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Should Catholics care about poetry?

Denver, Colo., Apr 25, 2019 / 03:51 am (CNA).- Do you remember the last poem you read, or heard?

Statistics suggest it has probably been since high school that the average American took the time (or was forced by a teacher) to read a piece of poetry. The rise of the internet and the correlating decline in the number of people who say they’ve read a poem in the past year has fueled an ongoing debate among those who still care: is poetry dead? Whether it is dead, or dying, or not, should Catholics care?

“Yes, emphatically they should,” said Joseph Pearce, the director of book publishing at the Augustine Institute in Denver, and editor of The Austin Review and of the Faith & Culture website.

“Up until relatively recently in the history of Christendom, poetry was the main form of literature that people enjoyed and read,” Pearce said. “The best-selling works of literature up until Shakespeare’s time were poetry...so you can’t talk about the legacy or the heritage of Christian literature and leave poetry out of the equation without doing violence to what Christian literature is.”

What happened to poetry?

Poetry used to be memorized in schools and was a central, normal part of people’s literary lives - something they would just “bump into” on a regular basis.

“I can remember growing up...we would get Reader's Digest at home and it would have poetry in it, so would the newspapers, and The Christian Science Monitor...there were a lot of places where you would just bump into it,” said Tim Bete, who serves as poetry editor for the website Integrated Catholic Life (ICL). ICL is a website that provides articles, spiritual reflections, blogs and resources that strive to help Catholics better live lives of faith, according to its description.

So what, exactly, has contributed to its decline?

Pearce blames the so-called “death” of poetry on the “rather pathetic culture in which we find ourselves,” with decreased standards of literacy and decreased attention spans brought on by technology.

“The thing about our modern culture is that most of us spend most of our time wasting it in the dust storm and the desert of modern secular social media,” he added.

Dana Gioia is a Catholic by faith and a poet by trade, and has served as the Poet Laureate of California since 2015.

Gioia spent much of his career as a poet in the secular world, but told CNA that he has become an increasingly vocal Catholic, as it has become harder to be a Catholic in the world of poetry and literature.

The decline of Catholic poetry in the United States, for example, is in part because of Catholicism’s “very complicated position” in American literature since the beginning of the country, he said.

“Catholics were initially banned from coming to the U.S., and then they enjoyed very little rights where they were allowed at all for a long time,” he told CNA.  “And there persisted to be - persists to this day - a kind of anti-Catholic prejudice in the U.S. for a variety of religious, cultural, economic and political reasons.”

“American Catholics largely represent poor, immigrant communities from Europe, Latin America and Asia, and to this day if you go to most Catholic Churches you are sitting among the poor,” he added.

For these reasons, there was no “significant” Catholic American poetry (that is still being read today) until the 20th century, Gioia said. Then suddenly, around the 1950s, there is an explosion of Catholic literature in the United States, he said.

Writers such as Robert Lowell, Flannery O'Connor, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Walker Percy, William Tate and Brother Antonitus were leading the way (many of them converts from Protestantism), Gioia said, and Catholicism was being taken seriously for the first time in American cultural life.

“You have a huge list of these really significant thinkers who reshaped American intellectual life...a moment in the 1950s when Catholicism is part of the conversation of American literature,” he said.

But by the early 2000s, that was already gone.

“By 2000 it had fallen apart. In 2010, Catholics are marginalized in American literary lives,” he said.

The reasons for this were several, Gioia suggested: firstly, as Catholics became accepted into American society, they became increasingly secularized. Secondly, the world of art became increasingly anti-Christian, and finally, Vatican II caused “schisms” in the Catholic Church in America, turning her focus to internal debate rather than to an external, unified identity.

“I’m the uncomfortable truth-teller in the room,” Gioia added as an aside. “The contemporary Catholic Church in America, and everywhere, lost its connection with art and beauty.”

“For centuries, millennia really, the Church was a patron of the arts, and understood that beauty was an essential medium for its message,” he said.

“Now the Church is so caught up with practical necessities, that it considers beauty an unaffordable luxury. But beauty is not a luxury, it is a central and essential element of the Catholic faith. And we know this, because if we have anything at all to say about creation, it is that it is beautiful - nature is beautiful, the world is beautiful, our bodies are beautiful. So we’ve lost this essential connection because we’re so busy funding the parish school, keeping the homeless center running, and paying the mortgage on the church - all good things, but useless if the message of the Church is not heard among its own congregations and secondly in the modern world,” he said.

It’s a problem that has been identified by many in the Catholic Church who are concerned with the New Evangelization - Fyodor Dostoevsky’s maxim “beauty will save the world” has become the battle cry of many Catholics who want to reconnect the Church and the arts.

But “healthy” Catholic culture has two cultural conversations going at once, Gioia said - one internally, and one that reaches out to the world - “and both of those conversations have become greatly diminished in the last half-century.”

What poetry has to say to Catholics

The thing about being Catholic, Bete noted, is that if you’re going to Mass and reading the Bible, you are probably are more immersed in poetry than you realize.

“About 30% of all scripture is poetry,” Bete said. “Even (Catholics) that say oh, I never read poetry, well, if you're praying the Divine Office (a Catholic form of prayer centered on the Psalms), it's almost all poetry.”

“We're hearing poetry preached at Mass every week,” he added, and so becoming familiar with all kinds of poetry “helps you understand scripture better because it gets you in tune and trains you to think about metaphor.”

“So much of (scripture) is poetry but I think we kind of race through it sometimes and we don't really kind of appreciate it for being poetry,” he said.

“In my mind, one of the reasons that there's so much poetry in there is it's so difficult to define who God is, and God is so much greater than any author can put down on paper, but poetry...it provides a different type of truth.”

Bete added that poetry is often the fruit of silence and prayer, and vice versa - one can lead into the other. An example of this in scripture, he said, is the Canticle of Mary, when the pregnant Blessed Virgin Mary is visiting her cousin Elizabeth and bursts into poetic song about how God has blessed her by calling her to be the mother of Jesus.

“When Mary really has to explain to Elizabeth what is going on, what does she do? She speaks in poetry. It's very powerful...and so one of my hopes is that if people read current poetry, it trains them to look at things differently and will translate back to scripture and really help to bring the scripture alive for them,” Bete said.

Pearce said another reason Catholics should engage with poetry is because God himself is a poet.

“The word ‘poet’ comes from the word ‘poesis’ which means to make or to create,” he said.

“So when we are being poets in that broader sense of the word of being creative...it’s God’s creative presence in us, so we’re actually partaking in the divine when we write poetry or read it and appreciate it.”

Many great works of literature, from Beowulf to The Divine Comedy to The Canterbury Tales and the works of Shakespeare, are works of Christian and Catholic poetry, Pearce said.

Many saints, too, have written great works of poetry, Pearce said, such as St. Patrick’s breastplate poem or St. Francis of Assissi’s Canticle of Brother Sun.

Bete, a secular Carmelite, said he loves to read poetry by Carmelite saints - “it's actually hard to find one who was not a poet,” he said.

“Elizabeth of the Trinity, Therese the Little Flower, Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, they all wrote poetry,” Bete said, including some that was prayerful and some that was more lighthearted.

“Almost always it came out of their prayer life,” Bete added. “I think it has to do with the closer that you get to God, especially if you're a writer, I think it just comes out.”

“I would say poetry is like going to Mass or saying your prayers,” Pearce said. “The writing of it and the reading of it is time taken and not time wasted, its something which is worth doing in its own right, as is prayer.”

Poetry 101: How can Catholics start a poetry habit?

Pearce has made it easy for Catholics who are looking for an introduction to Catholic poetry, with his book “Poems Every Catholic Should Know.”

“That book is very popular, and I think it’s popular because people are very aware that they don’t know poetry very well, because they haven’t really been taught it, and they are perhaps intimidated by it or they have misconceptions about it,” he said.

“So they see a book called ‘Poems Every Catholic Should Know’ and they think well, I should at least own one book of poetry and perhaps this is it,” he added.

The book goes through 1,000 years of Christian poetry, from the year 1,000-2,000, Pearce said, from both well-known and lesser-known poets, and it includes short biographies of each poet and how they fit into the broader context of the Christian poetry and literary world.

“A personal favorite of mine is a 20th century war poet, Siegfried Sassoon, who was a convert to the Catholic faith, so we published some of his post-conversion poetry in the book which I’m very fond of,” Pearce noted.

It was because of the sharp decline in the reading and writing of poetry that Bete pitched the idea for Integrated Catholic Life to start publishing poetry, to provide a new opportunity for visitors to the site to once again “bump into” poetry.

“The response has been great,” he said. “I think it just goes to show that when people see...beauty, and they see something that is of interest to them,” they respond, he said. “It doesn't take a huge time commitment. It's not like reading War and Peace or anything.”

Bete said he thinks it’s important for Catholics to come up with new and creative ways to reintroduce people to Catholic poetry.

“On Instagram where you're seeing some of these Instagram poets who are up and coming, and I haven't seen any Catholic ones yet, but I think what they're doing is they're putting poetry where people already are,” Bete said.

Another innovative concept that brings poetry to the people is the “Raining Poetry” project in Boston, Bete said, which paints poetry on the sidewalk with clear paint so that it only shows up when it rains.

“And I love that as a concept. Where are people, and then how do we find ways to get poetry in front of them? And I don't think we've been very good or innovative at that.”

Gioia said the most important thing Catholic creatives can do is to create communities for Catholic artists.

“This country is full of Catholic writers and artists who feel isolated,” Gioia said. “If we can create communities for them, they will understand their own art and its possibilities much better. We are stronger together than we are alone.”

Pearce, Bete and Gioia all said they have been heartened by what seems to be the start of a Catholic cultural revival, in which Catholics are talking more about the need for the Church to reconnect with beauty and the arts and to create great Catholic art again.

“I find this very encouraging,” Pearce said. “One of the things I’m doing with ‘Faith and Culture’ at the Augustine Institute and with the magazine The Austin Review...is to try to engage this new Catholic revival in the arts that we see going on. Certainly there’s a Catholic literary revival going on, so there’s an increase not just in the quantity, but more importantly in the quality with Catholic literature written today in the 21st century.”

Gioia said that while he’s encouraged by these movements, he would also caution against the notion of “homemade” culture.

“I worry that they sometimes have a kind of homemade version of culture that needs a shot of energy and perspective you only get by studying masterpieces, especially contemporary masterpieces,” he said. “Any serious writer must engage with the broader literary culture.”

“So I think one of the things to do is we need to identify the very best contemporary writers. What that doesn’t mean is saying here’s a list of 65 writers. It’s - who are the three or four best fiction writers? Who are the three or four best poets?”

“If we had a (Catholic literary) community, we’d invite everyone in, because that’s the right thing to do,” he said. “But when we write about literature we have to be ruthlessly discriminating, because the best work is what will speak most loudly. That’s what a critic does, that’s what an editor does, that’s what an anthologist does. Right now we do not have enough anthologies, or magazines; we do not have enough Catholic writers conferences. We need to build the infrastructure.”

Gioia started the first Catholic Imagination Conference for this reason - to bring together serious Catholic writers as a community.

“Four hundred people came, and they looked around and they were astonished and heartened by how many serious writers they saw in the same room,” he said. “Each one is bigger than the one before, and some of the people who came to the first conference created magazines, book clubs, discussion groups, and so once again, we’re stronger as a community than we are separately.”

The third such conference will be held at Loyola University this fall.

Ultimately, Gioia said, while he is concerned about the state of Catholic poetry and literature in the U.S., he has hope.

“I believe that our Church and our tradition embodies in it a great central truth of existence. And so if you believe that, how could you not be optimistic?”

Abortion language nixed from UN resolution after Trump admin threatens veto

Washington D.C., Apr 25, 2019 / 12:03 am (CNA).- Language referring to abortion was removed from a United Nations resolution on the care of sexual abuse survivors in wartime, after the Trump administration threatened to veto the measure.

U.S. officials said they oppose the UN Security Council resolution on the grounds of a phrase that implied support for abortion, according to the BBC. They threatened to veto the resolution if the abortion language was not dropped.

The phrase that was opposed by the U.S., and by Russia and China, was: “Recognizing the importance of providing timely assistance to survivors of sexual violence, urges United Nations entities and donors to provide non-discriminatory and comprehensive health services, in line with Resolution 2106,” the BBC reported.

The phrase was dropped, and the resolution passed 13-0 without any references to sexual or reproductive health services, with Russia and China abstaining.

While the original resolution had been met with widespread support, council members and international leaders from various countries accused the U.S. of diluting the measure by removing the phrase.

“And we regret that the language on services for survivors of sexual violence, recognizing the acute need for those services to include comprehensive reproductive and sexual health care, including safe termination of pregnancies, did not meet with all the council members' support,” British diplomat Tariq Ahmad told NPR.

French UN ambassador Francois Delattre said it was “intolerable and incomprehensible” that the council “is incapable of acknowledging that women and girls who suffered from sexual violence in conflict, and who obviously didn't choose to become pregnant, should have the right to terminate their pregnancy,” according to the BBC.

Jonathan Cohen served as acting ambassador for the United States at the meeting.

The move is the latest from the Trump administration to oppose the funding and promotion of overseas abortions. Efforts have focused largely on reversing Obama-era measures to expand abortion funding.

Within days of taking office, Trump reinstated and expanded the Mexico City Policy, ensuring that U.S. tax dollars are not funding the provision or promotion of abortion overseas in any U.S. global health spending. His administration has also defunded UNFPA on the grounds that it supports coercive abortion and sterilization in China.

Commentary: Sri Lanka, martyrdom, and the light of faith

Washington D.C., Apr 24, 2019 / 05:35 pm (CNA).- On Saturday night, the Church celebrated its most solemn and joyful liturgy.

As it does every year, the Vigil Mass of Easter began when the paschal candle was lit from a fire burning outside the church.
 
That candle led the assembly in silent procession into the darkened church. The priest turned toward the faithful and announced “The light of Christ!”
 
“Thanks be to God,” responded the assembly, as the light of the paschal candle was passed throughout the assembly, flooding the darkened room with the new light of the resurrection, aglow in the small flames of hundreds of candles.
 
At the same time I attended the Easter Vigil Saturday night, a series of suicide bombs exploded in churches across Sri Lanka, killing nearly hundreds. The attacks were timed to coincide with Easter Sunday celebrations.
 
The transition of the vigil liturgy, from darkness to light, reflects the procession of the Church from death to life, illuminated by the light of the Resurrection.

The Easter Exsultet, sung across the world as the bombs detonated in Colombo, hailed the arrival of the “night in which Christ has destroyed death.”
 
Of course the blood-spattered walls and ceiling of St. Anthony’s Shrine in Sri Lanka offered what appeared to be a macabre juxtaposition to the empty tomb of the gospel. But through the eyes of faith, and of the Church, the horrific violence was a witness to the Resurrection of Christ.

Those Catholics mourning in Sri Lanka know that light — the light —  has come into the world, and darkness cannot overcome it.
 
Sri Lanka is not the only place where churches are burning and Christians are dying. From Mosul to Cairo, to France, to Kaduna and Columbo, Christians, the world over, face violence and persecution. But somehow, in many parts of the West, that reality goes unseen.

The reason is complicated.
 
The Anglican Bishop of Truro, Philip Mountstephen, has been charged by the British government with reviewing its foreign policy failures to address the persecution of Christians worldwide.

Ahead of the publication of his conclusions, and before the Easter bombings, he told the Times that there is an indifference in the secular liberal establishement to the plight of Christians around the world. It is, he suggested, a studied indifference, which misunderstands the Christian faith as “an expression of white western privilege,” undeserving of protection.
 
In a western secular culture defined increasingly by anti-Christian moral norms, the slaughter of Christians – or “Easter worshippers” to those too squeamish to use the word – presents a paradox: how can the religion of white western wealth and privilege be the faith of poor minorities around the globe? Can the suffering of Christians be legitimately understood as persecution?
 
“Actually,” Mountstephen observed, “the Christian faith is overwhelmingly a phenomenon of the global poor and people who, by their very socio-economic status, are vulnerable.”

Pope Francis has spoken often of his desire to see “a poor Church of the poor.” In reality, this is what the Church already is.
 
The killing of the Sri Lankan Mass-goers, like the execution of the Coptic martyrs in 2015, is a sign of contradiction to a world ready to believe – and in some cases to print – that Christianity is inseparable from a kind of capitalistic white supremacy. But the Church is called to be a sign of contradiction, and such a sign can bear great fruit.
 
The first Easter vigils in Rome were held in catacombs not cathedrals; an empire was converted by the witness of uncounted martyrs, whose unshakable confidence that Christ had risen, destroying death, was a sign of contradiction to the pagan world.
 
In his recent essay on the root causes of the sexual abuse crisis, the pope emeritus noted the “today's Church is more than ever a ‘Church of the Martyrs’ and thus a witness to the living God.” Joseph Ratzinger also famously recalled looking around the Vatican as a young priest and foreseeing a time in which the signs of wealth and status would be stripped away.
 
Caught between the hammer of violent oppression in many parts of the world and the anvil of a secularized West suspicious if not downright hostile to the Church, many Catholics see a besieged faithful fighting for survival.
 
But in reality, in the gathering darkness, the light of the faith - like the hundreds of candles light during the Easter vigil - becomes ever brighter. The violence of persecution stokes the fires of faith.
 
Many alive now may live to see Ratzinger’s prediction come true: Francis’ poor Church of the poor once more gathered in the catacombs, real or metaphorical.

While the world will, like the pagan emperors before, scorn her seeming defeat and irrelevance, the Church will instead draw renewed strength as she becomes ever more truly herself.

The witness of its suffering – as in Sri Lanka – offers the same witness the martyrs of the early Church offered pagan Rome, and it will achieve the same result. The experience of the Church in the first centuries of the third millennium will likely come to resemble that of the first centuries AD. And from the forge of persecution will come a New Evangelization to rival the old.
 
Wedded to her risen spouse and called to share in his glory, those now confidently burying the Church as a remnant of history are destined to find her tomb empty. Through death, Christ has already conquered death, and with him the Church rises victorious.

 

Arlington diocese launches addiction support for families

Arlington, Va., Apr 24, 2019 / 05:19 pm (CNA).- At the request of Bishop Michael Burbidge, the Diocese of Arlington has launched a multifaceted program to get parishes involved with the healing of addicts and their families.

Organized by Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Arlington, the project is composed of five parts – clinician training, workshops, addiction resources, family support, and prayer.

Art Bennett, president of Catholic Charities, Diocese of Arlington, told CNA that the apostolate comes as the damages of opioid abuse have extended into the suburbs. Fairfax County, a generally well-off area, has the highest rate of opioid-related deaths in Virginia, he said.

“Bishop Burbidge has long been concerned about the opioid problem in our diocese; we cover 21 counties in the northern part of Virginia,” he said, noting that parishes have seen an increase in funerals for people who have overdosed.

After the bishop challenged the diocese to respond to the opioid crisis,  a conference was held in September to gather interested parties and to brainstorm. A psychologist was brought in to speak on the challenges faced in addiction recovery.  

There are four parishes involved: St. John the Evangelist in Warrenton, Good Shepherd in Alexandria, St. Bernadette in Springfield, and St. John Neumann in Reston.

As part of the program, 17 mental health clinicians have already been trained on the opioid crisis, its growing impact in the United States, and the best means to respond to it. These clinicians are now able to travel and run workshops for other parishes and Church staff.

Arlington's Catholic Charities has also piled together a virtual collection of resources for immediate intervention, including crisis intervention hotlines, case management services, and evaluations for treatment.

The new ministry will seek to add resources for families of addicts, including Al-Anon, Nar-Anon, Families Anonymous, and parent support groups. It will also offer literature and the contact info of therapists.

“Catholic Charities has been asked to focus on providing clinical support to those secondarily impacted by the opioid crisis – providing counseling to the children, families, and loved ones of those struggling with addiction. This is a broadly under-served population in the current response to addiction,” Michael Horne, director of clinical services for Arlington's Catholic Charities, told CNA.

Bennett said two of the major components of this apostolate are the prayer teams who intercede on behalf of addicts, and parish resource committees to support families. Both will be discussed in upcoming workshops, he said.

The next seminar will take place April 29 at St. John Neumann and will continue at a different parish every quarter. Here, Bennett will give an overview of the project, and former nurse Sandi Sale will discuss the boundaries volunteers should put in place.

Susan Infeld, a parent of an addict and a parish nurse in charge of the project at St. John Neumann, will also discuss both successful measures and those that have failed in the past.

Bennett said prayer, while a simple way to support the addicted and their families, is “also the most powerful thing that can be done.”

The apostolate may bring about new opportunities for prayer, but it could also be tacking on the intentions to already-established prayer groups.

“Any parish can have that; they might already have Eucharistic adoration or rosary groups and they just add on the intentions of the families suffering from the opioid crisis so that healing power in prayer and Christ can be involved with them,” he said.

The parish committee programs will provide opportunities for the laity to be supportive of the families of addicts. “That support could be encouragement, referrals, or someone to talk to if there kid is in jail or very sick,” he said.  

Addiction is especially rough on the family, as young people are sometimes forced out of the house when they start supporting their addiction with thieving. The family of addicts is an untapped area for ministry, he said, noting that many parents feel ashamed and ostracized from the Church when a child is going through addiction.

“The families pretty much felt like they are hung out to dry,” he said. “They feel very harshly judged, they feel weak,” and he emphasized the importance of compassion in the situation.

At the Arlington Catholic Herald, Infeld gave insight into her own struggles as a parent of alcoholic. She said addiction ministry is an opportunity to share the message of God’s mercy and to promote healing.

“Families are being destroyed by this disease. Grandparents are raising their grandchildren in retirement because the parents are addicts. Parents are going into debt trying to pay for rehab not just once, but sometimes multiple times. Families most often suffer in silence, not getting the tremendous support and tools that a (ministry or support group) can offer,” she said.

Sri Lanka's Ranjith: 'I would have cancelled' Easter Mass if bomb warnings were passed on

Colombo, Sri Lanka, Apr 24, 2019 / 04:36 pm (CNA).- The Archbishop of Colombo says that government officials in Sri Lanka should be fired for failing to act on tips that terrorists attacks were imminent in the hours preceding Easter Sunday bombings in the country.

“It's absolutely unacceptable behavior on the part of these high officials of the government, including some of the ministry officials,” Cardinal Malcom Ranjith said April 23 in response to reports that Sri Lankan officials did not pass on credible warnings in the hours before the April 21 attacks, including some that specified that Catholic Church would be targeted.

Warnings reportedly came from the Indian government and from other intelligence sources, and said directly that churches could be targeted by Islamist terrorist attacks. Government officials have promised an inquiry into those reports.

“These kind of officials should be immediately sacked, removed from these positions. And human beings who have a feeling for the needs of others and for the people must be inserted into these positions,” Ranjith said.

The cardinal added that if he had been warned that Catholic Churches could be bombed on Easter Sunday, he would have cancelled Sunday Masses, “because, for me, the most important thing is human life. Human beings, they are our treasure.”

“I would have cancelled even the holy week itself,” Ranjith told Radio Canada.

Thousands of Catholics attended Easter Sunday Masses at St. Anthony’s Shrine in Colombo and St. Sebastian’s Catholic Church in Negombo, both of which were bombed at 8:45 a.m. Easter morning, as was the evangelical Zion Church in Batticaolo, on Sri Lanka’s east coast.

One the same morning, three hotels were bombed, as were other locations across the country.

At least 359 people are dead.

ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attacks, and more than 60 Sri Lankans have been arrested or questioned.

Sri Lanka’s President Maithripala Sirisena has asked Hemasari Ferando, one of the country’s defense ministers, to resign, along with police Inspector General Pujith Jayasundara. Both are accused of mishandling intelligence reports.

Ranjith old EWTN News Nightly that the local Catholic community has suffered tremendously because of the horrible massacre on Easter Sunday.

“We lost so many valuable lives in both churches ... a huge amount of people,” Cardinal Ranjith told EWTN News Nightly April 22.

The Sri Lankan cardinal said that he rushed to St. Anthony’s shrine as soon as he heard of the attack Sunday morning, but the police did not allow him to enter because they suspected that more bombs could be inside the church.

“From the outside I saw a lot of devastation outside the church,” Ranjith said. “When I saw so many bodies, I was completely moved and disturbed.”

The Knights of Columbus have pledged $100,000 in aid for victims of the Sri Lankan attacks to help Cardinal Ranjith rebuild and repair his Christian community.

Pope Francis renewed his prayers for the victims in Sri Lanka and appealed for international support during his Regina Coeli address Monday.

“I pray for the many victims and wounded, and I ask everyone not to hesitate to offer this dear nation all the help that is necessary,” the pope said April 22.

“I also hope that everyone condemns these acts of terrorism, inhuman acts, never justifiable,” he said.

 

 

Bishops pray for victims of earthquakes in Philippines

Manila, Philippines, Apr 24, 2019 / 04:09 pm (CNA).- Catholic leaders have offered prayers for the Philippines after two earthquakes struck the region this week.

A magnitude-6.1 earthquake hit the nation’s largest and most populous island of Luzon on Monday. An unrelated magnitude-6.4 quake struck the island of Samar the following day.

Numerous buildings, including a few churches, were destroyed or damaged by the earthquakes. The wall of a supermarket near the capital city of Manila collapsed on Monday, killing at least five people and burying others who have not yet been found. Electricity has been shut down in some areas to prevent fires.

Vatican News reported that the death toll had risen to at least 20 people, while hundreds more are injured or missing.

According to the news website of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), the Archdiocese of San Fernando has barred activity in 24 historical churches until they can be inspected for safety.

Cardinal Luis Tagle, Archbishop of Manila, encouraged churches to practice safety drills in the wake of the earthquakes.

Archbishop Rolando Tirona of Caceres also urged parishes and priests to revisit safety measures for all church buildings, including seminaries and convents.

“We must always ensure the safety of our churchgoers, and be pro-active in safeguarding our churches and the faithful against human violence and natural calamities,” said Tirona, according to CBCP News.

“Without causing undue panic and confusion, I enjoin you dear pastors to put in place security measures in your respective Churches to protect our faithful and to ensure peaceful liturgical celebrations,” he said.

Archbishop Romulo Valles, president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, said the conference would be praying for all those affected by the earthquakes.

“We…pray especially for the grieving people, who have lost dear ones in the earthquake, and we hope recovery and help would come to these people,” Valles told CBCP News.

Cardinal Charles Maung Bo of Yangon, Myanmar, president of the Federation of the Asian Bishops’ Conferences, offered his condolences in a letter to the bishops and faithful of the Philippines.

“It is with deep sorrow that I heard about the multiple earthquakes that hit your nation and took the lives of some 20 people, injuring hundreds and with several people reported missing,” said Bo.

The cardinal said he is praying for victims, survivors, and caregivers in the wake of the tragedy.
 

Pro-life group launches targeted campaign for Born Alive bill

Washington D.C., Apr 24, 2019 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- The pro-life organization Susan B. Anthony List has launched a new campaign to pressure members of Congress to sign the discharge petition for the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act.

If 218 members of the House of Representatives sign the discharge petition, the bill will move to the floor, where it will be considered. Presently, 199 members have signed, including all but two Republican members, but only two Democrats: Reps. Dan Lipinski (D-IL) and Collin Peterson (D-MN).

The petition opened for signatures on April 2.

In an April 2 statement, Archbishop Joseph Naumann, chairman of the U.S. bishops' pro-life committee, called for the bill's passage.

“Our nation is better than infanticide. Babies born alive during the process of abortion deserve the same care and medical assistance as any other newborn. To not provide care is a lethal form of discrimination against the circumstances of the child’s birth.”

“I strongly urge all representatives to sign this petition, and then vote for the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act. This bill would add specific requirements to help ensure that babies born alive after an abortion attempt can have a fair shot at life,” he said.

"The purpose of this campaign is to really focus on the House," SBA List Vice President of Communications Mallory Quigley told CNA. "This is where the pressure point is now because the Senate's already voted. We think this should be bipartisan."

Quigley said that signing the petition would not present an electoral problem for Democrats, “especially for people who were elected in Republican-leaning districts."

The new campaign, which will feature digital ads and events aimed at explaining what the Born Alive bill is, is focused on representatives in what SBA List considers to be persuadable districts.

Reps. Cindy Axne (IA-03), Collin Allred (TX-32), Abby Finkenauer (IA-01), Lizzie Fletcher (TX-07), Conor Lamb (PA-17), Lucy McBath (GA-06), Elissa Slotkin (MI-08), Abigail Spanberger (VA-07), and Haley Stevens (MI-11) have been singled out for attention, with each of them representing states won by President Donald Trump during the 2016 election.

“This is a very moderate proposal that we think they ought to support,” Quigley told CNA. She said the timing of the ad campaign was centered around the Congressional recess, when the members would be in their districts.

“Many Democrats who represent Republican-leaning districts have not yet signed the discharge petition to hold a vote on the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act,” said SBA List President Marjorie Dannenfelser in the press release.

The bill’s lead sponsor, Rep. Ann Wagner (R-MO), said that her legislation was “a measure that has passed with bipartisan support in the past.”

Presently, 26 states have some sort of legal protection for babies who survive abortions. Wagner said that it was important that this be extended throughout the entire country.

Dannenfelser said the bill "is urgently needed" as lawmakers in New York, Virginia, and other states push a "radical agenda of abortion on demand through the moment of birth and even infanticide."

"The overwhelming majority of Americans – including 70 percent of Democrats – want Congress to protect vulnerable babies who survive abortions, yet Speaker Pelosi and House Democratic Party leaders have repeatedly blocked this compassionate, common-ground bill.”

She referred to the Democrats blocking the legislation as “extremists” who are out of step with their own party.

Polls have consistently shown that the majority of Americans, including Democrats and even those who call themselves pro-choice, are opposed to late-term abortion.

The Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act would criminalize doctors who do not provide age-appropriate medical care to an infant that is born alive after an abortion. It also would provide the mother of the infant the ability to file a civil suit against her doctor. It does not criminalize abortion nor add any new restrictions on abortion.

Peruvian archbishop withdraws defamation suit against journalist

Piura, Peru, Apr 24, 2019 / 03:55 pm (CNA).- The Archbishop of Piura, Peru, José Antonio Eguren, announced that he will withdraw a complaint of aggravated defamation against journalist Pedro Salinas, who was found guilty and convicted in the first instance by a Peruvian court.

In a statement published April 24, the archbishop said that "today I have presented before the First Unipersonal Criminal Court of Piura my request for withdrawal of the complaint filed against the journalist Pedro Salinas Chacaltana for the crime of aggravated defamation towards me."

On April 22, the results of an April 8 judgment against Salinas were released. Judge Judith Cueva Calle sentenced Salinas to one year of probation and a fine of 80 thousand soles (about $24,000) for the crime of aggravated defamation against Archbishop José Antonio Eguren Anselmi.

In his statement, Eguren said the judgment provoked "a series of unjustified reactions, even within the Church , which I consider to impact a higher good, namely the unity of the Mystical Body of Christ."

"As a bishop, my first responsibility is to watch over the portion of the People of God entrusted to me. For this reason, without prejudice to the outcome of the judicial process, I have decided to renounce my right to defend my reputation and good name," he said.

The archbishop recalled that "my intention in presenting the lawsuit against Mr. Salinas, was to defend the fundamental right that we all have to the good name, to reflect on the value of the honor of the people, and to prevent those who would make false and offensive accusations without more foundation.”

Therefore, he said, "I trust that this decision will be understood in its proper dimension and can contribute to the unity of Peruvians and our Church, so important in the country’s current moment.”

The case of Pedro Salinas

Pedro Salinas is co-author of the book "Mitad Monjes, Mitad soldados," published in 2015, which recounts the sexual, physical and psychological abuses committed by Luis Fernando Figari, founder of the Sodalitium Christianae Vitae, and other members of the same group. Eguren himself is a member of the group.

On Aug. 15, 2018, Eguren filed an aggravated defamation lawsuit against Salinas for comparing him in a January article to the Chilean bishop Juan Barros, who was accused of covering up the sexual abuse of ex-priest Fernando Karadima.

According to Salinas, Eguren himself would have a part of the system of physical, psychological and sexual abuse within the Sodalitium.

In the article, Salinas also cited an Al Jazeera article that accused Eguren of illegal land dealings in the city of Piura.

The archbishop reiterated in a statement on April 14 that Salinas declined to rectify those accusations and "dismissed all the information that was sent to him, via a notary, which proved that what he said was false."

In the same statement, he said that he requested that Salinas not be incarcerated, and that any civil judgment imposed on the journalist be donated to a shelter unconnected with the Sodalitium.

Judgment is a "historical fact"

Percy García Cavero, Eguren’s attorney, told ACI Prensa April 24 that the judgment against Salinas is a "historical fact,” and that Eguren decided to withdraw from the lawsuit because "he understands that there are higher interests, that in the present moment of the Church, require him to renounce the right to defend his honor. "

"The purpose is obviously to maintain unity and avoid any type of damage to the process of reparation and accompaniment to the victims of the Sodalitium," the attorney explained.

In this regard, he noted that the withdrawal of the complaint "is not a victory for Salinas, because Archbishop Eguren is not suggesting that is was wrong for him to complain, on the contrary.”

"He recognizes that he had every right, that his honor has been tainted and that an independent judge said so," said Garcia Cavero.

The lawyer said that the issue "is legally settled," recalling that the "sentence issued by the judge of first instance is fully valid in terms of legal oath."

"It is important reference for journalists in terms of regular practice of the profession and I think it should be a resolution of analysis in different legal and journalistic academic environments," he said.

This quarrel was a "historical fact that will not disappear because there was a process and a valid pronouncement that determined that Mr. Salinas Chacaltana slandered Archbishop Eguren," he said.

"Although there is no penalty, civil compensation or any sentence, the sentence has a moral content," he added.

The Sodalitium Christianae Vitae is a society of apostolic life founded in Peru to which the director of CNA, Alejandro Bermúdez, belongs.

 

This report was originally published by ACI Prensa, CNA's Spanish-language sister agency. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

Ending isolation key to fighting assisted suicide, Catholic heath group founder says

Washington D.C., Apr 24, 2019 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- The founder of a Catholic health-share group has said that battling loneliness is crucial to opposing the growing acceptance of assisted suicide in popular culture.

Chris Faddis, co-founder of Solidarity HealthShare, spoke to CNA about the importance of respecting the dignity of all patients at the end of life.

Speaking to CNA during the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast April 23, Faddis said that a rising social and legal acceptance of assisted suicide is exacerbated by a lack of healthcare options that are both ethical and affordable, but is ultimately driven by loneliness and despair in the face of suffering.

“When you see no way out, something like a pill seems tempting,” he said.

Solidarity helps patients and their families find other options to assisted suicide to ease suffering and, Faddis said, expressed a kind of communion in its structure. In a health-share system, members of the organization help to pay each other’s healthcare costs. Members are self-pay patients who can see the provider of their choice while Solidarity helps to negotiate a lower rate, which would then be paid by the group of members.

“We're just there to facilitate and to kind of direct them,” said Faddis. “The affordability is there because there's no profit in it. We're a non-profit, we're just kind of facilitating that sharing."

“In all ways, we lead our members to the options that are going to respect life, that are going to promote their dignity. We provide care management, we provide services. And we encourage them."

Faddis, who serves as the Catholic health-sharing company’s chief operating officer, told CNA that the experience of suffering and death in his own family had formed his commitment to protecting human dignity at the end of life and led to his founding Solidarity. He served as a caregiver for his wife as she was dying of cancer, and experienced first-hand the importance of dignified and respectful hospice and palliative care.  

The experiences like his, Faddis said, needed to be shared in the wider battle to resist a culture of death in which suffering has no meaning.

“If we don't tell [an alternative view of suffering], the other side's telling the horror stories of suffering all day long."

Approaching death with dignity, Faddis said, is important for patients and families alike. “It’s worth taking time over,” he said, noting that his family benefited “in ways too many to count” from the care and support his wife received from their own community.

Solidarity does not pay for health services that are contrary to Catholic teaching, such as abortion, contraception, or euthanasia. When members are diagnosed with terminal illnesses, Faddis said that his organization works to ensure that members are directed to specific palliative care physicians who will not encourage assisted suicide.

Faddis said that an approach that underscores the value of life is especially important for terminal patients who are often feel as though they are a burden on their family and community. Terminal illness was, he said, a painful experience, but one that can be lived with dignity and meaning.

"When people are cared for well, then they can suffer well. So as they're going through those difficult times, or just those difficult decisions, people can help them just by caring well for them,” he said.

Assisted suicide is now legal in eight states, and is being considered by an additional four. New Jersey’s Catholic governor recently signed it into law in his state, after “careful prayer.”

Faddis said that in the United States, there is a general fear of suffering, which has resulted in an embrace of a quick death.

"I think we have a responsibility to console and give solace to the dying,” he said, stressing that preventing isolation was a vital part of respecting the dignity of human life.

“And I think if we do that well, we've solved the problem. I mean, if you're dying alone, you want the pill."

US House asks court to block funding for border wall

Washington D.C., Apr 24, 2019 / 12:40 pm (CNA).- Lawyers representing the US House of Representatives on Tuesday filed a motion in federal court to block funding for the construction of a wall on the US-Mexico border, which President Donald Trump had planned to fund primarily using Department of Defense money.

“Absent this Court’s timely intervention, defendants are poised to begin construction on the border wall next month, using funds that Congress declined to appropriate for that purpose,” the motion reads.

“This Court should therefore issue a preliminary injunction to prevent that irreparable injury to the House.”

Trump had planned to fund the wall’s construction using money appropriated under an emergency declaration he issued in February. By invoking the National Emergencies Act, the president can gain access to sources of funding otherwise unavailable to him. The 1976 act does not contain a specific definition of what constitutes a “national emergency.”

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement Feb. 15 opposing Trump’s emergency declaration.

“We are deeply concerned about the President’s action to fund the construction of a wall along the U.S./Mexico border, which circumvents the clear intent of Congress to limit funding of a wall,” read a joint statement from USCCB President Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston and Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, who leads the USCCB’s migration committee.

In their statement, DiNardo and Vasquez said the wall is a “symbol of division and animosity” between the United States and Mexico.

Following Trump’s emergency declaration, the Democrat-controlled House sued Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and the executive branch, claiming the president’s decision to transfer Defense Department funds to fund the border wall violated the clause of the Constitution that gives Congress the power to designate federal spending.

Congress passed a spending package earlier this year— which Trump signed, ending a 35-day government shutdown— appropriating $1.375 billion for 55 miles of new barriers in the Rio Grande Valley sector. Trump had requested $5.7 billion.

The House’s motion notes that the Executive Branch has already transferred $1 billion in Defense Department money to the military’s Drug Interdiction and Counterdrug Activities fund, with plans to transfer $2.5 billion more. In addition, $3.6 billion will be reallocated to fund the wall from Department of Defense military construction projects, as well as $600 million from the Treasury Forfeiture Fund. The Executive Branch has already awarded contracts for construction of the wall, set to begin next month.

The motion asserts that the 2019 Department of Defense Appropriations Act only authorizes transfers for “higher priority items, based on unforeseen military requirements” and “in no case where the item for which funds are requested has been denied by the Congress.”

“The House is unaware of any other instance in American history where a President has declared a national emergency to obtain funding after having failed to win Congressional approval for an appropriation,” the motion reads.

U.S. District Court Judge Trevor McFadden has not yet set a date for a hearing on the House’s motion.

There are at least two lawsuits against Trump’s funding decision still pending. In one, 16 states are challenging the president’s actions, while another suit was brought by the Sierra Club and a border-communities group, according to Politico.

A judge in Oakland, California has agreed to hear motions for injunctions in those suits May 17, Politico reports.

Bishops of dioceses along both sides of the border have said that the additional construction of a wall would pose dangers to migrants and would create unnecessary divisions in societies that have transcended countries’ borders.

Although “the Church has long recognized the first right of persons not to migrate, but to stay in their community of origin,” Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso, Texas wrote in 2017, “when that has become impossible, the Church also recognizes the right to migrate.”