Mexicali, Mexico, Aug 30, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) -
The leadership of the bishops’ conference of Mexico has praised senior citizens for their “invaluable contribution to the family and to society,” criticizing negative views of the aged.
Cardinal Jose Robles Ortega, Archbishop of Guadalajara, speaking on behalf of his fellow bishops, discussed the role of seniors in a message for Mexico’s Senior Citizens' Day, celebrated Aug. 28.
The bishops noted the “great deeds” of older persons recounted in the Bible, giving as examples Simeon and Anna, and in particular Moses, who “was already old when God entrusted to him the mission of liberating his people from slavery in Egypt.”
These examples, the bishops said, demonstrate the words of the Psalmist that “the just … shall bear fruit even in old age.”
However, they warned that “some nations, yielding to a mentality that prioritizes immediate usefulness and productivity, have come to see old age in a negative way, even relegating and forgetting about senior citizens.”
They lamented the “scorn and abandonment” experienced by so many elderly, citing also poverty, exploitation, and lack of health care services available to them.
“Human fragility, which is more apparent in old age, shows us that we all need each other and that we mutually enrich each other. Senior citizens need young people and young people need senior citizens who, as Pope Francis has said, communicate to the family 'that patrimony of humanity and of the faith that is essential for all of society.'”
The bishops recommended the gift of faith, which helps all people “to realize that they are never alone,” that “God is with them, giving meaning to their lives and offering them such great and definitive hope that makes all their efforts along the way worthwhile.”
Calling life “a pilgrimage towards our heavenly home,” Cardinal Robles, on behalf of the bishops, said that “old age is the final leg of this journey.”
“Although it is normal that seniors find this last step difficult, faith gives them the certainty that those who believe in Christ 'will never die.'”
This hope, the bishops added, “should strengthen them to continue giving the best of themselves to others. They have so much to give to the new generations, with their words, their actions, their example and their prayer.”
“Let us strive to build a society that values, respects, includes, promotes and assists the elderly,” concluded the bishops.
“Let us recognize, thank and support those praiseworthy initiatives that provide care for them and those that allow them to continue to be physically, emotionally, intellectually, spiritually and socially active.”
Vatican City, Aug 30, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - The cardinal who heads the Vatican’s interreligious dialogue department said that religious differences in the Middle East do not necessitate violence.
“This is the place where the three monotheistic religions meet, and they have the possibility to build up society,” Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran told CNA on Aug. 29. “The problem is when religion becomes politics.”
Cardinal Tauran was secretary of the Vatican’s nunciature to Lebanon from 1979 to 1983 and participated in special missions in Beirut and Damascus in 1986. He is currently president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.
He explained that religion itself is not the source of the crisis in the Middle East, where different groups have violently clashed in recent weeks and months.
“When religion remains a spiritual option, then it is alright, but when you mix politics and religion, then the problems start,” he stated.
He stressed the need to “teach the young generation” how to live together peacefully despite their religious differences, in respect, dialogue and peace.
The cardinal added that although people in the Middle East listen to the words of the Pope, they do not follow his proposals.
In recent days, Pope Francis has repeatedly called for dialogue between parties of the conflict in order to arrive at a peaceful solution.
Meanwhile, Archbishop Maroun Laham, Patriarchal Vicar for Jordan of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, spoke to Vatican Radio today on the visit of Jordan’s king and queen.
He described it as “an opportunity to speak of peace in the Holy Land and Jordan, but especially in Syria, with all the threats that we are feeling.”
“Jordan, despite being a small country, plays an important role for peace in Syria,” said Archbishop Laham on Aug. 29.
“We hope that these big (countries) make peace instead of war, and find a peaceful solution and we hope that Jordan can play a positive role, joining the position of the Holy See,” he added.
The archbishop stressed that “violence begets more violence” and cautioned against powerful nations seeking their own political and economic interests.
“We hope that the voice of reason, and for us the faith, will prevail and that the Syrian crisis find a political solution,” he said.
Washington D.C., Aug 30, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Underlying an effort by U.S. bishops to coordinate messages on the need for comprehensive immigration reform is a profound sense of pastoral care, said an official at the bishops’ conference.
“Sometimes (the bishops) are criticized that they're encouraging lawbreaking, but the fact is, these folks are here, and their families are getting separated, and what the bishops are trying to do is change the law so they can help them,” said Kevin Appleby, director of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' migration policy and public affairs office.
“It's not only a public policy of national interest – for the Church, it's a pastoral policy as well,” he told CNA Aug. 28. “It's a way of trying to help…ensure that their families are kept together.”
The U.S. Senate has passed a bipartisan-backed bill for comprehensive immigration reform that would provide a 13-year path to citizenship for most of the 11 million undocumented immigrants currently in the country, as well as a new worker visa program and border security enhancements.
The plan of numerous dioceses to coordinate their messages on immigration comes as the Republican-controlled House returns to Washington and will consider the Senate bill, or their own, more piecemeal approaches to immigration reform.
House GOP leaders have indicated they are unlikely to support the Senate's bill, and may focus on border security measures ahead of the legalization of undocumented migrants.
Appleby said that the bishop conference's suggestion of an early September push – centered on Sunday Masses on Sept. 8 – was for “practical reasons” more than anything else, as Congress will just be returning to Washington and “more attention would be paid to the issue” so that coordinated efforts might then “have the biggest impact.”
In particular, the bishops' conference is hoping to encourage Catholics, having let their faith inform their decisions, to contact their Congressmen in support of comprehensive immigration reform.
Appleby described a “disconnect between the polling – which has overwhelming support among Catholics for a comprehensive bill with a path to citizenship – and action.”
“We've had a hard time transitioning from 'I support the bishops on this issue,' to people picking up the phone, sending an email, writing a letter, being active on it…With this push we're trying to change that a bit, we'll hopefully get more Catholics to speak up, and say, 'we want this done.'”
The dioceses of Chicago, Cincinnati, Los Angeles, Brooklyn, San Antonio, Saint Louis, and Saint Paul and Minneapolis have all agreed to encourage their faithful to speak up about immigration reform in coming weeks. Several more bishops and dioceses are considering how to participate in the push.
“It's coming in a lot of different forms,” Appleby said, with some dioceses holding Masses or forums, or encouraging pastors to address immigration in their homilies, or passing out bulletin inserts.
He explained that it is important for Catholics to read Church documents, and the writings and homilies of bishops on the issues. While “we can sit here and have an argument over whether something is a prudential judgment…versus a doctrinal issue,” he said, it is important to remember that a bishop’s teaching, even on matters of prudential judgment, “calls for careful consideration by Catholics.”
To disregard – refusing to even consider – the bishops' position on immigration reform because it is a matter of prudential judgment is a “disconnect,” Appleby explained.
“Even under a prudential judgment analysis, someone is required to at least consider the arguments being put forth by the Church, to take them into consideration…there is a responsibility to at least consider what the Church is saying, and then incorporate it into their position to the degree that they can.”
He added that the tendency of Catholics in America to put their party affiliation, be it Republican or Democrat, ahead of their faith, means that “there's a lot of education to be done.”
Catholics need to be reminded, he said, that religious or faith interests are not incompatible with political interests.
The bishops' concern about immigration reform, Appleby said, is part of their duty in caring for the people “who are in their parishes” and social service programs.
Kim Daniels, spokesperson for the U.S. bishops' conference president, Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, echoed that statement.
“We support immigration reform as a response to Pope Francis' call to resist indifference and to regain a sense of 'fraternal responsibility' regarding the suffering of immigrants,” she told CNA Aug. 27.
“Many Catholics support immigration reform as a response to the serious humanitarian problems caused by our current broken system. Our parishes and social service ministries encounter these problems every day, seeing families divided, workers exploited, and migrants dying in the desert.”
The fundamental principles of “solidarity, human dignity, and family unity,” she said, “transcend party politics.”
“At this important moment Catholics can help bridge partisan differences, bringing attention to the human face of immigration reform, and answering our faith's call to serve those most in need.”
While the bishops' conference itself does not have a “mandate of teaching,” individual bishops do exercise the teaching authority of the Magisterium, and many U.S. bishops have been teaching about the importance of comprehensive immigration reform in this country.
In a July 21 homily, Archbishop José Gomez taught that “God comes to us in the person of the stranger,” that hospitality is a “sacred duty,” and that immigration is “not only a matter of politics,” but is “a matter of our relationship with God.”
Archbishop Gomez has been joined in his support of comprehensive immigration reform by numerous bishops, including Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia, Bishop John Wester of Salt Lake City and Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami.
Rome, Italy, Aug 30, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Augustinian order is working on devising ways to evangelize secularized Europe and young people during the next few years, said members at the group’s meeting in Rome.
“Since we’re spread out in many different countries with many different governmental organizations, it’s important for us to stress our unity and the way we want to work together and present ourselves to the wider Church,” explained the order’s vicar general, Father Michael Di Gregorio.
He told CNA that the order aims to establish a new program for the next six years “to deal with issues that are relevant to us in our daily life, our ministry, to confront challenges as a religious community.”
As vicar general, Fr. Di Gregorio is currently leading the order’s “general chapter” in Rome until the new prior general is chosen.
Today is the second day of the order’s general chapter – a set of meetings that takes place every six years in which their head is elected and the new goals for the following years are established.
The gathering included an Aug. 28 Mass with Pope Francis at the Basilica of Saint Augustine in Rome.
Fr. Di Gregorio said that the Augustinians felt “greatly privileged” to have participated in the Mass, which he described as “very simple…but a very warm experience,” adding that the Holy Father “was very generous and hospitable to us.”
Setting goals for the next six years, the order will be particularly focused on evangelization in various regions of the world.
“We are trying to strengthen the mission in Cuba, and especially in Europe,” said Father Pedro Luis Morais on Aug. 30.
Fr. Morais told CNA that the previous general chapter several years ago had focused on extending the order of the Augustinians to different countries, including Korea, Vietnam and Czechoslovakia.
Now, the order wants to “focus on being closer to the people, especially to the young people, to be a sign of Jesus Christ and transmit the Gospel,” he explained.
These efforts must take into account cultural aspects of life in the modern developed world, noted the priest, who was born in Gijón, in Spain’s province of Asturias.
He added that the Augustinians will also be “trying to reorganize the order in some countries in Latin America, like in Brazil.”
Fr. Morias, who works in Madrid and was elected to represent Augustinians from Spain in the general chapter, took part in the Aug. 28 Mass with the Pope.
“It was really exciting,” he said. “That time with the Holy Father was for me a special moment of intervention from God in our lives.”
“He has invited us to be restless and to come out of ourselves,” he said. “To not be so centered in our own problems and to go to others and discover what their problems are because we need to somehow give them the message of salvation.”
He stressed that that “we need to take that Augustinian restlessness to our life so that we can be restless towards others,” adding that this task “is difficult” to put into practice.
“My main job is now in a residency for university students,” Fr. Morias explained, “and I’m also asking myself many questions” about how to put the Pope’s words in practice “concretely.”
At the same time, he reflected, “I need to transmit the spirit (of the chapter) to my brothers who have stayed in Spain.”
Vatican City, Aug 30, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) -
On Aug. 30, Pope Francis appointed Father Fernando Vérgez Alzaga, a member of the Legionaries of Christ, to be the new secretary general of the Governorate of Vatican City State.
The position is the Vatican's number-two administrator, and was vacated last Saturday, Aug. 24, when Bishop Giuseppe Sciacca was transferred to the Apostolic Signatura.
Fr. Vérgez will serve under the president of the Vatican City governorate, Cardinal Giuseppe Bertello.
Fr. Vérgez was previously the director of the Vatican’s papal telecommunications office for five years prior to his new appointment.
He has not been appointed as a titular bishop, which is customary for the position, possibly signalling a new policy of Pope Francis.
Born in Salamanca in 1945, Fr. Vérgez made perpetual profession with the Legionaries of Christ in 1965 and was ordained a priest in 1969. He studied philosophy and theology at Rome’s Pontifical Gregorian University and obtained a diploma from the School of Archives at the Vatican’s Secret Archives.
Fr. Vérgez began working for the Vatican over forty years ago, in 1972, at the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.
He was then transferred to the Pontifical Council for the Laity in 1984 before becoming the head of the Holy See’s internet office ten years later. He served there until becoming head of the telecommunications office in 2008.
Manila, Philippines, Aug 30, 2013 (CNA) - The Augustinian Recollects in the Philippines have organized a campaign to assist the nearly one million people in Manila and various provinces on Luzon Island affected by recent storms.
Earlier this month, Manila and surrounding areas were devastated by severe flooding caused by a powerful typhoon, which intensified the effects of the area's monsoon rains.
Last week, it was reported by local authorities that roughly 60 percent of the capital was submerged, with more than 300,000 people affected by the flooding.
The campaign initiated by the Recollects, “One Heart,” began their efforts on the feast of their patron, St. Augustine.
The provincial of the Recollects in the Manila, Fray Lauro Larlar, exhorted the faithful to make “the sorrows and anxieties of the victims of the flooding our own.”
“Astonished by the growing material poverty of our people and embarrassed by the shameful corruption that exists in many areas of the government” he said, “we wonder about the repercussion of how we vote on the people who suffer.”
He then challenged the community on how they live out the evangelical councils, questioning them, “As religious and as a community, are we a living testimony of the rejection of corruption (poverty), of selfless service (obedience) and of charity (chastity)? Does our consecrated life make us into servants with the same attitude of Jesus, who was poor, chaste and obedient?”
He called on the Augustinian Recollects to pray in community “for and in the name of the victims,” and to “involve our institutions, religious, collaborators, students, young people, parish organizations and personnel in general in carrying out significant activities to bring aid the victims of the typhoon.”
Gilda Avedillo, program officer for Caritas Manila’s disaster risk reduction and management program, spoke with CNA earlier this month, saying that relief efforts have been ongoing since Aug. 19.
Aid workers have been packing and delivering resources to those in the affected areas, prioritizing the needs of food, clean water, clothing, blankets, sanitary items and basic medication.
Washington D.C., Aug 30, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Top U.S. officials say they are still considering a “narrow” military response to the reported use of chemical weapons in Syria, as a representative of the U.S. bishops urges negotiations aimed at peace.
“We will continue talking to the Congress, talking to our allies and, most importantly, talking to the American people,” said U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in an Aug. 30 address.
While the option of a “limited and tailored” military response is still on the table, Kerry said that the ultimate goal “is to have a diplomatic process that can resolve this through negotiation, because we know there is no ultimate military solution.”
The need for negotiation was also highlighted by Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines, who heads the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace.
In an Aug. 29 letter, he reinforced to Kerry that the U.S. bishops’ conference has long held “that the Syrian people urgently need a political solution that ends the fighting and creates a future for all Syrians, one that respects human rights and religious freedom.”
The country of Syria has been embattled in violent conflict since spring of 2011, when government forces were deployed to put down uprisings protesting against Syrian President Bashar Assad, launching a conflict that has escalated into a civil war.
The United Nations has estimated that more than 100,000 people have died in the conflict, with more than three million being displaced within the country or becoming refugees in nearby nations.
Last winter, several nations including the U.S. recognized a Syrian opposition coalition as the legitimate voice of the Syrian people. Other nations – notably Russia, China and Iran – have supported the Assad regime.
A U.N. report last year found that both sides in the conflict had committed war crimes, although the rebel forces – comprised of different groups with various religious and political ideologies – had done so on a smaller scale.
Last week, reports indicated that chemical weapons had been used in an attack outside Damascus. The Syrian government denied responsibility, attributing the attack to opposition forces.
However, Kerry said that the U.S. intelligence community “has high confidence” based on the evidence they have obtained that the attacks were carried out by the Assad regime on “his own people.”
“The United States government now knows that at least 1,429 Syrians were killed in this attack, including at least 426 children,” he said.
The Secretary of State emphasized that numerous other countries have condemned the chemical attacks. However, action by the United Nations Security Council is unlikely, as Russia has already blocked a resolution authorizing military force in Syria.
Meanwhile, an ongoing U.N. inspection has been mandated only to confirm the use of chemical weapons, not identify the responsible parties, he continued. Nonetheless, a lack of unified global action does not remove the “responsibility” of the United States to the international community and human rights.
Simply speaking out against the use of chemical weapons is not enough to dissuade other countries from similarly challenging these international norms, Kerry said, underscoring the need for the perpetrators to be held accountable. “It matters if the world speaks out in condemnation and then nothing happens.”
Later in the day, President Barack Obama said that a decision has not yet been made on what course of action the United States will take. He emphasized that he is considering a “limited, narrow” military response rather than an “open-ended commitment” or “boots-on-the-ground approach.”
Numerous Church leaders – including local bishops, Vatican officials and Pope Francis – have called for dialogue rather than military action in Syria.
In his letter, Bishop Pates called on Kerry to be cautious in using military force in Syria. While acknowledging the chemical attack as abhorrent, he echoed Pope Francis’ emphasis on dialogue and negotiation to bring peace.
The bishop encouraged the U.S. to “work with other governments to obtain a ceasefire, initiate serious negotiations, provide impartial and neutral humanitarian assistance, and encourage building an inclusive society in Syria that protects the rights of all its citizens, including Christians and other minorities.”