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Pope Francis at Ethnological Museum: 'Beauty unites us'

Vatican City, Oct 19, 2019 / 06:25 am (CNA).- Pope Francis paid a visit Friday to the renovated wing of the Vatican Ethnological Museum, which he praised for being “a place where everyone can feel represented.”

“Beauty unites us. It invites us to live human brotherhood, countering the culture of resentment, racism, nationalism, which is always lurking,” Pope Francis said at the “Anima Mundi” museum Oct. 18.

“I think the Vatican Museums are increasingly called to become a living home, inhabited and open to everyone, with the doors wide open to the people of the whole world ... a place where everyone can feel represented,” the pope said.

The Anima Mundi Ethnological Museum contains 80,000 artistic works and objects from non-European cultures throughout history ranging from prehistoric artifacts to current gifts given to the pope. Among its displays are works of art from Islamic civilizations and the indigenous peoples of America.

“All peoples are here, in the shadow of the dome of St. Peter, close to the heart of the Church and of the pope,” Pope Francis said.

“Whoever enters here should feel that in this house there is also room for him, for his people, his tradition, his culture: the European as the Indian, the Chinese as the native of the Amazon or Congolese forest, of the Alaskan or the Australian deserts or the Pacific islands.”

The pope’s visit to the Vatican Ethnological Museum coincided with its exhibition dedicated to the Amazon: “Mater Amazonia - The deep breath of the world.”

The Amazon exhibit -- on display in the Vatican museum until January 2020 -- includes portraits and names of some of the Catholic missionaries who lived among the Amazonian peoples, as well as objects from everyday life in the rainforest.

Pope Francis said that in the museum one should feel that God’s art has the same value and is treated and preserved with the same passion that is reserved for Renaissance masterpieces or for Greek and Roman sculptures.

“Since works of art are the expression of the spirit of peoples … one must always look at each culture, at the other, with an open mind and with benevolence,” he said.

Pope Pius XI first organized an exhibition to display “the artistic and spiritual traditions of all peoples” in 1925. After the temporary exhibition drew over one million visitors, the pope decided to make it a permanent exhibit in the Lateran Palace. The collection was transferred to the Vatican Museums in the 1970s as the Missionary Ethnological Museum.

“May this Ethnological Museum preserve its specific identity over time and remind everyone of the value of harmony and peace between peoples and nations. And may the art gathered here make the voice of God resonate in those who visit this collection,” Pope Francis said.

Questions raised as Satanic Temple asks to hold meeting at Naval Academy 

Annapolis, Md., Oct 19, 2019 / 03:17 am (CNA).- As an outside group is asking to hold “satanic religious services” at the U.S. Naval Academy, questions have arisen as to its actual motives for doing so.

The Satanic Temple (TST), a group recognized as a church by the Internal Revenue Service, has threatened legal action against the U.S. Naval Academy if Midshipmen are not allowed to hold “satanic services” on campus as members of other religions are allowed to do.

However, Jordan Lorence, senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, told CNA that the group’s efforts at the Naval Academy are “misleading” because what they wish for “is not a satanic service.”  Rather, what certain Midshipmen wish to host “is a discussion about how the supernatural doesn’t exist.”

On Oct. 8, an internal email was sent to the Brigade of Midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy announcing that “‘satanic services’ would start this week,” according to a Wednesday statement issued by Commander Alana Garas, public affairs officer at the United States Naval Academy.

“This email was sent without the review and approval of the Naval Academy’s Command Chaplain, as required by command policy; it did not represent the U.S. Naval Academy’s Command Religious Program,” Garas said.

The academy had previously walked back an original email announcement of satanic services and had said that services would not be taking place on campus.

The Satanic Temple then said on Wednesday that it would pursue legal action if the group was “discriminated against” on campus by being denied official services at the academy.

Lucien Greaves, a spokesperson for the Satanic Temple, called the idea of the group being denied services at the Naval Academy on the grounds that it constituted political advocacy “self-evidently absurd.”

Under that reasoning, he said, the academy would also “be obligated to deny the services of Catholics for their Church’s political lobbying against abortion, the services of LDS-affiliated Mormons for their political activism related to gay marriage, and most every Protestant denomination for both.”

Controversy over the Satanic Temple has been ongoing for years, with critics arguing it is a political-cultural stunt, while temple founders have repeatedly asserted that it is a religion and not merely a hoax or performance.

The group’s mission statement does not include any statements of satanism, but rather claims that it exists “to encourage benevolence and empathy among all people, reject tyrannical authority, advocate practical common sense and justice, and be directed by the human conscience to undertake noble pursuits by the individual will.”

In a 2013 interview with Vice, the temple’s leader, Lucien Greaves, revealed himself to be a man named Doug Mesner. He said a friend had conceived the Satanic Temple as “a ‘poison pill’ in the Church-State Debate” to help expand the idea of religious agendas in public life.

“So at the inception, the political message was primary,” Mesner said, though he acknowledged that there are self-identified Satanists who deserve “just as much consideration as any other religious group.”

An October 2017 story at Vox portrayed the Satanic Temple as “equal parts performance art group, leftist activist organization, and anti-religion religious movement.” It claimed that though it began as “internet trolling going mainstream,” the organization is becoming “more serious” and “more complicated” to outline. It said chapter leadership members debate which historic works about Satan to recommend and whether it should host more ritual.

Lorence contended that despite adopting the name of The Satanic Temple and using satanic imagery, the group is just “anti-supernatural and rationalistic” rather than satanic like the Church of Satan.

Previously, the group tried to push an “After School Satan” program in 2016, which Lorence saw as an effort to undermine Christian after-school programs at public schools. The group’s strategy, which cited religious freedom laws to demand a space at public schools alongside other religious after-school programs, aimed to use fear of the promotion of satanism as a means to shut down all religious after-school programs.

“The Satanic Temple does not worship Satan,” Lorence said. “They use this ‘Satanic Temple’ label to confuse people.”

And the group could be trying to adopt a similar strategy at the Naval Academy, Lorence said. As a public institution, the academy “is by law open to groups that are student-oriented and student-led.”

According to the academy, a group of Midshipmen whose “beliefs aligned with those practiced by The Satanic Temple” did make a request for a space at the academy, but they asked for a “study space” and not a space to hold “satanic services,” Commander Garas said.

The academy’s official statement on Wednesday said that the Command Religious Program “provides for the exercise of diverse beliefs.”

Furthermore, “[a]rrangements were being made to provide the Midshipmen with a designated place to assemble as chaplains facilitate for the beliefs of all service members,” per the Navy instructions, Garas said. However, the group would not be able to “engage in partisan political activities.”

Mexican diocese prays for peace as capture, release of El Chapo's son sparks violence

Culiacan, Mexico, Oct 18, 2019 / 05:01 pm (CNA).- Following hours of heavy fighting in a city in Northern Mexico as officials detained and then released the son of imprisoned drug lord Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán, the local church called for prayers for peace.

“At a time when fear and insecurity reign in the streets of the Sinaloan capital, we join with those seeking the peace and welfare of Culiacán. We urge unity in prayer to reign in each family and for members of this society to be promoters of reconciliation,” said the Diocese of Culiacán in a statement.

The diocese called for “an atmosphere of coexistence to return and for peace to be reestablished soon.”

“We ask the members of our city to not put yourselves in risky situations and to be attentive to the instructions that will help us return to our ordinary lives,” the statement added.

According to government officials, a patrol of 30 troops of the National Guard and the Secretariat for National Defense discovered Ovidio Guzmán López during a routine patrol in the city of Culiacán on Thursday.

However, cartel members attacked the police forces and massive fighting ensued. After several hours, the police retreated, releasing Guzmán López, to avoid further violence in the area, Mexican media outlets reported.

Photos from the area showed cars on fire and bodies strewn on the streets. It is not known how many people were killed or injured in the fighting.

With El Chapo - among the most powerful drug traffickers in the world - sentenced to life in prison in the U.S. earlier this year, Guzmán López is believed to be partially in charge of the Sinaloa cartel, considered the largest in Mexico.

Auxiliary bishop Alfonso Miranda Guardiola of Monterrey, secretary general of the Mexican Bishops' Conference, voiced his “solidarity, support and closeness” with the people of Culiacán” in a statement on Twitter.

“May God grant you peace, protect you and bless you. We pray for them and for all of Mexico,” he said.

In face of the violence, the Diocese of Culiacán has asked people to join in offering the following prayer for the city and for all of Mexico:

“Lord Jesus, you are our peace, look down upon our homeland harmed by violence and dispersed by fear and insecurity. Bring consolation to those suffering in sorrow. Give success to the decisions of those who govern us. Touch the hearts of those who forget that we are brothers and cause suffering and death. Give them the gift of conversion. Protect families, our children, teens and young people, our towns and communities. May we your missionary disciples, responsible citizens, know how to be promoters of justice and peace, so that in you, our people may have a decent life. Amen. Our Lady of Guadalupe, Queen of Peace, pray for us.”

Other violent clashes between security forces and criminal elements have also taken place in Mexico in recent days.

On October 15, a confrontation between military forces and armed civilians in the town of Tepochica, in Guerrero state, claimed the lives of an army corporal and 14 alleged criminals, who according to the authorities had “high powered weapons and three vehicles reported stolen.”

The previous day, in the town of El Aguaje, in Michoacán state, armed civilians opened fire on state police, killing 14.

This article was originally published by our sister agency, ACI Prensa. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

Archdiocese of Washington opposes local bill to legalize prostitution 

Washington D.C., Oct 18, 2019 / 04:07 pm (CNA).- The Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., was one of many organizations that testified Thursday during a hearing on a bill to decriminalize prostitution in the District of Columbia.

The D.C. Council is currently considering B23-0318. Should the bill pass, Washington, D.C. would become the second place in the country to decriminalize prostitution. The practice is currently legal in parts of Nevada.

The bill was sponsored by Council members David Grosso (I-At Large), Robert C. White Jr. (D-At Large), Anita Bonds (D-At Large) and Brianne K. Nadeau (D-Ward 1).

“Because we believe that each of us possesses inherent dignity and is entitled to respect as a person created in the image of God, it is also part of the mission of the archdiocese and the Catholic Church to defend the dignity of the human person against all forms of exploitation,” Mary Forr, Director of Life Issues for the archdiocese, said during the hearing.

“This includes prostitution, which reduces the person to an article of commerce and a mere possession to be bought, used, and discarded without regard for any physical and psychological trauma to the person in the process,” she added.

She outlined the various programs the archdiocese offers to anyone who has been victimized by traffickers, which include counseling, medical and dental care, and job training.

“We provide hope to those struggling on the margins of society and strive to make a positive difference in people’s lives,” she said.

“The archdiocese will always strive to be a source of support for anyone in need; however, full decriminalization of the sex trade will exacerbate the struggles many residents of the District already face,” said Forr.

The Community Safety and Health Amendment Act of 2019 (B23-0318) - also known as the Reducing Criminalization of Commercial Sex Amendment Act of 2019 - is modeled after similar legislation in New Zealand.

Unlike the “Nordic Model,” which decriminalizes the act of a person selling themselves but instead heavily penalizes the act of buying the services of a sex worker, the DC proposal would also decriminalize brothels, pimping, and buying sex.

Sex trafficking, or the act of forcing someone into prostitution against their will, would still remain illegal, although advocates against the bill warned repeatedly that passage of B23-0318 would encourage the sex trade and increase prostitution. Child prostitution would also remain illegal under the proposed legislation.

Supporters of the bill argued that adults have a right to engage in consensual sex work.

Laws criminalizing prostitution “impede sex workers’ ability to negotiate safer sex practices, screen clients, report incidents of violence, and access basic needs like housing and health services,” the ACLU of DC said in a statement.

“Criminalization has placed vulnerable D.C. residents at greater risk of violence, police harassment, and exposure to exploitation. It has led to a cycle of violence, poverty, and incarceration that only creates additional barriers to more traditional employment for those engaging in survival sex work.”

Tamika Spellman, a biological male who identifies as transgender, testified in favor of the bill. Spellman has worked as a prostitute for some four decades - since age 14.

Spellman, who was one of the bill architects, according to the New York Times, argued that the bill is a matter of empowerment and safety for sex workers, particularly racial minorities and members of the LGBT community.

Opponents of the bill include D.C. government officials. Mayor Muriel Bowser, who has led the District of Columbia since 2015, is vehemently against the bill. She says it would make it harder for the city to successfully target sex traffickers and would not make the sex trade any safer for those who engage in it.

“The mayor’s position is rooted in the need to maintain a safety net to identify and assist victims of commercial sexual exploitation and sex trafficking, and her belief that decriminalization will lead to an increase in sex trafficking,” Michelle Garcia, director of the city’s Office of Victim Services and Justice Grants said in the hearing.

Garcia said there are steps that should be taken to improve the lives of sex workers, but that this bill is not the correct approach. Mayor Bowser has long been concerned about the lives of sex workers in the city, said Garcia. The city has had a working group since April 2019 that is aimed at creating a program to divert sex workers away from the criminal justice system and into alternative assistance programs, she explained, and Bowser was given their proposals and recommendations for review earlier this week.

The D.C. Attorney General’s office also raised concerns about the bill, and how it could put children at increased risk from sex trafficking. The bill repeals part of the “safe harbor law” that requires children be referred to services if they are found to be victims of trafficking, and it also “negatively impacts” the use of nuisance laws that are used to target traffickers, said Erin Cullen, deputy attorney general for the Family Services Division at the D.C. Attorney General’s office.

Opponents of the bill also claimed that should prostitution be decriminalized, there will be an increased demand for prostitution, which could potentially turn the nation’s capital into a destination for sex tourism. There were repeated claims that this increased demand for commercial sex would naturally result in an increased number of people who are trafficked into sex work.

The hearing lasted approximately 17 hours. Public comments can be submitted until November 1.

Catholic aid group expresses concern over Haiti unrest

Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Oct 18, 2019 / 03:36 pm (CNA).- Political conditions in Haiti have disrupted aid programs and increased economic hardships, leaving Catholic Relief Services concerned about another humanitarian crisis.

“There is an overwhelming sense of panic that’s growing by the day,” said Chris Bessey, CRS’ representative for Haiti.

“Roads are closed. People are trapped in their homes. Children are out of school. We are on the edge of yet another humanitarian disaster if the unrest continues unabated,” he said Oct. 17.

Last week, thousands of anti-government protesters trying to march on the president's residence clashed with police.

Violent protests have erupted intermittently in the country since July 2018. According to a report from the United Nations Mission for Justice Support in Haiti, demonstrations in February left 34 dead and 102 others injured.

The protesters have called for the resignation of President Jovenel Moïse, who has been accused of mismanaging billions in aid given to the country after Hurricane Matthew in 2010. Oppositional forces have requested for the installation of a transitional government.

In 2018, a Haitian court released a report on the Venezuelan oil subsidy program and government corruption. According to the York Times, the report found that two companies controlled by the president had been given the same government contract to build the same road.

Due to the political turmoil, there is a deficiency in basic necessities such as fuel and sanitary water. This has closed down hospitals, orphanages, and schools. According to the New York Times, inflation is at nearly 20 percent.

“We are feeling the early tremors of what could erupt into catastrophe. Once the full disaster hits, a response will be complicated by lack of security, transportation and other services,” Bessey said.

CRS is one of the largest aid organizations functioning in Haiti. It promotes educational, health, and farming initiatives. Under a U.S. Department and Agriculture program, CRS has helped nearly 35,000 people to rebuild after Hurricane Matthew.

However, all of these programs been disrupted or halted because of the political turmoil. In response, Bessey has encouraged Americans to offer support.

“As a result of countless manmade and natural disasters, Haitians have been through an enormous amount of trauma over the years. But they’re resilient. They just need the international community’s continued support,” Bessey said. “We are pleading with the American public not to give up on Haiti. Don’t let the Haitian people suffer in silence.”

Hong Kong court says redefining marriage is beyond its authority

Hong Kong, China, Oct 18, 2019 / 12:54 pm (CNA).- A court in Hong Kong has ruled against the recognition of same-sex partnerships, upholding the government’s policy of not recognizing same-sex marriage or civil unions.

The court’s review stemmed from a petition that a Hong Kong woman filed in June 2018, asking to enter into a legally recognized civil union with her female partner.

Hong Kong’s Court of Final Appeal had ruled in July 2018 that foreign same-sex couples who have been married elsewhere are entitled to to spousal visas.

According to the New York Times, Judge Anderson Chow Ka-ming wrote Friday that “updating” the definition of marriage to include same-sex couples would lead to “far-reaching consequences” that the court was not prepared to accept.

According to The Standard, the judge noted that the territory’s Legislative Council is free to enact new legislation to legalize same-sex unions, or provide an alternative such as civil unions. But that decision would be beyond the court’s scope of power, he said.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam in July 2018 said that the Hong Kong government has no plans to amend the law and approve same-sex marriage in the near future, and reiterated her position in March 2019.

Hong Kong is a special administrative region of China, which also does not recognize same-sex marriage.

In May of this year, the Parliament of Taiwan legalized same-sex unions, the first Asian country to do so.

Taiwan's constitutional court had in 2017 ruled that same-sex couples had the right to legally marry, and lawmakers were given a two-year deadline to draft legislation.

The people of Taiwan voted against the recognition of same-sex marriage in the country’s civil code in a series of referendums in Nov. 2018. Despite this, the government passed a special law recognizing same-sex marriages while leaving the definition of marriage in civil law unchanged.

Cardinal John Tong, leader of the Catholic Church in Hong Kong, has in the past called on Catholics to consider candidates’ views on sexual morality when electing lawmakers.

The Diocese of Hong Kong has not yet commented on the most recent court ruling.

Amazon synod discussion groups support married priests, female deacons

Vatican City, Oct 18, 2019 / 10:26 am (CNA).- At least four of the 12 language groups at the Amazon synod overtly propose the ordination of married men to the priesthood in summary reports published by the Vatican Friday, with the majority of the discussion groups expressing openness to the idea.

“We ask, Holy Father, that you accept, for the Pan Amazon region, men to the priestly ministry and women to the diaconate, preferably indigenous, respected and recognized by their community, even if they already have a constituted and stable family, in order to assure the sacraments that accompany and sustain the Christian life of the community,” Portuguese language group A, moderated by Bishop Jesús Maria Cizuarre Berdonces of Bragança do Pará, stated in their report Oct. 18.

The Vatican released summary reports in Spanish and Portuguese from the Amazon synod’s 12 “circoli minori,” small synod discussion groups divided by language: five in Spanish, four in Portuguese, two in Italian, and one in English/French.

All four of the Portuguese discussion groups express openness to the possibility of the ordination of viri probati – a term referring to mature, married men – in remote areas of the Amazon to the priesthood.

“The ordination of the viri probati was considered necessary for Panamazonía. Married men candidates for ordination, after a fruitful diaconate must meet the following criteria, among others: life of prayer and love of the Word of God and the Church, Eucharistic life that is reflected in a life of donation and service, community experience, missionary spirit,” Portuguese group B stated in their summary report.

The Portuguese group moderated by Archbishop Pedro Brito Guimarães of Palmas proposed that the implementation the ordination of married men as priests could be delegated to the bishops’ conferences in the region or entrusted to the local bishops.

The first Italian group noted that there has been concern among some synod fathers that that the proposal of married priests in the Amazon would have implications for the Church in other regions of the world.

“Other synod fathers believe that the proposal concerns all continents, that it could reduce the value of celibacy, or make the missionary impulse to serve the most distant communities be lost. They believe that, in virtue of the theological principle of synodality, the subject should be placed before the opinion of the whole Church and therefore suggest a universal Synod in this regard,” the Italian group A report stated.

The majority of Spanish groups also expressed open support for ministerial alternatives for women, including female deacons.

“Given the tradition of the Church, it is possible to recognize women's access to the existent ministries of the lectorate and the acolyte, as well as the permanent diaconate,” Spanish language group C, moderated by Bishop Jonny Eduardo Reyes Sequera, Vicar Apostolic of Puerto Ayacucho, stated.

Spanish group E, however, stated it was against the ordination of female deacons, but proposed instead some other ministerial alternative for women. This language group is moderated by Cardinal Óscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga of Tegucigalpa.

Italians participating in the Amazon synod proposed in their report the development of an “Amazonian Rite” that would open a path for married priests and female deacons.

The group, moderated by Cardinal Luis Francisco Ladaria Ferrer, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, said that the creation of an “Amazon Rite” would “express the liturgical, theological, disciplinary and spiritual heritage” of the local culture.

The Synod of Bishops on the Amazon is an Oct. 6-27 meeting on the Church’s life and ministry in the Pan-Amazonian region.

“These are not final texts,” Fr. Giacomo Costa, a communications official for the Amazon synod, said at the synod press conference presenting the language group reports Oct. 18.

“Everybody has something important to say … The synod must consider everyone’s contribution,” he added.

The synod drafting committee will meet over the next week to assemble into a document the recommendations of the language groups into the final document of the Amazon synod.

The final document of the synod will then be voted on by synod members, on the penultimate day of the gathering. Per synod norms, it must pass with a 2/3 majority.

The document of synod recommendations will then be given to Pope Francis for him to use, or not, as he desires, in the writing of a post-synodal apostolic exhortation.

“The final document of the synod is offered exclusively to the Holy Father who is then going to do with it what he thinks fit,” Costa said.

Catholic school students in Bahamas show resiliency after Dorian

IMAGE: CNS photo/Tom Tracy

By Tom Tracy

FREEPORT, Grand Bahama (CNS) -- While many public schools in Grand Bahama remain closed some five weeks after Hurricane Dorian's landfall, Mary, Star of the Sea Catholic Academy is back in session with a new daily schedule and newly refurbished spaces.

Principal Joye Ritchie-Greene said her school opened first, followed by other private schools and some public schools in the area. The academy also picked up a few students who transferred from local public schools along with at least two students who transferred from a Catholic school in Abaco that was demolished by the September hurricane.

Although it suffered storm-surge flooding damage, Mary, Star of the Sea Catholic Academy was able to get a jump on post-Dorian renovations with restored electrical power Sept. 23 based on a provisional agreement with the electric company, allowing water-damage repairs to begin immediately, the principal said.

The academy's high school resumed classes Sept. 17, with earlier starting and ending times and the primary grades returned the following week.

Ritchie-Greene pointed out that hurricane preparedness and lockdown plans are a part of life in the Bahamas, but there also has been a bit of a learning curve in the aftermath of such a powerful storm.

To accommodate the many challenges students and their families are facing right now, the school adjusted its schedule to begin and end a little earlier each day and teachers have said the students are more productive with the changes.

"The shift in our schedule was originally to accommodate children who didn't have electricity at home, who didn't have running water, who were still living with family members and needed extra time to do personal things -- but we realized that they were more attentive at school," the principal said.

And while there were no hurricane-related fatalities among the faculty or student body, many have relatives or close friends who experienced these tragedies.

At least three faculty members and about seven or eight student families reported total loss of their homes and personal possessions. Several have taken some time off, and many took short trips off the island to regroup.

"In terms of the social-emotional aspect, we had counselors and psychologists on campus the first two days and we have had counselors speak at our general parent-teacher association meeting last week sharing with parents coping skills for themselves as well as for the children," Ritchie-Greene told the Florida Catholic, newspaper of the Miami Archdiocese.

In addition, three primary teachers attended special training sessions for trauma and have been incorporating what they learned in their music and art classes. When the students came back, they were also greeted by a stack of pen-pal letters from students at St. Cecilia's School in Dallas.

"What we have found is that the children have been very resilient, sharing and talking," Ritchie-Greene said. "We thought it would have taken longer for them to settle in."

However, she added, soon after the school reopened, "it was as though the storm had not happened: Geography was being taught, history was being taught, physics was being taught -- teaching and learning was going on and so I was pleased with that sense of normalcy."

Ritchie-Greene said the schools in the Bahamas have clear hurricane guidelines and staff teams making sure everything is in place.

"You need to have a plan, you need to have members of the team knowing what is expected of them, but once the storm has happened, it also helps if you have persons above you who also know how to manage and act quickly," she added.

The aftermath of a hurricane forces you to put your life in perspective, Ritchie-Greene said, adding: "It really causes us to pause and think about what is most important and there is a somberness to people's moods (now) and people's emotions are raw. We need to be sensitive to that."

Put another way, she said: "I recognize that how I respond to what a parent is saying to me is so important because I recognize that we are just out of a very traumatic experience and people aren't thinking rationally."

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Tracy writes for the Florida Catholic, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Miami.

 

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Church must make 'preferential option for the Amazon,' bishop says

IMAGE: CNS photo/Edgard Garrido, Reuters

By Barbara J. Fraser

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- As tropical forests fall victim to loggers, miners and ranchers, the Catholic Church must take sides to defend the Amazon region and its people, said a bishop whose Bolivian diocese has been ravaged by fire this year.

"Just like we had a preferential option for the poor, this is a preferential option for the Amazon," Bishop Robert H. Flock of San Ignacio de Velasco told Catholic News Service. The bishop, a Wisconsin native, is participating in the Synod of Bishops for the Amazon being held at the Vatican Oct. 6-27.

Between July and October, an area the size of South Carolina burned in his diocese in the northern Bolivian lowlands known as the Chiquitana region. That was nearly one-sixth of the entire diocese.

Villagers lost homes and crops, and at least three firefighters died battling the blazes.

Farmers and ranchers set fire to their fields every year to clear land and kill insect pests, but this year was worse than most because of a prolonged drought and climate change, Bishop Flock said.

Government policies to promote expansion of ranch land to increase beef production, combined with a national government decree authorizing controlled burning, contributed to the crisis.

The state of Santa Cruz, which includes the San Ignacio diocese, declared a state of emergency in August, but it was not until rains arrived during the first week of October that the fires finally smoldered out.

Indigenous people from San Ignacio de Velasco arrived Oct. 16 in the city of Santa Cruz, the state capital, after a monthlong protest march. Angered by the slow official response to the fires, they demanded that the government rescind the controlled-burning decree. They also called for agricultural assistance and public services like electricity.

The fierce fire season, especially in Bolivia and Brazil, came on top of steady destruction of the forest to make way for industrial-scale agriculture and cattle ranching. Those practices make wildfires more likely.

"Deforestation means less humidity, less humidity means drier conditions, and drier conditions mean more fires," Bishop Flock said. "More fires mean less forest. It's a vicious circle."

The evaporation of water from the leaves of Amazonian trees creates about half of the rain that falls over region, scientists have found. Forest loss therefore means less precipitation.

The Andean highlands to the south and west of Bolivia's part of the Amazon basin depend on rain from the Amazon forest, the bishop said. "So, if the forest goes, it will have a ripple effect on the whole Bolivian ecosystem and on the world."

Pope Francis underscored both that interconnectedness and the urgent need for action in his 2015 encyclical "Laudato Si'" and during the synod.

"Integral ecology means you can't separate defense of the ecology from defense of the peoples, because it's their territory in the first place, their piece of creation, and their lives that are at stake," Bishop Flock said.

Development is necessary, because people need public services like health care and education, and they must be able to make a living, he said. But it must ensure that forests on which rural dwellers depend will be there for their children and grandchildren.

"The peoples of the Amazon are best placed to know what sustainable development means in their own home," Bishop Flock said. "We can't force Western models" on them.

The voice of the church "is important and it's worldwide," he said. "We have to say that this destruction of the Amazon and the violence against its peoples and defenders has to stop. The church sides with them."

 

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Catholic priest murdered in Kenya, latest in string of killings

IMAGE: CNS photo/Fredrick Nzwili

By Fredrick Nzwili

NAIROBI, Kenya (CNS) -- A Catholic priest who disappeared from his family home was found dead in a shallow grave in southeastern Kenya a week after he was reported missing.

Police investigators and pathologists Oct. 16 exhumed the body of Father Michael Maingi Kyengo, 43. They said his body had been stashed in a sack.

Onlookers watched in shock as Father Kyengo's body was pulled from a seasonal riverbed. Police said he had been strangled and that his body had been disfigured.

Father Kyengo was a parish priest in Thatha at a parish in the Diocese of Machakos.

He had been staying with his parents at their home about 32 miles north of Nairobi before his family reported him missing Oct. 11. He had traveled there for his annual leave Oct. 1, said Father Josephat Kyambuu, another priest at the parish.

"I had heard not from him for two weeks. It hit me to hear of his death," Father Kyambuu told Catholic News Service Oct. 17. "He never said he was facing any threats."

The death is among a string of clergy homicides in recent months.

Father Kyengo's body was found after investigators traced his cellphone, car and credit card from a 25-year-old suspect, who was arrested and was being held in police custody. Police said the suspect took investigators to the shallow grave.

A local newspaper reported that as many as four people may have participated in the killing.

Father Kyengo had served as a priest in Thatha since his ordination in 2012.

Other Kenyan priests also have been killed during robberies as well as for their opposition to human rights abuses and strong stands against corruption.

"Many bishops and priests have been targeted for exposing evil practices. They are being killed for standing for the truth," said Father Nicholas Mutua, justice and peace coordinator in the Diocese of Garissa.

In some cases, authorities said, the clergymen were likely targeted by people who think they may be carrying large amounts of church funds.

In December, Father John Njoroge, a parish priest in Kiambu, 10 miles north of Nairobi, was shot dead by thugs who robbed him of the weekly church collection.

Four men had blocked the priest's car on a dirt road and demanded a bag containing money that he was carrying. The gunmen shot the priest through the windshield of the car in which he was riding, striking him in the chest.

 

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