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The Good Friday tradition of the ‘Last Words of Christ’

CNA Staff, Mar 2, 2021 / 06:30 pm (CNA).- The tradition of reflecting on the last words of Christ from the cross is a Good Friday practice popular in many places across the globe.

Some sources trace the tradition back to Peruvian Jesuit priest Francisco del Castillo, who in 1660 preached for three hours on Good Friday, comparing the sufferings of Christ with the sufferings of the slaves and indigenous people. Since then, the “Sermon of the Seven Words” has been preached widely on Good Friday in Peru.

Similar devotions were present in Italy and England. The practice later spread to the rest of the Americas and Europe.

Christ spoke seven times during his crucifixion. Catholic commenters have found these sayings to have profound depth and meaning for the Christian life.

Among his last words, Christ showed mercy on those who crucified him, saying, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do,” and told the criminal crucified on his right, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”

He also spoke to his mother, Mary, and his disciple, John, who were standing near the cross, saying, “Woman, behold, your son” and “Behold, your mother.”

Commenting on the last seven words of Christ, Fr. Donato Jiménez explained to ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish language news partner, that the words of Christ represent the culmination of all his redemptive work: Christ surrenders himself to the Father knowing that his mission has concluded and with full confidence that he will rise again on the third day.

 

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

 

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From Dyspeptic Mutterings: What do Nike, Tommy Hilfiger, Microsoft, Apple, BMW and Samsung have in common?  Use of Uighur slave labor in their factories. But they put up the correct hashtags in February and June, so that makes it all… Continue Reading

Oscars voter: 'There is nothing entertaining or inspiring about killing unborn babies'

Denver Newsroom, Mar 2, 2021 / 05:19 pm (CNA).- A member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences— the nationwide body that votes for the Academy Awards— recently declined to watch a film that critiques abortion regulations, drawing public ire from a pro-choice filmmaker who created it.

The film, “Never Rarely Sometimes Always,” follows a 17-year-old girl as she travels from Pennsylvania to New York to obtain an abortion. The fictional film was inspired by news stories of women traveling from areas with more restrictive abortion laws to areas with more permissive laws, the director has said. 

The film has drawn praise from abortion advocates, with director Eliza Hittman awarded the 2020 “Media Excellence Award” from Planned Parenthood last month.

However, when recently asked via email by Hittman’s publicist if he had seen the film yet, filmmaker Kieth Merrill replied that he was not interested in reviewing it.

“[A]s a Christian, the father of 8 children and 39 grandchildren. AND pro-life advocate, I have ZERO interest in watching a woman cross state lines so someone can murder her unborn child,” the email, purportedly from Merrill to the filmmaker’s publicist, reads.

“75,000,000 of us recognize abortion for the atrocity it is. There is nothing heroic about a mother working so hard to kill her child.”

Hittman, the film’s director, took to Instagram to denounce Merrill for declining to watch her film and consider it for an Oscar.

“This email came in last night and was a harsh reminder that the Academy is still so painfully monopolized by an old white puritanical male guard. I wonder how many other voters out there won’t watch the film,” Hittman wrote in a now-deleted post, calling Merrill “puritanical.”

Merrill has been a member of the Academy for nearly 50 years, having won an Oscar in 1973 for the documentary “The Great American Cowboy.” He is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and has produced films in the past for the Mormon church, a nontrinitarian religion founded in the 19th century in New York.

The Academy has nearly 10,000 members, all of whom are eligible to vote for Best Picture. Voting ends March 10, with the Oscars ceremony set to be held April 25.

Members are not required to watch every film that qualifies for the Oscars, but are encouraged to watch as many as possible, Variety reported.

Variety reached out to Merrill for further comment.

“Her film is an expression of who she is. My absence of interest in watching her film is an expression of who I am,” Merrill wrote in an email response to Variety.

“We are equally valid in our choices, what we do, and how we choose to live our lives.”

He noted that with over 360 films in contention for best picture in 2021, Academy voters have to be discerning about what they choose to watch, lest it consume all their time.

Merrill told Variety that he does not watch any horror films or movies with “graphic sex or gratuitous violence or radical social agendas.”

“For me, there is nothing entertaining or inspiring about killing unborn babies. I chose not to watch [Hittman]’s film because it legitimizes abortion...I believe abortion is wrong in all but the most extreme circumstances. Not only wrong, I believe it is an evil, and incomprehensible atrocity.”

Merrill did not reply to CNA’s request for further comment.

Hittman has said that in researching her film, she visited Planned Parenthood clinics throughout the country, and pretended to be a pregnant woman in need of aid in order to gain access to pro-life pregnancy centers.

“Abortion tourism,” the topic of the film, is common in the United States as some states move to restrict abortion, while others seek to liberalize it.

Women in states such as Missouri, which has robust pro-life protections, often avail themselves of abortions in the neighboring states of Kansas and Illinois, which offer far less protection for unborn children.

Abortion clinics in states like Colorado, Nevada, and New Mexico, which did not introduce any pandemic-related restrictions on abortion last year, saw increases in patients traveling from other states, such as Texas, to undergo the procedure during spring 2020.

Straw poll of conservative activists reveals pro-life policies to be least important issue

Washington D.C., Mar 2, 2021 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- Pro-life leaders responded to a recent straw poll of conservative activists where pro-life policies received the least number of votes for the activists’ most important issues. 

Attendees at last week’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Orlando were allowed to select up to three issues as their top policy priorities for the Washington Times/CPAC straw poll. Options included “election integrity,” “immigration/border wall,” and “second amendment.” 

A mere 16% of conference-goers choose pro-life policies as one of their top three issues, making it the issue that received the least number of votes among attendees. Election integrity, constitutional rights, and immigration were the three top-rated issues of importance, respectively.

 

#CPAC2021 poll on the most important issues... re-opening the economy was fourth pic.twitter.com/cPrnR1XTps

— Ryan James Girdusky (@RyanGirdusky) February 28, 2021  

The straw poll is conducted at the annual event, and measures attendees’ policy preferences as well as their preferred presidential candidate. CPAC, a project of the American Conservaive Union, describes itself as “the largest and most influential gathering of conservatives in the world,” and the conference is often billed as representative of the wider conservative movement. 

The American Conservative Union did not immediately respond to a request for comment on its attendees’ enthusiasm for the pro-life cause. 

Several pro-life leaders cautioned that the pro-life cause may already be a high priority for many Republicans, and thus the poll is not necessarily indicative of future GOP priorities. 

Kristen Day, executive director of Democrats for Life of America, told CNA in an interview that it’s possible CPAC attendees didn’t prioritize pro-life policies because they believe the Republican Party has already demonstrated its opposition to abortion. 

“It’s obviously already something the party already fights really hard for,” Day said. 

Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America, told CNA that abortion “was not always the partisan issue it is today and that better reflected the American people who may disagree on politics while embracing the humanity of the preborn.” 

“The rankings at CPAC show that abortion is among the issues animating people's votes, even when it isn't issue number one for everyone as it is for me and the Pro-Life Generation,” Hawkins said. 

“We are educating people on the need to vote pro-life first, and we will continue to work with people wherever they are at, to build a coalition dedicated to ending abortion,” she said. 

In an email to CNA, Mallory Quigley, vice president of communications for the Susan B. Anthony List, wrote that election integrity--the highest-rated issue at CPAC in terms of importance--and the pro-life cause are both connected.

“Those who used COVID-19 to expand access to dangerous chemical abortion drugs and try to suspend pro-life laws also used the pandemic as an excuse to weaken state laws that ensure free and fair elections, which severely compromised Americans’ faith in our elections process,” Quigley said. 

Quigley called this year’s CPAC straw poll “a snapshot of a particular moment in time – a time when voters are sincerely concerned about the integrity of our nation’s elections.” 

“We share deeply in this concern,” she continued. “The issues of protecting life and honest, fair elections are inextricably linked, especially for those of us in the pro-life movement who have chosen to engage in politics as the primary means of effecting change. Without this, we lose our ability to use the political system to bring about lifesaving law and policy changes.”

Day added that because pro-life policies are “a winning issue,” both parties would be wise to oppose “abortion extremisim.” 

“It’s very dangerous for Democrats to have abortion funding in the COVID relief bill and giving Republicans this ammunition,” she said. 

A massive COVID relief package under consideration by the Senate this week does not contain pro-life funding protections--thus possibly allowing for increased funding of abortion coverage and abortion providers. House Democrats rejected pro-life amendments to the bill that would have established safeguards against abortion funding.

“Republicans know it’s a winning issue. Abortion extremisim is not helping the Democrats at all,” Day said of pro-life issues.

A majority of respondents in the CPAC straw poll selected former President Donald Trump as their choice for the Republican Party’s 2024 presidential nomination. Trump addressed the conference on Sunday, repeating his claim that he won the 2020 presidential election but without offering any evidence.

Leading Christian adoption agency changes policy, will now work with same-sex couples nationwide

Washington D.C., Mar 2, 2021 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- A leading Christian adoption agency will now work with same-sex couples looking to foster or adopt children, in a change of its nationwide policy reported on Monday.

Bethany Christian Services, which is the largest Protestant adoption and foster care agency in the United States, has updated its inclusivity policy on matching children with same-sex couples. The new “nationwide policy of inclusivity” will “serve all families across Bethany's core service lines.” 

In addition, the new policy also removes the agency’s 2007 statement that “God’s design for the family is a covenant and lifelong marriage of one man and one woman,” according to the New York Times.

After a 2019 lawsuit, Bethany Christian Services began placing children with same-sex couples in 12 states, including in Michigan. Its updated policy extends this practice to all of its locations in the United States. Meanwhile, Catholic adoption agencies in several states have closed rather than comply with mandates that they work with same-sex couples.

Bethany said that it “recognizes that Christians of mutual good faith can reasonably disagree on various doctrinal issues, about which Bethany does not maintain an organizational position.” 

In an email to its employees, Bethany said that its new policy was approved by the agency’s board of directors in January, after about a decade of discernment on the issue. 

The agency’s headquarters is in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and it has offices in 32 U.S. states as well as seven countries in Europe, South and Central America, and Africa.

Nathan Bult, the senior vice president of public and government affairs at Bethany, told CNA in a statement that “faith in Jesus is the core of our mission,” and that “Bethany Christian Services has never wavered from our mission of demonstrating the love and compassion of Jesus to Children and families.” 

“We help families stay together, we reunify families who are separated, and we help vulnerable children find safe, stable homes when they cannot remain in their own,” said Bult. 

Placing children in stable homes is the key to Bethany’s mission despite any doctrinal concerns, Bult said. 

“We acknowledge that discussions about doctrine are important, but our sole job is to determine if a family can provide a safe, stable environment for children,” said the statement. 

“Unlike many other child and family welfare organizations, Bethany is committed to partnering with churches to find as many families for vulnerable children as possible, and we seek to place children with families that share our mission,” the organization stated. “We believe that Christians with diverse beliefs can unify around our mission of demonstrating the love and compassion of Jesus. It's an ambitious mission, and we can only accomplish it together.”

In 2018, the city of Philadelphia suspended its contracts with both Bethany Christian Services and Catholic Social Services of the archdiocese, due to their refusal to work with same-sex couples. The city had enacted a nondiscrimination ordinance, and also oversees the entire foster care system.

No same-sex couple had approached Catholic Social Services for foster care placement. There are numerous foster care agencies in Philadelphia that will work with same-sex couples.

Shortly after suspending these contracts, the city put out a call for additional foster homes due to increased demand for services. 

While Bethany Christian amended its policy and began working with same-sex couples, Catholic Social Services maintained that it could not do so according to the Church’s teaching on the family.

Sharonell Fulton and Toni Simms-Busch, two foster mothers from Philadelphia who worked with Catholic Social Services, sued the city of Philadelphia over the severed contract. 

The Supreme Court heard arguments in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia back in November, and is expected to decide on the case later in 2021. 

Catholic Charities in several states have had to end their adoption and foster care programs, due to state and local mandates that agencies work with same-sex couples. 

In 2010, Catholic Charities D.C. shuttered its adoption program because of the city’s law redefining marriage, and in subsequent years Catholic adoption programs stopped in other states such as New York, Illinois, and Pennsylvania.

Legislation repealing faith-based exemptions for adoption and foster care agencies passed the Virginia house of delegates in February, and is under consideration in the state senate.

Mexico's bishops hope politicians would be enlightened by Our Lady

Mexico City, Mexico, Mar 2, 2021 / 02:33 pm (CNA).- In a statement Tuesday responding to media inquiries about US president Joe Biden’s stated devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe, the bishops of Mexico expressed hope that public office holders would be enlightened by her.

“As the Mexican Bishops’ Conference we are proud that the Virgin of Guadalupe is so loved and appreciated everywhere, beyond the bounds of languages, cultures, and traditions. We wish that all those who hold public office allow themselves to be enlightened by Our Mother in their way of living and serving so that they know how to promote the highest values that give life to peoples, such as health and peace, justice, truth, solidarity, care for the earth, defense of the poor, and promotion of the marginalized,” the bishops said in a March 2 press note.

They said their statement was “in response to inquiries from the media about what was expressed by the President of the United States Joe Biden about his devotion to the Virgin of Guadalupe.”

Biden had cited Our Lady of Guadalupe and displayed his rosary in a conversation with Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador March 1.

Biden, who is Catholic, claimed a devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe from his previous travels to Mexico as vice president.

“During my visits, I got to know Mexico a little bit and its people, and paid my respects to the Virgin of Guadalupe. As a matter of fact, I still have my rosary beads that my son was wearing when he passed,” Biden said, according to a White House transcript of the event.

Our Lady of Guadalupe is patroness, not only of the Americas, but of unborn children.

Biden is the second Catholic U.S. president, and the U.S. bishops’ conference has noted the unique circumstance of having a Catholic president who is not inconsistent with Church teaching on topics such as immigration and fighting poverty, yet contradicts Church teaching on abortion, marriage, religious freedom, and gender ideology.

Biden has supported taxpayer-funded abortion and has pledged to sign the Equality Act, legislation the USCCB has warned would codify gender ideology in law and would "punish" objecting religious groups.

In a Jan. 20 statement for Biden’s inauguration, Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles offered prayers for the new president and emphasized his own role as bishop in forming consciences, rather than in being a partisan.

Biden, warned the USCCB president, “has pledged to pursue certain policies that would advance moral evils and threaten human life and dignity, most seriously in the areas of abortion, contraception, marriage, and gender. Of deep concern is the liberty of the Church and the freedom of believers to live according to their consciences.”

Abortion, said Gomez, “remains the ‘preeminent priority’” of the conference, as it “is a direct attack on life that also wounds the woman and undermines the family.”

Although Biden’s staff have referred to him as a “devout Catholic,” the USCCB’s pro-life chair has said they should stop using that term due to his support for abortion.

“The president should stop defining himself as a devout Catholic, and acknowledge that his view on abortion is contrary to Catholic moral teaching,” said Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas, in an interview with Catholic World Report published on Feb. 13.

Archbishop Naumann noted that “we bishops have the responsibility to correct him” for using the term. He added that Biden “is usurping the role of the bishops and confusing people” by calling himself a “devout Catholic” while opposing the Church's teaching on life.

White House silent on conscience concerns in health care

Washington D.C., Mar 2, 2021 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- The White House on Tuesday would not reveal its position on doctors being forced to perform abortions and gender-transition surgeries under the Equality Act.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki would not directly answer questions by EWTN News Nightly White House correspondent Owen Jensen on conscience rights in health care, at Tuesday’s White House press briefing.

Jensen brought up the Equality Act, which passed the House last week and which outlaws “pregnancy discrimination” and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

The U.S. bishops’ conference (USCCB), as well as pro-life groups, have warned that the legislation would essentially create rights to procedures such as abortion, sterilization, and gender-transition surgery. The bill could also eviscerate conscience protections of health care workers opposed to participating in these procedures, these groups have warned.

“Pro-life groups right now are very concerned about the phrase ‘pregnancy discrimination’ in the Equality Act,” Jensen said. “That it would force doctors to perform abortions, even if it violates their conscience. There are also concerns the bill would force doctors to perform gender-transition surgeries and sterilizations, again, even if it violates their conscience.”

“What does the president, President Biden, say about those concerns?” he asked Psaki.

The press secretary replied that Biden “has been a long supporter of Roe v. Wade,” the 1973 Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion nationwide. She said nothing of conscience protections.

When Jensen followed up by asking about Biden’s position on “conscience concerns,” Psaki simply repeated her previous statement.

Jensen then asked if Biden would maintain the Conscience and Religious Freedom Division at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The division was created in 2018 to enforce federal statutory conscience protections and field complaints by health care workers who claimed they were forced to participate in procedures such as abortions.

Psaki, again, would not directly answer that question. “You’ll have to talk to a future secretary Becerra once he is confirmed,” she said.

Xavier Becerra, currently the attorney general of California, is the nominee to lead HHS and could be confirmed by the Senate on Wednesday. He was twice found to be in violation of federal conscience laws by the HHS Office for Civil Rights, for his defense of state mandates that pro-life groups provide abortion coverage and that crisis pregnancy centers advertise for abortions.

At his confirmation hearing last week, Becerra would not say when asked whether he would maintain the existing conscience division at HHS. He simply said he would “respect” and “enforce” the law—which would include a number of existing federal conscience protections in health care.

The HHS conscience division has outlined those conscience protections and enforced them in recent years. In 2019, for instance, the HHS civil rights office found a Vermont hospital to be in violation of federal law after a nurse complained of being forced to assist at an abortion.

Becerra, at his hearings, would not name a single abortion restriction that he supported. He refused to answer, when asked, if he would support bans on sex-selective or partial-birth abortions. He did, however, comment that his wife is an OB/GYN doctor who cares for babies and that his mother prays the rosary.

Becerra also sued the Trump administration over its granting religious and moral exemptions to the HHS contraceptive mandate. The mandate forced employers to provide coverage for contraceptives, sterilizations, and abortifacients in their health plans.

California’ lawsuit, along with Pennsylvania’s, ultimately forced the Little Sisters of the Poor to go back to court to defend their religious exemption. The sisters won at the Supreme Court last July, but President Biden said during his presidential campaign that he would repeal their religious exemption.

When asked about the sisters’ religious exemption to having to provide contraception coverage and last week, Becerra said he would “defend the law and support the law that’s in place.”

Pope Francis: World could face a new ‘great flood’

CNA Staff, Mar 2, 2021 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- Pope Francis said in a new book released on Tuesday that the world could face a catastrophe like the Great Flood if human beings fail to address climate change.

The pope made the remark in a new book-length interview with the Italian priest Fr. Marco Pozza published on March 2.

In “Of Vices and Virtues” (“Dei vizi e delle virtù”), published in Italian by Rizzoli, the two men discussed the account of the Great Flood in the Book of Genesis. 

According to an excerpt from the book in the newspaper Corriere delle Sera, the pope said: “A great flood, perhaps due to a rise in temperature and the melting of glaciers: that is what will happen if we continue on the same path.”

In the book, the priest and the pope reflect on the seven virtues and vices, inspired by the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua. The chapel contains 14 monochrome images by the 14th-century artist Giotto which personify the virtues and vices. 

On the north wall are the vices: foolishness, inconstancy, wrath, injustice, infidelity, envy, and desperation. On the south wall are the virtues: prudence, justice, temperance, fortitude, faith, charity, and hope.

The pope’s comments about the flood came during a discussion of God’s wrath, which he said was directed against evil emanating from satan.

“The wrath of God seeks to bring justice and to ‘cleanse.’ The Flood is the result of God’s wrath, according to the Bible,” he said.

He noted that experts regarded the flood as a mythical story. He stressed that he did not wish to be misquoted as saying that the Bible is a myth, but suggested that myth was a form of knowledge.

“The flood is a historical account, archaeologists say, because they found evidence of a flood in their excavations,” he said.

After referring to a possible new great flood, he said: “God unleashed his wrath, but he saw a righteous man, took him and saved him.” 

“The story of Noah shows that the wrath of God is also a saving one.”

Pozza, a chaplain at a prison in the northern Italian city of Padua, has conducted three previous interviews with Pope Francis, dedicated to the Our Father, the Hail Mary, and the Creed, which were aired on Italian television and published as books.

The 41-year-old priest, who often appears casually dressed, is considered a rising star in the Italian media. Early in his priestly life, he gained the nickname “Fr. Spritz,” after a popular Italian wine-based cocktail, because of his custom of holding discussions with young people in bars over drinks.

Pozza first came to the pope’s attention in 2016, when he brought a group of inmates to visit Francis at his residence, the Casa Santa Marta, on the Jubilee of Prisoners in the Year of Mercy. 

He helped to compile the meditations for last year’s papal Stations of the Cross, held in a deserted St. Peter’s Square on Good Friday.

In the new book, the pope also discussed the relationship between faith and doubt. He argued that although the devil sowed doubts, an honest reckoning with doubt could lead to spiritual growth.

According to Vatican News, he said: “The thought of being abandoned by God is an experience of faith which many saints have experienced, along with many people today who feel abandoned by God, but do not lose faith. They take care to watch over the gift: ‘Right now I feel nothing, but I guard the gift of faith.’” 

“The Christian who has never gone through these states of mind lacks something, because it means that they have settled for less. Crises of faith are not failures against faith. On the contrary, they reveal the need and desire to enter more fully into the depths of the mystery of God. A faith without these trials leads me to doubt that it is true faith.”

Archbishop Warda: With papal visit, world will see ‘joyful people’ of Iraq

Rome Newsroom, Mar 2, 2021 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- The Chaldean Catholic archbishop of Erbil said he hopes that with Pope Francis’ visit to Iraq, the world will see a different, and positive, side of the country, after many years of violence and war.

Archbishop Bashar Warda told EWTN News he hoped that with the pope’s trip to his country, “Iraq will be seen by the whole world as people of good faith, people who love peace, and people who introduced the whole world to a great father Abraham.”

Speaking via video call from Erbil, Warda noted he had been saying for 50 years that “the world was always, and still is, seeing images and scenes from Iraq about all its war, violence, kidnap[ping], bombing, killing, etc.,” adding that the images are “really negative and evil ones.”

“For the first time, they will probably see joyful people welcoming a guest of Iraq, and hopefully, in the final Mass, they will also see the crowds joining together and praying together,” he said.

“As Christians, of course, I know that our problems and challenges will remain. However, the whole media, local and international, will tell the story of Christians in Iraq, which is 2,000 years [old].”

On March 5-8, Pope Francis will visit Iraq, where he intends to bring hope to the persecuted Christian minority, and promote fraternity and interreligious dialogue.

In just over three days, Francis is scheduled to travel 900 miles within Iraq, meeting with political leaders, prominent Muslim clerics, and Christians. He will be the first pope in history to visit the Middle Eastern country.

Warda said that he would see Pope Francis go to the plain of Ur in southern Iraq, which the Bible records as the birthplace of Abraham. The archaeological site at Ur, excavated in the 20th century, includes a Mesopotamian ziggurat and ancient complex of houses. 

“These moments [are] very special,” Warda said. 

Chaldean Catholics, one of several Eastern Catholic communities found in Iraq, trace their history back to the early Christians through their connection with the Church of the East.

The archbishop noted that with Pope Francis’ visit, “so many people, especially Iraqi people, will know we’ve been here for many centuries and we’ve contributed a lot. And we still are willing to contribute, relying on God’s providence, and at the same time, on the trust of people in us.”

Warda also said he hoped that the visit would leave behind “beautiful memories and scenes where everyone will start [to] think, ‘why should we go [down] the road of violence if there is another road open and it’s open there.’”

Pointing to Iraq’s rich variety of cultures, languages, and customs, he said: “I hope that this [moment] would remain in the lives and memories of all Iraqis.”

Warda said that Iraq’s Shiite and Sunni Muslim populations have also supported Pope Francis’ visit, recognizing its historic importance. Hospitality is an important value to Iraqis, he observed, and they are welcoming a great guest in the pope.

While he said that there are always some people who will see things from a different perspective, Warda emphasized that the general public in Iraq viewed the trip favorably.

“And everyone knows Pope Francis,” he added. “I mean his pastoral approach is unique and a special one.”

4 days until the Papal Visit. Fr. Nishwan rehearsing with the choir & musicians at the Franso Hariri Football Stadium, Erbil, for the HOLY MASS, Sunday 7 March. For Christians, the greatest form of worship is the Mass. We will pray for peace, reconciliation & social cohesion pic.twitter.com/ZxdlCEyCNM

— bishopwarda (@bishopwarda) March 1, 2021 The “majority of the people, I’m sure, we are following the news closely. They are excited. And you could tell from the preparation,” the archbishop explained, adding that Muslims were also among those preparing for the Mass that Pope Francis will offer in the Erbil stadium on the final night of his trip.

The Mass is expected to be the largest gathering of Iraqi Catholics with the pope during the trip. Local authorities in Kurdistan have said that at least 4,500 people have registered for the Mass.

Among the choir and musicians for the Mass, there are 15 Muslims, Warda said. “They’ve really signed up to be there and asked the head of the choir, Fr. Nishwan, to participate in this event.” 

U.S. bishops express solidarity with people of Burma after coup

Washington D.C., Mar 2, 2021 / 11:00 am (CNA).- The U.S. bishops’ conference expressed solidarity with the people of Burma on Tuesday, one month after a military coup seized control of the country.

“On behalf of the Committee on International Justice and Peace, I wrote a solidarity letter to the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Myanmar and have asked U.S. government officials to carefully consider the insights the local Church can offer towards achieving a just resolution to the current crisis,” said Bishop David Malloy of Rockford, Illinois, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ international justice and peace committee.

“As protests continue in Myanmar, I call on all Catholics and people of good will to pray for the people and leaders of the land,” he added.

Burma—also referred to as Myanmar—has a relatively small Catholic population, which has been vocal in their opposition to the coup and in support of a return to democracy. Protests in the Southeast Asian country have been ongoing since the Feb. 1 coup. Christians form only around 6% of Burma’s majority-Buddhist population. 

Catholic nuns have also taken part in the protests. The Vatican newspaper on March 1 published reports of Sister Ann Nu Thawng, a member of the Sisters of St. Francis Xavier who knelt before advancing police officers and asked them not to hurt protesters; the act reportedly took place in Myitkyina, the capital of Burma’s northern Kachin State. 

On Feb. 11, the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Apparition Myanmar prayed and protested outside of the Chinese embassy in Mandalay. 

Bishop Malloy noted that Pope Francis was among the people who had condemned the coup, and had called for peace.

“I echo the call by the Holy Father and the bishops of Myanmar on the need for dialogue as a way forward toward peace and reconciliation,” he said.

At least 18 protesters were killed and 30 people were wounded on Sunday when police fired live rounds and used non-lethal force against the crowds, according to the UN’s human rights office. 

On Sunday, Burmese Cardinal Charles Maung Bo of Yangon proclaimed that “Innocent blood may not be spilt on this land.” The cardinal, who is a longtime supporter of democracy in the country, lamented that “so much of pain, suffering, and resistance” had occurred since the coup.

Cardinal Bo is also the president of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences.

“Slowly hatred seemed to infiltrate the peaceful marches. We pray that no violence happens,” Cardinal Bo said. 

He also lamented the “violence” in online discourse. “Social media, especially Facebook, is a virtual hell where hatred rules supreme; good people become violent in that virtual hell, destroying others. Humanity is disfigured in Facebook,” he said. 

According to the UN, more than 1,000 people in Burma have been arbitrarily arrested and detained in the month since the coup began.