Abuja, Nigeria, May 7, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Cardinal John Onaiyekan of Abuja has called for “concrete action” to save the hundreds of girls kidnapped by Boko Haram, saying his country is “ashamed” by the failure to find them.
“Up until now we are hearing practically nothing concrete on the issue,” Cardinal Onaiyekan told Vatican Radio May 6. “I think almost every Nigerian is taken aback. We cannot explain what is happening.”
“It’s still more baffling that our president seems to be impotent. We have to see concrete action.”
Nearly 300 girls, most of them aged between 16 and 18, were kidnapped April 14 from their boarding school in Borno, Nigeria's northeastern-most state, by members of the radical Islamist group Boko Haram.
Boko Haram, which means “Western education is sinful,” launched an uprising in 2009 and hopes to impose sharia law on Nigeria. It has targeted security forces, politicians, Christian minorities, and moderate Muslims in Nigeria’s predominantly Muslim north.
There are 276 girls still in captivity, while 53 escaped, the Associated Press reports.
The schools in the area had been closed due to the threat of Boko Haram; Cardinal Onaiyekan said there was supposed to be security at the school, which had temporarily reopened so that the girls could take final exams.
“The soldiers who were there could not face the group of terrorists that invaded both the town and the school,” the cardinal reported.
Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau has claimed responsibility for the abductions and has threatened to sell the girls into slavery, threatening more attacks on schools.
A May 5 attack on another town in Borno, in which some 300 persons died, was attributed to Boko Haram. The previous day, another 11 girls were kidnapped in an attack on two villages.
Cardinal Onaiyekan noted the “unprecedented” demonstrations by Nigerians seeking the return of the girls.
The crime has drawn international attention.
U.S. president Barack Obama has said his government will work with the international community and the Nigerian government to do “everything we can to recover these young ladies,” he told the NBC television show “Today.”
“But we're also going to have to deal with the broader problem of organizations like (Boko Haram) that ... can cause such havoc in people's day-to-day lives.”
The president told ABC News that Boko Haram is “one of the worst regional or local terrorist organizations” and has been “killing people ruthlessly for many years now.”
The Nigerian government had declined offers of U.S. assistance until May 6, when U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan. U.S. military and law enforcement personnel headed to assist the rescue effort include experts in intelligence, investigations, hostage negotiation, and victim assistance, the White House said.
It was announced May 7 that the U.K. will send a small team of experts to assist Nigerian authorities.
Nigerian police have offered a $300,000 reward for information leading to the girls' rescue.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations stated May 5 that “it is almost impossible to express the level of disgust felt by American Muslims at the un-Islamic and obscene actions of the terrorist group Boko Haram for the kidnapping and threat to 'sell' hundreds of Nigerian schoolgirls. We urge authorities in Nigeria and throughout the region to do everything they can to return the girls safely to their families and to eliminate the threat to peace and security posed by Boko Haram.”
Boko Haram’s attacks have killed thousands since 2009; according to the BBC, they have killed 1,500 in 2014 alone. The U.N. estimates that the attacks have led to more than 470,000 internally displaced persons in Nigeria.
The U.S. recognized Boko Haram as a foreign terrorist organization in November 2013, after a lengthy advocacy effort from human rights and Christian groups.
“We know that Boko Haram have no sense of humanity,” Cardinal Onaiyekan said.
“We know that they are killing innocent people. But that they should be able to cart away almost 300 children in the Northeast of Nigeria without any trace of where these children are really baffles us.”
Vatican City, May 7, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Pope Francis will meet with United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-moon May 9, as well as with the Chief Executives Board for Coordination, marking an opportunity for the Pope to encourage reform of the organization.
The board coordinates and directs the U.N., and is comprised of 29 heads of U.N. bodies.
The meeting comes against the backdrop of a tense hearing of a Holy See delegation before the U.N.’s Committee on the Convention against Torture, which the Holy See signed in 2002.
The presentation of the report highlighted once again the tensions between the Holy See and the U.N.’s satellite organizations.
After the May 5 presentation of the initial report, Felice Gaer, a committee member, blamed the "alleged distinction" between Vatican City and the Holy See, a differentiation she said "would create important gaps in the coverage" of the treaty and is a "troubling" bit of legalese.
Archbishop Tomasi, addressing the U.N. committee, had stressed the “essential distinctions” between the Holy See and Vatican City State, over which the Holy See exercises sovereignty.
The Holy See signed the convention “with the very clear and direct intention that this convention applied to Vatican City State,” the archbishop said.
The archbishop said there is “much confusion” over the Holy See’s jurisdiction. The Holy See has “no jurisdiction” over “every member of the Catholic Church,” he clarified.
The distinction, lost on most people, has been exploited by those seeking to undermine the Holy See’s diplomatic pull at the U.N.
The abortion advocacy group “Catholics for Choice” has been a longtime opponent of the Holy See’s permanent observer status, and has lobbied for the Vatican’s status as a permanent observer to the U.N. being reduced to that of a non-governmental organization. This would bar Church officials from negotiations at the organization.
Earlier this year, the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute launched a declaration supporting the Holy See’s permanent observer status, noting that this “enables it to encourage genuine dialogue, promote peaceful resolution of conflicts, and appeal beyond the mere territorial interests of states to the consciences of their leaders.”
“The world would be far poorer if the voice of the Holy See within the United Nations were ever silenced. May that day never come.”
Prior to this week’s hearing before the anti-torture committee, the Holy See press officer praised the principles of the anti-torture convention while also warning against NGO pressure groups with a “strong ideological character and orientation” that are attempting to influence both the U.N. committee and public opinion.
In February, the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child used a discussion of the children’s rights convention to claim that the Vatican had “systematically” adopted policies allowing priests to rape and molest children.
More than an indictment of the Church’s handling of sex abuse, the report of the U.N. child rights committee seemed meant to pressure the Church into changing its teaching on human sexuality.
Pope Francis is the latest Roman Pontiff to meet with representatives of the U.N.
Paul VI addressed the organization Oct. 4, 1965, urging it not to foster artificial birth control and to “ensure to each person a life in conformity with his dignity.”
“The building of modern civilization must stand on spiritual principles, capable not only of supporting it, but also of illuminating and animating it,” he concluded.
St. John Paul II addressed the U.N.’s general assembly Oct. 5, 1995, saying it “needs to rise more and more above the cold status of an administrative institution and to become a moral centre where all the nations of the world feel at home and develop a shared awareness of being, as it were, a ‘family of nations’.”
Discussing the U.N.’s commitment to human rights, Benedict XVI noted in his April 18, 2008, address to the general assembly that “those rights are grounded and shaped by the transcendent nature of the person, which permits men and women to pursue their journey of faith and their search for God in this world.”
“Recognition of this dimension must be strengthened,” he added, “if we are to sustain humanity’s hope for a better world and if we are to create the conditions for peace, development, cooperation, and guarantee of rights for future generations.”
On the contrary, the U.N.’s committees are now seemingly pushing a particular agenda, hammering the Church on such issues as clergy sex abuse, trying undermine its sovereignty and teaching on human nature.
Pope Francis May 9 meeting with the U.N.’s leaders will thus be a wonderful occasion to relaunch the Church’s desire for reform at the organization – a reform committed to integral human development rather than specific agendas.
Vatican City, May 7, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
After years of tension, news that Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny has invited Pope Francis to visit the country may be a sign that relations between the Holy See and Ireland are returning to normal.
Within just months of the re-opening of Ireland's Vatican embassy, Prime Minister Kenny announced the invitation to the Pope at a press conference held at the Irish College in Rome April 27.
According to the Irish times, the Prime Minister said he told Pope Francis that his papacy had brought about “an extraordinary difference to the perception of the Catholic Church,” and that in Ireland now there is “a clearer and healthier relationship between Church and State.”
Ireland's government announced on Jan. 21 the re-opening of its embassy to the Holy See in Rome, which had been closed in November of 2011 due to what was claimed to be economic reasons.
The decision to close the embassy at the time, and thus not have a resident diplomat, came after years of friction between Holy See and Ireland especially with regard to local sex abuse scandals.
On May 6, Emma Madigan – who previously served as assistant chief of protocol at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade – was announced as the country's new Vatican ambassador.
The closure of the Irish embassy to the Holy See has been seen in the context of a deterioration in relations between Rome and Dublin since the publication of the Murphy Report in November 2009, but Pope Francis' efforts seem to have brought to the forefront the Vatican's diplomatic efforts.
“The Church has moved to deal with the many problems of the legacy, the scars of the sex abuse crisis,” Prime Minister Kelly said. “The Pope has made it clear that he expects the future of the Church not to be based solely on these issues but rather on poverty and human rights, social justice and social equality and he has brought an extraordinary energy to those areas since his election to the papacy.”
A. Alexander Stummvoll, a postdoctoral fellow for the Millennium Nucleus for the Study of States and Democracy in Latin America, told CNA April 28 that issues such as “mercy, social justice, and solidarity” appear to be the “emerging priorities” of Pope Francis' pontificate.
Stummvoll noted that this “may have been decisive in leading the Irish government to re-open its embassy to the Vatican, and also to 'normalize' the relations between the two states.”
The Irish foreign affairs department has lauded the re-opening of the country's embassy to the Holy See, saying the move will “enable Ireland to engage directly with the leadership of Pope Francis on the issues of poverty eradication, hunger, and human rights.”
Geneva, Switzerland, May 7, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Insinuations at a U.N. committee hearing that Catholic teaching against abortion may violate an international anti-torture convention has raised questions about the partiality of the body.
“It is outrageous that the U.N. Committee against Torture would challenge the Catholic Church's religious commitment to the sanctity of life at every stage,” Ashley McGuire, an advisory board member for Catholic Voices USA, said May 6.
The U.N. Committee on the Convention against Torture conducted a hearing with a Holy See delegation in Geneva May 5-6.
Each of the 155 states which are parties to the convention – including the U.S. – are obliged to report to the U.N. committee every four years to discuss its implementation.
The committee pressed the Holy See delegation on sex abuse and abortion. Committee vice-chair Felice Gaer said the committee has found that criminalizing abortion in all circumstances can violate the convention of torture.
She asked the delegation to respond to criticisms that its position against abortion requires pregnant nine-year-olds to give birth, The Guardian reports.
McGuire said that Gaer’s approach in the hearings “has sent a strong signal that she considers a pro-life position to be a pro-torture position.”
“Given that most of the world’s religions hold similar views on abortion, were the committee to adopt such a twisted official position it would be nothing more than a direct attack on religious freedom and undermine the very credibility of the committee and its mission.”
McGuire also questioned the partiality of the committee chair Claudio Grossman, citing a report from the Atlanta-based Solidarity Center for Law and Justice which noted Grossman’s past work in support of a conference that examined strategies for advancing “women’s reproductive rights,” a phrase which often includes abortion.
Grossman also gave financial and supervisory support to a leading advocate of legal recognition of many personal relationships other than traditional marriage.
The report questioned whether this constituted a conflict of interest – an assessment with which McGuire agreed.
“His partiality in evaluating the Holy See while concurrently attacking the religious views of the Catholic Church is seriously questionable,” she stated.
She suggested that both Gaer and Grossman might be in violation of committee rules.
“The obvious conflict that the chair and vice chair maintain not only impact the credibility and reputation of the full committee but they may well create a conflict of interest and arguably fall within the U.N. Committee’s own rules for recusal.”
Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, head of the Holy See’s Permanent Observer mission to the United Nations in Geneva, told the committee May 5 that states are obligated to protect and prosecute persons in their jurisdictions and are responsible for justice regarding “crimes and abuses committed by persons under their jurisdiction.”
The delegation has repeatedly emphasized that the Holy See signed the convention with the understanding that it applies to the territory of the Vatican City State, not the entire Catholic Church.
“Obviously, some people don’t agree with this statement because they feel that the authority of the Holy See extends to the institutions and the persons of the Catholic Church at large,” Archbishop Tomasi told Vatican Radio May 5.
“But from a juridical point of view, this is not accurate and there is an important distinction to be kept in mind between a juridical responsibility and a moral, spiritual, pastoral responsibility.”
He said some committee questions assumed that the Holy See is “directly responsible” for every priest and Church employee in the world, “which of course is not the case.”
Archbishop Tomasi said Grossman “has tried to be very fair” in pointing out the Church’s measures to combat abuse.
“And at the same time, he also posed some questions that need to be answered,” the archbishop said.
McGuire added that the Catholic Church has implemented “important reforms” against abuse in the past decade.
Other U.N. committees have been used to examine the Catholic Church’s handling of abuse, and have become platforms to advocate against Catholic teaching.
A February report from the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child used a discussion of the children’s rights convention to claim that the Vatican had “systematically” adopted policies allowing priests to rape and molest children. The committee also used the report to condemn Catholic teaching on homosexuality, contraception, and abortion, while calling for changes in Catholic doctrine.
On May 2, Fr. Federico Lombardi, head of the Holy See press office, praised the principles of the anti-torture convention while also warning against NGO pressure groups with a “strong ideological character and orientation” that are attempting to influence both the U.N. committee and public opinion.
The New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, a legal group representing the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, has tried to depict the committee hearing as an effort to address sex abuse in the Catholic Church.
Katherine Gallagher, a senior staff attorney at the center, has said that treating sex abuse as torture would allow more legal action for alleged victims as there is no statute of limitations on torture in U.S. law.
Ed Mechmann, director of the New York archdiocese’s Safe Environment Program, objected that although sex abuse of minors is evil, it is “clearly” not torture as defined in the United Nations convention.
The convention defines torture as “any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.”
“Sexual abuse of minors is many, many things — all of them evil — but it is clearly not that,” Mechmann stated.
He said on a May 5 blog entry that the Center for Constitutional Rights has been “involved deeply in harassing the Holy See in front of international tribunals,” including filing a dismissed complaint with the International Criminal Court to charge the Holy See with crimes against humanity.
Vatican City, May 7, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
The priest who is organizing Pope Francis’ upcoming visit to Jordan has written a special prayer for the occasion with the aim of allowing the world to participate.
“This prayer takes into consideration the whole pilgrimage of His Holiness to the Holy Land. Therefore it’s not only for Jordan, but for all,” Fr. Rifat Bader explained to CNA May 5.
With this prayer he noted, Catholics from the whole world will be able to prepare for and to accompany the Pope during his May 24 - 26 visit to Jordan, Palestine and Israel.
Fr. Bader is the director of the Catholic Center for Studies and Media in Amman, Jordan and is also responsible for the pontiff’s visit to the country as part of his Holy Land pilgrimage.
The priest also voiced his hopes that the prayer he wrote would will be an act of personal and communitarian devotion, asking that the pilgrimage would help the Christians of the world to live in peace, particularly in the Middle East.
Also entrusting to the Lord a strong ecumenical intention, the prayer implores that the meetings between Pope Francis and local authorities will improve justice and peace in the zone, and strengthen the faith of the sons of the Church.
With this in mind, Fr. Bader invited all to recite the prayer during the month of May along with praying of the Rosary, and to share the prayer in parishes and at religious events.
Pope Francis announced his visit during his Sunday Angelus address on Jan. 5, stating that he is making the trip “to commemorate the historic meeting between Pope Paul VI and the Patriarch Athenagoras I, that occurred precisely on January 5, as today, 50 years ago."
During his time in the Holy Land, the Roman Pontiff is slated to meet with the Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, during his May pilgrimage.
Along with representatives of “all the Christian churches of Jerusalem,” the two leaders will celebrate an ecumenical meeting at the site of the Holy Sepulchre, which Christians revere as the place of Jesus’ burial prior to the Resurrection.
Below please find the full text of Fr. Bader’s prayer:
you never tire of being compassionate and loving,
the successor of St. Peter, His Holiness Pope Francis,
plans to visit the Holy Land sanctified by your Son’s birth,
baptism, teaching, death and resurrection,
be with him, sanctify and bless him,
spread the mantle of your kindness over every stage of his pilgrimage among us,
that one may we see in him a believing pilgrim, a wise teacher, and a humble leader
Lord Jesus Christ,
as you prayed for the unity of your Church, saying, “may they all be one”,
make the meeting in Jerusalem between the Holy Father and the Ecumenical Patriarch an incentive to increase our efforts for the unity of your children,
Make the encounter of the Pope with the political authorities fruitful for justice and peace,
protect all the residents of this land and the adherents of the religions of the Middle East,
so that they may be in harmony, dialogue and cooperation for the achievement of full citizenship
whose image Pope Francis carries on his pectoral cross,
walking in the spirit of humility with which you have graced him:
deepen within us the awareness of our Christian identity,
that as true disciples,
we may bear witness to your Good News and your resurrection
in our churches, our society, and all the world,
especially by serving the sick, the poor and the refugees.
Bless, Lord Most Holy, this fourth papal visit to our Holy Land,
through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Joseph,
all the saints of the Holy Land,
and the two new saints, John Paul II and John XXIII, Amen.
Vatican City, May 7, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
During his General Audience on Wednesay, Pope Francis reflected on the Holy Spirit’s gift of counsel, explaining that through it we learn to be docile to the Lord rather than attached to our own ideas.
“It illuminates our heart and makes us more sensitive to the voice of the Spirit, so that we do not get carried away in our thoughts, feelings and intentions by selfishness or our own way of looking at things, but by the will of God,” the Pope observed May 7.
Addressing the thousands of pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square to hear his discourse, the Roman Pontiff continued his catechesis on the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit.
Counsel "is the gift with which the Holy Spirit helps us to make decisions in our concrete lives, following the logic of Jesus and his Gospel” he noted, adding that through it “God enlightens our hearts and directs our thoughts, words and actions in accordance with his saving will.”
In leading us toward Jesus, and through him to God the Father, “the Holy Spirit guides us in our daily interaction with others and enables us to make right decisions in the light of faith” the Pope continued.
By the gift of counsel we “grow in the virtue of prudence, learning to overcome our self-centeredness and to see all things with the eyes of Christ,” the Bishop of Rome stated, and at the same time it “leads us to conform more and more to Jesus, as a model of our actions and our relation with God, and with our brothers.”
“What can we do to be more docile to this gift of Counsel?” he asked, observing that “the essential condition is prayer.”
“Thanks to the intimacy with God and to the hearing of his Word, a profound harmony with God matures in us and leads us to ask ourselves constantly: What is it that the Lord desires? What is his will? What is it that pleases him?”
Like the other spiritual gifts, counsel also “constitutes a treasure for the whole Christian community,” the Pope went on to say, adding that not only does God speak to us “in the intimacy of the heart,” but also by “the voice and testimony of the faith of our brothers, who help us to see more clearly and to recognize the will of God.”
Offering thanks for the gift of counsel, Pope Francis prayed that all might “seek to support one another along the path of faith, as we seek to be ever more docile to the working of the Holy Spirit in our hearts.”
“May the intercession of the Virgin Mary, in this month of May, help us to live out Christian lives with more docility to the voice and love of the Holy Spirit.”
Concluding his address, the Roman Pontiff extended personal greetings to pilgrims present from various countries around the world, including England and Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Slovakia, Korea, the Philippines, China, India, Canada, the United States, Spain, México, Guatemala, Colombia, Perú, Uruguay, Venezuela and Argentina.
He also gave special welcome to the family and friends of the 30 young men who made an oath and became Swiss Guards during yesterday’s swearing-in ceremony.
Vatican City, May 7, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Pope Francis encouraged the bishops of Burundi to engage with civil society and proclaim the Gospel in order to promote justice and reconciliation in the fragile society.
“I can only encourage you to take your whole place – as you are already doing – in the social and political dialogue, and to encounter the government without hesitation,” the Pope said May 5 at the Vatican.
“Persons in positions of authority are the first to be in need of your witness of faith and your courageous proclamation of Christian values, to know better the social doctrine of the Church, appreciate its value and to be inspired by it in the administration of public affairs.”
His comments were addressed to the bishops of Burundi during their ad limina visit – a routine meeting between the Pope and the bishops of different countries every five years.
The bishops of the small southeast African nation renewed their ties with the Bishop of Rome at the tombs of Saints Peter and Paul. Noting the saints’ martyrdom, Pope Francis called to mind Archbishop Michael Courtney, who was assassinated in 2003 while apostolic nuncio to Burundi.
Home to some 8.7 million persons, Burundi is bordered by Rwanda, Tanzania, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It is one of the world’s poorest nations, having in 2012 an adjusted per capita GDP of $625.
Some 85 percent of its population are Hutu, and most of the remainder are Tutsi; the country has seen two genocides: in 1972, at least 80,000 Hutu were killed, and in 1993, some 25,000 Tutsi were killed, months before the genocide in neighboring Rwanda broke out.
The 1993 Burundi genocide led to a civil war that lasted until 2005, which Pope Francis called a “terrible conflict.” Some 300,000 were killed in the war.
“The Burundian people are still too often divided, and deep wounds are not yet healed,” the Pope acknowledged.
“Only an authentic conversion of hearts to the Gospel can turn men to fraternal love and forgiveness,” he reminded the bishops, saying that profound evangelizing is the key to reconciliation, which also requires witnesses “who order their lives according to their faith.”
The first such witnesses are priests, the Holy Father said, noting with joy the opening of a fourth seminary in Burundi. He encouraged the formation of future priests, observing in particular the importance of the four pillars of priestly formation: intellectual, spiritual, human, and pastoral.
“It is through their lives, through their daily relations, that they bring the Gospel to all,” he reflected.
Referring to seminarians, Pope Francis emphasized that it is a “personal dialogue with the Lord” which is the basis of “all vocational journey.”
Those forming seminarians, in turn, must be “true examples of joy and priestly perfection; who are their neighbors and share their lives, who really listen to them, so as to know them and lead them better. It is only at this price that just discernment can be exercised, and unfortunate errors avoided.”
The Pope also affirmed the consecrated persons in the country for their efforts in education, health care, and aid to refugees.
Noting the country’s youth – the median age is roughly 17 – he said, “it is necessary to give the younger generation an authentic view of life, society, the family,” emphasizing the importance of Catholic education.
“Do everything possible,” he exhorted the bishops, “to ensure that at all levels, educators themselves are solidly rooted in the faith and in the practice of the Gospel.”
The presence of Christian values in the public square – including in public institutions – will advance a “more human and more just society,” he said.
Concluding his address, Pope Francis acknowledged that “the recent history of your country has been difficult, marked by division and violence in a context of extreme poverty, which unfortunately perdures. In spite of this, the courageous efforts of evangelization in your pastoral ministry bear fruit in the form of conversion and reconciliation.”
“I invite you to not falter in hope, but to go forward courageously with a renewed missionary spirit, to bring the Good News to all those who are still waiting or who most need to finally know the Lord's mercy.”