead, the board of directors would be comprised of and elected by lay persons from the congregation, effectively shifting control of all church finances from bishops and pastors to the laity.

In response, more than 5,000 Catholics gathered in the state’s capital of Hartford to express opposition to the bill, with critics arguing that it represented a grave violation of separation of church and state. Then governor of Connecticut Jodi Rell criticized the legislation as “blatantly unconstitutional, insensitive and inappropriate.”

Soon thereafter, the committee unanimously voted against the bill — yet nearly a decade later, some of its critics are opposing McDonald’s nomination based on it and view the 2009 incident as an indication of his flawed understanding of the constitution.

In an interview with Crux, Peter Wolfgang, executive director of the Family Institute of Connecticut, described the 2009 legislation as “flagrantly unconstitutional.” Wolfgang said it raises serious concerns about McDonald’s nomination. He said that religious believers have actively been contacting their organization after learning of the appointment.

“We oppose Andrew McDonald’s nomination as chief justice for a lot of reasons, one of which is bill 1098, which would have stripped Connecticut Catholic priests and bishops of control over their own churches,” he said.

“It raises serious questions about Andrew McDonald’s understanding of the proper role between the relationship between the Church and State,” Wolfgang added.

Archbishop William Lori, then bishop of Bridgeport, Connecticut, was one of the most vocal opponents of the bill at the time.

“Lori’s leadership in the fight against bill 1098 was instrumental in crushing it,” Wolfgang told Crux.

“The state has no right to interfere in the internal affairs and structure of the Catholic Church,” Lori argued in a statement at the time. “This bill is directed only at the Catholic Church, but could someday be forced on other denominations. The state has no business controlling religion.”

Lori also said at the time that the bill was in retaliation of the Church’s opposition to gay marriage.

Paul Lakeland, director of the Center for Catholic Studies at Fairfield University in Connecticut disagrees and in an interview with Crux said that the 2009 bill itself, as well as McDonald’s intent behind it, was unfairly politicized.

“Andrew McDonald is a fine choice for the Connecticut Supreme Court,” Lakeland told Crux.

“While his role in the 2009 Bill 1098 proposing changes in the trustee structures of Catholic parishes may in some of its details have been a little provocative, the intent, surely correct, was to recognize that a greater role for lay leadership would put fiscal decisions in the hands of those who provide the funds,” said Lakeland.

“It is after all the state legislature and not the Church which in the final analysis determines the laws by which parish trusteeship must operate,” he added.

McDonald served as a state senator in Connecticut from 2003 until he resigned in 2011 to serve as a legal counsel to Malloy. In December 2012, Malloy nominated him for a seat on the Connecticut Supreme Court, a post he has held since January 2013.

Church leaders say soccer star has work to do as new president of Liberia

Thu, 01/11/2018 - 1:30 AM

YAOUNDÉ, Cameroon –  Soccer legend George Weah will be sworn in as president of Liberia on January 22, 2018.

Replacing Africa’s first female president – Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who took office in 2006 – Weah’s surprise win is due to his “perserverence,” according to the secretary general of the country’s bishops’ conference.

“His victory can also be seen as a reaction to the status quo,” Father Dennis Cephas Nimene told Crux.

“After 14 years of civil unrest [the Liberian civil war took place from 1989-2003] and the elections of Madam Sirleaf, Liberians wanted ‘so much’ from the government. Not meeting their perceived aspirations ultimately led to the change of government,” the priest said.

In this Jan. 7, 1996 file photo, AC Milan’s Liberian-born striker George Weah raises the Ballon d’Or trophy before the start of an Italian league A soccer match between Milan and Sampdoria in Milan, Italy. (Credit: Carlo Fumagalli/AP.)

The 51-year-old former striker – who earned the title African Footballer of the Century after playing for teams in the 1990s such as Monaco, Paris Saint-Germain, and AC Milan – defeated incumbent vice president Joseph Boakai, a former World Bank official on December 26, 2017.

Liberia – located on the west coast of Africa – was settled by freed American slaves in 1822. Declaring independence in 1847, it is the continent’s oldest republic.

In 1980, a military coup began the country’s decline into ungovernability, which culminated in civil war and the violent rule of warlord Charles Taylor.

After Taylor was driven from office in 2003, the United Nations helped oversee a transition which led to the 2005 elections won by Sirleaf.

Weah contested those elections – just two years after retiring from soccer – and lost.

In 2009, he won a senatorial seat, before a failed campaign for vice president in 2011.

After his December win, Weah called on Liberians living abroad to return to the country, announced corruption will no longer have a place in Liberia, and told foreign investors that “Liberia is open and ready for business.”

Nimene told Crux Weah’s victory is a sign the country is yearning for change after years of conflict, and an Ebola outbreak that killed thousands of people and worsened economic conditions.

Franciscan Sister Barbara Brillant, an American living in the Liberian capital of Monrovia, said young people especially wanted change, and that is why the voted for Weah.

“But the hope for a short-term improvement is scarce because the national economy is in pieces,” she told Fides, a Catholic news agency.

Briilant is right to be concerned: Unemployment is estimated to be as high as 85 percent, and the Liberian dollar has been falling against the U.S. dollar, and now trades on the streets at 130:1.

The country is also suffering a liquidity crisis, and the scarcity of cash means that commercial banks are reluctant to cash government checks or provide credit lines to government contractors.

Shortly after signing the 2017-2018 budget into law, Sirleaf discovered the government didn’t have the money. She later decided to freeze all payments of bonuses, severance allowances, and incentives to executives at state-owned enterprises, commissions, and other autonomous agencies of the government of Liberia.

Despite leaving Weah an economic mess to sort out, Sirleaf did give her successor one important piece of progress: Political stability.

Nimene said Weah can build on this to improve the country.

“I believe he should continue rebuilding the broken-down infrastructure, especially road connectivity, restoration of electricity, and pipe-borne water,” the priest said.

But Nimene added that for the new president to make any headway, he must “take the fight against corruption seriously.”

Under Sirleaf, corruption festered, despite efforts to end it.

In addition to his promise to end graft, Weah has pledged to promote “pro-poor” policies, in order to lift millions of Liberians out of poverty.

It is estimated that 85 percent of the country’s population of 4.5 million people live below the poverty line.

“Those chosen to serve will and must be dedicated to the ideas of grassroots, social transformation. Persons looking to cheat the Liberian people through the menace of corruption will have no place in my administration,” Weah said in his acceptance speech.

But Nimene said for the new president to succeed, he will need the support and cooperation of the Liberian people.

“Liberians should give their best collaboration to the new president within the confines of the rule of law and the respect of the dignity of each and every Liberian and those living within our borders,” the priest told Crux.

Cardinal says Nigerian crisis raises big issues, and Rome must act

Thu, 01/11/2018 - 1:27 AM

ROME – These days, Cardinal John Onaiyekan of Abuja is deeply hesitant to be drawn into talking about the troubled Nigerian diocese of Ahiara, saying his role as Apostolic Administrator there ended a year ago when Pope Francis took the situation in his own hands, and not wanting to aggravate what’s already perhaps the most painful, and extraordinary, Catholic storyline in Africa.

Onaiyekan reluctantly agreed to discuss the situation with Crux on Jan. 9, mostly because he believes a core principle is at stake, which is that “the pope appoints bishops and nobody else.”

“We need to handle this seriously because it’s very important, and not only for Ahiara and Nigeria,” he said. “It raises the issue of how we appoint bishops for the whole Church.”

“If you decide to change it because of this case, then get ready” to live with the consequences, warned Onaiyekan, who turns 74 later this month.

Onaiyekan spoke to Crux on the sidelines of a Rome conference on ecumenism and interreligious dialogue, sponsored by the University of Notre Dame’s “World Religions and World Church” program Jan. 8-10.

Cardinal John Onaiyekan of Abuja, Nigeria. (Credit: CNS.)

To recap, the Diocese of Ahiara in southern Nigeria, with about 400,000 Catholics out of a total population of a half-million, has been in suspended animation since December 2012, when Pope Benedict XVI appointed Peter Ebere Okpaleke, 49 at the time and a member of the Ibo ethnic group that’s long been a bulwark of Nigerian Catholicism, as the new bishop.

An uprising among the diocese’s priests ensued, abetted by lay activists, not out of personal opposition to Okpaleke – who, by most accounts, is a gentle and decent individual, and more or less an innocent bystander – but because he comes from outside the Mbaise group that dominates Ahiara, and which feels under-represented in the Nigerian hierarchy. Although Okpaleke was ordained as the bishop in May 2013, he’s never entered the diocese, and many aspects of Church life have ground to a halt. There are seminarians in Ahiara, for instance, who’ve been waiting four years for ordination, with no clear sense when – or if – the big day will ever come.

Flash-forward to June 2017, when Pope Francis took the essentially unprecedented step of demanding that all Ahiara priests write to him pledging loyalty within 30 days, and threatening suspension if they didn’t comply.

 

Onaiyekan and others believed the endgame was at hand – the hard-core opposition would be identified and marginalized, the ground would be cleared for Okpaleke to take over, and life in Ahiara eventually would go back to normal.

It’s now seven months later, however, and none of that has happened. No one’s been openly suspended or otherwise sanctioned, Okpaleke still hasn’t taken possession of the diocese, and confusion has set in about where things go from here. Some, such as Bishop Joseph Bagobiri of Kafanchan in the central part of the country, are openly suggesting that in the interests of peace, Okpaleke should just step aside so things can start fresh.

RELATED: Bishops joust over contested choice as shepherd of Nigerian diocese

Onaiyekan, however, believes that if the opposition to Okpaleke gets its way, a dangerous precedent will be set.

“It won’t stop here, and it’s not only about new bishops, but those who are already bishops. If somebody can create enough problems in such a way that you can no longer rely on his stable episcopacy, then you can force the pope’s hand.”

“That’s especially dangerous in a place like Nigeria, where we have so many differences of tribal positions and so on,” he said. “We believe that we have a system where the pope appoints, and whether you like it or not, you accept [the bishop] and then you leave him to work. He works well or he doesn’t, and that’s the story of the Church.”

Onaiyekan grants that because so much time has passed since the pope’s edict, confidence is beginning to waver, and some are wondering if eventually Francis will be persuaded to back down.

Though Onaiyekan says he’s waiting to see what will happen like everyone else, he believes a reversal of course would be ill-advised.

“I don’t think it would be helpful. It wouldn’t even be a decision met with joy by the vast majority of Nigerians,” he said. “We would rather face the consequences of pushing the matter to wherever it leads, and let Ahiara finally begin to rise.”

The Nigerian cardinal, who’s led the Archdiocese of Abuja, the national capital, since 1994, is equally firm on where the resolution needs to come from: Rome, and specifically, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples headed by Italian Cardinal Fernando Filoni.

RELATED: Pope’s ultimatum in Nigeria has roots in 2014 letters

“Since the decision has been taken here, it should be followed up here,” he said, referring to Rome. “As the bishops of Nigeria, we have actually written to Filoni [to say] that we cannot keep waiting.”

Since last June, Onaiyekan stressed, he’s been out of the picture because Rome took over. Among other things, he said, he no longer makes the roughly 360-mile trip from Abuja to Ahiara, and has tried to stay out of the fray.

“I considered my job as Apostolic Administrator over,” he said. “The pope had spoken, and I cannot improve on what he has said. Since then, I’ve been waiting for Rome to take whatever decision needs to be taken.”

“Personally, I believe time has been lost in these six months we’ve been waiting,” he said. “It’s becoming quite embarrassing.”

“If I were handling it, I would have just taken action right away,” Onayiekan said. “I would have said, these are the people who have written a proper letter according to what the pope has said, the rest of you, consider yourselves suspended until you have written something better. That would have kept things moving.”

What exactly does Onaiyekan think Filoni needs to do?

“The first thing is, we need to have a full list of the priests we can count on to welcome their bishop,” he said, which he argued that Filoni could supply based on the letters sent to the pope.

“If we have a good list of those priests, then we can start organizing them. If we get them organized, then the bishop can start moving ahead,” he said.

Oniayekan disputed the claim that whatever the rights and wrongs of the situation, there’s been so much water under the bridge that it’s impossible to expect Okpaleke to function effectively.

“For me, it is sheer hypothesis to say, like some people have said, that with all that has happened, and the amount of bad blood that has been created, there’s no way that Bishop Okpaleke can successfully run the diocese,” he said.

“I don’t know whether anybody can actually say that, because a lot depends on how the bishop himself conducts his mission,” Onaiyekan said. “I personally believe that if he goes there, something will start moving. People will make up their minds.”

He added that during his period as Apostolic Administrator, wherever he went in the diocese he always found a “very good welcome.”

Despite some dire forecasts of resistance and even violence should Okpaleke set foot in Ahiara, Onaiyekan believes much of that is overheated.

“My own feeling is that if a clear decision is taken, and Bishop Okpaleke goes to his diocese, the worst-case scenario is if nobody comes out to see him,” he said. “The idea that they will attack him physically, I don’t believe that.”

“Anyway,” Onaiyekan added wryly, “it won’t be the first time that a bishop enters hostile territory.”

Finally, Onaiyekan rejected the idea that Francis didn’t understand the situation in Ahiara and was poorly informed by others. Those rejecting Okpaleke, he said, actually wrote multiple letters to Rome, “and they all got to the pope.”

“The pope was well aware of the situation, which is why he came out as firmly as he did,” Onaiyekan said. “It’s not true that he didn’t know what was happening. The story being told around Ahiara, ‘Oh, if the pope only heard our story,’ just isn’t true. I told them there’s nothing you’ve said the pope is not aware of.”

RELATED: After dramatic papal threat, Nigerian diocese remains badly split

Onaiyekan knows that despite the fact he no longer has any role in Ahiara, some Nigerians continue to blame him for the mess, including some fairly hostile commentary in a few local media outlets. However, he says, the criticism isn’t really a source of any anxiety.

“That doesn’t bother me, for the simple reason that I’m not responsible for any mess, neither for the appointment of Okpaleke nor for what the pope said in June,” he said.

“What I’m hoping now is that somebody here [in Rome], somewhere, somehow, will tell us what to do,” he said. “We will do whatever needs to be done.”

USCCB president: ‘Active love’ needed to further Rev. King’s legacy

Wed, 01/10/2018 - 2:50 PM

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The federal holiday honoring the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. is “an important time to recommit ourselves to the Gospel message he preached,” said Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, who is president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

King’s message, DiNardo said in a Jan. 10 statement, is that “the sin of racism can be defeated by active love and the light of faith.” This year the holiday is Jan. 15.

“We pray in confidence that Jesus Christ will remind us all that he is the most powerful means to break the chains of hate that still bind too many hearts, a truth which lies at the center of Dr. King’s legacy,” he added.

The cardinal noted, “In recent years — including last summer in Charlottesville (Virginia) — we have glimpsed an appalling truth that lurks beneath the surface of our culture. Even with all the progress our country has made on the issue, racism remains a living reality.”

King, in 1958, said: “Along the way of life, someone must have the sense enough and the morality enough to cut off the chain of hate. This can only be done by projecting the ethics of love to the center of our lives.”

“Breaking the chain of hate,” DiNardo said, “requires both courage and commitment.” He cited the example of Sister Mary Antona Ebo, a Franciscan Sister of Mary and the first African-American sister to march with King in Selma, Alabama. “She remained a bold and dedicated champion of civil rights throughout her lifetime, and her witness should inspire our own,” he added.

Ebo told others who gathered for the march on Selma: “I’m here because I’m a Negro, a nun, a Catholic, and because I want to bear witness.” She died Nov. 11 at age 93.

The act making King’s birthday a national holiday was signed into law in 1983 and took effect in 1986. All 50 states observed the holiday for the first time in 2000. The holiday is observed on the third Monday in January; this year’s Jan. 15 observance would have been King’s 89th birthday.

The holiday also has become a national day of service for citizens to volunteer in honor of the civil rights leader who was slain nearly 50 years ago.

Pope Francis appoints administrator for scandal-plagued lay movement

Wed, 01/10/2018 - 9:32 AM

Pope Francis has appointed a Colombian bishop to take over the Peru-based Sodalitium Christianae Vitae.

The SCV, which includes consecrated laywomen as well as priests, is governed by a group of celibate laymen known as “sodalits.” Founded in 1971 and approved by the Vatican in 1997, the group has around 20,000 members mostly in Latin America, but also in the United States and Italy.

Considered to be theologically and politically conservative, the group came out of the opposition to the left-wing liberation theology movement which swept through the region after the Second Vatican Council.

The founder, Luis Fernando Figari, has been accused of psychological and sexual abuse.

A criminal investigation into Figari and several other high-ranking men in the organization began at the beginning of 2017, and Peruvian prosecutors in December requested they be incarcerated by court order.

The SCV commissioned its own investigation, which reported last year that “Figari sexually assaulted at least one child, manipulated, sexually abused, or harmed several other young people; and physically or psychologically abused dozens of others.”

According to the report, he “used his leadership status to have authoritarian direction and control of most Sodalits.”

A communique issued by the Vatican press office on Wednesday said Pope Francis has been following the news “with concern.”

“The pope has shown to be particularly attentive to the gravity of the information about the internal governance, formation and the management of economic-financial affairs, to which he urged the [Vatican Congregation for Consecrated Life] to pay attention particular,” the statement said.

The pontiff appointed Colombian Bishop Noel Antonio Londoño Buitrago as the “commissioner” of the SCV, but Cardinal Joseph William Tobin, the Archbishop of Newark, will continue in his role as papal delegate for the organization, especially concerning economic matters.

Figari’s sexual abuse was first reported officially to Lima’s interdiocesan tribunal in 2011, which forwarded the complaint to the Vatican.

The then-superior general of the Sodalits, Eduardo Regal Villa, directed Figari to withdraw from public life, but the reasons for his retirement were not made known publicly.

In 2015, an apostolic visitor was appointed to the community, and the following year, Tobin was appointed the Vatican’s delegate to oversee ongoing reform of the SCV.

The Vatican said after an analysis of the situation, including the criminal case against Figari, has led to the latest action against the SCV.

A similar process took place in the Legion of Christ, a religious order founded by Father Marcial Maciel.

In 2006 the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith imposed upon Maciel “a retired life of prayer and penance, renouncing any form of public ministry,” after accusations he had sexually abused minors, used drugs, and fathered several children.

In 2010, Pope Benedict XVI appointed Italian Archbishop Velasio de Paolis as a papal delegate to the order. New constitutions for the Legion of Christ were approved by Pope Francis in 2014.

Pope Francis is scheduled to visit Chile and Peru Jan. 15-21.

Zambia bans church services as cholera epidemic hits nation

Wed, 01/10/2018 - 7:22 AM

LUSAKA, Zambia — As a cholera epidemic threatens the lives of more than 14 million Zambians, the country has banned church services and other gatherings in Lusaka’s high-density residential areas.

The Zambian bishops’ conference also has implemented measures, such as eliminating the handshake of peace in areas where Masses are still allowed.

Zambian government ministers said Jan. 7 that all gatherings of every nature, including church services, were banned in areas most affected by the epidemic. The ministers said the ban is aimed at curbing the spread of the disease and making current treatment measures more effective.

The ministers also announced restrictions on the movement of people in the cholera epicenters from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. and limited the opening of bars and other business outlets to between 11 a.m. and 7 p.m. They closed markets and food outlets in most of the cities where the cholera bacteria was detected.

The Archdiocese of Lusaka has canceled all church-sponsored programs until further notice. The Seventh Day Adventist Church also has canceled all church gatherings, advising members to worship from home.

In a pastoral letter read in all Catholic Churches in Lusaka Jan. 7, Father Thomas Banda, Lusaka archdiocesan pastoral coordinator, said church meetings should be held only if necessary. He also announced an indefinite ban on handshakes during the meetings and on gatherings after funeral services.

Meanwhile, the state ordered the defense forces onto the streets to help control the epidemic. They began a cleanup of the streets of Lusaka and other major Zambian cities, demolishing illegal market structures and unblocking drains.

The state has also announced plans to begin vaccination against cholera, with 2 million doses of the vaccine donated by the U.N. Children’s Fund.

On Jan. 7, the health ministry confirmed 57 deaths and more than 2,400 cases of hospitalization from suspected cholera in Lusaka, where National Heroes Stadium has been temporarily made the main treatment center. More than 2,000 people have died from cholera in Zambia over the past 10 years.

Pope Francis calls for respecting silence during Mass

Wed, 01/10/2018 - 5:48 AM

ROME – Pope Francis continued his catechesis on the Holy Eucharist by encouraging priests not to be in a hurry and neglect the moment of silence following the Mass’s opening prayer.

During his Wednesday audience in the Paul VI hall at the Vatican, the pope focused on the ‘Collect,’ the moment in Mass when faithful are called to present their individual intentions and needs to God and think about why they are there. The priest’s exhortation “Let us pray,” must be followed by silence and reflection, the pope said.

“Silence is not reduced to the lack of words, but in being open to listen to other voices: That of our heart and, especially, the voice of the Holy Spirit,” Francis told the seven thousand faithful gathered for the audience Jan. 10.

The nature of silence in liturgy changes depending on the moment it takes place, he added, representing an opportunity to collect during the penitential act and the call to prayer, a chance to meditate after the readings and homily, and a moment for praise after Communion.

“Here lies the importance of listening to our soul in order to open it up for the Lord. Perhaps we come from days of challenges, joy, pain, and we wish to say this to the Lord, invoke his help, ask that he be close to us; we have family and friends who are sick or going though a hard time; we wish to trust the fate of the Church and the world to God,” Francis said.

The priest’s ‘Collect’ puts together all of these intentions brought forward during the moment of silence. “I strongly recommend priests not to be in a hurry and observe this moment of silence, which without wanting to we risk neglecting,” he added.

The oration made by the priest first of all invokes the name of God and praises what he has done for the world, and then pleas for his intervention. The priest does this with his arms wide, imitating Christ on the Cross.

In the Roman Rite the orations are “short but rich in meaning,” Francis said, encouraging faithful to meditate on these texts even outside of Mass as an example of how to talk to God, what to ask and which words to use. “May the liturgy become for all of us a true school of prayer,” the pope added.

Francis also addressed the Gloria, an ancient hymn drawn from the song the angels sang when Jesus was born in Bethlehem. “We can say that the ‘Gloria,’ sung or recited on Sundays– excluding those of Advent and Lent – and also during solemnities or feasts, represents an opening of the earth toward the sky, in answer to the sky’s folding unto the earth,” the pope said.

Francis was welcomed warmly by the faithful in the Paul VI hall, with the pope stopping as usual to take pictures and be with children. Beyond the now traditional exchange of the ‘zucchetto’ (the white papal hat), the pope did not hesitate to stop for a quick sip of mate, the typical Argentinian drink, given to him by a woman in the crowd.

Ecumenical, interfaith experts in Rome ponder promise and perils of division

Wed, 01/10/2018 - 1:49 AM

ROME – Participants at a global conference in Rome this week on ecumenism and interreligious dialogue pondered both the promise and peril of divisions within different Christian and religious traditions, not just among them, acknowledging those tensions often get in the way of forging closer ties, but also insisting they have an upside.

One expert went so far as to issue a rule of thumb for understanding another tradition — don’t focus just on where that tradition is compact, he said, but also where people are fighting among themselves.

It’s important that “each religion participating in dialogue acknowledge its vulnerabilities and inner tensions, and for the other partner to be attentive to the tensions and disagreements in its own culture and the other,” said Robert Gimello, Research Professor of Theology and East Asian Languages & Cultures at the University of Notre Dame.

The discussion came as part of a second installment at an international conference called ‘The Whole is Greater than Its Parts: Christian Unity and Interreligious Encounter Today’, organized by the World Religions World Church (WRWC) program of the University of Notre Dame and staged at Notre Dame’s Global Gateway facility in Rome.

Church leaders, theologians, and scholars of global religions from various parts of the world came to Rome Jan. 8-10 to address the most pressing matters regarding dialogue between the Church and other religions, including Muslim/Christian tensions, international ecumenical models such as India and ongoing debates in Christianity over a whole variety of matters.

Keynote speakers included Cardinal John Onaiyekan of Abuja, Nigeria, a longtime leader in ecumenical and inter-faith relations in Africa, and Bishop Brian Farrell, Secretary of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

Division within the Church

During a presentation summing up the similarities and differences between the Christian tradition and Buddhism, Gimello insisted that “when one compares religious traditions, as those of us involved in comparing religious theology must do, it’s often important for each of us to be forthright about our own inner tensions.”

According to the ‘Buddhismologist’, “by comparing Christianity and Buddhism in  areas of disagreement rather than assuming that they are compact in uncontroversial wholes, I think we see more about what distinguishes Buddhism from Christianity and more about what they have in common.”

Tensions within traditions and their consequences were also at the heart of comments made by the conference’s keynote speaker, Nigerian Cardinal John Onaiyekan, the Archbishop of Abuja.

“Christian, Muslim relations are made more difficult by the disunity in both the Christian and Muslim fold,” Onaiyekan told Crux in an interview, pointing to the emergence of Sunni and Ahmadi Muslim religious groups in Nigeria, previously unfamiliar expressions of Islam with which Christian leaders in the country have had to come to terms.

According to the cardinal, interreligious dialogue on the Christian side “is made harder by the fact that we don’t present a united front.” As an example, Onaiyekan pointed to the rampant rise of the Pentecostal movement in Africa, adding that “when there are too many churches it’s confusing, and there is institutional disorder.”

The Indian model

Yet diversity also has its upside, a point brought home by Vasudha Narayanan, a religion professor at the University of Florida from India and the former President of the American Academy of Religion. In a country known for its regional and cultural diversity, the theological beliefs of Hindus provide a basis for cohabitation, and even an opportunity to share places of worship and religious figures.

There are about 330 million deities in the Hindu tradition, she said, pointing to the Hindu belief that “God cannot be constricted,” and thus defined, Narayanan said. The scholar reported cases of Indian religious sisters in northern France who use colored paste to mark the forehead of visitors as an auspicious symbol and of the many Indians who make pilgrimages to sacred Catholic and Muslim sites for prayer and worship.

“They don’t ask for liberation from the cycle of life and death but rather for very simple things,” Narayanan said. “They don’t see (the places of worship) as controlled by institutions and credos. They are theologically more pluralistic, rather than just socially pluralistic, and this comes from a very strong sense of infinity.”

This sense of infinity, she added, is represented in the Hindu religion by the supreme being of truth and knowledge, who is described as having a thousand limbs and a thousand names, meaning that “everything you think of God is beyond and more.”

Putting old divisions behind

According to Bishop Brian Farrell, Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, a key challenge today in ecumenical dialogue is what he calls the “purification of memories.”

The bishop explained that “social memory is based on stereotyping the adversary and selecting those parts of history that support one’s own point of view.”

“While the past cannot be changed, what is remembered is how we remember it can be …  it can be the guiding light for so many human situations … can we do it in a way that’s also receptive of the other party’s point of view?” Farrell asked.

As an example, he said that it wasn’t “ecumenically possible” to use the word “celebration” to describe last year’s Protestant/Catholics efforts to mark the  500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation together, and, in the end, the agreed-upon term was “commemoration.”

He said three sentiments ran through that joint commemoration: “Thanking God for positive things received from each tradition, asking God’s forgiveness for the division, and the hope-filled commitment to what Pope Francis emphasizes as ‘walking together.'”

Ferrell said that one of the fundamental problems in ecumenism today is a difference in perspectives regarding the ultimate goal of the movement, which he said used to be moved by a huge optimism for the “visible unity” of all Christians, but today there seems a much wider range of opinion about what leaders in the enterprise are even after.

“Today, it may be much more realistic not to have that kind of optimism that oversimplified matters in the Council and in the following decades,” he said.

The bishop also said the Second Vatican Council influenced the mentality and approach of many Catholics toward other Christians, which went from ‘they don’t belong’ to “a recognition that God uses their communities for salvation…. no wonder these things caused such a stir and such opposition, then and still now.”

“A door that had been closed for centuries was now open,” Farrell said.

Francis’s efforts to bring forward the Catholic Church are “not introducing some new revolution, as some people are trying to make out,” he added, but rather an attempt “to apply that change in perspective which is still a work in progress. Those of us who work with him realize he’s giving us the opportunity to advance that change in perspective which came to a certain degree in the texts of the council, but as a living organism, needs to be absorbed into the cells of the body that is the Church.”

Farrell quoted Francis’s speech to the Roman Curia in December 2017 expressing how ecumenical relations are an “essential” part of the faith, aimed at “untying the knots of misunderstanding and hostility, and counteracting prejudices and the fear of the other.”

“In other words, we can’t give it up,” Ferrell said.

Abducted religious sisters in Nigeria are rescued by police

Wed, 01/10/2018 - 1:46 AM

YAOUNDÉ, Cameroon – Three Catholic nuns and three women accompanying them, kidnapped in Nigeria on Nov. 13, 2017, were released after spending nearly two months in captivity.

The religious sisters were members of the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus (EHJ) Convent in Edo state, in the south of the country.

The kidnappers had taken the women from their residence, and fled via speedboat to an unknown destination.

The convent later received a ransom demand for $55,000, but the mother superior, Sister Agatha Osarekho said no money was ever handed over.

“No ransom was paid. Well, we know that [the police] did their best because they are aware. They had to do their work. The most important thing is that our sisters are out,” the mother superior said.

“We are happy; to God be the glory! One was released [Saturday] and the others were also released today [Sunday]. They are fine and are receiving some medical checkup in a hospital,” she said.

She said the other three women with whom the sisters were kidnapped will be helped to “settle down” before they are reunited with their families.

“Their families have been anxious. So, we will get the sisters to speak with them,” she said.

The police commissioner, Johnson Kokumo, said the captives were freed during a police operation, but the gunmen escaped.

“Police operatives closed in on the daredevil kidnappers and they had no other option than to release the reverend sisters,” Kokumo told local media.

“We thank all the men and women of goodwill who worked and prayed tirelessly behind the scenes for the release of our sisters. We thank the mother superior of the EHJ for her patience and strong will, and her sisters for their solidarity during these days of trial,” said Father Kevin Oselumhense Anetor, from the Diocese of Uromi.

“We thank the Catholic Archdioceses of Benin and Lagos for their support and prayers, and indeed the Catholic and non-Catholic world, for their vigilance and prayers. We also thank YOU, yes YOU, for your active participation on social media. Your thousands of comments, shares, and prayers went a long way,” the priest said in a Facebook post.

The kidnapping had left the Church in Nigeria broken, with Archbishop Alfred Martin of Lagos wondering whether the authorities were working hard enough to secure the release of the nuns.

The Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria issued a statement on Dec. 15 saying that “agents of darkness continue to hold our people to ransom through kidnapping, armed robbery and other dehumanizing activities.”

Pope Francis had joined the bishops in prayer saying that he was praying for them, “and for all the other people who find themselves in this painful situation.”

“From the heart, I unite myself to the appeal of the Bishops of Nigeria for the liberation of the six Sisters of the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus, kidnapped roughly a month ago from the convent in Iguoriakhi,” the pontiff said on Dec. 17.

Kidnapping of religious leaders for ransom has become a steady source of income for kidnappers in Nigeria.

In October, a 63-year-old Italian priest, Father Maurizio Pallù, was kidnapped in Benin City, Nigeria.

On September 1, Father Cyriacus Onunkwo was kidnapped from his car by gunmen in the village of Orlu in the state of Imo in southern Nigeria. Earlier that day, another priest – Father Jude Udokwu – was also attacked by kidnappers in the same village, but managed to escape.

After the 2017 Annual General Meeting of Justice Development and Peace Commissions/Caritas Nigeria, a communique was released asking the government to do more to stop the kidnapping of clergy and religious.

The Church leaders said they were saddened by the “re-emergence of kidnappings across the country,” noting that priests and religious sisters “are gradually turning into endangered species.”

“Unfortunately, even the poor among us are no longer safe. This has brought tension as no one is safe on our roads and at home. We therefore call on the government whose primary responsibility it is to secure lives and property to declare a state of emergency on this very critical security issue,” they said.

Israeli envoy to Vatican: ‘We want peace as much as His Holiness’

Wed, 01/10/2018 - 1:46 AM

[Editor’s Note: On Monday, Pope Francis delivered his annual address to the diplomatic corps accredited to the Vatican, in what’s generally considered his most important foreign policy speech of the year. It was a typically wide-ranging overview of the global scene, from nuclear disarmament and the dangers of anti-immigrant rhetoric to the pro-life cause and “ideological colonization.”

Crux spoke with Ambassador Oren David of Israel, a veteran diplomat who’s served in Canada, the United States, Romania, and as a non-resident ambassador to Moldova and Malta prior to taking up his current post in 2016.]

Crux: Was there anything about Pope Francis’s speech that struck you as especially important?

David: It was a beautiful speech. I appreciate the meaning, and the duty, implied in referring to the First World War, the war we assumed would end all wars. Obviously, that didn’t happen. It was important to mention the centennial anniversary of the end of that war, because we have to learn from our past.

Ambassador Oren David. (Credit: Israeli Foreign Ministry.)

It was also beautiful how the speech ended by making a literary reference to the builders of the medieval cathedrals in Europe. They knew how to work together, transcending the limits of time. They knew they would not live to see their project completed, and they did it taking into consideration that they were contributing to the future generations. Humanity has to learn to work together in order to achieve the common good.

Among other global situations the pope touched on, he discussed the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Largely, he reiterated the Vatican’s long-standing support for a two-state solution within internationally recognized borders, and also for the status quo in Jerusalem, which was upset recently by President Donald Trump’s decision to move the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

What did you make of what the pope had to say on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict?

As you said, he mentioned many conflicts, as well as other issues of importance in the international arena today. I’d just like to avail myself of this opportunity to reaffirm that Israel wants peace as much as His Holiness wants it, peace for its citizens and peace for its neighbors.

As for Jerusalem, which indeed the pope mentioned, Israel acknowledges the importance of Jerusalem to all three monotheistic religions. Therefore, Israel guarantees, and we’ve always guaranteed, freedom of access and worship in the holy sites to all believers equally.

We also join the pope’s call for dialogue and the resumption of negotiations, which was part of his reference to the Israel/Palestinian conflict.

Did you have anything that would mark a new position from the Vatican?

No. It was a confirmation of their long-standing concerns.

On the diplomatic scene, the Vatican is a fairly unique actor – a sovereign state with no national economy, no real standing army, none of the usual political interests. From Israel’s point of view, why is it important to have diplomatic relations with the Holy See?

The importance of relations between Israel and the Holy See lies on many important components. There are two basic pillars, the first of which is political. It’s based on the Fundamental Agreement signed in 1993 between Israel and the Holy See. Then there’s the unique theological component, of which Nostra Aetate in 1965 is the basic expression. [Note: Nostra Aetate was the document of the Second Vatican Council on the Church’s relationship with other religions, focusing especially on Judaism.]

The importance lies in the uniqueness of relations, by definition, between the one and only Jewish state and the Vatican, which is the sole state and center of the Catholic world. It’s important that we continue to cooperate with the Holy See on a number of matters, including the battle against anti-Semitism, bringing the message of Nostra Aetate to all believers, and cooperating in different fields and domains for the common good. This is what we’re doing.

Popes take positions on all kinds of global issues. As an observer of geopolitics, do you see evidence that the Vatican is effective in trying to promote those positions? Does their advocacy make a difference?

I think the Vatican and the pope have a great influence, as well as moral authority, over 1.2 billion Catholics and beyond. It’s a moral authority, a voice, which is heard and respected by the whole international community.

In this respect, the pope is a messenger of peace, and his voice is heard throughout the world. We join him in his attempts to spread peace, dialogue, tolerance and mutual respect, as well as freedom, including freedom of religion – fostering common Judeo-Christian values, which are shared by Jews and Catholics alike.

Pope says he goes to Chile, Peru as pilgrim of Gospel joy

Tue, 01/09/2018 - 11:40 AM

ROME — Less than a week before embarking on a seven-day visit to South America, Pope Francis said he would go to Chile and Peru as a pilgrim and share the Gospel’s message of hope and joy.

“I want to meet with you, look into your eyes, see your faces and experience God’s closeness, his tenderness and mercy that embraces and consoles us,” the pope said in a video message released by the Vatican Jan. 9.

The pope will be in Chile Jan. 15-18, visiting the cities of Santiago, Temuco and Iquique. He then will fly to Peru and from Jan. 18-21, he will visit Lima, Puerto Maldonado and Trujillo.

In his message, Francis said he was familiar with the history of both countries and was grateful for the people’s faith and love for God, particularly in caring for those “discarded by society.”

“The throwaway culture has invaded us more and more,” he said. “I want to share in your joys, your sorrows, your difficulties and hopes and tell you that you are not alone, that the pope is with you (and) that the whole church embraces you.”

Francis also said he hoped to share with the people the experience of the peace that comes from God through Christ’s resurrection, which is the foundation of peaceful coexistence in society and “heals our miseries.”

“To feel God’s closeness makes us a living community that is capable of moving with those who are at our side and take firm steps toward friendship and brotherhood. We are brothers and sisters who go out to meet others to confirm one another in the same faith and hope,” the pope said.

The Peru-Chile trip will be Francis’s fourth to South America. In July 2013, he visited Brazil for World Youth Day. In July 2015, he traveled to Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay, and in September 2017, he visited Colombia.

Indiana ‘Dreamer’ faces family breakup if DACA is allowed to expire

Tue, 01/09/2018 - 11:23 AM

INDIANAPOLIS, Indiana — Brenda Martinez’s first dream was to become an astrophysicist.

As she finished seventh grade in Indianapolis, her heart was set on attending Purdue University with the help of a state scholarship program.

But in one crushing blow, she learned she was “undocumented,” which made her ineligible for the financial assistance and dashed her hopes that her dream could become real.

“That’s how I started being cautious about dreaming,” Martinez told Catholic News Service Jan. 4.

Now 25 and a member of St. Monica Parish in Indianapolis, Martinez fled as a 6-year-old from the bleak and dangerous city of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. The border town has been wracked by violence for years as rival gangs battle for valuable drug trafficking routes and rule through fear.

“Women were getting kidnapped and they were getting raped and murdered and being dumped next to the border. It would be every other day, every other day,” Martinez said.

“It was scary because my mom was working the second or third shift and that’s when people would go missing,” she said.

A robbery at her grandparents’ butcher shop, where she and her younger sister stayed, was the final incident. Her godparents, already residing in Indianapolis, insisted that Martinez come to live with them. Leaving her mother and sister behind, Martinez grew up in relative security until the crushing day when her godmother explained that she was undocumented.

“I started paying attention to the news, how there were ladies getting deported, how you could just lose everything in one go,” she said. “So I was kind of worried, but at the same time I didn’t want to give up so I just kept going.”

Martinez did not feel that her situation fit the narrow criteria to apply for permanent residence or citizenship and lived in constant fear of deportation, unable to legally drive or work.

A glimmer of hope appeared in 2012 when President Barack Obama enacted DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. Although not a path to citizenship, DACA gave about 800,000 young people like Martinez renewable two-year permits to legally work, acquire driver’s licenses and attend college.

“I felt safer because I could finally have a job and work and make something out of my life here,” she recalled.

Martinez enrolled in a local community college and worked low-wage jobs to pay for tuition and books. She acquired a business certification and then paused her college education to give birth to her first daughter, Luna. Five months ago, she and her husband welcomed a second child, Athenea. Martinez decided to stay home to care for the girls.

“(My husband) works from 7 a.m. till 5:30 p.m. and from there he starts working at 6 or 7 p.m. at the other job and he doesn’t come home till 1, 2, sometimes 3 a.m.,” she explained.

“Hopefully, once I start working again, he can leave one of the jobs. But that’s how we were taught, so that’s how we’re living right now,” Martinez said.

Yet even that plan might be dashed. President Donald Trump announced the end of DACA in September, which means Martinez’s permit to live and work in the U.S. cannot be renewed. Her permit runs out in March 2019 unless Congress passes the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, or DREAM Act.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen. I don’t know if they’re going to tell me to get my stuff and I have a certain amount of time to get out, I don’t know if they’ll offer me another way to have another job permit,” she said.

“I would be really devastated if I would have to leave and if they told me that I can’t take my children with me because they are citizens and I’m not. That is my main worry: that I won’t be able to take my children with me,” she said.

Rather than remain frozen by fear, Martinez connected with the local grass-roots advocacy network, Faith in Indiana. The organization suggested that she share her story with thousands of young people at the National Catholic Youth Conference in November, hoping to inspire others to intercede for her and her DACA-protected peers who are collectively known as “Dreamers.”

“It’s hard to think about losing the Dreamers in our community,” said Sister Tracey Horan, a community organizer with Faith in Indiana and the Archdiocese of Indianapolis’s point person on immigration issues.

“To me, it feels like losing a generation of young adults who have fire and passion to create something new. We can’t even calculate the cost of that,” said Horan, a member of the Sisters of Providence of St. Mary of the Woods in Indiana.

Unless Congress acts on the DREAM Act by early March, the first permits for people protected under DACA will begin to run out. An estimated 1,000 Dreamers would lose their status each day.

“I just would like them to realize that it’s a lot of lives they have in their hands right now that are kind of hanging by a thread,” Martinez said.

“We’re not here to do any harm. We help the economy because we work and pay our taxes. We just want to make our dreams come true and have something that we can give to our family as well.”

March for Life events planned across the U.S.

Tue, 01/09/2018 - 11:18 AM

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Forty-five years after the Supreme Court ruling that mandated legal abortion nationwide, hundreds of thousands are expected to attend rallies supporting the dignity of life, from conception to natural death.

The National March for Life, held each year in Washington, D.C., typically draws large crowds from across the country. This year, the march will be held on Jan. 19 and will feature the theme, “Love saves lives.”

Speakers include Pam Tebow, mother of former NFL player Tim Tebow; Congressmen Dan Lipinski (D-IL) and Chris Smith (R-NJ); and Sister Bethany Madonna from the Sisters of Life.

The D.C. march is one of the largest annual political rallies in the United States. Numerous other cities across the U.S. will also hold Masses, marches, and other events on or near the Jan. 22 anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision.

RELATED: Participating in the March for Life? There’s an indulgence for that

March for Life Chicago is set to take place on Jan. 14 at Federal Plaza from 2:00-4:00 p.m. Speakers will include former Planned Parenthood director Ramona Trevinoa and clergy such as Cardinal Blase Cupich; Bishop Donald Hying of Gary, Indiana; and Orthodox Bishop Paul of Chicago and the Midwest.

“Marching in peace through the streets of Chicago, our goal is to serve as a visual and vocal reminder that the people of Chicago and the Midwest stand for Life,” read a statement from the March for Life Chicago website.

The Chicago pro-life march will kick off with a Rose Dinner on Jan. 13, and will also include a youth rally and Mass, as well as a brunch to aid women in need. This year, more than 6,000 people are expected to attend the Chicago March.

California will host multiple pro-life rallies this month. The fourth annual OneLife LA event will take place on Jan. 20 from 12:00-4:00 p.m. in Los Angeles, where thousands of people will march to declare “a commitment to valuing and protecting all human life, particularly the most vulnerable in our community,” according to the event’s website.

The LA march will include a one-mile walk from La Placita Olvera to the LA State Historic Park, where there will be speakers, musicians and food.

Up the coast from LA, the 14th annual West Coast Walk for Life will take place in San Francisco on Jan. 27 at 12:30 p.m. at the Civic Center Plaza. The event will include speakers such as pro-life author Terry Beatley; former abortion doctor John Bruchalski, who now runs a pro-life family clinic in Washington, D.C.; and Rev. Clenard Childress of the New Calvary Baptist Church.

Denver, Colorado will also host a Celebrate Life March on Jan. 13. Before the march, Masses will be celebrated at seven different locations. Afterwards, a rally will be held at the steps of the state capitol at 1:00 p.m.

Speakers at the Denver March will include Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila, the Denver Sisters of Life, and Dr. Don Sweeting, president of Colorado Christian University, among others.

Pastors who lead double lives wound the church, pope says

Tue, 01/09/2018 - 11:11 AM

ROME — Pastors who preach one thing and do another are wounded and harm the church, Pope Francis said.

Like the scribes and Pharisees of old, pastors end up leading a double life when they detach themselves from God and his people, the pope said in his homily Jan. 9 during morning Mass at the Domus Sanctae Marthae.

“Jesus is clear in this: ‘Do what they say’ — they speak the truth — ‘but not what they do,'” the pope said. “It is awful to see pastors with double lives: it is a wound in the church.”

The pope reflected on the day’s Gospel reading from St. Mark in which Jesus astonishes the crowd by his preaching because he taught “them as one having authority and not as the scribes.”

That same authority, the pope explained, is awakened in today’s pastors when they are “close to God in prayer and close to the people.”

However, those who are detached from God and the people are “sick pastors who have lost their authority” and are incapable of preaching salvation to others, Francis said.

“Jesus is very firm with them,” the pope said. “He not only tells the people to listen to them but not to do what they do, but what does he say to (the scribes)? He calls them ‘whitened sepulchers’ — beautiful in doctrine on the outside but inside, putrid. This is what happens to the pastor who is not close to God in prayer and with the people in compassion.”

Commenting on the day’s first reading, in which Eli gives a prophetic word of comfort to Hannah despite his own failures as a father and high priest, the pope said there is still hope for pastors who have their lives detached from God and from the people.

For Eli, “it was enough to look, to come close to a woman, to listen to her and awaken the authority to bless her and prophesy,” he said.

“Authority is a gift from God; it comes only from him,” Francis said. “If a pastor loses it, at least do not lose hope like Eli. There is always time to be close and awaken this authority and prophecy.”