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Updated: 1 hour 21 min ago

Pope, bishops demand end to Nicaragua violence over social security reform

10 hours 3 min ago

ROME – As tensions continue to rise in Nicaragua, with over two dozen people killed by Daniel Ortega’s government forces on Saturday, Catholic bishops in the country have a clear message: stop the violence and stop the repression, because we’re with the people.

Pope Francis joined their voices on Sunday, during his weekly address after praying the Regina Coeli with thousands who’d gathered in Rome’s St. Peter’s Square.

“I’m very worried over what’s happening these days in Nicaragua, where, following a social protest, clashes took place that even caused some victims,” he said.

“I express my closeness in prayer to that beloved country, and I join the bishops in asking for an end to any type of violence,” Francis said, adding that every “useless spilling of blood must be stopped,” and the issues at hand need to be resolved “peacefully and with a sense of responsibility.”

Since Wednesday, massive protests have been taking place in Nicaragua, mostly headed by young people, who are against a recently announced reform of the social security system. The government measures raised the contribution of workers and employers while reducing future pensions, which has led to one of the biggest crises in the Ortega administration.

Ortega has been president of Nicaragua since 2007. Left-leaning, he’s the leader of the Sandinista National Liberation Front, named after Augusto César Sandino, who led the Nicaraguan resistance against the United States occupation of Nicaragua in the 1930s.

On Sunday, he withdrew changes to the social security system that triggered deadly protests.

Speaking about the protesters, the majority of whom were students, one bishop called them the “moral reservoir” of the country, while others insist that the Church’s position is not that of opposition to the government, but of support of the people.

“I would like to thank you, in the name of the Church, because you are the moral reservoir that we have,” said Bishop Silvio Baez, the auxiliary of Managua, the country’s capital city. “You have woken the nation up.”

The prelate was addressing a group of some 2,000 students who on Saturday were protesting Ortega’s regime. They were gathered in the cathedral of Managua.

Encuentro de los obispos de Managua y todo el clero de la Arquidiócesis con los jóvenes que están en la Catedral de Managua, para agradecer su testimonio, animarles en su lucha por la justicia social y ofrecerles nuestro apoyo y oraciones. pic.twitter.com/pXvF6vCvzb

— Silvio José Báez (@silviojbaez) April 21, 2018

The previous day, Baez had promised the Catholic clergy was not going to “leave the young people who are in the cathedral alone, we’re going to protect them against everything.”

On Saturday, Baez also said that because of his critical view when it comes to political issues, he’d gone to the cathedral with Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes and the clergy from the diocese. When they arrived on the ground, the students applauded.

Addressing the youth gathered, he said that the Catholic Church is supporting their cause because it’s “fair,” and urged them not to be manipulated by political ideologies because their cause is one of “social justice.”

“Be careful,” he said, according to various local reports. “Do not be blinded by political ideologies. The cause you have is one of social justice. Pope [Francis] has said this repeatedly: ideologies are harmful, because they have a partial view of reality.”

“We have to be attentive when it comes to ideologies, because they search for their own interests, economic and political,” Baez said. “And Pope [Francis] has said a very important thing regarding ideologies: ideologies think in the name of the people, but they aren’t willing to allow the people to think.”

The prelates visited the cathedral a day after violent clashes between protesters and the police force, which took place in the area surrounding the cathedral. On Saturday, the clashes became even more violent, resulting in the death of at least two dozen people, over 80 wounded, and several whom, at the time of this report, remain unaccounted for.

The twitter account “SOS Nicaragua,” said on Saturday night local time that the auxiliary bishop had “defended and protected students, the resources and the medical personnel inside the cathedral,” defending “the house of God and its principles.”

Journalist Mario Rueda, also on Twitter, stated that a nun and a priest negotiated with the Sandinistas to leave the area surrounding the cathedral, avoiding further clashes, this time between two factions of civil society.

In the wee hours of Sunday morning, Baez was very active on Twitter, sharing news reports on the rising tensions in Nicaragua, denouncing shots being fired in different parishes, and re-posting quotes attributed to him, presumably during his address to the youth in the cathedral, including one that said: “History depends not only on the will of the powerful, but above all, on the capacity of the peoples to organize.”

Luis Herrera, rector of the cathedral, said on Saturday that agents of the National Police went into the church’s grounds “shooting their weapons,” something the security force denied, despite evidence reported by journalists on the ground.

The government is censoring the press, including shutting down the national network for transmitting images of the protests. Images shared through social media, however, showed police officers firing tear gas and other projectiles into the Catholic cathedral.

Denying responsibility, Ortega said on Saturday that “small groups of the opposition” are behind the violence, as they “conspire against the model of alliances, because they think that they can take the government and they don’t care at what price.”

The situation in the country began deteriorating on Wednesday, but became even worse when, on Saturday morning, the Central American nation woke up to find the army deployed in several cities.

On Friday, the United Nations High Commission for Human rights urged the authorities to avoid further attacks against the protesters and the media. By then, according to the government, three people had been killed in the violent clashes, and dozens had already been wounded.

The UN office also expressed concern over the fact that news outlets were being closed for covering the protests, and called for the protection of both the protesters and journalists. However, a reporter was among those killed on Saturday, gunned down as he was doing a Facebook Live.

“The Nicaraguan State has to fulfill its international obligations to guarantee that the people can freely exercise their rights of freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful gathering and association,” a government spokesman said.

In a statement released on Friday, the Nicaraguan bishops’ conference rejected the reforms to the social security system and expressed its support of the “scream of the Nicaraguan youth.”

Saying that walking back a decision is a “sign of humanity,” the bishops urged the government to dialogue with the different sectors to solve the conflict, warning that it can become worse if the needed actions aren’t taken on time.

Rejecting the government’s oppression, the bishops also urged the people to continue raising their voice against the measures, exercising their right to protest peacefully, something defended both by “civic and evangelic values.”

“There are social sins that no human being can ignore,” they wrote.

Irish bishops speak out as government launches campaign to legalize abortion

10 hours 3 min ago

A day after the Irish prime minister officially launched his government’s campaign to repeal the country’s constitutional pro-life protections, Bishop Denis Brennan of the Diocese of Ferns said the move “will strip the voiceless of their most fundamental right and make all talk of any other human rights irrelevant for them.”

The Republic of Ireland will hold a referendum on May 25 on whether or not to repeal the 8th amendment, which was passed in 1983, and guarantees the right to life of the unborn.

Ireland currently has some of the strongest pro-life protections in Europe.

(Abortion is also mostly illegal in Northern Ireland – the only part of the United Kingdom where this is the case – and its laws will not be affected by the referendum.)

On Saturday, Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar launched the ‘Yes for Repeal’ campaign, which has been supported by the government and most of the major media.

RELATED: Irish pro-lifers launch ‘vote no’ campaign for referendum on unborn

The government has argued that if the referendum passes, abortion will only be legal up to the twelfth week of pregnancy, although there would be no constitutional limits on abortion, and the Irish legislature will be free to pass additional abortion legislation.

In a pastoral message issued on Sunday, Brennan said voters in the referendum will be the unborn baby’s last line of defense, and they should carefully weigh this responsibility and act in the best interest of the unborn child.

“What repeal would mean is very clear, namely that the unborn boy or girl whose heart beats at 21 days – and the older unborn baby who has all of her / his vital organs at twelve weeks – will have no rights at all in Irish law, should people vote yes to repeal,” the bishop said.

“This twelve-week-old unborn baby – who is now enjoying for the first time the ability to kick, to move and to yawn – would, in the first stretches of young life, be without the basic protection of the right to life itself,” he said.

According to the latest Sunday Times poll, released on April 22, 47 percent of the Irish population support repealing the pro-life protections, while 29 percent say they will vote no, with 24 percent undecided.

This is a 2 percent drop in support for repeal since last month, but the ‘No’ campaign still has a lot of ground to cover.

RELATED: Dublin archbishop says Pope Francis “visibly upset” by children’s unmarked graves at care home

Once the most Catholic nation in Europe, in 2015 Ireland held a referendum on same-sex marriage in which 62 percent of the voters backed changing the constitution to allow the practice.

Revelations of clerical sexual abuse over the past decades, as well as other scandals, has left public confidence in the Church at its lowest level in the history of Ireland.

Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh, the Primate of All Ireland, told Crux the bishops are trying to avoid the abortion referendum becoming framed as a purely Catholic issue.

“Abortion is not wrong because the Catholic Church says it’s wrong, abortion is wrong in itself. The taking of a life of an innocent human being at any stage in its development is gravely wrong and can never be justified, and that’s not just because I said it,” the archbishop said on April 17.

He said that although the bishops are active within their diocese, they have avoided being prominent during the national debate “because if we try to say anything at national level that often it will be selectively reported or negatively reported.”

Therefore, Martin said the bishops are encouraging the lay faithful “to be gently acting as missionaries for life.”

“And I think that is happening: In families, in communities, in parishes, on the ground, in workplaces, where lay faithful are finding their voice, perhaps for the first time, finding their voice and speaking out on this critical issue,” he said.

RELATED: Irish prelate says summit must uphold marriage but not homophobia

The bishops’ conference did issue a statement in March calling for keeping the pro-life protections in the Irish constitution, although insisting the right to life is not a religious issue, but one of human rights, which “makes sense to people of all faiths and none.”

Several individual bishops have also issued statements to be read out in the parishes within their dioceses.

Martin did say the bishops will become more vocal as the referendum neared, and he expects more public statements.

In the statement issued on Sunday, Brennan said that no referendum can change moral truth.

“The direct and intentional killing, of an unborn human being, would be just as immoral the day after it was ‘legalized’, as it had been, the day before,” the Ferns bishop said.

“None of us should ever have the power to decide on the death of another,” Brennan said.

“To concede to any person the right to intentionally take the life of another – in this case the life of a voiceless unborn child – is not only to redefine human life as less than sacred, it is also to make a hierarchy of human life – where some lives are deemed to be of no value at all,” he continued.

“In matters of life and death, none of us is a supreme judge who can decide the fate of another, least of all the vulnerable and the voiceless, the unborn child,” Brennan said.

Pope Francis is expected to visit the country during the World Meeting of Families, which is taking place in Dublin from August 21-26, 2018.

Three priests in Togo suspended after protesting bishop at Chrism Mass

10 hours 3 min ago

YAOUNDÉ, Cameroon – Three African priests have accused their bishop of arrogance and disdain towards his co-workers, in addition to engaging in hate speech. The three belong to the Diocese of Kpalimé in Togo, and were suspended by their bishop for refusing to renew their promise of obedience during the March 28 Chrism Mass.

Father Yves-Paul Azaglo, Father Gerson Gale and Father Daniel Gbadji were suspended by Bishop Benoît Alowonou on April 4, but the sentences were made public on April 13 when they were read out over Radio Maria Togo, the local Catholic station.

The three priests stand accused of “scandalous behavior” during the Chrism Mass at Holy Spirit Cathedral in Kpalimé, which is about 75 miles north of Lomé, the capital of Togo.

They refused to renew their vows, keeping their seats as their brother priests stood to pledge allegiance to the bishop. They also tried to incite the people to disrupt the Mass and spoke harsh words to the bishop personally.

In an April 3 statement, the Bishops’ Conference of Togo condemned the actions of the priests, calling them “scandalous and sacrilegious,” and called on Alowonou to take canonical measures against them.

Although their actions at the Chrism Mass triggered their suspensions, the priests were already in trouble with their bishop.

According to his degree of suspension, Azaglo is accused of being “guilty of refusing to obey his bishop, especially during transfers made on September 8, 2017.”

The priest refused to leave St. Joseph de Danyi Kudzravi Parish, where he was the administrator, for Sts. Peter and Paul Parish at Notsè, where the bishop had appointed him associate pastor (in effect, a demotion.)

Gbadji was accused of violating the conditions of a sabbatical year that Alawonou had granted him and of staying “irregularly” in the Diocese of Atlanta in the United States.

Gale, the founding parish priest of St. Joseph of Assahoun Fiagbe church, joined in the other two priests’ protest.

The suspension decrees however on the three priests “to repent of their offenses and to make appropriate amends for the damage and scandal caused by their acts” in accordance with Canon Law 1347 (2) which stipulates that “an offender who has truly repented of the delict and has also made suitable reparation for damages and scandal or at least has seriously promised to do so must be considered to have withdrawn from contumacy.”

The bishop also called on the priests to undertake a period of “spiritual healing in a monastery.”

These actions, the decrees state, would allow the bishop to “review the eventual conditions of exercising the priestly ministry.”

The three priests held a press conference on April 12, 2018, and said their actions were not “a kind of rebellion” against the bishop.

“Our reaction is that of indignation, of anger, of the consternation of a section of God’s people who are victims of both physical and mental torture,” said Gale.

They said they were being “financially asphyxiated” by having their Mass stipends cut and accused the bishop of refusing to sign priests’ travel documents, even when a priest is ill.

They said the bishop was retaliating for an open letter from March 2016, requesting Alowonou review his governing methods.

The letter had said that “the human, pastoral and financial management of the diocese is disastrous and catastrophic. The exercise of authority is far from evangelical.”

The three priests also accused the bishop of being autocratic and bureaucratic, and said they could not stand by and watch in silence as the bishop “mismanaged” the resources of the diocese, in order not to be accomplices to “the many scandals” plaguing the Church in Kpalimé.

“Unfortunately, our cries of pain are not taken well by the bishop with the support of the Episcopal Conference of Togo,” they said.

“With all avenues for redress exhausted, we do not see the Good Shepherd around us that Jesus talks about –  the Good Shepherd who takes good care of his sheep,” the priests said.

Even before their suspension, they said they weren’t afraid of what would eventually happen to them.

“We are aware of the risks of our action. We know the tradition of the Church. But we have chosen that risk and justice over complacency and injustice,” said Gale.

“Whatever happens, no one can stop us from practicing our faith, in truth and in dignity.”

The priests said they always remain open and available to the dialogue with Alowonou, “which, in our eyes, is the only way out of the crisis.”

However, they said, “We are not ready for compromise.”

Vatican official calls for “shared response” to apparent “dead-end” in Alfie Evans’ case

Sun, 04/22/2018 - 4:53 PM

LEICESTER, United Kingdom – Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, the President of the Pontifical Academy for Life, says only an alliance between the parents, other members of the family, and health care workers can determine the best way to help Alfie Evans.

Alfie – only 23-months-old – has an undiagnosed brain disease, and Alder Hey Hospital in Liverpool has argued that any further treatment would be futile, and not in Alfie’s interest.

His parents – Thomas Evans, 21, and Kate James, 20 – have fought an ongoing legal battle to allow them to take Alfie abroad for treatment.

The Vatican-owned Bambino Gesù children’s hospital in Rome has offered to admit the child and treat him, but the British courts have not let Alfie’s parents remove him from Alder Hey.

On Friday, the UK Supreme Court sided with the Alder Hey Hospital and gave them the go-ahead to remove Alfie’s ventilator.

In a statement issued on Sunday, Paglia said “we cannot escape a strong discomfort, mainly due to the feeling of being at a dead-end where we risk being defeated.”

He called for a “shared” process to try and find a solution to the problems that have arisen in Alfie’s case.

RELATED: Pope Francis meets with father of Alfie Evans, says only God is ‘master of life’

On Saturday, Alfie’s father released a statement saying he has filed an appeal – the family’s second – with the European Court of Human Rights. A previous appeal to the Strasbourg-based institution was rejected on March 28.

Evans had a private meeting with Pope Francis on Wednesday, and the pontiff instructed the Vatican’s Secretary of State to make sure the Bambino Gesù was ready to receive Alfie if he was able to be moved from England.

Mariella Enoc, president of the Bambino Gesù, on Saturday confirmed the Secretary of State had been in contact with her and relayed the pope’s desire that she do “everything possible and impossible” to allow Alfie to come to Rome.

In an interview with Vatican Insider, Enoc said she has written to the Alder Hey Hospital in Liverpool and reiterated the Bambino Gesù’s willingness to receive Alfie. She also said the medical staff at her hospital had given the English hospital a detailed plan of how the child could be transported to Rome, and what treatment would be given when he arrived.

“We do not propose any cure. The child is not healable at the moment, the child is not curable… and according to our concept this means we can take care of him,” she said.

Enoc also forwarded a letter from the mothers of patients at the hospital’s satellite campus in Palidoro, about 25 miles from Rome.

The pope visited the facility in January, and the mothers wrote a letter to Enoc thanking her for allowing the visit.

The Apil 20 letter noted that some of the children visited by Francis have “conditions similar to that of little Alfie Evans.”

The mothers said they wanted to express their closeness to his parents, “to whom we feel deeply connected due to the common suffering from the illnesses of our children.”

“Our children are not suffering, they are only living. And even today they can feel the beauty and warmth of the sun and of our soft touches on their faces. Please do not deprive little Alfie and his parents of the joy of these caresses,” the letter read.

Enoc told Vatican Insider she has sent the text of the letter – signed “from the mothers of Palidoro” – to the president of Alder Hey Hospital.

“I know that this letter will probably not change anything, but I felt – for purely humanitarian reasons – to accept and send this testimony,” she said.

RELATED: Italian bishop starts prayer campaign for Alfie Evans

Meanwhile, a group of bishops in Brazil made a video in support of Alife, saying, “We affirm what has been part of the deposit of faith of the Catholic Church, life is sacred and inviolable and under no circumstances can it, under any argument, be vilified or suppressed.”

The Brazilians then reiterated their desire that “all medical care be provided to little Alfie Evans and that his rights be granted and needs be provided.”

The person who helped facilitate the meeting between Francis and Evans, Italian Bishop Francesco Cavina of Carpi, has started a worldwide prayer campaign for Alfie Evans – using social media and in cooperation with the Vatican’s Dicastery for Laity, Family, and Life.

Pope Francis to new priests: Be like Jesus the Good Shepherd

Sun, 04/22/2018 - 10:32 AM

ROME – On Sunday, Pope Francis ordained 16 men to the priesthood, reminding them to be like Jesus the Good Shepherd in the way they serve the members of their spiritual flock and minister to those who are lost and searching for God.

“Always have before your eyes the example of the Good Shepherd, who did not come to be served, but to serve and to seek and save what was lost,” the pope said in a homily before the ordination of 16 priests during a Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica April 22.

“Conscious of having been chosen among men and elected in their favor to attend to the things of God, exercise in gladness and sincere charity the priestly work of Christ,” he continued, “solely intent on pleasing God and not yourselves or human beings, [or] other interests.”

The priestly ordination coincided with “Good Shepherd Sunday” and the 55th World Day of Prayer for Vocations.

The new priests, who have been studying for the priesthood at different seminaries in the diocese of Rome, come from countries around the world, including Madagascar, Vietnam, Myanmar, Colombia, and El Salvador.

As in the past, for his homily Francis used the “ritual homily” from the Italian edition of the “Pontificale Romano,” the Catholic liturgical book containing rites performed by bishops, including the ordination of priests, adding a few of his own thoughts to the text.

Reflecting on the Sacrament of Penance in particular, Francis urged the men about to be ordained to “not get tired of being merciful. Think of your sins, your miseries that Jesus forgives. Be merciful.”

It is “through your ministry the spiritual sacrifice of the faithful is made perfect,” he noted, “because it is joined to the sacrifice of Christ, which for your hands, in the name of the whole Church, is offered bloodlessly on the altar in the celebration of the Holy Mysteries.”

He pointed out to the 16 men that in their priestly ministries they will be participants “in the mission of Christ, the only Master,” and advised them to read and meditate tirelessly on the Word of God “to teach what you have learned in faith, to live what you have taught.”

“[May] your teaching, joy and support to the faithful of Christ be the fragrance of your life,” he continued, “that with word and example you can build the House of God which is the Church.”

Following Mass, Pope Francis led pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square in praying the Regina Coeli, the traditional prayer for Easter.

Francis reflected briefly on the day’s Gospel, where Jesus says: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives his life for the sheep,” stating that the words of Jesus in this passage cannot be reduced to an emotional suggestion.

They have a concrete effect, he said: “Jesus heals through his being a shepherd who gives life. Jesus says to each one: ‘Your life is so valuable to me, that to save it I offer all of myself.’”

Noting that Jesus also says, “I am the good shepherd, I know my sheep and my sheep know me,” the pope said shows us that Jesus desires a personal relationship with each person, one which reflects “the same intimate relationship of love between Him and the Father.”

“He is attentive to each of us, knows our heart deeply: He knows our strengths and our faults, the projects we have achieved and the hopes that have been disappointed. But he accepts us as we are, he leads us with love,” he said, and in turn, “we are called to know Jesus.”

University in Pakistan gets a Catholic church

Sun, 04/22/2018 - 10:20 AM

MUMBAI, India – A Catholic Church on the premises of the University of Agriculture Faisalabad “will leave a message of love and harmony” throughout Pakistan, according to the president of the country’s bishops’ conference.

St. Mary’s Catholic Church was inaugurated on April 15, and Archbishop Joseph Arshad of Islamabad said the words of Quaid Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, had been fulfilled: “You are free; you are free to go to your temples. You are free to go to your mosques or to any other places of worship in this state of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion, caste or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the state.”

Arshad thanked the administration of the University of Agriculture – one of the top research institutions in the country – for showing interest in the Christian community at the university and for allowing them to have a place of worship.

The university’s vice chancellor, Muhammad. Zafar Iqbal, said it was important to meet the religious needs of the university’s Christian students and staff.

“The mosque or church both are sacred places for worship of God and I believe in interfaith harmony and said church building in the university’s premises is a living example of Christian-Muslim brotherhood,” Iqbal said.

“This is the first time in the history of Pakistan that a church was constructed at a university and other government institutions should follow these steps to ensure minority rights as guaranteed in the Constitution of Pakistan,” he continued

Arshad told Crux the inauguration of the church will have numerous consequences: “Respect for other religions, giving a message of peace and harmony, facilitating the integration of religious minorities into larger society, demonstrating the importance of learning and knowing about other religions, and allowing students of different religions to learn to live together.”

Cecil S. Chaudhry, the executive director of the bishops’ conference National Commission for Justice and Peace, said the move was a “positive step,” especially given the recent attacks by Islamists against the country’s small Christian minority.

“This move I feel would be beneficial in bridging any gaps between the majority and minority while also providing a message of respecting members of different faiths in all spheres of life especially educational institutions. Equal citizenship is a right of every individual regardless of caste, color or creed as enshrined in the Constitution of Pakistan,” Chaudhry told Crux.

“I feel such an initiative should be followed by other major educational Universities as it would promote interfaith harmony while also addressing any sense of deprivation to the students from the Christian faith that their rights are being safeguarded and duly taken into consideration,” he said.

From clean water to gang violence, Salvadoran archbishop focuses on poor

Sun, 04/22/2018 - 8:56 AM

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Few church leaders face having to fill the shoes of a predecessor who’s about to become an official saint of the Catholic Church.

But it’s hardly on the mind of the seventh leader of Archdiocese of San Salvador, Archbishop Jose Luis Escobar Alas, whose list of worries simply doesn’t allow him time to think about it. He carried that long list with him on a recent trip to Washington, where he was advocating for immigrants from his native El Salvador.

Along the way, the 59-year-old archbishop fielded questions about El Salvador’s mounting woes: environmental problems that include a contaminated and dwindling water supply in the country, relentless gang violence, and growing inequality and corruption that does not let his country of roughly 6 million — about half of them Catholic — find respite from its endless crises. During interviews with Catholic News Service April 11 and 13, he discussed what troubles him the most about those problems, which he’s been dealing with since his 2009 elevation as archbishop.

“You know what’s the saddest part about it?” he asked. “They affect the same set of people the most. Yes, they affect everyone, all of us, but in principle they affect primarily the poor the most and that hurts a lot.”

Though Escobar initially comes across as bookish and shy, his passion shines through when he speaks about the population his predecessor Blessed Oscar Romero focused on the most during his three years in the post, from 1977 until his assassination in 1980.

“As a Church, we’re with the poor. We’re in solidarity with them and our battles are for them, that’s why we lift up our voices, for just laws for everyone but, above all, for the poor because as Blessed Oscar Romero used to say, the laws in our country are like a snake, and like a serpent, they bite the one who is barefoot.”

Last year, the archbishop spearheaded a battle backed by the Salvadoran Catholic Church that effectively led the country to become the first nation in the world to ban metal mining. Wearing a Roman collar and gray clerical shirt, he marched along with environmentalists and activists, through the streets of the capital of San Salvador toward the country’s legislative assembly, the equivalent of Congress, to speak about mining as a process detrimental to the country’s dwindling water supply.

Just before leaving for his U.S. trip, he was checking in on his archdiocese’s efforts to collect signatures around the country’s Catholic parishes calling for a clean water act. The archbishop worries about a possible reversal of the mining law as international companies seem intent on finding a way to extract gold and other metals in the northern part of the country.

“And that just can’t happen,” he said. “Why is that? Because mining doesn’t just contaminate water but it also poisons it.”

The Washington-based Council on Hemispheric Affairs says up to 90 percent of the country’s water is contaminated by sewage and industrial chemicals. To the archbishop, it is an issue the Church must respond to because without clean water, it is the poor who become ill and ultimately die. And it is heartbreaking to visit rural and poor areas and see the faces of children suffering the consequences, he said.

“They are the protagonists of this situation,” he said. “We have many homes that don’t even have access to water. It’s a sad situation to see children sick (because of it) and how can that be? In the 21st century, how can that possibly happen?”

When Pope Francis spoke in 2017 about the universal right to access clean water, “he was thinking of countries like El Salvador,” the archbishop said.

“Water is a right, an undeniable right, (in El Salvador) and around the world,” he said. “We want to form consciences because there are still people who don’t understand the gravity of the problem.”

But if clean water is a major problem affecting the lives of so many Salvadorans, so is the relentless violence, which arrived at the doorstep of El Salvador’s clergy during Holy Week this year.

On Holy Thursday, a 36-year-old priest from the Diocese of Santiago de Maria in eastern El Salvador was shot and killed en route to celebrate Mass, hours after renewing his vows on the day the Church celebrates the institution of the priesthood. Authorities suspect it was a gang killing but have failed to apprehend suspects in the case.

On Easter, under a blazing sun, the archbishop marched behind the coffin carrying Father Walter Vasquez Jimenez in Lolotique, El Salvador. At his funeral Mass, he called for justice for those who took his life but also those who daily take the lives of the country’s innocent citizens.

On Capitol Hill, he said El Salvador’s problems go back centuries and have been historically caused by the idolatry of money, impunity, corruption, social injustice and inequality, and individualism. They began centuries ago, when the indigenous people of the country had to face the conquistadors who answered uprisings with massacres, stripping the native people of their lives and lands, and the best survivors could hope for were unjust salaries and inhumane treatment, he said.

The causes and effects trickled into history and toward conditions that led to El Salvador’s 12-year armed conflict, from 1980 to 1992, that left more than 70,000 civilians dead — among them two of the country’s bishops, one of them was Romero, said Escobar. But it also led to the death of more than 500 Catholic laity as well 24 “consecrated lives,” whom the archbishop wants the Vatican to consider as martyrs.

Even after peace accords were signed in 1992, “peace never arrived,” the archbishop said at the U.S. Capitol April 13. Through the years, many of the country’s Catholic bishops, including his predecessors, denounced the conditions, “but there wasn’t a response,” he said.

“Promises were made during the peace accords, but they went unfulfilled. There wasn’t justice. Impunity continued. There was an amnesty law that sought to cover up crimes against humanity,” he said.

That has made it difficult for El Salvador to move forward.

“This has led to the situation we find ourselves in today because the causes continue,” he said. “We face a collective resentment because of a lack of social justice in the peripheries, where there are no opportunities to advance.”

Though the government has made an effort to tamp down the violence, it isn’t working. With sadness in his voice, he told the story of a woman who couldn’t send her child to school past fourth grade because gangs threatened him not to go past his home’s front stoop. A gang leader threatened the boy with death if he went into a competing gang’s territory.

The country’s youth watch as their parents struggle to provide for them in a country with a scarcity of employment, much less work with dignity, or even the chance to lead healthy lives, he said.

“This is the broth which the gangs cultivate,” he said.

Seemingly aware that it’s now his time to denounce injustice and call for change, he often tells others to keep working for a better day and to keep praying, because in heaven Romero and other Salvadoran martyrs intercede for them, so that one day El Salvador will be free from its woes.

Catholic, other groups voice misgivings over 2018 farm bill

Sun, 04/22/2018 - 8:32 AM

WASHINGTON, D.C. — With the 2018 version of the farm bill having been voted out of committee for consideration by the full House, Catholic groups and other rural advocates are voicing their misgivings about many of its provisions.

Conservation programs that reward farmers and ranchers were zeroed out of the bill passed April 18 by the House Agriculture Committee. “Safety net” programs were boosted only marginally to aid farmers who have been getting dwindling prices for their crops and who could be the first victims of a trade war as tariffs are imposed on their produce.

Another part of the bill rewrites the eligibility requirements for the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, or SNAP, formerly known as food stamps, which could kick out 2 million Americans from the program, according to six Catholic leaders.

“Eighty percent of the farm bill is around the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. It’s significant when we hear it’s going to include some dramatic cuts,” said James Ennis, executive director of Catholic Rural Life.

About $1 billion would be cut from the Conservation Stewardship Program, according to Ennis. “Farmers need incentives,” he said. “They have a safety net, but they need incentives to protect soil and environmental resources. … It ultimately discourages conservation efforts. We’re really concerned about that.”

“It is sneaky in the sense that they’ve crafted this bill that you make it sound positive at face value: Why couldn’t people who get food assistance work 20 hours a week, or they can do workforce development or skills training instead of working 20 hours? What could be the problem? As always, the devil is in the details,” said Dominican Sister Quincy Howard, a government relations fellow at Network, the nun-run Catholic social justice lobby.

“More than 90 percent of SNAP benefits goes to actual nutrition assistance. It’s known of being highly functional. What the bill is doing is pulling $23 billion out of what it does best and they propose investing $15 billion into workforce development programs,” Howard said. “The problem is $15 billion going toward a program like this is woefully inadequate to provide any kind of adequate workforce training. I think it comes out to $30 per person per month. And they have problems beyond a skills gap.”

Moreover, Howard said, the 2014 farm bill allocated money for a series of experimental workforce training programs, and a report on their effectiveness is not due until next year. “So they won’t know what will work for the money they’re spending,” she added.

Other nonfarm aspects of the farm bill — long considered a necessity to get Congress’ urban and suburban members on board — include international food aid.

Here, “things have fared a lot better than on the domestic side,” said Eric Garduno, Catholic Relief Services’ Washington-based senior policy and legislative specialist.

Congress has “come out in strong support for food programs: the McGovern bill, Food for Progress, both authorized through the farm bill,” Garduno told Catholic News Service. “It’s important in this environment because this administration for the last couple of years … in the annual budget releases has called for zeroing out these programs. I think the farm bill is a clear indication that they continue to support these programs even if the administration doesn’t.”

CRS, the U.S. bishops’ overseas relief and development agency, and Mercy Corps were two of 25 international relief agencies that signed on to an April 17 statement on the farm bill.

The House version of the farm bill “advances key reforms that our community supports, such as removing the requirement to monetize commodities in Title II of the Food for Peace Program and recognizing the role of the Community Development Fund in Title II Development Food Security Activities,” the statement said. “These are important changes that will increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the Food for Peace Program.”

Other signers included Bread for the World, CARE, Church World Service, Feed the Children, Food for the Hungry, Oxfam, Save the Children and World Vision.

Six top Catholic clergy, religious and lay leaders sent an April 18 letter to House Agriculture Committee Chairman Rep. Michael K. Conaway, R-Texas, and Rep. Collin C. Peterson, D-Minnesota, the ranking member.

In it, they lauded a set-aside to benefit beginning farmers and socially disadvantaged farmers, the reauthorization of funds for the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program and the Rural Business Investment Program, and a funding increase for the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative.

“The bill makes modest improvements to SNAP by updating its asset and vehicle limits and fixing the adjusted limits to inflation over time. Continued improvements to the asset limits should provide working families both the incentive and the ability to build savings,” the letter said.

But “the bill could cause as many as 2 million individuals to lose their benefits, and potentially remove state flexibility in 42 states. These changes particularly hurt working families making between 130 percent and 200 percent of the federal poverty line. State options for broad-based categorical eligibility should be maintained,” it added.

And while penalties exist for SNAP recipients not complying with work requirements, “the new bill, however, would increase the penalty for the first violation to one full year, and to three full years for the second violation,” the letter said. “Rural communities may find compliance especially challenging given that job training programs are often located far away, and there is insufficient access to transportation.”

Signing the letter were Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services, who is chair of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace; Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, chair of the bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development; CRS president Sean Callahan; Dominican Sister Donna Markham, president and CEO of Catholic Charities USA; Catholic Rural Life’s Ennis; and Ralph Middlecamp, president of the National Council of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.

Farmers and ranchers have the highest suicide rate of any U.S. occupation, said Matt Perdue, a lobbyist for the National Farmers Union, which came out April 18 against the bill. Counselors and therapists are hard to come by in sparsely populated rural areas, he added.

Perdue pointed to the Farmers First Act, introduced April 19 in the Senate, which would authorize $50 million over the next five years for the Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network, which hasn’t been funded since it was established in the 2008 farm bill.

“It doesn’t guarantee that this program will be funded in the long term,” Perdue said, since the House farm bill allocates no money for it. He added, “We are cognizant that we are setting up a long-term campaign on this issue.”

Catholics likely to outnumber Protestants in Northern Ireland by 2021

Sun, 04/22/2018 - 8:16 AM

BELFAST, Northern Ireland – What would have been unthinkable 100 years ago in Northern Ireland will likely soon become a reality – Catholics will outnumber Protestants.

Historically in Ireland, Catholics have desired independence for Ireland, while Protestants, who congregated in Northern Ireland, have wanted to maintain political ties to the United Kingdom.

This is still generally the case, though not without some significant exceptions on both sides. Still, the fact that Catholics may outnumber Protestants in the country by 2021 – 100 years after the country was founded – is remarkable.

Dr. Paul Nolan, who studies the social trends of Northern Ireland, told BBC News: “Three years from now we will end up, I think, in the ironic situation on the centenary of the state where we actually have a state that has a Catholic majority.”

According to the last census in 2011, Protestants outnumbered Catholics in Northern Ireland by just three percent. More recent numbers show a Catholic majority in every age group of the population, except for those over 60. Among school-aged children, Catholics outnumber Protestants by a wide margin – 51 percent to 37 percent.

Nolan said that unionism – the political ideology of those in Northern Ireland who wish to maintain their political ties with the U.K. – is still possible, though unionists should be aware of this demographic shift.

Religious disputes have long been part of the history of Northern Ireland, notably “the Troubles,” which included violent clashes between Catholics and Protestants that lasted from the late ‘60s until 1998, when the Good Friday Agreement was struck.

Last year, threats against Catholics in Northern Ireland have forced several families to flee their homes.

Mary Lou McDonald is president of the Sinn Féin party, which strongly supports nationalism, or an independent, united Ireland.

McDonald said she welcomed the discussion about what this shift in religious demographics could mean for Ireland.

“Of course unionists have to be at home in a new Ireland,” McDonald told the BBC. “So, yes, let’s have the discussion.”

Pope Francis tells seminarians fear is one of the great obstacles to ministry

Sun, 04/22/2018 - 4:25 AM

Pope Francis told English seminarians to overcome fear with “love, prayer and a good sense of humor.”

He was speaking on Saturday to students and staff of the Venerable English College, the seminary in Rome for future priests serving the Church in England and Wales.

The college was founded in Rome in 1579, and over 40 of its alumni were martyred during the persecution of the Catholic Church at the time of the English Reformation.

“It is good to see young people preparing to make a firm and life-long commitment to the Lord. But this is harder for you than it was for me, because of today’s culture of the temporary.  To overcome this challenge, and to help you make an authentic promise to God, it is vital, in these years in seminary, to nurture your interior life, learning to close the door of your inner cell from within,” Francis told the seminarians.

The pope said missionary discipleship is never offered in isolation, but always in cooperation with other priests, religious and lay men and women.

He told the seminarians that since “at times, loving our neighbor is difficult,” their ministry needs to be firmly grounded in God.

“This inner strength – this fidelity of love – characterized the lives of your college martyrs, and it is essential for us who seek to follow Jesus, who calls us in our poverty to serve his majesty, and who reveals his majesty in the midst of the poor,” the pontiff said.

He said fear is a considerable obstacle to the Christian life, but it can be overcome with “love, prayer, and a good sense of humor.”

“So, I hope you will not be afraid of difficulties and trials, and the continuous battle against sin.  I also encourage you not to be afraid of yourselves,” Francis said.

“By following the example of your heavenly patron, Saint Thomas of Canterbury, who did not allow his past sinfulness or human limitations to stop him from serving God to the very end, not only will you be able to overcome your own fear, you will also help others overcome theirs.”

Laywomen among new appointees to Vatican’s doctrine office

Sun, 04/22/2018 - 4:03 AM

ROME – On Saturday, Pope Francis named five new consultors of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, including three female academics and two priests.

The women are Dr. Linda Ghisoni, professor of canon law at the Pontifical Gregorian University; Dr. Michelina Tenance, professor of theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome; and Dr. Laetitia Calmeyn, lecturer of theology at the Collège des Bernardins in Paris.

The other two new consultors are Father Sergio Paolo Bonanni, professor of theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University, and Claretian Father Manuel Jesús Arroba Conde, dean of the Institutum Utriusque Iuris at the Pontifical Lateran University.

While a Vatican spokesman was unable to confirm whether laywomen have previously served as consultors, he did confirm for CNA that women have served as staff members at the dicastery.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is the Vatican department responsible for protecting and promulgating the doctrine of the Catholic Church. It is headed by Archbishop Luis Ladaria Ferrer, and consultors include cardinals, bishops, priests, canon lawyers, and lay theologians.

Ghisoni has held a position within the Vatican since November 2017, when Francis appointed her a sub-secretary and the head of the section on laity for the Dicastery for the Laity, Family, and Life.

Ghisoni, 52, works as a judge at the First Instance Court of the Vicariate of Rome. In addition to teaching canon law at the Gregorian, she is a professor of law at Roma Tre University.

She is from the town of Cortemaggiore in the north of Italy and studied philosophy and theology at the Eberhard-Karls-University in Tübingen, Germany.

In 1999 she received a doctorate in canon law from the Pontifical Gregorian University, and in 2002 she received the diploma of Rotal Advocate at the Studium rotale of the Tribunal of the Roman Rota.

Since 1997 Ghisoni has held various positions at the Tribunals of First Instance and Appeal of the Vicariate of Rome, including Notary, Defender of the Bond, Auditor and Judge.

She has also served as Judicial Counselor at the Tribunal of the Roman Rota from 2002-2009, and Commissioner of the Congregation for the Divine Worship and the Discipline of Sacraments for the Defense of the marital bond in causes for the dissolution of the marriage “ratum sed non consummatum” (ratified but not consummated).

Since November 2011, she has also worked at the Tribunal of the Roman Rota. From 2013-2016, she collaborated with the former Pontifical Council for the Laity in the field of specialist laity studies in the Church. She is married and has two daughters.

Dr. Michelina Tenace, 63, is from San Marco, Italy, and a consecrated woman. After studying philosophy in France, she received a degree in foreign literature from Sapienza University in Rome and a doctorate in theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University with a dissertation on Vladimir Soloviev.

She now teaches theology at the Gregorian University, including classes on spiritual theology, theological anthropology, the Council of Nicea, and Eastern Churches. She is also a staff member of the Ezio Aletti Study and Research Center, which supports Christian scholars and artists from Eastern Europe.

Tenace’s publications include numerous articles, as well as ten books, which have been translated into various languages. She was also named a member of the commission to study the female diaconate by Pope Francis in 2016.

Dr. Laetitia Calmeyn, 42, was born in Brussels in 1975 and became a consecrated virgin in the Archdiocese of Paris on June 23, 2013. She has worked as a palliative care nurse, a retreat organizer for youth, and a Catholic religion teacher, among other ministries.

Calmeyn received a bachelor’s degree in theology in 2002 from the Institute of Theological Studies in Brussels and a doctorate in theology at the Pontifical John Paul II Institute in Rome. Her dissertation was on theological principles and foundations of morality according to the work of Jesuit Father Albert Chapelle.

Since 2009 she has been a theology lecturer at the Collège des Bernardins in Paris.

Christians must help others meet Jesus, Pope Francis says

Sun, 04/22/2018 - 3:51 AM

ROME – On Saturday, Pope Francis said that Christians are called to a mission of leading others to an encounter with Jesus Christ, in order that every person might grow in his or her individual call to holiness.

“The men and women of our time need to meet Jesus Christ: He is the path that leads to the Father; He is the Gospel of hope and love that enables us to go as far as giving ourselves,” the pope said April 21.

“It is a matter of carrying out an itinerary of holiness to respond courageously to the call of Jesus, each according to his own particular charism.”

Quoting from 1 Thessalonians 4:13, Francis said: “For a Christian it is not possible to think of his mission on earth without understanding it as a path of holiness, because ‘this is in fact the will of God, your sanctification.’”

This is our mission, he continued. It requires responsibility and joy, generous availability, self-denial, and “trustful abandonment to the divine will.”

Francis spoke about holiness during an encounter with pilgrims from the Italian dioceses of Bologna and Cesena-Sarsina in St. Peter’s Square. The pilgrimage to Rome followed Francis’ own visit to Bologna and Cesena in October 2017.

Quoting from his recent apostolic exhortation Gaudete et Exsultate, the pope also spoke about the important role of the Eucharist in helping to transform Catholics “into a holy and missionary community.”

The Eucharist, he said, means “thanksgiving” and makes us feel the need for thanksgiving.

“It makes us understand that ‘we are more blessed in giving than in receiving’ (Acts 20:35), educates us to give primacy to love, and practice justice in its complete form, which is mercy; to know to give thanks always, even when we receive what is due to us.”

The pope encouraged Christians to proclaim the call to holiness in their communities, since it concerns “every baptized person and every condition of life.”

“In holiness consists the full realization of every aspiration of the human heart. It is a journey that starts from the baptismal font and leads up to Heaven and is carried out day by day by accepting the Gospel in concrete life,” he said.

Catholic Voices succeeds by reframing arguments rather than retorting

Sat, 04/21/2018 - 11:37 PM

ROME – While there are undoubtedly many ways to measure the greatness of an idea, here’s one: When it outlives its original application, and becomes a permanent part of a much larger reality.

That, in short, is the story of Catholic Voices, which is undoubtedly the most successful Catholic communications initiative of the last decade – and a nominee, at least, for being one of the most effective of all time.

Catholic Voices was born in 2010, in the run-up to Pope emeritus Benedict XVI’s trip to the United Kingdom. That outing was projected to be one of the most difficult any pontiff had ever faced, in part because of a secularized and sometimes openly anti-Catholic culture in the UK, in part because of the clerical sexual abuse scandals washing across Europe at the time, and in part because of the Darth Vader-esque caricature that often defined (and, of course, badly distorted) Benedict’s public image.

Two smart and entrepreneurial Catholics in the UK, Jack Valero of Opus Dei and Austen Ivereigh, a former editor for the Tablet, saw the train wreck coming and decided to do something about it. They formed a cadre of 24 smart, articulate lay Catholics and one priest, and gave them a six-month crash course in both media literacy and the hot-button issues expected to set the agenda for media coverage of Benedict’s visit.

The project was independent of officialdom, though it’s never been hostile to the Church’s official leadership. For the most part, actually, those leaders have embraced it heartily.

After that basic Catholic “boot camp,” Ivereigh and Valero turned their charges loose, making them available more or less around the clock to any and all media outlets that needed commentary on the visit. The results were electric: Catholic Voices members became the soundtrack of the trip, shaping a narrative through more than 100 media appearances that was compelling, honest, and incredibly human.

In so doing, the group almost single-handedly debunked a whole series of myths and prejudices about people of faith in the UK’s popular culture.

After Benedict was safely back in Rome, Valero and Ivereigh realized they’d set something special in motion. If they hadn’t gotten the point on their own, the scores of bishops, clergy, lay experts, media professionals, and people from several other circles begging them to keep Catholic Voices going would have brought it home.

Today, there are more than 20 Catholic Voices groups in Europe, North and South America and Australia. The group’s philosophy, and its secret to success, can be simply stated: In the face of incomprehension and even hostility from the media, don’t get angry, reframe the conversation. The idea is to avoid defensiveness, and to identify with the values underlying the hostility (which often, even in distorted form, ultimately stem from Christianity.)

There’s also a related Catholic Voices instinct – which is rarely made explicit in their official literature, but it’s absolutely real operationally – to bridge the usual partisan divides in the Church not only through conscious policy choices, but more importantly, through friendship.

Valero and Ivereigh, the co-founders, are the proof of the point: Valero and Opus Dei are typically seen as fairly conservative, while Ivereigh is viewed (especially in the Pope Francis era) as a strong progressive voice. Yet you’ll almost never find better friends than those two, and their spirit is contagious throughout the Catholic Voice network.

On Friday night, Crux’s team in Rome this week — which normally consists of Vatican correspondent Inés San Martín and faith and culture correspondent Claire Giangravè, buoyed this week by me and national correspondent Chris White – had the chance to drop in on a gathering of Catholic Voices personnel from more than 15 countries, taking place in the Eternal City.

In essence, I made a simple point: You people are doing amazing work in projecting a credible and attractive voice for the Church in the public square, and that’s no easy feat. In particular, I gave a shout-voice to the delegation from Catholic Voices in Chile – because if there’s anywhere on the planet right now where speaking rationally and sympathetically about the Catholic Church is a tough sell, it’s Chile, in the wake of that country’s ongoing sexual abuse scandals.

I also told the Catholic Voices crowd that in many ways, there’s a genetic link between their group and Crux. That’s not just because I’m old friends of both Valero and Ivereigh, and was there at the beginning eight years ago, and it’s not just because White, our stellar national correspondent, is a former staffer for Catholic Voices USA.

It’s also because Catholic Voices and Crux, in their own ways, are both in the same business – promoting smart, wired and independent conversation about the Catholic Church, either on one side of the fence as informal spokespersons, or on the other as journalists.

In any event, I told them I’m as much an admirer of Catholic Voices today as eight years ago. If you don’t know Catholic Voices, check them out, because there really is much to admire.

Nigerian author warns of neocolonialism in Africa: This time it’s ideological

Sat, 04/21/2018 - 11:36 PM

Over the past several weeks, North America has been graced by the unrelenting book tour of Obianuju “Uju” Ekeocha. The Nigerian-native, London-based scientist and filmmaker recently saw her book, Target Africa: Ideological Neocolonialism in the Twenty-First Century, published by Ignatius Press. The book raises some pressing questions about enculturation, national autonomy, and the moral identity of a people.

In order for the book’s argument to be appreciated, the context of the historical colonization of Africa has to be understood. Many Westerners may not be aware of the imposed colonization of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The colonization was formalized at the Berlin Conference of 1884. At the meeting, the European powers literally cut up Africa with generic borders. Rather than an exploration into the boundaries of existing tribes and language groups, the borders were externally imposed and the tribal, self-determination of the African peoples was subjugated to them.

This imposition of resource-based borders introduced a completely foreign concept to the local peoples of Africa. It was a concept that was totally at odds with their understanding of themselves, their tribal identity, their care for the earth, and their commitment to one another.

(Credit: Ignatius Press.)

Ekeocha is using this historical colonization to argue her point, namely, there is a new colonization in Africa. This colonization is one of ideology and it has new masters, who call themselves “donors.” The donors are once again foreign countries, but also international organizations and private foundations.

Rather than military occupation, this colonization is an invasion of culture and the moral worldview of local peoples. It seeks to force Western liberal values and their consequences, such as contraception and abortion, upon different peoples whose entire lives are defined by different and time-honored values.

Some might argue: Aren’t these resources needed in Africa? Look at the overpopulation and starvation of the continent. Doesn’t something have to be done?

These questions point us to the heart of Ekeocha’s book. No one wants a person to starve and no one wants a family to be overwhelmed by children it cannot support. But in teaching family planning and in laboring to end hunger, efforts must engage, dialogue, and respect the sacred and moral principles of the people that are being helped. Otherwise, it ceases to be help and becomes “ideological colonization.”

In other words, there is a downward spiral of doing something with a people, to doing something for a people, to doing something to a people. In the end, the people are mere recipients of someone else’s worldview and moral identity. Its own richness and perspective have been stripped and laid bare.

Does this mean that no new ideas can be introduced into a culture?

Of course not. Ekeocha gives due praise to the Christian evangelization of Africa. But what’s the difference? Isn’t this a double standard?

The possibility of a double standard is always there. However, the radical difference pertains to shared moral values. For example, the difference between the historical Scottish missionaries in Nigeria and the contemporary medical specialists of the International Planned Parenthood Federation is their concept of the human person and the centrality of human dignity based on that understanding.

The peoples of Africa, however diverse they may be in their 54 countries, thousands of tribes and local languages, nevertheless, share the unifying common thread of a profound sensitivity to life and family. This is enriched by a broad concept of the fluidity of eternity, the personal contribution of each person to the human narrative, and a profound love for children and the elders of their people.

And so, if new ideas or concepts are going to be introduced, they must respect and build from within this moral worldview. Ekeocha shows how this can be done. She gives the example of polygamy. The practice was widely accepted until the Christian missionaries introduced monogamy. The presentation of marriage in such a way built upon the African love of children and tribe and showed the peoples how this expression of marriage made their values stronger.

Another positive example can be seen in the creative introduction of Natural Family Planning (based on the weather of the different seasons) and its gracious acceptance throughout the various peoples of Africa. This is the difference between enculturation and colonization.

As a comparison, Ekeocha observes: Africa speaks of security, donors talk of safe sex. Africa speaks about education and computers, donors speak of sex education and condoms. Africa speaks about family life, donors talk about family planning via contraception. Africa speaks about clean water and healthcare, donors talk about birth control and abortion.

New ideas in any culture, therefore, must be a leaven to it, and not a poison. Such ideas should not lead to confusion, self-hatred, and a manipulation of people or their principles by an imbalance of power.

Cultures reflect the hearts of their people, and the heart of any people – its conscience and lifeblood – calls for respect and deference. Africa is no different. If Western donors are to avoid becoming new colonial masters, then they must understand and abide by this principle and honor the values of the Africa of the African peoples.

Kenyan bishops urge government to tackle unemployment crisis

Sat, 04/21/2018 - 11:36 PM

YAOUNDÉ, Cameroon – Catholic Bishops in Kenya are concerned about the high rate of unemployment in the country, saying it poses a serious security threat to the nation.

In a statement issued April 13 at the end of their plenary assembly, the bishops said that “out of desperation many young people end up joining gangs, militias and terror groups while others are caught up in drugs, substance abuse and alcoholism, as they waste their lives.”

Kenya has experienced years of economic growth, and in 2016 the country saw a growth rate of 5.8 percent – well above regional and global averages – but that success has not improved job prospects.

The jobs created were low-paying and informal jobs and growing at a pace economists said was too slow to offset the high rate of unemployment in the country – a situation the bishops now describe as “a time bomb that can explode at any time.”

According to the Kenya Bureau of Statistics, the unemployment rate stood at 11 percent in 2016. That figure was double for those aged 15-24. This is coupled with a poverty rate that UNICEF estimates is 42 percent.

“There are many people who feel marginalized and isolated from the mainstream economic gains in the country,” the bishops said.

They said the gap between the rich and the poor must be bridged, otherwise “we shall always have tensions and unending conflicts.”

“We have to tackle poverty which in most cases is the by-product of corruption and looting of the resources we have in this country. We are therefore appealing to both the national and county governments to work for a strong economic base that will provide livelihoods to the poor people and generate revenue for sustainable development,” the bishops said.

They said job creation should top the government’s agenda, and for that to happen, the bishops argued “more resources should be allocated to farmers to work the land and produce food. It is very sad to see farmers frustrated because of the low prices for their produce.”

They also complained that cartels are allowed to import produce from outside Kenya, instead of buying from local farmers, “thus killing the efforts of our own people.”

The bishops called on the government to “protect the Kenyan farmers.”

A new political era for Kenya?

The bishops also welcomed the rapprochement between Kenya’s two main political rivals: President Uhuru Kenyatta and opposition leader Raila Odinga.

The latest confrontation between the two leaders came during and after the contentious 2017 presidential election in which Uhuru Kenyatta was declared winner, although Raila declared himself as “the people’s president,” and even held a symbolic “inauguration” ceremony in January which the government said was illegal.

The electoral dispute polarized the country and further exposed the deep tribal and ethnic rifts that have long characterized its politics.

At least 90 people were killed in the ensuing political violence, although that figure pales in comparison to what happened in 2007 when the two men were engaged in yet another contentious election.

At least 1,300 people died and tens of thousands were displaced as the dispute of the election results snowballed into weeks of ethnic score settling after the poll.

In a major about face on March 9, the two men came to an agreement in what they said was the greater interest of the country.

“Throughout our independence history, we have had doubts on how we have conducted our affairs in the face of a growing divide along ethnic, religious and political lines. Regrettably, we have responded to our challenges by mostly running away from them,” Odinga said following that meeting.

“We have moved from year to year, election to election, never pausing to deal with the challenges that our diversity was always going to pose to our efforts to create a prosperous and united nation. Consequently, the ties that bind us are today under the severest stress. Our diversity appears destined to be a curse to ourselves today and to our children tomorrow,” he said.

Kenyatta added that Kenya was larger than both Odinga and him, and it was absolutely necessary to dissolve the political tensions for the interest of the country.

The bishops welcomed this development, coming in the wake of what they described as “an uncertain and tough electioneering period that almost divided the nation, with a shattered economy and a section of the population left wounded during political violence.”

They said the Uhuru-Raila meeting was, and will continue to be good for the country, but insisted that substance must be put into the handshake.

“We see this as a step forward in the right direction and we call upon them to speed up the process of real, meaningful and lasting reconciliation,” they said.

The bishops underscored the need for the two leaders to work together to build a more united and peaceful country, “where every person’s dignity is respected and where all have equal opportunities irrespective of where they come from. It is our hope and that of all Kenyans that this meeting will herald a new era of reconciliation, dialogue, peace, stability and prosperity.”

Moving forward, the bishops called for the establishment of “an all-inclusive round-table Conference that will iron out all the differences that have been separating Kenyans.”

They also called for a review of Kenya’s constitution “in light of the contentious issues that emerged during the recent elections, and other shortcomings that have been noted.”

“Similarly, such a conference should look at how the presidency can be structured so that it is above political parties, so that it is not a position of power struggle, that is bitterly contested as it has happened in the 2007 and the 2017 presidential elections,” the bishops said.

Priest shot hearing confessions in Mexico; second cleric murdered in country in 3 days

Sat, 04/21/2018 - 4:18 PM

A priest on the outskirts of Guadalajara has been murdered, the second priest in a week killed in Mexico.

Father Juan Miguel Contreras Garcia, 33, was shot dead late Friday in Tlajomulco de Zuniga by unidentified attackers in his parish office, reportedly while hearing a confession.

“We make an urgent call to build a culture of peace and reconciliation. These lamentable events call all of us to a much deeper and sincere conversion. It is time to look honestly at our culture and society, and to ask ourselves why we have lost respect for life and for the sacred,” said Cardinal José Francisco Robles Ortega, the Archbishop of Guadalajara.

The cardinal asked the Catholic faithful to accompany their priests with prayer and in the pastoral service to the communities entrusted to them.

“We ask those who despise and take their lives for any reason to allow themselves to be seen by the loving face of God; and to get rid of not only weapons, but hatred, resentment, revenge, and all destructive emotions,” Robles Ortega said in an April 20 statement.

The cardinal also called on the authorities to investigate the crime and not allow it – and other crimes in Mexico – to go unpunished.

According to the Catholic Multimedia Center, at least four priests have been slain in Mexico this year, and 23 have been murdered since 2012.

On Wednesday, Father Ruben Alcantara Diaz was stabbed to death in his church on the outskirts of Mexico City.

Italian bishop starts prayer campaign for Alfie Evans; parents appeal to European court to save their son

Sat, 04/21/2018 - 3:29 PM

LEICESTER, United Kingdom – Italian Bishop Francesco Cavina of Carpi is calling for a worldwide prayer campaign for Alfie Evans, after the British Supreme Court cleared the way for his life support to be removed over the objections of his parents.

Cavina helped arrange a meeting between Thomas Evans, Alfie’s father, and Pope Francis on Wednesday.

Alfie has an undiagnosed brain disease, and Alder Hey Hospital in Liverpool has argued that any further treatment would be futile, and not in Alfie’s interest.

Evans, 21, and his partner Kate James, 20, have fought an ongoing legal battle to allow them to take Alfie abroad for treatment.

RELATED: UK Supreme Court rules against family of Alfie Evans two days after father meets Pope Francis

The Vatican-owned Bambino Gesù children’s hospital in Rome has offered to admit the child and treat him, but the British courts have not let Alfie’s parents remove him from Alder Hey.

During the pope’s general audience, which took place immediately after his meeting with Evans, Francis asked for prayers for Alfie, and said it is “our duty to do everything to preserve life.”

“I would like to reiterate and forcefully confirm that the only master of life, from the beginning to its natural conclusion, is God!” Francis said.

Francis also expressed his support for Alfie in an April 4 tweet. He also made an appeal for the child during his April 15 Sunday Angelus.

After the meeting between Francis and Evans, the pope asked Cavina to act as a go-between for the Evans family and the Vatican’s Secretariat of State.

Cavina has started an international prayer campaign for Alfie, with the cooperation of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Laity, Family, and Life.

“This is his last hope. Only the power of prayer can melt hearts and make the walls that now seem insurmountable crumble,” the bishop said.

“When human capabilities fail, there is still one resource: Prayer,” he said in an interview with Vatican News. “This prayer chain has only this purpose: To ensure that the Lord is able to touch the hearts of those who have the fate of this child in their hands, to give to this child the capability to enjoy the love and affection of his parents, who have been almost heroic.”

RELATED: Italian bishop says refusal to let Alfie Evans come to Vatican hospital “beyond all human logic”

On Saturday, Thomas Evans released a statement saying he has filed an appeal – the family’s second – with the European Court of Human Rights.

A previous appeal to the Strasbourg-based institution was rejected on March 28.

“This is not justice. This is a cruel, murderous bureaucracy,” Alfie’s father said.

“We will not give up. We will continue to fight, by all means available to us within the law, to save our son’s life,” he continued.

Alfie’s parents also released photos of Alfie showing what appear to be blood secretions and a burn blister, claiming the hospital has been neglectful in the treatment of their son.

Cavina told Vatican News that what is happening with Alfie is “inhumane,” and his parents have the right to determine what is in his best interest.

“Totalitarian regimes were condemned because they claimed to have the right of life and death over people,” the bishop said.

He said the fight to defend Alfie’s life is the fight to defend each of our lives, “because if the criterion of who decides the life or death of sick people passes to the state, each of us is in danger.”

The bishop warned that if this determination is made because a life is “useless” then “the life of an old, sick person runs the risk of becoming useless, according to purely materialistic or economic criteria.”

Why some Christians don’t trust their devices

Sat, 04/21/2018 - 10:23 AM

“Who is Jesus?”

Some Christians aren’t happy with the answers they’ve gotten to the question from their smart speakers, including Amazon’s Alexa and the Google Assistant on Google Home devices.

David Sams, the CEO of KeepTheFaith Radio Networks — who describes himself on his website as a “21st century media chameleon” — is just one of those Christians. Sams posted a video to Facebook earlier this year asking “Who is Jesus?” to his Google Home. It’s been viewed about 32,000 times.

“Google knew who I was, but Google did not know who Jesus was, Google did not know who Jesus Christ was and Google did not know who God was,” he later told his local television news station, FOX 17 Nashville.

Instead, Sams’ device responded in the video, “Sorry, I don’t know how to help with that.”

As of last month, nearly 1 in 5 Americans had a smart speaker in his or her home. And while many people have expressed privacy concerns about the technology similar to those expressed about Facebook by the members of Congress who grilled CEO Mark Zuckerberg last week, some Christians are more worried about the alleged ideological bent of their devices’ answers — that is, if viral videos are believed.

“It’s hard to tell if people are really upset about it or it’s just a viral video,” said Daniel Silliman, a Lilly Fellow at Valparaiso University and historian who writes about religion and American culture. “There’s such a market for faux outrage.”

Several Google Home users posted videos online earlier this year that showed their smart speakers, a popular 2017 holiday gift, answering questions about Buddha and other religious figures, but struggling to answer questions about Jesus.

In a viral video posted online in November by Steven Crowder, who describes his “Louder With Crowder” YouTube channel as “the most politically incorrect comedy channel on the web,” he claimed that “CRAZY SJW LIBERAL” Alexa called Jesus a fictional character. (SJW, or “social justice warrior,” is a term Crowder and others use to disparage progressives.)

A number of conservative and far-right news sites ran with the story, though others on social media called it a hoax and pointed out how one could program their device to give that answer.

Amazon did not respond to a request for comment by Religion News Service, but when asked the same question posed in the video by an RNS reporter last month — “Who is the Lord Jesus Christ?” — both Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant quoted from the Wikipedia entry for Jesus, which did not refer to him as fictional.

But to some conservative Christians, the devices’ makers are trying to push an anti-Christian agenda.

“It’s kinda scary, it’s almost like Google has taken Jesus and God out of smart audio,” Sams told FOX 17 Nashville.

He and another woman quoted by the news station likened it to removing prayer from schools, and he said he was especially concerned by the response because so many people search Google for answers to their questions.

Google responded to questions from RNS with a written statement, saying: “The reason the Google Assistant didn’t respond with information about ‘Who is Jesus’ or ‘Who is Jesus Christ’ wasn’t out of disrespect but instead to ensure respect.

“Some of the Assistant’s spoken responses come from the web, and for certain topics, this content can be more vulnerable to vandalism and spam. If our systems detect such circumstances, the Assistant might not reply. If similar vulnerabilities were detected for other questions — including those about other religious leaders — the Assistant also wouldn’t respond.”

Responses for religious figures are temporarily disabled while Google is “exploring different solutions,” according to the statement.

Christians have a “long history of concerns about the reliability of information” in America, according to Silliman, the historian.

But it’s wrong to assume Christians or other religious people are “anti-modern,” he said.

In fact, many evangelical Christians were early adopters of technology such as television. Differing views about technology came not over differing theology, but the way Christians thought about that technology, he said: “If they’re thinking of TV as a new way to take the message into the world, it’s great. If they’re thinking about it bringing messages into their homes, there’s cause for concern.”

“I wonder if with these digital assistants we’ll see the same thing.”

What will be more interesting than a few viral videos, Silliman said, is how people actually end up using the devices, including how Christians might use them to encourage their own faith.

Already, Alexa’s skills include reading daily devotionals from popular Christian authors, selected passages or a daily Bible verse from the YouVersion Bible app and the daily readings from the Roman Catholic Lectionary for Mass.

“Fears about the technology might go viral, especially if they’re designed to go viral, but the more lasting effect might be the way this technology is adopted and adapted by creative, mission-driven people,” Silliman said.

Catholic group: Young Europeans need political support to start families

Sat, 04/21/2018 - 9:17 AM

WARSAW, Poland — Young people in Europe need political support to start families in countries with aging populations, a French Catholic campaigner said.

While “young people want to form lasting relationships and have children,” they “don’t feel safe” to start families, said Antoine Renard, president of the Brussels-based Federation of Catholic Family Associations in Europe.

“Unless something is done rapidly, Europe risks a total demographic collapse,” Renard said in an April 19 interview with Catholic News Service after the federation called on European Union governments to “put the family at the center of national policies.”

Young people are “often discouraged by inadequate and individualistic policies and cultures which are hostile to the family,” the federation said in an April 13 statement at the end of its spring meeting in Vienna.

The European Union had 1.58 live births per woman in 2015, according to official statistics. A total fertility rate of around 2.1 live births per woman is considered the replacement level in developed countries, Eurostat said on its website.

The federation called on Europe’s leaders to “raise awareness about the demographic winter and the urgency of acting” with international initiatives.

Member states of the European Union should “implement a policy that recognizes the unique, fundamental and irreplaceable position of the family in society,” the statement said.

Ministers in European governments show “absolutely no reaction” when federation members raise demographic issues at meetings, Renard said, noting that he had been laughed at and assured that Europe’s problem of population decline would be resolved through immigration.

“Of course we need immigration” but “unless we continue raising children and provide incentives for young people to have them, our own families will simply disappear,” he said.

Europe’s “demographic winter” needs urgent action “for the well-being of aged people, for the rights of our youth,” and “for the future of our children,” the federation’s statement said.

Its campaign will be taken to the Aug. 21-26 World Meeting of Families that Pope Francis is scheduled to attend in Dublin, Renard said.

Tragedies and blessings have taught Roma Downey to ‘seize the moment’

Sat, 04/21/2018 - 9:11 AM

WASHINGTON, D.C. — One of Roma Downey’s life lessons came from her mother’s cabinet full of broken china.

The well-known actress and producer of three popular biblical movies recounts an experience growing up in strife-torn Northern Ireland. A British armored car rolled up her street, and the vibrations caused the glass shelves of her mother’s china cabinet to collapse. All the china plates and bowls she had been saving for that special occasion came crashing down.

As a young girl, Roma saw her mother holding the pieces and crying. All that beautiful china had been saved for some future meal or some future guests, “but for what?” Downey asked during a recent interview with Catholic News Service. The lesson is to “seize the moment,” she said. “Don’t put things off. It is all a gift.”

Appreciating the fleetingness of the moment is one of the insights that Downey has drawn from her extraordinary life.

On the surface, Downey has enjoyed an enviable level of success: Starring in the CBS television hit “Touched by an Angel,” she played the angel Monica for nine seasons. Downey went on to co-produce with her husband, Mark Burnett, the 10-hour miniseries “The Bible,” as well as “A.D. The Bible Continues,” and the feature film “Son of God.” She even has her own star on Hollywood Boulevard.

Yet her new book, “Box of Butterflies” (Howard Books/Atria) is suffused with stories not just of success and blessing, but of pain and loss.

“Box of Butterflies” is a lavishly designed “scrapbook” of favorite poems and pictures, memories and friendships. At its heart, however, the lesson is that life — like a butterfly — is a fragile gift that must be appreciated and never taken for granted.

She describes herself “as a girl whose childhood essentially ended at age 10” with the death of her mother.

Downey lost her father a decade later. He who was himself twice a widower had told his young daughter, “Roma, remember that if you can bury your da, you can do anything.” She said she knew he was telling her that “to strengthen me so that I would not fall apart” when he died.

She also survived “The Troubles” in the Northern Ireland town of Derry where she grew up. Violent clashes between Catholics, Protestants and British soldiers added a harrowing backdrop to her daily life. She herself as a girl narrowly escaped a sniper’s bullet while visiting her mother’s grave site.

Reflecting on a quote from Julian of Norwich that while we may not avoid troubles and grief, “you shall not be overcome.” Downey said she was not overcome, but she was changed mightily. “The trauma of losing my mother at such a young age totally shaped the woman I became,” she said.

Such trauma is how one’s character develops, she added, for the choice is to “lie down under it or step up and endure.”

“I endured because of God, because of my faith,” she said.

Her book is in part a letter to mothers and mothers-to-be on how not to be overcome. “Everyone is going to be touched by suffering,” Downey said. “It is part of the human experience.” The trouble with society today is that we “are in mass denial.”

“We don’t talk about death or dying.” Instead, “we have so many forms of self-medicating to avoid our feelings: overshopping or overeating or overdrinking to fill the void.”

In her book Downey recalls memories of her mother, but tells of the great healing that came with the birth of her own daughter, Reilly. She also discusses her daughterlike relationship with her fellow “angel,” the actress Della Reese. “Since the age of nearly 11, I have been searching for that kind of tender, unconditional love that only a mother can give. And I found that in Della Reese,” she wrote.

Reese and Downey co-starred in “Touched by an Angel.” Off screen, they shared deeply painful moments, such as the death of Reese’s only daughter.

For a woman who in many ways is extraordinarily successful, “Box of Butterflies” is a reminder that no one is immune to loss or grief. While we may not be able to choose what challenges face us, we are free to choose how we approach such challenges.

“We can choose darkness and lack,” Downey writes. “Or we can choose light, hope and gratitude. May we all choose light.”