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Pope, Bangladesh Prime Minister discuss Rohingya crisis at Vatican

Mon, 02/12/2018 - 21:05

Vatican City, Feb 12, 2018 / 08:05 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Just two months after his recent visit to Bangladesh, Pope Francis Monday welcomed Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to the Vatican, where they discussed positive inter-faith relations in the country and the need to find a lasting solution to the ongoing Rohingya refugee crisis.

According to a Feb. 12 Vatican communique, the conversation was cordial and highlighted the positive bilateral relations between the two and the success of Francis' recent, Nov. 30-Dec. 2 visit to Bangladesh.

In particular, the “keen participation” of many non-Catholics was emphasized, as Bangladesh is a majority Muslim nation. Catholics are a small minority in Bangladesh, numbering only 375,000 – 0.2 percent – out of a total population of almost 156 million people.

The two spoke in English with the help of the Pope's official interpreter, Monsignor Mark Miles. As Hasina walked in, she told the Pope that she was “very glad you were able to visit Bangladesh,” and Francis expressed his own gratitude, saying “thank you.”

In the conversation, which lasted for 20-minutes, Francis and Hasina also discussed the Catholic Church's contribution to education in the country, as well as the State's efforts in promoting peaceful relations among different religious communities.

They also focused on the need to defend minorities and refugees. To this end, appreciation was voiced to the Bangladeshi government for welcoming Rohingya Muslim refugees, whose plight was a major underlying theme of the Pope's visit to both Burma – also called Myanmar – an Bangladesh last fall.

A largely Muslim ethnic group who reside in Burma’s Rakhine State, the Rohingya have faced a sharp increase in state-sponsored violence in their homeland, recently reaching staggering levels that have led the United Nations to declare the crisis “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”

With an increase in persecution in their home country of Burma, more than 600,000 Rohingya have fled across the border to Bangladesh, and are living in refugee camps.

Pope Francis personally greeted 18 members of the Rohingya community who were present at a Dec. 1 interreligious encounter in Dhaka, Bangladesh, asking forgiveness on behalf of all who persecute the Burmese minority.

In the Pope's meeting with Hasina, the two voiced hope that a “just and lasting solution to their ordeal” might be reached soon.

After the meeting the Pope met the Prime Minister's nine-person delegation and the two exchanged gifts. For her part, Hasina gave Francis an image of a boat, believed to be filled with migrants.

Pope Francis in turn gifted Hasina the medal of peace, which he often gives to the heads of state he receives, as well as a copy of his 2018 Message for Peace and his environmental encyclical Laudato Si.

Hasina then met with Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin and Msgr. Antoine Camilleri, under-Secretary for Relations with States.

Pope Francis 'signs up' for World Youth Day in Panama

Sun, 02/11/2018 - 18:30

Vatican City, Feb 11, 2018 / 05:30 am (CNA/EWTN News).- After the Angelus Sunday, with the help of a tablet and two young people, Pope Francis signed up for World Youth Day 2019 in Panama, announcing that registration for the international event has opened.

“I too, now, with two young people, sign up by means of the internet,” the Pope said Feb. 11, clicking “register” on a tablet. “There, I have enrolled as a pilgrim to World Youth Day,” he announced.

"We have to prepare ourselves. I invite all the young people of the world to live with faith and enthusiasm this event of grace and fraternity, both [those] going to Panama and [those] participating in their communities."

Pope Francis chose Panama to be the host of the next World Youth Day, an international gathering of youth which was started in 1985 by Pope St. John Paul II. Ordinarily held sometime in the summer months, in 2019 it will take place Jan. 22-27, to avoid Panama’s rainy season.

Before the Angelus, Pope Francis spoke about the day's Gospel, which tells of Jesus’ healing of a leper, noting that “in this context the World Day of the Sick is well placed.”

In the Old Testament, having leprosy made you unclean, and you would be separated from the community, Francis explained. Therefore, the leper in the Gospel of Mark would have felt unclean not only before other people, but also before God.

But Jesus is the true physician, and heals both our bodies and our souls, he said. Christ's compassion and mercy move him to reach out to the man suffering from leprosy, to touch him and to say: “I will it, be cleansed!” the Pope said.

Jesus’ act of touching the leper, which was forbidden by Mosaic law, makes the leper clean, he said. “In this healing we admire, in addition to compassion and mercy, also the audacity of Jesus, who is not concerned with contagion nor the rules, but is moved only by the will to free that man from the curse that oppresses him.”

Francis said that in fact, it is not illness that makes us unclean, or that we should fear, but our sins. And that we all need healing from selfishness, pride and corruption, which are the “diseases of the heart from which we need to be cleansed.”

The Pope then asked everyone present to take a moment of silence to look inside themselves, and to search out the impurities and the sins in their hearts. He also encouraged everyone to pray to God with the same words of the leper: “If you want, you can purify me.”

“Every time we approach the Sacrament of Reconciliation with a repentant heart, the Lord also repeats to us: ‘I will it, be cleansed!’” Francis continued. “Thus the leprosy of sin disappears, we return to live with joy our filial relationship with God and we are readmitted fully into the community.”

Pray for each other, Pope Francis tells Stigmatine Fathers

Sat, 02/10/2018 - 23:22

Vatican City, Feb 10, 2018 / 10:22 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In an off-the-cuff speech Saturday, Pope Francis told members of the Stigmatine Fathers that in community life, fraternity is a grace which requires concrete prayer for each other, and that to hold onto resentment after arguments is a sin.

“The life of community, the life of fraternity, is difficult because there are human problems, jealousies, competitiveness, misunderstandings… Fraternity is a grace, and if there is no prayer, this grace does not come,” the Pope said Feb. 10.

You might say that you pray the Divine Office or meditate on the Gospel, but “do you pray for this brother, for the other… for the Superior?”

The sin is not to argue, Francis continued, pointing out that even in good marriages there are fights. The sin comes in the “rancor, the resentment that you keep in your heart, having quarreled.”

Pope Francis spoke to about 40 participants in the General Chapter of the Congregation of the Sacred Stigmata of Our Lord Jesus Christ, commonly called “Stigmatine Fathers.” The Pope opted to speak off-the-cuff, so copies of his prepared speech were instead handed out to participants after the audience.

Besides fraternity, Francis also spoke about the “terrorism” of gossip, which he said is like throwing a bomb to destroy another from afar.

To have a good community doesn't mean everyone has to be close friends, but you must have respect and esteem for one another, and you must pray for one another, he said, inviting those present to make an examination of conscience on this issue.

He also spoke about the wounds of Christ, especially the stigmata, which is found in the name of their order. As St. Bernard said, if you are depressed or if you have sinned, done this or that, “Go and take refuge in the wounds of the Lord,” the Pope said.

“Only the conscience of a 'wounded' Church, of a 'wounded' Congregation, of a 'wounded' soul or heart leads us to knock on the door of mercy in the wounds of the Lord.”

He encouraged them not to be ashamed of their devotion to the wounds of Christ, because it is their path to sanctification, and they are called to teach anyone “plagued” by their sins to find comfort there.

“A ‘wounded’ sinner finds forgiveness, peace and consolation only in the wounds of the Lord, not elsewhere,” he said.

In his prepared speech, Pope Francis invited the Stigmatine Fathers to revive both within themselves and their community the “fire of the Word of God.”

In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus announces: “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!” the Pope said. “Imitating the divine Master, you too are called to bring fire into the world.”

He noted that there is a good, holy kind of fire and a wrong kind, however. The wrong kind he said is that illustrated in the Gospel of Luke, when Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem, but sends messengers before him to a village of Samaritans, who did not want to welcome him.

The disciples, James and John, said, “Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?” But in answer to this, Jesus rebukes them. “This is the wrong fire,” the Pope said. “God in the Bible is likened to fire, but it is a fire of love…”

He encouraged them to announce the Gospel with meekness and joy like the founder of the Stigmatine Fathers, St. Gaspare Bertoni. “This is the style of evangelization of Jesus, our Master. He welcomed and approached everyone and conquered people with kindness, mercy, with the penetrating word of Truth,” he said.

“So you missionary disciples, who are evangelizers, can bring people to conversion, to communion with Christ, through the joy of your life and with meekness.”


Pontifical university offers new youth protection degree program

Sat, 02/10/2018 - 13:00

Rome, Italy, Feb 10, 2018 / 12:00 am (CNA).- Rome's Pontifical Gregorian University will begin offering a two-year licentiate course in protecting minors, a move Fr. Hans Zollner SJ, said is a sign of the progress the Church has made in terms of abuse-awareness and prevention.

“In most countries ten years ago, five years ago, there was no talk about safeguarding. Now you have degree programs, certificates, diplomas,” he told CNA in a Feb. 9 interview.

“Why has this developed? Because people realize it's not only done by talking about it or by writing about it in articles or pointing the finger to this or that institution. What needs to be done is serious study.”

Fr. Zollner has been a member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors and heads the Center for Child Protection (CCP) at the Gregorian University, which is offering the new licentiate course.

The two-year course will launch in October 2018 as an interdisciplinary university degree. Classes will be taught in English, and those who enroll will also participate in an internship based on their respective academic backgrounds.

The first semester will be dedicated to exploring the work of safeguarding minors, while the second will dig deeper into more theoretical study of what ‘safeguarding’ fully means. In the third semester students will participate in internships, and the final semester will be dedicated to writing a thesis.

The new licentiate was announced Feb. 9 during the graduation ceremony for the university's one-semester diploma course in safeguarding minors, which was launched by the CCP in 2016.

The objective of the diploma course is to form people who will eventually become child protection officers for dioceses, religious congregations, and similar organizations, as well as advisers and trainers in the field of safeguarding.

In his comments to CNA, Zollner said while other similar courses exist, the licentiate will be unique, because to his knowledge, it's the “very first full time, two-year academic program that is multidisciplinary and transdisciplinary” while also taking into account Pope Francis' new Apostolic Constitution “Veritatis Gaudium” on the nature and curriculum of ecclesiastical universities and institutions.

The licentiate, he said, is needed because although the diploma course gives a solid foundation child abuse prevention, “we also need people who are capable of adapting, inventing, creating new approaches to safeguarding in very different environments.”

While the diploma course allows students to gain the knowledge and experience needed in order to implement guidelines and policies when they go back to their countries and dioceses, the licentiate will take it a step further, he said.

“The scale of the problem and the breadth of the different issues that have to be tackled is enormous, and we Westerners don't have very much understanding of what's going on in some areas of the world,” Zollner said.

“We hope that we can get a real foot on the ground with people who are formed in-depth and know how to transmit a message that goes from head to heart. That's for us a goal with this new licentiate.”

He said that from what he's seen, the results of the diploma course have been largely positive, which is significant given the challenge of having people come together from various cultures with different attitudes in terms of talking about about child sexual abuse.

But despite the challenges, Zollner said “we have seen a transformation in a good number of them. I have been at the beginning and end of the semester with them and you see the difference not only in language, not only in how they use words, but in the whole attitude, how they talk about survivors of abuse.”

“It's not anything threatening, anything disturbing, sort of difficult to talk about, it is, but now they have the capacity to really empathize, to be compassionate, to really do what they will be asked to do, which is to accompany victims and do whatever they need to do so that abuse is prevented.”

This year there were 18 graduates of the diploma course, which was coordinated by Prof. Dr. Karlijn Demasure, executive director of the CCP, and Dr. Katharina A. Fuchs. Diplomas were awarded by the Institute of Psychology of the Pontifical Gregorian University, which founded the CCP in 2012.

Students who received their diploma came from all over the world, including countries such as Czech Republic, Ghana, India, Japan, Lebanon, Mozambique, Nigeria, Slovakia, Taiwan, Tanzania, Thailand and the United States.

One of the graduates, Sr. Perpetua of the Congregation of Saint Therese of the Child Jesus, who comes from the Bukoba diocese of Tanzania, told CNA that she signed up for the course “because there is a need to create awareness in my country because people are not aware about child sexual abuse.”

She said she feels “empowered” after taking the course, and that when she returns to her diocese, “I'll create awareness by education, by educating the children at the school, at universities, parents and society at large.”

Similarly, Perla Freed, Director of the Safe Environment program for the Archdiocese of Atlanta, said “people don't want to talk about child sexual abuse because it's not a happy subject,” but she enrolled in the course because she wanted “more of an awareness of this problem and how to confront it.”

Not having background in topics such as theology or canon law, Freed said getting formation in these areas was “a very good model” to follow in studying the various aspects of abuse and prevention.

She said she is looking forward to returning to her diocese where she can implement what she's learned, specifically in terms of prevention and victim assistance.

When it comes to abuse, “every case is heartbreaking and shouldn't happen,” she said, but stressed that the Catholic Church “is making a lot of efforts to ensure that those people are taken care of.”

“I think the Catholic Church, in the U.S. and in other countries, is an example of what everybody should be doing on child safeguarding all over the world,” she said. “We have the programs for schools, we have the training for adults working with those children and young people, so we're an example of what other public schools systems and other organizations working with youth should follow.”

In his comments to CNA, Zollner said the model of the course has been replicated by other entities throughout the world, including in Manila and in Mexico City, as well as in other institutions at the university.


Vatican conference unites police and Church in fight against human trafficking

Fri, 02/09/2018 - 23:05

Vatican City, Feb 9, 2018 / 10:05 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A conference on human trafficking and modern-day slavery was held at the Vatican Feb. 8-9, bringing together church leaders and senior police officers from more than 30 different countries to discuss progress and setbacks in initiatives.

It was the fifth meeting of the Santa Marta Group, a Pope Francis-endorsed international alliance of police and bishops, since its formation in 2014. The group was developed by the Catholic Bishops' Conference for England and Wales (CBCEW) and is named after the building where Francis lives in the Vatican.

The two-day meeting included reports from delegates of 18 countries, and several international agencies, as well as presentations by Greg Burke of the Holy See Press Office and Alexander DesForges, spokesperson of the England and Wales bishops’ conference.

Cardinal Vincent Nichols, archbishop of Westminster, told journalists Feb. 9 that he was “humbled” by what he heard from delegates. “What was important in this meeting was that members were willing to share their sense of failure as well as their sense of success,” he said.

Often in these kinds of meetings “it's all about saying how good we are, what we are going to do, our promises...” he noted. But this time, people felt comfortable enough with each other “to say, ‘Well, actually, we’re just beginning,’ or ‘Actually, this didn’t work,’” he said.

Nichols explained that estimates say there are 42 million people around the world currently enslaved in some form. “The drama of human trafficking,” he said, “has never been greater ever… than it is at this moment.”

Archbishop Augustine Akubeze of Benin City, Nigeria, was also present at the conference. He told journalists that the Nigerian bishops’ conference joined the Santa Marta Group because their country is one of the major countries of origin for trafficked people.

He said that because of the Santa Marta Group, the Nigerian government has become more aware of the issue and started to do more to tackle the problem, which he said stems in particular from a lack of education and a lack of jobs.

When people are in poverty, they are more easily tempted into trafficking, whether as a perpetrator or as a victim, he said. They also run awareness programs and teach in schools to help young people not be taken in by perpetrators.

They bring people to the Santa Marta Group meetings in order to “seek out more good ideas,” Akubeze said, “and then we go back home and try to do something.”

Cardinal Charles Bo, archbishop of Yangon in Bangladesh said that listening to the experiences of delegates from four different continents was interesting and the greatest advantage he personally gained during these meetings.

“After listening to the positive side as well as the weakness and the realities of human trafficking I think many of us who are working in this group have a new determination really to eradicate this curse of human trafficking,” he said.

Pope Francis met with participants of the conference at its conclusion Feb. 9. Speaking to Church and police leaders from around the world, he said that “experience shows that such modern forms of slavery are far more widespread than previously imagined, even – to our scandal and shame – within the most prosperous of our societies.”

“God’s cry to Cain, found in the first pages of the Bible – ‘Where is your brother?’ – challenges us to examine seriously the various forms of complicity by which society tolerates, and encourages, particularly with regard to the sex trade, the exploitation of vulnerable men, women and children,” he continued.

Francis said that initiatives to combat human trafficking must look not only at dismantling criminal structures, but also responsible use of technology and media. He added that we should also explore the ethical implications of economic models which put profit before people.

“I trust that your discussions in these days will also help to raise awareness of the growing need to support victims of these crimes by accompanying them on a path of reintegration into society and the recovery of their human dignity,” he said.

“The Church is grateful for every effort made to bring the balm of God’s mercy to the suffering, for this also represents an essential step in the healing and renewal of society as a whole.”

Francis, Prime Minister of Estonia meet ahead of possible papal visit

Fri, 02/09/2018 - 20:40

Vatican City, Feb 9, 2018 / 07:40 am (CNA/EWTN News).- With a papal visit to Estonia likely on the horizon, Pope Francis on Friday met the country’s Prime Minister, Jüri Ratas, at the Vatican, discussing their good diplomatic ties and the contributions of the Catholic Church in Estonian society, despite its small minority.

According to a Feb. 9 Vatican communique, the “cordial discussions” included appreciation for the good diplomatic relations between the Vatican and Estonia, as well as “the positive contribution of the Church to Estonian society.”

Catholics make up less than one percent of the country’s population of over 1.3 million.

During their 20-minute private meeting, attention was also paid to “themes of mutual interest at a regional and supranational level, including the protection of the environment, and migration,” the communique states. They also spoke about the commitment of the international community to conflict resolution.

At the end of their discussion, Pope Francis gifted Ratas copies of his apostolic exhortations, Evangelii Gaudium and Amoris Laetitia, as well as the encyclical Laudato Si and his message for the 2018 World Day of Peace. He also gave a medallion depicting an angel destroying a demon of war.

On his part, Ratas gave the Pope two hand-crafted silver cups made in Estonia, which Francis said were “very beautiful.”

The delegation of the Prime Minister was made up of six people. After the meeting with Pope Francis, Ratas went on to meet with Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin and with under-Secretary for Relations with States Msgr. Antoine Camilleri.

A trip last month to Lithuania by the Vatican’s “minister of foreign affairs,” Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, has raised expectations for the possibility of a papal trip to the Baltic states in September.

The trip has not yet been officially announced, but there have been signals that it will be planned between the second and the third week of September. The Pope would go to Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, to celebrate the 100th year of their establishment as independent states.  

In a comment first offered to Catholic News Agency Dec. 15, Bishop Philippe Jourdan, the apostolic vicar of Estonia, recounted that “we are preparing with joy for Pope Francis’ visit.”

Bishop Jourdan said that there are some 6-7,000 Catholics in Estonia, “one of the smallest communities Pope Francis has ever met,” and for that reason, “the trip represents a challenge for the Pope.”
Despite the “extreme religious situation of Estonia,” Bishop Jourdan added, “Pope Francis is very much awaited in the country, by Catholics and members of other Christian confessions.”

In Estonia, around 54 percent of the total population identify as non-religious. The Eastern Orthodox Church accounts for about 16 percent and Lutheranism for almost 10 percent.

Pope Francis: Corrupt people can never be saints

Thu, 02/08/2018 - 23:08

Vatican City, Feb 8, 2018 / 10:08 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In his daily homily Thursday Pope Francis drew a distinction between the biblical figures of David and his son Solomon, saying that, like David, sinners who repent are still able to become saints, but the corrupt will not achieve holiness.

“David was a saint. He was a sinner. A sinner, and he became a saint. Solomon was rejected because he was corrupt,” the Pope said Feb. 8, adding that “someone who is corrupt cannot become a saint.”

Speaking from the small chapel inside the Vatican's Saint Martha guesthouse where he lives, the Pope centered his reflection on the day's first reading from the First Book of Kings, which recounted how God became angry with Solomon for worshiping false gods that his wives believed in.

In the reading, God told Solomon that he would “deprive you of the kingdom.” However, for the sake of David's righteousness, God said he would take it from Solomon's son instead, leaving him only a small portion of his kingdom.

The reading recounted something “a bit strange,” Francis said, because God took away the kingdom from Solomon, but didn't say whether he had committed any major sins. However, from scripture we know that David had difficulties and was a sinner.

Despite this fact, David is a saint, while Solomon – who at the beginning of his reign had been praised by God for seeking wisdom rather than riches – was condemned because his heart had “turned away from the Lord.”

This can be explained, Francis said, by the fact that David, knowing he had sinned, asked for forgiveness, whereas Solomon was praised throughout the world, but never recognized his fault when he distanced himself from the Lord and followed false gods.

“The heart of Solomon was not entirely with the Lord, his God, as the heart of David, his father, had been.”

Francis said the problem comes from a “weakness of heart,” which, he said isn't like a typical sin that is recognized “immediately” after being committed. Rather, this sort of weakness, he said, is more subtle, and is “a slow journey that slides along step by step, step by step, step by step.”

“Solomon, adorned in his glory, in his fame, began to take this road,” he said, explaining that “the clarity of a sin is better than weakness of the heart.”

Despite being praised for his wisdom, “the great king Solomon wound up corrupted: serenely corrupt, because his heart was weakened,” the Pope said, adding that the same danger exists for every Christian.

A man or woman with a weak heart is “defeated,” he said, and “this is the process of many Christians, of many of us.”

While many people might be able to say “No, I haven’t committed grave sins,” Francis countered, asking “how is your heart? Is it strong? Does it stay faithful to the Lord, or is it slowly sliding away?”

This subtle sliding away can happen to anyone, he said, saying the remedy to ensure this doesn't happen is to always be “watchful” and vigilant.

“Guard your heart. Be watchful. Every day, be careful about what is happening in your heart,” he said, explaining that a person becomes corrupt “by following the path of weakness of the heart.”

Pope Francis closed his reflection telling the congregation to “guard your heart at all times” and to ask themselves how their relationship with the Lord is going, urging them to “enjoy the beauty and the joy of fidelity.”


Colosseum to be lit red for persecuted Christians

Thu, 02/08/2018 - 02:49

Rome, Italy, Feb 7, 2018 / 01:49 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Roman Colosseum will be illuminated by red lights later this month to draw attention to the persecution of Christians around the world, and especially in Syria and Iraq.

On Saturday, Feb. 24, at 6 p.m. the Colosseum will be spotlighted in red, to represent the blood of Christians who have been wounded or lost their lives due to religious persecution.

Simultaneously, in Syria and Iraq, prominent churches will be illuminated with red lights. In Aleppo, the St. Elijah Maronite Cathedral will be lighted, and in Mosul, the Church of St. Paul, where this past Dec. 24, the first Mass was celebrated after the city’s liberation from ISIS.

The event, sponsored by Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), follows a similar initiative last year, which lit-up London’s Parliament building in red, as well as the Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Paris and the cathedral in Manila, Philippines. In 2016, the famous Trevi Fountain in Rome was lit.

Alessandro Monteduro, director of ACN, told journalists Feb. 7 that the “illumination [of the Colosseum] will have two symbolic figures: Asia Bibi, the Pakistani Christian condemned to death for blasphemy and whose umpteenth judgment is expected to revoke the sentence; and Rebecca, a girl kidnapped by Boko Haram along with her two children when she was pregnant with a third.”

“One of the children was killed,” he said, “she lost the baby she was carrying, and then became pregnant after one of the many brutalities she was subjected to by her captors.”

Once she was freed and reunited with her husband, she decided she “could not hate those who caused her so much pain,” Monteduro said.

Aid to the Church in Need released a biennial report on anti-Christian persecution Oct. 12, 2017, detailing how Christianity is “the world's most oppressed faith community,” and how anti-Christian persecution in the worst regions has reached “a new peak.”

The report reviewed 13 countries, and concluded that in all but one, the situation for Christians was worse in overall terms for the period 2015-2017 than during the prior two years.  

“The one exception is Saudi Arabia, where the situation was already so bad it could scarcely get any worse,” the report said.

China, Eritrea, Iraq, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Syria were ranked “extreme” in the scale of anti-Christian persecution. Egypt, India, and Iran were rated “high to extreme,” while Turkey was rated “moderate to high.”

The Middle East is a major focus for the report.

“Governments in the West and the U.N. failed to offer Christians in countries such as Iraq and Syria the emergency help they needed as genocide got underway,” the report said. “If Christian organizations and other institutions had not filled the gap, the Christian presence could already have disappeared in Iraq and other parts of the Middle East.”

The exodus of Christians from Iraq has been “very severe.” Christians in the country now may number as few as 150,000, a decline from 275,000 in mid-2015. By spring 2017 there were some signs of hope, with the defeat of the Islamic State group and the return of some Christians to their homes on the Nineveh Plains.

The departure of Christians from Syria has also threatened the survival of their communities in the country, including historic Christian centers like Aleppo, ACN said. Syrian Christians there suffer threats of forced conversion and extortion. One Chaldean bishop in the country estimates the Christian population to be at 500,000, down from 1.2 million before the war.

Many Christians in the region fear going to official refugee camps, due to concerns about rape and other violence, according to the report.

ACN also discussed the genocide committed in Syrian and Iraq by the Islamic State and other militants. While ISIS and other groups have lost their major strongholds, ACN said that many Christian groups are threatened with extinction and would likely not survive another attack.


Vatican abuse investigator to meet with Chilean victim in U.S.

Thu, 02/08/2018 - 02:42

Vatican City, Feb 7, 2018 / 01:42 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The delegate appointed by Pope Francis to hear testimony from abuse victims in Chile will also travel to the United States for a meeting with a man alleging that Bishop Juan Barros witnessed sexual abuse but did nothing.
According to The Associated Press, Juan Carlos Cruz said that Archbishop Charles J. Scicluna of Malta asked Feb. 6 to meet with Cruz in person, instead of speaking via Skype, as previously planned.

Cruz is the author of a 2015 letter to Pope Francis, which said that Bishop Juan Barros had personally witnessed sexual abuse committed by Fr. Fernando Karadima, and engaged in homosexual acts with the priest.
On Jan. 30, Pope Francis appointed Archbishop Scicluna, widely regarded as an expert in the canonical norms governing allegations of sexual abuse, as a Vatican delegate to examine accusations against Barros.
Scicluna reportedly plans to fly to Santiago, Chile sometime this month to hear testimony from victims of clergy sexual abuse. The initial plan was for Scicluna to speak with Cruz, who now lives in Philadelphia, over Skype from Chile.
The AP reported Feb. 7 that this plan has changed, according to Cruz, and that Scicluna will fly to New York to meet with Cruz in person.  

The Holy See Press Office was unable to confirm the AP report.

Pope Francis voices condolences over deadly Taiwan quake

Wed, 02/07/2018 - 18:24

Vatican City, Feb 7, 2018 / 05:24 am (CNA/EWTN News).- After a massive earthquake and a string of aftershocks in Taiwan killed at least seven and injured hundreds more, Pope Francis Wednesday sent a telegram assuring of his prayer for the victims and those engaged in rescue efforts.

Signed by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin and addressed to Bishop Philip Huang Chao-ming of Hwalien, the Feb. 7 telegram expressed the Pope's solidarity “with all those affected by the earthquakes in Taiwan these past days.”

Francis, the telegram said, “offers the assurance of his prayers for those who have lost their lives and for those who have been injured.”

“As he encourages the civil authorities and emergency personnel engaged in rescue efforts, His Holiness willingly invokes upon all the Taiwanese people the divine blessings of strength and peace.”

The Pope's telegram was sent after a 6.4 magnitude earthquake struck the East China Sea just 13 miles north of the Taiwanese city of Hwalien late Feb. 6.

Tremors were felt as far north as the capital city of Taipei, which sits roughly 74 miles from Hwalien. At least 15 aftershocks followed, measuring as high as 4.8, and could still be felt Wednesday morning.

According to CNN, at least seven people have been killed and some 258 injured, with dozens still missing. Extensive damage was done to city structures such as buildings and bridges, with many either collapsing or being held up by makeshift beams.

As aftershocks continued to rock the island Wednesday morning, some 600 military personnel and more than 750 firefighters were deployed to comb through rubble to look for survivors and help with rescue efforts.

Pope tells priests to keep homilies brief: 'no more than 10 minutes!'

Wed, 02/07/2018 - 17:43

Vatican City, Feb 7, 2018 / 04:43 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Wednesday Pope Francis touched on a topic close to home for both parish priests and people in the pews, offering his recipe for what makes a good homily, saying they should be short and well-prepared.

However, he also pointed to the amount of complaining that happens when people are unenthusiastic about homilies, and told faithful that even when bored, they also have to make an effort by actively listening, and being patient with the limits of their pastor.

“Those listening have to do their part too,” the Pope said Feb. 7, saying Mass-goers must give “the appropriate attention, thus assuming the proper interior dispositions, without subjective demands, knowing that every preacher has both his merits and his limits.”

“If sometimes there’s reason to get annoyed about an overly long homily, one that lacks focus or that’s incomprehensible, other times it’s actually the prejudice [of the listener] which creates obstacles,” he said.

However, he also urged those giving the homily, whether it's a priest, deacon or bishop, to remember that they are “offering a real service to all those who participate in Mass.”

The homily has been a source of pastoral concern and interest for the Pope since the beginning. He devoted a large portion of his 2013 apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium – often seen as a blueprint for his papacy – to the homily.

Quoting the document, Francis said the homily “is not a casual discourse, nor a conference or a lesson,” but is rather a way of resuming “that dialogue which has already been opened between the Lord and his people, so that it finds fulfillment in life.”

“Whoever gives the homily must be conscious that they are not doing their own thing, they are preaching, giving voice to Jesus, preaching the World of Jesus,” he said. Because of this, homilies “should be well prepared, and they must be brief!”

To drive the point home, Francis told a story, recounting how a priest had once told him that when visiting another town where the priests' parents lived, the father had said “I’m happy, because me and my friends found a church where they do the Mass without a homily.”

“How many times have we seen people sleeping during a homily, or chatting among themselves, or outside smoking a cigarette?” he said. When people laughed at the notion, Francis responded, saying “it’s true, you all know’s true!”

“Please,” he said, “be more than 10 minutes, please!”

Pope Francis spoke during his weekly general audience in the Vatican's Paul VI Hall, continuing his catechesis on the liturgy. After reflecting on the Liturgy of the Word last week, today he focused on the Gospel and the homily.

Just as with the liturgical celebration, in scripture “Christ is the center and the fullness,” Francis said. “Jesus Christ is always there at the center, always.”

On the readings, he noted that while all the readings are significant, the Gospel is especially important, which is seen by the fact that the priest kisses the text and incenses it before reading the daily passage, and the congregation stands to listen to the reading on their feet.

“From these signs the assembly recognizes the presence of Christ who brings them the good news which converts and transforms,” he said, explaining that we don't stand to hear the Gospel itself, but Christ, who speaks to us through the reading.

“It's for this reason that we are attentive, because it's a direct conversation,” he said.

Because of this, the Gospel isn't read during Mass simply to “know how things went,” but to increase our awareness that these are the things Jesus himself said and did.

“The Word of Jesus which is in the Gospel is living and arrives to my heart,” he said. And because Jesus still communicates with us through the Gospel readings, every Mass we must give him a response, Francis said, adding that “we listen to the Gospel and we must give a response in our lives.”

According to the Vatican Gendarmerie, roughly 8,000 people attended the Pope's audience. After his address, they were all treated to a performance with juggling, balancing acts and other tricks by members of the Rony Rollers Circus. The spectacle has become a regular appearance in general audiences, with different circus troupes performing every few weeks.

Francis also noted how tomorrow marks the World Day of Prayer against Human Trafficking and voiced support for the event, which takes place annually on the Feast of St. Josephine Bakhita.

He also gave a shout-out to the Winter Olympics, which opens on Friday in Pyeongchang in South Korea, and which will be attended by Msgr. Melchor Sanchez de Toca, Undersecretary of the Pontifical Council for Culture, who is representing the Holy See at the opening ceremony Friday, Feb. 9.

This year's games will hold a special importance, he said, noting how the delegations from both North and South Korea will march in together under one flag depicting the entire Korean peninsula, and will compete as one team.

“This fact gives hope for a world in which conflicts are resolved peacefully with dialogue and mutual respect, as sports teaches (us) to do,” he said, and prayed that the Olympics would be “a great celebration of friendship and sport.”

In rare letter, Benedict XVI says he's 'on pilgrimage home'

Wed, 02/07/2018 - 15:18

Vatican City, Feb 7, 2018 / 02:18 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In a rare new letter penned by Benedict XVI, the retired pontiff said he is in the last phase of his life, and while his physical strength might be waning, he is surrounded by a “love and goodness” that he never imagined.

“I can only say that at the end of a slow decline in physical strength, inwardly I am on pilgrimage home,” Benedict XVI said in the letter, published Feb. 7 in Italian daily Corriere della Sera.

He said that “it's a great grace for me to be to be surrounded in this last piece of the road, which is at times a bit tiring, by a love and goodness that I could never have imagined.”

Benedict addressed the letter to Italian journalist Massimo Franco of Corriere della Sera, who was charged with the task of presenting the retired pontiff with letters expressing concern and asking about his well-being five years after resigning from the papacy.

He shocked the world when he announced his resignation Feb. 11, 2013, declaring that the See of Peter would be vacant as of 8 p.m. on Feb. 28. A conclave was called to name his successor, and on March 13, 2013, Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected Bishop of Rome, and took the name Francis.

In his letter, published Feb. 7 on the front page of Corriere della Sera, Benedict said he was moved that so many readers from the paper “want to know how I've spent this last period of my life.”

He said he considers the questions and concerns of the readers part of the love he has experienced, and sees them as “an accompaniment” on the last phase of his life.

“Because of this,” he said, “I cannot but be thankful, on my part assuring you all of my prayers. Best regards.”

Holy See to participate in Olympic opening ceremony, IOC strategy session

Wed, 02/07/2018 - 02:00

Vatican City, Feb 6, 2018 / 01:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A delegation from the Holy See is in South Korea this week to participate in the opening of the Winter Olympic games, and for the first time, to observe a key strategic meeting ahead of opening ceremony.

Msgr. Melchor Sánchez de Toca, Undersecretary of the Pontifical Council for Culture, will be the Holy See's official representative at the event. He will be accompanied by Stefano Calvigioni of the Italian Olympic Committee, who helps coordinate between his own organization, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the Vatican.

Opening Feb. 9 in Pyeongchang, South Korea, this year's games will last until Feb. 25. The main skiing, snowboarding and sliding events will take place in Pyeongchang, which is part of South Korea's Gangwon province, and sits near the border with North Korea.

Other events such as skating, hockey and curling events will take place in the city of Gangneung, about an hour's drive from Pyeongchang.

In addition to representing the Holy See at the opening ceremony, Sánchez de Toca is also participating as an observer in the Feb. 5-7 IOC Olympic Session, marking the first time they've been invited to attend the meeting.

The Holy See has been present at the Olympics before, having attended the opening ceremony in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 2016. However, the invite to the Olympic Session marks a first for the Vatican.

In comments to CNA, Sánchez de Toca said the Holy See received the invitation from Thomas Bach, president of the IOC, and that the invite, particularly to attend the Olympic Session, “is important,” especially since the Holy See has no Olympic committee of its own.

The IOC session is a large, general meeting in which all members of the IOC, the National Olympic Committees (NOC), the presidents of Federations of Olympic sports and other organizations meet to discuss major themes on the agenda for the Olympics. Candidate cities for future Olympic events are also chosen in the session, and numerous strategic projects are approved.

Sánchez de Toca told CNA that the Holy See is present as a sovereign entity, but as representatives of the Holy Father, they bring “the voice of the conscience and morals, which ultimately come from the message of Christ and of the Gospel.”

Referring specifically to ongoing tensions between North and South Korea over the former's nuclear programs, he said the Holy See backs any efforts for reconciliation that have been made and that will be made during the games.

After a year ripe with heightened nuclear tensions, this year's Winter Olympics carries a significant weight, since North Korea will have 22 athletes participating in the games.

The two Koreas have endured years of diplomatic freeze over the North's nuclear programs, and fears over a possible nuclear war have been especially acute in recent months.

However, the two Koreas have agreed to march under a unified flag at the opening ceremonies for the Games, and the two have even gone so far as to form a unified women's hockey team, with 12 North Korean players joining South Korea's team.

In addition to their athletes and Vice Sports Minister Won Kil U, North Korea is expected to send some 230 spectators, plus 140 more artists, journalists and taekwondo experts. The last time North Korea sent a large delegation to the South was for the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon, west of Seoul.

Some experts on the region have argued that the North is planning to use increased ties with the South as a means of weakening U.S.-led sanctions against the country.

"North Korea is projecting this idea that the sanctions regime against North Korea is very artificial and also an obstacle against the improvement of inter Korean relations," Go Myong-hyun, an analyst at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul, told VOA News.

In his comments to CNA, Msgr. Sánchez de Toca said “we support the small gestures of peace which are able to invite the delegates of other countries to continue negotiations for peace.”

He voiced hope that the Holy See will be able to participate in future Olympic events, saying the eventual goal is to “establish some time of permanent relationship between the Holy See and the IOC.”


Vatican congregation approves miracle, opening door to Paul VI’s canonization

Tue, 02/06/2018 - 23:15

Vatican City, Feb 6, 2018 / 10:15 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Tuesday the Congregation for the Causes of Saints approved the second miracle needed for the canonization of Blessed Pope Paul VI, allowing his canonization to take place, possibly later this year.

According to Vatican Insider, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints approved the miracle by a unanimous vote Feb. 6. The next step is for Pope Francis to also give his approval, with an official decree from the Vatican. Then the date for the canonization can be set.

The miracle attributed to the cause of Paul VI is the healing of an unborn child in the fifth month of pregnancy. The case was brought forward in 2014 for study.

The mother, originally from the province of Verona, Italy, had an illness that risked her own life and the life of her unborn child, and was advised to have an abortion.

A few days after the beatification of Paul VI on Oct. 19, 2014, she went to pray to him at the Shrine of Holy Mary of Grace in the town of Brescia. The baby girl was later born in good health, and remains in good health today.

The healing was first ruled as medically inexplicable by the medical council of the congregation last year, while the congregation's consulting theologians agreed that the healing occurred through the late pope's intercession.

Today's meeting with cardinals was the final step before Cardinal Angelo Amato, head of the congregation, will take the miracle to Pope Francis, who has the final say in its approval.

After the Pope issues a decree approving it, the date of the canonization will be announced during a consistory. According to Vatican Insider, the canonization may take place in October of this year, during the Synod of Bishops on the youth.

The miracle for Paul VI's canonization echoes that of his beatification. That first miracle took place in the 1990s in California. A then-unborn child was found to have a serious health problem that posed a high risk of brain damage. Physicians advised that the child be aborted, but the mother entrusted her pregnancy to Paul VI.

The child was born without problems and is now a healthy adolescent. He is considered to be completely healed.

Pope Paul’s cause for canonization was opened in 1993. In December 2012, Pope Benedict XVI recognized the “heroic virtue” of Paul VI, giving him the title “venerable.” He was beatified in Rome on Oct. 19, 2014.

Paul VI was born Giovanni Montini in 1897 in the town of Concesio in the Lombardy region of Italy. He was ordained a priest at the age of 22. He served as Archbishop of Milan before his election as Pope in 1963. He died in 1978.

As pope, he oversaw much of the Second Vatican Council, which had been opened by Pope St. John XXIII. He also promulgated a new Roman Missal in 1969.

Paul VI published the encyclical Humanae Vitae in 1968, which reaffirmed the Church’s teaching against contraception and reaffirmed the merits of priestly celibacy.


This Lent, revive your enthusiasm for the faith, Pope says

Tue, 02/06/2018 - 18:29

Vatican City, Feb 6, 2018 / 05:29 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In his message for the upcoming Lenten season, Pope Francis urged people to renew their enthusiasm for the faith, using this season of prayer, fasting and almsgiving as an opportunity to stoke the flame of charity in their heart.

“Above all, I urge the members of the Church to take up the Lenten journey with enthusiasm, sustained by almsgiving, fasting and prayer,” the Pope said in his message, published Feb. 6.

“If, at times, the flame of charity seems to die in our own hearts, know that this is never the case in the heart of God! He constantly gives us a chance to begin loving anew.”

At the Easter Vigil, we will light the Easter candle, he said, explaining how it symbolizes a “new fire,” and will “slowly overcome the darkness and illuminate the liturgical assembly.”

“May the light of Christ rising in glory dispel the darkness of our hearts and minds,” he continued. “By listening to God’s word and drawing nourishment from the table of the Eucharist, may our hearts be ever more ardent in faith, hope and love.”

Written on the Solemnity of All Saints, the Pope’s message for Lent is on the theme: “Because of the increase of iniquity, the love of many will grow cold (Matt. 24:12).”

In the message, he warned against both cold hearts and “false prophets,” which he said tempt us to be led and enslaved by our emotions, or by a desire for wealth. “How many of God’s children are mesmerized by momentary pleasures, mistaking them for true happiness!” he wrote.

This is the core of Pope Francis’ Lenten message: to draw attention to the fact that there are many experiences which “whittle away all of [our] enthusiasm and zeal” for the faith, Cardinal Peter Turkson told CNA Feb. 6.

Head of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, he said that living as a disciple of Jesus has a lot of challenges, and therefore Francis’ message highlights the need to re-kindle the fire of our faith.

“Love can become cold because there are very many things which prevent it from sustaining the warmth of enthusiasm that it had,” Turkson explained. Therefore, this message invites us, through prayer, fasting and almsgiving, to re-inspire our love of God and neighbor.

“And this is crucial because all the good works that we decide to do… are all animated by a sense of love,” he continued.

Seeing the problems in the world and within ourselves, the solution is to turn to the Church, Pope Francis said, because along with the truth, she “offers us in the Lenten season the soothing remedy of prayer, almsgiving and fasting.”

One of the biggest obstacles to charity, he continued, is the evil of greed of money, which is what almsgiving helps to counteract.

“How I would like almsgiving to become a genuine style of life for each of us!” the Pope said. “How I would like us, as Christians, to follow the example of the Apostles and see in the sharing of our possessions a tangible witness of the communion that is ours in the Church!”

Almsgiving is very fitting during Lent, he continued, but added that he hopes that “even in our daily encounters with those who beg for our assistance, we would see such requests as coming from God himself.”

Almsgiving, along with prayer and fasting, are intended as instruments to fight both sin within ourselves and its effect on the world. For from greed, follows “the rejection of God and his peace,” he said. We begin to prefer “our own desolation rather than the comfort found in his word and the sacraments.”

Greed also may lead us to violence, he noted, pointing to how we lash out, in particular, at those we think threaten the “certainties” of our lives, such as the unborn child, the elderly and infirm, the immigrant, or even just the neighbor “who does not live up to our expectations.”

Almsgiving is a way of setting us free from greed, acknowledging that “what I possess is never mine alone.”

In fasting, too, we are given the opportunity to grow, he said, both by experiencing the hunger that many people around the world experience daily, and by expressing our own “spiritual hunger and thirst for life in God.”

“Fasting wakes us up. It makes us more attentive to God and our neighbor. It revives our desire to obey God, who alone is capable of satisfying our hunger,” he said.

He explained that devoting more time to prayer also helps us to root out vice from our hearts and to find consolation in God, who is our Father and who “wants us to live life well.”

“Lent summons us, and enables us, to come back to the Lord wholeheartedly and in every aspect of our life,” the Pope said. “With this message, I would like again this year to help the entire Church experience this time of grace anew, with joy and in truth.”

He also said that the Church would again be celebrating the “24 Hours for the Lord” initiative, which is a day for the whole Church to focus on the celebration of the sacrament of reconciliation, within the context of Eucharistic adoration.

This year, it will take place March 9-10, he said, inspired by the words of Psalm 130:4, “With you is forgiveness.” In each diocese, at least one church will remain open for twenty-four consecutive hours, he said, offering opportunities for adoration and sacramental confession.

Led by Pope Francis, “24 Hours for the Lord” is a worldwide initiative which points to confession as a primary way to experience God's merciful embrace. It was launched in 2014 under the auspices of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization.

Pope, Turkish president, discuss Middle East in first Vatican meeting

Tue, 02/06/2018 - 02:00

Vatican City, Feb 5, 2018 / 01:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- On Monday, Pope Francis and the president of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdo?an, met at the Vatican, discussing the situation in the Middle East, in particular the status of Jerusalem, and the need for peace and stability in the region.

According to a Feb. 5 Vatican communique, the “cordial discussions,” which lasted around 50 minutes, highlighted “the need to promote peace and stability in the [Middle East] through dialogue and negotiation, with respect for human rights and international law.”

The two also discussed the bilateral relations between Turkey and the Holy See and the condition of the Catholic community in the country, as well as the challenges of receiving refugees and the efforts being made in this regard, the communique stated.

This was the second meeting between the two leaders and the first time a Turkish president has visited a pope in 59 years. The first meeting between Francis and Erdo?an occurred Nov. 28, 2014, during the Pope's three-day visit to Ankara and Istanbul, Turkey.

Near the end of their meeting, the Pope gifted Erdo?an a small medallion, depicting an angel of peace choking a demon of war, and told Erdo?an that it is the symbol of a world based on peace and justice.

He also gave the president an etching of St. Peter's Basilica, depicting the basilica as it looked in the 1600s, as well as the customary gift of copies of his environmental encyclical Laudato Si and his message for the World Day of Peace 2018.

Erdo?an gave the Pope a large image made of hand-painted tiles, depicting a panoramic view of Istanbul, including the Hagia Sophia and the historic Sultan Ahmet Mosque, also known as the “Blue Mosque.” Seeing the painting, Francis said, “beautiful, beautiful.”

He also gave the Pope four books by Rumi Mevlana, an Iranian theologian who lived with dervishes in Turkey for many years, along with a copy of the Masnavi, which is a poem written by the Persian Sufi poet Rumi, and as two books about the poet's life.

There were around 20 people in Erdo?an's delegation, including his wife and son, and his son-in-law, Turkey’s Minister of Energy. At the end of the meeting, Pope Francis accompanied the first lady to the door. Francis asked her to “pray for me,” to which Erdo?an said, “we too expect a prayer from you.”

Afterward, Erdo?an met with Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin and Secretary for Relations with States Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher.

Kurdish demonstrators in Rome protested the meeting, because of Turkey’s military offensive on Kurdish areas in northern Syria, which began last month.

When Erdo?an left the Vatican, protesters tried to make their way into St. Peter’s Square, but were stopped by riot police, and at least one person was injured in the altercation.

Demonstrators had also tried to enter St. Peter's Square on Sunday, but were blocked by police. 150 protesters also set up on Monday near Rome's Castel Sant'Angelo, a monument close to the Vatican, holding Turkish Workers’ Party (PKK) flags.


A 2015 letter detailed allegations against Barros. Did the Pope receive it?

Tue, 02/06/2018 - 01:28

Vatican City, Feb 5, 2018 / 12:28 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A Chilean survivor of sexual abuse says that he wrote a letter to Pope Francis in 2015, claiming that Bishop Juan Barros of Chile witnessed abuse perpetrated by his friend, Father Fernando Karadima, and that the Pope failed to act on the letter.
In April 2015, Marie Collins, then a member of the Vatican’s Pontifical Commission for Minors (PCMP), along with three other members of the Commission, met with Cardinal Sean O’Malley, the Pope’s top advisor on sex abuse, giving him a letter from a victim of Karadima to deliver to the Pope, according to a Feb. 5 report from the Associated Press.
The meeting followed Francis’ controversial appointment of Barros as Bishop of Osorno, Chile, in January 2015.
Collins told the AP that O’Malley said he would deliver the letter to Pope Francis. The letter’s author, Juan Carlos Cruz, now living and working in Philadelphia, told the AP that O’Malley told him in 2015 that the letter had been delivered to Francis.
The eight-page letter alleges that as a young priest, Barros witnessed the sexual abuse of other young priests and teens by Karadima, including kissing and genital-touching, “innumerable times” and that he “covered up everything.”
It also states that Barros himself was engaged in sexual acts with Karadima.
Karadima, who once led a lay movement from his parish in El Bosque, was convicted of sexually abusing minors in a 2011 Vatican trial, and at the age of 84, was sentenced to a life of prayer and solitude.
The AP report comes less than one week after Pope Francis appointed Archbishop Charles J. Scicluna of Malta, widely regarded as an expert in the canonical norms governing allegations of sexual abuse, as a Vatican delegate to examine accusations against Barros.

The Pope has defended Barros on multiple occasions, including the return-flight from Chile Jan. 21, when he told journalists that he had not seen any evidence against Barros. He also said: “If a person comes and gives me evidence, I am the first to listen to him. We should be just.”
In a Jan. 30 statement the Vatican said that “following some information recently received regarding the case of Juan de la Cruz Barros Madrid,” the Pope has asked Scicluna to travel to Santiago “to listen to those who have expressed the desire to submit items in their possession.”
In addition to overseeing the Diocese of Malta, in 2015 Scicluna was named by the Pope to oversee the doctrinal team charged with handling appeals filed by clergy accused of abuse in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Scicluna served as the congregation’s Promoter of Justice for 17 years, beginning in 1995.
Fr. Robert Gahl, a professor of ethics at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome, told CNA Feb. 5 that the case of Karadima and Barros “is kind of particular,” because at the time of the abuse, Barros wasn’t a bishop yet.
Therefore, “his alleged failure to report did not constitute episcopal negligence and yet his being somehow an accessory, at least insofar as he is accused of not having stopped a crime from taking place, would constitute the negligence of someone who is now a bishop,” he noted.
It is not known if Pope Francis has or has not seen Cruz’s letter, and Gahl said that just because someone can write to him, “doesn’t mean that he actually sees the letter personally.” It appears that until recently, the Pope did not have had the full information, he said.
In 2015, the year the letter was reportedly given to Pope Francis, the Vatican took measures against other Church authorities accused of covering up or failing to report clergy sexual abuse in their dioceses.
Bishop Robert Finn, formerly head of the St. Joseph-Kansas City, Missouri diocese, resigned in April 2015, after being convicted of a misdemeanor for failure to report an allegation of clergy sexual abuse.
Also in 2015, the resignation of Bishop John Nienstedt, formerly head of the St. Paul-Minneapolis diocese, was accepted by the Vatican after he was accused of negligence in the handling of some allegations of sexual abuse.


Pope announces day of prayer, fasting for Congo and South Sudan

Sun, 02/04/2018 - 17:12

Vatican City, Feb 4, 2018 / 04:12 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Sunday Pope Francis announced that the first Friday of Lent would be a day of prayer and fasting for peace given the many ongoing conflicts throughout the world, particularly those in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan.

“Facing the tragic continuation of conflicts in different parts of the world, I invite all the faithful to a special day of prayer and fasting for peace Feb. 23, the Friday of the first week of Lent,” the Pope said Feb. 4.

He asked that the day be offered specifically for the people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan and invited both non-Catholics and non-Christians to join “in the ways they deem most appropriate.”

“Our heavenly Father always listens to his children who cry out to him in pain and anguish,” he said, and made a “heartfelt appeal” for each one of us to “hear this cry and, each one according to their own conscience, before God, ask ourselves: 'What can I do to make peace?'”

While prayer is always an effective resolution, more can be done, Francis said, explaining that each person “can concretely say no to violence to the extent that it depends on him or herself. Because victories obtained with violence are false victories, while working for peace does good for all!”

The Pope's appeal, which he made during his Sunday Angelus address, comes just two months after a Nov. 23 prayer vigil for peace in the two countries.

With plans to visit South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo last year thwarted by ongoing conflict, Pope Francis organized the prayer vigil in order to pray for an end to war in the two countries and to ask for comfort for victims of the violence.

He had planned to visit South Sudan last fall alongside Anglican Primate Archbishop Joseph Welby for an ecumenical trip aimed at promoting peace in the conflict-ridden country. However, due to safety concerns, the visit was postponed until the situation on the ground stabilizes.

South Sudan has been in the middle of a brutal civil war for the past three-and-a-half years, which has divided the young country between those loyal to its President Salva Kiir and those loyal to former vice president Reik Machar. The conflict has also bred various divisions of militia and opposition groups.

Since the beginning of the war, some 4 million citizens have left the violence-stricken country in hopes of finding peace, food and work. In August 2017 Uganda received the one-millionth South Sudanese refugee, highlighting the urgency of the crisis as the world's fastest growing refugee epidemic.

For those who haven't fled the nation, many internally displaced persons (IDPs) have sought refuge in churches for protection from violence. Most IDPs are typically women, children and those who have lost their families in the war.  

Many are too fearful to stay in their homes because they know they could be killed, tortured, raped or even forced to fight. And despite successful partnerships between the local Church, aid agencies and the government, refugees in many areas still need a proper supply of food.

On Friday the U.S. banned the export of weapons sales in South Sudan and urged other nations to do the same over growing frustration at the country's inability to put an end to the conflict.

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, political unrest first erupted in 2015 after a bill was proposed which would potentially delay the presidential and parliamentary elections. The bill was widely seen by the opposition as a power grab on the part of Kabila.

Relations between the government and the opposition deteriorated further when a Kasai chief was killed last August, after calling on the central government to quit meddling in the territory, insisting it be controlled by the local leaders.

Catholic bishops in the country had helped to negotiate an agreement, which hoped to prevent a renewed civil war by securing an election this year for the successor of President Kabila. However, in January of this year, the bishops said the agreement was expected to fail unless both parties were willing to compromise. In March, the bishops withdrew from mediation talks.

With a history of bloody ethnic rivalries and clashes over resources, fears have developed that the violence in Kasai, a hub for political tension, will spread to the rest of the nation and even lead to the involvement of neighboring countries.

In the past year alone, more than 3,300 people have been killed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s Kasai region. The death toll includes civilians caught in the crossfire of a brutal fight between the Congolese army and an opposing militia group.

According to the Guardian, violence in the east of the country in recent weeks has increased to the extent that last week alone some 7,000 people fled to neighboring Burundi and another 1,200 into Tanzania.

In terms of a humanitarian crisis, the Food and Agriculture Organization last week pointed to an “alarming food insecurity” in the country, due largely to the fact that violence has now spread into areas that were previously considered stable, such as the Kasai and Tanganyika  provinces. In the past six months alone, the number of people experiencing extreme hunger has risen by 2 million, rising to about 7.7 million people, which is roughly 10% of the population.

After reflecting on the day's Gospel reading from Mark and leading faithful in praying the Angelus, Pope Francis also offered his prayer and closeness to the people of Madagascar, who were recently hit by a massive cyclone which so far has left at least 51 people dead and has caused extensive damage.

Francis assured of his prayer, and asked that the Lord would “comfort and sustain” all those who have died or who have been displaced.

Vatican-China bishops deal is 'imminent', sources say

Sun, 02/04/2018 - 02:25

Vatican City, Feb 3, 2018 / 01:25 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Several sources familiar with a proposed deal between the Chinese government and the Holy See have said the landmark agreement is not only a possibility, but an “imminent” certainty that could come to fruition as early as this spring.

While no specific timeline has been given for the agreement, “I've heard that it is imminent. And in China, in many areas and environments, it is already taken as a done deal,” Henry Cappello told CNA Feb. 2.

President of the “Caritas in Veritate International” organization, Cappello travels to China on a regular basis to offer training to the country's bishops, and has strong ties with both those approved by the Holy See and those backed by the communist government's Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association.

Cappello was in China two weeks ago, where Joseph Ma Yinglin, the government-backed bishop of Kunming, explained the proposed deal to him.

Without the Vatican's consent, Ma was tapped by the patriotic association to head the diocese in 2006. After his episcopal ordination, Ma’s excommunication was declared by the Vatican, because he was ordained a bishop without approval from Rome. In 2010 he was appointed president of the Chinese patriotic association’s bishops’ conference.

As part of the agreement, which has been widely reported in recent days, the Vatican is expected to officially recognize seven bishops who are out of communion with Rome, including 2-3 bishops, one of which is Ma, whose excommunications have been explicitly declared by the Vatican.

Most notably, the new deal would also apparently outline government and Vatican roles in future episcopal selection.  Reportedly, the details of the deal would have the Vatican proposing names and the Chinese government having the final say over Vatican-vetted candidates.

Cappello said the proposal has already been discussed in China, and he believes “this is the direction that things are going.”

In 1951 Beijing broke official diplomatic ties with the Vatican. Since the 1980s they have loosely cooperated in episcopal appointments, however, the government has also named bishops without Vatican approval.

The result has led to a complicated and tense relationship between the patriotic association and the “underground Church,” which includes priests and bishops who are not recognized by the government.

Many Catholics parishioners and priests who have rejected government control have been imprisoned, harassed and otherwise persecuted.

Currently every bishop recognized by Beijing must be a member of the patriotic association, and many bishops appointed by the Vatican who are not recognized or approved by the Chinese government have faced government persecution.

Many of the Vatican-approved bishops in China are drawing near to the age of 75, when they are required to submit their request for retirement, and many others have died, yet few successors have been named, raising questions as to whether or not a deal might be drawing near.

Regarding the seven bishops who will be recognized should a new agreement come to pass, Msgr. Anthony Figueiredo, who has worked with the seven bishops in question through the Caritas in Veritate for the past several years and was in China in July 2017, confirmed the news on the bishops’ proposed approval, saying “if the Vatican is going to accept them and an accord be reached, it's going to be for all of them. ”

Figueiredo, who lives in Rome, travels to China several times a year with Caritas in Veritate, said he has worked closely with the seven bishops in question, and “they have desired this communion for years.”

He personally delivered a letter from the bishops to the Pope in 2016, which he says told the Pope they wanted communion with Rome.

“They didn't propose the deal, certainly not in the letter they gave me, because that's what's come afterwards,” he said, noting that the Vatican has on several occasions sent a delegation to Beijing to discuss the details of a possible agreement.

Figueiredo said the deal could come within the next few months, saying “I think it could well come this spring, absolutely.”

For his part, Cappello said he could neither confirm nor deny any specific details of the agreement, but that as of two weeks ago during his visit to China, “we are talking in the right direction” in terms of what's already been reported.

He said that in his view, to say China would have the final say in bishop appointments oversimplifies the matter, because the Church in China is complicated and nuanced due to its relations with a communist state.

“The Chinese bishops in China would have a big say, but knowing that the Church in China is in a communist nation, then the Church and the State, the line between them is very narrow,” he said.

“There's really no black and white, there's overlap there, so of course there would be an input from the will be a collaboration,” Cappello said.

And as someone that has traveled back and forth to various provinces in China for the past 25 years, he said he has seen progress he calls remarkable, in terms of relations in the past decade, and during the past five years in particular.

With this deal, Pope Francis “is building bridges,” he said, adding that he believes the stronger and more vocal opponents of the accord “are on the wrong side of history.”

One of the most outspoken critics of a deal with the Chinese government has been Cardinal Joseph Zen, Archbishop Emeritus of Hong Kong.

Zen was ordained a priest in 1961 and became a bishop in 1996. He has spent a long missionary career in China, and has long been a vocal protester against human-rights abuses in China.

His concerns have grown so great that he recently traveled to Rome to meet with Pope Francis about the proposed deal, after the Vatican asked Bishop Peter Zhuang Jianjian of Shantou in southern Guangdong province and Bishop Joseph Guo Xijin from the Mindong Diocese of China’s eastern Fujian province to retire so that bishops from the patriotic association could take their place.

In a letter posted to his blog Jan. 29, Cardinal Zen said that while his meeting with the Pope last week was consoling, he believes “the Vatican is selling out the Catholic Church in China...if they go in the direction which is obvious from all what they are doing in recent years and months.”

He implied that Francis was unfamiliar with the situation, and questioned whether there could be any mutual ground with “a totalitarian regime,” comparing this to a hypothetical agreement between St. Joseph and King Herod. He said that if the agreement that comes out is a poor one, “I would be more than happy to be the obstacle.”

The Vatican immediately responded, and in a Jan. 30 statement said Francis is well-informed of the dialogue with China, so “it is therefore surprising and regrettable that the contrary is affirmed by people in the Church, thus fostering confusion and controversy.”

In a Jan. 31 interview with Italian paper La Stampa , Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin spoke of the proposed deal, and, though he didn't mention Zen's comments specifically, said “no one should cling to the spirit of opposition to condemn his brother or use the past as an excuse to stir up new resentments and closures.”

On the deal, he said that “if someone is asked to make a sacrifice, small or great, it must be clear to everyone that this is not the price of a political exchange, but falls within the evangelical perspective of a greater good, the good of the Church of Christ”

Figueriedo told CNA he believes the Vatican was quick to counter Zen in order to protect the deal, because “it really takes just one person on the Chinese side to say 'you shouldn't go ahead,'” which he says has happened in the past.

Should a deal come to fruition, Cappello said he hoped it would help normalize life for Catholic faithful and allow priests, bishops and seminarians to receive much needed formation.

China is extremely complex, he said, explaining that the Vatican has reached a point of understanding the nation which is both “encouraging and remarkable.”

However, he said there are real reasons for concern based on past events, and that any agreement is something that those on both sides will need to grow into.

CNA reached out to the Vatican for confirmation, however, they declined to comment on the situation.

Cardinal Marx endorses blessing ceremonies for same-sex couples

Sat, 02/03/2018 - 22:31

Munich, Germany, Feb 3, 2018 / 09:31 am (CNA).- The president of the German Bishops’ Conference has declared that, in his view, Catholic priests can conduct blessing ceremonies for homosexual couples.

Cardinal Reinhard Marx told the Bavarian State Broadcasting’s radio service that “there can be no rules” about this question. Rather, the decision of whether a homosexual union should receive the Church’s blessing should be up to “a priest or pastoral worker” and made in each individual case, the German prelate stated.

Speaking on Feb. 3, on the occasion of his 10th anniversary as Archbishop of Munich and Freising, Cardinal Marx was asked why "the Church does not always move forward when it comes to demands from some Catholics about, for instance, the ordination of female deacons, the blessing of homosexual couples, or the abolition of compulsory [priestly] celibacy."

Marx said that, for him, the important question to be asked regards how “the Church can meet the challenges posed by the new circumstances of life today - but also by new insights, of course," particularly concerning pastoral care.

Describing this as a “fundamental orientation” emphasized by Pope Francis, Marx called for the Church to take “the situation of the individual, ... their life-story, their biography, ... their relationships” more seriously and accompany them, as individuals accordingly.

Marx has recently called for an individualized approach to pastoral care, which, he has said, is neither subject to general regulations nor is it relativism.

Such “closer pastoral care” must also apply to homosexuals, Cardinal Marx told the Bavarian State Broadcaster: "And one must also encourage priests and pastoral workers to give people in concrete situations encouragement. I do not really see any problems there."

The specific liturgical form such blessings – or other forms of “encouragement” – should take is a quite different question, the Munich archbishop continued, and one that requires further careful consideration.

Asked whether he really was saying that he “could imagine a way to bless homosexual couples in the Catholic Church," Marx answered, "yes" – adding however, that there could be "no general solutions."

"It’s about pastoral care for individual cases, and that applies in other areas as well, which we can not regulate, where we have no sets of rules."

The decision should be made by "the pastor on the ground, and the individual under pastoral care" said Marx, reiterating that, in his view, "there are things that can not be regulated."