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Biden touts Catholic faith as campaign falters

Washington D.C., Feb 19, 2020 / 03:30 pm (CNA).- Presidential candidate Joe Biden highlighted his Catholic faith in a new campaign ad, released on Tuesday, Feb. 18. The former frontrunner for the Democratic nomination has seen a sharp drop in his poll numbers following loses in the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary.

Biden, a baptized Catholic, said in the ad that “faith is what has gotten me through difficult times in my life,” including the deaths of his first wife, eldest daughter in a car accident, and his son Beau’s death from brain cancer. 

As Biden is speaking, the ad displays black-and-white pictures of the former vice president with various religious figures, including Pope Francis.

“Personally for me, faith, it’s all about hope and purpose and strength, and for me, my religion is just an enormous sense of solace,” he added.

“I go to Mass and I say the rosary. I find it to be incredibly comforting,” Biden said. 

The former frontrunner for the Democratic nomination quoted the philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, who said that “faith sees best in the dark,” to explain how his traumatic experiences have helped him develop and rely on his faith. 

“I marvel at people who absorb hurt and just get back up,” he said, drawing comparisons to the present state of the United States under President Donald Trump. 

“And I’m absolutely thoroughly convinced and optimistic about the prospects of this country. No, I really mean it,” he said. “There is nothing-there is nothing we can’t do.” 

While Biden is profiles his Catholicism in the advertisement, it has been a source of controversy over his lengthy political career, and he has endorsed policies that are contrary to Church teaching.

Shortly after his election as vice president, the then-bishop of his hometown of Scranton, PA, rebuked Biden for his views on abortion. 

“I will not tolerate any politician who claims to be a faithful Catholic who is not genuinely pro-life,” said Bishop Joseph Martino of Scranton in 2008. “No Catholic politician who supports the culture of death should approach Holy Communion. I will be truly vigilant on this point.”

During the 2008 campaign, Biden also received a letter from the then-bishop of the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee, after he received Communion at a parish in the diocese. The letter reiterated the Catholic Church’s views on abortion, and the bishop offered prayers that Biden would “live by the virtue of fortitude as you proclaim your support to the Person of Christ in the most vulnerable of his members: the pre-born child.” 

In October 2019, Biden was refused Communion at a Catholic church in South Carolina. The priest denied Biden Communion in accord with a 2004 diocesan policy that prohibits politicians who have been supportive of legal protection for abortion from receiving the Eucharist. 

“Catholic public officials who consistently support abortion on demand are cooperating with evil in a public manner. By supporting pro-abortion legislation they participate in manifest grave sin, a condition which excludes them from admission to Holy Communion as long as they persist in the pro-abortion stance,” says a 2004 decree signed jointly by the bishops of Atlanta, Charleston, and Charlotte.

At the time Biden was denied Communion, his website stated that one of his priorities as president would be to “work to codify Roe v. Wade” into federal law, and that “his Justice Department will do everything in its power to stop the rash of state laws that so blatantly violate the constitutional right to an abortion,” including laws requiring waiting periods, ultrasounds, and parental notification of a minor’s abortion. 

“Vice president Biden supports repealing the Hyde Amendment because healthcare is a right that should not be dependent on one’s zip code or income,” said his website. 

Biden’s website also pledges him to “restore federal funding for Planned Parenthood,” and promises to “rescind the Mexico City Policy (also referred to as the global gag rule) that President Trump reinstated and expanded.” 

During his career as a senator, Biden voted numerous times in favor of the Hyde Amendment and Mexico City Policy, and opposed public funding for abortions. 

During the last year, Biden has shifted his views on abortion. Over the course of one week in June, Biden went from publicly supporting the Hyde Amendment--which prohibits the use of Medicaid funds for most abortions--to pledging to repeal it if he were to be elected president. 

Previously, Biden supported some aspects of pro-life legislation. In addition to his Senate vote in favor of the Hyde amendment, he also supported the Mexico City Policy in 1984, voted again in favor of Hyde in 1993, and voted to ban partial-birth abortion in 1995 and again in 1997.

In an interview shortly after the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, Biden refused to support unrestricted access to abortion and said that he thought the Supreme Court “went too far” in their decision. In 1981, he lent his name to the “Biden Amendment,” which bans the use of federal funds for biomedical research involving abortion or involuntary sterilization.

By 2012, in the vice presidential debate against then-Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), Biden described himself as being personally pro-life, though he also expressed his support for legally protecting abortion.

London to Malta via Rome: Following the money in Vatican financial scandals

Vatican City, Feb 19, 2020 / 02:30 pm (CNA).- The Vatican raid conducted on the chief prosecutor of the Church’s Apostolic Signatura sheds light on a network of companies and businessmen at the center of interrelated Vatican financial scandals. 

On Feb. 18, Vatican officials raided the home and office of Msgr. Alberto Perlasca, the chief prosecutor at the Church’s highest ecclesiastical court and a former senior official at the Secretariat of State. Vatican police seized documents and computers for an ongoing investigation into financial misconduct at the Secretariat, the curia’s most influential department.

The raid on Perlasca’s home is the most recent in a steady flow of stories about questionable Vatican finances, involving a London property development, shell companies, tax havens, opaque investment funds, and shuttered banks in Italy and Switzerland.

Each new scandal appears uniquely complicated, but, a recurring pattern of institutions and individuals suggests that a series of apparently independent financial scandals might, in fact, be linked to each other.

Perlasca is now the fifth official or former official at the Secretariat of State to be targeted by Vatican investigators.

Four staff members were suspended in October, along with the director of the Vatican Financial Authority amid an investigation into the secretariat’s investment of hundreds of millions of euros into a building development at 60 Sloane Ave. in London. 

As it happens, this month’s raid on Perlasca was prompted by information obtained from the officials suspended in October.


Two officials suspended in October, Dr. Caterina Sansone and Msgr. Mauro Carlino, served as directors of London 60 SA Ltd., a UK-based holding company through which the Secretariat of State controls the London property. Between 2014 and 2018, that building was bought in stages by the secretariat from Italian businessman Raffaele Mincione.

In 2014 Mincione was managing $200 million for the Secretariat of State through his company, Athena Capital, with 55% allocated to “speculative investments.” Through these, Mincione used Vatican funds to purchase unrated bonds in another of his holding companies, Time and Life SA, which financed his personal investments, while at the same time charging the Vatican millions of euros in performance and management fees.

Also in 2014, Mincione used Athena Capital to channel Vatican funds into 60 Sloane Avenue, which Minicione owned, through another of his companies. The Vatican paid 180 million euros for a 45% share of the building: More than Mincione paid for his original investment in the whole building —even though Mincione had yet to secure the planning permission upon which property development hinged. 

CNA has reported that the Vatican’s funds for the purchase of its share in the building came from loans from two Swiss banks, and were concealed on Vatican balance sheets, in breach of Vatican financial regulations.

In 2016 the Secretariat of State, under the authority of then sostituto Cardinal Angelo Becciu, decided to purchase the remaining 55% of the building from Mincione. The Vatican paid Mincione’s company to manage that sale. Mincione cleared hundreds of millions of euros in profit on the sale of the second set of shares in the project.

Even after it had sold to the Secretariat of State 30,000 of 31,000 shares in the project, Minicone’s holding company retained the 1,000 voting shares needed to control the holding company which owned the building. Mincione eventually offered to part with those, at greatly inflated prices. To broker the sale, in 2018 the Secretariat of State enlisted the help of another businessman, Gianluigi Torzi, who acted as a middleman for the purchase of the remaining shares.

Mincione’s estimated profit from managing the deal, excluding profit from selling the building itself, is 60 million euros; Torzi pocketed 10 million from his participation. When the Secretariat finally got complete ownership of the building, the property came saddled with a high-interest mortgage taken out by Mincione; that mortgage might exceed the actual equity value of the property.

Torzi and his family were reportedly granted a private audience with Pope Francis in the Domus Santa Marta the day after Christmas, Dec. 26, 2018. CNA made numerous requests to the Vatican press office in the last several weeks to clarify why Torzi was afforded this honor, and who arranged the audience; those requests have not been answered.

But Torzi’s connections to Mincione, and to the London property deal, are much deeper than acting as a broker for the final part of the sale.

A Complicated Network

The manager of the Secretariat of State’s London property is Luciano Capaldo, an architect who is a registered director of the secretariat’s holding company, London 60 SA Ltd.

Calpaldo is also a part owner and former chairman of Imvest, a property development company listed in Rome. The architect has also served as a director of several other companies, including Odikon Services, which is the subject of a lawsuit for fraud in the UK, and currently suspended by the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority.

Torzi has also served as a director of Odikon. 

In addition to the UK lawsuit, Torzi is also currently being investigated by Italian authorities for another alleged multi-million euro fraud involving Odikon and the securitization of receivables owed to a Catholic hospital in Rome, Fatebenefratelli.   

A company set up by Torzi in Luxembourg, FEG International Assets SA, is a major investor in Imvest. FEG and Torzi were both also named in a recent commercial fraud suit in London’s High Court.

The largest shareholder of Imvest is a firm called Meti Capital, of which Capaldo is also a part owner. Odikon is also a major shareholder of Meti.

In 2016, Imvest offices were raided by Italian financial police in connection to charges of coordinated fraud, submission of false budgets, and false accounting. Those raids included 13 other businesses and several individuals invested in Imvest, chief among them Alfio Marchini, a wealthy Italian entrepreneur and politician.

Marchini, a twice-failed candidate for mayor of Rome while standing as a candidate for the 5 Star Alliance with the backing of former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, owned a controlling interest in Imvest in 2015, the year under investigation. He owned the controlling interest through his company Astrim SpA, which was also included in the 2016 raids.

Another company included in the raids and connected to Marchini is Methorios Capital SpA, a subsidiary of Optimum Asset Management; Optimum is both suing and being sued by the Vatican’s Institute for Works of Religion (IOR, commonly called the Vatican Bank). The IOR is suing in Malta over millions of euros in investments by the Vatican bank in another Optimum vehicle, Futura Funds Sciav. 

Futura Funds also has a close relationship with Imvest, buying the whole of Imvest’s first bond issuance in 2013 - worth 30 million euros. The bonds were unsecured, and Imvest used all of the proceeds to finance a further loan to its own largest shareholder: Marchini’s company Astrim.  

At the time, Methorios was the largest shareholder in Imvest, and by 2015 Futura had become the largest shareholder in Methorios. 

Bank Fraud

In 2015, Optimum was identified by Italian authorities as a fund manager through which Banca Popolare di Vincenza fraudulently funneled money meant for outside investments back into investment in the bank itself.

While the bank was required by European law to maintain a diversified investment portfolio as a hedge against risk, it was found to have used Optimum to fraudulently invest in itself instead,  obscuring the likelihood of the bank’s default and the loss of its ordinary customers savings.

The bank also used the same tactic, channeling investment funds back into itself and disguising bad loans, through the Athena Global Fund run by Raffaele Mincione—the same fund hired by Vatican Secretariat of State to invest Peter’s Pence.

Italian media have estimated that the fraud involved hundreds of millions of euros and Banca Popolare was fined, and then closed by a forced sale in 2017.

UK health service clarifies policy to deny care to 'homophobic' patients

London, England, Feb 19, 2020 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- Britain’s National Health Service has clarified a new policy that will allow patients found to be homophoic, racist, and sexist to be denied non-emergency treatment. 

Under the new rules, medical professionals can refuse non-emergency care to patients who harass, bully, or discriminate against them. The policy was announced on Feb. 18, and will go into effect in April. 

Previously, a medical professional was only permitted to deny non-emergency care to verbally aggressive or physically violent patients. The new policy will expand this criteria to include any harassment, including homophobia, sexism, and racism. 

The U.K.’s Health Secretary Matt Hancock wrote to NHS staff announcing the change on Tuesday, stating “no act of violence or abuse is minor,” and that “being assaulted or abused is not part of the job.”

A 2019 survey of NHS staff revealed that more than one in four NHS workers have reported being “bullied, harassed or abused” in the last year. Approximately one in seven NHS workers said they had been physically attacked.

Hancock said that “Far too often I hear stories that the people you are trying to help lash out,” and that “I’ve seen it for myself in [emergency rooms], on night shifts, and on ambulances.” 

The survey also found that NHS staff who worked in patients in emergency wards, with mental health issues or learning disabilities experienced more abuse and violence than workers at other NHS locations.

CNA asked the NHS to clarify how a patient would be deemed racist or homophobic, and if they could be denied care due to a staff member’s perception or inference of their religious beliefs. CNA questioned if someone such as a Catholic priest or Imam could be removed from an NHS trust due to their religious opposition to same-sex marriage and homosexual activity. 

An NHS spokesperson told CNA that the policy would only extend to people who made discriminatory comments to a member of the staff while they were receiving treatment. 

“A person’s personal beliefs or any historical views are entirely irrelevant for this policy – a person would only be refused treatment if they made openly discriminatory remarks to a staff member at that time,” Owen Taylor, senior media relations officer for NHS England, said to CNA. 

Taylor also clarified that certain medical conditions that may impact a person’s decision making skills or verbal filter would be considered when making a decision to deny care. 

“Things like the patient’s mental health, any sort of cognitive impairment will also be taken into account,” said Taylor. “So someone showing obvious signs of dementia would not be refused treatment in this circumstance.”

Eastern Catholic bishops in US have particular pastoral concern for immigrants

Vatican City, Feb 19, 2020 / 12:01 pm (CNA).- In the United States, Eastern Catholics face many of the same challenges as Latin rite Catholics, but the Eastern Catholic Churches are particularly concerned about growing anti-immigrant rhetoric and the plight of Christians overseas, a Ukrainian Catholic archbishop said Wednesday.

The U.S.-based Eastern Catholic bishops are in Rome for their ad limina visit to the Vatican and to the tombs of St. Peter and St. Paul Feb. 17-21.

“I see [the ad limina visit] as a chance for discussion, but it’s also a chance for communion,” Archbishop Borys Gudziak, Ukrainian Archbishop of Philadelphia, told CNA Feb. 19.

The bishops met with a group from the Secretariat of State, including Cardinal Pietro Parolin and Archbishop Paul Gallagher, Feb. 19 for an hour and 45 minutes. Their meeting with Pope Francis will be Feb. 20.

“When you meet your father and when you meet in the family, it’s important to discuss different questions and the issues that arise, but it’s also important just to be together. That’s what this ad limina visit is like and I think that’s what our encounter with the Holy Father will be like tomorrow,” Gudziak said.

The archbishop is the metropolitan for the Ukrainian Catholic Church in the U.S. The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church is the largest of the 23 Eastern Catholic Churches.

There are eparchies of 10 Eastern Catholic Churches in the US: Ukrainian, Ruthenian, Melkite, Syriac, Maronite, Armenian, Romanian, Syro-Malankara, Chaldean, and Syro-Malabar. Many of these serve large immigrant populations.

Gudziak said some of the concerns shared by all Catholic bishops in the U.S., and which were discussed in Wednesday’s meeting with Parolin, are “for the poor of America, the spread of gender ideology, and the safeguarding of all vulnerable people.”

Another two issues of importance, he said, are how to support priests and “how to help young people meet Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.”

“We breathe the same air that Roman Catholics breathe in the United States,” the archbishop said. “People are on the same internet and drinking the same Coca Cola, so we share these concerns.”

The Eastern bishops, however, have a particular pastoral concern for Catholic “immigrants and ensuring clergy and structures for them,” he stated.

According to Gudziak, the political situation in the U.S., especially in regard to immigrants, was one of the topics discussed with the Secretariat of State.

Gudziak pointed out that the actions, behavior, legislation, and quality of rhetoric in the political-social sphere in the United States is “quite distant” from the concerns of Christ in the Gospel and from what the Church teaches.

“I think the divisions in society are creeping into the Church and we become polarized.”

He noted: “We’re not expecting politicians to be saints but there are significant flaws across the political spectrum, whether it’s pro-life issues or aggression toward immigrants.”

Gudziak explained that the situation of immigrants touches the Eastern Catholic bishops personally, since they lead “quintessentially immigrant Churches, and not only in the past but today.”

He estimated that around 60% of his flock are recent immigrants fleeing the conflict in Ukraine.

“For most of us our lands of origin are enduring great suffering,” Gudziak stated. “[There is the] Russian invasion in Ukraine, in the Middle East the Christians are decimated and leaving, fleeing the danger.”

“So, immigration is kind of a matrix of our reality, of our pastoral life. And the growing harshness of the rhetoric and the legislation about immigrants in the United States is something we are very troubled about.”

“We asked that the Holy See be as prophetic about this as possible,” he added.

“They are human beings, endowed with human dignity.”

He said the U.S. government’s increased vetting and denial of visas has also made it more difficult for Ukrainian priests to come to serve the growing Ukrainian immigrant populations.

According to the archbishop, in the past, when people have been underserved by their priests, they have left the Church, many joining the Orthodox.

The Eastern Catholic Churches are the final group of U.S. bishops to make the pilgrimage. The U.S. bishops began their visits, which typically take place every five years, in November 2019.

On Friday, Archbishop Gudziak will preside over a Divine Liturgy at San Clemente al Laterano. The Roman church, he said, is an important place for all Eastern Catholics, but Ukrainian Catholics in particular, because of its connection to the legacy of St. Clement and to Sts. Cyril and Methodius, who brought the Gospel to the Slavic people.

“We will be praying for our Churches, our eparchies, our clergy, and our faithful, and young people…”

According to Gudziak “we’re living in a time of radical cultural change and there needs to be what Pope Francis calls a pastoral conversion.”

One of these changes, he explained, is the lack of a shared anthropology: “There isn’t one understanding of what a man or a woman is, marriage. If you don’t have common denominators in society around one of the most fundamental questions, what is humanity, there’s a lot of chaos.”
“Catholic teaching is pretty clear on these issues,” he said. “The Church needs to be a community of those who listen to the Word of God and share it in authentic friendship. We need to make sure the doctrine is correct; We also have to live very much according to what we preach.”

He said the abuse crisis is an example of this difference between “our sermons and our corporate culture.”

The bishops discussed at the Vatican “the fact that this is God’s Church,” he noted. “Really hoping that this time is a time of purification, where we’re losing illusions, any kind of hope that there’s a triumph in this world that we’re going to enjoy.”

“We are called more and more to swim against the current.”

Yemen war: A look at a 'serious humanitarian crisis'

Sanaa, Yemen, Feb 19, 2020 / 11:19 am (CNA).- Nearly 24 million people in Yemen are in dire need of humanitarian assistance, according to a Center of Strategic and International Studies report.

Speaking Jan. 9 to diplomats accredited to the Holy See, Pope Francis called the current situation in Yemen “one of the most serious humanitarian crises of recent history.”

The Yemeni Civil War between a Saudi Arabian-led coalition and Iranian-backed Houthi rebels has left more than 100,000 dead since 2015, and millions more in need of basic food and medical necessities. Between Saudi air strikes on hospitals and schools and Houthi forces holding aid hostage, both sides of the conflict have violated international humanitarian law.

In his speech to diplomats last month the pope decried the “general indifference on the part of the international community” to the human suffering in Yemen.

The United Nations was $1.2 billion short of meeting its $4.2 billion goal for international donations to address the situation in Yemen in 2019. However, the greater challenge has been getting the existing food and medical aid to the millions of Yemeni people who need it.

Severe movement constraints on humanitarian organizations, aerial bombardments, and restrictions on importation has left 80% of Yemen’s population in need of food, fuel, and medicine, the CSIS Task Force on Humanitarian Access reported.

On Feb. 19, the Associated Press reported that half of the United Nations’ aid delivery programs had been blocked by the Houthi rebels. The rebels had requested that 2% of the entire aid budget be given to them, heightening concerns that the rebels have been diverting humanitarian aid to fund the war.

“To implement a tax on humanitarian assistance are unacceptable and directly contradict international humanitarian principles,” a USAID spokesperson told the AP.

Because the UN and other donors refused to pay the 2% demand, more than 300,000 pregnant and nursing mothers and children under 5 did not receive nutritional supplements for six months, a U.N. official said.

Saudi-led coalition airstrikes have attacked Yemeni hospitals, a breach of international humanitarian law. On Feb. 10, the UN reported that two more hospitals north of Marib City had been hit.

More than 19.7 million people in Yemen are in need of basic health care after the conflict severely damaged vital health care facilities.

A cholera outbreak in Yemen has affected tens of thousands of people, but cases of cholera have significantly declined since September 2019 when the World Health Organization reported 86,000 cases. In January 2020, WHO reported 35,000 suspected cholera cases in Yemen.

A UN spokesman reported Feb. 18 that aid staff have not heard reports of “famine-like conditions” in 2020 as they had in 2018. However, 7 million people in Yemen remain malnourished as the country relies on imports for 90% of its grain and other food supplies.

In early months of 2020, the conflict has displaced 26,800 people in northern Yemen, according to the UN.

In January 2020, a representative of the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the UN spoke during an open debate at the UN Security Council.

Pope Francis is concerned about the continued “silence and indifference” on the situation in Yemen and concerned that the lack of international attention could allow further suffering and loss of life, Vatican diplomat Monsignor Fredrik Hansen told the Security Council.

The pope has often asked for prayers for the Yemeni people in his public audiences in recent years.

“Pray hard, because there are children who are hungry, who are thirsty, who have no medicine, and are in danger of death,” Pope Francis said during an Angelus prayer in February 2019.

Chinese media: Recent meeting of Sino-Vatican diplomats was pope's idea

Beijing, China, Feb 19, 2020 / 10:00 am (CNA).- Chinese state media have reported that Pope Francis initiated last week’s high-level meeting between officials from the Holy See and China.

On Feb. 14, the Vatican’s secretary for relations with states, Archbishop Paul Gallagher, met with Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference—the first meeting between foreign ministers of the two states, according to the state-run media Xinhua.

The two diplomats reportedly discussed the 2018 Vatican-China agreement on the ordination of bishops. Although the text of the agreement was not made public, it reportedly allows for the Communist regime to vet candidates for bishop before the Vatican makes appointments in the country. The provisional agreement will expire in August.

On Monday, the South China Morning Post, a news outlet sympathetic to the Chinese government, reported that, according to “sources,” Pope Francis had initiated the high-level meeting in Munich.

China is home to an estimated 10.5 million Catholics, and around 6 million are estimated to be members of the state-sanctioned Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CPCA). Prior to the 2018 agreement, the CPCA ordained bishops illicitly at the direction of the Chinese Communist Party .

Despite the agreement, millions of Chinese Catholics remain part of the underground Church, which has always been loyal to Rome and persecuted by the government.

The Vatican hoped that the 2018 agreement would unify the two national and underground Churches though unifying their leadership.

Last week, Cardinal Joseph Zen—the retired bishop of Hong Kong and a critic of the Vatican-China agreement—compared Vatican diplomatic efforts in China to St. Joseph trying to bargain with King Herod.

“So [in this deal] the Vatican lost everything, and got nothing,” Cardinal Zen told CNA.

While “the situation in China is very bad” for Catholics, Zen said, Pope Francis is not the source of the diplomatic efforts, which he credited to Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s Secretary of State.

“I’m sure that the Pope has the good intention to gain some space, some breathing space, and maybe one day you can get something better. Okay,” he said.

“But [Cardinal Pietro] Parolin, the Secretary of State, he knows very well who the Communists are: there’s no way to bargain with the Communists, you get nothing.”

While Parolin was not present at the Feb. 14 meeting in Munich, Archbishop Gallagher is his diplomatic deputy.

A report of the U.S. congressional China Commission, released in January, claimed that conditions had worsened for Catholics in China since the 2018 agreement. Churches have been destroyed and desecrated, and underground Church clergy have been detained.

In December, the head of the CPCA, Bishop John Fang Xingyao of Linyi, said at a Communist Party-sponsored meeting in Beijing that “love for the homeland must be greater than the love for the Church and the law of the country is above canon law.”

Although Vatican guidelines acknowledged the freedom of Catholics not to register with the Chinese government, the CCP has reportedly pressured Catholics to register. A new set of government rules went into effect on Feb. 1 that require religious groups to promote communist values and the principles of the CCP, as part of president Xi Jinping’s years-long campaign to force the “sinicization” of religion in China.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), co-chair of the China Commission, tweeted on Tuesday that “The Vatican made a pact with the Chinese Communist Party to force Chinese Catholics to support the party.” 

“The Church shouldn’t ignore China’s continuing violations of religious freedom,” Rubio said. “The Party’s abuse know no bounds, whether Buddist, Muslim, or Christian, and we cannot be silent.”

Indian bishops' conference reelects Cardinal Gracias

Mumbai, India, Feb 19, 2020 / 09:30 am (CNA).- The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India has reelected Cardinal Oswald Gracias, the archbishop of Bombay, as president of the conference for a second term. The election was held on February 17. 

Gracias turned 75 in December. In accord with canon law, he has already submitted his resignation to the pope, but is expected to continue as Archbishop of Bombay for the foreseeable future.

The cardinal is also one of the members of the Council of Cardinal Advisers-- known as the “C6”--a group of six cardinals who advise Pope Francis on the governance of the universal Church and on the preparation of a new governing constitution for the Roman Curia. 

On the same day that Gracias was re-elected by the Indian bishops, the C6 held its first meeting of 2020 with a three-day session in Rome from Feb. 17-19. 

Gracias will begin his new two-year term leading the Indian bishops’ conference at a time when the persecution of Christians in the country has increased. In October 2019, Bishop Kishore Kumar Kujur of Rourkela, speaking to Aid to the Church in Need, said that India’s Christians “are living mostly in fear at the present--much more in the north, where they are a minority.” 

“There is a fear about how the government will react now the right wing has taken over. We have apprehensions it will not go well for the Christians,” said Kujur. 

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government is widely perceived as favorable to the Hindu nationalist movement and, since his election in 2014, there have been more frequent reports of violence and persecution against Christians. 

India was scheduled to host the 2021 Asian Youth Day celebration for young Catholics of the continent, but pulled out of the commitment last month, in part due to fears of governmental hostility to the event. 

“Our country was given the responsibility of hosting Asian Youth Day … After consultations with higher authorities, it was decided that it was better to call off the event as the present scenario does not allow us to hold the program,” Bishop Nazarene Soosai of Kottar, head of the Indian bishops' youth commission, told ucanews Jan. 6.

“We had hoped that there would be a change of government in 2019, but that did not happen and the present situation does not look good either,” added Soosai. 

India previously hosted Asian Youth Day in 2003.

Modi’s political party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, came to power in 2014, and gained seats in the 2019 election. 

According to the 2019 report from the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, “religious freedom conditions in India continued a downward trend” in 2018.

The commission said India's “history of religious freedom has come under attack in recent years with the growth of exclusionary extremist narratives—including, at times, the government’s allowance and encouragement of mob violence against religious minorities—that have facilitated an egregious and ongoing campaign of violence, intimidation, and harassment against non-Hindu and lower-caste Hindu minorities. Both public and private actors have engaged in this campaign.”

Gracias’ reelection as head of the bishops’ conference, despite his being past the normal retirement age for a bishop, comes just weeks after the announcement by Cardinal Reinhard Marx, another member of the Council of Cardinal Advisers, that he will step down as head of his own bishops’ conference, in part because of his age. 

On Feb. 11, Cardinal Marx said he would not seek reelection as head of the German bishops’ conference. He said he wants to spend more time in his Archdiocese of Münich-Freising and to allow “a younger generation” to lead the Church in Germany. Marx is 66 years old.

Pope Francis: The meek are not pushovers

Vatican City, Feb 19, 2020 / 04:00 am (CNA).- Pope Francis said Wednesday that a meek Christian is not weak, but defends his faith and controls his temper.

“The meek person is not accommodating, but is a disciple of Christ who has learned to defend another land well. He defends his peace, defends his relationship with God, and defends his gifts, preserving mercy, fraternity, trust, and hope,” Pope Francis said Feb. 19 in Paul VI Hall.

The pope reflected on the third beatitude from Christ’s Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”

“Meekness manifests itself in moments of conflict, you can see how you react to a hostile situation. Anyone might seem meek when everything is calm, but how does he react ‘under pressure’ if he is attacked, offended, assaulted?” Pope Francis asked.

“A moment of anger can destroy many things; you lose control and do not evaluate what is really important, and you can ruin the relationship with a brother,” he said. “On the other hand, meekness conquers many things. Meekness is capable of winning the heart, saving friendships and much more, because people get angry, but then calm down, rethink and retrace their steps, and you can rebuild.”

Pope Francis quoted St. Paul’s description of “the sweetness and meekness of Christ,” and said that St. Peter also called attention to this quality of Jesus at his passion in 1 Peter 2:23 when Christ “did not respond and did not threaten because ‘he entrusted himself to the one who judges with justice.’”

The pope also pointed to examples from the Old Testament, quoting Psalm 37, which similarly links “meekness” with the possession of land.

“In Scripture the word ‘meek’ also indicates one who has no landed property; and therefore we are struck by the fact that the third beatitude says precisely that the meek ‘will inherit the earth,’” he said.

“Possession of land is a typical area of ​​conflict: one often fights for a territory, to obtain hegemony over a certain area. In wars the strongest prevails and conquers other lands,” he added.

Pope Francis said that the meek do not conquer the land, they “inherit” it.

“The People of God call the land of Israel which is the Promised Land ‘inheritance’ … That land is a promise and a gift for the people of God, and it becomes a sign of something much bigger and deeper than a simple territory,” he said.

The meek inherits “the most sublime of territories,” Francis said describing heaven, and the land he conquers is “the heart of others.”

“There is no land more beautiful than the heart of others, there is no more beautiful territory to be gained than the peace found with a brother. And that is the land to be inherited with meekness,” Pope Francis said.

Picture this: Knights of Columbus publish new illustrated history

New Haven, Conn., Feb 19, 2020 / 12:00 am (CNA).- A multitude of photos and copies of historic records enliven a new history of the largest Catholic men’s organization in the world, “The Knights of Columbus: An Illustrated History,” to be released in March.

“It’s a testament to the power of faith in action,” Andrew Walther, a co-author of the book, told CNA.

Readers will “get a sense of just how many things the Knights have affected in so many different ways for the betterment of communities large and small.”

The book includes hundreds of photos depicting the Catholic men’s organization and its work through the decades alongside a written history of the Knights of Columbus, whose membership now numbers close to 2 million Catholic men around the world.

Walther is vice president for communications and strategic planning at the Knights of Columbus. He co-authored the book with his wife Maureen Walther, a lifelong parishioner at the Connecticut parish where the fraternal order was founded in 1882.

Father Michael J. McGivney, parish priest of New Haven’s St. Mary’s Church, launched the organization to help counter the pressures that Catholic men and their families faced, including peer pressure to leave the faith. If a family’s male breadwinner died, the family tended to be split up by the state for economic reasons and sent to poor houses or to relatives. This prompted McGivney to incorporate an insurance agency into the fraternal order to support its members and their families, and to use any profits from insurance sales to advance Catholic and charitable causes.

McGivney saw the need for an organization designed “to help men grow in faith together” and “to help keep families unified even in the event of tragedy,” Walther said.

“There was a sense that Catholics were second-class citizens, which was an additional level of pressure on these men in their faith,” Walther continued.

“Father McGivney named the organization after Christopher Columbus to make the clear point that a good Catholic could also be a good American, Columbus being the one Catholic hero of American history in the late 19th century.”

The Walthers’ book takes the reader from the founding of the Knights through the present day.

“It’s the first new history of the Knights in decades and it’s the first illustrated history ever,” he said, adding that the photos “really bring these stories to life in a way that people will find inspiring.”

Walther said he was surprised by “the breadth and depth” of the Knights of Columbus in its nearly 150-year history.

From the level of the local council to projects of a global scale, the Knights of Columbus have long been involved in charity work and disaster relief. Knights rallied to support victims of the massive 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire, and have aided victims of more recent disasters, like Hurricanes Katrina, Sandy and Harvey.

They have also spoken up for the faith in public life. In the early 1900s the order protested anti-Catholic policies in Cuba and the Philippines after the Spanish-American War. Knights objected to a strict French secularism law passed in 1905.

In the 1920s the Knights of Columbus opposed the persecution of the Church in Mexico, where anti-clerical Mexican leaders had made strict laws to hamper the clergy.  Priests who were not discreet risked execution. The Knights had “a real impact” on the thinking of the U.S. government, the American people and global opinion, Walther said.

“The Knights of Columbus was an organization decades ahead of its time on the integration issue,” Walther noted. The organization had African-American members in the 19th century and was the only U.S. group to run racially integrated recreation and hospitality centers for soldiers in World War I.

Responding to the exclusion of African-Americans from American history, the Knights commissioned the African-American scholar and civil rights advocate W.E.B. DuBois to write the book “The Gift of Black Folk.”

“We wanted to make sure the contributions of African-Americans were not neglected in the story of the country,” Walther said. The order also commissioned books about Jewish and Hispanic Americans.

“You see the Knights of Columbus having a real impact that was transformative in a lot of ways, and groundbreaking in others,” he added.

In the 1920s, the rise of the Ku Klux Klan empowered its strongly anti-Catholic politics. The Knights worked “to stop the Klan from outlawing Catholic education in Oregon” and funded the court case that led to a Supreme Court victory against a state law that mandated that all children attend public schools.

In the 1930s and 1940s, the organization spoke out against Nazi attacks on Jews and Catholics. Before and during the Cold War, it objected to communist persecutions. The knights backed religious freedom efforts in Poland and gave assistance to Pope John Paul II’s work to promote human rights in communist eastern Europe.

More recently, the Knights have supported persecuted Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East, especially those threatened by the Islamic State group. The order was instrumental in an official U.S. declaration recognizing the persecution as genocide.

In researching the book, Walther said the co-authors rediscovered some prominent people in history whose membership in the Knights of Columbus had been forgotten. This included Jim Thorpe, the athlete and Olympic gold medalist of the early 20th century; John Myon Chang, one of the founding fathers of the modern state of South Korea; and Prime Minister of Canada Louis St. Laurent.

“These men were leading figures and joined the Knights out of their sense of the faith and also because the knights were a really important element in their country and in their communities,” Walther said.

Other prominent men who were well-known Knights of Columbus include Major League Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Babe Ruth, U.S. President John F. Kennedy, National Football League champion coach Vince Lombardi, and poet and World War I soldier Joyce Kilmer.

Charitable figures of the Knights of Columbus are tallied together, representing thousands of local councils and 2 million men who “contribute in an incredible way at this local level that then generates this global impact.

Walther described local councils as “the backbone of the Knights of Columbus.” When Knights pioneered the first national blood drive, this was driven by action in the local councils.

Walther had praise for his co-author and wife Maureen, whose connections to New Haven meant the early history of the Knights was deeply interesting to her as a local.

“She’s just an amazing researcher,” he added. “She found incredible nuggets on so many different elements. She uncovered a lot of things that might otherwise have been missed in the annals of Knights of Columbus.”

“The Knights of Columbus: An Illustrated History” will be released on March 9, and is now available for preorder.

Supreme Knight Carl Anderson has praised the book, saying it is “not simply a record of yesterday’s harvest, but also contains within it the seeds of a future filled with promise.”


Christ is hope for the Church and the world, Archbishop Perez says at installation

Philadelphia, Pa., Feb 18, 2020 / 04:48 pm (CNA).- The hope of Christ is far more profound than hope as the world defines it, Archbishop Nelson Perez said during his homily at his installation Mass as Archbishop of Philadelphia on Tuesday.

“Hope is the confident expectation of what God has promised, and its strength is in his faithfulness. That’s hope,” Perez said.

He said that he chose “Jesus: Hope for the World” as the theme of the celebration of his installation.

During a Feb. 18 Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul in Philadelphia, Archbishop Nelson Perez was installed as the 14th bishop and 10th archbishop of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, succeeding Archbishop Charles Chaput, who is retiring.

Besides Chaput and Perez, the Mass was attended by Archbishop Christophe Pierre, Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, as well as Catholics, priests, and bishops from the area and from throughout the U.S., including from the Diocese of Rockville Centre, New York, where Perez had served as auxiliary bishop, and the Diocese of Cleveland, where Perez most recently served as bishop.

For Perez, the appointment to the Archdiocese of Philadelphia is a homecoming of sorts. While he was born in Florida and raised in New Jersey, Perez was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia in 1989, and continued to serve there as a priest until 2012, when Benedict XVI appointed him as auxiliary bishop of Rockville Centre.

“My brother priests, I’ve always said that once a Philly priest, always a Philly priest, and while I left ministerially, I didn’t leave humanly,” Perez said in his homily.

“Know that I love you, and I need your support. I can’t do this alone and I shouldn’t do this alone, because this is not about me, it’s about us,” he added.

After he addressed and thanked the other bishops and priests in attendance, as well as his family, the people of Cleveland, and city officials, among others, Perez focused on the theme “Jesus Christ: Hope for the World.”

“What is hope, and what does hope look like? We know what the definition of hope is like in a dictionary...a feeling of expectation, a desire for a certain thing to happen, that’s how the dictionary defines it,” he said.

The word “hope” is used often, which can lead Christians to forget its Christian definition, Perez added.

“We say I hope you have a good day, I hope it doesn’t rain...I hope the Phillies win the World Series, and the Eagles the Super Bowl next year right?” he said. “Sometimes hope is just wishful thinking. I hope that I will weigh 30 lbs less in a month - wishful thinking.”

But Christian hope is rooted in the resurrection of Christ, Perez said.

“Where is the source of hope? Not in us, not in the self-help section of the bookstore. The source of our hope is Christ, the same Christ who walked the planet, who rose from the dead,” he said.

“At the very core of our Christian faith is a basic reality, a truth,” he said. “Someone asked me, with everything going on in the Chruch and the world, do you have hope? And I said to this person: Listen, I gave my life to a faith that believes that a dead man rose from the dead. Yes, I have hope.”

“This is the foundation of our Christian faith, this hope, that no matter how dark it gets, no matter how much it appears that it is the end, it is not,” he added.

Perez said he wants to see the Church continue to be a sign of hope for all, especially those who have been hurt by the abuse scandals.

“Despite...the sad betrayal of some of our own, who have deeply hurt those they were called to serve, for which I and we are ever so deeply sorry to these victims, we continue to work with hope that we will make it right and be a source of healing for them,” he said.

Perez also invited everyone to renew their relationship with Christ, and invited those who have been away from the Church to come back.

“So wherever you find yourself on your is time to reach out and grab His hand, the Lord’s hands. Like the woman who hemorrhaged for such a long time, she had the conviction and hope that if she could just touch his garment (she would be healed),” he said.

In their remarks, both Perez and Pierre also thanked Archbishop Chaput for his years of service to the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and to the other places where he served.

“Chaput faced lots of challenges when he got here, and he embraced them with great steadfastness … and he made decisions that sometimes a father has to make, that sometimes brought him great suffering and criticism,” Perez said.

Chaput is “a man of great faith, incredible faith, who proclaims the truth of the Gospel and our faith with courage, and the archdiocese owes this man an incredible debt of gratitude for who he was, is and will continue to be,” he added.

Pierre, who presented Perez with the official announcement of his installation signed by Pope Francis, also thanked Chaput for his “tireless promotion of the faith.”

He said that Chaput showed “courage and prudence” when confronted with handling the sex abuse crisis that had happened in the archdiocese when Chaput arrived.

“You ensured that the joyful message of the Gospel can continue to go forward,” Pierre added.

“I thank you for a lifetime of dedication and service, and I believe firmly you have earned a little rest.”

At the end of his homily, Perez said he does not have a “plan” for the archdiocese, beyond listening to its people and learning from them, but that he does have a vision, which he is taking from Pope Francis’ 2013 apostolic exhortation Evangelii gaudium.

“The Church which ‘goes forth’ is a community of missionary disciples who take the first step, who are involved and supportive, who bear fruit and rejoice. An evangelizing community knows that the Lord has taken the initiative, he has loved us first, and therefore we can move forward, boldly take the initiative, go out to others, seek those who have fallen away, stand at the crossroads and welcome the outcast,” he said, quoting the exhortation.

The archbishop closed with his own quote, which he asked everyone present to remember: “Never underestimate the power of the Spirit of God working in you, through you, and despite you!”