Archive of January 4, 2014

South Sudanese Christians call for end to violence

Juba, South Sudan, Jan 4, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - Christian leaders in South Sudan have responded to new violence with a call for peace and reconciliation, urging their countrymen to reject efforts to sow division along ethnic lines.

“This should not be turned into an ethnic problem. Sadly, on the ground it is developing into tribalism. This must be defused urgently before it spreads,” church leaders in Juba said in a Dec. 17 message, according to Aid to the Church in Need.

The South Sudan Council of Churches, an interdenominational Christian group, on Dec. 18 similarly warned that despite reports of ethnic violence, the conflict should not be considered an ethnic conflict at its root. They implored the Dinka and Nuer communities not to see each other as enemies.

“We are concerned about the reports of abuse, harassment and killing of individual citizens based on their ethnic affiliation,” the churches’ council said. “These are happening and witnessed for the last three days. Soldiers are asking civilians to identify themselves by tribes and we cannot accept to be identified by our tribes as we are all South Sudanese. We condemn such acts of abuse and hope that no more human lives should be lost.”

Both groups condemned the violence and characterized the conflict as “political differences” within the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement Party.

Fighting broke out in the South Sudan capital of Juba in mid-December following a power struggle between the country’s president, Salva Kiir, and former vice president Riek Machar, the BBC News reports. At least 1,000 people have been killed, with some killings reportedly being targeted by ethnicity.

President Kiir is from the Dinka ethnicity and former vice president Machar is of the Nuer ethnicity. The president dismissed Machar from office in July.

Almost 200,000 people have been displaced and many lack shelter, clean water and sanitation. A state of emergency was declared in the nation on Jan. 1.

There are increasing tensions in the rebel-held city of Bor in Jonglei state and Bentu, in Unity state, which is also rebel-held. Military build-ups have prompted fears of increased fighting.

Peace talks between the factions were set to begin Jan. 3 in Ethiopia. Ethiopia’s foreign minister Tedros Adhanom said initial talks between mediators and the warring factions were “fruitful,” the BBC reports.

Church leaders in Juba  condemned the violence and expressed their condolences for the victims and their families. They invoked the biblical story of two women feuding over the custody of a child before King David. One woman agreed to cut the boy in two rather than lose possession of him to his true mother.

They called for reconciliation between the political leaders, offering themselves as mediators.

They urged security forces to show “restraint and responsibility” and to respect civilians. They urged the government, the United Nations and NGOs to provide humanitarian assistance to displaced people, including food and water.

They prayed for “the strength and courage to bring peace, reconciliation and healing to our new nation.”

The South Sudan churches’ council called for “speedy justice” for criminal acts but also “reconciliation for political differences.”

“We appeal to our political leaders to refrain from hate speeches that may incite and escalate the violence. We urge to initiate dialogues and resolve issues amicably,” the council said. “We are gathered, united and speaking in one voice that peace and reconciliation must prevail in our country.”

South Sudan became an independent country in 2011 after decades of conflict with Sudan to its north.

That conflict also included infighting among some South Sudanese. In 1991, Machar’s split from the existing rebel movement sparked fighting along tribal lines that caused the massacre of 2,000 people in the town of Bor.

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Pope encourages reform of relations between religious, bishops

Vatican City, Jan 4, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - At a meeting with religious superiors held last November, Pope Francis urged a reform of the document regulating the relationship between bishops and religious congregations, according to Fr. Antonio Spadaro, director of La Civiltà Cattolica.

The Bishop of Rome met with a group of some 120 religious superiors in Rome on Nov. 29, 2013, during the general assembly of the Union of Superiors General. He held a three-hour question and answer session with them, touching on the prophetic vocation of religious life, the formation of religious, and the interactions between bishops and those in consecrated life, among other things.

CNA reported briefly on the meeting Dec. 2, but an extensive account of Pope Francis' words there was not made available until Fr. Spadaro published a 14-page account of the encounter in the Jan. 3 issue of the Italian Jesuit periodical La Civiltà Cattolica.

According to Fr. Spadaro, Pope Francis said during the meeting that “Mutuae relationes,” a 1978 document including directives for the mutual relations between bishops and religious in the Church, “was useful at the time but is now outdated.”

“The charisms of the various Institutes need to be respected and fostered because they are needed in dioceses. I know by experience the problems that can arise between a bishop and religious communities,” the Pope explained.

He reflected as both a bishop and religious superior, noting that when religious leave a diocese, the bishop “often finds himself suddenly left with a hot potato in his hand,” but that on the other hand bishops should “not view religious simply as useful instruments,” but come to know and appreciate their unique charisms.

“For this reason the Pope confided to the Congregation for Religious the task of resuming reflection on the document Mutuae relationes and to work on a revision,” Fr. Spadaro wrote.

In addition, Pope Francis discussed the vocation of religious who are not priests, and “ complained that an adequate awareness of this specific vocation has not yet been developed,” said Fr. Spadaro, who added that “he referred to a document related to this which has never appeared, and which might be looked at again,” and that he signalled to the leaders of the Congregation for Religious to consider that “it might be finished and so as to facilitate a more satisfactory reflection.”

Pope Francis reflected extensively on the vocation of religious, saying they show that “it is possible to live differently in the world,” and that their life has an “eschatological outlook” and that they follow Christ “in a prophetic way,” calling prophecy of the Kingdom “a non-negotiable” in their life.

“It is this witness that I expect of you,” the Pope told the assembled superiors. “Religious should be men and women who are able to wake the world up.”

“You should be real witnesses of a world of doing and acting differently. But in life if it is difficult for everything to be clear, precise, outlined neatly. Life is complicated; it consists of grace and sin … a religious who recognizes himself as weak and a sinner does not negate the witness that he is called to give, rather he reinforces it, and this is good for everyone. What I expect of you therefore is to give witness. I want this special witness from religious.”

Pope Francis also touched on inculturation of charisms, according to Fr. Spadaro, saying, “the charism is one but, as Saint Ignatius used to say, it needs to be lived according to the places, times and persons.”

He explained that inculturation of charisms is “fundamental,” but that “this never means relativizing it,” though charism should not be “rigid or uniform.”

Also during the three-hour encounter, the Roman Pontiff discussed the formation of religious, emphasizing that it is always ordered towards the people of God, adding that “the ghost to fight against is the image of religious life understood as an escape or hiding place in face of an 'external,' difficult and complex world.”

He called formation “a work of art, not a police action. We must form their hearts. Otherwise we are creating little monsters. And then these little monsters mold the People of God. This really gives me goose bumps.”

According to Fr. Spadaro, Pope Francis concluded the meeting by announcing that 2015 will be dedicated to consecrated life, and saying: “Thank you for what you do, for your spirit of faith and your pursuit of service.”

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Catholic bioethicist advises caution in Jahi McMath case

Washington D.C., Jan 4, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - The “tragic” case of teenage girl Jahi McMath – now at the center of a legal controversy over brain death – shows the need to determine the facts before making ethical conclusions, says a bioethicist.

“The difficulty of these cases have to be recognized, especially in terms of the human suffering of the families,” John Di Camillo of the National Catholic Bioethics Center in Washington, D.C. told CNA Jan. 2.

“It’s not something that's simply a clear-cut, back-and-white case that we can, from the outside, say we know what’s going on. Because we don't,” he added.

“It’s all in the details of the medical facts. We have to defer to reason when we see that the facts have been clarified, and then we can use those as our starting point for our ethical reflection.”

Jahi McMath, age 13, underwent a complex tonsil removal surgery at Children's Hospital Oakland on Dec 9 to treat her sleep apnea. After the surgery, she appeared fine but then underwent cardiac arrest, lost oxygen to her brain and had extensive hemorrhaging, the Los Angeles Times reports. She was first declared brain dead on Dec. 12.

Five physicians, two at Children’s Hospital Oakland and three independent doctors requested by the family, have declared the girl to be brain dead. The doctors have said the girl is unable to breathe on her own and other tests show that there is no blood flow to her brain and no signs of electrical activity. She is presently on a ventilator.

A federal court order has barred the hospital from removing life support systems until Jan. 7, ABC News reports. McMath’s family hopes to transfer her to a long-term care facility where she can stay on life support.

The family’s lawyer has asked Children’s Hospital Oakland to perform a tracheotomy and insert a feeding tube, procedures necessary before any transfer.

The hospital had said it “does not believe that performing surgical procedures on the body of a deceased person is an appropriate medical practice.” It said transferring the girl would require the approval of the coroner, as she is considered legally dead.

The hospital added, however, that it continues to support McMath’s family “in this time of grief and loss over her death.”

On Jan. 3 the girl’s family and the hospital reached an agreement to allow a team to transfer her to another facility, the Los Angeles Times reports. But a judge has refused the family’s request to have a doctor perform the procedures required for the move. The girl’s mother will take full responsibility for her during the transfer. It is not yet known what facility will receive the girl.

Di Camillo stressed the need to know the facts of Jahi McMath's case before making a moral judgment.

“Before even getting to the ethical considerations, the medical facts are an absolute priority,” he said. “If we have a medically clear and confirmed determination of death by these neurological criteria, then we’re dealing with a situation where the body is actually the corpse of the deceased of this young girl.”

“If we're dealing with a case where the person is in fact brain damaged but still alive, then we have a whole different set of ethical criteria because we’re talking about a living human being who is worthy of  full respect and full treatment.”

He said Catholic teaching holds that “full brain death” criteria are legitimate indicators that the patient has died. However, he also warned about “misleading language” which uses the term “brain death” to describe those who are brain damaged or in states of reduced consciousness where a patient may still have brain stem function.

Patients deserve proportionate care that offers a reasonable hope of benefiting them without imposing an “excessive burden,” he said.

Catholic ethics do not support the mentality of “life at all costs,” but rather promotes life “within reason and within the context of one’s circumstances, possibilities, pain, suffering.” The bioethicist said there is a basic obligation to protect life “within the limits of reason and the limits of that proportionality”

Di Camillo again noted that appropriate treatment depends on the facts of the case. Life support systems are sometimes ordinary means of treatment and sometimes disproportionate.

“It’s not an absolute. It has to be determined on a case-by-case basis, in light of the facts,” he said.

Jahi McMath’s situation has prompted comparisons to Terri Schiavo, a Florida woman who suffered  severe brain damage in 1990, lived in a persistent vegetative state for years, and died of starvation in March 2005 after a contentious legal battle. Her parents wanted doctors to provide her nutrition and hydration, while her husband did not.

Di Camillo said such a comparison is “difficult” because it is known that Schiavo was in a persistent vegetative state and “clearly not brain dead.”

Schiavo “could not satisfy any of the criteria for brain death as far as I understand it,” the bioethicist said, while McMath’s status is “the very question at issue.”

The Terri Schiavo Life & Hope Network, founded by Schiavo’s parents, brother and sister, said Dec. 31 it has been overseeing the effort by several groups to transfer the teen girl out of the Oakland hospital.

The network says McMath's case draws attention to hospital corporations' “vested financial interest in discontinuing life.”

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