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Pope calls for increased assistance to those hit by Hurricane Fiona

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — As Hurricane Fiona swept across the Caribbean, leaving behind numerous victims...

Pope praises Kazakhstan’s support of nuclear weapons ban, peace

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Kazakhstan’s efforts to be a nation of encounter deserve to be...

Human rights activists call on US State Department to return Nigeria to religious freedom watchlist

Displaced Nigerians camped near St. Francis Xavier Parish in Agagbe, Nigeria, in 2022. / Courtesy of Adakole Daniel

Washington D.C., Sep 20, 2022 / 17:00 pm (CNA).

Human rights advocates are calling on U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken to put Nigeria back on a list of the world’s worst violators of religious freedom in light of increasing attacks against Christians.

In 2020, the State Department designated Nigeria a “Country of Particular Concern (CPC)” in the State Department’s International Religious Freedom Report. The country was placed on the list “for having engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom. “ 

Then, in November 2021, the State Department removed Nigeria from the list of CPCs despite what observers say was an increasing number of attacks against Christians.

In a Sept. 19 letter addressed to Blinken, 68 religious freedom NGOs and human rights experts called on the secretary of state to “designate Nigeria as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) and appoint a Special Envoy to investigate the situation and make recommendations, in consultation with local representatives.”

The letter, an initiative led by ADF International, cited statistics from human rights observers indicating an increasingly hostile environment for Nigerian Christians.

“After the still unexplained removal of Nigeria’s CPC designation in November 2021, both the general level of violence and specific targeting of Christians increased. Open Doors found more Christians killed in Nigeria in 2021 — 4,650 — than in all other countries in the world combined,” read the letter.

“The International Society for Civil Liberties and Rule of Law views the trend for 2022 as on-track to surpass that number, with no fewer than 2,543 Christians killed in jihadist-related violence in the first half of 2022,” the letter continued.

The June 5 Pentecost Sunday terrorist attack on St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Owo, Ondo State, which killed at least 40 people, brought the crisis to the world’s attention.

In their letter, the signatories noted that the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom viewed the removal of the CPC designation in 2021 as “appalling.” 

Nigerian religious and civic leaders, including Bishop Jude Arogundade, who oversees the Ondo diocese, where St. Francis Xavier Church was attacked, have publicly criticized the removal of the CPC designation and called for a special envoy to lead an investigation of violations of religious freedom in Nigeria, the letter noted.

The letter also called attention to criminal blasphemy laws and “a government crackdown on speech” that have also contributed to a loss of religious freedom in Nigeria. 

“The Nigerian government’s ability and willingness to control militancy remains extremely questionable,” the letter stated.

“The CPC designation and Special Envoy are vital to recognizing the gravity of the religious freedom violations occurring in the country,” the letter concluded, “and the government’s unwillingness to control the problems, as well as its contributions to the problems.”

Pro-life pregnancy center network calls Elizabeth Warren accusations a political ‘stunt’

U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren addresses the public during a rally to protest the U.S. Supreme Court's overturning of Roe Vs. Wade at the Massachusetts State House in Boston, Massachusetts, on June 24, 2022. / Joseph Prezioso/AFP via Getty Images

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 20, 2022 / 16:35 pm (CNA).

A leading international network of pro-life pregnancy centers is pushing back against claims made by U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and other top Democrats that it engages in “misleading practices” and could use the data it collects to incriminate women seeking abortions.

Warren and six other senators made those allegations in a Sept. 19 letter sent to Jor-El Godsey, the president of Heartbeat International.

“We all know what this is,” Godsey said in a statement Tuesday. “This is naked politics intended not to help women but to influence elections. It is clearly a stunt designed to appease Big Abortion power brokers.”

Heartbeat International currently serves over 2,800 affiliated pregnancy centers, maternity homes, and nonprofit adoption agencies worldwide.

The senators’ letter claims that the data that the organization gathers from women who access its pregnancy centers is not protected by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, most commonly referred to as HIPAA, which grants protections to a patient’s health information.

The letter also requests that Godsey answer more than a dozen questions related to Heartbeat’s operations. One question reads, “Does Heartbeat International share people’s data with anyone? If yes, with whom?”

Jor-El Godsey, president of Heartbeat International. Courtesy of Heartbeat International
Jor-El Godsey, president of Heartbeat International. Courtesy of Heartbeat International

Godsey says that the senators’ letter is promoting a fabricated narrative based on “unfounded speculation.”

“What we do is safe, secure, and legal. Heartbeat has been providing help for more than fifty years and never once did we receive any of these questions or concerns until recently, and then from those with a clear abortion agenda,” he said in the statement.

“It’s politics, and we regret only that it’s a distraction to our important work of helping women find alternatives to abortion,” he added.

Godsey also criticized the senators who signed the letter for not condemning any of the acts of vandalism that have targeted pro-life pregnancy centers in recent months. 

“Instead,” Godsey wrote, “they’ve spent their time fabricating a narrative on unfounded speculation. Rather than finding ways to help women be able to choose something besides abortion, they have used their political powers to bully those who are helping women make life-affirming choices.”

Besides Warren, of Massachusetts, the other senators who signed the letter are Mazie K. Hirono of Hawaii, Cory Booker of New Jersey, Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Ron Wyden of Oregon, Edward Markey of Massachusetts, and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut.

Catholic Charities to provide aid to Puerto Ricans devastated by Hurricane Fiona

A man walks down a flooded street in the Juana Matos neighborhood of Catano, Puerto Rico, on Sept.19, 2022, after the passage of Hurricane Fiona. Hurricane Fiona smashed into Puerto Rico, knocking out the U.S. island territory's power while dumping torrential rain and wreaking catastrophic damage before making landfall in the Dominican Republic on Sept. 19, 2022. / Photo by AFP via Getty Images

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 20, 2022 / 15:51 pm (CNA).

More than a day after Hurricane Fiona dumped 30 inches of rain on Puerto Rico before heading toward the islands of Turks and Caicos, a million people still do not have electricity, and 760,000 are without running water.

The storm hit Puerto Rico just before the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Maria, the most devastating storm to hit the island since 1928. The island is still reeling from that storm, which the government says caused $90 billion in damage and killed almost 3,000 people.

In the hardest-hit areas, in southern and central Puerto Rico, more than 900 people had to be rescued as surging floodwaters submerged houses and damaged roads. Authorities report two deaths: one man drowned in a flooded river, and another was killed filling his generator with gasoline while it was running.

Kim Burgo, vice president of Catholic Charities USA’s disaster operations, told CNA that the local Catholic Charities agencies in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands are planning to do assessments Tuesday to get an idea of what aid is needed. Their staff is currently organizing distributions of food, water, and other essential items.

Many families are still recovering from Hurricane Maria, she noted; some had gotten to a point where things were better, only to lose everything again.

While no two disasters are alike, Burgo said Catholic Charities learned important lessons from the experience of responding to Hurricane Maria. One of those lessons was about the importance of strategically pre-positioning supplies around the island — especially the kinds of items that go quickly from supermarket shelves — so that they can be quickly distributed to those in need when a disaster hits. 

Those who would like to donate to the hurricane relief effort can visit the Catholic Charities website. Every dollar will go directly to the recovery effort, Burgo said.

Father Enrique “Kike” Camacho, executive director of Cáritas Puerto Rico, coordinated relief efforts after Hurricane Maria in 2017. Working closely with Catholic Charities, he helped relief get to those who needed it most through a support network operated out of 500 parishes.

Cáritas Puerto Rico’s Facebook page on Monday published an appeal for monetary donations with a promise that the organization would once again serve those affected by the disaster.

It read: “At Cáritas of Puerto Rico we are already activated to help so many Puerto Rican families and communities affected by the passage of Hurricane Fiona on our island. As on other occasions, we will be receiving monetary donations to use for top needs that arise to support our people.

“Just like in Hurricane Maria, in which we helped the 78 municipalities of PR with love and dedication, we are ready to repeat this gesture. We are resilient people and with faith we will stand again. Let us remain united in prayer, faith, and action, and may God bless you always,” the message read, advising people to donate through caritaspr.net (via PayPal).

300,000 youths make pilgrimage to Virgin of Itatí in Argentina

The pilgrim image of Maria de Itatí and the multitude of pilgrims in front of the basilica at the Shrine of the Virgin of Itatí in the Archdiocese of Corrientes, Argentina, on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022. / Photo credit: Itateñas News

Denver Newsroom, Sep 20, 2022 / 14:20 pm (CNA).

Under the theme “Together with Mary, we meet again as a synodal Church,” more than 300,000 young people from northeastern Argentina made a pilgrimage to the Shrine of the Virgin of Itatí in the Archdiocese of Corrientes on Saturday, Sept. 17.

The youths representing different dioceses gathered together again in person after two years, expressing concerns, expectations, and a commitment to the reality that they have to live in that region of the country.

“We are experiencing a true festival of brothers because we are family. A Church that journeys, makes noise, as Pope Francis proposes to us,” said Marianela Villar, the coordinator of youth ministry for the Diocese of Posadas.

The young people walked the more than six miles between Corrientes and Itatí, accompanied by 100 support vehicles.

“We are celebrating that the youth embrace our Mother who cares for and protects them. She shows the way, giving us strength and hope every day,” Villar said.

In this encounter with the Mother of Itatí, the pilgrims arrived at Mary’s shrine expressing their joy: “We feel great joy in our hearts because after two long years of waiting and disorientation, we can once again shelter under your mantle,” a teen from the province of Entre Ríos commented excitedly.

Bishop Hugo Nicolás Barbaro of San Roque de Presidencia Roque Sáenz Peña, who gave the homily for the central Mass of the 43rd pilgrimage to the shrine, said that “the Virgin is not indifferent to a child who allows himself to be corrupted.”

“Listen to her sweet motherly voice; she wants you to be happy, capable of loving,” for you to share “the richness of your healthy, good life,” he encouraged.

“I place myself in your hands, Mother; guide me so that I may always do the will of God. You are the cause of my joy, of my peace. Do not ignore our supplications, Mother; deliver us from all danger, oh glorious and blessed Virgin,” the prelate prayed.

Some of the young pilgrims commented: “We look forward to this time with hope and joy. We want, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to walk together, build bridges, and embody the solutions proposed by our region.” 

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

‘To dust you shall return,’ but human composting? California bishops raise objections

null / Shutterstock

St. Louis, Mo., Sep 20, 2022 / 13:33 pm (CNA).

California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Sunday signed a bill into law that will allow the composting of human remains — a bill that the state’s Catholic Conference had opposed.

The process of human composting — also known as natural organic reduction (NOR) — is a relatively new phenomenon in the U.S. and is legal in a handful of other states. When a body is composted, it is placed in a reusable container where microbes and bacteria decompose it into soil over the course of 30–45 days.

The resulting soil can then be used on private land, such as on a farm or garden, and otherwise would be subject to the same restrictions as scattering cremated remains in the state, the LA Times reported.

A demonstration "vessel" for the deceased, which has been decorated with flowers and compostable mementos by Return Home on top of a bed of straw, is pictured during a tour of the funeral home that specializes in human composting in Auburn, Washington, on March 14, 2022. Human composting is now legal in Washington, California, and a handful of other states. Photo by JASON REDMOND/AFP via Getty Images
A demonstration "vessel" for the deceased, which has been decorated with flowers and compostable mementos by Return Home on top of a bed of straw, is pictured during a tour of the funeral home that specializes in human composting in Auburn, Washington, on March 14, 2022. Human composting is now legal in Washington, California, and a handful of other states. Photo by JASON REDMOND/AFP via Getty Images

The state’s Catholic conference had expressed opposition to the bill in a June letter.

Kathleen Domingo, executive director of the California Catholic Conference, said the use of a body composting method originally developed for farm animals creates an “unfortunate spiritual, emotional, and psychological distancing from the deceased.” In addition, she said, the process “reduces the human body to simply a disposable commodity.”

The process will be available in California beginning in 2027. The bill’s sponsor, Assemblymember Cristina Garcia, D-Bell Gardens, argued that the process is more economical and eco-friendly than traditional burial methods and could help to reduce overcrowding in cemeteries.

The Catholic Church does not have an official teaching on the composting of human bodies but has weighed in many times over the years on the practice of cremation. While strongly discouraged, cremation can be permissible under certain restrictions; notably, the remains are not to be scattered and must be kept in a sacred place, out of reverence for the Church’s teaching on the eventual resurrection of the body.

“We believe that the ‘transformation’ of the remains would create an emotional distance rather than a reverence for them,” Steve Pehanich, a spokesperson for the California Catholic Conference, told Religion News Service in 2020.

“Even with cremated remains, they directed that they remain in a communal place befitting of the dignity inherent in the human body and its connection to the immortal soul,” Pehanich said.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s October 2016 instruction Ad resurgendum cum Christo states that while cremation “is not prohibited,” the Church “continues to prefer the practice of burying the bodies of the deceased, because this shows a greater esteem towards the deceased.”

In that same document, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith clarified that a person’s ashes are not to be scattered, nor kept in the home or preserved in mementos or jewelry, but instead must be “laid to rest in a sacred place,” such as in a cemetery or church. As the document explains, “by burying the bodies of the faithful, the Church confirms her faith in the resurrection of the body and intends to show the great dignity of the human body as an integral part of the human person whose body forms part of their identity.”

Priest calls attempt to close Colombia Capitol building chapel ‘persecution of the Church’

A proposal to convert the Catholic chapel located in the capitol building where Colombia’s Congress meets into a “neutral place of worship” is “persecution of the Catholic Church,” said Father Raúl Ortiz. / EWTN News/YouTube screen shot

Denver Newsroom, Sep 20, 2022 / 12:15 pm (CNA).

The proposal by Congressman Juan Carlos Losada to convert the Catholic chapel located in the capitol building where Colombia’s Congress meets into a “neutral place of worship” is “persecution of the Catholic Church,” said Father Raúl Ortiz, director of the Department of Doctrine, Promotion, and Unity of the Dialogue of the Colombian Bishops’ Conference.

On Sept. 14, Losada, a member of the Liberal Party, announced on Twitter that he had introduced a proposal in the House of Representatives to transform “the Mary Help of Christians chapel located in the National Capitol into a neutral place of worship.”

The document was introduced Sept. 13 and was signed by Congressmen Alirio Uribe of the Historical Pact (President Gustavo Petro’s leftist coalition) and Luis Alberto Albán of the Commons Party, the political expression of the now officially disbanded Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

The attempt to close this Catholic chapel has been rejected by several members of Congress and Catholic leaders, who have expressed their opposition on social media with the hashtag #LaCapillaSeQueda (the chapel stays).

The move takes place three weeks after the Catholic chapel at El Dorado International Airport was closed to be converted into “space for neutral reflection” for all religions.

Juan Vicente Córdoba, the bishop of Fontibón, the Bogotá suburb where the airport is located, said the company that manages the airport closed the place of Catholic worship following the notification of the Secretary of Government of the Mayor’s Office of Bogotá, which asked the company “to get the Catholic Church out of there and apportion it to all religions.”

Speaking to EWTN News, Ortiz pointed out that “lately we are witnessing a wave of interventions regarding religious freedom,” based on a “misinterpretation of the public policy on religious freedom” of 2018.

The priest said that this misunderstanding “leads some people to think that places of Catholic worship that are found in the public buildings of the state,” such as Congress, “have to be suppressed so that the neutrality that a state should have is not compromised.” 

In addition, he pointed out that the congressmen seek to convert Catholic centers into “places of neutral worship,” “but we know that freedom of religion means that that neutral worship does not exist.”

“There is the neutrality of the state, yes, but neutral worship does not [exist] because the form of worship is the identity of a person in his relationship with spirituality. So there are no neutral forms of worship; there are rather interreligious spaces,” he explained.

In the case of Congress, Ortiz said that “the paradox of this matter” is that in addition to the Catholic chapel, “there has been an interreligious place for some years” in the building with a lectern, a Bible, and books of other religions.

“So, there we are realizing that this is rather a persecution of the Catholic Church. We consider it that way,” the priest said.

Response of the Catholic Church

In the interview with EWTN News, the priest said that the Catholic Church in Colombia has called on the Directorate of Religious Affairs of the Ministry of the Interior “for Catholic places of worship to be respected.”

Ortiz explained that the Church’s claim to the chapel is based both on the rights acquired over that space — “because the Catholic Church has managed this place of worship for many decades” — and on the principle of proportionality, because “the vast majority of parliamentarians are Catholics.”

The priest asked the faithful to continue defending their Catholic identity, which includes places of worship, because in these places “we meet in liturgical assembly.”

“Also those that have been built or have been adapted in those places that serve the public; for example, at the airport, perhaps in hospitals, in prisons, in Congress,” he added.

Ortiz said that “they are public places, but with private chapels for Catholic worship. So, that’s why we must identify ourselves as Catholics and go on defending ourselves; of course, within the framework of dialogue and within the framework of religious freedom.”

The priest pointed out that it’s not necessary to suppress the rights of Catholics to defend the rights of others.

“Instead of suppressing places of worship, what the state would have to do, if it wants to defend the religious diversity of Colombia, would be to create new interreligious spaces and not suppress those that already exist,” he said.

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

St. Peter’s Basilica to light up with video projection telling the story of first pope

The facade of St. Peter is barely visible: A preview of the illuminated display. / Vatican News YouTube channel (screenshot)

Rome Newsroom, Sep 20, 2022 / 08:34 am (CNA).

Visitors to the Vatican in October will be able to see the facade of St. Peter’s Basilica illuminated with a video display telling the story of the Church’s first pope. 

An eight-minute video, “Follow Me: The Life of St. Peter,” will be projected onto the facade of St. Peter’s Basilica every night from Oct. 2 to Oct. 16, starting at 9 p.m.

A short preview of the video at a Vatican press conference on Sept. 20 revealed that it will showcase video renderings of Renaissance artwork found in the Vatican Museums and inside the basilica. 

Cardinal Mauro Gambetti, the archpriest of St. Peter’s Basilica, has said that this is the first of several pastoral initiatives to help welcome pilgrims to the tomb of St. Peter ahead of the Church’s 2025 Jubilee Year.

According to the cardinal, the Vatican expects 30 million people to visit during the Jubilee Year. 

“It is important that they see the face of the Mother Church that welcomes everyone. We thought of showing the image of the early Church, founded on Peter and his profession of faith,” Gambetti said.

“We think that people will be guided by the example of Peter to encounter the Lord and their brothers and sisters, to live their experience as pilgrims, and to leave renewed. It is an integrated pastoral action,” he added.

The display will be projected on the facade of St. Peter’s Basilica every 15 minutes between 9 p.m. and 11 p.m. during the first two weeks of October.

Vatican News YouTube channel (screenshot)
Vatican News YouTube channel (screenshot)

 

Bishops in Belgium defy Vatican, publish ceremony for blessing same-sex unions

null / Syda Productions/Shutterstock

CNA Newsroom, Sep 20, 2022 / 06:27 am (CNA).

In open defiance of the Vatican, Catholic bishops in Belgium on Tuesday announced the introduction of blessing ceremonies for same-sex couples in their dioceses. 

The bishops of Flanders also published a liturgy for the celebration of homosexual unions.

“In doing so, they are going directly against the Vatican,” reported Nederlands Dagblad. 

The Vatican published an official clarification in March 2021 that the Catholic Church does not have the power to give liturgical blessings of homosexual unions.

However, basing their argument on Amoris laetitia, Cardinal Jozef De Kesel of Mechelen-Brussels and other bishops of the Flemish-speaking part of Belgium on Sept. 20 published a document titled “Being pastorally close to homosexual persons — For a welcoming Church that excludes no one.” 

The bishops’ publication contains a suggested liturgy for same-sex blessings, including prayers, Scripture reading, and parts in which the couple can “express before God how they are committed to one another.”

The bishops of the Flemish-speaking part of Belgium also announced that each diocese will appoint a person as “concrete response and fulfillment to the desire to give explicit attention to the situation of homosexual persons, their parents and families in the conduct of policy. Pope Francis also expressed this explicitly in his April 2016 apostolic exhortation on the pastoral care of families, Amoris laetitia (‘The Joy of Love’).”

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) issued its latest declaration on same-sex blessings on March 15, 2021, in a document known as a Responsum ad dubium (“Response to a question”). 

In reply to the query, “Does the Church have the power to give the blessing to unions of persons of the same sex?” the CDF answered, “Negative.” 

The congregation outlined its reasoning in an explanatory note and accompanying commentary.

The Vatican statement, issued with the approval of Pope Francis, sparked protests and open defiance in the German-speaking Catholic world.

Organizers held a day of protest in response to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s declaration that the Church does not have the power to bless same-sex unions.

German priests and pastoral workers also openly defied the Vatican and conducted blessing ceremonies for same-sex couples.

In July, the secretary-general of the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), said the Synodal Way — sometimes referred to as Synodal Path — was “a conscious statement against the current Catholic catechism, which has been critical and disparaging of homosexuality since the mid-1970s and still reproaches homosexual activity as sin.”

His comments were published on July 17 in German and English by Outreach, a website edited by Jesuit Father James Martin that describes itself as an “LGBT Catholic resource.”

Several German bishops have recently come out in support of changes in Church teaching on sexuality and gender identity. 

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says: “The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided” (No. 2358).

It continues: “These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition” (No. 2358).

It adds: “Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection” (No. 2359).