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Pope Francis decries global ‘retreat from democracy’ in Athens speech

Pope Francis addresses a meeting with authorities, civil society and the diplomatic corps at the Presidential Palace in Athens, Greece, Dec. 3, 2021 / Vatican Media.

Athens, Greece, Dec 4, 2021 / 04:55 am (CNA).

Pope Francis lamented a global “retreat from democracy” in a speech on Saturday in Athens, the cradle of Western civilization.

The pope was speaking to political leaders, representatives of civil society, and members of the diplomatic corps at the Presidential Palace on Dec. 3, hours after arriving from Cyprus.

“Here democracy was born. That cradle, thousands of years later, was to become a house, a great house of democratic peoples. I am speaking of the European Union and the dream of peace and fraternity that it represents for so many peoples,” the pope said.

“Yet we cannot avoid noting with concern how today, and not only in Europe, we are witnessing a retreat from democracy.”

The pope arrived in Greece after a two-day visit to Cyprus, an island in the eastern Mediterranean Sea. In a packed itinerary, he met Cypriot authorities, Orthodox bishops, local Catholics, and migrants, as well as celebrating Mass in the country’s largest stadium.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

The 84-year-old pope’s three days in neighboring Greece will be equally frenetic, with scheduled meetings with Orthodox leaders, the Catholic community, local Jesuits, migrants on the island of Lesbos, and young people.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

Pope Francis made a daylong visit to Lesbos on April 16, 2016, after which he took 12 refugees back to the Vatican.

He is the first pope to visit mainland Greece since John Paul II, who in May 2001 became the first pope to visit the country in 1,291 years.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

Greece, officially known as the Hellenic Republic, is a predominantly Orthodox Christian country of 10.7 million people, around 50,000 of whom are Catholic.

Vatican Pool.
Vatican Pool.

After a farewell ceremony at Larnaca International Airport in Cyprus, the pope departed for Athens. Following an official welcome at the airport, he traveled to the city’s Presidential Palace, where he paid a courtesy visit to Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou. Afterward, he met with the Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.

Vatican Pool.
Vatican Pool.

In his live-streamed address, which cited the Greek philosophers Socrates and Aristotle, the pope stressed that democracy requires the participation of all citizens.

“It is complex, whereas authoritarianism is peremptory and populism’s easy answers appear attractive,” he said.

Vatican Pool.
Vatican Pool.

“In some societies, concerned for security and dulled by consumerism, weariness and malcontent can lead to a sort of skepticism about democracy.”

“Yet universal participation is something essential; not simply to attain shared goals, but also because it corresponds to what we are: social beings, at once unique and interdependent.”

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

The pope said that another aspect of skepticism about democracy was the loss of faith in institutions.

“The remedy is not to be found in an obsessive quest for popularity, in a thirst for visibility, in a flurry of unrealistic promises or in adherence to forms of ideological colonization, but in good politics,” he said.

“For politics is, and ought to be in practice, a good thing, as the supreme responsibility of citizens and as the art of the common good. So that the good can be truly shared, particular attention, I would even say priority, should be given to the weaker strata of society. This is the direction to take.”

Vatican Pool.
Vatican Pool.

The pope quoted Alcide De Gasperi, one of the founding fathers of the European Union, who said in 1949 that “There is much talk of who is moving left or right, but the decisive thing is to move forward, and to move forward means to move towards social justice.”

The pope commented: “Here, a change of direction is needed, even as fears and theories, amplified by virtual communication, are daily spread to create division.”

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

“Let us help one another, instead, to pass from partisanship to participation; from committing ourselves to supporting our party alone to engaging ourselves actively for the promotion of all.”

Greece has a long southern coastline along the Mediterranean Sea and is a popular destination for migrants trying to enter the European Union, a political and economic bloc of 27 member states.

In his address, the pope acknowledged that migration brought new pressures to the local populace, especially in Greece’s islands.

“This country, naturally welcoming, has seen on some of its islands the arrival of numbers of our migrant brothers and sisters greater than the number of their native inhabitants; this has heightened the difficulties still felt in the aftermath of the economic crisis,” he said.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

“Yet Europe also continues to temporize: the European Community, prey to forms of nationalistic self-interest, rather than being an engine of solidarity, appears at times blocked and uncoordinated.”

He went on: “In the past, ideological conflicts prevented the building of bridges between Eastern and Western Europe; today the issue of migration has led to breaches between South and North as well.”

“I would like to encourage once again a global, communitarian vision with regard to the issue of migration, and to urge that attention be paid to those in greatest need, so that, in proportion to each country’s means, they will be welcomed, protected, promoted and integrated, in full respect for their human rights and dignity.”

PHOTOS: The funeral of Fra’ Matthew Festing, the Order of Malta’s 79th Grand Master

The funeral of Fra’ Matthew Festing, the Order of Malta’s 79th Grand Master, takes place at St. John’s Co-Cathedral in Valletta, Malta, Dec. 3, 2021. / Martin Micallef/Maltese Association Order of Malta via Flickr.

Valletta, Malta, Dec 4, 2021 / 04:00 am (CNA).

Fra’ Matthew Festing, the 79th Grand Master of the Order of Malta, was laid to rest in the crypt of a cathedral in Malta’s capital city following his state funeral on Friday.

When his coffin arrived at St. John’s Co-Cathedral in Valletta on Dec. 3, a loud clap of thunder sounded, the order’s British association reported.

Cardinal Silvano Maria Tomasi, the pope’s special delegate to the Order of Malta, celebrated the live-streamed Requiem Mass. Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta and Msgr. Jean Laffitte, the Prelate of the order, concelebrated.

Those present included Malta’s President George Vella and Prime Minister Robert Abela, as well as Fra’ Marco Luzzago, Lieutenant of the Grand Master.

In his homily, Tomasi said: “Through the choice of becoming a Knight of Justice, Fra’ Matthew dedicated his life to the mission of the order, a mission that has remained constant through the centuries: tuìtio fidei et obsequium pauperum, the defense of the Faith and service to the poor.”

“After nine centuries, the mission of the order continues to inspire and it advances on the main road of the Church, faithful to its teaching and to all those who like Fra’ Matthew — and may he rest in peace — tried without fear of their limits to implement the Gospels’ message.”

Festing served as the Grand Master of the lay religious Catholic order, founded in Jerusalem in the 11th century, from 2008 to his resignation in 2017. He died in Malta on Nov. 12 at the age of 71.

Following the Requiem Mass, he was interred in the Crypt of the Grand Masters in St. John’s Co-Cathedral, becoming the order’s 12th Grand Master to be buried in the crypt and the first for hundreds of years.

Pro-life legal experts say they're encouraged by justices' questions in Dobbs abortion case

Anna Del Duca (right) and her daughter, Frances, traveled from Pittsburgh to attend a pro-life rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Dec. 1, 2021, in conjunction with oral arguments for the Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization abortion case. / Katie Yoder/CNA

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Dec 4, 2021 / 04:00 am (CNA).

Three legal experts are expressing optimism for a pro-life victory in the U.S. Supreme Court case Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a case that directly challenges Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling that legalized abortion nationside.

“I am hopeful that the court will take the opportunity in Dobbs to correct the grievous error of Roe v. Wade, and get the court out of our nation's abortion politics,” Carrie Severino, president of the Judicial Crisis Network, told CNA after the Supreme Court heard arguments on Dec. 1.

The case involves a Mississippi law restricting most abortions after 15 weeks and centers on the question of “Whether all pre-viability prohibitions on elective abortions are unconstitutional,” or whether states can ban abortion before a fetus can survive outside the womb. 

In Roe v. Wade, the court ruled that states could not ban abortion before viability, which the court determined to be 24 to 28 weeks into pregnancy. In 1992, the court largely upheld Roe in Planned Parenthood v. Casey. If Roe is overturned — one possible outcome of the Dobbs case — abortion law would be left up to each individual state. 

“Today the court did a great job articulating its constitutional role: not to pick winners and losers on divisive issues like abortion, but to remain ‘scrupulously neutral,’ as Justice Kavanaugh said,” Severino tweeted just hours after the arguments. “The way it works out will look different in different states, but the Court should let the people decide.”

Although the arguments were held in December, the Supreme Court generally releases decisions in high-profile cases, such as this one, at the end of its term in June. 

Keara Brown, originally from Columbus, Ohio, came with her Washington, D.C. team from pro-life group Live Action. They attended the pro-life rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Dec. 1, 2021. Katie Yoder/CNA
Keara Brown, originally from Columbus, Ohio, came with her Washington, D.C. team from pro-life group Live Action. They attended the pro-life rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Dec. 1, 2021. Katie Yoder/CNA

“I am very encouraged by oral argument and the prospect of a favorable decision this summer, but we should keep up our prayers for the justices,” legal scholar Erika Bachiochi told CNA.

Bachiochi serves as a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and a senior fellow at the Abigail Adams Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where she founded and directs the Wollstonecraft Project.

She identified one part of the oral arguments that she found surprising.

“Although I suppose shouldn’t have been, I was surprised by Justice Sotomayer’s naked pro-abortion rhetoric, especially with regard to her question concerning the ‘religious’ source of a 15-week abortion ban,” she said. “Does she really not know the science of fetal development?” 

During the oral argument, Justice Sonia Sotomayor questioned Scott G. Stewart, the solicitor general of Mississippi.

“How is your interest anything but a religious view?” she asked. “The issue of when life begins has been hotly debated by philosophers since the beginning of time. It's still debated in religions.”

She added, “So, when you say this is the only right that takes away from the state the ability to protect a life, that's a religious view, isn't it — because it assumes that a fetus' life at — when? You're not drawing — you're — when do you suggest we begin that life? Putting it aside from religion.”

In anticipation of the oral argument, the Charlotte Lozier Institute, the research arm of the Susan B. Anthony List, documented information about 15-week-old unborn babies, who can, among other things, already exhibit whether they prefer sucking their right or left thumb.

Earlier this year, Bachiochi, together with law professors Teresa Collett and Helen Alvaré, filed an amicus brief representing 240 women scholars and professionals and various pro-life organizations in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.

In a piece published by the National Catholic Register, Alvaré, a professor of law at the Antonin Scalia Law School, George Mason University, found the oral argument “promising for the pro-life cause.”

But, she added, “it would be impossible to cram into the few minutes of an oral argument all the reason, facts, principles, analyses — and hopes — of 50 years of pro-life argumentation,” she wrote. “There was no time to call out abortion advocates’ lies, more lies, and made-up statistics. No time to show that women have not depended upon abortion for their dignity and freedom, but that the opposite is true. No time to detail the miraculous, the beautiful humanity of the unborn.” 

“Based strictly upon the oral arguments, it is clear that Justices Sotomayor, Breyer and Kagan will vote to uphold abortion rights,” she said. “It is more difficult to pronounce where the remaining Justices might fall, but their comments were largely promising.”

Hong Kong bishop consecrated in Cathedral of Immaculate Conception

Bishop Stephen Chow's ordination as bishop in Hong Kong’s Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception Dec. 5, 2021 / Screenshot from livestream

Rome Newsroom, Dec 4, 2021 / 03:00 am (CNA).

Bishop Stephen Chow Sau-yan was ordained a bishop in Hong Kong’s Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception on Saturday.

“As a successor to the Apostles by the grace of Almighty God, I request your constant prayers that I may always be loyal to God’s will as a shepherd to the People of God in Hong Kong, and faithfully carry out my duties,” Chow said at the Mass on Dec. 4.

Cardinal John Tong Hon, the apostolic administrator of Hong Kong, presided over the Mass. Cardinal Joseph Zen and auxiliary Bishop Joseph Ha were co-celebrants.

“Through the Bishop’s wisdom and prudence, it is Christ himself who leads you in your earthly pilgrimage toward eternal happiness,” Tong said in his homily, according to the diocese of Hong Kong.

“He has been entrusted with the task of bearing witness to the truth of the Gospel, and with the ministry of the Spirit and of justice,” he said.

During the Mass, Chow laid face down on the floor in total surrender to God as the congregation recited the Litany of the Saints in Cantonese.

Bishop Chow said in a brief speech at the end of the Mass that he wanted to help “foster healing and connections” in the Catholic community in his "beloved hometown."

“As the bishop, it is my desire to be a bridge between the government and the church in Hong Kong and between the Catholic Church, fellow Christian denominations, and other religions,” he said.

“It is through sincere connection with one another, including within our own diocese that emphatic understanding can be established, appreciation can be fostered, respect and trust can be deepened, and hopefully collaboration can become a living culture in our community."

Chow also read aloud an excerpt from a letter that he recently received from Archbishop Terrence Prendergast, S.J. The archbishop emeritus of Ottawa-Cornwall wrote: “Given the history of the church in China and Hong Kong, Catholicism can no longer be seen as a foreign religion, but as integral to Hong Kong society."

More than 6,000 people tuned in live to watch Chow’s consecration Mass on YouTube.

Among those watching the livestream were priests and seminarians in Italy from the Pontifical Institute of Foreign Missions (PIME), who have launched a prayer campaign for the newly consecrated bishop.

Father Gianni Criveller, who is helping to organize the campaign at the PIME missionary seminary in the Italian city of Monza, told UCA News that he knows that Bishop Chow will face “great difficulties and challenges.”

“The long-awaited consecration of the bishop calls for prayer and solidarity. Bishop Stephen has a very difficult task ahead of him humanly. In fact, it seems nearly impossible. However, we believe in the power of prayer and in the communion of those who entrust their lives to the Lord Jesus,” he said.

Pope Francis appointed Chow to be bishop of Hong Kong in May. Before his appointment, Hong Kong had been without a permanent bishop since January 2019.

Chow, 62, previously served as the provincial of the Jesuits’ Chinese Province. In that role, he led the Jesuit order in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, and mainland China as the Vatican-China deal was first signed and during the crackdown on Hong Kong’s democracy protest movement.

Born in Hong Kong in 1959, Chow went on to study in the United States, earning a bachelor’s and master’s degree in psychology from the University of Minnesota, before entering the Society of Jesus in Dublin, Ireland at the age of 25.

During his Jesuit novitiate, he obtained a licentiate in philosophy in Ireland and then returned in 1988 to Hong Kong, where he was ordained to the priesthood on July 16, 1994.

Chow continued his studies at Loyola University in Chicago, where he earned a master’s degree in organizational development in 1995. He spent the next five years working as a campus minister, vocations director, and ethics teacher at Wah Yan College in Kowloon and Hong Kong.

In 2000, Chow began a doctoral program at Harvard University's Graduate School of Education studying development and psychology. He graduated with a Doctorate in Education in 2006.

The following year, he made his final vows in the Jesuit order and worked as an assistant professor at the University of Hong Kong from 2008 to 2015 and Jesuit Formator from 2009 to 2017. He also served as the president of the Chinese Jesuit Province’s education commission since 2009 and the Hong Kong Diocesan Council for Education since 2017.

Chow began his role as provincial of the Chinese Province of the Society of Jesus on Jan. 1, 2018.

Hong Kong is a special administrative region of China. Hong Kongers have historically enjoyed freedom of worship and evangelization, while in mainland China, by contrast, there is a long history of persecution for Christians who run afoul of the government.

With the 2020 passage of new “national security laws,” the Chinese government seized more power to suppress pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, which it sees as a direct challenge to its power.

Hong Kong’s National Security Law is broad in its definitions of terrorism, sedition, and foreign collusion. Under the law, a person who is convicted of the aforementioned crimes will receive a minimum of 10 years in prison, with the possibility of a life sentence.

On April 16, authorities in Hong Kong sentenced several Catholic pro-democracy figures, including lawyer Martin Lee and media tycoon Jimmy Lai, to prison sentences under the new security law.

“Hong Kong is going through perhaps the most dramatic phase of its history and has almost disappeared from the radar of international attention. However, those who love Hong Kong have not forgotten it,” Criveller said.

Advent March: Twenty-One Days Until Christmas

Report: Hundreds of sex abuse lawsuits filed against New Jersey Catholic priests during 2-year window

Theodore McCarrick arrives at Dedham District Court on Friday morning, Sept. 3 for his 9 a.m. arraignment / Joe Bukuras/CNA

Boston, Mass., Dec 3, 2021 / 21:30 pm (CNA).

At least 820 sex abuse lawsuits have been filed against New Jersey’s Catholic dioceses and religious orders in the past two years — including some 180 in the past month alone, according to an analysis by news outlet NorthJersey.com.

About 250 of the lawsuits, representing 30% of the total, involved priests, with religious sisters and lay church employees also named as abusers, the analysis showed.

The flood of civil complaints came during a two-year period New Jersey provided under the 2019 Child Victims Act to allow victims who otherwise would have been barred by the state’s statute of limitation to file lawsuits. The two-year “lookback” window closed on Nov. 30.

More than 1,200 lawsuits were filed in all. About two-thirds of these were filed against Catholic dioceses and religious orders.

Among the findings by NorthJersey.com:

  • The Archdiocese of Newark, the largest of New Jersey’s five Catholic dioceses, accounted for the most abuse lawsuits, with 432.

  • The Diocese of Trenton had the next highest total, with 182 suits, followed by the Diocese of Paterson with 85. The Diocese of Metuchen was named in 70 lawsuits, and the Camden Diocese had 54.

  • The Order or St. Benedict of New Jersey, which runs the local Delbarton school in Morristown, was the most sued among New Jersey’s religious orders, with 36 suits and another case pending.

  • Twenty-three lawsuits were connected to Bergen Catholic High School in Oradell, which is run by the Edmund Rice Christian Brothers of North America. That religious order, however, can’t be sued, the website reported, per a nationwide settlement agreement that happened years ago.

  • The Salesians of Don Bosco, which runs Don Bosco Prep High School in Ramsey, have been sued 19 times. Five of those lawsuits were connected to the high school.

  • Disgraced former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick was named in 10 lawsuits, the most recent of which was filed on Nov. 24.

  • McCarrick’s predecessor as the head of Newark Archdiocese, Peter Gerety, is named in two lawsuits. The most recent suit, filed on Nov. 16, accuses Gerety of abusing a girl from 1984 to 1989. The alleged abuse, starting when she was just 5 years old, allegedly took place at the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark, NorthJersey.com reported.

  • While many of the alleged abusers have died, several are still alive and could be prosecuted. One of these defendants is Father Benoît Guichard, FSSP, who is accused by a woman of sexually assaulting her when she was a child, a claim that Guichard has denied through his attorney. Another is former Ridgefield Park priest Gerald Sudol, who was named in seven lawsuits.

  • Two priests were named in at least 20 lawsuits each: John Capparelli, of the Newark Archdiocese, and Timothy Brennan, a former teacher at the Delbarton school. Both men have died.

Under the Child’s Victim Act, people alleging sexual abuse as children can still file lawsuits up to age 55 or within seven years of when they first realized the abuse caused them harm, according to the Associated Press. Prior to the signing of the law, child victims had to file by age 20 or two years after first realizing the abuse caused harm. 

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