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Christian refugees reportedly forced to say Muslim prayers for food in Sudan

Khartoum, Sudan, Sep 19, 2017 / 12:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Christian children in Sudanese refugee camps are reportedly being given food only after they recite Muslim prayers, a papal aid group says.

According to Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), a papal charity that provides aid to persecuted Christians around the world, there are reports of Christian children who have fled violence in South Sudan being forced to recite Muslim prayers in order to receive food at several refugee camps in the Sudan.

Other reports from priests in the area have confirmed that the discrimination is taking place at refugee camps in Sudan, where refugees fleeing the conflict in the South Sudan suffer from poor conditions.

Seven southern states gained independence from Sudan in 2011 and the country of South Sudan was formed. Less than three years later, in December of 2013, a civil war began that has created one of the world’s fastest-growing refugee crisis.

Over two million refugees and asylum-seekers have fled the conflict to neighboring countries, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, including hundreds of thousands who have fled north into Sudan.

Many are displaced from their homes within South Sudan and have sought shelter at churches, and millions are threatened by an emergency food crisis. In February, the UN declared a famine in parts of the country.

Aid workers have described the conditions in South Sudan as appalling, with hunger, murder, and rape becoming commonplace.

For refugees who have fled north into Sudan, conditions have reportedly been poor in the camps, according to ACN. Children in the refugee camps are being told to recite Islamic prayers before they receive their food, which is provided by the UNHCR, non-government organizations, and the Sudanese government, according to sources.

Refugees of all religions who are living outside the camps have reportedly not received sufficient amounts of food from the government, but Christians have reportedly received especially unfair treatment, ACN said.

The reports of discrimination against Christian refugees come amid concerns about the government of Sudan and its forceful promotion of Islam.

“In the case of Sudan, the same cast of characters, the same power base that promotes a perverted and violent expression of Islam is still in power,” David Dettoni, senior adviser to the Sudan Relief Fund, testified before a congressional panel on April 26.

ACN also cited reports of Christian churches in Sudan being destroyed under the guise of town planning.

Archbishop calls for peace amid protests over St Louis verdict

Washington D.C., Sep 18, 2017 / 04:29 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Archbishop of St. Louis called for prayer and peace after a judge acquitted a former St. Louis police officer in the shooting of a man in 2011.

“If we want peace and justice, we must come together as a community through prayer, mutual understanding, and forgiveness,” Archbishop Robert Carlson said Sept. 15. “While acknowledging the hurt and anger, we must not fuel the fires of hatred and division.”

On Friday, St. Louis Circuit Judge Timothy Wilson acquitted former officer Jason Stockley of first-degree murder charges in the shooting of 24 year-old Anthony Lamar Smith in 2011. Stockley, a white officer with the St. Louis Police Department, fatally shot Smith after a car chase.

The case received special attention in the wake of another high profile case in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014, where police officer Darren Wilson fatally shot 18 year-old Michael Brown. Riots occurred in the area, pointing to longstanding racial tensions and alleging a history of police abuse.

Over the weekend, demonstrations in protest of Friday’s ruling took place in the city’s downtown area. Marchers called for reforms to the justice system and called attention to racism. The mayor’s house was reportedly damaged in the protests.

Demonstrations on Saturday began peacefully but turned violent after dark, the St. Louis Police Department reported on its Facebook page on Saturday night. Nine officers had been injured by late Saturday night, and tear gas was deployed after officers had been pelted with bricks and other objects, the department said.

On Sunday, the police reported making arrests after protesters blocked street intersections and orders to disperse were ignored; the department reported over 100 arrests made, according to the Washington Post. The Guardian reported that a group of police officers in riot gear chanted “Whose street? Our street” on the side of a street on Sunday. On Monday morning, the demonstrations were peaceful and no arrests were made, the department said.

Archbishop Carlson said that prayer and solidarity are the answers to the verdict, not violence and discord. “We must ask God for peace in our own hearts and share it with those around us,” he said.

“Violence does not lead to peace and justice – they are opposing forces and cannot coexist. I implore each of you to choose peace! Reject the false and empty hope that violence will solve problems. Violence only creates more violence,” he said.

An interreligious prayer service for peace has been planned for 3 p.m. on Tuesday at Kiener Plaza, led by Archbishop Carlson and other religious leaders.

“We must work together for a better, stronger, safer community, one founded upon respect for each other, and one in which we see our neighbor as another self,” the archbishop said.

In fight against sex abuse, Australian archbishop sees progress, challenges

Brisbane, Australia, Sep 18, 2017 / 02:50 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Amid ongoing controversy surrounding clerical sex abuse in Australia, one of the country's archbishops believes the local Churches are making progress – but still face a long journey ahead.

“It's very much a work in progress; we still have a long way to go,” said Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane, according to the Australian Associated Press.

“Because it's not just a matter of changing procedures and protocols but of building a culture, and that takes time,” he continued.

Over the years, Australia's sexual abuse crisis has been one of the most infamous within the Church. A recent report from the Australian Royal Commission found that seven percent of Catholic priests in Australia serving between 1950-2009 have been accused of child sex crimes.

One of the most recent cases is that of Cardinal George Pell of Melbourne, who was accused of ignoring sexual abuse claims against Fr. Gerald Ridsdale, who has since been dismissed from the clerical state.

Cardinal Pell himself is also facing sexual abuse charges dating back to 1961, to which he has pleaded not guilty. His preliminary hearing is set for Oct. 6.

Other abuse claims within the country prompted the Australian Royal Commission to create the Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse organization, which was officially established in 2013. The group investigates how child sex abuse claims are handled within the country, particularly in religious environments, as well as in education, government, and sporting.

The commission has been investigating the Catholic Church in Australia, going so far as to propose that priests be legally obligated to disclose sexual abuse sins which have been admitted in the confessional, or face criminal charges. They have also proposed 85 additional changes to Australia’s criminal justice system.

Amid the commission’s investigation, some of the country's clergy have responded, including Archbishop Denis Hart of Melbourne and Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney, who both expressed sorrow and regret for the Church’s failure in this area.

A recent report conducted by RMIT University found that the Catholic Church in Australia was “significantly behind” in its development of standards and procedures that protect against child sexual abuse, compared to similar countries.

However, Archbishop Coleridge noted that the report may not be completely accurate, since the Church has promoted some efforts to combat sexual abuse claims which are more behind-the-scenes. He pointed to the Archdiocese of Brisbane, which now has safeguarding officers and external auditing.

The Catholic educational system in Australia has also made strides. Archbishop Coleridge noted that the Catholic schools are now “probably the safest places in the nation for a child to be.”

In addition, the Catholic Church established a new non-profit group in 2016 called Catholic Professional Standards Limited, which promotes protection for children against abuse by auditing and reporting on Catholic entities.

While these efforts are pointing the Church in Australia in the right direction, Archbishop Coleridge said that the Church does have a long way to go.  

“Australia has done some things well and some things badly,” Archbishop Coleridge said, adding, “but that's true of any country.”

Cardinal Gracias: curial reform is nearing the 'end of the tunnel'

Vatican City, Sep 18, 2017 / 01:57 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Nearly four years after the Pope established his Council of Cardinal advisers to help him in the task of reforming the Roman Curia, one member of the group said their work is wrapping up, and that it could take only a few more meetings to finish what they set out to do.

The ongoing process of reform “is being done at various stages of development, and I hope we'll come to an end in all of these matters soon,” Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Bombay told CNA Sept. 14.

“It will take two or three more meetings more,” he said, adding that “by June perhaps we'll be seeing the end of the tunnel.”

Cardinal Gracias is also President of the Asian Bishops Conference and in 2013 was chosen by the Pope along with eight other prelates from around the world to advise him in matters of Church governance and reform.

He spoke to CNA in a lengthy, sit-down interview after the council – also called the “C9” – concluded their latest round of meetings last week.

As far as the reform goes, Cardinal Gracias said “there won't be very major changes; it's the governance of the Church, we can't just turn everything upside down.” Rather, it will be “a gradual change, a change of mentality, a change of approach, restructuring a bit of the departments so that they are more logically suited to the needs of today.”

He said a key goal of the C9  is to implement the vision of the Second Vatican Council, specifically when it comes to the importance of the role of the laity and women, and incorporating greater synodality and collegiality into the Church's structures.

From the beginning Pope Francis “had very clear what he wanted this group to do,” the cardinal said. “He had no hesitation, he's a good leader. He had a clear vision.”

Cardinal Gracias admitted that in the beginning he had doubts as to whether or not they were going in the right direction, and had started to worry what people on the outside might say, since many fruits of the meetings weren't and likely won't be immediately visible. He said he also struggled with doubts about the pace at which they were moving, and believed that things were going “too slow.”

“I will confess that once at the beginning I was wondering, 'are we going in the right direction?' I asked myself. But now I can see it is,” he said, explaining that Pope Francis' Christmas speech to the Roman Curia last year was a “tipping point” for him.

More than anything, there is a change in mentality that's needed, which will take longer than simply reforming the Vatican's structures, he said, but said the group is “rather confident that it will happen because the Pope is giving very effective leadership.”

In addition to the ongoing curial reform, Cardinal Gracias also spoke about the recent release of Indian priest Fr. Tom Uzhunnalil 18 months after he was abducted in Yemen. He also spoke about the Pope's upcoming trip to Myanmar and Bangladesh, and when a possible papal trip to India might take place.


Below are excerpts from CNA's interview with Cardinal Gracias:

You've seen Fr. Tom and you were at his meeting with Pope Francis. How is he doing?

I was pleasantly surprised with calmness with which he came out, because he did not know, to my knowledge, that he was being released. But he said I know people have prayed for me, I'm grateful for the people who were praying for me, but he kept on saying 'Jesus is great, Jesus is great.' And then he told the Holy Father. It was a very moving moment. As soon as the Holy Father came he prostrated in front of the Holy Father and kissed his feet, and he said, 'thank you, thank you, thank you. Thank you Holy Father, but just one message I want to give you: Jesus Christ is great. Jesus was with me right through, I could sense the presence of God with me'...And once I thought the Holy Father had tears in his eyes. When Tom kept on speaking about Jesus, this is what he told the Holy Father: please tell the people that Jesus is great! I would say that he's come out of it with an experience of the presence of the Lord, and I think at that moment the Holy Father had tears in his eyes...I met the Holy Father later that afternoon, and he was telling me how impressed he was. He was also surprised with the calmness of the man, with Tom...He was a man who is perhaps strengthened in the faith after this experience, and not bitter about anything. Particularly about his captors, he was very understanding. It was a special experience, very edifying. He needs rest, certainly, he'll have a medical exam and he'll be with his superiors, but eventually he'll go back (to India). So thank God really. It was an anxious moment for the whole Church in India. We didn't know what was happening, but we understood that putting more pressure, in the perspective of the government, could make things more difficult for him. (But) he's not really stressed in any way you can make out. Physically weak, but spiritually strong. When he met the Holy Father, he was weeping right through it. And the Holy Father was very touched, he kissed his hand and blessed him...He felt the comfort and strength of the entire Church. As he said, there was never a moment when he felt abandoned, either by the Church or by God. He kept saying, 'Jesus is great.' So he came out spiritually strengthened in that sense. It was a big relief, a big blessing, and the Holy Father was overjoyed. I think the government of Oman did a very splendid job of helping out...they even brought a Salesian to accompany him on the last plane. It was very human of them, so had the comfort of a spiritual companion.

What role did the Holy See play in working out his release?

They only offered help, they kept the issue open and kept sharing. The Holy See was told he was alive, and the Holy See communicated with the Indian government. In Yemen, the political situation is very fragile, and one doesn't know who is in charge. There are bombardments and all sorts of groups are taking over, so there was always a risk I suppose, that if you tried to liberate him you could have harmed him. But they were always interested, they kept it alive. Every time I came to Rome somebody from the Secretariat of State updated me. The Vatican made sure there was interest. Any information the Holy See had, they shared it with the Indian government, the Omani government, so that was good.

It's interesting that there is still no word on who is responsible...

It's not a terrorist attack, it's a kidnapping. They wouldn't glory in taking him. That has not come out. I spent about half an hour with him before the Holy Father, and he was speaking continuously. I did not at any point attempt to ask him questions, because I think that would be a stress for him. He has got to share...he wants to share it and then I imagine you feel lighter. He's probably just got to rest, and rest and rest, physically and then mentally too, he's got to get it out of his mind. He's not come out of it a broken man at all. I was afraid of that, that he would come out a broken man, but no...It's a moment of grace, a moment of faith, a special experience. The high point was when he told the Holy Father, 'just tell everybody that Jesus is great, Jesus is great.' Just three simple words. That was like the sum of his whole experience, what he meant and why he meant it...he felt not abandoned, I suppose. I hope recovers. I imagine he needs a couple of months really, or maybe more than a couple of months, to really rest. He needs time with the family also, natural circumstances...I'm not sure about this, but I have a feeling that the Omani government decided to bring him to Rome, because they (wanted) to hand him over to the Vatican. I think it was better for him, because I think if he had gone to India he would have been mobbed by everybody. He just needs space to recover, and for doctors to examine him. Physically to see if he's alright, and psychologically also, to be investigated. I think it was a wise decision, but I think it was a decision more of the Omani government.

I don't want to exploit your time, but I wanted to ask a few questions about the process of reform and the C9. You just finished your latest round of meetings...

Yes, we just finished the latest round, the 21st meeting. I can't imagine we've had 21. I didn't realize it's 21 already. I think we are working hard. What's nice is that we're a cohesive group now. In the beginning we were all (gestures). Now we know each other so well and we work together, and of course trying to implement the Holy Father's vision of the Church. Also, one of the things we always say, and it's very clear, before the conclave the cardinals had spoken a lot of their vision of the Church, and we have the texts of what all of the cardinals said, and all the cardinals gave their vision. We picked up from that, the Holy Father picked up from that, his own vision. We've focused so far … it's for a dual purpose that the group was formed: one is to help him help him in the governance of the universal Church, and the second is to revise Pastor bonus, the papal document of St. John Paul II for establishing the Curia and giving the job descriptions and the vision of each dicastery. It's to revitalize, I suppose that's what Pope Francis wants us to do, and to have a new mentality which is applying Vatican II also; how to make the Roman Curia at the service of the Holy Father more effectively, but the Churches at the local level, the Churches in the dioceses, how to make the Roman Curia assist the local Churches to be more effective pastorally, so they can be more vibrant in that sense. So I think the holy Father is satisfied with what's happening. I'm satisfied too with the way we are going ahead. We come for three days and work intensely, we work from 9:00 on the first day to 7:00 (pm) on the last day trying to wrap things up, but lots of work has been done. But it's coming to the end. I think it will take maybe two or three more meetings until we wrap up our conclusions about the dicasteries. Then of course the Holy Father will study the thing and decide. So we're going well. The feedback we receive is the Holy Father is happy, he is satisfied, and he has been using the Christmas messages sometimes to give an indication, a little progress report, so this year's Christmas message (2016). I didn't realize it, but when I read it I realized it's practically giving a progress report of what this group has been doing. I hope that it will make an impact. There won't be very major changes; it's the governance of the Church, we can't just turn everything upside down. But a gradual change, a change of mentality, a change of approach, restructuring a bit of the departments so that they are more logically suited to the needs of today, and also of answering the vision of the Second Vatican Council: the importance of lay people, synodality, collegiality, then concern about women, getting more women involved, then giving importance to the local Churches. Then reflecting on the role of episcopal conferences in all this, because that's another big issue. So all of this is being done at various stages of development, and I hope we'll come to an end in all of these matters soon. It will take two or three more meetings more, I foresee at least February, June...by June perhaps we'll be seeing the end of the tunnel.

It's been a long process...

It's been a really long process, really, but it's good. I've been in other committees of this sort, in which at the beginning we don't what we're doing, where to begin, and they you find your way and you find your vision. But here it was very clear, the Holy Father had very clear what he wanted this group to do...we were not clear in why we were called and what he wanted to do, but gradually we understood his mind. He had no hesitation, he's a good leader. He had a clear vision and he had his people with him. He's there with us, he genuinely doesn't take any other appointments. He's there except the general audience. There are emergencies of course, this time there were lots of things happening, but he participates and he listens to discussion, and every now and then he raises his hand when he wants to speak. It's very odd, but now we're accustomed to it, the Pope raising his hand (laughs) … it's very valuable, he's part of the discussion all the way through, completely inserted right in the thick of it. Certainly he doesn't speak that much, because I think we would feel inhibited and want to go in his direction. So it's just the right amount and at the right time.

Well he's very much about the process, isn't he? He doesn't want to interrupt the process that's happening...

Yes, absolutely. And he's happy. And everybody speaks their mind. We know each other so well, and we know that the Holy Father wants us to speak our minds, so no one is at any stage (overly) conscious that the Pope is there with us, no...but it's going well, I think it's going well. I will confess that once at the beginning I was wondering, 'are we going in the right direction?' I asked myself. But now I can see it is. He's a man of deep faith, the Pope. I remember having spoken to him once about the synod, I was sharing him my anxieties on whether the synods were going well, and he told me, 'Cardinal, I am not worried.' He told me that. I told him I was worried, I don't know what direction we're taking, whether we'll be able in two synods to give your vision. (He said) 'I'm not worried. It'll work out.' He knows what he wants, he's a good Jesuit, and the Jesuits know exactly what they want.

At what point were you convinced that things were going in the right direction?

After about seven or eight or nine meetings, I was beginning to wonder. My worry was what will the world say? Everybody knows we're meeting over here, but we are very limited in what we say are the fruits. What are these eight men – nine, we became nine after the Secretary (of State) joined – the nine cardinals are coming and discussing here, what's happening? They're not just coming here for debate. I was worried about the fruits not being seen, and the process being too slow. But then, especially after I heard the Holy Father's speech (at Christmas 2016), for me that was it. I was like, wow, there has been a lot done. That was absolutely...this past Christmas, it was like a progress report of this group. I'm in the group, right, but I never realized the number of things we had really discussed. Besides modifying the document, the protection of minors, the economy, updates on these things, general principles of collegiality, synodality, we're thinking about these things. Care of the Curia personnel. It's everything that the Holy Father...he isn't like us, who when we go back home we're fully in the diocese, he has this in mind and he keeps working on this fully afterwards. We go back to our dioceses and are concerned about the local Church, but he certainly follows up with what we say. I've seen it several times. He takes the group very seriously. Every now and then he would ask us to take up some point on the agenda to discuss it a bit, which he wants advice on. I think it's a new system he has started in which he gets feedback from all over the world, and he gets it from the grassroots. I think,  anyway, I hope. We come from different continents and we bring in our own experiences. But it is going well. In fact I really, really think there has been a contribution to the Holy Father, and then the Holy Father takes decisions. I have a feeling this is shared by all now. I have no doubt, this would be the general feeling of all about it. The tipping point was really his speech, but already before that, say about six or seven months before that, we began to see really when we reflected that...perhaps the Holy Father knew that that was in our minds. It was in my mind, and maybe I expressed it indirectly. And the Holy Father once commented also, he said 'we have done this much, so don't get discouraged.' So at one stage he sort of answered that doubt in my mind.

You mentioned that there's also a change of mentality needed. Other than the structural shifts, it seems that the change of mentality will be the more challenging task...

That will take longer. But we hope it will percolate down, because once you have a certain mentality you generally don't change unless the circumstances change, the ambiance changes. And in a certain sense not changing dramatically. That will I think take longer. But I'm positive that it will happen. We're very, very hopeful. We're rather confident that it will happen because the Pope is giving very effective leadership, and every now and then there is a clear message from him. But it will come about and suddenly we'll realize, oh there has been a change! That's how it will happen. It won't come overnight, but at a certain point we'll realize things have changed. He knows what he wants. And he's happy. Certainly the indication I can see is this way; the relationship he has with the group and the joy he has in being with the group. He says he feels that it has helped him. Thank God. We do what we can. I don't know how or why he chose us, but he's happy. I was very surprised when I got a call from him. I said 'why me? What have I done?' I suppose he knows. I don't know why. I did not know the Holy Father before, we've never been in any other committee before. Only at the conclave. I don't even remember having chatted with him at the conclave, or before the conclave. After the conclave it was true that I was with him. It's true that after I was with the Pope at Santa Marta for a few days. Then we were having meals together – breakfast, lunch and dinner for four or five days. That's the time we came to know each other. So we were thrown together for about a week. It struck me that after his election I was at Santa Marta, because there were five or six cardinals. All the American cardinals were there, the European cardinals, all the ones from close by left and came back (for the installation). I stayed for the installation and then went back to India. And then you share, when you speak. He was very comfortable with us, very comfortable with me. But still, he had to make a choice.

Has he mentioned anything about when a visit to India might take place?

He's very interested. We're working it out, and I'm very hopeful. He would like to come and we would like to have him, and the government would like to have him. But now we must see his program, the government's program, but I'm certain he will come. There are no details at all for the moment. I'm rather certainly positive that we will be able to get the Holy Father, he's interested and I think he's getting more interested. And the people will be excited...we are looking forward. In the beginning, as soon as he was elected, I asked him, 'when are you coming to India?' And he was sort of (disinterested), but gradually he began to like the idea. He's never been to India before. As a Jesuit I think he was supposed to go to Japan, that's what he was telling me. He's going now to Bangladesh and Myanmar. It will be very sensitive. Bangladesh has it's own problems, I believe they have elections next year, and Myanmar has problems to solve, also the refugee problem at the moment. Of late it is continuously on, I believe yesterday or this morning I saw it on CNN, and BBC is reporting on it. It's an issue for the world. I've been there (Bangladesh) a few times. It's a nice Church, concentrated mostly in Dhaka, a living faith. I've been to Myanmar also, I went as a papal legate there some years back, and I found the Church very vibrant. A simple faith, but I'm happy. I think it will mean a lot to the people. It will also strengthen the people. I think the Church is also very vibrant, it's not have any specific difficulty, in my impression as a papal legate about two or three years back, but I was very impressed by the faith and the organization. It was vibrant. The Church was small, but strong and alive. It will make a difference for the Churches, and for the governments I expect.

Will you be there?

I plan to go to both places yes. In all of these trips in Asian I've come along: Sri Lanka, Korea, the Philippines. At the moment I'm president of the Asian Bishops Conference, so I suppose in that capacity I'll have to go.

Remember the witness of your martyrs, Pope tells Japanese bishops

Vatican City, Sep 18, 2017 / 09:00 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In a letter to Japanese bishops, Pope Francis urges his brother prelates to use the example of their country's martyrs as an inspiration to continue their mission of evangelization amid modern-day challenges.

In the letter, dated Sept. 14, the Pope recalled the numerous martyrs in Japan, including Paul Miki and his 25 companions, who were killed in hatred of the faith in 1597, during a period of strong persecution in the country.  

Published Sept. 17, the letter was sent to the Japanese bishops ahead of the visit of Cardinal Fernando Filoni, Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, who will be on an official visit to Japan from Sept. 17-26.

Japan holds an important place in the Pope's heart. He wanted to be a missionary in the country while still a young Jesuit, but was unable to go due to health reasons after having part of his lung removed due to a serious pulmonary illness.

In his letter Francis also recalled the recently-beatified Justus Takayama Ukon, a prestigious samurai who chose to live in poverty and exile rather than renounce his faith, as well as the witness of Japan's numerous “hidden Christians,” who from 1600 to the mid-1800s were forced to live their faith clandestinely due to ongoing persecution.

“The long line of martyrs and confessors of the faith, by nationality, language, social class and age, had in common a deep love for the Son of God, renouncing their own civil status or other aspects of their own social condition, all in order to gain Christ,” the Pope said in the letter.

With this “spiritual heritage” in mind, the Pope addressed the bishops directly, saying they have inherited this witness and “with gentle solicitude continue the task of evangelization, especially caring for the most weak and promoting the integration of faithful from different backgrounds into the community.”

He thanked them for their commitment to the poor, as well as their efforts in cultural education, interreligious dialogue and in caring for creation, as well as the emphasis the Church in Japan places on mission.

“If the Church was born Catholic (that is, universal), it means that it was born 'going out,' that it was born missionary,” Francis said, adding that it is love of Christ which compels us “to offer our lives for the Gospel.”

“Such dynamism dies if we lose missionary enthusiasm. For this reason life is strengthened in giving it, and weakens in isolation and agitation,” he said, noting that those who “make the most” of the chances life offers are the ones “who leave the safe shore and become passionate about the mission of communicating life to others.”

Francis then turned to the passage in the Gospels when Jesus tells his disciples they are the “salt of the earth” and the “light of the world.”

Both salt and light operate in service, he said, explaining that as salt, the Church has the task of “preserving from corruption and giving flavor,” while as light she “prevents darkness from prevailing, ensuring a clear vision of reality and the purpose of existence.”

Jesus' words in this passage are also “a strong call to fidelity and authenticity,” he said, and told the bishops that God has entrusted a “great spiritual and moral mission” to the Church in Japan.

While there are “no small difficulties” in the country due to a lack of clergy, religious and a limited participation of lay faithful, the Pope stressed that “the scarcity of workers cannot reduce the commitment to evangelize.”

Current challenges, he said, “cannot make us resigned nor defer to an irenic and numbing dialogue, even if some problematic situations arouse considerable concern.”

He pointed examples of these challenges, the Pope referred to the high rates of divorce and suicide among youth; the numerous people who live “totally disengaged from social life;” the presence of religious and spiritual “formalism;” moral relativism; religious indifference and “the obsession for work and earnings.”

A society that runs on economic development as a consequence creates a class of poor, marginalized and excluded persons, he said, explaining that this goes not just for the materially poor, but also “those who are spirituality and morally like this.”

“In this peculiar context, the need for the Church in Japan to constantly renew the choice for the mission of Jesus, both in salt and in light, becomes urgent,” he said. “The genuine evangelistic strength of your Church, which comes from being a Church of martyrs and confessors of the faith, is a great asset to guard and develop.”

Francis then stressed the need for a “a solid and integral” priestly and religious formation, which he said is “a particularly urgent task today” thanks to the widespread promotion of the “culture of the provisional.”

This mentality also leads youth to believe “that it's not possible to truly love, that nothing stable exists and that everything, including love, is relative to circumstances and the needs of feeling,” he said.

Because of this, a key step in the formation process is to help those tasked with it to “understand and experience in depth the characteristics of Jesus' love, which is free, involves self-sacrifice and is merciful forgiveness,” the Pope said.

“This experience renders us capable of going against the current and trusting the Lord, who does not delude. It's the witness Japanese society is so thirsty for.”

Pope Francis closed his letter by pointing to the presence of ecclesial movements in the country. With their “evangelistic impulse and witness,” he said these movements can be of great help “in the pastoral service and mission 'ad gentes' (to the nations).”

“These realities contribute to the work of evanglization,” he said, adding that as bishops, “we are called to know and accompany the charisms that they carry and make them part of our work in the context of pastoral integration.”

Francis closed his letter praying that the Lord would “send workers into his Church in Japan and support you with his consolation,” and gave them his blessing.

Take in more refugees, not fewer, bishops urge White House

Washington D.C., Sep 17, 2017 / 04:07 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Trump administration is reportedly planning to further reduce the number of refugees the U.S. will accept in the coming fiscal year, drawing concern from the U.S. bishops and others.

“We’re strongly urging the administration, the President, to set a Presidential determination of at least 75,000 [refugees],” Matt Wilch of the Office of Migration and Refugee Services at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops told CNA of reported changes to the number of refugees the U.S. plans to accept in the 2018 fiscal year.

The New York Times reported Tuesday that the Trump administration is planning to further reduce the number of refugee admissions for the 2018 fiscal year, “according to current and former government officials familiar with the discussions.”

For the 2017 fiscal year, the Obama administration had planned to take in 110,000 refugees after accepting 85,000 in 2016, including more than 12,000 Syrian refugees.

However, in a March executive order, President Donald Trump ordered a four-month halt to U.S. refugee admissions so that the resettlement program could be reviewed for its security. He set a cap on refugee admissions for the fiscal year at 50,000, well short of the 110,000 originally planned.

In addition, Trump barred most travel from six countries for 90 days – Iran, Somalia, Yemen, Libya, Syria, and Sudan.

Now the administration may be reducing its refugee quota even further, to below 50,000.

The Executive Committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said in a written statement Tuesday that they were “troubled and deeply concerned” at reports that the administration was considering the reduction, which they called “inhumane.”

“We implore the administration to show mercy and compassion for those seeking refuge, and to advance the American value of freedom through providing safe harbor to those fleeing tyranny and religious persecution,” the bishops said.

The conference proposed a goal of 75,000 refugees instead. “We think it’s really time to get back to the serious business of saving lives, and we urge the administration to have the total this coming year be 75,000,” Wilch told CNA Thursday.

In 2016, then-chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom Dr. Robert George said the refugee resettlement program was secure, and that the U.S. should ultimately look to increase the number of Syrian refugees it resettles to 100,000.

A reduction in refugee admissions would come at a time when the number of displaced persons across the globe is at an all-time high, the group Human Rights First said.

“While ten percent of the world’s 21 million refugees are estimated to need resettlement, only about one percent have access to resettlement,” they said.

Furthermore, several countries neighboring Syria like Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey, are hosting the bulk of refugees fleeing the six year-long conflict there, the largest refugee crisis in the world, HRF said.

If the U.S. and other countries decide to accept fewer refugees, it could contribute to the destabilization of Syria’s neighbors who are already at or nearing capacity for hosting refugees.

“The United States’ refugee admissions program is not a zero-sum game; we are more than capable of providing safety to those fleeing violence and persecution around the world,” Eleanor Acer of Human Rights First stated.

Pope Francis: God’s love is shown in his forgiveness of our sins

Vatican City, Sep 17, 2017 / 09:30 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Sunday Pope Francis spoke about the limitless love of God, and how it leads him to forgive us time and time again; something we must strive to do for others, no matter how many times they’ve sinned against us.

“The forgiveness of God is a sign of his overwhelming love for each of us; it is the love that leaves us free to move away, like the prodigal son, but that awaits our return every day; it is the enterprising love of the shepherd for the lost sheep; it is the tenderness that welcomes every sinner who knocks at his door.”

“Heavenly Father, our father, is full and full of love and wants to offer it to us, but he cannot do it if we close our hearts to love for others,” the Pope said Sept. 17.

Continuing, Francis pointed out how Jesus teaches us this in the Our Father, when he directly links the forgiveness we ask of God with the forgiveness we give to our brothers and sisters in the words: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

In his Angelus address Sunday Pope Francis reflected on the day's Gospel reading from Matthew, where St. Peter asks Christ: "Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive? As many as seven times?"

To Peter, seven already seems like the maximum amount of times we should forgive the same person, Francis said. And maybe to us it seems like twice is already a lot.

But Christ's response is that we must forgive seven times seventy times, “that is to say always. You always have to forgive,” he said. Christ confirms this by telling a parable, the Pope continued, a parable which shows "the inconsistency of the one who was forgiven before and then refuses to forgive."

The king in the parable is a generous man who when his servant begs for forgiveness of a large debt he has compassion on him and forgives him.

The servant on the other hand refuses to forgive a much smaller debt of a fellow servant and "behaves in a ruthless way," having him thrown in prison.

"The incoherent attitude of this servant is also ours when we refuse forgiveness to our brothers," the Pope said. "While the king of the parable is the image of God who loves us with a love so abundant of mercy from embracing us, loving us and forgiving us continually."

“Since our Baptism God has forgiven us, remitting an insoluble debt: original sin. But that's the first time. Then, with unlimited mercy, He forgives us all the faults as soon as we show even a little sign of repentance," the Pope said. "God is so merciful."

When we are tempted to behave as the servant did toward his fellow servant, closing off our hearts to those who have offended us and come to apologize, we must remember the words of the Heavenly Father, he stated.

He told the ruthless servant: "I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to. Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you?"

"Anyone who has experienced the joy, peace, and inner freedom that comes from being forgiven can open themselves to the possibility of forgiving in turn," he noted.

Concluding, Francis turned to the Blessed Virgin Mary, who he said "helps us to be more and more aware of the gratuitousness and greatness of the forgiveness received from God."

May she help us to become as "merciful as He is, the good Father: slow to anger and great in love."

The Brothers of Charity are clear: no euthanasia is possible in our hospitals

Brussels, Belgium, Sep 17, 2017 / 06:01 am (Church Pop).- Br. René Stockman says it clearly: the path to euthanasia is not viable for a Catholic hospital.

After a board of trustees decision to allow euthanasia in Belgian hospitals sponsored by the Brothers of Charity, the community’s general superior spoke with CNA about the issues at stake, and the possibility that the Brothers of Charity might discontinue sponsoring hospitals if things do not change.

The Congregation of the Brothers of Charity is a religious community of brothers founded in Belgium in 1807, with the mission to care for the poor, elderly and those affected by psychiatric diseases.

“It was immediately clear to our founder, Fr. Pierre Joseph Triest, that there was the need to combine the contemplative life of religious orders with a professional work on charity. But we are not social workers, though we work in professional ways. Mostly, through our social activity we help people to see how God shine in their lives.”

Pioneers in the field of psychiatric care, the Brothers of Charity are active in many part of the world. In Belgium, they sponsor 15 hospitals and care for about 5,000 patients.

The hospitals are managed by a civil corporation named after the Brothers of Charity, though the board of trustees includes only 3 Brothers of Charity out of 15 members.

This board made the decision to allow Catholic hospitals to permit acts of  euthanasia, in certain limited circumstances. The Brothers of Charity protested this decision, appealed to the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, and the Vatican responded by requesting that the corporation stop allowing euthanasia in their hospitals.

The board of trustees defied the Vatican request, and published a long statement in which they reiterated their view.

Br. Stockman explained to CNA that “the next step is a meeting with the authorities of the Vatican during the week of Sep. 25. We will then make our decisions in accordance with the vision of the Vatican.”

Asked if the Brothers of Charity could withdraw their sponsorship from the hospital, Br. Stockam said that “if there no change in the policies, it is a possibility.” If the 3 members of the organization leave the board of the hospital, it will no longer be considered a Catholic hospital.  

In their statement, the hospital board of trustees lamented the lack of dialogue and stressed they will “continue with the request of establishing a dialogue,” though they do not want in any way change their decision.

Br. Stockman commented that “there is only a request to dialogue on the way to implement euthanasia, and not on the fact of euthanasia as such.  I asked very clearly many times to first dialogue on euthanasia and the vision as such, in the hope coming to a consensus, but they refused to change their initial vision”.

The civil board has claimed that their decision is “consistent” with the doctrine of the Church, since “the text has come about starting from the Christian frame of thought as we apply it within the organization. In this, we always take into account the shifts and evolutions within society. We have considered the following elements: recognition of the exceptional, proportional view of ethics, deontological view and ideologization, and choice of conscience".

This view is completely rejected by Br. Stockman. “This is totally wrong and against the doctrine of the Church,” he underscored.

He then explained: “The whole issue starts with the refusal to see the respect of life still as absolute. For them, it became fundamental, on the same level as the autonomy of the patient and the relation in the care.  Therefore we cannot accept their statement. They take distance of the doctrine of the Church.”

Hermann van Rompuy, a former Belgian prime minister who is a part of the board of trustees, said that “the times when the Pope had the last word are far away.”

Brother Stockman explained to CNA that the Brothers of Charity appealed to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith because the civil board of trustees “refused both our request and also the one of the Belgian bishops” to change their policies, and so “we had to appeal to the Holy See.”

The Holy See,  Br. Stockman recounted, “asked the hospitals to conform themselves with the doctrine of the Church about the absolute respect for life and not doing euthanasia to psychiatric patients.  After our request as general superior and council and after the statement of the Belgian Bishops, the civil corporation governing our hospitals in Belgium refused to adapt their vision.”

Br. Stockman affirmed that the Brothers of Charity would remain faithful to the Church’s teaching, despite serious civil pressure to the contrary.

“I am sure,” he said, “that the great majority of the brothers, also in Belgium, are against euthanasia, but the pressure on them is very high.  We have clear guidelines against euthanasia, that we developed already before this case.”

 

How do we fund sacred art in the Church? This priest has an idea

Wilmington, N.C., Sep 16, 2017 / 04:03 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The John Paul II Foundation for the Sacred Arts is rethinking how the Catholic Church should fund well-crafted art. But why is good art in the Church important in the first place?

“When a piece of art, a beautiful church, a flower or a sunset not only strikes the eye but pierces the soul and fills one with a sense of wonder, that is transcendent beauty – it goes beyond mere aesthetic enjoyment to hint at the truth and goodness of being itself,” Father Michael Burbeck told CNA.

Fr. Burbeck serves as founder and director of the foundation, which was launched in March of this year. He explained that his own encounter with Europe's beautiful architecture and sacred art brought him to convert to Catholicism and ultimately start the organization.

However, beautiful art requires money – and Fr. Burbeck's project aims to equip artists to create quality, Christ-inspired, original works.

“Works of transcendent beauty have the potential to awaken the soul to the wonder of God, and so are evangelical in their own right,” he said. “This is what we mean by transcendent beauty: the beauty that flows from the goodness and truth of being itself.”

On the group's website, Fr. Burbeck recalled on how beauty awakened this wonder of God, and enabled him to fall in love with the Church and with Jesus Christ.

Being able to stand before the dome of St. Paul's Cathedral created by Christopher Wren or Michelangelo's Madonna and Child and along with numerous images of the crucified Christ, the soon to be priest was motivated to give his life to the Church.  

“Because of beauty, I found the Catholic Church, fell in love with her, and was convinced of the truth of her teachings.”

When he met artist Cameron Smith, Father Burbeck said that the two discussed a “crowd-sourced, entrepreneurial model” which relied on the beauty of an artist's work to motivate donations.

“Either a work is 'popular' enough to be funded or it is not,” he said, explaining that the foundation's board of directors will choose which artists to give grants to based on if the “artist is capable of and intent on producing a work in keeping with our mission.”

He said their mission is Catholic art which spreads the Gospel through beauty, but cautioned against the modern trend to reduce “beauty” to a particular time period or type, such as Renaissance or Contemporary.

Fr. Burbeck also noted the problem with reducing art to self-expression, wherein an artist's attempt at honesty will often display a faulty idea of reality – one where his or her existence is “marked by brokenness and a lack of meaning.”

But as significant as these tendencies are in society today, the priest said the foundation is actually trying to combat two other problems: how art is treated in the church – namely, the dearth of original art – and the lack of funds to support faithful artists who create original works capable of moving viewers.

Unoriginal pieces of art, or catalog style as Fr. Burbeck described it, are not necessarily offensive but may be a poorly produced copy or a “mimic of existing works that may be competently executed but which fails to touch the soul.”

“That is why we partner with artists financially and promote works that are squarely in the great tradition, not copies, but drawing from the same inexhaustible well of beauty,” he said.

Fr. Burbeck foresees fundraising as a potential hurdle, but he also expressed an appreciation for the enthusiasm already taking place.

“Thankfully, there has been a great deal of excitement about the idea, it seems to fill an important niche, and we trust that the Holy Spirit is at work.”

Fr Tom thanks the world for their prayers

Rome, Italy, Sep 16, 2017 / 12:10 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Fr. Tom Uzhunnalil, the Salesian missionary released this week after 18 months of captivity, thanked Saturday all those who have prayed and made sacrifices on his behalf, saying he recommits himself to the service of God.

“With your prayers and sacrifices you have brought me from God and have brought me here,” he said Sept. 16. “I do not know how to thank you all. May the Lord God bless you and reward you and give you courage to go through whatever difficulties may come as we go on in this world.”    

“And one day we will all be together to praise God, that should be our aim, that is actually our aim. May that happen… We all rejoice, thank God for my freedom. I am at the service of the Lord God. Let him continue to use me as he wants.”

Fr. Tom Uzhunnalil, who became known around the world through social media and news outlets as people prayed for his release, spoke to journalists during a press conference at the Salesian headquarters in Rome.

An Indian native, Fr. Uzhunnalil, 59, was kidnapped March 4, 2016 from a Missionaries of Charity home in Aden. In the attack 16 people were killed, including four religious sisters.

Throughout his 18-month captivity, several photos and videos of the priest were released, showing a thin Fr. Uzhunnalil with an overgrown beard, pleading for help and for his release, saying that his health was deteriorating and he was in need of hospitalization.

In the press conference, Fr. Uzhunnalil emphasized that despite the great stress he was under and his inability to move about freely, being kept in one room, his captors did not physically harm him.

He was provided with adequate food and water and even some small amount of medical treatment for his diabetes. He went on to explain that if in any of the videos it appears that his captors hit him, it was not a real blow, but acting which they planned in advance, telling him it was to quicken a response from authorities.

Fr. Uzhunnalil said he has no knowledge of who it was that took him or what group they belonged to, but said that “God has been with me.”

“The whole world must have been praying, you all might have made sacrifices. The fruits of all (this) must be that they have not injured me right from the first day,” he said.

From the moment he was taken he was not afraid, he continued. “I said to myself: with the knowledge of God, nothing will happen to me. For Jesus has said, not a hair will fall from your head without the heavenly Father’s knowledge.”

“Those words, that phrase flashed in my mind. Maybe that’s what gave me strength, kept my mind serene, calm.”

In the press conference Fr. Uzhunnalil was calm, but did become emotional when he noticed the presence of a number of Missionary of Charity sisters, to whom he gave his condolences for the loss of their four religious sisters.

“I'm sure they feel the pain of their loss, but their loss is for themselves and for the world; I am sure that these four who have gone are in heaven,” he said.

Witnessing the death of those in his presence was a very traumatic moment for him. “He didn’t want to speak about that moment,” Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Bombay told CNA Sept. 14.

Cardinal Gracias had the opportunity to speak with Fr. Uzhunnalil soon after his arrival to Rome and was present when he met Pope Francis Sept. 13 after the Wednesday General Audience.

Pope Francis was himself very touched by Fr. Uzhunnalil’s expression of faith in their meeting, Cardinal Gracias said. The Holy Father told the priest: “The whole world has been praying for you, everybody has been praying for you.”

Fr. Uzhunnalil repeated over and over to the Pope that “Jesus is great, Jesus is great.”

In the press conference Fr. Uzhunnalil recounted a detail from the day he was kidnapped. After the initial attack and killings, which took place while they were having adoration in the chapel, the attackers covered his head and locked him in a car, and then left to re-enter the chapel.

At some point later he heard them return open the door of the trunk and place something heavy near his feet.

His hands weren’t tied, he explained, so he “lifted the cloth, just looked to make sure, and it was the tabernacle.” He knew that it contained consecrated Hosts from the Mass he had celebrated the evening prior.  

Although he did not have bread and wine with him in captivity, Fr. Uzhunnalil said he was still able to peacefully pray the Mass every day from memory. He said he would pray to God to spiritually give him the gifts of bread and wine for the Eucharist.  

Another line he said he prayed frequently was: “One day at a time, sweet Lord. Give me the grace to live this day. I thanked God for that day. Yesterday is gone, tomorrow is not sure, so give me the grace to live this day.”

While in captivity the Salesian lost more than 60 pounds, he said. But in the few days since his release has already gained back more than 11. He will, however, continue to remain in Rome for 8-10 more days for continued medical tests and recovery time before returning to India to see his family.

“I thank in the name of the Lord God even my captors who have been understanding to me and have not hurt me,” he said.

“It's God's intervention. And that is due to the prayers and sacrifices of all my brothers and sisters, all of you around the whole world, my own country, other countries, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, all men of good will. I'm sure each one has made sacrifices.”

“I don’t believe in arms,” he continued. “The best weapon against any enemy is love, prayer, forgiveness.”


Comments from Cardinal Gracias contributed by Elise Harris.