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Tennessee governor urges investigation of Vanderbilt pediatric transgender clinic

null / Image credit: ADragan/Shutterstock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 21, 2022 / 18:00 pm (CNA).

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee has called for an investigation into the Vanderbilt University Medical Center after faculty comments on the lucrative nature of transgender surgeries were brought to light.

A podcast had also highlighted statements from the school’s faculty on the “consequences” faced by conscientious objectors.

The Republican governor said in a statement to The Daily Wire that “The ‘pediatric transgender clinic’ at Vanderbilt University Medical Center raises serious moral, ethical, and legal concerns.”

“We should not allow permanent, life-altering decisions that hurt children or policies that suppress religious liberties, all for the purpose of financial gain,” Lee added. “We have to protect Tennessee children, and this warrants a thorough investigation.”

Matt Walsh, an internet host for the The Daily Wire, shared the recordings of the faculty members’ comments in the Sept. 20 edition of his podcast “The Matt Walsh Show.”

The comments were made by two faculty members: Dr. Shayne Taylor, a university professor and a physician at the Vanderbilt Clinic for Transgender Health, and Dr. Ellen Clayton, law professor in the center for biomedical ethics and society department. They were recorded in 2018 and in 2019 at the Nashville school’s Medicine Grand Rounds lecture, a weekly faculty lecture series.

The Vanderbilt University Medical Center responded to the report with a statement on Wednesday saying the videos in Walsh’s report are misrepresentative of the center’s care for transgender patients.

Transgender surgeries: ‘huge moneymakers’

A video of Taylor’s 2018 lecture — which Walsh says is the same year that the transgender clinic opened — shows her speaking about cost estimates for transgender surgeries. 

“These surgeries make a lot of money,” Taylor said in the video. “So female-to-male chest reconstruction can bring in $40,000. A patient just on routine hormone treatment who I’m only seeing a few times a year can bring in several thousand dollars. ... It actually makes money for the hospital.”

Citing the Philadelphia Center for Transgender Surgery, which performs transgender surgeries, Taylor said that vaginoplasty surgeries — performed on males seeking to transition into women — are priced at $20,000. 

Taylor also added that the price tag doesn’t include hospital-stay costs, post-operation costs, anesthesia, or operating room costs.

“So I would think that this would have to be a gross underestimate,” she said. “I think that’s just like the surgeon’s piece of it, which anybody who’s ever been in a hospital knows that that’s like 10% of it.”

Speaking of female-to-male “bottom surgeries,” Taylor called them “huge moneymakers.” 

Phalloplasty surgeries cost up to $100,000, Taylor said on the recording.

Women who undergo phalloplasty must first have a hysterectomy, and the vagina may also be removed. On average, it takes a patient 12 to 18 months to heal from a phalloplasty. 

Citing Vanderbilt’s own transgender surgeon, Taylor said that there are clinics that are financially supported solely from phalloplasty surgeries.

“And that is like a fraction of the surgeries that they’re doing,” she said. “These surgeries are labor intensive, they require a lot of follow-ups, they require a lot of OR [operating room] time, and they make money. They make money for the hospital.”

Conscientious objection ‘not without consequences’

Speaking to staff at the medical center, Clayton, the law professor, said at a Medicine Grand Rounds Lecture on Nov. 22, 2019: “If you are going to assert conscientious objection [to transgender surgeries], you have to realize that that is problematic.”

She added that the university may have to “accommodate” the religious beliefs of a staff member who conscientiously objects, but said that “I just want you to take home that saying that you’re not going to do something because of your religious beliefs is not without consequences.”

“And it should not be without consequences,” she added. “And I just want to put that out there. If you don’t want to do this kind of work, don’t work at Vanderbilt.”

Medical center issues statement

In response to Walsh’s exposé, the hospital issued a statement saying that the comments were not reflective of its policies.

“Vanderbilt University Medical Center is now the subject of social media posts and a video that misrepresent facts about the care the Medical Center provides to transgender patients,” the statement said.

“VUMC began its Transgender Health Clinic because transgender individuals are a high-risk population for mental and physical health issues and have been consistently underserved by the U.S. health system,” the statement said. 

The statement said the medical center is “family-centered” when dealing with adolescents and abides by the law.

“VUMC requires parental consent to treat a minor patient who is to be seen for issues related to transgender care, and never refuses parental involvement in the care of transgender youth who are under age 18,” the statement said.

“Our policies allow employees to decline to participate in care they find morally objectionable, and do not permit discrimination against employees who choose to do so,” the statement said. “This includes employees whose personal or religious beliefs do not support gender-affirming care for transgender persons.”

Walsh tweeted on Wednesday that he had a meeting with Tennessee state representative William Lamberth and state senator Jack Johnson, both Republicans, to work on legislation that will “shut down Vanderbilt’s child gender transition program and ban the practice in the state.”

CNA reporter Edie Heipel contributed to this story.

Eight churches damaged by Sept. 19 earthquake in Mexico

Santiago Apostle Parish in Tangamandapio, Mexico, was damaged by a 7.6-magnitude earthquake on Sept. 19, 2022. / Photo credit: Facebook Apóstol Santiago, S. Tangamandapio

Denver Newsroom, Sep 21, 2022 / 16:15 pm (CNA).

A Catholic church in Tangamandapio and seven other Catholic churches were damaged in the state of Michoacán by a 7.6-magnitude earthquake that struck Mexico on Monday, Sept. 19.

According to the Facebook page “Diocese of Zamora, Michoacán: history, art and tradition,” the earthquake that took place at 1:05 p.m. local time damaged several places of worship but did not claim any lives of the faithful.

“Let’s be ready to support our parishes in repairing the damage incurred, for the well-being and safety of the faithful who come to these places” and “to restore [the churches’] former appearance,” the diocese encouraged.

The following damage was reported:

  • A crack occurred in the façade of St. James the Apostle church located in Tangamandapio. 

  • The façade of St. Michael the Archangel church in Tacátzcuaro partially collapsed.

  • The side entrance of the St. Joseph Chapel in Cotija was also damaged.

  • The interior ceiling of St. Francis of Assisi church in Corupo partially collapsed.

  • The cross of the bell tower of St. Francis of Assisi church in Zamora was cracked.

  • Some pieces fell from the interior walls and from the threshold of St. James the Apostle church in Sahuayo.

  • Cement blocks broke loose and fell on the sanctuary and the nave, and cracks were seen inside St. Peter the Apostle church in the town of Paracho.

  • Some cracks appeared in the belltowers of the Lord of Miracles Shrine in San Juan Nuevo, which caused the local priests to close access through the main door of the church.

Anniversary of other major earthquakes

The earthquake’s epicenter was 49 miles from the town of Coalcomán in the state of Michoacán.

So far, two people have reportedly died.

The earthquake, which was felt in other parts of the country such as Mexico City, occurred on the anniversary of two other major earthquakes in 1985 and 2017, which claimed many lives.

According to the BBC, for the anniversary of the two great earthquakes, a national earthquake drill had been carried out one hour before Monday’s earthquake.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center also issued an alert.

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

Blessed Sacrament chapels at gas stations along highway are ‘oasis’ for Brazil travelers

Mass in the Chapel of Nossa Senhora Unatadora dos Knots and Sagrada Familia, in Várzea Grande, in Mato Grosso state, Brazil. / Photo credit: Rede Marajó

Denver Newsroom, Sep 21, 2022 / 15:00 pm (CNA).

A major gas station chain in Brazil is building chapels for the Blessed Sacrament on the country’s highways to be an “oasis” for travelers.

Although it’s normal for travelers to stop at a service station or gas station to fill the tank of their vehicle, eat something, or rest, in Brazil there are some stations that have chapels where travelers can adore the Blessed Sacrament, go to confession, and attend Mass.

Chapel of Our Lady of Nazareth along the Belém-Brasília Highway in Brazil. Photo credit: Red Marajó
Chapel of Our Lady of Nazareth along the Belém-Brasília Highway in Brazil. Photo credit: Red Marajó

Speaking with ACI Digital, CNA’s Portuguese-language sister news agency, Janeth Vaz, director of Rede Marajó, a chain of highway service stations in Brazil, said that the chain has built seven chapels at its stations with the Blessed Sacrament in the tabernacle because “faith is the first value of our company.”

Vaz said that “having the chapel is a privilege, but having the Blessed Sacrament in the chapel is a great blessing.”

“The heart of Marajó is the chapel and we know that the One who is in the chapel is the Blessed Sacrament,” she said.

“Today we have seven chapels, but we want to continue building where there are none ... so the Blessed Sacrament can be there,” because it makes “a very big difference,” she said.

Rede Marajó has more than 30 years of experience and describes itself as the “only one” that serves the entire 1,200-mile-long Belém-Brasília Highway, which takes an average of 30 hours’ driving time to cover. In addition, the gas station chain is “the largest Shell distributor” in the country.

Currently, the chain has 19 stations in the states of Pará, Tocantins, Goiás, Mato Grosso, and Minas Gerais.

Vaz said that she comes from a Catholic family that attended Mass “sporadically” but after participating in a charismatic renewal group, she “fell in love” with the Catholic Church.

She added that today she is a great devotee of the Virgin Mary and that although her husband “resisted” at the beginning is now the greatest promoter of the effort to build chapels.

Janeth Vaz at the inauguration of the chapel of Our Lady of Guadalupe and Sacred Heart, in Santana do Araguaia, Pará state, Brazil. Photo credit: Rede Marajó
Janeth Vaz at the inauguration of the chapel of Our Lady of Guadalupe and Sacred Heart, in Santana do Araguaia, Pará state, Brazil. Photo credit: Rede Marajó

Her husband “said that one day he would build me a church in the backyard, because I went to church a lot. I told him: ‘Yes, you will, but the one who will participate will be more you than me.’ And that’s what happened,” she recalled.

The spouses built the first chapel at the Nova Olinda station in 1992, and the apostolic administrator of the diocese gave them permission to have the Blessed Sacrament.

Every time a new chapel is built, “the first thing we do is go to the parish priest, who asks the bishop for permission to have the Blessed Sacrament,” she said.

Later on, they built other chapels in Aparecida de Goiânia, Goiás state; Belém and Santana do Araguaia, Pará state; Frutal and Centralina, Minas Gerais state; and Várzea Grande in Mato Grosso state.

They all offer Mass every week and, at some of the chapels, a priest meets with the faithful to hear their confessions, give them spiritual advice, and pray with them.

The Rede Marajó company director said that building these chapels over the last 30 years is “a grace” and the work of the Holy Spirit, because although it’s easy to start, persevering in the effort is not so simple.

Her children, who now run the gas station chain, are continuing with the project.

“They, much more than me, want these chapels and for people to pray there. It was something we instilled and it remained in their hearts,” she said.

An oasis for truckers and travelers

Vaz explained that the idea of building chapels came from thinking about truck drivers, who spend a lot of time on the roads, and said that the chapels are dedicated to Our Lady under her different Marian titles.

The businesswoman said that the priests who go to celebrate Mass at the stations give rosaries to the truck drivers and that they receive them “happily,” because “they love the Virgin” and feel her care for them.

Two truckers saved from suicide thanks to the chapels

“It feels like an oasis in the middle of the desert for them. This oasis has already saved at least two truckers from suicide,” she recounted.

The first truck driver arrived at the Nova Olinda station at night “very desperate” and “with a gun” because he “wanted to take his own life.”

When he saw him, the night watchman took him to the chapel of Our Lady of Graces and he stayed there for a while.

“When he left he was completely different and he no longer had the intention of committing suicide, and he said that he was even going to get rid of the weapon,” she recalled.

The other case occurred recently at the Belém station, in the chapel of Our Lady of Nazareth, when a truck driver who visited the chapel met a priest and decided not to commit suicide.

Vaz recounted that on that day the visiting priest “thought the sanctuary lamp next to the tabernacle had gone out,” so he went into the chapel to light it and saw a man crying.

“The priest identified himself and asked if he could help. The man said that he had gone into the chapel with the idea of taking his own life, but he had told God: ‘If I find a priest here who hears my confession, I’ll change my mind.’ It was just then that the priest came in and the man talked, the priest prayed with him, and he changed his mind,” she related.

Finally, Vaz said that the company encourages its employees to live the Catholic faith and that at all of their gas stations, even those that do not yet have a chapel, they offer a monthly Mass.

In addition, she said that every morning the workers pray together with the aid of the liturgy of the day.

She explained that the employees “aren’t obliged” to pray, but “everything stops until the prayer takes place.” However, Vaz noted that the vast majority participate, because “there is a great unity between Catholics and non-Catholics.”

This story was first published by ACI Digital, CNA’s Portuguese-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

Pregnancy clinic firebombed in ‘Jane’s Revenge’ attack sues police for surveillance footage

CompassCare, a pro-life pregnancy center near Buffalo, New York, was heavily damaged by fire and spray-painted with pro-abortion graffiti on June 7, 2022. / CompassCare

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 21, 2022 / 13:45 pm (CNA).

After the pro-life pregnancy center he runs outside Buffalo was firebombed and vandalized on June 7, James Harden gave investigators video-surveillance footage of the attack, along with what he described as a “mountain of other evidence.”

Now, frustrated that no arrests have been made in the case after more than three months, he wants the footage back.

“It’s Day 106. There have been no arrests. There have been over 50 attacks on pro-life pregnancy centers. And our patience is at an end,” Harden, president and CEO of CompassCare Pregnancy Services, told CNA on Wednesday.

Harden said that he has asked both the FBI and local police for access to the footage so he can make a copy of it, to no avail. The police showed him still images taken from the video, he said, but would not give him access to the footage itself.

So on Tuesday CompassCare filed a lawsuit asking a judge to order the police department to provide CompassCare with a copy of the footage.

“Time is of the essence to commence a civil litigation because the longer time goes by the more likely it will be that those responsible for the firebombing will spoliate other evidence,” reads the complaint, which was filed in state Supreme Court in Buffalo.

The legal action is the latest manifestation of mounting frustration about what some see as a lackluster response by the FBI and other law-enforcement agencies to the wave of violent attacks on pro-life groups and Catholic churches across the U.S. since an early draft of the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade was leaked on May 2.

The same day CompassCare filed its lawsuit, Republican Reps. Chris Smith of New Jersey and Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington introduced a bill that, among other things, would require the Biden administration to publicly report its handling of the investigation and prosecution of those engaging in “domestic violent extremism” against pregnancy centers.

The legislation, called the Protect Pregnancy Care Centers Act of 2022, already has 28 co-sponsors and boasts the support of national pro-life organizations, including SBA Pro-Life America, the March for Life, and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

‘Jane’s Revenge’

The June 7 attack on CompassCare’s clinic, located in Amherst, New York, is one of at least 18 attributed to assailants invoking the pro-abortion moniker “Jane’s Revenge.” To date, there have been no arrests in any of those cases, Fox News reported last week.

In fact, no arrests have been reported in the more than 50 vandalism attacks on pregnancy centers since the Supreme Court leak, according to CNA’s tracker of these crimes.

“The public has a right to know what’s going on,” Harden told CNA. 

“There is a serious sickness in the body politic of America and the FBI isn’t even talking about it,” he said. “It’s the largest law enforcement agency on the globe and it appears that they’re treating this like some sort of bubble gum theft.”

CompassCare, a pro-life pregnancy center near Buffalo, New York, was heavily damaged by fire and spray-painted with pro-abortion graffiti on June 7, 2022. CompassCare
CompassCare, a pro-life pregnancy center near Buffalo, New York, was heavily damaged by fire and spray-painted with pro-abortion graffiti on June 7, 2022. CompassCare

In the attack on CompassCare’s Amherst facility, windows were shattered, an office was burned and heavily damaged, and the words “Jane was here” were spray-painted on the side of the building.

In an interview with EWTN’s Raymond Arroyo not long after the attack, Harden said it was clear from video footage that “multiple perpetrators” were involved.

“We had video footage on security cameras trained at all the points of penetration,” he said at the time. You can watch the full interview with Arroyo in the video below.

Harden told CNA he does not understand why the Amherst Police Department has not released the video to the public. He said the footage shows clear figures and license plates that ought to make it possible to identify someone. CompassCare was not able to make a copy of the footage before handing it over to authorities because of the damage to its building, its lawsuit notes.

A ‘quiet’ investigation?

The Amherst Police Department did not respond to CNA’s request for comment. In a statement released Aug. 1, the department said it was “working diligently” with the FBI to resolve the case.

“There have already been multiple leads examined and we are continuing to follow up with those at this time,” the statement read. Anyone with information about the case should contact the police department at 716-689-1311, referencing case number 22-224665, the statement added.

Stanley J. Silwa, the Amherst town attorney, told Buffalonews.com that giving CompassCare a copy of the footage would put the police investigation in jeopardy and added that the police would release the footage after the investigation is complete.

“Apparently they don’t like the explanation,” Silwa said, referring to CompassCare officials. “They should understand that.”

In an interview with the Epoch Times, Silwa said that the police department wants a “quiet” investigation because of fears that “these people don’t go further underground, as they may already be.”

“You’re aware of all the nut jobs out there with guns and AK-47s, bombing and killing people because they have certain political views,” Sliwa said in the interview.

Asked to elaborate on which people he was referring to, Silwa told the Epoch Times he was referring to the riot on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

Silwa clarified that he was not linking supporters of CompassCare with the Capitol riot.

Silwa was not immediately available for comment Wednesday afternoon.

Congressional bill aims to protect pro-life pregnancy centers against ‘terror attacks’

Photos of the June 3 vandalism show a splash of red paint covering the Capitol Hill Pregnancy Center’s white door. On the brick outer building, the words “Jane says revenge” are written in black spray paint. / Mary Margaret Olohan, reporter for The Daily Wire

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 21, 2022 / 10:30 am (CNA).

Republican Reps. Chris Smith of New Jersey and Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington introduced a bill Tuesday aimed at protecting pro-life pregnancy centers against a surge in violent attacks. 

“Despite dire threats and horrific attacks, the selfless volunteers and medical professionals who serve at these pregnancy care centers continue to heroically provide life-affirming medical care and crucial material support to pregnant women in need,” Smith told CNA. “We must ensure that those who work at these centers and the women who rely on them for support are safe from violent extremists who seek to inflict harm and terror.”

The Protect Pregnancy Care Centers Act of 2022 already has 28 co-sponsors and boasts the support of national pro-life organizations, including SBA Pro-Life America, the March for Life, and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The bill, among other things, would require the Biden administration to publicly report its handling of the investigation and prosecution of those engaging in “domestic violent extremism” against pregnancy centers.

“Now more than ever, we need to ensure the safety and security of the estimated 3,000 pregnancy care centers that provide life-affirming alternatives to abortion,” Smith said in a press release. 

McMorris Rodgers added, “My goal is to foster an environment where no woman feels like their only option is abortion.”

The new legislation responds to a growing number of pro-abortion attacks targeting churches and pro-life pregnancy centers in the United States surrounding the Supreme Court’s June decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. That decision leaves abortion up to the states.

The Smith-McMorris Rodgers bill lists and condemns the dozens of “terror attacks.”

“Pregnancy care centers across the country have suffered a surge of violent attacks, firebombing, and vandalism by pro-abortion activists in a coordinated effort to intimidate front-line volunteers and licensed medical professionals providing critical support to mothers in need and their unborn baby boys and girls,” Smith said.

McMorris Rodgers cautioned that the attacks “only endanger and intimidate the women who depend on them for critical medical care, education, and other resources.”

“I believe all extreme and hateful acts of violence should be condemned, which is why I’m helping lead this legislation to hold President Biden accountable for his failure to respond to this threat with the urgency it deserves,” she added.

The bill would require the inspector generals of the Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security to report information to Congress on the Biden administration’s response to the attacks, including information on groups that have claimed responsibility and the number of prosecutions initiated.

It would also require the administration to identify funding available to pregnancy centers for security measures and provide recommendations for the creation of additional grant programs.

In the press release, Smith said that these “crimes against innocent victims” violate 18 U.S. Code § 248, a law that he said requires the Biden administration to investigate and prosecute the individuals threatening, vandalizing, and damaging pregnancy centers. The law, titled the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, was signed by President Bill Clinton in 1994 and prohibits the destruction of reproductive health care facilities, including pro-life counseling centers.

“Our new bill takes President Biden to task for his dereliction of duty to protect these centers from domestic violent extremists and will help hold the Biden administration accountable for its obligation to prosecute those who are inflicting terror and destroying these vital resource centers,” he said.

These centers, Smith stressed, save lives. 

According to the Charlotte Lozier Institute (CLI), the research arm of SBA Pro-Life America, roughly 828,130 unborn babies’ lives were saved over the course of five years because of pregnancy centers. CLI also reports that these centers offered services and material assistance amounting to more than $266 million in 2019 alone. These centers serve hundreds of thousands of women at little to no cost by offering everything from medical services, pregnancy tests, ultrasounds, and parenting classes to supplies such as diapers, baby food, and even a place to stay.

The White House press office did not respond with comment by time of publication.

‘Full members of the Church’: Catholics with disabilities contribute to Synod on Synodality

Giulia Cirillo gives Pope Francis a report from Catholics with disabilities on Sept. 21, 2022. / Vatican Media

Rome Newsroom, Sep 21, 2022 / 07:25 am (CNA).

Catholics with disabilities delivered to Pope Francis on Wednesday a report they prepared for the Synod on Synodality.

The document was a synthesis of an online listening session held in May with 35 people with disabilities, coming from 20 countries and spanning five continents.

“I think the big message, which I think is being heard now, is that people who are disabled are actually full members of the Church,” Father Justin Glyn, a Jesuit priest from Australia, told CNA Sept. 21.

Glyn, who is blind, said there is a history in the Catholic Church of seeing people with disabilities as “recipients of charity, objects of pity.”

“Whereas I think now the message is very much that we are full participants in the Church, we are people who are part of a Church that walks together synodally,” he added. 

The report from people with disabilities was hand-delivered to Pope Francis after his general audience in St. Peter’s Square on Sept. 21 by Giulia Cirillo, an Italian woman who uses a wheelchair.

Cirillo told CNA afterward that she thanked Pope Francis “because he gave all of us the opportunity to speak, that is, even us, persons who live firsthand with disabilities.”

Sister Marie Claire Rolland, a French religious sister with Down syndrome, also participated in the listening session and the drafting of the synthesis. After hugging Pope Francis — the third pope she has met during her life — Rolland blessed him, making a sign of the cross on his forehead.

Sister Marie Claire Rolland blesses Pope Francis on Sept. 21, 2022. Vatican Media
Sister Marie Claire Rolland blesses Pope Francis on Sept. 21, 2022. Vatican Media

The Vatican’s Dicastery for Laity, Family, and Life organized the virtual listening session in May and the preparation of the final report on what was shared.

Vittorio Scelzo, who oversees the dicastery’s area on the care of people with disabilities, told CNA the synthesis was delivered Sept. 20 to the committee tasked with preparing the synod’s first working document for the continental phase. The committee begins its work at a religious house near Frascati, Italy, on Sept. 21.

The laity, family, and life dicastery wanted the disabled to be “taken seriously,” Scelzo said. “The synod was perfect,” he noted, “the right moment, a kairos,” for hosting a listening session.

Father Glyn from Australia said his experience in the Church as a disabled man has been varied, but his experience as a priest with a disability is “hugely advantageous actually.”

He pointed to the problem of clericalism, explaining that “if you are a priest who knows that you are vulnerable, knows that you are weak, knows that you have the need of support of others, the temptation towards [clericalism] is not as strong because we know that we need each other.”

Cirillo, the woman who uses a wheelchair, said, “as a believer, I think each of us has a vocation that we need to discover; none of us is useless.”

“We can thus make a contribution for a more and more inclusive Church, also for people with disabilities,” she said.

“We all need help. Asking for help is not an embarrassment, it is our mission,” she continued. “Even when the condition of disability brings us extra difficulties, we have to remember that Jesus wants us to be joyful, and when we are sick, he is also sick for us. However our mission is to be joyful.”

Glyn said there are ways the Church still needs to improve accessibility to the sacraments and church buildings for the disabled. Still, it is also about people with disabilities being seen as full members of the Church, not as outsiders or a “them.”

“I think sometimes there’s been this view of disability as either a hangover of original sin [that] someday it’ll be made better — or on the other side, people privileged to suffer,” he said. “Whereas for most of us our lives are not suffering and our lives are joy. Our lives are made of the same things, made of the same fabric and stuff.”

Pope Francis urges support for Hurricane Fiona victims

Pope Francis prays with journalists on a papal flight August 14, 2014. / Alan Holdren/CNA

Rome Newsroom, Sep 21, 2022 / 07:04 am (CNA).

Pope Francis has called on Christians to support communities in the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico devastated by Hurricane Fiona.

The pope expressed his solidarity with all affected by the category 3 hurricane in a telegram sent on Sept. 21 to bishops in the Caribbean countries.

The telegram signed by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin said that Pope Francis “asks the entire Christian community and all people of good will to increase solidarity to help those affected by this disaster.”

More than 1.3 million homes and businesses were left without power in Puerto Rico after the storm dumped 30 inches of rain, causing surging floodwaters, submerged homes, and damaged roads.

Authorities have reported four deaths in Puerto Rico and 2 deaths in the Dominican Republic, where more than 1.15 households were left without potable water after the storm hit on Sept. 19.

Catholic Charities USA is currently coordinating distributions of food, water, and other essential items.

Kim Burgo, vice president of Catholic Charities USA’s disaster operations, told CNA that many families are still recovering from Hurricane Maria, the 2017 storm that the government says caused $90 billion in damage in Puerto Rico.

Pope Francis’ telegram to Bishop Rubén Antonio González Medina of Ponce, Puerto Rico said that he is praying fervently “to the most merciful Father, begging him to grant His consolidation to the beloved Puerto Rican people who are suffering grave misfortunes.”

In the telegram to Dominican Archbishop Freddy Antonio de Jesús Bretón Martínez of Santiago de los Caballeros, said that the pope was entrusting the local community to Our Lady of Altagracia, the patroness of the Dominican Republic.

 

Why Pope Francis wants to visit this Islamic monarchy

Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, special envoy of the King of Bahrain, meets Pope Francis. / Vatican Media.

Rome Newsroom, Sep 21, 2022 / 04:53 am (CNA).

Three intertwined stories set the stage for a possible papal trip to the Kingdom of Bahrain in November this year: that of a missionary bishop, a Marian devotion, and a Muslim country open to Christians.

The Cathedral of Our Lady of Arabia was inaugurated on Dec. 10, 2021. It was the dream of a visionary bishop, Camillo Ballin, who died April 12, 2020, after spending about 50 years in Arab countries. 

Ballin was behind the ambitious construction of a worship building for 2,300 people, some 12 miles from the Bahraini capital Manama, with the king’s permission, on land donated by the king.

Bishop Camillo Ballin (1944-2020), Vicar Apostolic of the Apostolic Vicariate of Northern Arabia. Jyrejoice via Wikimedia (CC0).
Bishop Camillo Ballin (1944-2020), Vicar Apostolic of the Apostolic Vicariate of Northern Arabia. Jyrejoice via Wikimedia (CC0).

If Pope Francis’ trip to Bahrain will take place in November — the journey is being considered, said the director of the Holy See Press Office, Matteo Bruni, on his return from Kazakhstan — it will be to visit this cathedral. 

In doing so, the pope would also pay homage to the late bishop behind the project.

Pope Francis was invited to Bahrain as early as 2014 but then preferred to go to the United Arab Emirates in 2019 to sign the Declaration for Human Fraternity.

The pope’s decision had also been concern for Ballin. The pope showed that he privileged the dialogue with Sunni Islam, putting aside Shiite Islam practiced in Bahrain. 

He wasn’t alone in seeing this risk.

For the pope’s trip to Iraq in March 2020, Cardinal Raffael Sako, patriarch of the Chaldeans, worked very hard for the pope to meet Ayatollah al Sistani, building a bridge to Shiite Islam.

The meeting took place, and on Feb. 3, 2020, one year after the Declaration of Human Fraternity signing, Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, the Crown Prince and Prime Minister, had an audience with Pope Francis.

The encounter between His Royal Highness and the Holy Father was a milestone. The decisive contact to make the possibility of the visit more concrete, however, was the inauguration of the Cathedral of Our Lady of Arabia.

Pope Francis’ letter to the king of Bahrain

Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, then prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, was the papal envoy for the cathedral’s inauguration.

He presented himself in Manama with a letter from Pope Francis addressed directly to His Majesty, King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa.

The king received Tagle on the afternoon of Dec. 10, a few hours after Our Lady of Arabia’s consecration, with Bishop Paul Hinder, then the administrator of the apostolic vicariate of Northern Arabia, and Archbishop Eugene Martin Nugent, apostolic nuncio to Kuwait, Qatar, and Bahrain.

Screenshot from Sacred Heart Catholic Church Bahrain YouTube channel.
Screenshot from Sacred Heart Catholic Church Bahrain YouTube channel.

According to the Kingdom of Bahrain’s media, Pope Francis, in the letter, expressed “his thanks and appreciation for the opening of the Cathedral of Our Lady of Arabia.” 

In turn, the king sent his greetings to the pope. He praised the pope’s role “in promoting dialogue and understanding between religions and civilizations, as well as in promoting the values ​​of human brotherhood, tolerance, and coexistence among all.”

Furthermore, the king had confirmed his desire to “strengthen existing relations of friendship and cooperation” with the Holy See.

In particular, he stressed that the cathedral’s consecration “embodies the role of humanitarian civilization in Bahrain,” a Muslim state that “for many decades” has also hosted non-Muslim places of worship.

The invitation of the king of Bahrain

The letter responded to the King of Bahrain’s official invitation to Pope Francis to visit the country.

The invitation was given to the pope by Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed bin Mohammed al-Khalifa, His Majesty’s adviser for diplomatic affairs.

The original idea was to have the pope precisely for the inauguration of Our Lady of Arabia. But the desire for a visit by the pope to Bahrain is long-standing.

Ballin had reported to CNA about an invitation that arrived as early as 2014 to Pope Francis. And before the visit in February 2020, he made it known that there was no other possible theme of the meeting than that of a possible visit by the pope to Bahrain.

Ballin was a profound expert on the Arabian Peninsula and, generally, of the Arab territories. 

Comboni missionary, he preferred Arab countries for his activity. He was particularly attentive to the balance between the various Islamic currents.  

Ballin was also an astute operator who — when speaking privately — knew how to be critical of the situation in the Gulf. 

The bishop received Bahraini citizenship and was a member of the Center for Peaceful Coexistence, which King Ahmad had founded and placed under the responsibility of his children.

The pope’s trip to Bahrain was his dream, and he had repeatedly invited the king to send an invitation. Behind Bahrain’s approach to the Holy See is his constant work, just as his legacy is the Cathedral of Our Lady of Arabia.

Our Lady of Arabia cathedral

The title of Our Lady of Arabia was approved in 1948 to fulfill the prophecy of the Magnificat “From this day all generations will call me blessed.”

Devotion to Our Lady of Arabia was therefore born on Dec. 8, 1948, the day on which the small chapel of Ahmadi in Kuwait was dedicated to this title.

In the chapel was a statue that had been blessed in the Vatican by Pius XII himself, who in 1954 proclaimed Mary “queen.”

Also, in 1949, Ahmadi’s Church of Our Lady of Arabia was affiliated with the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore. Finally, in 1957, Pius XII, with a decree, proclaimed Our Lady of Arabia the principal patroness of the territory and the apostolic vicariate of Kuwait.

It was in 2007 that Ballin asked the Holy See to have a public holiday for the Virgin under the title of Our Lady of Arabia.

On Jan. 5, 2011, the Holy See officially proclaimed Our Lady of Arabia patroness of the Vicariate of Kuwait and Arabia.

The statue of Our Lady of Arabia is a focal point of Bahrain’s new cathedral. bahraincathedral.org.
The statue of Our Lady of Arabia is a focal point of Bahrain’s new cathedral. bahraincathedral.org.

Cardinal Antonio Canizares Llovera, then prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, went personally to Kuwait for the occasion.

The solemnity in honor of Our Lady of Arabia was established on the Saturday preceding the Second Sunday of Ordinary Time, with the permission to celebrate it on Sunday.

In May 2011, the Holy See reorganized the Vicariate of Kuwait, giving it the new name of “Apostolic Vicariate of Northern Arabia” and including the territories of Qatar, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia. Therefore, Ballin’s episcopal see passed from Kuwait to Bahrain for logistical, practical reasons.

The Kingdom of Bahrain is one of the few nations in the region with a local Christian population that has grown since 1930. Most Christians are migrants from Asia, particularly from the Philippines.

The Cathedral of Our Lady of Arabia stands on 9,000 square meters of land in Awali, granted by King Hamad Bin Isa al-Khalifa. 

The decision to build the church was made on the feast day of Our Lady of Lourdes, Feb. 11, 2013.

Ballin strongly desired the dedication to Our Lady of Arabia.

Speaking with CNA’s Italian partner agency ACI Stampa in 2018, Ballin recalled that “there is a Mass, already approved by the Holy See, dedicated to Our Lady of Arabia.”

He said the feast is celebrated on the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, the first Sunday after the feast of the Baptism of Jesus. 

“For this feast, the Holy See has made an exception for my vicariate, and the feast can take place on a Sunday, a day customarily dedicated only to God. My vicariate, however, has obtained to celebrate Our Lady on a Sunday.“

Speaking on the question of dialogue with Islam, he stressed that it was essential to do so “with great discretion and patience."

“Muslims do not even know the structure of the Church, and it is important to explain it to make them understand. It is essential to create a climate of friendship. Then, dialogue takes place without requiring precise goals and precise times.“

And he added: “The West believes that there are only Muslims in the Gulf, and instead, there are millions of Catholics. In addition, the Middle East and the Gulf’s situations are confusing and cannot be conflated. In the Middle East, Christians are citizens of the country and have a passport. In the Gulf, no: Christians are all emigrants, and everyone must leave when retirement age arrives or when a project they participate in is canceled.“

Now, his legacy could be celebrated by Pope Francis. But, in the meantime, the cathedral he wanted has been built and inaugurated and is a candidate to become a reference point for evangelization in the region.

Pope Francis: ‘The cross of Christ remains the anchor of salvation’

General audience with Pope Francis on St. Peter's Square, Vatican, Sept. 21, 2022 / Pablo Esparza / CNA

Rome Newsroom, Sep 21, 2022 / 04:05 am (CNA).

Reflecting on his recent trip to Kazakhstan, Pope Francis on Wednesday said that offering Mass for the feast of the Holy Cross surrounded by the capital city of Nur-Sultan’s “ultra-modern architecture” led him to think about the meaning of the cross today. 

“In a world in which progress and regression are intertwined, the cross of Christ remains the anchor of salvation,” Pope Francis said in St. Peter’s Square on Sept. 21.

Speaking at his Wednesday general audience, the pope underlined that the cross is “a sign of hope that does not disappoint because it is founded on the love of God, merciful and faithful.”

Pope Francis said his Sept. 13–15 visit to the Central Asian country reminded him of Kazakhstan’s many martyrs who “suffered so much for the faith during the long period of persecution: murdered, tortured, imprisoned for the faith.”

“And credit … must be given to the Kazakh government, which, having freed itself from the yoke of the atheistic regime, now proposes a path of civilization clearly condemning fundamentalism and extremism,” he said.

The primary purpose of the pope’s trip to Kazakhstan was to take part in an interreligious conference, the Seventh Congress of the Leaders of World and Traditional Religions.

On the final day of the congress, delegates representing the world’s major religions voted to adopt a declaration calling religious pluralism an expression “of the wisdom of God’s will in creation.”

Pope Francis said that the congress aimed to put “religions at the center of efforts to build a world where we listen to each other and respect each other in diversity.”

“And this is not relativism,” he added. “It is listening and respecting.”

Throughout his trip last week, the pope repeatedly appealed for dialogue and peace in the “senseless and tragic war” in Ukraine. At the end of his general audience, the pope repeated his appeal, expressing solidarity with the “noble and martyred” Ukrainian people.

The pope said this envoy in Ukraine, Cardinal Konrad Krajewski, called him yesterday and described “the pain of the people, the savage actions, the monstrosities, and the tortured corpses that had been found.”

He was likely referring to Krajewski’s recent visit to a mass grave in Izium, Ukraine, where 146 bodies, mostly civilians, have been exhumed so far. 

Pope Francis praying at the general audience, Sept. 21, 2022. Pablo Esparza / CNA
Pope Francis praying at the general audience, Sept. 21, 2022. Pablo Esparza / CNA

Pope Francis also highlighted World Alzheimer’s Day, noting that the disease “affects so many people who, because of this condition, are often placed on the margins of society.”

“We pray for Alzheimer’s patients, their families, and their loving caregivers, that they will be increasingly supported and helped,” he said.

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