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Hong Kong student leader: Catholics should take 'major role' in peaceful protests

Hong Kong, China, Aug 16, 2019 / 05:47 pm (CNA).- The acting president of the Hong Kong Federation of Catholic Students told CNA this week that he would like to see Catholics and other Christians take on a larger role in ongoing protests against the government, amid fears of a crackdown by Chinese authorities.

"For this movement, it's a great chance for the Catholics and [Protestant] Christians to cooperate with each other," Edwin Chow, a student studying Government and International Studies at Hong Kong Baptist University, told CNA.

"It's a good chance for us to become united. Because I think for most of the Catholics and Christians, we have the same values, the same goal...so that's why we cooperate, and I think after Christians and Catholics cooperate, or strengths, our power becomes stronger."

Hundreds of thousands of protestors in Hong Kong have been demonstrating against the government's plans to allow extraditions to mainland China, where Communist courts would try alleged criminals— a plan which as of June has been indefinitely suspended.

Since the bill’s suspension, the protestors have also spoken out against an excessive use of force by the Hong Kong police, including the use of rubber bullets and tear gas, which have led to injuries.

The apostolic administrator of Hong Kong, Cardinal John Tong, has asked the government to eliminate the extradition law completely, and for an independent inquiry into the excessive use of force by the Hong Kong police.

While Chow said that Christians, among them Catholics, had a more major role when the protests began— leading the singing of hymns such as "Sing Hallelujah to the Lord" in the streets during the protests, for example— their role has since diminished.

As the protests have continued, he said some participants became "more aggressive, more radical." Chow said he thinks the protests have become more radical because even after two marches in June saw more than a million marchers, the government has still not answered the protestors' demands.

Many of the protestors began to take action such as try to break into the legislative council building, or clash with police out of frustration.

"I think the Christian groups and the Catholic groups should participate more in the protests, to take a more major role, because I think nowadays the protests become more radical, and people get very emotional, I think,” Chow commented.

“For the Catholic groups, for the Christian groups, we have the responsibility and we have the power to calm our friends down. Because I think singing hymns, just in the beginning, it creates a peaceful atmosphere, and it has a power to keep everyone very calm. So I think we can use this when we do this again."

The threat of the extradition bill should be important to Catholics, Chow said, because they are afraid that if it is reintroduced and passes, it will severely affect religious freedom, giving the Chinese government additional license to arrest Christians and transfer them to mainland China if they commit “crimes” against the mainland.

He cited a case in 2001 where Hong Kongers brought bibles to mainland China, and the Chinese government arrested them.

"The Chinese government is suppressing the Church in mainland China, and so we are worried that when we have communication with the mainland Church, maybe one day the Chinese government will also arrest the Hong Kong people to suppress Hong Kong people," he said.

Though the extradition bill has been withdrawn, the situation in Hong Kong is not over. Demonstrators are calling for the proposal to be definitively withdrawn, and some are demanding Lam’s resignation.

Chow said more than 160,000 students, teachers, and alumni signed a petition against the extradition bill.

The federation had been concerned about the extradition bill since May, and so they started to raise public awareness of the issue by handing out leaflets in early June, Chow said. 

The group also organized prayer meetings and Masses near the protest sites in the beginning of June, when the larger protests started.

Chow said the clergy have been very supportive. The Federation invited bishop emeritus Cardinal Joseph Zen to celebrate Mass on June 16, in front of the government headquarters.

Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Ha Chi-shing has also been very active in going to the protest sites, supporting the young people, and vocally supporting the protestors. Bishop Ha took part in a continuous ecumenical prayer meeting outside the Legislative Council building with thousands of Christians overnight after one rally.

"Other ordinary Catholics, some of the older Catholics, they also join in our activities. So you can see that not only the teenagers are supporting, participating in the whole protest, but the older people, some adults...they also join, they also support the whole protest."

Henry Au, an entrepreneur who serves on the board of directors for the Irish Chamber of Commerce for Hong Hong, is one such older Catholic who has been supporting the movement. He told CNA that although he had only attended two or three of the actual marches, he has been trying to materially support the protestors however he can.

He said older Catholics are less likely to go and march in the street, but they are still able to assist by providing funds to hold Masses and buy protection gear for the protestors.

He said the police will often seize protesters' cell phones and use the photos on them as evidence against them, and telecom companies are helping the government to trace phone numbers. To guard against this, he said older Catholics have bought the protestors portable WiFi hotspots so they can connect without being traced.

"We don't say the kids are always right...but you shouldn't be using bullets, or even plastic bullets, to shoot their heads," Au said. "They way they are treating the younger generation is totally unacceptable."

He said the protestors have, on the whole, been peaceful and not destructive. On Sept. 1, the students will have to go back to school, he said, so it remains to be seen whether the protests will continue after the summer break ends.

Chow said last week some protestors found that there were undercover policemen within the crowds. The government may use this strategy to create a "sense of terror" so that the protestors no longer trust each other and are divided, he said. 

Father Bernardo Cervellera, editor of Asia News, told EWTN News Nightly that Catholic youth are “totally involved” in the protest against the extradition law. He said older people might be less inclined to take part in the protests because of threats of violence.

“These two requests are the main requests of the movement [that] is doing all these demonstrations in Hong Kong,” Cervellera said.

The Chinese government has influenced the government of Hong Kong, Cervellera said, refusing to allow full democracy in the territory and trying to control the education system, which has negatively affected Hong Kong’s economy.

Hong Kong has total freedom of worship and evangelization, Cervellera said, because for the past 50 years it has been a “liberal society” where the decisions of the dioceses are not subject to government control.

“Our fear is that if this extradition law goes into effect, this could destroy the possibility of priests in Hong Kong, faithful in Hong Kong, who can help the Church in China. Because in this way, the help brought by the Catholics in Hong Kong to China could be considered as a criminal case.”

Cardinal Tong invited Catholics in Hong Kong to take part in a Eucharistic celebration for the well-being of the territory on Friday, August 23 at St. Francis of Assisi Church.

There are some 581,000 Catholics in Hong Kong, or about 8% of the population.

Hongkongers currently have significantly more freedoms than Chinese living on the mainland, including access to uncensored internet. Hong Kong was a British colony until 1997, and it was returned to China under a “one country, two systems” principle, allowing it its own legislature and economic system.

The Church in mainland China has been divided for some 60 years between the underground Church, which is persecuted and whose episcopal appointments are frequently not acknowledged by Chinese authorities, and the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, a government-sanctioned organization.

Canadian man receives assisted death after funding cut for in-home care

Vancouver, Canada, Aug 16, 2019 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- The family of a Canadian man who suffered from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is urging the country’s government to change the way it treats patients with the disease after he received a “medically-assisted death” following years of struggle to find adequate care. 

Sean Tagert, 41, was diagnosed with ALS, also known as Lou Gherig’s disease, in March of 2013. In October 2017, he suffered cardiac arrest, and was subsequently placed on a ventilator. His illness robbed him of the ability to move his body, eat, or speak, and he communicated via an eye-gaze computer. His mental acuity was unaffected. 

At that time, Tagert’s doctors recommended 24-hour in-home care, which is typical for a person who uses a ventilator full time. Vancouver Coastal Health, Tagert’s regional health authority, only initially offered 15.5 hours of care a day. Eventually, after much effort, they increased their offer to 20 hours a day--which still meant that Tagert had to pay $263.50 each day for the remaining four hours of required care. 

Tagert and his family continued to fight for coverage of a full day’s care, to no avail. 

“Hey everyone. I've been quiet lately because I'm just done, worn-out,” wrote Tagert in a July 25 post on his Facebook page. 

“So last Friday I officially submitted my Medically assisted death paperwork, with lawyers and doctors, everything in proper order. It's been over a month since I submitted my appeal to the Vancouver Coastal Health patient care quality department. They didn't even respond.”

Tagert went on to explain that earlier in the day, two Vancouver Coastal Health officials came to his home, and had refused to talk to him when they realized he was recording the conversation. Eventually, they told his mother that they were there to cut his funding for care hours. 

“Welcome to the great Canadian Healthcare system people,” said Tagert. 

On August 6, he received a “medically-assisted death” and passed away. In Canada, patients over the age of 18 who have been diagnosed with a terminal illness are able to apply for a “medically-assisted death.” The lethal medication can either be self-administered, or, as it is in the vast majority of cases in the country, administered by a doctor. 

Full funding for the procedure is available, and is advertised in hospitals around Canada.

“We would ask, on Sean's behalf, that the government recognize the serious problems in its treatment of ALS patients and their families, and find real solutions for those already suffering unimaginably,” reads a post on his Facebook page announcing his passing. 

The post outlined the difficulties he endured to remain in his own home.  

“Ensuring consistent care was a constant struggle and source of stress for Sean as a patient,” said the post. 

“While he succeeded, with the help of many, in piecing together a suitable care facility in his own home (including an expensive saliva-suction machine, needed to prevent him from choking, obtained with the help of donations raised online), gaining the 24-hour care he required was extremely difficult, especially as the provincial government refused to fully fund home care.” 

Going to a nursing home was not an option, said the post, as the facilities in his province “would have offered vastly inferior care while separating him from his family, and likely would have hastened his death.”  Tagert had partial custody of his 11-year-old son, Aidan. 

“Above all else Sean was devoted to his son,” said the post.

“Sean often said that Aidan was his reason for living, and had a close relationship with him right to the end.” 

Since Tagert’s death, Canadian commentators and palliative care physicians have called for changes in the way the country’s health system handles patients with complicated health needs. 

“No one should have to feel death is the only option due to lack of care,” Dr. Leonie Herx, a palliative care physician from Toronto, said on Twitter. 

Herx pointed out the paradox that presently, Canadians have a “right” to medically-assisted dying, but not to palliative and disability care. 

“We must do better for vulnerable Canadians,” she said. 

The ALS Society of Canada was unavailable to comment specifically on Tagert’s case, but CNA was provided with a statement from CEO Tammy Moore saying “People living with ALS must have access to the appropriate personal care supports and palliative care to meet their needs.” 

Medically-assisted death is fully funded in the Canadian healthcare system.

New Jersey judge temporarily blocks assisted suicide law

Metuchen, N.J., Aug 16, 2019 / 02:31 pm (CNA).- A judge in New Jersey has temporarily halted a law allowing physician assisted suicide, which had gone into effect August 1.

The law is being challenged by a physician who says that it is a violation of religious freedom protections in the U.S. Constitution and laws against suicide.

Dr. Yosef Glassman is an Orthodox Jew who says that he is opposed to facilitating suicide both due to his religious beliefs and his profession as a doctor. He also objects to the law’s stipulation that a doctor who objects to assisted suicide must refer patients to another doctor who will help them end their life.

The law’s demands on doctors, Glassman said in his lawsuit, present “not only a violation of the rights to practice medicine without breaching the fiduciary duties owing to those patients ... but also violations of their First Amendment rights under the United States Constitution to freely practice their religions in which human life is sacred and must not be taken,” the AP reported.

The Medical Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act, which passed the New Jersey legislature with bipartisan support, allows those deemed by a doctor to have less than six months to live to request lethal medication to end their lives. The patient then must administer the medication themselves.

The temporary injunction, signed by Judge Paul Innes of Superior Court in Mercer County, means that the state attorney general may not enforce the law while it is being challenged in court.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, who signed the bill in April, said he will fight the lawsuit, the AP reported.

A self-described “lifelong, practicing Catholic,” Murphy said when he signed the bill into law that he was aware that the Church opposed assisted suicide, but after careful consideration and prayer, he believed assisted suicide was a personal decision and legalizing it would respect residents’ freedom and humanity.

Bishop James F. Checchio of Metuchen condemned assisted suicide as “a grievous affront to the dignity of human life” that “can never be morally justified” in a letter to his diocese on July 30.

“Passage of this law points to the utter failure of government, and indeed all society, to care truly, authentically and humanely for the suffering and vulnerable in our midst, especially those living with an incurable disease as well as the frail elderly, the infirm and those living with disabilities,” he said.

He stressed that despite the new legality of the practice, it remains gravely immoral, and said the Church would continue advocating for the sanctity of all human life and working to educate lawmakers and the general public about the dangers of assisted suicide.

“With this law there will be a further desensitization of the value of human life,” said the bishop, adding that the elderly, sick and disabled could feel pressure to choose suicide so as to avoid burdening others.

He also clarified that Saint Peter’s University Hospital, sponsored by the Diocese of Metuchen, will not condone or participate in euthanasia or assisted suicide.

Instead of assisted suicide, Checchio called for a renewed commitment caring for those living in pain and suffering while dying and who might otherwise consider suicide.

“Let us strive to help the sick and incapacitated find meaning in their lives, even and especially in the midst of their suffering,” he said. “Let us, as a society and as individuals choose to walk with them, in their suffering, not contribute to eliminating the gift of life.”

Assisted suicide is legal in California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, and the District of Columbia, as well as in Montana under a 2009 state Supreme Court ruling.

Planned Parenthood to pull out of Title X program

Washington D.C., Aug 16, 2019 / 10:15 am (CNA).- Planned Parenthood, the country’s largest provider of abortion services, has announced that it will withdraw from the federal Title X family planning program, ending its access to millions of dollars in government funding.

The decision is set to take effect Aug. 19, the date by which funding recipients are required to make a “good faith” undertaking to comply with a new rule barring the referral of clients for abortion services.

After it was announced in final form in February, the Protect Life Rule was subject to court challenges from abortion providers and several states. In June, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals determined that the rule could come into force. In July, judges refused to issue a stay against that decision.

Planned Parenthood informed the court on Wednesday that, unless the reversed its refusal to grant a stay, it would leave the Title X program on Monday.

Planned Parenthood’s acting president Alexis McGill Johnson said the group refused “to let the Trump administration bully us into withholding abortion information from our patients.”

Calling the Protect Life Rule a “gag on health care providers,” Johnson said in a statement that the rule is “a blatant assault on our health and rights, and we will not stand for it.”

In addition to barring Title X fund recipients from referring women for abortions it also prevents participating groups from co-locating with abortion clinics and requires financial separation of government-funded programs from those that carry out abortions.

Planned Parenthood had previously intended to remain in the Title X program but refuse funding, an arrangement that HHS Deputy Assistant Secretary Diane Foley called “inconsistent” in a letter to the organization.

In guidance issued by HHS on Friday, the department responded directly to Planned Parenthood’s objections to the rule, noting that the organization operated less than 10% of participating sites nationwide.

“To the extent that Planned Parenthood claims that it must make burdensome changes to comply with the Final Rule, it is actually choosing to place a higher priority on the ability to refer for abortion instead of continuing to receive federal funds to provide a broad range of acceptable and effective family planning methods and services to clients in need of these services.”

Title X is a federal program created in 1965 that subsidizes family-planning and preventative health services, including contraception, for low-income families. It has been frequently updated and subject to new regulations.

The administration previously said in June that it would delay enforcement of the rule, provided that fund recipients submitted a compliance plan and made a “good faith” undertaking to comply with most of the rule’s requirements as soon as possible. Facilities are required to end co-location with abortion sites by March 2020.

Last month, Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life organization Susan B. Anthony List, welcomed the 9th Circuit’s decision to deny a stay, calling the Protect Life Rule “greatly encouraging.”

“Without reducing Title X funding by a dime, the Protect Life Rule simply draws a bright line between abortion and family planning, stopping abortion businesses like Planned Parenthood from treating Title X as their private slush fund.” 

Before announcing its withdrawal from the Title X program, Planned Parenthood and its affiliates had received some $60 million annually, about one-fifth of total Title X funds, making up approximately 15% of its annual federal funding.

Sustainable land use urged to ease growing threats to food, water

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy Franciscan Friars Conventual

By Dennis Sadowski

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Leading five seminarians on an eight-week summer service program largely through Appalachia and South America, Conventual Franciscan Father Michael Lasky saw a new awareness rising in the young men's minds.

It started by talking with visitors to the Shepherd's Table meal program at Our Lady of Hope Parish in Coal Township, Pennsylvania, outside of the eastern town of Shamokin, and learning about people's sense of place in the once-burgeoning coal mining region.

From there, they moved on to planting trees in Robinson Forest in eastern Kentucky in an effort to reclaim a mountaintop stripped bare by coal mining. They learned, too, that the forests were shrinking because of the mining, leaving fewer nesting areas for the migrating Cerulean warblers from Colombia.

The connection deepened during a hike in an old-growth forest in Colombia, one of the warbler's wintering homes. By the end, Father Lasky saw how the young friars began to better see their connection as part of God's creation.

The venture -- including time in El Salvador and New Mexico -- was designed to help the seminarians become "lesser before God" and to listen the stories of the people, seeing connections across land and community.

"I want them as a minister when they're done with the seminary training to look beyond the collar and see themselves as a member of the community in a holistic sense ... that they are interwoven in all of this," said Father Lasky, director of Justice, Peace and Care for Creation Ministry for his order's Our Lady of Angels Province based in Ellicott City, Maryland.

It's that sense of interconnectedness that all people are called to understand and live that underlies the recently released report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change on global land usage, in Father Lasky's view.

In its report, the IPCC -- the United Nations body assessing the science related to climate change -- examined the growing human impact on land and how climate change compounds the stresses placed on land around the world: degradation, soil depletion, flooding and water shortages.

The report determined that only by reducing greenhouse gas emissions from all sources -- including land use and food production -- can global warming be kept well below 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, the target set in the 2015 Paris climate accord to avoid catastrophic effects on the environment.

Scientific studies have found that global temperatures are about 1 degree Fahrenheit higher than 100 years ago and suggest that the burning of fossil fuels, land clearing, agriculture and other human activities are the primary sources of global warming.

"There are some huge challenges here. The report says we have to undertake fairly quickly a massive rethinking about how we use our land globally," said Dan Misleh, executive director of the Catholic Climate Covenant.

Father Lasky and others told Catholic News Service the need for sustainable land use practices is crucial, especially in an era when land is viewed primarily as a commodity without regard to the needs of local communities or the future of the planet.

Agencies such as Catholic Relief Services, working with national governments and nongovernmental organizations, have helped small farmers implement sustainable practices that involve water management, conservation of natural resources, companion planting of crops and trees and reducing fertilizer usage, said Olaf Westermann, senior technical adviser on climate change at CRS.

"Our main approach is improving natural resource management because that is what poor people depend on mostly," he said.

Although thousands of small farmers have seen their crop yields increase through sustainable practices, problems persist because of the widespread desire to exploit land for economic gain, said Michael Schuck, associate professor of theology and co-director of the International Jesuit Ecology Project at Loyola University Chicago.

"The number one environmental crisis going on, now of all, where the most environmental activism is taking place worldwide, is not with respect to climate change, but the question of land grabbing," Schuck told Catholic News Service.

Among others, he cited areas of Honduras and Guatemala where forests are being bulldozed and replaced with tracts of palm trees to meet the growing worldwide demand for palm oil.

"We have a production system that doesn't respect land as a living breathing entity," he said. "It has commodified it."

Schuck and others said they do not outright oppose profit-making, but rather they echo the call of Pope Francis in his 2015 encyclical, "Laudato Si', on Care for Our Common Home," to recognize that the long-term future of Earth is at stake unless practices related to high consumption and natural resource exploitation change.

The IPCC report said much the same, projecting that food production will suffer if unsustainable land use persists.

Indigenous lands have become increasingly sought for development, said Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, U.N. special rapporteur for the rights of indigenous peoples.

"No one knows the conflicts between food, fuel and forests better than indigenous people and local communities. Indigenous and local people continue to face murder and criminalization when we face agro-industry, mining, logging and infrastructure projects that threaten our forests, our lives and the animals and plants we protect," she said during a news conference Aug. 8 at which the report was released.

Nowhere is such land conflict better exemplified than in the Amazon forest of Brazil. A recent announcement by President Jair Bolsonaro's administration declared that Brazil will open indigenous lands -- primarily in the Amazon region, where 60% of the country's indigenous people live -- to mineral exploration.

The number of recent requests for research and mining has generated concern among indigenous peoples, environmentalists and human rights advocates who defend the territories of indigenous peoples.

Sonia Guajajara of Brazil's Indigenous Peoples Articulation, representing about 300 indigenous groups, has criticized the model of large-scale agricultural production.

"Our mission is to defend Mother Earth, to defend nature," she said. "When we do this, we not only benefit the indigenous people, but we benefit everyone. They want to make them believe that indigenous people no longer need land."

Further, German climatologist Hans-Otto Portner, vice chairman of an IPCC working group, said in early August that the new Brazilian policies represent the opposite of what the IPCC report recommends.

In Africa, Father Charles Odira, of the Kenyan bishops' conference, chairs the Kenya Interfaith Network of Action on the Environment. He told CNS climate change is disturbing the normal planting schedule for local farmers. Rains that once fell in February now have shifted by as much as a few weeks, he said.

In addition, the unpredictability of water access causes some herding communities to expand where their herds of cattle graze, leading to confrontations over the land, he said.

But there are successes. Father Odira recalled meeting one man during a pastoral visit in the territory covered by his parish in the Diocese of Homa Bay who managed to boost millet and corn yields significantly. Asking how, Father Odira learned that the man had implemented new practices on his arid land and he asked the farmer to share those practices with others.

"From the church's perspective, it's better," he explained. "You can reach more families. And with the church involved, people trust it more."

Schuck told CNS that kind of understanding and cooperation is needed on a broad scale and that it must begin immediately.

"There's a reason for hope, but the timing is so critical," he said. "Do we have the time needed to slow us down before the precipice?"

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Contributing to this story was Lise Alves in Sao Paulo.

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Follow Sadowski on Twitter: @DennisSadowski

 

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Vatican official: Church must be prudent judging Medjugorje apparitions

IMAGE: CNS photo/Sarah Mac Donald

By Sarah Mac Donald

KNOCK, Ireland (CNS) -- Medjugorje, Bosnia-Herzegovina, is a place of prayer, conversion and pilgrimage for millions of people, but the church must be prudent and not rush to any judgment on the alleged Marian apparitions there, said Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization.

Speaking to Catholic News Service at Knock Shrine in County Mayo Aug. 15, the feast of the Assumption, Archbishop Fisichella spoke of attending the first officially approved church festival at Medjugorje in early August.

"I confess the experience was very beautiful, seeing about 70,000 young people praying and living together and listening to catechesis," he told CNS, describing it as a mini-World Youth Day.

The presence of so many young people there was, he suggested, "one of the fruits" of the pastoral efforts of Medjugorje.

Visionaries claim to have seen than 40,000 Marian apparitions since June 1981, when six teenagers first claimed they first saw an apparition of Our Lady while herding sheep.

As always, when confronted with an apparition, the church "is always prudent," Archbishop Fisichella said.

In May 2018, Pope Francis named Polish Archbishop Henryk Hoser as apostolic visitor to the shrine, after a papal commission recommended that Medjugorje, which attracts up to 3 million visitors annually, be designated a pontifical shrine with Vatican oversight. A ban on pilgrimages organized by dioceses and parishes was then lifted by papal decree.

Some of the six visionaries say Mary still appears to them daily and gives them messages. However, in 2017, when asked about this, Pope Francis appeared to doubt the ongoing nature of these apparitions.

Differentiating between the Vatican's pastoral care of Medjugorje and the doctrinal study of the apparitions, Archbishop Fisichella said that, following the papal commission's conclusions, "we are now in another step (phase) in order to understand what happened in Medjugorje."

"I think that for the moment it is necessary to evaluate the richness of the work in Medjugorje. We need to understand all of this together: why there is such a huge number of pilgrims, of prayers and to understand also how the possible apparitions in Medjugorje (relate) to the life of the church. For that we should wait the judgment the Holy Father will give. To rush this delicate matter is a mistake."

Archbishop Fisichella was in Knock as the keynote speaker for the feast of the Assumption as part of the annual novena at the Irish church's national shrine, which draws up to 100,000 pilgrims over the nine days of the novena.

This year marks the 140th anniversary of the apparition in Irish village. On Aug. 21, 1879, 15 people, ages 6-75, witnessed the silent vision of Mary, St. Joseph and St. John the Evangelist as well as the Lamb of God standing on the altar in driving rain.

Speaking to CNS about the message of Knock, Archbishop Fisichella said he was "touched by the vision of St. John," who was seen in the apparition giving the sign of silence. "Probably not many people know that this was the request for silence made by the master among the disciples" in medieval times.

He suggested that the message of Knock and its "request of silence" was "extremely important" for today's contemporary "era of chat."

"We need to help people today, especially people who don't know the profound value of silence, to understand better the value of silence," he said.

At a seminar the same day on the theme, "Mary in the life of the church," the archbishop also expressed concern over the number of millennials who feel isolated and have no friends.

Discussing the concept of koinonia -- communion and community -- Archbishop Fisichella told the Knock seminar that "in a culture like ours, where there is such a strong individualism, we need to discover the necessity of community and relationship."

He said he had been shocked to learn of a recent finding in the United States that showed as many as 30 percent of millennials identified solitude and a lack of friends of one of their main problems.

"It is unbelievable but true. Normally we think of solitude as a problem for people in their 70s or 80s due to their condition of life. Millennials are people born in 2000, and today they are 19 years old. This solitude stems from a culture in which people close in on themselves. Without relationships you cannot trust; if you don't trust you can't communicate; if you don't communicate there is no possibility of friendship; and if there is no friendship there is no possibility to learn to express yourself."

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Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at [email protected]

Iraqi church formerly defaced by ISIS rededicated on Assumption feast

Qaraqosh, Iraq, Aug 16, 2019 / 05:23 am (CNA).- An Iraqi church damaged and defaced by the Islamic State in 2014 was rededicated Thursday for the parish’s celebration of the Feast of the Assumption of Mary.

The Syriac Catholic Church of Mar Behnam and Mart Sarah in the Iraqi city of Qaraqosh welcomed Archbishop Petros Mouche of Mosul, priests, and the local Catholic community to celebrate the solemnity.

Archbishop Mouche rededicated the church's altar, which had been burned by the Islamic State. After renonvations and rebuilding, the interior of the church, once charred black by fire, has been painted white.

“All these people do not see the community reborn only as stones, but as faith around Christ who is celebrated in the Resurrection. So the Resurrection of Christ is the resurrection of the community itself that goes on. Our community has about 800 families,” Fr. George Jahola told Vatican News in an interview published Aug. 15.

Five years ago on the August Feast of the Transfiguration, the Islamic State devastated the city of Qaraqosh in Iraq’s Nineveh Plains causing Christians to flee the region.

“In 2014 we left our churches and our homes. The city had about 50,000 Christian inhabitants,” Fr. Jahola said.

Now the Christian population in the city has been reduced to half of what it was. About 26,000 Christians have returned to Qaraqosh, Jahola explained.

During their occupation, the Islamic State desecrated the churches in Qaraqosh, in some cases writing battle instructions on church walls. St. George’s Syrian Catholic Church was turned into a bomb factory and used as storage for supplies of deadly chemicals to make powerful explosives. The church of the Immaculate Conception was used as an indoor shooting range with mannequins as targets, according to Aid to the Church in Need.

The Church of Mar Behnam and Mart Sarah was charred black and its bell tower was demolished. “But we never stopped imagining how beautiful our church would be, once fixed,” Fr. Jahola said.

 

À Qaraqosh, l’évêque Mgr Petros Moiche a consacré le nouvel autel de l’église Mar Behnam et Sarah. Elle avait été incendiée par les djihadistes. Une impressionnante rénovation a été menée, signe de la victoire de la vie sur la destruction. #15aout #Irak pic.twitter.com/wgYfrY1jM2

— Fraternité en Irak (@FraterniteIrak) August 15, 2019  

Christmas Mass was celebrated in the church in Dec. 2018 during the church's reconstruction. The bell tower was rebuilt in 2019.

“We started the reconstruction project even before the liberation of the city, in the Nineveh Plains, when we were refugees,” he said. “We have worked to rebuild houses and communities as believers, because this is the sense of belonging both to a parish and to a community.”

ISIS was driven from Mosul in 2017, and the last remaining town of the original caliphate in Syria fell earlier this year. However many Christians who fled the ISIS onslaught in 2014 have not returned to their homes in Mosul and the Nineveh region.

Although the territorial ISIS caliphate is gone, security threats to Christians and Yazidis in the region remain. There are up to 15,000 ISIS fighters estimated to have remained in Iraq, according to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF).

Christianity has been present in the Nineveh plain in Iraq – between Mosul and Iraqi Kurdistan – since the first century.

“What we have learned from the Gospel, from the Lord, is to be instruments of peace, and also to live peace,” Fr. Jahola said.

“We try in every way to realize it here, where the majority is Muslim, where there is still someone who still bears hatred. We truly believe in this, in forgiveness and in leaving the past behind to continue towards the future,” he said.

A Catholic group wants to honor Ireland’s oldest grandparents

Dublin, Ireland, Aug 16, 2019 / 12:04 am (CNA).- In anticipation of the Irish National Grandparents Pilgrimage, a Catholic group has launched a search for the oldest grandparents in Ireland.

The Catholic Grandparents Association (CGA) has issued an invitation for the oldest grandparents and longest married couple to attend the 17th annual pilgrimage.

“Please help us find the longest married couple in Ireland and the oldest grandparents to come celebrate with us and be honoured at our annual national grandparents pilgrimage at the Shrine of Our Lady of Knock,” the organization said, according to Irish news.

On September 8, thousands of grandparents from all over Ireland will travel to Knock Shrine in County Mayo. The event draws over 10,000 attendees each year.

The deadline for entries into the grandparent search is August 30. According to Irish News, participants may email their submission to [email protected]

The national shrine has been a destination for pilgrims since 1879, when 15 townspeople witnessed an apparition of the Blessed Mother, St. Joseph, St. John the Evangelist, angels, and Jesus Christ - as the Lamb of God - on the south gable of the town church, which was named St. John the Evangelist. For a period of about two hours, a crowd gathered to adore the apparition and to pray the rosary. Despite the rainstorm, the ground around the gable did not get wet.

The shrine began hosting the National Grandparents Pilgrimage in 2007.

The CGA was formed two years later to manage the pilgrimage. It has a goal of providing grandparents in the country with the encouragement to support their families. Both the pilgrimage and the organization were founded by Catherine Wiley.

“This association grew out of our Grandparents Pilgrimages, where thousands of grandparents gathered in recent years, united by the same goal to do the very best we can for our children and grandchildren,” the organization says on its website.

“Grandparents’ vital contribution to the family, the Church and society was never as important as now,” it adds.

In Ireland, Catholic group warns of housing discrimination against migrants

Dublin, Ireland, Aug 15, 2019 / 05:29 pm (CNA).- A representative from an Irish Catholic charity has warned that discrimination against immigrants in the private housing market has forced more people to pursue public housing.

The housing market in Ireland is “unbelievably difficult” for immigrants, said Danielle McLaughlin, a policy officer for Crosscare, a Catholic charity which aids the homeless.

McLaughlin said many immigrants face discrimination in the rental market and workplace, according to RTÉ News. She also said they receive lower wages because of a lack of language proficiency and qualifications.

Many immigrants have encountered a poor quality of accommodation or exploitation efforts by a landlord, she said.

“We have huge numbers coming to us with notices to quit. They are more susceptible to exploitation or not knowing their rights,” said McLaughlin, according to RTÉ News.

She cited two reports - one from the Economic and Social Research Institute and another from the Dublin City Council. The first report found that African immigrants suffered discrimination in the workplace. The other report determined that migrants had a greater chance of becoming homeless than those who were not migrants.

The Dublin Region Homeless Executive reported that last March, 2,704 migrants applied for social housing in Ireland.

It also found that, while the total number of applicants on a waiting list for social housing dropped 12% since 2016, the number of immigrant applications have increased by 45%.

For the 2016 World Day of Migrants and Refugees, then-Bishop John Buckley of Cork and Ross expressed gratitude for the contribution immigrants have offered to Ireland. He encouraged parishioners to welcome migrants and refugees, who may have already faced numerous hardships, including hunger and displacement.

“Some will be coming to this country and they are hoping that Ireland will be a place where they are safe and can begin the process of rebuilding their lives,” he wrote.

“It is important that the local church be at the forefront of efforts to welcome them.”

 

After Epstein death, theologians discuss suicide, salvation, and the obligations of the state

Denver, Colo., Aug 15, 2019 / 05:03 pm (CNA).- On August 10, investment banker and multi-millionaire Jeffrey Epstein was found dead in his jail cell, in what officials have called an apparent suicide.

Epstein, already a convicted sex offender, was awaiting trial for sex trafficking charges, including one count of sex trafficking of a minor and one count of conspiracy to commit sex trafficking. He had pled not guilty to both.

Following his death, theories about how Epstein died abound.

The well-connected Epstein, who counted princes and presidents and other elites among his associates, might have exposed the crimes of powerful friends at trial, and the risk of that exposure, some speculate, could have prompted an assassination.

Epstein had been taken off of suicide watch just 12 days prior to his death. According to a report in the New York Times, two guards who were supposed to check on Epstein every 30 minutes fell asleep for three hours and fudged the records of their rounds in an attempt to cover their mistake. They have since been removed from their posts at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan, where Epstein was being held.

An autopsy of Epstein has so far raised more questions than answers.

Whether or not Epstein committed suicide remains to be confirmed. But federal data shows that suicide rates in the U.S. are at the highest they’ve been since World War II, and even higher than they were during the Great Depression, according to a report from TIME magazine.

The Catholic Church teaches that suicide is a violation of the 5th commandment “Thou Shall Not Kill,” and a mortal sin.

CNA spoke with three moral theologians about suicide, on the hope for salvation that the Church holds for those who take their lives, and the obligations of the state to protect prisoners from themselves.

Grave matter and mortal sin

David Cloutier is a moral theologian and associate professor of theology at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.

Cloutier told CNA that when considering suicide, it is important to remember that it is taught by the Church to be a grave sin.

“(That) means all things considered, this is a serious matter, and to make a choice against life is to choose against God, who gives everyone the gift of life, and to also choose against your obligations to others,” Cloutier told CNA.

In a section on suicide, the Catechism of the Catholic Church states that God is the master of life, and that human beings “are obliged to accept life gratefully and preserve it for his honor and the salvation of our souls. We are stewards, not owners, of the life God has entrusted to us. It is not ours to dispose of. Suicide contradicts the natural inclination of the human being to preserve and perpetuate his life.”

The Catechism adds that suicide “unjustly breaks the ties of solidarity with family, nation, and other human societies to which we continue to have obligations. Suicide is contrary to love for the living God.”

While suicide is grave matter, the Catechism also notes that in order for a person to commit a mortal sin, three conditions must be a met: that the sin is grave matter, and that the person commits the sin with “full knowledge and deliberate consent.”

There could be mitigating factors, such as mental illness or some other kind of great distress, that might relieve a person of at least some culpability in committing suicide, Cloutier said.


The hope for salvation

Even given the gravity of suicide, Christians should always hope in the love and mercy of God in cases of suicide, Scott Hefelfinger, a moral theologian and assistant professor of theology at the Augustine Institute in Denver, told CNA.

“If we lose all hope with respect to this person's salvation, we could in fact be sort of repeating the same emotional disposition of despair that afflicted the person who did commit suicide. So we're counseled to hope rather than despair,” he said.

“We put our trust in God's mercy.”

Furthermore, Cloutier said, the Catechism itself is “pretty straightforward” in saying that those who commit suicide are not necessarily denied eternal salvatinon, because the state of their mind and soul at the time of committing the act is a factor.

If the person was in “some kind of emotional stress, or depression, or other various ways in which a person’s emotions get in the way of fully knowing what they’re doing,” their responsibility is at least somewhat mitigated, he said.

Fr. Edward Krasevac, OP, is a professor of theology, and the theology department chair at the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology in Berkeley, California.

Krasevac said that because the will to live is such a basic human instinct, it seems possible that many cases of suicide are committed by people who are influenced by serious clinical depression or other mental illnesses or psychological factors that would impair their judgment and mitigate to at least some degree the consent of their will.

“People who are clinically depressed don’t think straight, they can’t think straight,” Krasevac said.

He added there could be other mitigating factors in a person’s life, such as fear of the pain of death, or the fear of what is going to happen to them if they stay alive, such as a person “facing the rest of their life in not a good prison situation, losing everything they ever had, not being able to deal with life in prison...these are what we call modifiers of responsibility.”

“So in many cases of suicide, a person's responsibility is seriously diminished,” he said. “[In such a case] it's not subjectively mortal sin even though it may look like it from the outside and it is objectively a mortal sin.”

Another reason to hope is that a person could have repented of their actions in the moments before their death, Hefelfinger noted.

“In the case of someone who, let's say is culpable of the act of suicide, and they begin this process. Well, usually there's some suffering involved, and usually death doesn't come about instantaneously,” he said.

“And so, God's mercy doesn't need a very wide crack to get through. I think there are always these opportunities prior to death, in the split second before death, where we certainly do not want to rule out the possibility of God's mercy,” he said. 

“And again, we say this without in any way diminishing the gravity of the act. It's the gravity of the act that makes us lean on God's mercy so much, so we turn our attention to that and pray for that so greatly.”

The state and the suicidal person

The Catholic Church teaches that states have a duty to uphold the common good of society, and although the Catechism does not specifically express what a state should do in the case of a suicidal person, Cloutier said the state has several interests in preventing the suicide of people in prison.

“The reason the state wants to avoid suicide is because it wants to allow the prisoner a fair, public trial, which is in the public interest,” he said.

“It’s in the interest of the prisoner, because then he might be found innocent, and it’s in the interest of the public, because if the prisoner is found guilty through this, then the prisoner is subjected to appropriate punishment,” he added.

“So the state...has an interest in the person going through the justice system.”

In upholding the common good, the state also has an interest in keeping prisoners alive, Cloutier said. “This is why we have suicide watch. It is also the case that in our society, we generally believe that anyone who is suicidal should be prevented from taking their own life,” he said.

Suicide is the leading cause of death in prison. According to recent data from the U.S. Department of Justice, 372 suicides occurred in 3,000 federal prisons in 2014. This number is 2.5 times higher than suicide rates in state prisons and 3.5 times higher than in general society.

In the case of someone like Epstein, who was at one point known to be suicidal, the state assumes the responsibility for that person’s mental health while they are in prison, and therefore cut off from other communities of support, Hefelfinger added.

“(Prisoners) typically don't have access to those more closely knit communities,” he said. “And so there is a moral responsibility, it would seem, for the state and for those running these facilities to attend to the mental health of those folks who are in these institutions.”

The investigation of Epstein’s death is ongoing.

If you are feeling suicidal, contact the National suicide preention lifeline at: 1-800-273-8255 or text CONNECT to 741741 to be connected to a crisis counselor in the United States.