CNA General News

Syndicate content CNA
ACI Prensa's latest initiative is the Catholic News Agency (CNA), aimed at serving the English-speaking Catholic audience. ACI Prensa ( is currently the largest provider of Catholic news in Spanish and Portuguese.
Updated: 28 min 49 sec ago

Connecticut students sue over trans-athlete school policy

Thu, 02/13/2020 - 9:00 PM

Washington D.C., Feb 13, 2020 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- Three female high school athletes have sued over a Connecticut policy allowing males identifying as females to compete in girls’ sports.

The three high school students— Selina Soule of Glastonbury High School, senior Chelsea Mitchell of Canton High School, and sophomore Alanna Smith of Danbury High School— are all track-and-field athletes.

In a complaint filed on Wednesday in a federal district court, the students say they were denied an opportunity for fair competition under Title IX, after a state school policy began allowing males identifying as females to compete in girls’ high school sports.

At the state’s 2019 championships, two males identifying as females won first and second place for the 55-meter indoor track competition; Soule failed to qualify for the finals of the competition by one place.

“Girls deserve to compete on a level playing field. Forcing them to compete against boys isn’t fair, shatters their dreams, and destroys their athletic opportunities,” said Christiana Holcomb, legal counsel with the group Alliance Defending Freedom which represents the girls.

In 2017, the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference (CIAC) instituted a new policy allowing transgender student athletes to compete in the sport of their “preferred gender identity,” not their biological sex. The conference includes many of the state’s Catholic schools.

Since then, two males identifying as female have won 15 women’s state championship titles, and a single male has set 10 state records that were previously held by 10 different girls.

The female track competitors first filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights in June of 2019.

The Title IX complaint in Soule v. Connecticut Association of Schools says that “biological differences” and not gender identity have always determined sex-specific sports “because those differences matter for fair competition.” Title IX mandates that federally-funded education programs or activities cannot discriminate on the basis of sex.

The new policy “is permitting boys who are male in every biological respect” to compete against girls, the complaint says, adding that biological differences between men and women are not “stereotypes, ‘social constructs,’ or relics of past discrimination.”

Furthermore, post-pubescent male athletes “consistently achieve records 10-20% higher than comparably fit and trained women across almost all athletic events, with even wider consistent disparities in long-term endurance events and contests of sheer strength such as weight-lifting.”

The complaint argues that the state policy “is now regularly resulting in boys displacing girls in competitive track events in Connecticut,” and helping deprive girls from “opportunities to compete at higher levels, and public recognition critical to college recruiting and scholarship opportunities that should go to those outstanding female athletes.”

A Vatican document “Male and Female He Created Them,” released by the Congregation for Catholic Education in June of 2019, called gender theory an attempt “chiefly to create a cultural and ideological revolution driven by relativism.”

“There is a need to reaffirm the metaphysical roots of sexual difference, as an anthropological refutation of attempts to negate the male-female duality of human nature, from which the family is generated,” the document states.

Gregory orders McCarrick's coat of arms removed from Washington cathedral

Thu, 02/13/2020 - 8:00 PM

Washington D.C., Feb 13, 2020 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- Disgraced former archbishop Theodore McCarrick’s coat of arms has been erased from the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington, D.C. 

The former cardinal was laicized in 2019 after being found guilty of numerous crimes, including the sexual abuse of minors and adults. McCarrick’s coat of arms had previously been displayed on the wall of the cathedral along with the other archbishops who have led the archdiocese. 

Following his laicization, McCarrick’s shield, which also displayed his name and the years in which he served as Archbishop of Washington, was first covered and then removed from the wall, creating a gap in the display of coats of arms. 

The display has now been altered so that there is no gap between the arms of Cardinal Donald Wuerl, who led the archdiocese after McCarrick, and Cardinal James Hickey, who preceded him.

The new arrangement does not account for McCarrick’s years in Washington, with the six years between the tenures of Hickey and Wuerl unacknowledged.

Before his arrival in Washington, McCarrick served as the Archbishop of Newark from 1986 until 2000. A secretary for the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark was unable to confirm if the cathedral basilica had a display of former archbishops’ coats of arms, and, if so, if McCarrick’s coat of arms remained in place.

A spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Washington told CNA that Archbishop Wilton Gregory had personally taken the decision to remove McCarrick’s coat of arms from St. Matthew’s Cathedral, rather than keep it covered or otherwise note his laicization. 

“The decision to remove his coat of arms from the cathedral was made as part of our ongoing effort to help bring healing and peace to survivors of abuse,” said Paula Grant, secretary of communications for the Archdiocese of Washington. 

“Archbishop Gregory made this decision upon his arrival to the Archdiocese of Washington,” said Grant. 

Responses to the move were mixed among Washington Catholics, with some strongly in favor of the move and others more hesitant.

Outside the cathedral this week, Catholic Nathan Lloyd told CNA that he agreed with Archbishop Gregory’s decision. 

"I think that it's probably a good move to remove it entirely,” said Lloyd. “It might have been good if [the removal] was a public act to make it clear that we are moving past this awful legacy of what he left in D.C., but I think it's probably a good idea to remove it." 

Lloyd said that he thinks removing the coat of arms is a “move of reconciliation” that will help the archdiocese move past what has happened. 

“Not to totally forget [McCarrick], but to make a point that this is no longer what we are," he said.  

Others disagreed, and said the coat of arms should have either stayed or been altered to reflect McCarrick’s crimes and laicization. 

Washington Catholic Grace Russo told CNA that the removal of the coat of arms might look “as if the Church is trying to erase an embarrassing and painful history.” 

“I wish they had either left the space blank, flipped the seal upside-down, or come up with a similar solution,” Russo told CNA. 

One Catholic from DC wishes that the corner of the cathedral had remained unchanged. 

“They should have left it,” said Ryan Jackson. “It’s not that easy to erase sin.”

Catholic lawyer grilled on contraception during House hearing

Thu, 02/13/2020 - 7:20 PM

Washington D.C., Feb 13, 2020 / 12:20 pm (CNA).- A Democratic congressman grilled a Catholic female law professor on her beliefs about contraception during a congressional hearing for a pro-abortion bill on Wednesday.

During a committee hearing on the Women’s Health Protection Act—a bill that could threaten existing state abortion regulations—73 year-old Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C) questioned law professor Teresa Stanton Collett about her stance on “contraception as a means of birth control.”

“Where are you on contraception?” Butterfield asked the female professor.

“I am post-menopausal, Congressman, so that’s really not a relevant question to me,” Collett answered.

Collett teaches at law at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota, and is director of her law school's Prolife Center. She has served on the Pontifical Council for the Family: she was first appointed by Pope Benedict XVI in 2009, and Pope Francis subsequently renewed her mandate.

In 2013 she was also a delegate to the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) for the Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations.

On Wednesday, she testified at the House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on the Women’s Health Protection Act (H.R. 2975) (S. 1645).

The bill was introduced by Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.) and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.). It seeks to expand legal abortion by subjecting state regulations of it to increased legal scrutiny.  

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of Susan B. Anthony List, called the legislation a “radical and egregiously misnamed” law that would allow for “abortion on demand through [to] birth.”

The bill could be used to overturn state abortion regulations, such as safety laws for clinics and abortionists, informed consent provisions, parental notification laws, and restrictions on abortions after 20 weeks.

At the hearing Wednesday, committee chair Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) also brought up contraception. She noted that the lack of large families among her fellow members of Congress suggested t her that widespread provision of contraception is “working.”

“Very little is being said about contraception,” Eshoo, a Catholic, said while arguing for the effectiveness of contraceptives in reducing abortions.

“There are very few here that have 11, 12, and 15 children, so something is working somewhere,” she said, looking around the hearing room.

In addition to possibly overturning state abortion laws, the bill in question—which has 215 cosponsors in the House and 42 cosponsors in the Senate— could also override conscience protections for medical professionals. The bill would require a health care entity to provide abortions, if any delay to do so is deemed unsafe by a doctor or nurse, or the mother—without sufficient protections for conscience or religious-based objections.

Additionally, the bill would “supercede” all federal laws “notwithstanding” the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), meaning that health care professionals or hospitals that object to providing abortions on religious or conscience grounds would not have recourse to religious freedom protections like RFRA.

The bill’s text does allow for states to defend their safety regulations of abortion, but demands that the evidence must be “clear and convincing” that the state law “significantly advances the safety of abortion services or the health of patients.” Also, it requires that patient safety “cannot be advanced by a less restrictive alternative measures or action.”

The Charlotte Lozier Institute says the bill would impose “a heightened burden of proof” on state laws that even the pro-abortion Guttmacher Institute has termed “unusually strict.” 

In addition to Collett, witnesses who testified before the committee on Wednesday was Georgette Forney, president of Anglicans for Life and co-founder of the Silent No More Awareness Campaign.

Forney highlighted the work of groups serving post-abortive women, who often experience nightmares, depression, eating disorders, suicidal feelings or attempts, addiction, and low self-esteem, he said, calling their suffering a testament to the destructive nature of abortion. She singled out the work of Rachel’s Vineyard, which provides more than 1,000 retreats for post-abortive women each year in 49 states and 70 countries.

“If abortion is no big deal, why are all these people going through healing programs?” Forney asked.

While abortion supporters might argue that state and local laws are reducing the number of abortion clinics statewide, Collett said that 54% of counties in the U.S. have no hospitals with obstetric services.

“That is an outrage. If you were really concerned about women’s health, that would be your primary concern,” she said.

The bill says abortion is “central to women’s ability to participate equally in the economic and social life of the United States.”

Yet abortions have declined by more than 50% from 1991-2016, she said, as the participation of women in the workforce has been “largely steady.”

“Women are succeeding in this society while abortion rates are falling rapidly,” she said.

Pope Francis on St John Paul II: 'I learned from him'

Thu, 02/13/2020 - 5:33 PM

Vatican City, Feb 13, 2020 / 10:33 am (CNA).- In a newly published book, Pope Francis answers questions about himself and St. John Paul II, saying he learned the importance of joy and mercy from his predecessor, and they are in “total harmony” on the subject of priestly ministry.

“I think that joy is the most important characteristic of the encounter with the risen Jesus,” Pope Francis said, noting the joy and mercy of John Paul II’s pontificate, “I learned from him.”

Pope Francis’ thoughts on his predecessor and other topics are recorded in the Italian-language book “St. John Paul the Great,” published Feb. 11 and co-authored with Fr. Luigi Maria Epicoco.

The book is divided into five chapters, each with information on an aspect or period of the life of John Paul II, written by Epicoco. These are followed by conversations with Pope Francis on related topics which took place from June 2019 to January 2020.

In one chapter, Fr. Epicoco, 39, quotes at length from John Paul II’s letter “Gift and Mystery,” which the Polish saint wrote for the 50th anniversary of his priestly ordination.

Francis said he believes it is enough to read letters he wrote on Holy Thursday or some of the homilies he gave as a bishop in Buenos Aires “to see that there is total harmony with the thought of St. John Paul II with respect to the priesthood.”

Pope Francis goes on to say he is “convinced celibacy is a gift, a grace, and walking in the footsteps of Paul VI and then of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, I am convinced that celibacy is a decisive grace that characterizes the Latin Catholic Church. I repeat: It is a grace, not a limit.”

Pope Francis was a provincial superior of the Jesuits when John Paul II was elected Bishop of Rome. He noted that at the moment the news of the new pope’s election was announced, he was driving. Hearing the name “Wojtyla” and not recognizing it, he said he first thought the new pope was African.

“I heard his first words and had a very good feeling,” Francis recalled. “And this impression was strengthened immediately afterwards, when they told me that he had been a university chaplain, a professor of philosophy, a mountain climber, a skier, a sportsman, a man who prayed a lot. I liked him a lot. I immediately felt a great fondness for him.”

The first encounter between the two men took place when John Paul II visited Argentina in 1987. It was “a dark moment in my life,” Francis said. Then still Fr. Jorge Bergoglio, he had returned to Argentina after being in Germany to write his doctorate “and to get away from a tense atmosphere in my religious province itself.”

Their second meeting was in 1994 during the Synod of Bishops on Consecrated Life, when Bergoglio was auxiliary bishop of Buenos Aires.

The two also met during later synods and ad limina visits.

In 2001, Pope John Paul II made Archbishop Bergoglio a cardinal.

Francis shared a memory from the moment he received the red hat from the pope: “I felt the strong desire, while I was kneeling to receive the cardinal’s biretta, to not limit myself only to the exchange of the sign of peace, but to kiss [John Paul II’s] hand.”

“Some people criticized me for this gesture,” he added, “but it was spontaneous for me.”

Pope Francis canonized St. John Paul II in 2014.

“It is enough to look at his life” to see that John Paul II had “the smell of the sheep,” Francis said. “He was a pastor who loved people and the people returned it with an immense love.”

Spain moves forward on euthanasia bill

Wed, 02/12/2020 - 10:01 PM

Madrid, Spain, Feb 12, 2020 / 03:01 pm (CNA).- After Spain’s socialist party tried and failed twice last year to legalize euthanasia and assisted suicide, the lower house of the country’s parliament has now voted to consider a bill that would legalize the practices in certain circumstances.

According to Spanish newspaper El País, the bill was approved for consideration in the 350-seat Congress of Deputies by 201 votes to 140, with two abstaining. It now goes through additional steps of consideration in a committee and by the Senate before a final vote.

If passed, the law would permit euthanasia or assisted suicide in cases of “clearly debilitating diseases without a cure, without a solution and which cause significant suffering,” government spokesperson Maria Jesus Montero told Reuters.

Voluntary euthanasia occurs when a doctor kills a patient at the patient’s request. Assisted suicide is the prescribing of a lethal dose of drugs by a doctor to a patient, who then administers the drugs themselves. Euthanasia and assisted suicide are currently legal in Belgium, Luxembourg, Colombia, Canada, the Netherlands, and the Australian state of Victoria, while Switzerland and some U.S. states allow assisted suicide.

The bill being considered in Spain would legalize both procedures. It allows for conscientious objectors among doctors, although it stipulates that patients must be referred to alternate doctors.

According to the AP, the bill also stipulates that patients would not be made to wait more than a month after making their initial request for either euthanasia or assisted suicide. Initial requests will be considered by two doctors, and then a patient must make a subsequent request for the procedure, which will go to a committee for approval.

The bill has faced strong objections from the Catholic Church, as well as from the conservative People’s Party and the far-right party Vox.

In a statement on their website, the Spanish Bishop’s Conference said that the Church “has always considered euthanasia as a moral evil and an attack on the dignity of the person. St. John Paul II affirmed that ‘according to the Magisterium of my predecessors and in communion with the bishops of the Catholic Church, I confirm that euthanasia is a serious violation of the Law of God, since it is the deliberate and morally unacceptable killing of a human person.’”

The bishops added that euthanasia and assisted suicide are “alien” to the field of medicine and violate the Hippocratic oath taken by doctors, which states: "I will neither give a deadly drug to anybody who asked for it, nor will I make a suggestion to this effect.”

They also noted that the arguments for euthanasia and assisted suicide as acts of autonomy are flawed. “ is not possible to understand euthanasia and assisted suicide as something that refers exclusively to the autonomy of the individual, since such actions involve the participation of others, in this case, of health personnel,” they said.

The bishops said that instead of killing people, the country should instead bolster its palliative care efforts to ease the pain and suffering of the dying and to accompany their families and loved ones.

Vox spokesperson Rocio Monasterio told Reuters that her party will have “fierce” resistance against the bill, which calls for the “elimination” of people who are no longer useful to society.

Pope Francis has frequently condemned euthanasia, calling it a “sin against God” and saying that it is “based on a utilitarian view of the person, who becomes useless or can be equated to a cost, if from the medical point of view, he has no hope of improvement or can no longer avoid pain.”

Sedition charges dropped against 4 bishops in Philippines

Wed, 02/12/2020 - 10:00 PM

Manila, Philippines, Feb 12, 2020 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- The Philipine government has dropped charges against four bishops and two priests who were accused of attempting to overthrow President Rodrigo Duterte.

Prosecutors admitted Feb. 10 that there is no evidence linking the six clerics to a plot to attempt to overthrow Duterte, and the Justice Department dropped all charges.

Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan, Bishop Pablo Virgilo David of Kalookan, Bishop Honesto Ongtioco of Cubao, and Bishop Emeritus Tedoro Bacani of Novaliches, along with Fr. Robert Reyes and Br. Armin Luistro, FSC, were initially charged with inciting sedition, cyber libel, libel, and obstruction of justice in July 2019. 

The country’s vice president and 35 members of the opposition party were also charged with the same crimes last summer. 

While the charges against the six bishops and priests were dropped, the Justice Department announced that it was charging two additional priests with “conspiracy to commit sedition,” Fr. Albert Alejo, S.J., and Fr. Flavie Villanueva. Nine Catholics lay people were also charged with the same offence. 

The bishops, who maintained their innocence since the accusations were made, offered mixed reactions to the news that they had been cleared but others charged.

“Now that the government officials have seen the falsity of the charges, what can we do but pray as I have always been doing. I pray even more,” Archbishop Villegas said in a statement published by the Philippine Bishops’ Conference.

“I pray for those who concocted the calumnies and lies and wish them peace,” he said. “My revenge is forgiveness for my slanderers who relentlessly mock me.”

Villegas said that he was praying for the newly-charged priests, and said that “the Lord will turn your anxieties into hope. Do not be afraid.”

Bishop David said that he was “happy and sad” at the news that the charges against him were dropped, but other charges were filed.

“I still hope and pray that the charges against them be also dismissed soon by the courts,” David told UCA News, a Catholic news website based in Asia. 

The dismissal of the charges against the bishops is the end of a series of events that began with a viral video last April. The video, posted by an anonymous man, known only as “Bikoy,” alleged that Duterte’s son, Paolo Duterte, and a high-level presidential aide were involved in the drug trade. 

“Bikoy” later identified himself as Peter Advincula, and claimed that the bishops, along with the opposition party, were part of a “shadow group” that aimed to remove Duterte as president. That video led to the charges being filed against the six clerics.

The country’s Catholic bishops have long been vocal in their opposition to Duterte, including his “war on drugs,” which critics have claimed has led to extrajudicial killings. Duterte has been vocal in his dislike of religion, and a consistent critic of the Catholic Church. 

Bishop Broderick Pabillo, an auxiliary bishop of the capital city of Manila, was recently named the archdiocese’s apostolic administrator after Cardinal Chito Tagle was appointed by the pope to serve as head of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples in the Vatican.

Pabillo has been a consistent critic of Duterte throughout his presidency.

In June 2018, he accused the Philippine president of blasphemy, after he called God “stupid” and a “son of a b-tch” during a speech. The bishop also publicly condemned the president’s claim that the majority of Philippine priests were homosexual.

Later that month, Duterte said that he was willing to dialogue with the country’s bishops’ conference in an effort to repair relationships, and the president’s spokesperson announced that a committee would be created to better collaborate and communicate with the Catholic hierarchy.

In November 2018, Bishop David urged his flock to pray for Duterte, who he called a “very sick man.” The following month, Duterte said that citizens should “kill and steal” from Catholic bishops, stating that “this stupid bunch serves no purpose--all they do is criticize.” 

Pope Francis has also been insulted by Duterte. In 2016, prior to his election as president, he called the pontiff a “son of a wh-re” after a papal visit caused increased traffic in Manila.

Duterte later apologized to the pope in a letter.

5 things to know about 'Querida Amazonia'

Wed, 02/12/2020 - 8:30 PM

Vatican City, Feb 12, 2020 / 01:30 pm (CNA).- Pope Francis promulgated on Wednesday a new apostolic exhortation, or letter of encouragement, about the Church in the Amazon region. The document is a follow-up to a synod, or meeting, of bishops convened last year to discuss the Church in the region.

Here are five things to know about Querida Amazonia:

The Eucharist is the heart of the document.

Pope Francis spends much of the document talking about the needs of the Church in the Amazon region, where at least 20 million people live, across 8 countries. But the most important need of the Church, Pope Francis says, “is the celebration of the Eucharist because it ‘makes the Church.’

Quoting from the Second Vatican Council, Pope Francis says that “no Christian community is built up which does not grow from and hinge on the celebration of the most holy Eucharist.”

Because the Eucharist is at the center of the Church, Pope Francis encourages the promotion of vocations, missionary priests in the Amazon, along with teaching and formation about what the Eucharist is, and why it matters so much.

The document does not permit married priests. 

The 2019 Synod of Bishops on the Amazon recommended to Pope Francis that diocesan bishops in the Amazon region should be permitted to ordain as priests married and mature permanent deacons to serve in communities without a priest. The idea gained traction, and became the source of debate, in many corners of the Church.

The pope did not accept that recommendation, and, Vatican officials said Wednesday, has no plans to accept it.

Seriously, the document is not about married priests, or priestly celibacy. 

Querida Amazonia discusses evangelization, cultural, missionary life, the environment and economic concerns, and the need for priests to collaborate with lay people, and especially women, to proclaim the Gospel and witness to Christ. It also discusses the importance of the priesthood in the life of the Church.

But for all the debate in recent months among some people about married priests, Pope Francis never even mentions the idea in his document. The pope has said for years that he thinks priestly celibacy is an important value for the Church, but did not raise the question at all in Querida Amazonia.

The pope encourages Catholics to read the recommendations of the 2019 Synod of Bishops.

At the conclusion of the 2019 Synod of Bishops, participants approved a document making recommendations to the pope about the Church’s ministry in the Amazon, including the possibility of ordaining married men as priests.

In Querida Amazonia, Pope Francis recommended that Catholics read that document. He did not endorse all its proposals, or any of them specifically, nor did he approve them with the magisterial authority of his office. He commended them for reading, study, and discussion.

The document ends with a prayer to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Pope Francis prays:

Mother of life,
in your maternal womb Jesus took flesh,
the Lord of all that exists.
Risen, he transfigured you by his light
and made you the Queen of all creation.
For that reason, we ask you, Mary, to reign
in the beating heart of Amazonia.


Pope Francis: The gift of tears is precious

Wed, 02/12/2020 - 7:49 PM

Vatican City, Feb 12, 2020 / 12:49 pm (CNA).- During his General Audience on Wednesday, Pope Francis discussed the second beatitude, Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted, emphasizing the value of compunction.

Mourning “is an attitude that became central to Christian spirituality,” the pope said Feb. 12 at the Vatican's Paul VI Hall.

The desert fathers calld this “an inner pain that opens up to a relationship with the Lord and with one’s neighbour; a renewed relationship with the Lord and with one’s neighbour,” he said.

Mourning can have two aspects, Pope Francis said: “for death or for the suffering of someone” and “tears shed over sin – for our own sin, when the heart bleeds for the pain of having offended God and one’s neighbour.”

He said that it is “a question of loving the other in such a way that we are bound to him or her until we share his or her pain … it is important that others make a breach in our hearts.”

“I have often spoken about the gift of tears, and how precious it is,” he said.

“Can one love in a cold way? Can one love by function, by duty? Certainly not. There are the afflicted to console, but sometimes there are also the consoled to afflict, to awaken, who have a heart of stone and have forgotten how to weep. It is also necessary to reawaken people who do not know how to be moved by the pain of others.”

While bitter, mourning can “open one’s eyes to life and to the sacred and irreplaceable value of each person, and at that moment one realizes how short time is,” the pope reflected.

Turning to weeping over sin, Francis said that it is not anger at having made a mistake, which he called pride.

“Instead there are those who mourn the evil done, the good omitted, the betrayal of the relationship with God. This is mourning for not having loved, which springs from having the life of others at heart. Here one weeps because one does not correspond to the Lord Who loves us so much, and we are saddened by the thought of the good not done; this is the meaning of sin. They say, 'I have wounded the one I love', and it pains them to tears. God be blessed if these tears come!”

He said it is “difficult but vital” to face one's own errors.

“Let us think of the weeping of Saint Peter, which leads him to a new and far truer love: they are tears which purify, which renew. Peter looked to Jesus and wept: his heart was renewed.”

Pope Francis contrasted St. Peter with Judas, “who did not accept that he had made a mistake and, poor man, took his own life.”

“Understanding sin is a gift from God, it is the work of the Holy Spirit. We, by ourselves, are unable to understand sin. It is a grace we must ask for … This is a very great gift and after we have understood this, there comes the grief of repentance.”

The pope referred to St. Ephrem the Syrian's saying that “a face washed with tears is unspeakably beautiful.”

“The beauty of penitence, the beauty of tears, the beauty of contrition,” the pope exclaimed.

“Christian life finds its best expression in mercy. Wise and blessed is he who welcomes the pain linked to love, because he will receive the consolation of the Holy Spirit which God always forgives, even the worst sins, always is the tenderness of God Who forgives and corrects.”

He added that “God always forgives: let us never forget this.. The problem is in us, that we tire of asking for forgiveness, we become wrapped up in ourselves and we do not ask for forgiveness. This is the problem; but He is there to forgive.”

Why Abraham Lincoln held a White House fundraiser for this black Catholic parish

Wed, 02/12/2020 - 7:00 PM

Washington D.C., Feb 12, 2020 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- Black Catholic communities have been a part of the Church in the Washington, DC area for centuries.

But it wasn’t until the height of the Civil War that black Catholics in DC began the process of founding a parish of their own— with the help of President Abraham Lincoln.

In the 16th and 17th century, Spanish laws in North America freed slaves who converted to Catholicism. Some of these freed slaves and their descendants formed their own settlement in the region that would become Florida.

Meanwhile, in Maryland, in the decades before the American Revolution, Jesuit missionaries evangelized black slaves, including some owned by their order, along with freemen. Over the centuries, large African-American Catholic populations settled in cities including Baltimore, Philadelphia, Chicago and numerous cities throughout the South.

Monsignor Charles Pope, pastor of the historically black DC parish of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian, told CNA that racial prejudice has played a role in the region's Catholic history; that white parishioners enforced racial segregation, forcing black Catholics to sit in back of church or choir loft, and to wait to receive the Eucharist until after white Catholics had done so.

Black Catholics "had many reasons to walk out of the Catholic faith, being treated like that, and yet they didn't. They stayed, they worked, they built their own church."

"It's a remarkable story of resilience," Monsignor Pope said.

Beginnings of a black Catholic parish

In the mid-19th century, black Catholics were not permitted to worship in the main sanctuary of St. Matthew’s Church in downtown DC. They were likely relegated to the church basement to worship, and while black children had a separate Sunday school to attend, they were not at all allowed to attend the parish day school.

By 1864, the black Catholic community had had enough of being related to the margins of St. Matthews to worship, and decided to build their own place of worship.

According to historian Morris MacGregor, who wrote a book in 1999 entitled “The Emergence of a Black Catholic Community: St. Augustine’s in Washington,” a group of free black men and women came to the pastor of St. Matthew’s, Father Charles White, to ask him what could be done.

White was apparently supportive of the idea of building a new church building for the black Catholic community, though he didn’t initially envision it becoming a separate parish. He convened a committee which included the superintendent of the parish Sunday schools, as well as two black parishioners, one of whom was named Gabriel Coakley.

Gabriel Coakley was a Washington businessman, who according to his granddaughter was a cabinetmaker. Some sources say his wife Mary was a seamstress in the White House.

White agreed to underwrite the down payment for a lot on which to build the church using money from St. Matthews, but suggested fundraising efforts would be needed to continue the church’s construction.

The committee came up with a potentially winning idea: why not hold a massive Fourth of July fundraising picnic on the White House lawn?

Coakley appears to have been chosen as the leader and spokesman for the group, and by most accounts seems to be the one who met personally with Lincoln to ask for the use of the White House grounds for a fundraiser picnic to raise money for the new church.

Lincoln’s support

Even at the height of the Civil War, personal access to the President was much simpler than it is today. Coakley simply made an appointment to meet Lincoln and was welcomed into the White House on June 27, 1864.

Though not himself a Catholic, Lincoln was evidently supportive of helping black Catholics in DC build their own place to worship. He agreed at once, and told Coakley to go to General Benjamin French’s office to tell him that he had given permission for the event.

French was a prominent Mason, so Coakley feared that he would not be keen to grant permission for an unusual event organized by black Catholics.

Nevertheless, records show that General Benjamin French issued a permit for the use of the White House lawn on June 30, 1864, and, after Coakley returned to the White House to seek the president out once again, Lincoln signed it.

Here’s where the historical record gets slightly fuzzier.

It remains unclear whether Lincoln himself actually attended the event. A Washington Post article from the 1980s proclaims that the festival was “held” by President and Mrs. Lincoln, “who strongly supported a church for black Catholics in the nation's capital.”

MacGregor wrote that “President Lincoln and members of his cabinet likely made a brief appearance,” it is not officially recorded— at least in Lincoln’s writings— whether he was actually there or not.

Regardless, the event was a success.

An estimated 1,500 parishioners from at least six DC-area parishes attended, and the picnic raised over $1,200 a very large sum at the time.

With the funds in hand, work began on the De Porres Chapel and school, which opened in 1866 on Fifteenth Street.

MacGregor says it took a while for the chapel to attract a congregation, because despite harsh treatment at their home parishes, many black Catholics were still attached to their congregations.

Nevertheless, black Catholics at various parishes around DC remained frustrated by discrimination, and with the support of an Italian priest named Father Felix Barotti, a black Catholic parish at last came to fruition.

The original St. Augustine’s Church, which replaced the De Porres chapel in 1876, sat on the site of what eventually became the headquarters of the Washington Post.

It was the first African American Catholic parish in the city, and was a great success. The parish hosted the first National Black Catholic Congress in 1889, and parishioners hosted marchers and participated in the 1963 March on Washington.

The parish also has a school which has been operating for over 150 years.

In 1961, St. Augustine parish merged with the nearby, mostly white St. Paul's Church, which had been experiencing declining attendance. The new, merged parish was renamed Sts. Paul and Augustine until 1982, when the name was restored to St. Augustine's.

The original St. Augustine’s church, sadly, was razed in 1946.

Today, however, St. Augustine’s parish has one of the largest congregations in all of DC, with over 2,000 registered members.

Changing demographics

Similar to the parishioners at St. Augustine, the parishioners of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian, another historically black DC parish, raised the funds necessary to build their first church building.

Last year, the parish community celebrated its 125th anniversary.

Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian has a long African American Catholic heritage, but now, the neighborhood is changing. Pope estimated that the congregation is now probably about 40% white.

"Every now and then people feel a little bit sad, it just feels kind of like the end of an era," he said.

"We still have a very bright future as a parish, and there are many good, new things that are up and running now, too. So it's always a mix of a little bit of sadness but also hope and enthusiasm for a parish that is now much more diverse."

He said people use the term "gentrification" to describe changes in DC’s historically black neighborhoods.

"I don't think that's entirely accurate; it hides more than it discloses," Pope reflected.

"There's a subtlety to it. Most of the older black folks here in the neighborhood were not poor, they were working class— some of them had good government jobs with decent pensions."

Many of the aging back parishioners have sold their homes at a tidy profit, while choosing to downsize or move to the suburbs, for well over $1 million, he said.

"The ones who are leaving aren't necessarily all that poor, and the ones that are coming in aren't necessarily all that rich. Most of them are young's an odd thing."

"As a parish, I think we're handling it as best we can," he said.


‘A lack of courage’: Germans divided over Pope Francis’ Amazonian exhortation

Wed, 02/12/2020 - 6:30 PM

Munich, Germany, Feb 12, 2020 / 11:30 am (CNA).- German Church leaders have offered markedly distinct responses to Querida Amazonia, the apostolic exhortation on the Amazon region released by Pope Francis Feb. 12.

Catholic officials in Germany paid close attention to the 2019 Vatican synod that preceded the papal document, because synod recommendations to relax clerical celibacy norms and ordain women as deacons closely mirrored calls made by some leaders of a two-year Church synodal process taking place in Germany.

Pope Francis’ document did not respond affirmatively to those suggestions.  

The Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), an influential lay group which is jointly managing the so-called synodal process with the German bishops’ conference, accused Pope Francis of a “lack of courage for real reforms” in his Amazonian exhortation.

The group has taken formal stances against Church teaching and discipline on a range of issues, and called for the ordination of women, the blessing of same-sex unions by the Church, and an end to clerical celibacy.

“With his post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation to the Amazon Synod, Pope Francis continues the path he has chosen. He addresses the whole people of God and all people of good will in a clear and understandable, also emotional language,” said a statement published on the ZdK website on Wednesday.

“Unfortunately, he does not find the courage to implement real reforms on the issues of consecration of married men and the liturgical skills of women that have been discussed for 50 years.”

The ZdK said that, following the publication of the working documents for the Synod on the Amazon the synodal deliberations last October, “expectations regarding concrete steps towards reform, especially with regard to access to the priestly office and the role of women, were very high.”

“We very much regret that Pope Francis did not take a step forward in his letter. Rather, it strengthens the existing positions of the Roman Church both in terms of access to the priesthood and the participation of women in ministries and ministries.”

While the lay committee’s apparently accepted that the pope has ruled out any meaningful change to clerical discipline, the head of the German hierarchy appeared to downplay the impact of Francis’s exhortation.

Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Münich, the outgoing head of the German bishops’ conference who attended the synod last year, released his own statement in response to the pope’s exhortation. Marx insisted that Francis did not close the door on German ambitions to end clerical celibacy, and called Francis’s letter, which has papal magisterial authority, “a framework for reflection.”

“Anyone who expected concrete decisions and instructions for action with the post-synodal letter from Pope Francis will not find them,” Marx conceded, while insisting that recommendations for change from the synod are “by no means off the table.”

“As is well known, the two-thirds majority of the 280 [synodal fathers] in the final synodal document also advocated for exceptions to compulsory celibacy and stimulated further reflection on the admission of women to the diaconate,” the German cardinal said.

“Against the background of the reform proposals discussed in Germany, these issues were particularly well received by the Church and public, but they were not the main topics of the synod.”

“This discussion will continue,” Marx insisted.

Although the final synodal document was “formally presented” along with the pope’s response, Cardinal Michael Czerny, SJ, and Cardinal Lorenzo Baldesseri both emphasized during the Vatican press conference that it has no magisterial weight and does not authorize any diocesan bishop to ordain married men.

In contrast to the resignation and protests expressed, another German churchman welcomed the pope’s document.

Cardinal Gerhard Müller, prefect emeritus of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith welcomed Querida Amazonia, saying the pope “does not want to fuel existing political, ethnic and inner-Church conflicts and conflicts of interest, but rather to overcome them.”

“The Pope does not draw from [the final synodal document] any dramatic and disconcerting conclusions,” Cardinal Müller wrote in his own response on Wednesday. 

“Rather, he wishes to offer the Church and all people of good will his own answers, in order to help to ensure a ‘harmonious, creative and fruitful reception of the whole synodal process’.”

Müller said that the text could have “the reconciling effect of reducing internal Church factions, ideological fixations and the danger of inner emigration or open resistance.”

The cardinal said the pope has made an important call for renewed missionary commitment and zeal from all the faithful for the Amazon region, and underscored the dignity and mission of the laity.

“The lay faithful are not defined by the fact that they can do everything except that which is exclusively reserved to priests, but by their participation in the total mission of the Church on the basis of Baptism and Confirmation,” Müller wrote, noting that “the importance of the ecclesial ministries of laymen and women, who ‘are called in various ways to direct collaboration with the apostolate of the hierarchy,’ is rightly recalled” by the pope.

Pope Francis, Müller said, had made a clear choice in his non-treatment of the demands for dramatic changes to the clerical state and the divisions these had caused in the wider Church.

“The Pope does not want to fuel existing political, ethnic and inner-Church conflicts and conflicts of interest, but rather to overcome them.” 

“It is to be hoped,” the cardinal wrote, “that the interpreters of this document will refrain from unnecessary harshness and take up the concerns of the Holy Father like true sons and daughters of the Church in a spirit of agreement and collaboration.”

How church-goers voted in the New Hampshire primary

Wed, 02/12/2020 - 5:33 PM

Concord, N.H., Feb 12, 2020 / 10:33 am (CNA).- Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) narrowly won Tuesday night’s Democratic New Hampshire primary, with third-place Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) getting the support of frequent church-goers.

Overall, Sanders received 73,809 votes in the Granite State, almost 26% of the vote. Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, was just 4,000 votes behind with more than 24% of the vote. The two continued their strong performance at last week’s Iowa caucuses where Buttigieg narrowly beat out Sanders in the race for state delegate equivalents.

On Tuesday, Klobuchar surged into third place with 56,576 votes, almost 20% of the vote.

In distant fourth was Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) with 26,434 votes, or 9.25%. Former vice president Joe Biden, viewed for months as the top front-runner in the Democratic field for 2020, failed to finish in the top three for the second straight week, after his fourth-place finish in the Iowa caucus. He received 24,734 votes on Tuesday.

Klobuchar won the support of frequent attendees of religious services, although this group comprised only a small portion of the voters on Tuesday night. Most voters said they attend religious services either “occasionally” or “never.”

NBC News exit polls reported Klobuchar receiving 27% support from those attending religious services weekly or more. Similarly, Washington Post exit polls showed Klobuchar winning 28% of this vote, with Sanders finishing in a distant second with 15% support.

Among those attending church “occasionally,” Buttigieg bested the other candidates with 26%, and Klobuchar with 23%, in the Post exit polls. Among those “never” attending church, Sanders performed the highest with 35% support, to Buttigieg’s 22%.

Klobuchar has made headlines in recent days for branching out from the other Democratic candidates’ insistance that being pro-abortion is “essential” for party membership, or that they would do without the votes of pro-life Democrats if necessary.

Appearing on ABC’s “The View” on Tuesday, Klobuchar welcomed the support of pro-life Democrats while maintaining that “I am strongly pro-choice.”

“I believe we’re a big-tent party. And there are pro-life Democrats, and they are a part of our party,” she said. “I think we need to bring people in instead of shutting them out.”

Meanwhile, over the weekend in New Hampshire, Sanders had said that support for abortion “is an absolutely essential part of being a Democrat.”

Previously, Buttigieg had said at a Jan. 26 townhall in Iowa that women, not government officials, should be making the decisions on abortion; if this stance disqualified him with pro-life Democrats, he said, “I understand.”

At a November debate, Warren said that “abortion rights are human rights” and the Democratic party is “fundamentally” pro-abortion, but added that “I’m not here to try to drive anyone out of this party. I’m not here to try to build fences.”


Archbishop Gomez welcomes 'Querida Amazonia'

Wed, 02/12/2020 - 5:15 PM

Los Angeles, Calif., Feb 12, 2020 / 10:15 am (CNA).- Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles commented Wednesday on Querida Amazonia, Pope Francis' apostolic exhortation following the Amazon synod, emphasizing its reminder that that Church proclaims Christ.

“Today our Holy Father Pope Francis offers us a hopeful and challenging vision of the future of the Amazon region, one of the earth’s most sensitive and crucial ecosystems, and home to a rich diversity of cultures and peoples,” the president of the US bishops' conference said Feb. 12.

“The Pope reminds us that the Church serves humanity by proclaiming Jesus Christ and his Gospel of love, and he calls for an evangelization that respects the identities and histories of the Amazonian peoples and that is open to the ‘novelty of the Spirit, who is always able to create something new with the inexhaustible riches of Jesus Christ.’”

Francis “also calls all of us in the Americas and throughout the West to examine our ‘style of life’ and to reflect on the consequences that our decisions have for the environment and for the poor,” Archbishop Gomez noted.

“Along with my brother bishops here in the United States, I am grateful for the Holy Father’s wisdom and guidance and we pledge our continued commitment to evangelizing and building a world that is more just and fraternal and that respects the integrity of God’s creation.”

Despite widespread speculation, the apostolic exhortation does not call for the priestly ordination of married men, but seeks to expand "horizons beyond conflicts."

The document presents the pope’s "four great dreams" for the Pan-Amazonian region’s ecological preservation and "Amazonian holiness."

The exhortation does not quote from recommendations made by bishops at the Vatican’s October meeting on the Amazon. Instead, Pope Francis "officially present[s]" the synod’s final document alongside his exhortation, asking "everyone to read it in full."

Nearly half of Querida Amazonia is dedicated to outlining the Roman Pontiff's "Ecclesial Dream" for the Amazon region, in which Pope Francis stresses the singular role of the priest, while affirming the laity’s ongoing contributions to evangelization.

“No Christian community is built up which does not grow from and hinge on the celebration of the most holy Eucharist … This urgent need leads me to urge all bishops, especially those in Latin America, not only to promote prayer for priestly vocations, but also to be more generous in encouraging those who display a missionary vocation to opt for the Amazon region,” Pope Francis wrote.

The exhortation warns against an outlook that restricts “our understanding of the Church to her functional structures.” It also rejects a narrow vision of “conceptions of power in the Church” that “clericalize women.”

Vatican officials: 'Querida Amazonia' is magisterium, Amazon synod's final doc is not

Wed, 02/12/2020 - 2:56 PM

Vatican City, Feb 12, 2020 / 07:56 am (CNA).- Pope Francis' post-synodal exhortation on the Amazon is part of the Church's ordinary magisterium -- that is officially a kind of Church teaching -- while the final document of the Vatican’s 2019 Amazon synod is not, Cardinal Michael Czerny, special secretary of the Amazon synod, said Feb. 12.

The distinction in the authoritative weight of the two documents was also emphasized Wednesday by Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, secretary general of the Synod of Bishops, and by Matteo Bruni, the director of the Holy See Press Office.

Bruni emphasized that “the apostolic exhortation is magisterium, the final document is not.” He later added that “anything in the final document should be read in the lens of the apostolic exhortation,” including any “application.”

“So we have two documents of two different kinds,” Czerny said in a presentation to journalists.

“The final document, consisting of proposals made and voted by the Synod Fathers, has the weight of a synodal final document,” he said, whereas the apostolic exhortation, “reflecting on the whole process and its final document, has the authority of ordinary magisterium of the Successor of Peter.”

Pope Francis released Feb. 12 the apostolic letter Querida Amazonia, which presents his response to the discussion of the Amazon synod, which took place in Rome over three weeks in October.

This synod ended with the presentation to Pope Francis of a final document, which was voted on by synod members setting out a series of recommendations based on the issues discussed during the preparation phase and synodal sessions.

The final document of the synod assembly is what Czerny and Baldisseri said does not have the weight of ordinary magisterium, noting the pope’s “presentation” of the document.

Pope Francis “encourages everyone to read the whole document” Czerny stated, but added that suggestions made in the synod’s final document remain in discussion only “as proposals made by the synod.” This means that Catholics are not required to believe, or even agree with, the proposals, or regard them as teachings of the pope.
In Querida Amazonia itself, Pope Francis offers his own reflections on the Amazon, saying he “will not go into all of the issues treated at length in the [synod’s] final document. Nor do I claim to replace that text or to duplicate it.”

The pope states that, at the same time, he “would like to officially present the Final Document, which sets forth the conclusions of the Synod…”

Francis added: “I have preferred not to cite the Final Document in this Exhortation, because I would encourage everyone to read it in full.”

The pope also asks that “pastors, consecrated men and women and lay faithful of the Amazon region strive to apply” the work of the synodal assembly.

Francis’ use of the words “officially present,” prompted some to ask if the pope wishes to give added weight to the synod’s conclusions, even if he chose not to cite them directly in his own document.

The option for the pope to adopt the final synodal document as his own, including it as official Church teaching, was part of changes the pontiff made to synod rules in 2018. Since that year, canon law has permitted the pope to give a specific and deliberate kind of approval to a final synodal document that would incorporate the text into the pope’s ordinary magisterium, or official teaching.

However, Baldisseri said that article 18 of Episcopalis Communio, which established that law, makes clear that the pope needs to give his approval “expressly.”

“The apostolic exhortation does not speak of approval of the final document. It does not speak [of it]. It speaks of presentation, but not of approval,” Baldisseri continued. “There is not a clear canonical word of approval, as in article 18 of Episcopalis Communio. It speaks of express approval, not indirect, imagined.”

The final document of the Amazon synod “has a certain moral authority, sure,” he added, “but not magisterial.” 

Synods of bishops convened by the pope serve a mainly consultative role, as indicated in the Code of Canon Law.

Their main purpose is to foster unity between the pope and the bishops around the world, and to offer their input as the pope considers questions pertaining to the Church’s activity in different parts of the world, on issues of faith and morals, and “in the observance and strengthening of ecclesiastical discipline.”

“It is,” the Code says, “for the synod of bishops to discuss the questions for consideration and express its wishes but not to resolve them or issue decrees about them unless in certain cases the Roman Pontiff has endowed it with deliberative power, in which case he ratifies the decisions of the synod.”

Czerny said he thinks the best way to understand the synod’s debate of the possibility of the ordination of married priests in the Amazon region is to see it “as part of a process and as part of a journey.”

“That’s why it’s called a synod,” he noted, adding that “we are at a very important part in this synodal process and there are long roads ahead as well as long roads already traveled.”

“And so the questions you are returning to are questions ‘on the road,' and the Holy Father has not resolved them in any way beyond what he has said in the exhortation,” the cardinal underlined.

“So if there are questions you feel are open, or that the Church feels are open, thanks to the exhortation they will continue to be discussed, debated, discerned, prayed over, and when mature, presented to the appropriate authority for decision,” he said.

“There are decisions that can be made in a diocese, in a [bishops’] conference, and there are decisions that are made here [in the Vatican].”


Inculturation is a 'necessary process' in the Amazon, Pope Francis says

Wed, 02/12/2020 - 11:45 AM

Vatican City, Feb 12, 2020 / 04:45 am (CNA).- Pope Francis has highlighted the need for spiritual inculturation in the Amazon region, and praised indigenous expressions of religiosity, while pointing to the Eucharist as the central component of Christian spirituality.

In an apostolic exhortation released Feb. 12 as a follow-up to last year’s Synod on the Amazon, the pope said the Church should adapt and adopt the identity of the Amazon region in an authentically Christian way.

In Querida Amazonia, released on Wednesday, the pope offered a sweeping view of the region and called for the Church to engage with and defend its peoples at the social, cultural, environmental, and spiritual levels.
“As she perseveres in the preaching of the kerygma, the Church also needs to grow in the Amazon region. In doing so, she constantly reshapes her identity through listening and dialogue with the people, the realities and the history of the lands in which she finds herself,” Francis said.

The pope said that true inculturation is “a necessary process” that “rejects nothing of the goodness that already exists in Amazonian cultures, but brings it to fulfilment in the light of the Gospel.”
Citing the teachings of St. John Paul II, Francis said that the Church never denies the “autonomy of culture.”
“On the contrary, she has the greatest respect for it, since culture is not only an object of redemption and elevation but can also play a role of mediation and cooperation.”
Francis also used the document to revisit and respond to the debate that took place at the 2019 synod on the role and suitability of adopting symbols of indigenous spirituality into the Church.
During the Synod on the Amazon, held on Oct. 6-27 last year, a particular point of controversy was the presence of carved images of a naked pregnant woman, often identified as the indigenous religious symbol “Pachamama.”

The figures were displayed at a number of side-events held over the course of the synod in Rome. While some observers insisted they were representative of life, fertility, and motherhood, others, including some former curial cardinals, denounced the use and presence of the figures, warning that they could be interpreted as a form of pagan idolatry.
Debate about the meaning and suitability of the Pachamama image boiled over when, on Oct. 21, a video was uploaded to YouTube showing a number of the statues being removed from a display in the church of Santa Maria in Traspontina and thrown into the Tiber. An Austrian man subsequently claimed responsibility for the act.
During the closing session of the synod, Francis made an apology for the incident, saying that “As bishop of this diocese, I ask forgiveness from those who have been offended by this gesture.” The pope went on to say that they had been displayed in the church “without idolatrous intentions.”
In Wednesday’s exhortation, Francis appeared to address the issue, but did not reference the Pachamama image specifically.
“It is possible to take up an indigenous symbol in some way, without necessarily considering it as idolatry,” Francis wrote in Querida Amazonia. “A myth charged with spiritual meaning can be used to advantage and not always considered a pagan error.”
The pope said it is important that the Church not “be quick to describe as superstition or paganism certain religious practices that arise spontaneously from the life of peoples.”
“Rather, we ought to know how to distinguish the wheat growing alongside the tares, for popular piety can enable us to see how the faith, once received, becomes embodied in a culture and is constantly passed on.”
Francis also called for a renewed commitment to inculturation in the liturgical life of the Church in the region, saying that the celebration of the sacraments is a particularly beneficial means, “since they unite the divine and the cosmic, grace and creation.”

Quoting his own encyclical letter on the environment, Laudato si, Francis noted that “On Sunday, Christian spirituality incorporates the value of relaxation and festivity.”
“Nowadays we tend to demean contemplative rest as something unproductive and unnecessary, but this is to do away with the very thing which is most important about work: its meaning.  We are called to include in our work a dimension of receptivity and gratuity. Aboriginal peoples are familiar with this gratuity and this healthy contemplative leisure.”
“Our celebrations,” Francis said, “should help them experience this in the Sunday liturgy and encounter the light of God’s word and the Eucharist, which illumines our daily existence.”
The Eucharist in particular, the pope said, “joins heaven and earth; it embraces and penetrates all of creation.”
“In this sense, ‘encountering God does not mean fleeing from this world or turning our back on nature.’  It means that we can take up into the liturgy many elements proper to the experience of indigenous peoples in their contact with nature, and respect native forms of expression in song, dance, rituals, gestures and symbols.”
“The Second Vatican Council called for this effort to inculturate the liturgy among indigenous peoples; over fifty years have passed and we still have far to go along these lines,” Francis said.

In Querida Amazonia, pope calls for women in Church leadership, but not diaconate

Wed, 02/12/2020 - 11:30 AM

Vatican City, Feb 12, 2020 / 04:30 am (CNA).- Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation on the Amazon calls for women in the South American region to be included in new forms of service in the Church, but not within the ordained ministries of the permanent diaconate or priesthood.

To admit women to Holy Orders “would in fact narrow our vision; it would lead us to clericalize women, diminish the great value of what they have already accomplished, and subtly make their indispensable contribution less effective,” the exhortation, published Feb. 12, states.

“Women make their contribution to the Church in a way that is properly theirs, by making present the tender strength of Mary, the Mother,” the pope writes. “As a result, we do not limit ourselves to a functional approach, but enter instead into the inmost structure of the Church.”

In his letter, called Querida Amazonia, Francis writes that with “new and unprecedented threats” to the region, the Church must “encourage the emergence of other forms of service and charisms that are proper to women and responsive to the specific needs of the peoples of the Amazon region at this moment in history.”

Querida Amazonia (which means “Beloved Amazon”) is Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation following the Synod of Bishops on the Amazon. Held at the Vatican Oct. 6-27, the Amazon synod was a meeting of bishops and advisors to discuss ecological, political, and pastoral issues for the Church in the region, which spans across nine countries in South America.

At the end of the meeting, synod members -- specially invited bishops and some religious brothers mostly coming from the Amazon region -- voted on a document of recommendations, which was presented to Pope Francis Oct. 26.

Among the suggestions in the document was the request that women be considered for certain ministries in the Church, including the permanent diaconate, which is an order within the sacrament of Holy Orders.

The bishops wrote that this was requested in a large number of the consultations conducted before the meeting, and “for this reason the theme was important during the synod.”

In Querida Amazonia, Pope Francis calls for “forms of service” for women, outside of the permanent diaconate -- services which entail “stability, public recognition and a commission from the bishop.”

“In a synodal Church, those women who in fact have a central part to play in Amazonian communities should have access to positions, including ecclesial services, that do not entail Holy Orders and that can better signify the role that is theirs,” he writes.

The exhortation states that “this would also allow women to have a real and effective impact on the organization, the most important decisions and the direction of communities, while continuing to do so in a way that reflects their womanhood.”

Querida Amazonia acknowledges the important role women have played in the sustenance of Catholic communities in remote areas where priests are not present or seen infrequently.

“In the Amazon region, there are communities that have long preserved and handed on the faith even though no priest has come their way, even for decades,” it says.

“This could happen because of the presence of strong and generous women who, undoubtedly called and prompted by the Holy Spirit, baptized, catechized, prayed and acted as missionaries. For centuries, women have kept the Church alive in those places through their remarkable devotion and deep faith.”

The exhortation also calls for the encouragement of the “simple and straightforward gifts” which have allowed women to play an active role in Amazonian society and noted that “without women, the Church breaks down, and how many communities in the Amazon would have collapsed, had women not been there to sustain them, keep them together and care for them.”

“This shows the kind of power that is typically theirs,” the document states, warning against a view which restricts the Church to just her “functional structures.”

Under the same section, “the strength and gift of women,” the pope also recalls that in the celebration of the Eucharist at Mass, Jesus Christ, Spouse of the Church, appears “through the figure of a man.”

This dialogue between Christ and his Bride, the Church, “should not trap us in partial conceptions of power in the Church,” it states. “The Lord chose to reveal his power and his love through two human faces: the face of his divine Son made man and the face of a creature, a woman, Mary.”

In an earlier section, the document references and briefly quotes St. Pope John Paul II’s 1988 apostolic letter on the dignity and vocation of women, Mulieris Dignitatem.

“There are those who think that what distinguishes the priest is power, the fact that he is the highest authority in the community,” Francis writes. “Yet Saint John Paul II explained that, although the priesthood is considered ‘hierarchical,’ this function is not meant to be superior to the others, but rather is ‘totally ordered to the holiness of Christ’s members.’”

In Mulieris Dignitatem, John Paul II wrote about the significant role women have played in the history of the Catholic Church, especially in passing on the faith, stating that holy women are “a model for all Christians, a model of the ‘sequela Christi,’ an example of how the Bride must respond with love to the love of the Bridegroom.”

“It is the Eucharist above all that expresses the redemptive act of Christ the Bridegroom towards the Church the Bride,” John Paul II’s letter continues. “This is clear and unambiguous when the sacramental ministry of the Eucharist, in which the priest acts ‘in persona Christi,’ is performed by a man.”

But, John Paul II recalled, “all the baptized share in the one priesthood of Christ, both men and women, inasmuch as they must ‘present their bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God (cf. Rom 12:1), give witness to Christ in every place, and give an explanation to anyone who asks the reason for the hope in eternal life that is in them (cf. 1 Pt 3:15).’”

Querida Amazonia: What Pope Francis said, and didn't, on priesthood and marriage

Wed, 02/12/2020 - 11:15 AM

Vatican City, Feb 12, 2020 / 04:15 am (CNA).- While Pope Francis was expected to focus in the apostolic exhortation published today on a proposal to ordain married priests in the Amazon region, the pope instead emphasized the importance of collaboration in apostolic ministry by Catholics in various states of life.

“Efforts need to be made to configure ministry in such a way that it is at the service of a more frequent celebration of the Eucharist, even in the remotest and most isolated communities,” Pope Francis wrote in Querida Amazonia, released publicly Feb. 12 and dated Feb. 2.

The pope said that “In the specific circumstances of the Amazon region, particularly in its forests and more remote places, a way must be found to ensure” priestly ministry.

The urgent need for priests “leads me to urge all bishops, especially those in Latin America, not only to promote prayer for priestly vocations, but also to be more generous in encouraging those who display a missionary vocation to opt for the Amazon region,” he wrote.

Even while emphasizing the importance of priestly ministry in the region, Pope Francis did not endorse a proposal from some bishops in the Amazon region to permit the ordination of married men to the priesthood.

Regarding that proposal, in a Feb. 12 editorial, the Vatican’s editorial director Andrea Tornielli wrote that “the Successor of Peter, after praying and reflecting, has decided to respond not by foreseeing changes or further possibilities of exceptions from those already provided for by current ecclesiastical discipline, but by asking that the essentials be the starting point,” for discussions regarding priestly ministry in the Amazon.

The pope's own discussion of ministry in the Amazon appeared in his exhortation's fourth chapter, “An Ecclesial Dream,” in which Pope Francis treated his desire for “Christian communities capable of generous commitment, incarnate in the Amazon region, and giving the Church new faces with Amazonian features.”

The chapter discussed the need to proclaim the gospel in the region; various means of inculturation; the strength and gifts of women; and ecumenical and interreligious coexistence.

Treating the inculturation of forms of ministry, the pope said that it “should also be increasingly reflected in an incarnate form of ecclesial organization and ministry,” asking: “how can we not consider an inculturation of the ways we structure and carry out ecclesial ministries?”

In addition to configuring ministry for more frequent celebrations of the Eucharist, he said there “is also a need for ministers who can understand Amazonian sensibilities and cultures from within.”

Priestly formation, he said, “develops distinctive traits in different parts of the world,” and he noted that “what is most specific to a priest” is his configuration to Christ the priest through Holy Orders.

He noted that “power” is not the defining character of priesthood, and referred to St. John Paul II's statement in Mulieris Dignitatem that the priesthood is “totally ordered to the holiness of Christ’s members.”

The priest's great potency, he said, is to say Mass. He identified Mass and Confession as the sacraments that “lie at the heart of the priest’s exclusive identity.” He noted that “It is also proper to the priest to administer the Anointing of the Sick.”

Laity “can proclaim God’s word, teach, organize communities, celebrate certain sacraments, seek different ways to express popular devotion and develop the multitude of gifts that the Spirit pours out in their midst,” the pope said, while adding that “they need the celebration of the Eucharist because it 'makes the Church'.”

Because the Christian community grows from the Mass, “every effort should be made to ensure that the Amazonian peoples do not lack this food of new life and the sacrament of forgiveness,” Francis said.

In addition to asking that bishops generously encourage missionaries to the Amazon, he said that the “structure and content” of priestly formation should “be thoroughly revised, so that priests can acquire the attitudes and abilities demanded by dialogue with Amazonian cultures.”

“This formation must be preeminently pastoral and favour the development of priestly mercy,” he added, noting that the lack of seminaries for indigenous people was mentioned at the synod.

The Mass, Pope Francis said, “signifies and realizes the Church's unity,” which “welcomes the abundant variety of gifts and charisms that the Spirit pours out.”

The Mass thus “requires the development of that rich variety.”

To that end, “Priests are necessary, but this does not mean that permanent deacons (of whom there should be many more in the Amazon region), religious women and lay persons cannot regularly assume important responsibilities for the growth of communities.”

“Consequently, it is not simply a question of facilitating a greater presence of ordained ministers who can celebrate the Eucharist. That would be a very narrow aim, were we not also to strive to awaken new life in communities. We need to promote an encounter with God’s word and growth in holiness through various kinds of lay service.”

An inculturated Church in the Amazon “requires the stable presence of mature and lay leaders endowed with authority and familiar with the languages, cultures, spiritual experience and communal way of life in the different places, but also open to the multiplicity of gifts that the Holy Spirit bestows on every one,” he said.

“This requires the Church to be open to the Spirit’s boldness, to trust in, and concretely to permit, the growth of a specific ecclesial culture that is distinctively lay. The challenges in the Amazon region demand of the Church a special effort to be present at every level, and this can only be possible through the vigorous, broad and active involvement of the laity.”

The pope also highlighted consecrated life and base communities, which is a term used to describe small Christian communities in the Amazon region.

He encouraged “the growth of the collaborative efforts being made through the Pan Amazonian Ecclesial Network and other associations” to implement the proposal made at the Fifth Episcopal Conference of Latin America at Aparecida in 2007 to “establish a collaborative ministry among the local churches of the various South American countries in the Amazon basin, with differentiated priorities”.

The Pan Amazonian Ecclesial Network, or REPAM, lists among its works “protection for the 137 ‘contactless tribes’ of the Amazon and affirmation of their right to live undisturbed.”

Francis also said that “ the Amazonian region sees a great deal of internal mobility” and migration, and thus “thought should be given to itinerant missionary teams and 'support provided for the presence and mobility of consecrated men and women closest to those who are most impoverished and excluded'.”


Pope Francis' Amazon exhortation calls for holiness, not married priests

Wed, 02/12/2020 - 11:00 AM

Vatican City, Feb 12, 2020 / 04:00 am (CNA).- Pope Francis published his response to the Vatican’s 2019 Amazon synod in an apostolic exhortation Wednesday. Despite widespread speculation following the synod, the pope does not call for married priests, but seeks to expand "horizons beyond conflicts."

Querida Amazonia, Pope Francis’ much-anticipated post-synodal apostolic exhortation, presents the pope’s "four great dreams" for the Pan-Amazonian region’s ecological preservation and "Amazonian holiness."

The exhortation does not quote from recommendations made by bishops at the Vatican’s October meeting on the Amazon. Instead, Pope Francis "officially present[s]" the synod’s final document alongside his exhortation, asking "everyone to read it in full."

The topic of ordaining viri probati, or mature married men, was a point of considerable discussion at the synod, and made waves across the Church.

While Pope Francis did not rebuff the idea directly in his exhortation, the Vatican’s editorial director, Andrea Tornielli, addressed it in a column released alongside the apostolic exhortation.

Speaking of priestly celibacy, Tornielli wrote that “the Successor of Peter, after praying and reflecting, has decided to respond not by foreseeing changes or further possibilities of exceptions from those already provided for by current ecclesiastical discipline, but by asking that the essentials be the starting point,” for discussions regarding priestly ministry in the Amazon.

“He asks us to begin again with a vivacious and incarnated faith, with a renewed missionary thrust rooted in the grace that allows room for God to act rather than on marketing strategies or the communication technologies relied on by the religious influencers,” Tornielli added.

Nearly half of the pope’s own 24-page document is dedicated to outlining the pontiff's "Ecclesial Dream" for the Amazon region, in which Pope Francis stresses the singular role of the priest, while affirming the laity’s ongoing contributions to evangelization.

“No Christian community is built up which does not grow from and hinge on the celebration of the most holy Eucharist … This urgent need leads me to urge all bishops, especially those in Latin America, not only to promote prayer for priestly vocations, but also to be more generous in encouraging those who display a missionary vocation to opt for the Amazon region,” Pope Francis wrote in the exhortation, published Feb. 12.

Pope Francis said that Querida Amazonia provides his “own response” to the discussions that took place at the Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazonian region October 6-27.

In Querida Amazonia, Pope Francis warns against an outlook that restricts “our understanding of the Church to her functional structures.” The pope also rejects a narrow vision of “conceptions of power in the Church” that “clericalize women.”

“Efforts need to be made to configure ministry in such a way that it is at the service of a more frequent celebration of the Eucharist, even in the remotest and most isolated communities … There is also a need for ministers who can understand Amazonian sensibilities and cultures from within,” Pope Francis wrote.

“The way of shaping priestly life and ministry is not monolithic; it develops distinctive traits in different parts of the world. This is why it is important to determine what is most specific to a priest, what cannot be delegated. The answer lies in the sacrament of Holy Orders, which configures him to Christ the priest. The first conclusion, then, is that the exclusive character received in Holy Orders qualifies the priest alone to preside at the Eucharist,” Francis said.

The pope called for revision to “the structure and content of both initial and ongoing priestly formation” to be more pastoral and in dialogue with Amazonian cultures. Francis said that “the stable presence of mature and lay leaders endowed with authority” is required in the region, calling for more permanent deacons and women religious to address the Amazon’s challenges.

Following the controversy sparked by the presence of indigenous statues at Vatican events during the Amazon synod in October and the subsequent apology by Pope Francis for “Pachamama” being thrown in the Tiber River, Pope Francis uses the post-synodal apostolic exhortation to appeal for unity and sensitivity to the over 110 distinct indigenous cultures in the Amazon.

“Let us not be quick to describe as superstition or paganism certain religious practices that arise spontaneously from the life of peoples,” Pope Francis wrote.

“It is possible to take up an indigenous symbol in some way, without necessarily considering it as idolatry. A myth charged with spiritual meaning can be used to advantage and not always considered a pagan error. Some religious festivals have a sacred meaning and are occasions for gathering and fraternity, albeit in need of a gradual process of purification or maturation,” he explained.

“The greatest danger would be to prevent them from encountering Christ by presenting him as an enemy of joy or as someone indifferent to human questions and difficulties,” he added.

In a section entitled, “Expanding horizons beyond conflicts,” Pope Francis lays forth his call for a transcendence of conflict:

“It often happens that in particular places pastoral workers envisage very different solutions to the problems they face, and consequently propose apparently opposed forms of ecclesial organization,” Pope Francis said.

“When this occurs, it is probably that the real response to the challenges of evangelization lies in transcending the two approaches and finding other, better ways, perhaps not yet even imagined.  Conflict is overcome at a higher level, where each group can join the other in a new reality, while remaining faithful to itself,” he added.

Pope Francis presented his four dreams -- social, cultural, ecological, and ecclesial -- for the “Beloved Amazon” region with indigenous poetry interspersed throughout the apostolic exhortation.

“Poets, contemplatives and prophets, help free us from the technocratic and consumerist paradigm that destroys nature and robs us of a truly dignified existence,” the pope wrote.

The pope also made a point that this apostolic exhortation is addressed “to the whole world,” not just to the Amazonian region.

“The equilibrium of our planet ... depends on the health of the Amazon region,” he said. “It serves as a great filter of carbon dioxide, which helps avoid the warming of the earth.”

Francis’ ecological dream for the region encompasses an integral need to protect the human dignity of people living in the region.

“We do not need an environmentalism that is concerned for the biome but ignores the Amazonian peoples,” he wrote. “My predecessor Benedict XVI condemned ‘the devastation of the environment and the Amazon basin, and the threats against the human dignity of the peoples living in that region.’”

“We cannot allow globalization to become a new version of colonialism,” Pope Francis said after apologizing for historic “crimes committed against native peoples during the so-called conquest of America.”

Colonization has not ended, Pope Francis said, it has been “changed, disguised and concealed, while losing none of its contempt for the life of the poor and the fragility of the environment.”

Pope Francis signed the post-synodal apostolic exhortation on February 2 in the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran, the cathedral of the Bishop of Rome.

“The pastoral presence of the Church in the Amazon region is uneven, due in part to the vast expanse of the territory, its many remote places, its broad cultural diversity, its grave social problems, and the preference of some peoples to live in isolation. We cannot remain unconcerned; a specific and courageous response is required of the Church,” Pope Francis said.

Days before attack, Nigerian bishop warned of poor protection for Christians

Wed, 02/12/2020 - 5:07 AM

Jos, Nigeria, Feb 11, 2020 / 10:07 pm (CNA).- Just days before a suspected Islamist militant attack killed 30 people in Nigeria, a prominent bishop in the country lamented what he saw as a lack of adequate protection from the Nigerian government for the country’s nearly 100 million Christians.

Suspected Islamist militants set sleeping travelers on fire in Borno state, Nigeria, on Feb. 11, burning 18 vehicles filled with food supplies and killing at least 30, including a pregnant woman and her baby.

In a Feb. 7 interview with Aid to the Church in Need, Archbishop Augustine Obiora Akubeze of Benin City, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria, warned that “The current situation in Nigeria reflects an unnecessary, unwarranted and self-inflicted tension. A politically polarized nation.”

“The President of Nigeria recently stated that he was shocked at the unabated killing of Nigerians, who are mostly Christians. Many Nigerians wonder whether the president lives in a parallel universe,” Akubeze stated.

“How can he be surprised at this time? After some of us have attended mass burials of Christians killed by Boko Haram? 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 noted, lately they are mainly focusing on the killing and kidnapping of Christians.

Akubeze said serious security challenges were in the past confined mainly to the northeastern part of the country, but today, people are kidnapped for ransom in almost every part of the country.

The archbishop drew attention to the recent killing of Rev. Lawan Andima, a local Government Chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria, whom Boko Haram beheaded. A married father of nine children, Akubeze says he was killed “simply because he was a Christian.”

He also mentioned the recent kidnapping and killing of 18-year-old seminarian Michael Nnadi in Kaduna state. Gunmen stormed a seminary last month and abducted four young men.

The three seminarians kidnapped along with Nnadi were released in the weeks following their kidnapping.

“We are pained and sad at the killing of Michael Nnadi. And to know that he was an orphan is more painful. May his soul and the souls of all who have died in the hands of these criminals rest in peace,” the archbishop said.

In the last year, several priests and seminarians, along with pastors from other Christian denominations, have been kidnapped in Nigeria, some for ransom, and some by Islamist militant and terrorist groups.

In addition to the threat posed by Boko Haram and other organized militant groups, clashes between Fulani Muslim herdsmen and Christians have led to significant bloodshed, especially in the north of the country.

Akubeze expressed doubt that the government, led by President Muhammadu Buhari, is seriously working to prosecute those who commit violence against Christians.

“The lack of significant prosecution of these men further fuels the belief that they have the backing of the federal government,” Akubeze said, while noting that he does not have conclusive evidence that the government is supporting these groups.

“But to do nothing or what appears to be a lack of true will-power or motivation to stop these crimes increasing makes it difficult to convince more Nigerians that there is no connection between one-sided appointments of officials and the lack of prosecution of perpetrators of these crimes against humanity and the seemingly selective killing of Christians,” he continued.

He noted that virtually all the officials who advise the president are from the same Hausa-Fulani ethnic group; nearly all of them are Muslims, in a country that is almost equally split between Muslim and Christian residents.

“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 reflected.

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


Cardinal Zen to Congressmen: China wants Vatican 'surrender'

Wed, 02/12/2020 - 12:30 AM

Washington D.C., Feb 11, 2020 / 05:30 pm (CNA).- Cardinal Joseph Zen, the bishop emeritus of Hong Kong, has said that the situation of the Church in China is dire. The cardinal also predicted the end of the underground Church. 

“The situation is very bad. And the source is not the pope. The pope doesn’t know much about China,” Cardinal Zen told CNA on Tuesday

“The Holy Father Francis shows special affection to me,” Zen said, but added that he is in confrontation with Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s Secretary of State.

“I’m fighting Parolin. Because the bad things come from him,” Zen added. 

Parolin, Cardinal Zen said, is “so optimistic about the so-called ‘Ostpolitik’, the compromise.”

But, the cardinal told CNA, “you cannot compromise” with the Chinese Communist Party, whom he called “persecutors” of the faith.

“They want complete surrender. That’s communism.”

Cardinal Zen spoke to CNA Feb. 11 while in Washington, DC, to meet with members of Congress at the office of U.S. Congressman Chris Smith (R-N.J.).

After the meeting, Smith told CNA that Cardinal Zen “is a Saint Paul of our time, who is not only a holy and an effective witness for the Gospel of Jesus Christ, he is also a man of great truth about what is really happening in China.” 

During the meeting, the cardinal and the members of Congress talked about China’s “Sinicization” programme of religious practice in the country and the Communist government’s years-long effort to forcibly bring religion under its control.

Some celebrations of Christmas have been banned in China, Bibles have been rewritten by order of regional authorities, and vocations are reportedly down, Zen told the lawmakers.

“I think it’s had a paralyzing effect on the Catholic Church,” Smith said.

In 2018, the Holy See and China reached an agreement on the ordination of bishops in Chinese dioceses, giving the Communist regime a voice in the selection and vetting of episcopal candidates. That agreement was supposed to unify the Church in China by bringing the state-sanctioned Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association into communion with the Holy See and unifying it with the underground Church loyal to Rome.

Critics of the deal, including Zen, warned that the underground Church would not be sufficiently protected from the Chinese government’s efforts to impose its ideology on to all religions in the country, including Catholicism.

A report by the Congressional China Commission, issued in January, noted that human rights abuses intensified in China during the 2019 reporting year, and the persecution of Catholics worsened after the Vatican-China deal was reached.

“More and more, the Church [is] under persecution,” Zen said on Tuesday, “both the official Church, and the underground.”

The underground Church, he said, “is doomed to disappear,” as older bishops loyal to the faith are dying and no new bishops are being appointed - meaning no new priests can be ordained.

Zen said that Chinese Catholics come to Hong Kong from the mainland to ask what he can do for the Church in China. “I can do nothing. I have no voice in the Vatican. Simply not,” he told CNA.

“And so the situation is, humanly speaking, hopeless, for the Catholic Church,” Zen added.

Zen is the bishop emeritus of the Diocese of Hong Kong, the special administrative region has seen nearly a year of pro-democracy protests, beginning with opposition a bill to allow for the extradition of individuals from Hong Kong to mainland China. The protests have also focused on protecting Hong Kong’s special status against perceived increasing influence and control by the mainland Chinese government. The extradition bill was eventually pulled from consideration.

Recently, CNA reported that a candidate for the next bishop of Hong Kong had been settled upon by the Vatican, but that the announcement was delayed because the candidate would be seen as too sympathetic with the mainland Chinese government. Fr. Peter Choy Wai-man was reportedly picked to succeed Bishop Michael Yeung Ming-cheung, who died unexpectedly in January of 2019. 

Since that time, the diocese has been administered by Cardinal Zen’s immediate successor, Cardinal John Tong Hon, who retired in 2017. CNA also reported that the Vatican’s first choice as the new bishop of Hong Kong, current auxiliary of the diocese Bishop Joseph Ha Chi-shing, had his appointment dropped before being announced after he was pictured taking part in street protests against the government.

At the request of Cardinal Zen, no photographs were taken of the cardinal's visit to the U.S. Capitol, which included his interview with CNA.

Seminarian's killing a 'defining moment' for Christians in Nigeria

Wed, 02/12/2020 - 12:01 AM

Kaduna, Nigeria, Feb 11, 2020 / 05:01 pm (CNA).- At the funeral Mass for Michael Nnadi, the 18-year-old seminarian abducted and killed by gunmen last month, Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah of Sokoto said he hoped the death would be a turning point for persecuted Christians in Nigeria.

“This is a solemn moment for the body of Christ,” Kukah said in his Feb. 11 homily at Good Shepherd Seminary in Kaduna, where Nnadi had studied. The text of the homily was obtained through Aid to the Church in Need United States.

“This is for us the moment of decision. This is the moment that separates darkness from light, good from evil. Our nation is like a ship stranded on the high seas, rudderless and with broken navigational aids. Today, our years of hypocrisy, duplicity, fabricated integrity, false piety, empty morality, fraud and Pharisaism have caught up with us. Nigeria is on the crossroads and its future hangs precariously in a balance. This is a wakeup call for us,” he said.

Nnadi was taken by gunmen from Good Shepherd Seminary around 10:30 pm on Jan. 8, along with fellow seminarians Pius Kanwai, 19; Peter Umenukor, 23; and Stephen Amos, 23. The four seminarians were at the beginning of their philosophy studies.

The gunmen, disguised in military camouflage, broke through the fence surrounding the seminarians' living quarters and began shooting sporadically. They stole laptops and phones before kidnapping the four young men. All but Nnadi were released by the end of January.

The exact details of Nnadi’s death are unknown, the bishop said, other than he was killed alongside a woman named Mrs. Araga. Kukah noted that for days after Nnadi’s capture, he and Nnadi’s family held out hope that he was still alive. On Feb. 1, Kukah announced that Nnadi had been found dead.

Kukah said he was inspired by Nnadi’s mother’s reaction to the terrible news.

“She looked up at me and said tearfully, ‘My Lord, you said Michael was still alive. Is he really dead?’” he recalled. “Before I could say anything, she provided a moving answer: ‘My Lord, but Michael entered Seminary with all his heart and body, all’, she said with finality.”

Kukah said he was also moved and honored by the reaction to Nnadi’s death, both nationally and internationally.

“(The Aid to the Church in Need) sent me a message to say that when they asked people around the world to light a candle for Michael on the date of his burial, 2,436 persons from Afghanistan, Pakistan, United States of America, Mexico, Venezuela, Colombia, Madagascar, South Africa, Congo, Mali, France, Spain, Turkey, Saudi Arabia responded,” he said.

“In the light of this, I wondered, who are we to mourn? Who are we to refuse this crown of honour and glory? We ceased to mourn for Michael thereon,” he said, adding that he decided to see the martyrdom as an act of honor and victory for Christians.

Good Shepherd Seminary, home to nearly 270 seminarians, is located just off the Abuja-Kaduna-Zaria Express Way. According to AFP, the area is “notorious for criminal gangs kidnapping travelers for ransom.”

Schoolgirls and staff from a boarding school located near the same highway were kidnapped in October, and were later released.

In the last year, several priests and seminarians, along with pastors from other Christian denominations, have been kidnapped in Nigeria, some for ranson, and some by Islamist militant and terrorist groups. Kidnappings of Christians have multiplied in recent months, prompting Nigerian Church leaders to express serious concern about the security of their members and to call on the government to prioritize the security of its citizens.

Nnadi’s death should be a decisive moment for all Nigerian Christians, who have suffered severe persecution and instability under the rule of President General Muhammadu Buhari, whose promises for peace and security in the nation have fallen woefully short, Kukah said in his homily.

“No one could have imagined that in winning the Presidency, General Buhari would bring nepotism and clannishness into the military and the ancillary Security Agencies, that his government would be marked by supremacist and divisive policies that would push our country to the brink,” Kukah said.

“This President has displayed the greatest degree of insensitivity in managing our country’s rich diversity. He has subordinated the larger interests of the country to the hegemonic interests of his co-religionists and clansmen and women. The impression created now is that, to hold a key and strategic position in Nigeria today, it is more important to be a northern Muslim than a Nigerian,” he added.

“His north has become one large graveyard, a valley of dry bones, the nastiest and the most brutish part of our dear country.”

Kukah noted that this abuse of power has been condemned by many Muslim leaders and intellectuals, though not to much effect.

“We are being told that this situation has nothing to do with religion,” Kukah said. “Really? It is what happens when politicians use religion to extend the frontiers of their ambition and power. Are we to believe that simply because Boko Haram kills Muslims too, they wear no religious garb? Are we to deny the evidence before us, of kidnappers separating Muslims from infidels or compelling Christians to convert or die? If your son steals from me, do you solve the problem by saying he also steals from you?”

Kukah then echoed the call of Sa'adu Abubakar, the Sultan of Sokoto, a spiritual leader to Muslims in Nigeria who has spoken out against the persecutions, for the northern political elite to reclaim their land.

The persecution of Christians and other minority groups in Nigeria is not new, Kukah added, and has been ongoing since the founding of modern-day Nigeria. But it cannot be ignored by Christians any longer, he added.

“We Christians must be honest enough to accept that we have taken so much for granted and made so much sacrifice in the name of nation-building,” he said, noting how Christians have supported various state leaders, mistakenly believing they would bring peace and stability to Nigeria.

“For how long shall we continue on this road with different ambitions? Christians must rise up and defend their faith with all the moral weapons they have,” he said. “We must become more robust in presenting the values of Christianity especially our message of love and non-violence to a violent society. Among the wolves of the world, we must become more politically alert, wise as the serpent and humble as the dove.”

However, this does not mean resorting to vengeance and violence, which are “the ways of the flesh,” he said.

Instead, Christians must “put back your sword. Turn the other cheek. Pray for your enemy. Give the thief your cloak,” he said.

“None of these makes sense to the human mind without faith. This is why Jesus said the only solution is for us to be born again. The challenge before us is to behold the face of Jesus and ask the question: Are we born against hatred, anger, violence and vengeance?”

He acknowledged the anger and sadness and betrayal felt by all Christians in Nigeria, but again encouraged them to pursue non-violent solutions.

“The only way He has pointed out to us is the non-violent way. It is the road less traveled, but it is the only way,” Kukah said.

He encouraged all Christians in Nigeria to look to Nnadi and to other young Christians killed in recent months as examples of courage, hope, and faith.

“For us Christians, it would seem safe to say that we are all marked men and women today. Yet, we must be ready to be washed in the blood of the lamb,” he said.

“We feel as if our son has been chosen to represent us in the national team of martyrs. Without fear, we will complete the journey he started because his memory will give us strength,” he said.

“We know that Michael’s strength will inspire an army of young people to follow in his steps. We will march on with the cross of Christ entrusted to us, not in agony or pain, because our salvation lies in your cross. We have no vengeance or bitterness in our hearts. We have no drop of sorrow inside us. We are honored that our son has been summoned to receive the crown of martyrdom at the infancy of his journey to the priesthood,” he added.

“May the Lord place him beside His bosom and may he intercede for us. If his blood can bring healing to our nation, then his murderers will never have the final say. May God give him eternal peace.”