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Friend of Jean Vanier ‘heartbroken’ for abuse victims, but hopeful for the future of L’Arche

Thu, 02/27/2020 - 11:35 PM

Denver, Colo., Feb 27, 2020 / 04:35 pm (CNA).- On the news that Jean Vanier, Catholic founder of L’Arche International, has been credibly accused of serially sexually abusing women, Professor Stanley Hauerwas said he is “devastated.”

“That is the way anyone must feel on hearing the news of Jean Vanier’s sexual misconduct,” Hauerwas said in comments to CNA. “Vanier was supposed to be different and in many ways he was. But the difference makes his behavior all the more devastating. He should have known better,” he added.

Hauerwas, a world renowned theologian with joint appointments at Duke Divinity School and Duke Law School, was a personal friend of Vanier, who died at the age of 90 on May 7, 2019.

Vanier was the once-revered founder of L’Arche, an international community of people with intellectual disabilities and their supporters, and of Faith and Light, an ecumenical Christian association of prayer and friendship for those with intellectual disabilities and their families.

Last April, L’Arche commissioned GCPS, an independent U.K. consultancy specializing in the reporting of exploitation and abuse to investigate allegations related to Fr. Thomas Philippe, an abusive Dominican priest sanctioned by Church authorities in 1956, whom Vanier described as his “spiritual mentor.”

On Feb. 22, 2020, L’Arche International published the results of the investigation, detailing “credible and consistent” accounts of sexual misconduct by Vanier against six adult women without disabilities in the context of spiritual direction.

Hauerwas said he considered Vanier a friend and mentor, and is “heartbroken by this revelation of his terrible misconduct and utterly condemn it as an abuse of power.”

Hauerwas noted that Vanier seems to have convinced himself the abuse was consensual, which he said was “some desperate attempt to justify his actions. Which is but a reminder that self-deception often is the result of trying to make sense of our lives and why we all need accountability, especially those held in high esteem.” 

“One suspects his gentleness allowed him to get away with anything but his actions involving the women were anything but gentle,” he said.

Still, Hauerwas said he is “indebted” to Vanier for what he taught him about how to love and care for disabled people, and he hopes that the good of L’Arche’s work will not be lost along with the revelations of abuse.

“So much of (Vanier’s) life was morally exemplary. That is one of the problems. How can we continue to learn from his witness with his intellectually disabled friends without excusing his predatory sexual behavior? At this time when we are trying to receive this devastating news the only advice I have is not to be in a hurry to answer that question,” he said.

Rather than rush to decisions, Hauerwas urged those effected by the report to pray.

“We must pray first for the women he betrayed,” he said. “We must pray for the members of the L’Arche movement. We must pray for ourselves that God will help us to carry on the work of L’Arche because that work is, in and of itself, independent of the actions of its founder.”

He added that the international L'Arche community “are proving to be quite extraordinary in terms of how they're responding and how they have responded.”

L’Arche International has set up an additional centralized reporting procedure for any further information that people may wish to report. Any such information will be received by a task force composed of people outside of L’Arche.

“I continue to believe that in those homes the glory of God is manifest for all to see.”

Vatican City implements health measures over coronavirus

Thu, 02/27/2020 - 10:00 PM

Vatican City, Feb 27, 2020 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- The Vatican has implemented special health measures and canceled some events as more than 500 people have tested positive for coronavirus in Italy.

Hand sanitizer dispensers have been installed in Vatican City offices, and there is a nurse and a doctor on call at a Vatican clinic to give immediate assistance, Holy See Press Office Director Matteo Bruni told Vatican News. 

While there have been no diagnosed cases of the coronavirus in Vatican City, Bruni said Feb. 24 that Vatican health staff have worked with the Italian Ministry of Health on procedures which can be brought into action, and are in close contact with the regional authorities in Lazio.

“In compliance with the provisions of the Italian authorities, some events scheduled for the next few days in indoor places and with an important influx of public have been postponed," Bruni said.

With Pope Francis’ Lenten retreat scheduled for March 1-6, there are no papal audiences scheduled for next week, but conferences in Rome and other indoor events have been canceled. 

A conference schedule to take place March 5-6 at the Pontifical Gregorian University on the opening of Vatican archives of Pope Pius XII has been canceled, as has a March 2-7 communications workshop at the Pontifical Urbaniana University for global representatives of the Pontifical Missions Societies.

An event for a book on Cardinal Celso Costantini Feb. 25, at which Cardinals Pietro Parolin, Luis Antonio Tagle, and Fernando Filoni were expected to speak, was canceled due to coronavirus concerns.

As of Feb. 27, Pope Francis is still scheduled to give his Sunday Angelus address on March 1 before leaving for his Lenten retreat. 

Pope Francis did not cancel his Wednesday general audience Feb. 26, but he was later seen coughing during his Ash Wednesday Mass. 

The pope chose not to attend a scheduled liturgy with priests in Rome Feb. 27 “due to a slight indisposition,” according to the Holy See press office. However, the pope’s other appointments, such as Mass in the chapel of the Casa Santa Marta, took place as usual.

Italian authorities reported 528 cases of the coronavirus Feb. 27 with 14 deaths. Nearly all of the reported cases are in northern Italy. In response to the outbreak, Italian officials have also imposed quarantine restrictions on several towns in the Lombardy and Veneto regions, where most of the infections have occurred.

The Archdiocese of Milan suspended Masses beginning on the evening Feb. 23 until further notice. The Patriarch of Venice, Archbishop Francesco Moraglia, suspended Masses and other liturgical celebrations, including baptisms and Stations of the Cross, until Sunday March 1.

In Rome’s region of Lazio there have been just three reported cases: an Italian, who has recovered, and two Chinese tourists, who are being treated in a hospital.

“I wish to express again my closeness to the coronavirus patients and the health workers who treat them, as well as to the civil authorities and all those who are working to assist the patients and stop the infection,” Pope Francis said Feb. 26.

US Religious Freedom Commission calls India riots 'brutal and unchecked violence'

Thu, 02/27/2020 - 9:00 PM

Washington D.C., Feb 27, 2020 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has called on the Indian government to halt ongoing anti-Muslim violence in Delhi, home of India's capital. 

Approximately 27 people have been killed and more than 200 were injured in a series of riots in northeastern Delhi that began on Sunday. The riots started over a new citizenship law which forbids Muslim immigrants from obtaining Indian citizenship. The BBC reported that Hindu mobs targeted unarmed people, and both Hindus and Muslims have been killed in the ensuing violence. 

“The brutal and unchecked violence growing across Delhi cannot continue. The Indian government must take swift action to ensure the safety of all its citizens,” said USCIRF Commissioner Anurima Bhargava in a statement released Wednesday. 

Bhargava cited reports that police in Delhi have allowed riots to continue and said that the Indian government “is failing in its duty to protect its citizens.” 

“These incidents are even more concerning in the context of efforts within India to target and potentially disenfranchise Muslims across the country, in clear violation of international human rights standards.” 

About 14% of India’s population is Muslim. The country is approximately 80% Hindu. 

Tony Perkins, chairman of the USCIRF, echoed Bhargava’s concerns, and said that the “reported attacks against Muslims, their homes and ships, and their houses of worship are greatly disturbing.” 

Perkins said the Indian government was facing a test of the basic functions of responsible leadership. 

“One of the essential duties of any responsible government is to provide protection and physical security for its citizens, regardless of faith. We urge the Indian government to take serious efforts to protect Muslims and others targeted by mob violence,” he said Wednesday. 

President Donald Trump visited India this week. While in the country, he hosted a rally and met with the country’s prime minister, Narendra Modi. Modi, the leader of the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, said in December, 2019, that the new citizenship bill was not anti-Muslim. 

In the USCIRF’s 2019 Annual Report, India was listed as a “Tier 2” country, designating it as a country with at least some “systemic, ongoing, egregious standard” of religious-based discrimination that would merit a country being labeled a “country of particular concern.” 

The commission’s report said India's “history of religious freedom has come under attack in recent years with the growth of exclusionary extremist narratives—including, at times, the government’s allowance and encouragement of mob violence against religious minorities—that have facilitated an egregious and ongoing campaign of violence, intimidation, and harassment against non-Hindu and lower-caste Hindu minorities. Both public and private actors have engaged in this campaign.”

‘Worship of initiatives’ is replacing faith, Pope Francis warns priests

Thu, 02/27/2020 - 8:00 PM

Vatican City, Feb 27, 2020 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- In a message Thursday, Pope Francis criticized placing so much importance on Church programs that the essential teachings of the faith are lost. The pope also said a priest’s agreement with such initiatives should not be the measure of his ministry.  

“The worship of initiatives is replacing the essential: one faith, one baptism, one God the Father of all. Adherence to initiatives risks becoming the yardstick of communion,” the pope said, in a message read aloud to the priests of the Diocese of Rome Feb. 27.

Pope Francis was scheduled to deliver the speech in person at the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran, but decided to remain close to the Vatican after feeling unwell, the Holy See spokesman, Matteo Bruni, said Thursday.

Instead, Cardinal Angelo De Donatis, vicar general of the Diocese of Rome, read the speech on the pope’s behalf.

In his speech, Francis outlined the different reasons why priests may become “embittered” in their ministry, noting that his observations came from many conversations with priests and are not only his opinion.

Today, he said, there seems to be a “general atmosphere” of “widespread mediocrity” – and not only in the priesthood.

“The fact remains that much bitterness in the life of a priest” is rooted in the omissions of his bishop, Francis said in a footnote of the speech.

Priests risk losing their ministry as pastors, their role as teachers of the faith, he said, as they become “suffocated” by management problems and personnel emergencies.

But, he added, “who is the catechist of that permanent disciple who is the priest? The bishop of course!”

Francis said it could be argued that priests do not usually want to be educated by bishops, but even if this is true, “it is not a good reason” for bishops to give up the “munus docendi.”

“The holy people of God have the right to have priests who teach them to believe; and deacons and priests have the right to have a bishop who teaches them in turn to believe and hope in the One Master, the Way, the Truth and the Life, who inflames their faith,” he said.

The pope also said that, as a priest, he would want his bishop to help him believe, not just make him happy, and lamented that often bishops end up only attending to their priests in times of crisis, and not making the time to listen to them outside of emergencies.

In his speech, Pope Francis also argued that another cause of bitterness in the priesthood is problems between priests.

He pointed to the financial and sexual scandals of recent years as having caused suspicion among priests and hindered meaningful bonds. “There is more ‘community,’ but less communion,” the pope said.

Francis also said that with these scandals, the devil tempts people to have a Donatist vision of the Church. Donatism is a heresy from the 4th to 6th centuries which argued that Catholic priests had to be without sin or fault for the sacraments they administer to be valid.

“We have false conceptions of the militant Church, in a sort of ecclesiological puritanism,” he said.

“The question we ask ourselves when we meet a new brother priest emerges silently: ‘Who do I really have before me? Can I trust him?’”

Prayer is important to combat this, he said.

The pope also warned priests against an “individualized conscience” – a feeling of being “more special, powerful, gifted” and therefore needing to start every new parish assignment with a “clean slate,” instead of building on the good already there from the previous pastor.

Cautioning against the risk of isolation, Francis advised priests to find an old and astute priest to be a spiritual father.

Religious sisters back pro-abortion primary challenger to Lipinski

Thu, 02/27/2020 - 7:15 PM

Chicago, Ill., Feb 27, 2020 / 12:15 pm (CNA).- Two Catholic religious sisters on Wednesday expressed their support for a pro-abortion primary challenger to one of the last remaining pro-life Democrats in Congress. 

The campaign of Marie Newman, a Democratic candidate running in a primary against Rep. Dan Lipinski of Illinois’ third congressional district, posted a video on Twitter Wednesday featuring two religious sisters—Sisters Patricia Murphy and JoAnn Persch of the Sisters of Mercy—endorsing Newman’s bid for Congress. 

In the video, Sister Patricia Murphy cited Newman’s “incredible power to listen to people” as a reason for her support.

JoAnn Persch and Pat Murphy are Sisters of Mercy, and have fought for social justice and human rights for decades. They are two more voices for Marie, a real Democrat with real solutions for #IL03. #NewDayInIL03 pic.twitter.com/iE5nEzqzVG

— Marie Newman (@Marie4Congress) February 26, 2020

In the video, Sister JoAnn Persch said that she first met Newman “in front of Congressman Lipinski’s office” and saw her again at a local “march against hate,” but had “never met Congressman Dan Lipinski personally” in her time working in the district.

“I will respond by voting for Marie Newman,” Persch said. Murphy said in the video that Newman “will make a great congresswoman and she has my vote.”

Newman is mounting her second consecutive primary challenge to Rep. Lipinski, opposing his views on life and marriage issues while boasting of her support from pro-abortion groups. 

Lipinski, a Catholic is an eight-term member of Congress and widely known as one of the few remaining pro-life Democrats in a federal office. He is supported by pro-life groups such as the Susan B. Anthony List and National Right to Life. 

Lipinski has worked across the aisle to support pro-life measures, including signing a petition to force a vote on the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act which would require medical care for infants who survive a botched abortion attempt. He cosponsored a “pain-capable” 20-week abortion ban in 2017, has voted to defund Planned Parenthood, and has voted against taxpayer funding of abortion. 

Newman, his challenger, has the support of several pro-abortion groups, including EMILYs List, the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL), and Planned Parenthood. She supports taxpayer-funded abortion.

In a video during her 2018 campaign, Newman said she was “so proud, and pleased” to accept NARAL’s endorsement and thanked the group “for all the amazing work you do at the local level and at the national level.”

“For too long, my opponent, Mr. Lipinski, has thrown reproductive freedom and women’s rights under the bus,” Newman said, adding that she would work to promote “women’s rights, worker’s rights, working family’s rights, health care for all, immigrants and LGBTQ folks, and Americans.”

Newman narrowly lost to Lipinski in the 2018 Democratic primary for the third congressional district, which is a safely-Democratic district.

In May 2019, NARAL announced that it was once again endorsing Newman, along with Planned Parenthood Action Fund and EMILY’s List. Lipinski, the group said, was known for “siding with anti-choice activists and supporting a bigoted agenda.” Newman said in a statement that she was “honored” to receive their support.

On Monday, a coalition of pro-abortion groups including NARAL, Planned Parenthood, and EMILY’s List, announced they would devote $1.4 million to advertising to target Lipinski’s pro-life record.

The coalition’s “independent expenditures” project would involve direct mail, television ad buys and digital ads, and would “highlight” Lipinski’s opposition to the Affordable Care Act and its contraceptive mandate, support for defunding Planned Parenthood, and support for overturning Roe v. Wade at the Supreme Court, among other matters.

The sisters endorsing Newman are members of the Sisters of Mercy, which has a West/Midwest community with a “central administrative center” based in Omaha, Nebraska, and a satellite location in Chicago. According to the order’s website, Sister Patricia Murphy entered the order in 1947 and is a 70-year jubilarian. She has worked in education in Illinois and Wisconsin, and in Peru.

Persch and Murphy have been advocates for immigrants’ rights, starting the Su Casa Catholic Worker house for survivors of torture from Central America and holding regular prayer vigils outside the Chicago office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) since 2007.

Their immigration advocacy took them to Washington, D.C. in 2019 when Sister Pat Murphy was among a group of demonstrators arrested at the Russell Senate Office Building. The group was protesting the treatment of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border and the practice of child immigrant detention.

In a statement to CNA on Thursday, the Institute of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas said it “does not endorse any political candidates.”

“Political endorsements made by any individual sisters represent their own personal views,” the statement read.

The religious sisters’ endorsement of Newman is not the first prominent 2020 political endorsement by a priest or religious. Fr. Frank Pavone, a priest of the Diocese of Amarillo, Texas, is the co-chair of President Trump’s 2020 pro-life campaign outreach.

Newman has drawn distinctions between herself and Lipinski on other issues apart from abortion. 

She has supported Medicare-for-All and the Green New Deal, and opposed a 2017 tax law which Lipinski also voted against. She had attacked Lipinski for not supporting the Equality Act in 2019, a bill that would create protected classes in federal law for sexual orientation and gender identity and which forbade sex discrimination—a prohibition that pro-life groups warned would be interpreted by the courts to overturn abortion regulations.

Lipinski initially opposed the Equality Act but ultimately voted for it, saying that “all Americans deserve equal treatment under the law and should have these rights protected, including individuals in the LGBT community.”

The congressman has also said he still has religious freedom concerns about the bill, and that it could override the application of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Lipinski has said that “before [the Equality Act] becomes law, we must do more to ensure religious liberty.”

Head of Ethiopian Catholic Church barred from entering Eritrea

Thu, 02/27/2020 - 6:14 PM

Asmara, Eritrea, Feb 27, 2020 / 11:14 am (CNA).- Cardinal Berhaneyesus Demerew Souraphiel, the head of the Ethiopian Catholic Church, was prohibited from leaving the Asmara airport Saturday. The move comes after tensions between the Church and government in Eritrea.

The BBC reported that Cardinal Berhaneyesus, Ethiopian Archbishop of Addis Abeba, had been issued a visa, but officials at the airport of the Eritrean capital said Feb. 22 they had been ordered by those “higher up” not to allow him into the country.

The cardinal intended to attend an event marking the 50th anniversary of the dedication of Kidane Mehret cathedral in Asmara.

Last year the Eritrean government seized and closed a number of Catholic healthcare sites. It is believed the seizures are retaliatory, after the Church in April 2019 called for reforms to reduce emigration. The bishops had also called for national reconciliation.

In June and July 2019 the government shuttered as many as 29 Catholic hospitals, health centers, and clinics.

Eritrea's bishops framed the problem as one of religious liberty, saying: “It is our firm belief that, with the recent requisition of our clinics, a specific right of our religion has been violated, which prescribes, ‘to love others and to do good to them.’ Any measure that prevents us from fulfilling … the obligations that come to us from the supreme commandment of brotherly love is and remains a violation of the fundamental right of religious freedom.”

Eritrea is a one-party state whose human rights record has frequently been deplored, and government seizure of Church property is not new.

A 1995 decree restricting social and welfare projects to the state has been used intermittently since then to seize or close ecclesial services.

In July 2018, an Eritrean Catholic priest helping immigrants and refugees in Italy told EWTN that authorities had recently shut down eight free Catholic-run medical clinics. He said authorities claimed the clinics were unnecessary because of the presence of state clinics.

Christian and Muslim schools have also been closed under the 1995 decree, according to the US Commission on International Religious Freedom's 2019 annual report.

Eritrea has been designated a Country of Particular Concern since 2004 for its religious freedom abuses by the US Department of State.

Many Eritreans, especially youth, emigrate, due to a military conscription, and a lack of opportunities, freedom, education, and health care.

A July 2018 peace agreement between Ethiopia and Eritrea, which ended a conflict over their mutual border, led to an open border which has allowed for easier emigration.

The Eritrean and Ethiopian Catholic Churches are closely linked. Both use the Alexandrian rite, and the Eritrean Catholic Church was separated from the Ethiopian Catholic Church only in 2015.

Canadian bishops condemn new medical suicide measures

Thu, 02/27/2020 - 4:35 PM

Ottawa, Canada, Feb 27, 2020 / 09:35 am (CNA).- The Catholic bishops of Canada issued a statement on Wednesday, condemning parliament’s efforts to further expand medically assisted suicide to those who do not have terminal illnesses. 

The legislation, known as Bill C-7, was introduced in parliament on February 23. In addition to permitting people without terminal illnesses to end their lives, the bill also creates the possibility for patients to issue advance directives, authorizing their own death in advance. 

According to the language of the bill, it would “remove the requirement for a person’s natural death to be reasonably foreseeable in order to be eligible for medical assistance in dying,” and would “introduce a two-track approach to procedural safeguards” depending on if a person’s natural death is “reasonably foreseeable.” 

“The Catholic Bishops of Canada wish to express the greatest concern and dismay in regards to the (introduction) of Bill C-7 which seeks to expand the eligibility criteria for euthanasia and assisted suicide,” said the bishops Feb. 26. 

The bishops condemned “the lamentable legislative aim” of broadening access to assisted dying, and insisted “that every opportunity for due diligence be taken during the parliamentary process.” 

“Every effort [must] be made to understand more fully the grave implications of what is being contemplated by way of Bill C-7, including the unavoidable, negative and detrimental dangers facing those who are most vulnerable in society,” they added. 

The bishops called for the Canadian House of Commons to refer the legislation to a committee for further debate and examination prior to the bill’s second reading in parliament. If the bill were to be moved to committee, witnesses would be permitted to testify “in a manner which is fully public, transparent, and open to a wide range of voices,” they said.

The bishops expressed their hope that a committee hearing would result in “full and prudent consideration of inviolable moral and ethical principles, the common good, and concern for future generations.”

The bishops also expressed concerns about the loosening of existing safeguards for “medically assisted deaths,” drawing attention to the bill’s provision for “advance directives.” 

“This means that those who change their minds at a later date, but whose ability to communicate has since been impaired, would be left to express their refusal in potentially vague ‘words, sounds, and gestures,’” said the bishops. 

This would make it “immensely difficult and highly subjective for medical practitioners and lawyers to decipher whether or not the patient still wishes to consent to the lethal procedure,” they said. 

The bishops also noted that the government ignored an open letter signed by more than 65 Canadian disability advocacy organizations, as well as the advice of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Bill C-7 is the Canadian governments attempt to accommodate a ruling by the Quebec Superior Court, which found in September 2019 that the previous requirement that euthanasia be reserved for the terminally ill was a “human rights” violation. 

“The Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada regrettably chose not to appeal the Quebec Superior Court decision,” said the bishops.

Additionally, the bishops took issue with a two-week online opinion survey on assisted dying in January. The results of that survey helped to shape the text of Bill C-7.

“The questions in this survey were framed in a manner which presupposed agreement with euthanasia and assisted suicide, including its broadening, without giving Canadians who are opposed an equal voice,” they said. 

The bishops were further concerned that although less than 1% of the Canadian population responded to the survey, “it regrettably did not ask for detailed and essential demographic data from participants,” including questions about age, gender, or disability status. The bishops noted that the online-only nature of the survey could exclude low-income, elderly, cognitively disabled, or rural Canadians, who may lack internet access.

“The online survey cannot purport to represent a ‘wide spectrum’ of the Canadian population, as has been claimed,” they said. 

“Such a flawed survey cannot be used realistically to justify Bill C-7,” said the bishops.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church condemns euthanasia, and Pope Francis recently reiterated the Church’s rejection of the practice. 

The bishops are now calling on Canadians to “make their voices heard,” and they “strongly urge members of Parliament to acknowledge the giftedness of life as an inalienable right not to be taken away by others.”

Pope Francis names 4 new bishops for US dioceses

Thu, 02/27/2020 - 3:30 PM

Vatican City, Feb 27, 2020 / 08:30 am (CNA).- Pope Francis has appointed four new bishops to serve in American dioceses. The appointments, announced Thursday, include three new auxiliary bishops for the Archdiocese of Newark, New Jersey, and one new auxiliary bishop for the Diocese of San Diego, California.

The appointments include a Benedictine monk who currently leads the American-Cassinese Congregation.

The Vatican announced Feb. 27 that Fr. Ramon Bejarano will be consecrated as auxiliary bishop for San Diego. The three new auxiliary bishops for the Newark archdiocese are Msgr. Gregory Studerus, Fr. Michael Saporito, and Abbot Elias Lorenzo.

Abbot Lorenzo, 59 is a monk of St. Mary’s Abbey in Morristown, New Jersey, who was previously prior of the Benedictine Abbey of Sant’Anselmo in Rome. Lorenzo has served as abbott president of the American-Cassinese Congregation, an association of 25 Benedictine monasteries, since 2016.

Born in Brooklyn, NY, Lorenzo entered the Benedictine monastery in 1983 after receiving a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Don Bosco College Seminary. He went on to earn a license in canon law from Catholic University of America, and master’s degrees in counseling psychology and in liturgical theology. After his ordination in 1989, Lorenzo served as a director of liturgy for the abbey, vice president of Delbarton School, and president of the International Commission for Benedictine Education.

Msgr. Gregory Studerus, a priest of the Newark archdiocese, has served as episcopal vicar of Hudson County since 2015. Before entering seminary, Studerus worked as an elementary school art teacher and served in the National Guard. He holds a Master of Divinity from Immaculate Conception Seminary.

Msgr. Studerus, 71, has been pastor of St. Joseph of the Palisades Church, the largest Hispanic parish in the Newark archdiocese, for 15 years. 

The other auxiliary bishop-elect for the Archdiocese of Newark is Fr. Michael Saporito, who currently serves as pastor of St. Helen Parish in Westfield, NJ.

A native of Newark, Saporito, 57, has served six parishes in the archdiocese since his ordination in 1992, including St. Joseph in Maplewood and St. Elizabeth in Wyckoff. Saporito studied accounting at Rutgers University before entering Immaculate Conception Seminary at Seton Hall University in South Orange.

Cardinal Joseph Tobin, Archbishop of Newark, welcomed the appointments, and said that the pope had shown a “special concern for the life and the mission of Archdiocese of Newark.” 

“In selecting Msgr. Studerus, Abbot Lorenzo, and Father Saporito for service as bishops, the Holy Father gives new impetus to this local Church as we continue to walk forward in faith.”

“I am delighted to share my responsibilities with these three dedicated missionary disciples,” Tobin said.

Pope Francis also appointed a new auxiliary bishop of San Diego Feb. 27, Fr. Ramon Bejarano, who currently serves as pastor of St. Stanislaus Parish in Modesto, CA.

Born in Laredo, TX, Bejarano, 50, spent much of his childhood in Chihuahua, Mexico, before moving with his family to California, where he was ordained a priest in the Diocese of Stockton in 1998. The bilingual priest earned a master’s degree in philosophy from the Diocesan Seminary of Tijuana, and a Master of Divinity from Mount Angel Seminary in Oregon. He previously served as pastor of Sacred Heart Church in Turlock, CA and as founding pastor of Holy Family Parish in Modesto. 

The four new auxiliary bishop appointments come one week after all of the current U.S. bishops completed their ad limina visits to Rome to meet Pope Francis and pray at the tombs of St. Peter and St. Paul.

'Slight' sickness keeps Pope Francis close to home, Vatican says

Thu, 02/27/2020 - 2:36 PM

Vatican City, Feb 27, 2020 / 07:36 am (CNA).- Pope Francis did not attend a scheduled meeting with Rome priests Thursday morning due to a “slight indisposition,” a Vatican spokesman said.

The pope’s other appointments took place as usual Thursday; he offered his morning Mass in the chapel of the Casa Santa Marta guesthouse and later met with members of the Global Catholic Climate Movement.

“Due to a slight indisposition,” Pope Francis “preferred to remain in the rooms close to Santa Marta,” Matteo Bruni, Holy See press office director told journalists Feb. 27. Santa Marta is where Francis lives at the Vatican.

Bruni added that the pope’s “other commitments proceed regularly.”

The encounter with Rome’s priests was to take place as part of a penitential Lenten liturgy at the Archbasilica of Saint John Lateran across Rome.  

In his absence at the liturgy, the pope’s prepared remarks were read to clergy by Cardinal Angelo De Donatis, the vicar general of the Diocese of Rome.

Pope Francis, who is 83 years old, is generally healthy, though he suffers from sciatica and had eye surgery for cataracts last year. When he was young he had a portion of one lung removed because of an infection.

The pope had a full schedule Feb. 26 with a procession and the celebration of Mass for Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of Lent, as well as his weekly general audience held in St. Peter’s Square.

Francis’ illness comes at the same time as the novel coronavirus afflicts several hundred people in Italy, mostly in the north.

During the audience, Pope Francis expressed his closeness to those who are sick with the novel coronavirus, Covid-19, and with the healthcare workers tasked with treating them and with stopping the contagion.

As of noon, on Feb. 27, cases of coronavirus in Italy had reached more than 500, with 14 deaths. In Rome’s region of Lazio there have been just three cases: an Italian who has recovered and two Chinese tourists who are being treated in the hospital.

 

Relics of Ss. Louis, Zelie Martin find home in parish named for daughter Therese

Thu, 02/27/2020 - 10:01 AM

Lansing, Mich., Feb 27, 2020 / 03:01 am (CNA).- Fr. John Fain is getting the 19th-century family of St. Therese back together.

Well, sort of.

First-class relics of Sts. Louis and Zelie Martin, the recently canonized parents of St. Therese, have found a new home in a parish named for their daughter in Lansing, Michigan.

Fr. John Fain of St. Therese parish told CNA that the relics will be encased in a display case along with a relic of St. Therese, and a print of the whole family. All five of the children who survived childhood became religious sisters.

Fain said he hopes the relics inspire greater devotion to St. Therese herself, along with devotion to her family.

“What St. Therese is known for is The Little Way, and it's doing small things with great love,” Fain said. “Her parents, I think, taught her that.”

“They were people who went to daily Mass, they practiced fasting, they regularly checked out for the neighbors, people in the neighborhood that were struggling. They would take them food and other things. They comforted the sick of their neighborhood and just lived a very joyful family life,” he added.

Fain said he was inspired to ask for relics of Louis and Zelie after ordering a print of an icon of the Martin family.

“I happened to buy a picture of the family of St. Therese of Lisieux and her parents and the entire family, including the children who had died. It just sort of occurred to me, 'Wow, this would be really neat to have the relics here too.'”

But obtaining relics is no easy process. Fain petitioned Bishop Earl Boyea of Lansing to see if he could get relics of Louis and Zelie for the parish, thinking it would take several years.

Boyea put the chancellor of the diocese, Michael Andrews, on the task of obtaining the relics, Fain said. Andrews, who speaks several languages, contacted the head of Carmelite order in Rome to ask about obtaining relics of Louis and Zelie.

“That's the only place you could get the relics from. It's actually very hard to get relics anymore. It used to be somewhat easy, but there's been so many abuses and trafficking in relics that basically you can only get one,” Fain said.

Fain said he believes his parish is one of the only places in the world to have first-class relics of Louis and Zelie, as they are recently canonized saints, and relics are a rarity.

First-class relics are fragments of the body of the saint, such as bone, flesh, or hair. Fain said he thinks the relics of Zelie and Louis are pieces of bone.

Anything touched to a first-class relic of a saint, like a rosary or a holy card, becomes a third-class relic. Fain added, “I think that's pretty exciting in itself.”

Before they were married, both Louis and Zelie desired religious vocations. But both were turned away - Louis was rejected from seminary because he didn’t know Latin, and Zelie from a religious community because she had poor health. Louis then became a watchmaker, and Zelie a lacemaker. They had nine children, only five of whom survived childhood.

Zelie died from cancer at the age of 46, leaving Louis to care for the children alone, including Therese, who was four at the time. Louis died in 1894, after suffering two strokes in 1889.

The couple’s desire for holiness despite being turned down from religious vocations can be observed in the way they lived their family life, Fain said, and in a way, their home became “like a small convent in a lot of ways.”

“It's just obvious that that's what God's intention was for their vocation was to be a married couple who shared their family life with their children,” Fain said.

Sts. Louis and Zelie were canonized Oct. 18, 2015 by Pope Francis - the first-ever married couple to be canonized together. Another married couple, Bl. Luigi and Maria Beltrame Quattrocchi, were beatified together in October 2001.

Fain said he hopes the relics and life of the Martin family can show his parishioners that “spirituality doesn't have to be a complicated thing. A lot of people are overwhelmed by the great saints and sometimes have a hard time relating to them, but St. Therese is one that I think everyone can relate to.”

He said he also hoped that couples were inspired to see their marriages as holy vocations as well.

“I think a lot of times married couples don't see themselves as living a vocation. When they think of vocations, they think of priests or deacons or religious men and women, but they don't really consider being married a religious vocation,” Fain said.

“The state of marriage is definitely in crisis. It's in crisis in our country, but it's also in crisis in the Church itself. I think by looking at a couple such as Louis and Zélie and by learning from their merits and example...again that it doesn't have to be an extraordinary thing. It can just be living a good saintly life in a simple way. That's ultimately how they made it to heaven. I think that can be a great hope for married couples,” he said.

Fain added that Bishop Boyea plans to visit the parish on Corpus Christi to bless people individually with the relic. The relics can also be removed from their display case by request for those hoping to touch rosaries, holy cards, or other objects to the relics.

Denver archbishop requests fasting, prayer for victims of sexual abuse

Thu, 02/27/2020 - 1:01 AM

Denver, Colo., Feb 26, 2020 / 06:01 pm (CNA).- For the second year, Archbishop Samuel Aquila of Denver is inviting all the faithful of the local Church to offer prayers and fasting for victims of sexual abuse on the first Friday of Lent, Feb. 28.

“We have made significant progress in addressing this grave evil within the Church, but we cannot let that progress cause us to forget the psychological, physical and spiritual wounds it has caused,” Aquila wrote in a recent letter.

“On this designated day once per year, I would urge you to also fast and set aside some extra moments of prayer and penance.”

The Catholic bishops of Colorado announced during October 2019 an independent reparation and reconciliation program that will provide for victims of clerical abuse in the dioceses who were minors at the time the abuse occurred.

The program followed the release of a report issued after a seven-month investigation conducted by a former U.S. Attorney, Bob Troyer. Colorado’s bishops and the state’s attorney general decided mutually to support the investigation, which was funded by an anonymous donor.

In a letter to priests issued Oct. 22, Aquila wrote that after reading the report, “my feelings have ranged from deep sadness for the victims, to anger at the perpetrators, to compassion and solidarity for the victims, and profound sorrow for the Church and her clergy to have to experience this. It has led me to understand in a deeper way the reality of sin and evil, which can affect any one of us at any time.”

In a letter to Denver Catholics, Aquila praised “the courage of the survivors who have shared the stories of their abuse.”

The Catholic Bishops of Australia during February 2018 called on the Catholic community to make the first four days of Lent a period of fasting and reparation in sorrow for the “tragedy” of child sex abuse within the Church, Vatican News reported at the time.

Pope Francis called during 2018 for every member of the Catholic Church to pray and fast in penance for the evil of clerical sex abuse, and to be involved in needed change within the Church.

“The only way that we have to respond to this evil that has darkened so many lives is to experience it as a task regarding all of us as the People of God,” Francis wrote Aug. 20, 2018.

Florida man tackles deacon during anticipated Mass

Thu, 02/27/2020 - 12:00 AM

Miami, Fla., Feb 26, 2020 / 05:00 pm (CNA).- It took ten parishioners to restrain Thomas Eisel after he attacked a deacon during an anticipated Mass on Saturday.

Deacon George Labelle was tackled by Eisel, 28, while the clergyman offered a homily Feb. 22 at St. Coleman Catholic Church in Pompano Beach, about 40 miles north of Miami.

“The Archdiocese is grateful no one was seriously injured during this frightening incident. The immediate response from parishioners allowed the deacon to continue with the Mass,” the Archdiocese of Miami said, according to the Miami Herald.

“Hopefully, the young man receives the care and help he needs.”

According to security footage, Eisel stood up from a front-row pew and charged the deacon with his head down. It took at least 10 people to separate Eisel from Labelle and then subdue the attacker, the Miami Herald reported.

Eisel has been arrested and charged with an account of battery and disturbing the peace. Because of a probation violation in Volusia County, a Broward County judge has ordered that Eisel be held without bond. The attacker had previously been convicted of battery after attacking a 65-year-old in 2017.

The deacon is reportedly okay and only left with a few bruises. According to the Miami Herald, he said the attack “blind-sided” and surprised him, but that he was grateful for the parishioners’ intervention.

“It’s great, so comforting to know there were people there ... it was a relief,” he said.

According to the Miami Herald, deputies said that Eisel admitted to trying to hurt the deacon, but no information about an incentive behind the attack has been released.

Steve Feeley, an off-duty Broward County officer, was sitting a few rows behind the perpetrator. He told WSVN that Eisel had looked suspicious and agitated.

“You know, he was very [fidgety],” Feeley said. “He was giving thumbs up to people, giving thumbs up during the service to the priest on the altar. He was just rocking back and forth. He stood up and made a beeline for the deacon. I didn’t anticipate him going over and literally tackling the deacon right in the middle of the service, but that’s what he did, and myself and a bunch of other people from St. Coleman’s were able to get him down.”

After Eisel was separated from the deacon, the parishioners held down the 28-year-old man. Feeley, his wife, and Tim Gilmore, another parishioner attending the service, were a few of these men and women who provided help, WSVN reported.

“We were not going to let him up under any circumstances, and there were people that were sitting on him,” Feeley said. “My wife was sitting on his legs.”

“Naturally they want [to] try to defend him. You don’t know what’s going through the guy’s mind,” Gilmore said. “You don’t know whether he’s got a knife or something.”

Infant boy removed from ventilator after controversial 'brain stem death' ruling

Wed, 02/26/2020 - 11:46 PM

London, England, Feb 26, 2020 / 04:46 pm (CNA).- Despite his parents’ protests that he showed “signs of life,” a four-month old boy who was severely brain damaged was legally declared dead and has been removed from a ventilator in the U.K.

Midrar Ali was disconnected from his ventilator sometime after judges agreed with doctors this month that the boy’s brain stem was dead. But the criteria used in the U.K. case is controversial, and “brain stem death” is not accepted for a diagnosis of death in many parts of the world. 

A Catholic bioethicist says Ali’s case deserves careful medical and ethical judgment, and warns that the U.K. has adopted a “problematic” approach to defining death and proper medical care for the severely brain damaged.

“Brain stem death does not necessarily equal death,” said Father Tadeusz Pacholczyk, Ph.D., a bioethicist and director of education at the National Catholic Bioethics Center.

“Britain has adopted an unorthodox and problematic approach whereby they try to classify somebody with irreversible brain stem damage as ‘dead’ even if other, higher centers of the brain manifest integrative functionality.”

“The medical profession outside of Britain does not widely share this perspective, and certainly the medical profession in the U.S. does not,” Pacholczyk, who holds a Ph.D in neuroscience from Yale University, told CNA Feb. 26.

In September 2019, newborn Midrar Ali suffered severe brain damage during birth, when complications involving his umbilical cord starved him of oxygen. He was treated at St. Mary’s Hospital in Manchester.

News that the boy was disconnected from his ventilator was reported by the BBC Feb. 26. His father called for an inquest and a coroner’s investigation, BBC News reports.

On Feb. 14 an appellate court rejected the legal appeal from the boy’s parents, 35-year-old Karwan Ali and Shokhan Namiq, 28. The court sided with a high court judge who in January ruled that the baby, Midrar, was “brain stem dead.” This meant that doctors could withdraw treatment.

Judges declared that from the court’s perspective, Ali had actually died Oct. 1, 14 days after he was born.

The boy’s father, 35-year-old Karwan Ali, said the judgment was “terrible.”

“They can’t be 100% sure he is dead. He’s still growing. His eyes move. I’ve seen them move,” he said, according to the U.K. newspaper The Guardian.

In December, Ali said the hospital had failed to convince the family of its position.

“We have evidence of him responding,” he said.

“No doctor, no biologist can keep a dead person alive for three months,” Ali said, according to BBC News. “The body does not work without the brain.”

“I’m a biologist, I know that. The body does not work without the brain,” he repeated.

Pacholczyk said there could be merit to the father’s claims.

“To the extent that these observations are a manifestation of upper brain coordinated functioning, the child cannot properly be declared ‘dead’ or ‘deceased’,” he said.

In January, high court Justice Nathalie Lieven had ruled that the boy’s parents did not have an arguable case and doctors could cease the use of mechanical respiration.

Sir Andrew McFarlane, the most senior family court judge in England and Wales, said that Midrar no longer had a recognizable brain and there was no other conclusion to be reached other than to withdraw life support.

“The factual and medical evidence before was more than sufficient to justify the findings,” McFarlane said.

Manchester University National Health Service Foundation said the boy’s organs were deteriorating. He had never breathed independently. The foundation said continuing treatment was undignified and said the boy should be allowed a “kind and dignified death.”

Lawyers for the foundation said three tests confirmed brain stem death.

Pacholczyk noted that the U.K. diagnostic focus on brain stem death differs from other medical standards around the world. He said “brain death, understood as the complete and irreversible loss of all integrated neurological function (including brain stem function) is a reliable way medical professionals can determine that a patient has died.”

The parents’ own attorney has noted that the diagnosis of death in the U.S., Canada, Australia and elsewhere is based on “whole brain death,” and not “brain stem death.”

The appellate court’s Feb. 14 ruling cited the testimony of a doctor which said the key point about the U.K. diagnosis criteria is that “no patient has ever regained consciousness or awareness following brain stem death” and that when the brain stem dies it is “impossible for a patient to breathe unassisted.”

Pacholczyk reflected on the standards of care in such cases.

“Brain-damaged individuals are deserving of full respect, and partake fully of human dignity, equally as individuals whose brains are not damaged,” he said. “They deserve to receive reasonable (‘proportionate’) treatments as much as anyone else.”

At the same time, it must be “carefully assessed” whether certain interventions were “extraordinary” in Midrar’s case. Catholic ethics does not require extraordinary medical care.

“The question of whether he eventually will, or maybe already has stabilized in his condition, such that only minor additional treatments beyond the ventilator will be required, will also be important to assess carefully,” Pacholczyk said ahead of news that the boy’s ventilator was disconnected.

Pacholczyk also questioned the hospital’s stated focus on maintaining the boy’s “dignity.” The hospital “appears to be using discriminatory and judgmental language when it declares that continuing to treat Midrar is ‘undignified’,” he said.

“The first role of a hospital is not to be bargaining in ‘dignity assessments’ about a particular patient’s life, nor trying to pass subjective judgments regarding somebody's ‘quality of life,’ but instead to provide care for patients, and to assist in facilitating productive dialog among family, medical professionals and others so that reasonable interventions can be offered to patients,” Pacholczyk told CNA.

Catholic thought on end-of-life care and the medical diagnosis of death is summarized in a February 2015 National Catholic Bioethics Center document “Brain Death.”

In an Aug. 29, 2000 address to the International Congress of the Transplantation Society, Pope St. John Paul II stated that “the complete and irreversible cessation of all brain activity (in the cerebrum, cerebellum and brain stem) … if rigorously applied, does not seem to conflict with the essential elements of a sound anthropology.”

Thus, these criteria can be used to arrive at moral certainty that death has occurred, the pope said.

This moral certainty is considered “the necessary and sufficient basis for an ethically correct course of action,” the bioethics center’s summary said.

The Catholic bioethics center noted that determining death by these neurological criteria typically involves bedside testing to assess absence of response or reflexes, apnea testing to assess the absence of the ability to breath, and “possible confirmatory tests to further assess the absence of brain activity (for example, an EEG) or the absence of blood flow to the brain.”

Similarly, the U.S. bishops’ Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services indicate that “the determination of death should be made by the physician or competent medical authority in accordance with responsible and commonly accepted scientific criteria.”

In a 2008 statement on brain death, the Pontifical Academy of Sciences stated that “brain death … ‘is’ death,” and that “something essential distinguishes brain death from all other types of severe brain dysfunction that encompass alterations of consciousness (for example, coma, vegetative state, and minimally conscious state).”

“If the criteria for brain death are not met, the barrier between life and death is not crossed, no matter how severe and irreversible a brain injury may be,” the academy added.

The Pontifical Academy of Sciences said that after brain death “the ventilator and not the individual, artificially maintains the appearance of vitality of the body.”

“Thus, in a condition of brain death, the so-called life of the parts of the body is ‘artificial life’ and not natural life,” the academy continued. “In essence, an artificial instrument has become the principal cause of such a non-natural ‘life’. In this way, death is camouflaged or masked by the use of the artificial instrument.”
 

 

Wear black to protest anti-Christian violence, Nigerian Catholics told

Wed, 02/26/2020 - 10:00 PM

Benin City, Nigeria, Feb 26, 2020 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- The bishops of Nigeria have told the nation’s Catholics to wear black on Ash Wednesday to protest the ongoing persecution of Christians in the country.

In a letter read in all the country's parishes on Feb. 26, Archbishop Augustine Obiora Akubeze of Benin City, said that the black clothing would be a show of solidarity with victims of violent crime, as well as a display of mourning for the murder of seminarian Michael Nnadi. Akubeze is the president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN).

Nnadi, was killed in late January, weeks after he and three other seminarians were abducted from their seminary. The seminarians kidnapped with Nnadi were released, one with life-threatening injuries.

Also in January, Rev. Lawan Andima, a local Government Chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria and the married father of nine children, was beheaded by Boko Haram.

Akubeze has previously said Andima was killed “simply because he was a Christian.”

In the Ash Wednesday letter, the archbishop called for Catholics to join in a “Day of Prayer Procession” across the country against “the repeated barbaric executions of Christians by the Boko Haram insurgents and the incessant cases of kidnapping for ransom linked to the same group.”

The secretary general of the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria, the administrative headquarters of the CBCN, also issued a request for Catholics around the world to pray for peace in Nigeria and security for the nation’s Christians. 

“I have been directed by the administrative board of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) to communicate to you that in the face of the current security situation, the Church needs to speak out in word and action against the level of insecurity in the country,” said Fr. Zacharia Nyantiso Samjumi on Tuesday to Nigerian press. 

Samjumi also announced that Sunday evening Masses on March 1 would be cancelled. Instead of Mass that evening, churches will hold “peaceful prayer protests against the incessant killings and insecurity in our country.” 

Despite the sadness and grief amongst Nigerian Catholics, Samjumi said that they are “confident that the light of Christ, which shines in our hearts, will brighten the dark corners of our Nigerian society.” 

Samjumi said that the majority of Nigerians throughout the country live in a constant state of fear, and there is a ever-present state of insecurity. In Nigeria, Christians are subjected to “repeated barbaric executions” and “incessant cases of kidnapping for ransom” by the Islamist group Boko Haram, and other terrorist organizations. 

The violence has “traumatized many citizens,” he said. 

In a Feb. 7 interview with Aid to the Church in Need, Archbishop Akubeze warned that the situation was deteriorating.

“How can he be surprised at this time? After some of us have attended mass burials of Christians killed by Boko Haram?” he asked. 

“The government is certainly not doing enough to protect both Christians and Muslims.”

Boko Haram, an Islamist militant group that has sworn allegiance to the Islamic State, has been active in Nigeria for years. While the group has attacked both Muslims and Christians in the past, the archbishop said that recent attacks have focused on the killing and kidnapping of Christians.

Akubeze said that the situation is dire and getting worse.

“One area that I think the Western nations and the media can be of great help is to cover the stories of these atrocities in Nigeria,” Akubeze said.

“The number of killings is just mind boggling. Maybe with significant Western coverage, the Government of Nigeria may be put under pressure to act.”

Accompaniment central to priestly formation in Cuba, spiritual director says

Wed, 02/26/2020 - 9:30 PM

Camagüey, Cuba, Feb 26, 2020 / 02:30 pm (CNA).- Accompaniment for seminarians is critical in Cuba, a priest has said, reflecting that Cubans are “a tired people, a people without hope, it's a people that really feels helpless.”

Fr. Alberto Reyes Pías, a priest of the Archdiocese of Camagüey and spiritual director for the archdiocesan seminary, told ACI Prensa, CNA's Spanish language new partner, that “The two words Cubans live with are survive or leave.”

“There are a lot a people for whom the Church is the only thing that gives them some hope, gives them some meaning. There are lot of people going through an interior process in the Church, which gives them meaning."

Pias spoke to ACI Prensa at the Feb. 18-22 Night of Witnesses event organized by the pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need in Mexico to draw attention to persecuted Churches.

He emphasized that “there's a feeling of stagnation” in Cuba, but that “there's this feeling that 'I can count on the Church'” among Cubans, which “is something that means a lot to the Cuban people.”

Turning to priestly formation in particular, he said there is a particular need to accompany seminarians, since “often there are really good, nice people, but sometimes guys also come who are very broken.”

He lamented that “the situation of the family in Cuba is quite disastrous. They come to us very broken. I believe the most important thing is 'we're going to live what one day you will have to help others experience.' Then it's to accompany them, to listen to them.”

“One thing I usually say is 'don't hold anything back.' I'm not here to judge you, I'm here to accompany you, but you also have to heal things yourself if you want to be a healer later on. You've got to go through a process.”

“The seminary can't be a tunnel, something you go through to become a priest, because the problem is not becoming a priest, what's at stake here is your happiness, your fulfillment. You've got to go through a process. And processes are painful,” the spiritual director noted.

Pías explained that “we would like them to have done some previous work, so they don't come to the seminary to discern, although it's true that the seminary is a time of confirming what you have seen. We try to have them have done some previous work, of accompaniment, of working with the priests.”

“We meet with them ahead of time such that we don't admit anyone to the seminary who doesn't have a certain level of discernment. Because there are things it's better to do on the outside, beforehand,” he added.

Pías explained that “the majority of the seminarians don't come from Christian families. In fact, it Cuba there's a very interesting phenomenon going on. In many places in the world children are brought to the Church by their parents, but not in Cuba. In Cuba a lot of children go to catechism class, adolescents, young people, go on their own, and in fact there are parents who have started coming to church because of their children.”

“Most of our vocations are young people who one day encountered Jesus Christ and are fascinated,” he said.

He also noted that Cuba is marked by emigration.

“I'm in a parish where I've been for 15 years now. Out of that community I was with 15 years ago, I think 95% of them are in the United States. In fact, when I have gone to the United States, to Miami, they tell me, 'Father, come here, because we're all here.'”

“What's beautiful is that very many of these people are still practicing, they've become catechists in the United States, they're leading couples' groups, so the seed has borne fruit. But there's continual emigration,” he said.

The priest also reflected that in Cuba, “we've lived in a system in which the absolute value has been fidelity to the system.”

“In fact there are young people whom I would not say are immoral, I'd have to say they're amoral. They don't know where there's good and where there's evil,” he noted.

For Pías, “one of the greatest works of the Church, obviously besides evangelization, that you  encounter Jesus Christ, is to discover values, so that whatever happens, you can be a person who can later build something with his life.”

“Something very beautiful is how there are guys who enter the Church broken and you see them continue on the journey and they end up having a Christian family, where values are lived and a different kind of education is given to the children, giving them something that was never given to them. When you see something like that, you say it's all worth it,” he concluded.

Pope Francis prays for Iraqis as Vatican confirms no papal visit in 2020

Wed, 02/26/2020 - 9:00 PM

Vatican City, Feb 26, 2020 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- Pope Francis said Wednesday that he is praying for the people of Iraq, and repeated his desire to visit the country.

Speaking to pilgrims from the Middle East during his general audience address, the pope gave a special welcome to people from Iraq, who he said were present in a “nice group.”

“Citizens of Iraq, I tell you I am very close to you. You are in a battlefield, you suffer a war, from one side and the other,” Francis said Feb. 26.

The pope said he is praying for peace in Iraq and referred to his hope to visit the country in 2020.

“I pray for you and I pray for peace in your country, which it was planned that I visit this year,” Francis said. Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni subsequently confirmed to CNA that a papal visit to Iraq will not take place this year.

Pope Francis said in June he would like to visit Iraq in 2020 and two Catholic bishops from the country had also referred to the possibility of a papal trip there.

Francis has wanted to visit Iraq throughout his pontificate, but it has not yet been possible due to the Iraqi Civil War, Iraqi-Kurdish conflict, and continued security concerns in different parts of the country.

Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin visited Iraq during the Christmas season in 2018, and concluded at the time that the country was still unsafe for a papal visit.

If Francis does eventually travel to Iraq, he would become the first pope to visit the nation.

Since the beginning of October, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have been protesting government corruption, a lack of economic growth, and proper public services. They have also objected to foreign influence over their country’s internal affairs.

Government forces have used tear gas and bullets against protesters in what are the largest demonstration Iraq has seen since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003. 

As of Jan. 13, more than 660 people had been killed in the demonstrations, according to the Iraqi War Crime Documentation Centre.

On Feb. 1, Iraq appointed a new prime minister, Mohammed Tawfiq Allawi, after the previous prime minister resigned in November in response to the protests.

Allawi praised the protests soon after his appointment. The prime minister-designate is now forming a government, which is scheduled for a parliamentary vote of approval Feb. 27.

Hong Kong Catholics told to look online as Mass cancelled across China

Wed, 02/26/2020 - 7:30 PM

Hong Kong, China, Feb 26, 2020 / 12:30 pm (CNA).- The Diocese of Hong Kong has told Catholics to make use of online resources following the cancellation of Masses in response to the coronavirus. Catholics in mainland China, where all places of worship have been closed, are blocked from accessing these resources by the “Great Firewall,” which prevents access to many parts of the internet.

The Hong Kong diocese indefinitely cancelled all public Masses and group religious activities, with the exception of weddings and funerals, in a decision announced Feb. 25. The move follows a prior temporary suspension.

“Believers can make good use of online resources, such as online weekday Masses, faith cultivating information, and other good works of Lent, such as morning prayers, the rosary, the Angelus,” a diocesan statement said.

The Archbishop of Singapore William Goh Seng Chye made a similar recommendation in a Feb. 14 pastoral letter announcing an indefinite suspension of all public Masses. He advised Catholics to “try to follow the broadcast of the Mass on YouTube or CatholicSG Radio.”

In mainland China, where the Communist government has cancelled all religious gatherings and closed all places of worship, Catholics do not have access to similar online resources. In September 2018, the Chinese government instituted regulations making it illegal for religious services, prayer, or preaching to be broadcast online. 

Online evangelization is strictly prohibited, as are materials aimed at converting readers. Catechetical or instructive resources cannot be openly published online and must be restricted to internal networks accessed with registered user names and passwords.

A 2012 analysis published by a Chinese Communist Party think tank scholar identified both religion and “internet freedom” as future threats to China’s rise. Subsequent years have seen  crackdowns on both freedom of the internet and religious freedom.

China has long been known for its strict control of information, including restricting internet access and creating alternative social media platforms that are completely controlled by government surveillance and censorship. Twitter, Google, Facebook, and YouTube are blocked by China’s “Great Firewall.” 

In the weeks following the coronavirus outbreak, the Chinese government has censored online posts by Chinese citizens critical of the government’s handling of the epidemic.

The official death toll of the coronavirus in China is 2,666; more than 77,780 have been infected, according to the government.

The virus has spread to 33 countries, with about 2,459 confirmed cases outside mainland China and 34 deaths.

As the number of confirmed cases of the coronavirus in South Korea has grown to 1,261, Korean news sources reported Feb. 26 that public Masses in all 16 Catholic dioceses have been suspended. 

In Hong Kong, parishes with suspended Masses have the option to keep their doors open to allow for people to pray individually before the Eucharist and crucifix, but Catholics have been encouraged to stay at home. 

The Diocese of Hong Kong has also offered local Catholics an alternative to sacramental Confession during Lent.

“Usually, the Church encourages the faithful to confess during Lent. However, in current circumstances, some faithful may find it risky to go to confession, but they can be sure that a sincere desire to receive the sacrament of reconciliation, together with prayers and works of penance and charity, satisfies the Lenten obligation of repentance,” a diocesan announcement states in Chinese.

Hong Kong is home to around 500,000 Catholics out of a total population of over 7 million. As of Feb. 26, 2 people have died and 81 have been infected in Hong Kong.

“I wish to express again my closeness to the coronavirus patients and the health workers who treat them, as well as to the civil authorities and all those who are working to assist the patients and stop the infection,” Pope Francis said Feb. 26.

ACLU lawsuit targets 'sanctuary cities' for the unborn

Wed, 02/26/2020 - 7:00 PM

Austin, Texas, Feb 26, 2020 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- The American Civil Liberties Union on Tuesday filed lawsuits against seven Texas cities that have declared themselves “sanctuary cities” for unborn children.

The cities of Waskom, Naples, Joaquin, Tenaha, Rusk, Gary, and Wells have all passed ordinances declaring that abortion will be illegal in the cities if Roe v. Wade were to be overturned, although no criminal punishments would be imposed upon the mother.

The ACLU complaint states that while the ordinances banning abortion cannot be enforced under Roe v. Wade, they go further and list pro-abortion organizations as “criminal organizations.”

The ordinance of the City of Naples states that “Organizations that perform abortions and assist others in obtaining abortions are declared to be criminal organizations.” It lists as criminal organizations Planned Parenthood, NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, Whole Woman’s Health and Whole Woman’s Health Alliance, The Lilith Fund for Reproductive Equality, and Texas Equal Access Fund, among other groups.

The ACLU of Texas filed suit against the ordinances at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas.

“As a result of being designated criminal, Plaintiffs are prohibited from operating, speaking, and associating within these cities,” the ACLU’s complaint states.

In a statement to CNA, Pastor Mark Lee Dickson, the director of Right to Life of East Texas, called the legal action "a meritless lawsuit brought to deter and intimidate cities from enacting these ordinances, which are entirely constitutional and consistent with the laws of Texas."

"We have a legal team ready to defend these ordinances at no charge to the cities, and we are prepared to defend all other cities that enact these laws at no charge to the taxpayers," Dickson said.

"We are eager to defend these ordinances in court. With the new membership on the Supreme Court, we welcome court challenges to abortion laws that will weaken and lead to the eventual overruling of Roe v. Wade."

The pro-life “sanctuary city” movement began last June when the Waskom City Council voted 5-0 to ban surgical and medical abortions.

Since then, ten other cities in Texas have adopted similar ordinances, all of them banning surgical and medical abortions and some banning the sale of emergency contraception. Four of the cities—Colorado City, Westbrook, Gilmer, and Big Spring—are not mentioned in the ACLU lawsuit.

All of the ordinances include clauses protecting the mother of an aborted child from punishment.

The group Texas Right to Life said the lawsuit is “a hodgepodge of complaints” and is “selectively targeting smaller cities that have passed the ordinance.”

The seven cities “acted within their constitutional rights to self-governance and within the scope of current U.S. Supreme Court abortion jurisprudence,” the group stated.

In addition to the 11 “sanctuary cities,” 12 more Texas cities are considering similar ordinances.

Some of the ordinances include the sale of emergency contraception on the list of banned practices.

While not all Christians believe that the morning-after pill is an abortifacient, the Catholic Church recognizes the pill as an abortifacient if it prevents a fertilized embryo from implanting in the woman’s uterus.

The Church teaches that, for victims of rape, use of emergency contraception can be morally licit to prevent conception as a means of self-defense, if testing determines that conception has not occurred by the time of usage.

Pope Francis on Ash Wednesday: Confession purifies hearts

Wed, 02/26/2020 - 6:00 PM

Vatican City, Feb 26, 2020 / 11:00 am (CNA).- On Ash Wednesday, Pope Francis called on Catholics to go to Confession during Lent to experience God’s healing love. 

“We can receive God's forgiveness in the sacrament of Penance because there the fire of God's love consumes the ashes of our sin. The embrace of the Father in confession renews us inside and purifies our heart,” Pope Francis said in his Ash Wednesday homily Feb. 26. 

“Only Jesus, who knows and loves our heart, can heal it. Lent is a time of healing,” he said in the Basilica of Santa Sabina.

Before going to confession, Pope Francis recommended, people should stand in front of the Crucifix and contemplate Christ on the cross.

While looking at the crucifix, the pope said one can repeat the following prayer: “Jesus, you love me, transform me.” After welcoming God’s love and crying in front of the cross, receive God’s forgiveness in Confession, he said.

“Let's look inside, into our hearts: how many times do we extinguish the fire of God with the ashes of hypocrisy,” Pope Francis said.

“How often do we do things only to be recognized, to look good, to satisfy our ego? How often do we profess to be Christians, yet in our hearts readily yield to passions that enslave us? How often do we preach one thing and practice another? How many times do we make ourselves look good on the outside while nursing grudges within?” he asked. “We need to be cleansed of all the dust that has sullied our hearts.”

Pope Francis said Lent is not a time “for useless sermons,” but instead it is “a time of grace” to welcome God’s loving gaze and then to change one’s life.

To mark the start of the Lenten season, Pope Francis prayed silently at St. Anselm Church on the Aventine Hill in Rome before processing the short way to the Basilica of Santa Sabina for the offering of the Mass and the imposition of ashes.

As the procession of cardinals, bishops, priests, Benedictine monks, Dominican friars, and lay people made their way between the two churches, they sang the Litany of the Saints.

The tradition of a Lenten pilgrimage by the Bishop of Rome and Catholics in the city to the tombs of the martyrs dates back to the early fourth century. 

“The ashes we receive on our foreheads should affect the thoughts passing through our minds,” Pope Francis said in his homily.

“If I live only to earn money, to have a good time, to gain a bit of prestige or a promotion in my work, I am living for dust,” he added. “That is not why we have been put in this world. We are worth so much more. We live for so much more, for we are meant to make God’s dream a reality and to love.”

The pope said that the earthly goods we possess will fade away, but the love we give to our families, to our work, in the Church, and in the world will remain forever.

“Ashes are sprinkled on our heads so that the fire of love can be kindled in our hearts,” he said.

“May we allow ourselves to be reconciled, in order to live as beloved children, as forgiven and healed sinners, as wayfarers with him at our side. Let us allow ourselves to be loved, so that we can give love in return,” Pope Francis said.

Secretary of German bishops' conference steps down

Wed, 02/26/2020 - 5:00 PM

Bonn, Germany, Feb 26, 2020 / 10:00 am (CNA).- The secretary of the German bishops’ conference has announced that he will step down from his position ahead of the group’s next general assembly in early March. Fr. Hans Langendörfer, SJ, has held the position since 1996.

Langendörfer made the announcement Feb. 26, through the official media outlet of the Church in Germany. He said that he is stepping down to make way for someone younger.

"I have come to the conclusion that it is now a good time to hand this position over to younger hands," he said Feb. 25. Langendörfer is 68.

According to Katholisch.de, the Jesuit priest noted during his announcement that it was not necessary for his successor to be a cleric and suggested that layperson could fill the role, which would be a first in the 172 year history of the conference.

The announcement comes two weeks after the chairman of the German bishops’ conference, Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Münich and Freising, said he would not seek a second term leading the conference, and that he wanted to see a “younger generation” assume leadership. Marx is 66.

Under the leadership of Langendörfer and Marx, the German bishops’ conference opened a so-called “binding synodal process” to review a range of Church teachings and disciplines including clerical celibacy, the ordination of women, and the blessing of same-sex unions in churches.

In an interview last month, Langendörfer said that it is “unacceptable” for the Holy See to continue to exercise final authority over universal teaching and discipline. Citing the example of the Church in Germany’ “synodal process,” he called on other regions to follow the German’s example and effectively force through a new federal model on the Church.

Shortly after Marx announced that he would step down, Bishop Franz-Josef Bode, vice-chairman of the German bishops’ conference, said he would not stand for election to replace Marx. Bode, 69, has been outspoken in favor of substantial changes in Church discipline.

In a 2018 interview, Bode predicted that Pope Francis would allow the ordination of married men for service in remote regions of the Amazon following a synod on the region, convened in Rome last year.

Bode said that if and when the Pope allowed married priests to be ordained in the Amazon, German bishops would insist on the same authorization.

“This is obvious,” Bode said at the time, insisting that the “pastoral emergency” in his diocese of Osnabrück and in other German dioceses is “different but also very severe.”

A possible leading candidate to replace Marx is Bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck of Essen, 56, who is also president of Adveniat, the Church in Germany’s aid organization for Latin America.

Essen, like Bode, predicted that last year’s synod on the Amazon would lead to important changes to universal Church discipline. Before the synod met, Overbeck called the Amazonian synod “a point of no return” for the Church and that “nothing will be the same as it was.”

On Feb. 12, Pope Francis published the post-synodal apostolic exhortation Querida Amazonia in which he did not allow for any exception to clerical celibacy in the Amazon.

The German “synodal process” is being conducted in partnership with the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), a group which publicly opposes Church teaching and discipline on the subjects being discussed by the synodal assembly.

Last year, Pope Francis wrote a letter to the whole Church in Germany, warning against a false synodality rooted in making the Church conform to modern secular morals and thought, which he called “a new Pelagianism” which seeks “to tidy up and tune the life of the Church, adapting it to the present logic.”

The result, Francis said, would be a “well organized and even ‘modernized’ ecclesiastical body, but without soul and evangelical novelty.”

Vatican officials subsequently informed the German bishops’ conference that the synodal plans were “not ecclesiologically valid,” and had to be substantially revised. Roman opposition notwithstanding, the synodal process formally began in the first week of Advent, 2019, and the first session was held in January, 2020.

Following the first meeting last month, the Archbishop of Cologne, Cardinal Rainer Woelki, expressed his disappointment in the “synodal process.”

“I basically saw all my fears confirmed. We witnessed the implementation of a de facto Protestant church parliament,” Woekli said in an interview Feb. 1.

The cardinal said that attempts to democratize Church teaching and discipline, and subvert the authentic teaching office of bishops in the synodal assembly went against “the hierarchical constitution of the Church, as documented again in Vatican Council II and expressed in Lumen Gentium.” Cardinal Woelki is 63.