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Amid terrorism fears in Indonesia, heavy security planned for Christmas

Jakarta, Indonesia, Dec 7, 2019 / 03:25 pm (CNA).- Authorities in Indonesia are expected to deploy 160,000 security personnel to ensure Christmas and New Year’s celebrations safe, according to local media.

According to UCA News, the number of security personnel deployed this year will be almost double that of 2018, when nearly 90,000 security personnel guarded about 50,000 churches across the country.

The chief of the National Police Traffic Corps said military personnel and “members of government agencies” will guard churches and tourism sites during Christmas and New Year’s celebrations.

In addition to attacks on religious minorities in recent years, Indonesia suffered a bombing attack on a police headquarters in Medan in North Sumatra in November, and in October a militant with ties to an ISIS-affiliated terrorist group stabbed the country’s Security Minister.

Indonesian authorities are concerned that the terrorist group, Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD), may try to launch additional attacks around Christmas or New Year’s, UCA News reports. Police in the country have arrested more than 100 suspected terrorists since January 2019.

Muslims make up 87% of the population in Indonesia. Christians account for 10%, and 2% are Hindu. Discrimination and attacks against religious minorities, and even among different sects of Islam, are not uncommon.

In March 2018, church officials in the country urged Catholics to be vigilant, especially during Holy Week.

Fr. Felix Atmojo, vicar general of the Archdiocese of Palembang, urged the faithful to stay alert after a church in the Palembang archdiocese was damaged earlier that month when six men broke into the Chapel of Saint Zacharias in South Sumatra’s Ogan Ilir district, damaging part of the church’s walls and burning statues.

The previous month, a man armed with a sword attacked members of St Lidwina’s Church during Mass in Feb. 2018, injuring two before the police shot him.

In May 2018, two men blew themselves up at St. Mary Immaculate Parish in Indonesia’s second-largest city, Surabaya, killing two. More attacks followed that day, and ultimately 11 people were killed and at least 40 injured in three separate suicide bombings at churches as worshipers were gathered for Sunday services.

Though the constitution of the country guarantees religious freedom, Indonesia has strict blasphemy laws embedded in its criminal code.

In Dec. 2018, human rights groups criticized a smartphone app being rolled out by the Indonesian government to allow citizens to file heresy reports against groups with unofficial or unorthodox religious practices.

Users can report from their phones the practice of any unrecognized religion, or unorthodox interpretations of the country’s six officially recognized religions: Islam, Catholicism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Hinduism, and Protestantism.

 

Vatican investments linked to global money laundering investigations

Vatican City, Dec 7, 2019 / 03:05 pm (CNA).- A fund in which the Vatican’s Secretariat of State has invested tens of millions of euros has links to two Swiss banks investigated or implicated in bribery and money laundering scandals involving more than one billion dollars. The fund is under investigation by Vatican authorities.

The fund, Centurion Global Fund, made headlines this week that it used the Vatican assets under its management to invest in Hollywood films, real estate, and utilities, including investments in movies like “Men in Black International” and the Elton John biopic “Rocketman.”

Italian newspaper Corriere della Serra reported that the Centurion Global Fund has raised around 70 million euro in cash, and that the Holy See’s Secretariat of State is the source of at least two-thirds of the fund’s assets. The Vatican’s investment is reported to include funds from the Peter’s Pence collection, intended to support charitable works and the ministry of the Vatican Curia.

Centurion registered a loss of some 4.6% in 2018, while at the same time incurring management fees of roughly 2 million euros, raising questions about the prudential use of Vatican resources.

But beyond losses, Centurion Global Fund is connected to several institutions linked to allegations of money laundering.

Fund prospectus documents state that all Centurion investment funds are held by Lugano-based Banca Zarattini, a small Swiss bank providing private banking, asset management, and fixed income trading services.

Swiss and U.S. media outlets in 2018 reported that Zarattini was named in indictments filed by U.S. prosecutors in a $1 billion money laundering case, involving the Venezuelan national oil company PDVSA and Venezuela’s president Nicholas Maduro.

Along with an offshore bank and a New Jersey institution that has faced several investigations for non-compliance with money laundering regulations, Zarrattini was at the time holding funds subject to seizure in the PDVSA money laundering investigation.

Swiss financial news sites also linked the bank to an alleged $62 million bribe paid to a PDVSA official.

Centurion Global Fund shares a corporate office, 259 St. Paul Street in Valetta, Malta, and a single phone number and email address, with a Malta-based investment group, Gamma Capital which is listed as Centurion’s formal investment manager.

Gamma Capital's founder and owner is Enzo Filippini. Before founding Gamma, Filippini served as head of the treasury department for a now-closed Swiss bank, BSI.

In 2016, Swiss banking authorities effectively shuttered BSI by a forced extinctive merger, after concluding that it had committed “serious breaches of the statutory due diligence requirements in relation to money laundering and serious violations of the principles of adequate risk management and appropriate organization.”

European brokerage firms like Gamma Capital Trader are required to disclose the institutions through which they execute client trades each year. In 2017, Gamma executed all of its trades through a single bank – Banca Zarattini.

The next year, 2018, Gamma used only two institutions to execute client trades, Zarattini and Sparkasse Bank Malta, which was also involved in the PDVSA money laundering scandal, according to multiple media reports.

The Times of Malta reported that “Sparkasse Bank was mentioned in the Panama Papers data leak as the Maltese institution of choice for infamous money-laundering Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca.”

The CEO of Gamma Capital Markets is Alexander Vella. Vella is also the sole listed director at E2S Monitoring, a compliance firm which also lists its address as 259 St. Paul Street. E2S is the company that registered Centurion Global Fund with Maltese regulators in 2016.

On Dec. 5, Vella’s picture and profile as CEO were listed on the Gamma website, but were erased sometime on Dec. 6, though CNA has retained December screenshots of Vella on the site, and archived copies of the listing. Vella is still listed as CEO on his personal LinkedIn page.

The formal nature of the relationship between the Vatican-backed Centurion Global Fund and Gamma is described in the fund’s proposal document. Centurion is managed by a longtime Vatican financial advisor and Swiss resident Enrico Crasso, whose former company, Sogenel, is listed as the investment adviser for the fund’s investment portfolio, while Gamma is listed as the fund manager.

Centurion’s management fees in the prospectus are listed as 2.25% of assets under management annually and 20% of profits, and the fund has a seven year investment life cycle. The effective fee could, however, be higher, because among Centurion’s listed investments are other private equity funds which could have similar fee structures, including EOS FYSIS Fund Sicav and TAGES Helios II.

According to Corriere della Serra, Grasso also played a “central role” in a controversial investment by the Vatican’s Secretariat of State in London property development with the Italian businessman Raffaele Mincione.

CNA has reported that the Vatican’s purchase of the property at 60 Sloane Avenue in Chelsea was arranged and is being managed through a complicated network of individuals and businesses linked to previous and current lawsuits and criminal investigations for fraud and money laundering. It is not clear what role Crasso is alleged to have played in the deal, into which the Secretariat of State has invested around $200 million.

Filippini, Gamma Capital's owner, is also connected to the bank that financed the London property deal. CNA has reported that the Secretariat of State financed the purchase of the London property with a loan against its accounts at the bank for which Fillipini was an officer: BSI.

The Holy See Press Office said on Wednesday that “investigations are in progress” regarding the Centurion Fund and other investments made by the Secretariat of State.

“Lines of enquiry which may help clarify the position of the Holy See with respect to the aforementioned funds and any others, are currently being examined by the Vatican judiciary, in collaboration with the competent authorities,” the statement said.

Multiple phone calls from CNA to Centurion and Gamma went unanswered. An email requesting comment from Vella was not responded to by time of posting.

 

 

Bishop Baker: Ad limina inspires 'hopeful spirit' for renewal of Church in US

Rome, Italy, Dec 7, 2019 / 07:12 am (CNA).- Birmingham’s Bishop Robert Baker said Friday there is a hopeful spirit about the renewal of the Church in the United States at the end of the latest round of ad limina visits with Pope Francis and other curial offices.

About the crisis of mistrust in episcopal leadership, Baker said, “we know we have a long way to go, and we know the struggles there… We acknowledge our failures as bishops to do all that we should do.”

“But there’s a hopeful spirit after these ad limina visits, that if we center and focus ourselves on Christ, it’s not we who are going to save the Church ... it’s Jesus Christ.”

For renewal in the U.S., “we need the help of the angels and saints. I think it’s a spiritual quest principally,” Baker stated. “We are being purified, and we are in a penitential time because of mistakes that have been made in the past, but there is hope.”

Bishop Baker spoke to EWTN following a Mass with the bishops of the U.S. regions four and five, held at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls Dec. 6. Baker was the principle celebrant.

Region four of the U.S. bishops includes Washington D.C., the Military Archdiocese, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the states of Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia. Region five encompasses Alabama, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee.

The group of 37 bishops and one diocesan administrator met with Pope Francis for two and a half hours on the morning of Dec. 3, Baker said. “The dialogue was very open-ended and positive. The meeting with the pope was a beautiful meeting.”

Despite being a large group, he said there was time for everyone to speak.

Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the Military Archdiocese told EWTN the ad limina visit with Pope Francis was “a very cordial atmosphere. The pope was very open to our commentary and he basically left the themes we would treat, he left that to us, what we would introduce, what we would ask.”

“He was very friendly. We talked about all sorts of things, from the formation of priests to preaching the Gospel in today’s world, to also working together as an episcopal conference.”

The week of meetings is a “moment for the bishops of a region to gather together and to meet with the different offices of the Holy See, but most importantly, with the Bishop of Rome,” Broglio added, also noting the importance of the visits to the four major basilicas: Mary Major, St. Paul Outside the Walls, St. John Lateran, and St. Peter.

He said he was particularly touched that Pope Francis asked them how Archbishop Joseph Kurtz is doing. Kurtz, the archbishop of Louisville, is ill with bladder cancer and did not travel to Rome for the ad limina.

The pope “would know him of course because he had been the head of the [bishops’] conference, but it was still very touching that he would ask us that,” Broglio said.

Bishop Baker said he spoke with Pope Francis about the importance of devotion to St. Joseph and the need “to have St. Joseph in the picture of our Church in the midst of all the scandals and troubles of family life and Church life, to bring him back into that.”

The pope said the world needs the example of the Holy Family, he said.

The Birmingham, Alabama bishop said he thinks two main things are needed for renewal in the Church in the U.S. “It’s a deep spirituality centered on Jesus Christ” and “also a zeal, we need to rekindle a zeal.”

“St. Pope John Paul II talked about the New Evangelization not being new in its message of salvation in Christ, but being new in its methods, expressions, and he said, ardor or zeal,” Baker said.

“I think the American bishops at the last [general assembly] did approve the five-year plan, which really focuses around deepening that personal relationship with Jesus,” he added. “If that’s missing, we will succeed in nothing.”

An “ad limina apostolorum” visit is a papal meeting required for every diocesan bishop in the world to provide an update on the state of one’s diocese. Ad limina visits typically take place every five years.

The trip to Rome, usually made together with all the bishops from a country or region, also serves as a pilgrimage to “the threshold of the apostles,” giving the bishops, who are the successors of the apostles, the opportunity to pray at the tomb of St. Peter and St. Paul.

The bishops of U.S. regions six and seven are the next group to come to the Vatican for an ad limina visit, which will take place Dec. 9-14. These are the bishops of Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin.

There will then be a short break for Christmas before the next group arrives in mid-January.

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Martyred religious brother from Wisconsin farm family to be beatified in Guatemala 

Huehuetenango, Guatemala, Dec 7, 2019 / 03:58 am (CNA).- The son of Wisconsin farmers, Brother James Miller, FSC, will be beatified in Guatemala this Saturday, 36 years after he was shot and killed while working with school children and the indigenous poor in the country.

A graduate of St. Mary’s University in Winona, Minnesota and a member of the De La Salle Christian Brothers, Miller is remembered for his generosity, courage, and zeal to serve the children of Central America. He is the first member of his order in the United States to be beatified.

Brother Miller’s story strongly echoes that of Blessed Father Stanely Rother, another son of American farmers (this time from Oklahoma) who was murdered in Guatemala at his Santiago Atitlan mission, a mere seven months before Brother Miller’s murder. Rother was beatified in September 2017 in Oklahoma City. Both men are remembered for their courage, zeal for their mission, and their humility in their work.

“No one is perfect, and yet Jim, like a lot of people, did things very quietly, behind the scenes. He never asked for recognition,” Brother Pat Conway, who first knew Miller as a student and then as a fellow brother, told Minnesota newspaper Post Bulletin.

James Miller was born on Sept. 21, 1944, to a farming family near Stevens Point, Wis. He attended Pacelli High School, a Catholic school where he first encountered the Christian Brothers. Though he had also considered being a priest, Miller joined the order of brothers in September 1959, drawn to their apostolate in education.

Three years later in the novitiate program, he chose the religious name Brother Leo William, but eventually went back to using his baptismal name, which had become common among the brothers.

After teaching high school in Minnesota for three years, Miller made perpetual vows in 1970 and was sent to Bluefields, Nicaragua, fulfilling his desire to work in the missions in Central America. In 1974, he was transferred to Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua, where he became the director of a school.

Using the name Brother Santiago while in Central America, Miller more than doubled the enrollment at the school during his five years there and headed the building of 10 additional schools in the area.

In 1979, he was called back to the U.S. by his superiors, who feared for his life after the Sandinista revolution that overthrew the Somoza government, for which Miller had worked. Prior to his return to the U.S., Miller acknowledged in a letter that he was aware of the growing violence around him, but he was not afraid.

“Are you kidding? I never thought I could pray with such fervor when I go to bed,” he wrote in a letter home, according to his order.

In January 1981, Miller was again sent back to Central America to a mission in Huehuetenango, Guatemala, where he taught at the Casa Indigena School and worked at a center teaching experimental agricultural techniques to indigenous Mayans. The skills were useful for the indigenous poor people, who had been bought out of their land by rich corporations in prior years, and were attempting to scrape by on farming in the mountains.

After just more than a year at the mission, on February 13, 1982, Miller had returned from taking students on a picnic and was shot in the back three times while repairing a wall at the school, the Post Bulletin reported. Miller died instantly, and his attackers were never identified. He was 37 years old.

Just seven months prior, on July 28, 1981, Father Stanley Rother had been shot and killed in the middle of the night at his mission in Santiago Atitlan, 100 miles to the south of Huehuetenango.

Just a month before his death, Miller had written in another letter: “I am personally weary of violence, but I continue to feel a strong commitment to the suffering poor of Central America… the Church is being persecuted because of its option for the poor. Aware of numerous dangers and difficulties, we continue working with faith and hope and trusting in God’s Providence.”

“I have been a Brother of the Christian Schools for nearly 20 years now, and commitment to my vocation grows steadily stronger in my work in Central America. I pray to God for the grace and strength to serve Him faithfully among the poor and oppressed in Guatemala. I place my life in His Providence. I place my trust in Him,” he added.

Those who knew Brother Miller remember him for his kindness, his generosity and his jovial spirit.

Brother Francis Carr, who roomed with Miller while they attended St. Mary’s University, told Winona Daily News that he remembers him as “a common, good guy.”

One of his former professors remembered Miller as “attractive with an open and sociable personality, likeable, completely genuine; people were captivated by his simplicity: he was very intelligent and also very simple.”

Another fellow brother recalled Miller as “an intelligent person, although not an intellectual, jovial, easy to relate with, preferring physical work to sports, with a deep faith and love for his religious vocation, but with a certain tendency to come late to class and community prayers.”

Conway remembered his fellow brother as “big and boisterous” and “very human.”

“What's cool about him being beatified is that he was human,” Conway told the Post Bulletin. “The fact that someone so human would farm with these kids and taught them the skills to break the cycle of poverty. It speaks volumes about him.”

After his death, Miller’s body was sent back to the United States for burial in Wisconsin. Miller arrived in a dirty white robe, Conway told the Post Bulletin, because of all of the farmers who attended his funeral in Guatemala and wanted to touch his robes as they paid their respects.

Relics gathered during the exhumation of Miller’s body will be at the beatification in Guatemala, which will be celebrated on Saturday, December 7 in Huehuetenango.

Miller’s cause for canonization opened in 2009. Because Miller was officially declared a martyr by the Church, the typical requirement for proof of a miracle through his intercession in order to proceed with his beatification is waived. A miracle through his intercession will be needed before he can be canonized.

Representatives from St. Mary’s University will be present at the beatification in Guatemala, and a special concurrent commemoration ceremony will be taking place on campus.

“I think, particularly in the Catholic Church, in our faith, we highlight those who give their lives for the sake of the kingdom, the gospel, but also, in this case, as the gospel says, no one has greater love than to lay down his life for his friend,” SMU president Father James Burns told Winona Daily News.

“And so in following the example of Christ, this is what Brother James Miller did, laying down his life,” Burns added. “It’s a great honor for us to have someone for our local community being raised to this honor by the church.”

“I think people are instinctively drawn to goodness, that kind of goodness, even when it causes great sacrifice and we have to suffer. People are inspired by that.”

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Our Lady of Guadalupe is the true Lady of the Amazon, priest says

Mexico City, Mexico, Dec 6, 2019 / 10:42 pm (CNA).- Our Lady of Guadalupe is the true Lady of the Amazon, a leading expert on the apparition said, pointing to Pope John Paul II’s recognition of Our Lady of Guadalupe as Queen of all the Americas.

Fr. Eduardo Chávez is the director of the Major Institute of Guadalupan Studies and the postulator for the cause for the canonization of Saint Juan Diego. He told ACI Prensa, CNA's Spanish language sister agency, that Our Lady of Guadalupe “takes nothing from syncretism, what she does is a perfect inculturation, as Saint John Paul II says” in his 1999 apostolic exhortation Ecclesia in America.

In the Guadalupe Basilica on January 23, 1999, by placing Ecclesia in America at the feet of the Virgin, he said, Saint John Paul II underscored that Our Lady of Guadalupe is “Mother and Queen of this Continent” and took the title used years prior in the Synod for America: “Patroness of all the Americas and Star of the First and New Evangelization.”

On that day, Saint John Paul II said that Our Lady of Guadalupe knows “the paths followed by the first evangelizers of the New World, from Guanahani Island and Hispaniola to the jungles of Amazonia and Andean peaks, reaching Tierra del Fuego in the South and the Great Lakes and mountains of the North.”

Chávez emphasized that for almost 500 years, the Virgin of Guadalupe has been “perfectly well known as the patroness of the entire American Continent.”

“She brings Jesus Christ Our Lord,” the priest said. “She brings the truth which is Jesus Christ, and puts it in the heart of every human being, over and above cultures, traditions and languages.”

 

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

 

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