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Dioceses in northern Italy suspend Mass during coronavirus outbreak

Milan, Italy, Feb 24, 2020 / 06:54 am (CNA).- Several Catholic dioceses in northern Italy have suspended Mass and other activities this week to help contain the spread of COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by coronavirus.

The northern regions of Italy saw a dramatic uptick in coronavirus cases over the weekend, prompting some regions to suspend all events or gatherings of any form, in public or private.

In response to the outbreak, dioceses in the area have taken various measures, including cancelling Masses and asking Catholics to receive the Eucharist only in the hand.

Italian officials have also imposed quarantine restrictions on several towns in the Lombardy and Veneto regions, where most of the infections have occurred.

The number of coronavirus infections in Italy has reached 219 as of Monday. Six people have died from the virus in the country, which has the highest number of cases in Europe.

The Archdiocese of Milan suspended Masses beginning in the evening Feb. 23 until further notice. The Milan Cathedral has also been closed to tourists Feb. 24 and 25.

In Venice, Patriarch of Venice Archbishop Francesco Moraglia suspended Masses and other liturgical celebrations including baptisms and Stations of the Cross, until Sunday March 1.

Moraglia invited the faithful to “dedicate a convenient time to prayer and meditation” in place of Mass on Ash Wednesday.

The Italian bishops’ conference released a statement Feb. 24 in which they said they renew Pope Francis’ prayer of closeness to those affected by the virus and their families; prayer for doctors and nurses from healthcare facilities, called to face this emergency at the frontier; prayer for those responsible for taking precautionary and restrictive measures.”

The bishops also said they are committed to doing their part “to reduce bewilderment and fears.”

“This is the time to find reasons for pragmatism, trust, and hope, which allow us to face this difficult situation together,” they said.

Other responses include the Diocese of Turin, where the archbishop cancelled all parish events and meetings for the week of Feb. 24 to March 1 with the exception of Mass, asking that all Catholics receive the Eucharist in the hand and abstain from exchanging the sign of peace.

Bishops in the regions of Emilia-Romagna and Liguria also called for the cancellation of Masses and other parish activities this week in cooperation with civil ordinances against public gatherings.

In Padua, the Pontifical Basilica of St. Anthony will remain open for prayer, but Masses and other religious functions are suspended. The basilica’s museum will be closed until March 1.

In an announcement, the Franciscan friars who operate the shrine said they “entrust to the intercession of St. Anthony all the people who are suffering from this epidemic, those who have lost loved ones and those who are doing their utmost to assist the sick and to adequately face this health emergency."”

COVID-19, is a respiratory disease caused by coronavirus which originated in Hubei province (which borders Henan) in China.

The new strain of coronavirus can cause fever, cough, and difficulty breathing. In some cases, it can lead to pneumonia, kidney failure, and severe acute respiratory syndrome.

In mainland China, the death toll of the coronavirus has reached 2,442, and more than 76,000 have been infected.

The virus has spread to 28 countries, with about 1,769 confirmed cases outside mainland China and 17 deaths.

According to the Chinese health authority last week, 80.9% of coronavirus infections are mild, 13.8% are severe, and 4.7% are critical.


This story was updated.

Northern Italian dioceses take drastic measures against coronavirus

IMAGE: CNS photo/Flavio Lo Scalzo, Reuters

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- With the biggest two days of celebration and costume parades left, the famous pre-Lenten "Carnevale" of Venice was canceled as were Ash Wednesday services and even funeral Masses throughout the diocese.

The Archdiocese of Milan also issued a notice Feb. 23 suspending all public celebrations of the Mass until further notice in compliance with Italian Ministry of Health precautions to prevent the further spread of the coronavirus.

Angelo Borrelli, head of Italy's civil protection service, announced Feb. 24 that the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the country had risen to 219, including five people who died. The majority of cases -- 167 -- were in the northern Italian region of Lombardy, whose capital is Milan. The Veneto region, whose capital is Venice, had 27 confirmed cases, he said.

Schools and museums in the two regions were closed, and school trips were suspended for all students throughout Italy.

Lazio, the region surrounding the Vatican, has had three confirmed cases, including a married couple from Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the outbreak. Neither Lazio nor the Vatican had issued special precautions as of Feb. 24.

Auxiliary Bishop Franco Agnesi, vicar general of the Milan archdiocese, issued further instructions Feb. 24 saying that churches would remain open for private prayer and, although there should be no public celebration of the Mass, "funerals and matrimonies can be celebrated, but with the presence only of close relatives."

Milan's famed cathedral announced it would be closed to tourists Feb. 24-25 while awaiting further instructions from the health ministry and the archdiocese. However, it said, "the area reserved for prayer" would remain open, although no public Mass would be celebrated.

In a statement Feb. 23, Archbishop Francesco Moraglia of Venice announced that all public Masses and gatherings of the faithful were being suspended at least until midnight March 1. The ban included Ash Wednesday services and funeral Masses, although a priest would still be available to bless the body of the deceased in the presence of the person's closest family members.

The archdiocesan Lenten priests' retreat, which was to begin Feb. 27, also was postponed.

Archbishop Moraglia said pastors should try to keep churches open so that a few faithful at a time could make a quick visit for prayer. Within the historic center of Venice that probably would not be possible, he said, and he announced that the city's famed St. Mark's Basilica would remain closed.

At the same time, he said, the archdiocese's charitable activities would continue. Soup kitchens were to continue distributing free meals, but they would be packaged to go to avoid the risk of large numbers of people gathering in a dining hall. Public health officials will assist at dormitories for the homeless to ensure they remain open, he said.

The Basilica of St. Anthony of Padua, also in the Veneto region, announced the suspension of Masses and public prayer services through March 1. The Franciscans who care for the basilica, which includes the tomb of St. Anthony, said they would keep the church open, but they asked pilgrims and tourists not to congregate in large numbers.

The Archdiocese of Turin, in Italy's Piedmont region, canceled all catechism classes and other public gatherings except for Masses. However, it ordered priests to empty all holy water fonts and distribute Communion only in the hand. As for the distribution of ashes Feb. 26, it said, "ashes will be placed directly on the head of the faithful without any physical contact and there will be no celebrations for children in order to safeguard their health."


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Personal conversion needed to confront Satan's lies, pope says in Lent message

Vatican City, Feb 24, 2020 / 03:34 am (CNA).- There is an urgent need for personal conversion, without which the temptations of Satan, and the presence of evil, create a “hell here on earth,” Pope Francis said Monday in his 2020 Lenten message.

“Christian joy flows from listening to, and accepting, the Good News of the death and resurrection of Jesus,” he said. “Whoever believes this message rejects the lie that our life is ours to do with as we will.”

Rather, the pope said, life is born of the love of God our Father.

“If we listen instead to the tempting voice of the ‘father of lies,’ we risk sinking into the abyss of absurdity, and experiencing hell here on earth, as all too many tragic events in the personal and collective human experience sadly bear witness,” he stated.

Pope Francis’ Lenten message was published Feb. 24. It was signed Oct. 7, 2019, the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary.  

With the season of Lent, the Lord gives Catholics again a time of preparation for Jesus’ death and resurrection, “the cornerstone of our personal and communal Christian life,” he said, urging Catholics to not take this time of conversion for granted.

“This new opportunity ought to awaken in us a sense of gratitude and stir us from our sloth,” he argued. “Despite the sometimes tragic presence of evil in our lives, and in the life of the Church and the world, this opportunity to change our course expresses God’s unwavering will not to interrupt his dialogue of salvation with us.”

In his message for Lent 2020, which will begin Feb. 26, Francis spoke about the “urgency of conversion,” and quoted his 2019 apostolic exhortation Christus Vivit.

“Keep your eyes fixed on the outstretched arms of Christ crucified, let yourself be saved over and over again. And when you go to confess your sins, believe firmly in his mercy which frees you of your guilt.  Contemplate his blood poured out with such great love, and let yourself be cleansed by it. In this way, you can be reborn ever anew.”

During Lent, a penitential period preceding the Church’s celebration of the death and resurrection of Christ, Catholics are called to a renewed practice of almsgiving, fasting, and prayer.

Pope Francis recalled that prayer is “more than a duty,” but that it is “an expression of our need to respond to God’s love which always precedes and sustains us.”

Christians pray with the knowledge they are unworthy, but still loved by God, he said.

Francis also spoke about the paschal mystery and putting it at the center of one’s life, which he said means to have compassion for Christ crucified as represented in “the many innocent victims of wars, in attacks on life, from that of the unborn to that of the elderly, and various forms of violence.”

Christ’s wounds are also represented in “environmental disasters, the unequal distribution of the earth’s goods, human trafficking in all its forms, and the unbridled thirst for profit, which is a form of idolatry,” he stated.

About almsgiving, the pope said sharing one’s worldly goods helps to make the world a better place.

“Charitable giving makes us more human, whereas hoarding risks making us less human, imprisoned by our own selfishness,” he said.

Francis said apart from giving alms, Christians must also consider the structure of economic life, which is why he has convened in March a meeting with young men and women from around the world to bring about “a more just and inclusive economy.”

“The Economy of Francesco,” which will be attended by around 2,000 economists and entrepreneurs under the age of 35, will be held in Assisi March 26-28.

Pope Francis pointed to the crucified Jesus, who was sinless yet took on “the weight of our sins.”

“May we not let this time of grace pass in vain, in the foolish illusion that we can control the times and means of our conversion to him,” he urged.

“I ask Mary Most Holy to pray that our Lenten celebration will open our hearts to hear God’s call to be reconciled to himself, to fix our gaze on the paschal mystery, and to be converted to an open and sincere dialogue with him.”

Denver archbishop discusses February Pope Francis meeting

Denver, Colo., Feb 24, 2020 / 12:06 am (CNA).- The Archbishop of Denver offered his impressions of a Feb. 10 meeting between some U.S. bishops and Pope Francis, at which the bishops’ discussion with the pope included some questions about the ministry of Fr. James Martin, and about a 2019 meeting between the pontiff and the priest.

Archbishop Samuel Aquila of Denver told CNA it was a “privilege” to meet with the pope and his fellow bishops of the U.S. bishops’ conference Region XIII, adding that “the meeting was a grace.”

“The Holy Father spoke very openly and freely with us regarding many topics,” Aquila said, acknowledging that the meeting “has now become a source of some controversy.”

Last week CNA reported that during the Feb. 10 meeting, Pope Francis discussed his Sept. 30 Vatican visit with Fr. James Martin, an American Jesuit who is well-known for speaking and writing about the Church’s ministry to people who identify themselves as LGBT.

Bishops who met with the pope this month told CNA that Pope Francis expressed frustration with the way his meeting with Martin was interpreted and framed by some journalists.

Since it was reported by CNA, those facts have been confirmed by additional bishops who were in the meeting: Archbishop John Wester and Bishop Steven Biegler.

In a Feb. 21 column published by the National Catholic Reporter, Archbishop John Wester added that the bishops’ discussion with the pope also addressed other aspects of Martin’s ministry, including questions about a recent speech Martin delivered to presidents of Catholic universities, “and his work in general with the LGBT community.”

Regarding the Sept. 30 meeting, some bishops told CNA that the pope’s frustration about the media’s framing of the event was evident in “both his words and his face,” while Wester wrote that, from his view, he did not think the pope had been “angry, upset or annoyed.”

For his part, Aquila told CNA that Pope Francis expressed his personal frustration with the way his meeting with Martin was interpreted and framed by some journalists in a way that was clear, Aquila said, especially for “those who understand Italian.”

Pope Francis spoke in Italian during the meeting with U.S. bishops, and a translator offered English translations for bishops who required it.

Among accounts of the meeting from bishops who attended it, a difference of understanding has emerged regarding another point in the discussion of Martin’s ministry. Some bishops told CNA last week that the pope had said to their group that Martin had received some correction about the way the Sept. 30 visit was framed. But according to Wester, the pope did not say that Martin was given a correction.

“I vaguely remember some mention of people in leadership trying to clarify any misunderstandings about his ministry,” the archbishop wrote, while adding that he thought that reference had to do with another issue.

Reflecting on the meeting, which spanned more than two hours and, for some bishops, relied on a translator, Aquila told CNA that “I think it is reasonable that some remarks from the Holy Father would have been interpreted in different ways by different bishops.”

Wester, one of seven U.S. bishops to have endorsed “Building a Bridge,” Martin’s 2017 book on the Church and homosexuality, commented last week on the length of the meeting, and said it would be “difficult for anyone to remember with precision anything that was said” during the conversation.

From his perspective, Aquilla added that “all of us present at the meeting were making an effort to receive the pope in good faith,” even while bishops understood the pope on some points in differing ways.

Aquila emphasized to CNA the fruitful and open discussions with Pope Francis and the bishops.

“The most important part of the meeting was, of course, our unity with Pope Francis, the Vicar of Christ on Earth,” the archbishop said.


Catholic uni reform triggered California abortion mandate that violated federal law

Los Angeles, Calif., Feb 23, 2020 / 03:01 pm (CNA).- A California rule to require abortion coverage in health care plans now faces scrutiny from federal officials who say it violates the law. The controversial rule was a reaction to two Jesuit universities’ removal of abortion coverage, prompting Planned Parenthood and others to lobby state officials to block the effort.

“In 2013, Loyola Marymount University and Santa Clara University, two religiously affiliated universities in California, implemented changes to their employee health care plans to no longer provide elective abortion coverage,” the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Civil Rights said in its Jan. 24 notice of violation to the State of California.

“Abortion providers and advocacy groups, including Planned Parenthood, learned of this development and pressured (California’s Department of Managed Health Care) to not only reverse its decision to allow the coverage changes, but also to make elective abortion coverage mandatory for all health care plans falling under (the department’s) jurisdiction,” the notice continued.

The 2014 California rules mandating abortion in health care plans were a response to a “pressure campaign,” the notice said. The HHS office ruled that these rules violated the Weldon Amendment, which bars federal funds to state or local governments if they discriminate against healthcare entities, including health insurance plans, that decline to pay for, provide coverage of, or refer for abortions.

James G. Hanink, a philosophy professor who taught at Loyola Marymount University from 1976 to 2015, had discovered the abortion coverage in his employee health plan in the summer of 2013. Soon after, the university planned to drop the coverage.

“When LMU announced that it had dropped the abortion coverage, I thought that the school could still, if the light was shining on it, act on principle,” Hanink told CNA Feb. 20.

The health plan changes to remove abortion coverage initially won approval from state officials. However, the changes prompted significant protests from some faculty as well as lobbying from abortion advocates. After California mandated abortion coverage in health plans, the universities complied—despite Catholic teaching against cooperation with the provision of abortion.

Hanink lamented the continued coverage of abortion in Loyola Marymount University’s health plan. He said the university should again work to drop abortion coverage if federal officials bring an end to California’s ban on abortion-free health care plans.

“LMU should act in favor of human rights. Doing so, moreover, could help rebuild the badly tarnished Jesuit legacy,” said Hanink, whose scholarly focuses include the philosophical aspects of abortion, the personhood of the unborn human being, and the work of Jacques Maritain.

Hanink backed the Weldon Amendment action.

“Insofar as the action is effective, I strongly support it,” he told CNA. “I doubt, though, that it will be effective. State leadership is locked into pro-abortion policies. Litigation will be endless.”

However, Hanink was also sceptical towards his former employer’s actions.

“What LMU does has largely been a matter of public relations. In Southern California ‘the public’ is largely secular. It sees abortion coverage as a positive thing. LMU pretty much caves in.”

CNA contacted Loyola Marymount University and Santa Clara University for comment but did not receive a response by deadline.

Patrick J. Reilly, president of the Virginia-based Cardinal Newman Society, said the Weldon Amendment action against California was “very encouraging.”

“The California mandate was a brazen violation in need of enforcement, but pro-abortion politics got in the way. Without the Trump administration’s leadership on this, we would have never seen action,” said Reilly, whose organization focuses on strengthening Catholic fidelity in education.

“Abortion is not healthcare, and it certainly has no place in truly Catholic education,” he told CNA Feb. 21. “This is a mandate that no Catholic college should have obeyed. They should have fought the mandate all the way to the Supreme Court. But certainly, if the mandate is repealed, no faithful Catholic college should provide abortion coverage voluntarily.”

In 2013, Hanink told the National Catholic Register he thought “bureaucratic incompetence” was behind the inclusion of abortion coverage. The university had dropped the coverage in 1988 but it somehow returned to the health plan before 2013.

When California officials in 2014 required health plans to cover abortions, their mandate was so broad it did not exempt churches and religious communities.

In last month’s notice, federal authorities sided with complaints from two groups, Skyline Wesleyan Church of La Mesa and the Missionary Guadalupanas of the Holy Spirit. Both had objected to being forced to cover abortions.

The HHS Office of Civil Rights estimated that California’s abortion coverage mandate wrongly affected at least 35 employer groups serving over 28,000 enrollees, including 13 groups that met California’s definition of “religious employer.” It gave the state of California 30 days to comply with federal law, or face limits on federal HHS funds.

Some California authorities, like Gov. Gavin Newsom, voiced defiance.

“Despite a federal opinion four years ago confirming California’s compliance with the Weldon Amendment, the Trump Administration would rather rile up its base to score cheap political points and risk access to care for millions than do what’s right,” he said. “California will continue to protect a woman’s right to choose, and we won’t back down from defending reproductive freedom for everybody — full stop.”

In June 2016, Obama Administration officials rejected the California Catholic Conference’s federal complaint against the mandate. The HHS Office for Civil Rights said it found no violation of the Weldon Amendment.

At that time, leaders with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said the ruling was “contrary to the plain meaning of the law.” They said it was “shocking” that the federal government allowed California to force all employers, including churches, to fund and facilitate elective abortions.

The effort to remove abortion coverage from university health plans sparked division at the Catholic universities, the National Catholic Register reported in September 2013. A group of faculty members wrote to then-president David Burcham and then-chair of the board of trustees Kathleen Aikenhead objecting to the removal.

“LMU can either be a great American Catholic university in the Jesuit and Marymount traditions or it can be an institution that demands obedience to and conformity with Catholic doctrine; it cannot be both,” they said.

In 2013 the Santa Clara University chapter of the American Association of University Professors responded to the decision to drop abortion coverage, alleging that the decision “caused widespread concern on campus about the limitation of women's rights and the failure to follow established governance procedure.”

“The campus chapter was active in facilitating a campus response to the decision, including coordinating a special meeting of the Faculty Senate to consider a course of action,” the chapter’s website said.

Santa Clara University faculty voiced their rejection of the changes to the health care plan by a vote of 215 to 89 in December 2013, the California Lawyer magazine reported. Before the policy was revised in 2013, Santa Clara’s abortion coverage also applied to dependents of faculty and staff.

Reilly lamented the mindset among some faculty at Catholic schools.

“Bad actors within Jesuit universities are as much to blame for the California mandate as are state legislators, and Catholic families should take note of that when choosing a college,” he charged. “I wouldn’t want my tuition money paying for someone’s abortion coverage.”

“Pray for the conversion of hearts at these universities,” he told CNA. “Sadly, people who embrace gender ideology and the contraceptive mentality have a lock on the leadership of many large Catholic universities, where Catholic identity has steadily declined.”

Christopher Kaczor, a philosophy professor at Loyola Marymount, told CNA in August 2014 that California government officials’ scrutiny of abortion coverage in health plans was hindering Catholic colleges’ ability to be consistently Catholic.

“A Catholic university, if it is to retain its identity, must be distinctive in its fidelity to fundamental truths,” he said. Kaczor cited the Society of Jesus’ 2003 document “Standing for the Unborn,” saying that “the defense of human life prior to birth is a justice issue.”

Reilly saw some promise in the appointment of federal judges who tend to favor religious freedom.

“The political threat to Catholic education is enormous today, but our short-term hope rests with the courts, and our long-term hope depends on Catholic education itself, to form a new generation of virtuous leaders who will change the culture,” he said.

Kevin Eckery, a spokesman for the California Catholic Conference, told CNA Feb. 18 that the Missionary Guadalupanas sisters and the Catholic conference do not aim to start or continue a “culture war” or to revoke California’s federal funding. Rather, they just want their beliefs respected and a return to policy that allows abortion-free health plans.

“We’re interested in simply rolling back to the status quo that existed prior to 2014,” Eckery said.

Father's bid to halt 8th month abortion makes headlines in Colombia

Bogotá, Colombia, Feb 23, 2020 / 10:00 am (CNA).- A late term abortion case has made national headlines in Colombia after a father lost a court appeal to save the life of his unborn son.

Juan Pablo Medina became a national figure in Colombia in the first week of February, after he went public with his efforts to prevent his girlfriend from procuring the abortion of their eight-month-old unborn child.

The 25-year-old law student had dated his girlfriend, Angie Tatiana Palta, 22, for 14 months when they mutually agreed to have a baby together.

Medina says he supported Palta throughout the pregnancy, which was healthy. A Dec. 6 ultrasound with Medina present showed the baby, close to eight months old, doing fine and with no deformities.

But, he says, the situation changed when Palta's mother and family found out about the pregnancy on Dec. 27. Medina claims the family pressured Palta to have an abortion. He was then told that Palta was in the hospital, supposedly in critical condition, in great mental distress, and that the baby had deformities - grounds for abortion in Colombia. 

In a Jan. 31 interview with, Medina said “that seemed strange to me because the last ultrasound on Dec. 6 showed the baby was in optimal condition, which makes you wonder.” 

When he visited Palta in the hospital, he was told that the baby was fine and that Palta was requesting an abortion on the legal grounds of danger to her mental health. But, he said, the hospital's psychological evaluation indicated she was not suffering psychological trauma but was confused.  

After Palta was discharged from the hospital, Medina lost all contact with her for eight days, prompting him to take legal action to protect his unborn child. Medina filed a criminal complaint alleging attempted homicide, and made an emergency appeal for guardianship of the child. He bought a crib and other necessities, anticipating the need to care for the baby as a single father.

On Jan. 31, Medina posted on Twitter that he was trying to save his son, whom he had named Juan Sebastián, or JuanSe for short. The hashtag #SalvemosaJuanSe (Let's save JuanSe) was soon trending among Colombians on Twitter. 

Medina was interviewed by on the same day, and the story became headline national news.

In the interview, Medina said Palta was unwilling to talk and that he had lost all contact with her. Through contact with relatives, Medina said he learned that Palta intended to abort because she was “not ready to welcome the child, wants to finish her career and doesn't have the financial means.”

Meanwhile, Palta went to a ProFamilia abortion clinic, which claimed that she was “in psychological distress and was having suicidal thoughts and so on,” Medina said.

He told Blu Radio Feb. 11 that he only found out she had procured the abortion on Feb. 7, when he reviewed the case file for the criminal complaint he had filed. 

As a law student who suspended his studies to deal with the situation, Medina had lost his emergency appeal for guardianship. The judge in the case requested the psychological examination from Palta's healthcare provider which had earlier determined she was not experiencing psychological trauma but was confused. Instead, ProFamila sent the judge a psychological evaluation conducted by a gynecologist, not by a psychologist or a psychiatrist, who verified that an abortion could be done on the grounds of the mental health of the mother. 

The judge ruled that that evaluation was insufficient and ordered a new one. However, ProFamilia, an affiliate of International Federation of Planned Parenthood, ignored the order and went ahead with the abortion, claiming it was a “fundamental right” and that, according to National Health Services guidelines, it should normally be done within five days.

In a Feb. 11 statement, the Colombian bishops' conference said that “in addition to the pain of knowing that Juan Sebastián was already past seven months gestation and that he was in perfect health, we have been perplexed by how the institutions of this country did not guarantee the rights of the father who persistently and tenaciously fought for the life of his son through the applicable channels.”

“We join the suffering of Juan Sebastián's family, especially that of his parents, and the pain that so many brothers feel for this tragic event.”

The bishops also called abortion “an injustice that cries out to heaven.”

Prayer vigils and rallies were held outside ProFamilia clinics Feb. 11 in Bogotá, Cartagena, Medellín, and other cities.

Jesús Magaña, president of the United for Life platform, told ACI Prensa, CNA's Spanish language news partner, that “we're in a very serious situation promoted and supported by seven judges on the Constitutional Court.” 

Magaña said that “it's impossible for this to continue happening.” 

“We call on the Congress of the Republic of Colombia to take action on the matter and we call on the Constitutional Court to stop its judicial activism and once again respect the Constitution.”

Medina want to know what happened to his son's body and wants to recover it for a Christian burial.

Columbia’s Constitutional Court legalized abortion in 2006 in cases of rape, fetal deformities and when a doctor determines there is a risk to the life or health of the mother. In a 2018 ruling, the court affirmed its 2006 decision, and declared abortion to be a “human right,” and asked the government to issue further regulations defining the legal circumstances for abortions to be performed. The Ministry of Health is currently working on developing those regulations.

Natalia Bernal Cano, a doctor of constitutional law, filed two lawsuits last year seeking to recognize the unborn as having human rights and to completely ban abortion on the grounds that it “does serious harm to the babies and the pregnant mothers” involved.

A version of this story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

Pope Francis: Ask God for the strength to love your enemies

Bari, Italy, Feb 23, 2020 / 09:00 am (CNA).- Ask God for the grace to love your enemies, Pope Francis said Sunday in a homily in the Italian city of Bari.

“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. This is the Christian innovation. It is the Christian difference,” Pope Francis said Feb. 23.

“Ask God for the strength to love. Say to Him: ‘Lord, help me to love, teach me to forgive. I cannot do it alone, I need you.’ … We need to pray more frequently for the grace to live the essence of the Gospel, to be truly Christian,” the pope said.

Pope Francis offered Mass in Bari for the conclusion of the “Mediterranean, Frontier of Peace" meeting of bishops from 19 Mediterranean countries, which took place Feb. 19-23. An estimated 40,000 people attended the pope’s Sunday Mass in Bari’s Piazza Libertà.

In his homily, the pope said that Christ on the cross perfectly lived out God’s command to Moses in the Book of Leviticus chapter 19: “Be holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy.”

“He did not point a finger at those who wrongfully condemned him and put him to a cruel death, but opened his arms to them on the cross. And he forgave those who drove the nails into his wrists,” Francis said. “If we want to be disciples of Christ, if we want to call ourselves Christians, this is the only way.”

“Having been loved by God, we are called to love in return; having been forgiven, we are called to forgive; having been touched by love, we are called to love without waiting for others to love first; having been saved graciously, we are called to seek no benefit from the good we do,” he said.

Pope Francis said that “the worship of God” contradicts the “culture of hatred.” He said one can fight this culture of hatred by not giving into the “cult of complaint.”

“How many times do we complain about the things that we lack, about the things that go wrong! Jesus knows about all the things that don’t work. He knows that there is always going to be someone who dislikes us. Or someone who makes our life miserable. All he asks us to do is pray and love,” he said.

“This is the revolution of Jesus, the greatest revolution in history: from hating our enemy to loving our enemy; from the cult of complaint to the culture of gift. If we belong to Jesus, this is the road we are called to take,” Pope Francis said.

The only kind of “Christian extremism” is “the extremism of love,” he said.

Pope Francis said that there is no getting around the Lord’s command to “love your enemies” because Jesus is “direct and clear … His words are deliberate and precise.”

The pope said that some people may think that they cannot “survive in this world” if they love and forgive in a world where “the logic of power prevails and people seem to be concerned only with themselves.”

“As Saint Paul told us in the second reading: ‘Let no one deceive himself... For the wisdom of this world is folly with God.’ God sees what we cannot see. He knows how to win. He knows that evil can only be conquered by goodness,” he said.

He added: “Jesus, with his limitless love, raises the bar of our humanity.”

“Today let us choose love, whatever the cost, even if it means going against the tide. Let us not yield to the thinking of this world, or content ourselves with half measures,” Pope Francis said. “Then we will be true Christians and our world will be more human.”

Gospel challenges believers to love without measure, pope says

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The only acceptable form of extremism for a Christian is an "extremism of love," Pope Francis said, concelebrating Mass with bishops from throughout the Mediterranean basin.

"'Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.' This is the Christian innovation. It is the Christian difference," the pope said Feb. 23 as he celebrated an outdoor Mass in central Bari, a city on the southern Italian coast.

The Mass, concelebrated by 60 bishops from Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, marked the conclusion of a five-day meeting to address common concerns, including the need for peace, the care of migrants and refugees, the defense of religious freedom and the promotion of interreligious and ecumenical dialogue.

Pope Francis' homily did not directly address the themes of the meeting but focused on the day's Gospel reading from St. Matthew in which Jesus tells his followers not to retaliate against those who harm them and to love and pray for their enemies.

"Pray and love: this is what we must do," Pope Francis said. "The love of Jesus knows no boundaries or barriers. The Lord demands of us the courage to have a love that does not count the cost, because the measure of Jesus is love without measure."

Jesus' commandment of love is not just a suggestion or even a challenge, the pope said. "It is the very heart of the Gospel."

"Where the command of universal love is concerned, let us not accept excuses or preach prudent caution," he said. "The Lord was not cautious; he did not yield to compromises. He asks of us the extremism of charity. It is the only legitimate kind of Christian extremism: the extremism of love."

Pope Francis said he knew some people would object and say, "That is not how life really is! If I love and forgive, I will not survive in this world, where the logic of power prevails, and people seem to be concerned only with themselves."

"So is Jesus' logic, his way of seeing things, the logic of losers?" the pope asked. "In the eyes of the world, it is, but in the eyes of God it is the logic of winners."

In the cross and resurrection of Jesus, the pope said, God proved that "evil can only be conquered by goodness. That is how he saved us: not by the sword, but by the cross. To love and forgive is to live as a conqueror. We will lose if we defend the faith by force."

Of course, he said, Jesus "raises the bar" to a level that seems humanly impossible, but that is where prayer comes in.

"Ask God for the strength to love," he said. "Say to him: 'Lord, help me to love, teach me to forgive. I cannot do it alone, I need you.'"

"Today let us choose love, whatever the cost, even if it means going against the tide," Pope Francis said. "Let us not yield to the thinking of this world, or content ourselves with half measures. Let us accept the challenge of Jesus, the challenge of charity."


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Pope Francis on Middle East: War should never be considered normal

Bari, Italy, Feb 23, 2020 / 07:00 am (CNA).- War is madness, Pope Francis told bishops gathered in the Italian city of Bari Sunday in a speech that warned against populist sentiments and condemned countries that sell weapons that fund wars in the Middle East.

“War can never be mistaken for normality or accepted as an inescapable way to regulate divergences and opposing interests. Never,” Pope Francis said Feb. 23 in Bari, Italy.

“The international community has been content with military interventions, whereas it should have built institutions that can guarantee equal opportunities and enable citizens to assume their responsibility for the common good,” he said.

The pope also denounced “the serious sin of hypocrisy” committed by “many countries,” who at international conferences and meetings “talk about peace and then sell weapons to countries that are at war.”

Pope Francis addressed more than 50 bishops from 19 Mediterranean countries gathered in the coastal city of Bari for the “Mediterranean, Frontier of Peace" meeting taking place Feb. 19-23.

The Italian bishops conference who organized the five-day meeting have described it as a “synod” for bishops from North Africa, the Middle East, and Europe to discuss issues pertinent to the Mediterranean region.

Pope Francis, who traveled by helicopter to participate in the last day of the meeting, used the opportunity to underline the importance of working toward peace through dialogue in the Middle East and North Africa.

“The Mediterranean region is currently threatened by outbreaks of instability and conflict, both in the Middle East and different countries of North Africa, as well as between various ethnic, religious or confessional groups,” he said. “Nor can we overlook the still unresolved conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, with the danger of inequitable solutions and, hence, a prelude to new crises.”

“The preaching of the Gospel cannot be detached from commitment to the common good; it impels us to act tirelessly as peacemakers,” Pope Francis said.

“For our part, brothers, let us speak out to demand that government leaders protect minorities and religious freedom. The persecution experienced above all – but not only – by Christian communities is a heart-rending fact that cannot leave us indifferent,” he said.

The pope also spoke out on behalf of migrants and refugees, including the many who have died while attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea by boat in recent years.

“What use is a society of constant technological progress, if it becomes increasingly indifferent to its members in need? In preaching the Gospel, we hand on a way of thinking that respects each person by our unremitting effort to make the Church a sign of special care for the vulnerable and the poor,” he said.

“In the Mediterranean region, these include all who are fleeing war or who have left their homelands in search of a humanly dignified life. The number of these brothers and sisters – forced to abandon their loved ones and their lands, and to face conditions of extreme insecurity – has risen as a result of spreading conflicts and increasingly dramatic environmental and climatic conditions,” Francis added.

The pope called on the bishops to see the “cemetery” of the Mediterranean Sea as “a place of future resurrection” for the entire region.

“We can never resign ourselves to the fact that someone who seeks hope by way of the sea can die without receiving help, or that someone from afar can fall prey to sexual exploitation, be underpaid or recruited by gangs,” he said.

Pope Francis said that a sense of fear of “what is instrumentally painted as an invasion” fuels the rejection of others.

“The rhetoric of the clash of civilizations only serves to justify violence and fuel hatred,” he added.

“Of course, hospitality and dignified integration are stages of a difficult process; however, it is unthinkable to be able to face it by raising walls. It frightens me when I listen to some speeches by some leaders of the new forms of populism, and it makes me hear speeches that sowed fear and then hatred in the 1930s of the last century,” Pope Francis said.

“All too often, history has known conflicts and struggles based on the distorted notion that we are defending God by opposing anyone who does not share our set of beliefs,” he said. “Indeed, extremism and fundamentalism deny the dignity of the human person and his or her religious freedom, and thus lead to moral decline and the spread of an antagonistic view of human relationships.”

To counter this, the pope said: “we need to develop a theology of acceptance and dialogue leading to a renewed understanding and proclamation of the teaching of Scripture.”

Francis said that amid deep divisions in societies, Catholics are called to offer witness of unity.

“Just as Jesus lived and worked in a context of differing cultures and beliefs, so we find ourselves in a multifaceted environment scarred by divisions and forms of inequality that lead to instability. Amid deep fault lines and economic, religious, confessional and political conflicts, we are called to offer our witness to unity and peace. We do so prompted by our faith and membership in the Church, seeking to understand the contribution that we, as disciples of the Lord, can make to all the men and women of the Mediterranean region,” he said.

Pope Francis met the Mediterranean bishops in Bari’s Basilica of St. Nicholas, where he prayed in the crypt, venerating the relics of the saint.

In his Angelus address in Bari, Pope Francis prayed particularly for the people of Syria who have suffered from many years of war.

“While we are gathered here to pray and reflect on peace and the fate of the peoples facing the Mediterranean, on the other side of this sea, particularly in the northwest of Syria, a huge tragedy is taking place,” he said.

Violence in northwestern Syrian province of Idlib has displaced more than half a million people, primarily women and children, since December. Pope Francis has repeatedly called for peaceful negotiation and humanitarian protections during the Russian-backed Syrian government’s offensive Idlib, Syria’s last rebel-held territory, which borders Turkey.

The pope said Feb. 23 that the international community has been silent in the face of the tears of suffering children, and called on all actors involved to “put aside calculations and interests to safeguard the lives of civilians and many innocent children who pay the consequences.”

Pope Francis told the Italian bishops that war is madness because “it is crazy to destroy houses, bridges, factories, hospitals, and to kill people and destroy resources rather than building human and economic relationships.”

“There is no reasonable alternative to peace, because every attempt at exploitation or supremacy demeans both its author and its target. It shows a myopic grasp of reality, since it can offer no future to either of the two. War is thus the failure of every plan, human and divine,” the pope said.

Mediterranean must be crossroad of peace, dialogue, pope says

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Catholic communities of every nation on the Mediterranean Sea must work together to promote peace, to aid migrants and refugees and to defend religious freedom, Pope Francis told bishops from 19 Mediterranean countries.

"Amid deep fault lines and economic, religious, confessional and political conflicts, we are called to offer our witness to unity and peace," the pope said Feb. 23 as he joined 60 bishops from Europe, the Middle East and North Africa at the end of a five-day meeting in the southern Italian coastal city of Bari.

Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, apostolic administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, spoke before Pope Francis, noting how for centuries the Mediterranean has been the crossroads of "cultural, commercial and religious exchanges of every kind, but it also has been a theater of wars, conflicts, political and even religious division."

"At the present time, rather than diminishing, these seem to be increasing," the archbishop said. "The destiny of entire populations has been subjugated to the interests of a few," he continued.

Pope Francis, in his speech to the bishops, condemned the "growing attitude of indifference and even rejection" of the poor and migrants by "those who, caught up in their own wealth and freedom, are blind to others."

"Fear is leading to a sense that we need to defend ourselves against what is depicted in demagogic terms as an invasion" of migrants and refugees, the pope continued.

Departing from his prepared text, he said he was frightened by the content and tone of speeches by some political leaders who "sow fear and then hatred" in a way similar to what the Nazis did in the 1930s.

"The rhetoric of the clash of civilizations merely serves to justify violence and to nurture hatred," he said. And rather than building institutions that promote equal opportunity and educate everyone to work for the common good, "the international community has been content with military interventions."

Dialogue and understanding are essential to life in a globalized world, he said. "All too often, history has known conflicts and struggles based on the distorted notion that we are defending God by opposing anyone who does not share our set of beliefs."

"Extremism and fundamentalism deny the dignity of the human person and his or her religious freedom, and thus lead to moral decline," the pope said, urging the bishops to "speak out to demand that government leaders protect minorities and religious freedom. The persecution experienced above all -- but not only --by Christian communities is a heart-rending fact that cannot leave us indifferent."

Working for the common good of all God's children is part of preaching the Gospel, the pope said, which is why Catholics must "act tirelessly as peacemakers."

"The Mediterranean region is currently threatened by outbreaks of instability and conflict, both in the Middle East and different countries of North Africa, as well as between various ethnic, religious or confessional groups," he said.

And regarding "the still unresolved conflict between Israelis and Palestinians," Pope Francis warned of "the danger of inequitable solutions," which many read as a reference to a plan announced in late January by U.S. President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Under the plan, Israel would annex part of the West Bank and the Palestinians would be given limited sovereignty.

Pope Francis also spoke of the "serious sin of hypocrisy" seen when "so many countries talk about peace but then sell weapons to countries that are at war. This is called the great hypocrisy."

"War, by allocating resources to the acquisition of weapons and military power, diverts those resources from vital social needs, such as the support of families, health care and education," he said.

In other words, the pope said, war "is genuine madness; it is madness to destroy houses, bridges, factories and hospitals, to kill people and annihilate resources, instead of building human and economic relationships. It is a kind of folly to which we cannot resign ourselves: war can never be considered normal or accepted as an inevitable means of settling differences and conflicts of interest."

Many of the victims of those wars or conflicts, those fleeing religious persecution and those seeking a safe and dignified life for their families attempt to cross the Mediterranean Sea to Europe.

"The number of these brothers and sisters -- forced to abandon their loved ones and their lands, and to face conditions of extreme insecurity -- has risen as a result of spreading conflicts and increasingly dramatic environmental and climatic conditions," the pope noted.

"We can never resign ourselves to the fact that someone who seeks hope by way of the sea can die without receiving help," Pope Francis said.


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Copyright © 2020 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. 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]