|Holy Week is about humility – there is no other way, Pope says
Rome, Italy, March 29 (CNA/EWTN News) .- Pope Francis on Palm Sunday said that imitating the humility of Jesus is what makes Holy Week “holy,” and encouraged attendees to imitate Jesus on his path of humiliation as the week unfolds.
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VATICAN CITY, March 29 (CNA/EWTN News) .- Pope Francis' personal envoy to Iraq will return to the country during Holy Week, bringing with him the pontiff's love and solidarity along with a special gift from the diocese of Rome: cake.
“During Holy Week, which is now close, these families are sharing with Christ the unjust violence of which they are victims, and participating in the pain of the same Christ,” a March 27 statement from the Vatican read.
Cardinal Fernando Filoni, head of the Vatican's Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, traveled to Erbil as Pope Francis' personal envoy in August of last year. He returns to Iraq in order to “stand beside the families” who have been forced out of their homes due to extremist violence.
With the funds taken up from a special collection, the families of the diocese of Rome will also show their solidarity with those suffering in Iraq by sending an Easter cake “to share the joy of Easter” based on faith in the Resurrection of Christ.
The gift being offered to refugee families is a traditional Italian sweet baked during Easter called a “Colomba” cake, which is formed in the shape of a dove.
In order not to “forget the suffering of the families in Northern Nigeria,” Pope Francis has also sent the cakes as a gift to those affected by extremist violence in the region by way of the local bishops’ conference.
Pope Francis, the statement added, prays for these families “and hopes they can return and resume their lives in the lands and places where, for hundreds of years, they have lived and woven good relationships with all.”
The capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, Erbil, is where more than 70,000 Christians fled after their villages came under attack by the Islamic State (ISIS) last June. The militants have since established a caliphate and have persecuted non-Sunnis in its territory, which extends across swaths of Iraq and Syria.
ISIS has forced more than 1.2 million Christians, Yazidis, and Shia Muslims from their homes in Iraq, under threat of death or heavy fines if they do not convert.
In an interview with CNA shortly after his return from Iraq last August, Cardinal Filoni revealed that at that time, Francis had given $1 million as a personal contribution to help Christians and other religious minorities in Iraq who had been forced from their homes.
Of that sum, “75 percent of the money was delivered to Catholics, and the remaining 25 percent to the Yazidi community,” he said.
The cardinal also recounted that the Pope had entrusted him with letters for Kurdish president Masoud Barzani and Iraqi president Fuad Masum, presenting him “as his personal envoy and expressing his concern for what Christians and minorities in general are suffering, because they have been uprooted from their lands and persecuted.”
Pope Francis has spoken out numerous times assuring his closeness and solidarity to those affected by extremist violence in both the Middle East and Iraq.
In November, Francis visited a Salesian Oratory for refugee children during his three-day trip to Turkey, during which he which he told the youths that he shared in their sufferings, and prayed that God would offer them consolation.
The day before Christmas, the Pope wrote a letter to Christians in the Middle East recognizing that although their Christmas hymns would be “accompanied by tears,” the Child Jesus offers consolation.
“How much longer must the Middle East suffer from the lack of peace? We must not resign ourselves to conflicts as if change were not possible!” he said, also calling for an increase in efforts for unity and interreligious dialogue.
When the announcement of Cardinal Filoni’s first trip to Iraq was made in an Aug. 8 statement from the Vatican last year, it was noted that his presence among the refugees was a sign for them of the Pope’s “spiritual closeness to the people who suffer and to bring them the solidarity of the Church.”
ROME, ITALY, March 29 (CNA/EWTN News) .- Pope Francis on Palm Sunday said that imitating the humility of Jesus is what makes Holy Week “holy,” and encouraged attendees to mimic his attitude of humiliation as the week unfolds.
Referring to the day’s second reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians, which recounts how Jesus “humbled himself” by taking on human form, the Pope said that “these words show us God’s way and the way of Christians: it is humility.”
Humility, he said, is “a way which constantly amazes and disturbs us: we will never get used to a humble God!”
As the Church sets out on the path of Holy Week that leads us to Easter, “we will take this path of Jesus’ own humiliation. Only in this way will this week be holy for us too!” Francis explained.
Pope Francis spoke to the thousands of pilgrims present in St. Peter’s Square for his March 29 Palm Sunday Mass, which the Church celebrates in recollection of how the inhabitants of Jerusalem laid palms along the road where Jesus entered on a donkey, hailing him as king the week before he was killed.
After processing to the altar with his own palm in hand, the Pope blessed those the pilgrims were holding, and participated in the reading of Jesus’ entire Passion and death, taken from the Gospel of Mark.
In his homily Francis focused on how Jesus’ incarnation and death serve as strong examples of God’s humility, which he shows to his people even when they disobey and complain to him.
Despite the shame Jesus faced, “this is God’s way, the way of humility. It is the way of Jesus; there is no other. And there can be no humility without humiliation,” Francis said.
By taking on the “form of a slave,” Jesus shows us that true humility is expressed in service to others, and consists of stripping and emptying oneself of worldliness so as to make room for God, he said.
“This is the greatest humiliation of all,” the Pope noted, and warned against taking that path of the world, which tempts us with “vanity, pride, success,” just like the devil did with Jesus during his 40 days in the desert.
However, Jesus “immediately rejected” this temptation, he said, explaining that “with him, we too can overcome this temptation, not only at significant moments, but in daily life as well.”
He encouraged attendees to follow Jesus on his path of “humiliation” during Holy Week, and noted how throughout the course of the next week, the Church will participate in Jesus’ suffering in a concrete way.
“We will feel the contempt of the leaders of his people and their attempts to trip him up. We will be there at the betrayal of Judas, one of the Twelve, who will sell him for thirty pieces of silver. We will see the Lord arrested and carried off like a criminal; abandoned by his disciples, dragged before the Sanhedrin, condemned to death, beaten and insulted,” he said.
In addition, we will also hear how Peter, the “rock” among the disciples, denies Jesus three times and will hear how the crowds, urged by their leaders, call for Barabas to be freed and Jesus crucified.
Jesus will be “mocked by the soldiers, robed in purple and crowned with thorns. And then, as he makes his sorrowful way beneath the cross, we will hear the jeering of the people and their leaders, who scoff at his being King and Son of God,” the Pope explained.
He closed his homily by recognizing the many who selflessly give themselves in hidden service to others, and by praying for those who are persecuted “because they are Christians.”
Referring to them as the “martyrs of our own time,” Francis said these people refuse to deny Jesus and therefore endure “insult and injury with dignity.”
He prayed that as the Church sets out on the path of Holy Week, faithful would commit to following Jesus’ way of humility with determination and “immense love” for him, saying that it is this love which “will guide us and give us strength.”
After Mass the Pope led pilgrims in the recitation of the traditional Angelus prayer, and noted in comments after how Palm Sunday also marked the 30th World Youth Day, which was established by St. John Paul II in 1984.
This year's theme – the second in a series on the beatitudes – is “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God,” while last year’s was “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
Next year’s theme for the international gathering in Krakow, Poland, will be “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.”
The Pope also prayed for the 150 victims of the Germanwings Airbus plane crash in the French Alps earlier this week, which included a group of German students, and entrusted them to the intercession of Mary.
Francis’ slate of activities for Holy Week includes a Chrism Mass in St. Peter's Basilica on Holy Thursday, as well as a visit to a Roman prison later that evening, where he will wash the feet of inmates and celebrate the Mass of the Lord’s Supper.
The next day, Good Friday, the Pope will keep in line with papal tradition and celebrate a service for the Passion of Our Lord in St. Peter’s Basilica before heading to the Colosseum, where he will lead thousands in the traditional prayer of the Stations of the Cross.
The Roman tradition of holding the Way of the Cross at the Colosseum on Good Friday goes back to the pontificate of Benedict XIV, who died in 1758.
On Holy Saturday Francis will preside over the Easter Vigil in St. Peter’s Basilica starting at 8:30 p.m., during which he will administer the sacrament of baptism to certain individuals.
Easter morning, April 5, he will celebrate the Mass of Our Lord’s Resurrection in St. Peter’s Square before giving his 'Urbi et Orbi' blessing – which goes out to the city of Rome and to the world – from the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica.
VATICAN CITY, March 28 (CNA/EWTN News) .- On the 500th anniversary of St. Teresa of Avila's birth, Pope Francis praised the Spanish mystic and reformer for her witness of self-gift to God, as well as her particular relevance during this Year of Consecrated Life.
“How much goodness does the testimony of her consecration – born directly from the encounter with Christ, her experience of prayer as continuous dialogue with God, and her community life, rooted in the motherhood of the Church – do for us!” the Pope said, according to Vatican Radio's translation.
In a Mar. 28 letter addressed to Fr Xavier Cannistrà, superior general of the Order of Discalced Carmelites, the pontiff wrote that it is providential that the anniversary of the saint's birth should coincide with the Year of Consecrated Life, which began late last year.
St. Teresa of Avila, the Holy Father said, “shines as a sure and attractive model of total self-giving to God.”
Born March 28, 1515 in Avila, Spain, St. Teresa is known as a mystic and reformer. Entering the Carmelite order in 1535, she became disillusioned by the laxity of monastic life within the cloister, and committed herself to reforming the order. She is considered one of the founders of the Discalced Carmelites.
During her lifetime, St. Teresa wrote several important works on the spiritual life, such as Interior Castle and The Way of Perfection. Canonized 40 years after her death in 1622 by Pope Gregory XV, she was declared as one of the first ever female doctors of the Church in 1970 by Pope Paul VI.
St. Teresa of Avila remains relevant for consecrated men and women, Pope Francis wrote, as demonstrated by her prayer life, her proclamation of the Gospel, and her understanding of the importance of community life.
Describing her as “primarily a teacher of prayer,” the pontiff said that “the discovery of Christ's humanity was central to her experience.”
For St. Teresa, prayer arose in all occasions, not simply in times and places of seclusion, the Pope said. Moreover, she believed that “continuous prayer” – even when it was imperfect – had value.
“The saint asks us to be steadfast, faithful, even in times of dryness, personal difficulties or urgent needs that call us.”
The “concrete proposals” and methods of prayer left by St. Teresa offers “us a great treasure to renew consecrated life today,” the Pope said.
“Far from closing us in on ourselves or leading us only to inner balance, (they) always make us start again from Jesus and constitute a genuine school to grow in love for God and neighbor.”
Pope Francis went on to describe St. Teresa as a “tireless communicator of the Gospel,” at a time when the Church was in the midst of difficulties. Instigator of the “Teresian reform” of the laxities demonstrated by the Carmelite cloister in which she lived, she demonstrated a “missionary and ecclesial dimension has always marked the Carmelites and Discalced Carmelites,” he said.
“Even today the saint opens new horizons for us, she calls us to a great undertaking, to see the world with the eyes of Christ, to seek what He seeks and to love what He loves.”
Finally, St. Teresa recognized the importance of “authentic community life” in sustaining both prayer and the evangelical mission, the Pope said.
Warning against “the danger of individualism in fraternal life,” he added, the saint commends those living in community to place themselves “at the service of others,” with a humility consisting “of self-acceptance, awareness of one’s own dignity, missionary courage, gratitude and trust in God.”
“Teresian communities are called to become houses of communion, capable of witnessing to fraternal love and to the motherhood of the Church, presenting to the Lord the needs of the world, torn by divisions and wars.”
Pope Francis concluded by imparting his Apostolic blessing, praying that the Carmelite community's “witness to life” would allow “the joy and beauty of living the Gospel to shine and attracts many young people to follow Christ closely.”
The worldwide Year for Consecrated life began Nov. 30, 2014 and will continue until the World Day of Consecrated Life on Feb. 2, 2016.
VATICAN CITY, March 28 (CNA/EWTN News) .- Pope Francis has sent a telegram of condolences following the death of Catholicos Dinkha IV, patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East, describing him as an “important spiritual leader, a courageous and wise pastor.”
The patriarch passed away on Mar. 26 in Rochester, Minnesota at the age of 79.
Addressing the telegram to Mar Aprem, Metropolitan of the Assyrian Church of the East for India, Pope Francis assured him, as well as all bishops, clergy, and faithful of the “spiritual closeness of all Catholics.”
“The Christian world has lost an important spiritual leader, a courageous and wise pastor who faithfully served his community in extremely challenging times,” the Pope said.
He observed that the Iraq-born patriarch had “suffered greatly because of the tragic situation in the Middle East, especially in Iraq and in Syria, resolutely calling attention to the plight of our Christian brothers and sisters and other religious minorities suffering daily persecution.”
The pontiff recalled how he and the patriarch had spoken “at length” about the crisis in the Middle East during the latter's visit to the Vatican in October, 2014.
Born in Iraq on Sep. 15, 1935, Catholicos Dinkha had been residing in Chicago, Illinois, where he had set up headquarters amid instability brought about the Persian Gulf War in the 1980s.
The patriarch had led the ecumenical efforts of the Assyrian Church, which had become separated from the rest of the Christian world in the 5th Century after rejecting the decrees of the Council of Chalcedon. Along with Saint John Paul II, Catholicos Dinkha signed the “Common Christological Declaration Between the Catholic Church and the Assyrian Church” on Nov. 11, 1994.
Pope Francis also acknowledged the “enduring commitment” of the patriarch “to improving relations among Christians and in particular between the Catholic Church and the Assyrian Church of the East.”
Following the death of Catholicos Dinkha, the Assyrian Church of the East issued a statement: “His Holiness had dedicated his entire life, to serving our Lord and our Holy Church. All his life he worked hard to be a spiritual father to us all. Heaven has welcomed him today and may he rest in peace.”
VATICAN CITY, March 27 (CNA/EWTN News) .- An informal announcement was made on Friday at the close of the Italian bishops conference's spring meeting in Rome revealing that Pope Francis will visit the two Tuscan cities Nov. 10.
“We welcome the news that the Holy Father will be in Prato with great joy,” Bishop Franco Agostinelli of Prato said March 27.
The bishop explained that “our whole diocese is celebrating this event, which will mark our history: Peter will truly visit out Church and confirm us in the faith.”
Simultaneously announced in Rome, Prato, and Florence, the news of the Pope’s visit came at the end of a gathering of the permanent council of the Italian bishops conference at the Vatican.
Francis’s November trip will be his first time traveling to both Florence and Prato, which are both located in Italy’s northern Tuscan region and sit about 15 miles apart.
St. John Paul II visited Prato in 1986, meeting with various people from the diocese, primarily workers.
In Rome the announcement of Francis’ daytrip was given by the secretary of the Italian bishops conferenc, Bishop Nunzio Galantino.
The purpose of the Pope’s trip, which coincides with the Fifth National Ecclesial Convention of the Italian Church, is to give special attention to the Church in Italy, Bishop Galantino explained.
Cardinal Giuseppe Betori of Florence made the announcement in his archdiocese, saying, “it is a great joy” to welcome Pope Francis.
Although the details are still being finalized, a rough sketch of what the Pope’s schedule will be was included in the announcement.
It begins with his arrival to Prato by helicopter around 8 am, where he will be welcomed by Bishop Agostinelli as well as the city’s mayor, Matthew Biffoni. Francis will then go to the cathedral to meet with workers.
Then around 9 am the Pope will transfer to Florence, where he will meet with participants in the National Ecclesial Convention in the city’s cathedral.
Roughly half an hour later he will make his way to the Basilica of the Holy Annunciation for an encounter with the sick, and at 1 pm is scheduled to have lunch with the poor in the soup kitchen Poor Saint Francis, located in Florence’s Holy Annunciation Square.
At 3:30 pm Francis is expected to say Mass in the municipal stadium “Luigi Franchi,” and afterward return to the Vatican.
VATICAN CITY, March 27 (CNA/EWTN News) .- Pope Francis stopped by to visit with 150 of Rome’s homeless in the Sistine Chapel after they were invited for dinner and a private tour by the Vatican.
“Welcome. This is everyone's house, and your house. The doors are always open for all,” the Pope told his homeless guests during their March 26 visit to the Vatican Museums. He said that their visit was like a tender caress from God.
The group was invited by Papal Almoner Archbishop Konrad Krajewski, who oversees the office of papal charities.
In the course of the visit, the homeless guests received a tour of the Vatican City State, passing by the Santa Martha guesthouse where the Pope lives, as well as several galleries in the Vatican Museums, culminating with the Sistine Chapel.
Although cameras and photographers were prohibited, the Vatican’s press office said that the Pope was with the group for at least 20 minutes, and greeted each person individually with a handshake.
Francis thanked Archbishop Krajewski for putting the initiative together. He told the group, “Pray for me. I'm in need of prayers by people like you,” and asked that the Lord would “protect and help you in the path of life and make you feel His tender love of a Father.”
After their meeting with the Pope, the homeless were invited to dinner in the restaurant of the Vatican Museums.
Before going to the Sistine Chapel, the group’s tour of the Vatican Museums first included a stop at the Carriage Pavilion and then went on to the Upper Galleries – including the Gallery of the Candelabra and the Gallery of Maps – before visiting the apartment of Pius V and finally the Sistine Chapel itself.
Their tour of the museums was guided, and included headphones as well as custodians who helped them carry their personal belongings, which many homeless individuals carry with them at all times.
The initiative is the latest in a string of charitable initiatives enacted by Archbishop Krajewski on behalf of Pope Francis since his election two years ago.
In November of last year, Archbishop Krajewski met a homeless man who said that although a sandwich was easy to find in Rome, a way to keep clean was not. As a result, the archbishop had the public bathrooms in St. Peter’s Square remodeled to include showers and clean underclothes for those in need.
Completed in February of this year, the bathroom initiative rolled out alongside a haircut service for the homeless, who receive the free services on Mondays – when many other barbershops are closed – at the hands of volunteer stylists.
Other acts of charity include the December distribution of sleeping bags for the homeless coinciding with the Pope’s birthday, as well as the handing-out of 300 umbrellas to those living on the streets during Rome’s rainy month of February.
Pope Francis on Sunday commissioned 400 of Rome’s homeless residents to assist him in distributing a pocket-sized book of the Gospels to faithful who had gathered for his weekly Angelus prayer, saying to receive the Word of God from their hands was a reminder that it is the poor who preach the Gospel to us.
In addition to offering lunch to the homeless who helped in the square Sunday, the Pope’s almoner also helped to deliver 1,000 pounds of food to the poor in Rome’s Tor Bella Monaca neighborhood with the help of the Institute of Medicine Solidarity Onlus.
Pope Francis had been in the neighborhood March 8 for his visit to the parish of Santa Maria Madre del Redentore. Archbishop Krajewski was scheduled to deliver the food March 21.
LOS ANGELES, CALIF., March 29 (CNA/EWTN News) .- California missionary Father Junipero Serra’s canonization is “long overdue,” says a university professor concerned that the priest’s history has been politicized and misrepresented.
“When he died, many native peoples came to the mission for his burial. They openly wept. Others of his colleagues and even colonists, believed that he would be made a saint, because of the way he had lived his life, a self-effacing life of a martyr,” said archaeology professor Reuben Mendoza of California State University, Monterrey Bay.
“Because of what he had achieved in his life, even then they had talked about his impending canonization,” Mendoza told CNA March 26.
Fr. Serra was born in 1713 on the Spanish island of Majorca in the Mediterranean. He left his position as a university professor to become a missionary to the New World, helping to convert many native Californians to Christianity and teaching them new and vital technologies. The Franciscan priest founded several of the missions that would go on to become the centers of major California cities.
The priest’s mission work often took place despite a painful ulcerated leg Mendoza said was caused by a spider bite soon after his arrival in Mexico. He died in 1784 at Mission San Carlos Borroméo del Carmelo in what is now the state of California.
St. John Paul II beatified Fr. Serra in 1988. In January, Pope Francis praised the missionary as “the evangelizer of the West” and announced his intention to canonize the Franciscan missionary during his scheduled 2015 visit to the U.S.
Mendoza learned from other researchers that Serra was “a very humble man and a man who had a great sense of humor.”
He said the “self-effacing” priest would sometimes insist on doing the work of young Indian boys who cleaned the Convent of San Fernando in Mexico City.
“He would sweep the halls and pick up the trash and maintain his spiritual stance through work and action.”
The priest’s sacrifices and “spiritual evangelization” led to the establishment of the missions that were “fundamental” to California’s history.
Mendoza lamented that “politics” had delayed the canonization.
“There has been a significant politicization of his canonization,” he said, pointing to opposition from those who feel that “the Church should not canonize a man who ultimately brought the missions to California and changed the lifestyles of native peoples.”
Mendoza rejected the possibility that native Californians could have avoided cultural change.
“As an anthropologist, I can tell you that all people change. There was already contact between other groups in the southwest and northern Mexico that had already initiated that process of change, and interaction and even conflict.”
Mendoza’s own view of Fr. Serra has changed from hostility to appreciation. While both of the professor’s parents had been devoted Catholics, his father “gradually soured on the Catholic faith” and “came to hate the Catholic Church for perceived wrongdoings.”
Mendoza had followed his father’s view and his initial research in archaeology, anthropology and history focused exclusively on Native Americans.
After the arrival of Spanish colonists, over 100,000 churches were built in a 150 year timespan in the New World.
“This is one of the greatest episodes of construction that the world has ever seen,” he said. “My eyes were pretty much closed to these churches.”
Mendoza still had a connection to Catholicism. He would sometimes feel moved to pray at the churches, preferring to say the Our Father in Nahuatl, the language of the Aztec people. His archaeological work in Mexico and California, as well as his marriage to a Catholic woman, helped him see the missionary work in California and Father Serra in a different light.
He learned of the stories of Catholic missionaries he described as “good guys.” He cited Fr. Felipe Arroyo de la Cuesta of the California mission San Juan Baptista, an early 19th century linguist who cared for native people and led a raid to bring back two young Indian girls who had been abducted from the mission.
“He led that raid with Indian warriors at his back,” Mendoza said.
The professor began to realize that while it is common to consider the missionaries’ impact on the Indians, it is far less common to consider the Indians’ impact on the missionaries.
“Here we see them literally becoming acculturated – learning the Indian languages, even doing their homilies in the multitude of Indian languages that they recorded and saved for posterity.”
Mendoza found his perspective further altered when he heard false stories about California history from grade school teachers leading their classes on tours of the mission. They would tell their students, many of whom were Latino and Native American, “horrific tales that teachers were clearly making up as they went along in their efforts to try to explain history that they didn’t understand.”
“They would go to features on the mission campus and tell the kids, ‘you see these three kits here with all this iron grillwork and the evidence for fire? This is where the Spanish and the friars would literally torture the Indians with fire’.”
“I’m listening to this, and I go, ‘Wait a minute, those are 1930s-era barbeque pits for the yearly fiesta barbecue of chickens. And yet this is what they are telling the children’.”
Visitors would confront Catholic priests at the mission and blame them for alleged abuses. Mendoza himself received personal attacks from people claiming to be of Native American descent who said “every brick in this mission represents another dead Indian.”
“I began to realize: especially the most malicious comments about Fr. Serra were usually by people who knew nothing about him, who had picked it up secondhand on the internet or on a blog, or who simply just didn’t care for the Catholic Church and its doctrine.”
Mendoza said it is clear from Fr. Serra’s writings that the priest would have been “mortified” to hear some claims about his treatment of the native people whom he “truly loved.”
The professor discussed the historical context of the missions, noting that the Spanish Empire had officially outlawed slavery outside of the Caribbean. Unlike the slave plantations of the English-speaking colonies, entrance into the California missions was a choice.
“You could not be coerced to come in, as was the case with African slaves who were being forced out of their homeland, and forced into servitude.”
He compared the missions to religious communes in which the friars were obliged to protect the “body and soul” of mission members.
Life outside the missions was difficult as well. Mendoza said that near the San Miguel mission, native people in the Central Valley were starving as a result of drought.
“They were beginning to settle around the missions, and when they saw that everybody got three square (meals) a day, everybody was clothed, everybody was housed, everybody was defended, people began to join the mission.”
“I don’t doubt that it’s likely that in some of these initial conversions, people didn’t fully understand what they were getting into,” the professor said. But while life in the missions was highly regimented, the work was intended to benefit the Indians and to sustain the mission as a community.
“Serra, I think, was mortified whenever native people succumbed to illness or disease. That’s not to say these didn’t exist prior to his arrival in the region, but clearly this had an impact on him.”
Mendoza predicted that the controversies over Fr. Serra will subside.
“The wide body of scholarship, the growing number of people who are beginning to understand who Serra was, will ultimately change a lot of the way we see him and the mission system overall.”
Mendoza particularly praised the book “Junípero Serra: California, Indians, and the Transformation of a Missionary,” by Rose Marie Beebe and Robert Senkewicz. Their scholarship relies on new translations of documents and letters.
He also recommended the history of Fr. Serra by Gregory Orfalea, saying he “humanized” the priest.
Without efforts to humanize Fr. Serra, Mendoza said, “we continue to see books that literally pick and choose the facts that will support agendas that are clearly antithetical to the Hispanic tradition, to the Catholic tradition, and to the life of Serra proper.”
WASHINGTON D.C., March 28 (CNA) .- A recent ruling from the Supreme Court to clarify workplace protections for pregnant women will help remedy some of the pressure placed on working women to abort rather than continue pregnancies, pro-life legal experts say.
“We’re very pleased to see the outcome here,” Clarke Forsythe, chief counsel for Americans United For Life, told CNA.
“There needs to be strong protection against pregnancy discrimination because women are discriminated against, because we have legalized abortion. Unfortunately, people think that because women have a right to abort, they should abort in some circumstances, especially when there may be workplace conflicts.”
On March 25, the Supreme Court ruled 6-3 in Young v. UPS that Peggy Young should get another chance to argue before a lower court that her former employer, United Parcel Service, treated her unfairly by forcing her to take unpaid leave when a doctor advised that she take lighter duty while pregnant. In addition to refusing to reassign Young, UPS also revoked Young’s medical coverage during her unpaid leave period. She later left the company.
The Fourth Circuit earlier ruled that UPS had not violated the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, because the employer treated pregnant workers similarly to those injured off-the-job. At the time, UPS offered accommodations only to persons in specific categories, such as those who had been injured on the job, those with conditions covered by the Americans With Disabilities Act or those who lost a license to drive a commercial vehicle.
Young argued that since the company does have accommodations for other persons with temporary work restrictions, the refusal to accommodate her limitations during pregnancy was illegal discrimination, under the 1978 Pregnancy Discrimination Act.
In the majority opinion, Justice Stephen Breyer questioned both lines of argument, creating a decision that compromised between the arguments of UPS and Young. If employers do accommodate some temporary physical limitations and disabilities, the court ruled, it must also accommodate pregnancy, as well as other temporary conditions.
Employers can still deny accommodation of pregnancy-related limitations for some non-discriminatory reasons, but not for the reason that “it is more expensive or less convenient” to extend these accommodations to pregnant women. The court did not clarify what these non-discriminatory reasons could be.
The court also ruled that women would be able “to show disparate treatment through indirect evidence,” meaning that they do not need to prove that they themselves were discriminated against so long as there is a clear pattern of unequal treatment of pregnant employees.
The majority opinion required that Young’s case be brought back to the Fourth Circuit to be decided under these guidelines because of a “genuine dispute as to whether UPS provided more favorable treatment to at least some employees whose situation cannot reasonably be distinguished from Young's.”
In a concurring opinion, Justice Samuel Alito echoed the majority opinion’s points, commenting that UPS did not show it had “any neutral business ground for treating pregnant drivers less favorably than at least some of its nonpregnant drivers who were reassigned to other jobs that they were physically capable of performing."
However, not all of the justices agreed with the court’s majority opinion. Justice Antonin Scalia, joined by Justices Anthony Kennedy and Clarence Thomas, penned a dissent that questioned the method by which the court reached its compromise.
The dissenting justices did not disagree with the idea that pregnant women should be accommodated, but rather objected to what they saw as the majority’s failure to perform its job of upholding the current law of the land, regardless of how desirable the court may find it.
The majority ruling, Scalia wrote, creates a “new law that is splendidly unconnected with the text and even the legislative history of the act.” Instead of ruling on existing laws, he critiqued, the majority opinion of the court “seems to think our task is to craft a policy-driven compromise between the possible readings of the law, like a congressional conference committee reconciling House and Senate versions of a bill.”
Likening the crafting of the majority’s compromise to using a “Supreme Wand to produce the desired result. Poof!” the justice harshly criticized the decision. “Inventiveness posing as scholarship – which gives us an interpretation that is as dubious in principle as it is senseless in practice,” he wrote.
In a concurring dissent, Justice Kennedy reinforced his disagreement over the legal reasoning for the ruling while noting his concern for the treatment of pregnancy as a workplace-equality issue. While the case only dealt with one aspect of protections surrounding pregnancy, Kennedy wrote, the “difficulties pregnant women face in the workplace are and do remain an issue of national importance.”
Sharon Gustafson, who has served as counsel for Peggy Young for eight years, told CNA that the issue of pregnancy discrimination in the workplace “still happens, and it still happens a lot.”
“I believe that no woman should have to choose between continuing her pregnancy and continuing her job, especially in a situation where the employer makes all sorts of accommodations for non-pregnant employees,” she said, adding that while “we still have a lot of work to do on this case,” overall, she was happy with the decision.
“What it means is that employers are no longer going to be able to discriminate against pregnant women and feel safe doing so.”
Forsythe commented that this ruling could help to reverse pressures put on pregnant women to abort their children if they wish to remain in the workplace.
“Pregnancy discrimination is one of the unfortunate consequences of the Supreme Court’s abortion decision in Roe v. Wade,” he explained. “Roe taught that abortion is a quick, easy, less-expensive choice,” which, Forsythe continued, “resulted in considerable pressure on some pregnant women to abort.”
This pressure and discrimination, he explained, is felt in the workplace, and particularly among poor women who are confronted with free, taxpayer-funded abortion in addition to other pressures from employers or uncommitted partners.
This ruling, he said, should “strengthen pregnant women’s hands in the workplace by enabling them to ask for accommodations that are given to others.” He commended the court for recognizing the “problem of pregnancy discrimination and the need for strong protection against pregnancy discrimination in the workplace.”
Before the case was argued before the Supreme Court in December 2014, Americans United for Life and 22 other pro-life organizations filed a brief to the court supporting Young’s case. The brief argued, among other points, for the court to respect the Pregnancy Discrimination Act’s recognition of the “important a role pregnancy plays in women’s lives” and in society, as well as the unique and “fundamental right to bear children” that women have.
INDIANAPOLIS, IND., March 27 (CNA/EWTN News) .- Despite media hype, a new Indiana law is not based on anti-gay discrimination, but on a 20-year legal precedent of protecting the rights of religious individuals and charitable organizations, say religious liberty advocates.
“It’s both unfortunate and incredibly dishonest to say the things that they are saying about these bills,” said Kellie Fiedorek, litigation counsel with the legal group Alliance Defending Freedom.
“The evidence of the past 20 years provides the strongest truth that what they’re saying is fundamentally false. Until yesterday, 19 states and the federal government have these exact same laws on the books, and none of these terrible things that are being said might happen have happened,” Fiedorek told CNA March 27.
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signed the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law March 26, saying it ensures that religious liberty is “fully protected under Indiana law.”
“The Constitution of the United States and the Indiana Constitution both provide strong recognition of the freedom of religion, but today, many people of faith feel their religious liberty is under attack by government action,” Pence said.
The legislation declares that state and local governments may not “substantially burden” a person’s right to the exercise of religion, unless it is demonstrated that doing so is “essential to further a compelling governmental interest” and uses “the least restrictive” means to further that interest.
The Indiana bill reflects the 1993 federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, passed by a nearly unanimous Congress and signed into law by President Bill Clinton.
While that law was originally intended to apply to both federal and state government actions, the Supreme Court ruled in 1997 that is applied only federally. Subsequently, 19 states passed their own versions of the law, explicitly applying it at the state level as well. President Barack Obama, who was at that time a state senator, voted in favor of the Illinois Religious Freedom Act in 1998.
The Indiana bill, however, triggered an intense reaction as it was signed into law, with news reports depicting it as “anti-gay” and critics claiming it would enable discrimination.
Wealthy business interests threatened consequences for the state. The CEO of Yelp said the company would not expand in Indiana. Marc Benioff, CEO of the software company Salesforce, canceled company events in Indiana. Apple CEO Tim Cook criticized the legislation, while the president of the NCAA, which will host the Final Four college basketball tournament in Indianapolis, warned that the legislation might affect future events.
Several celebrities also criticized the bill and a hacker briefly took down the State of Indiana’s website in apparent retaliation for the signing of the bill into law, the Indiana NBC affiliate WTHR reported.
But backers of the bill say critics are just plain wrong about its application. Nearly identical laws are already in place at the federal level and in more than one-third of states nationwide, they say, and the last two decades have shown that these laws have been used not to discriminate against gay individuals, but to protect religious rights.
Fiedorek pointed to numerous examples of Religious Freedom Restoration Acts in place. In one case, a Texas Native American boy appealed to a similar law when his school dress code barred him from wearing his hair longer than the other students.
In Pennsylvania, the City of Philadelphia allowed commercial food trucks to sell food in a park, but prevented charitable organizations from feeding the homeless for free. The charitable groups used the state Religious Freedom Restoration Act “to defend their ability to feed the homeless and prevent the government from making distinctions on who may exercise their constitutional freedoms and who cannot.”
Fiedorek said such legislation might have saved the life of one Jehovah’s Witness woman with religious objections to blood transfusions.
In 2012, suffering from liver failure, the woman sought a bloodless liver transplant operation. Her doctors found someone to perform the procedure in the neighboring state of Nebraska that was cheaper than a normal liver transplant.
However, Medicaid and the state of Kansas refused to pay for it because it ruled that the procedure required by her religious beliefs “did not constitute medical necessity.”
Fiedorek said the woman “would likely be alive today” had Kansas passed a religious freedom restoration act like Indiana’s.
She added that the Indiana law has no bearing on disputes between private parties unless government actions are involved.
Glenn Tebbe, executive director of the Indiana Catholic Conference, said he was “a little surprised” by the controversy. “It seems to have no relationship to what the law actually said.”
“The law does not authorize or promote or in any way encourage discrimination towards anyone. The law is there to determine when rights conflict with one another and the best way to resolve that conflict.”
If the bill had encouraged unjust discrimination, Tebbe told CNA March 27, “the Catholic Conference and the Church would not be supportive of it.”
He called on the law’s critics to “take more time to look at what the law actually says, to listen to what constitutional and legal scholars have said about it and also take a look at where this law is already in place and in practice.”
Fiedorek noted that the religious freedom restoration acts date back 25 years.
“For most of our country’s history, religious freedom had always been protected by a very heightened standard of review by courts,” she said.
It was in the 1990s that a Supreme Court decision removed the heightened review for religious freedom that courts otherwise grant to freedom of speech and freedom of association. It was in response to this decision that Congress acted in 1993 with the first Religious Freedom Restoration Act to restore a legal test applying a decades-old standard of heightened scrutiny to government burdens on religious freedom.
“At the end of the day, every citizen should be free to live and work according to their convictions, without fear that the government will come in and force them to do something contrary to their sincerely held beliefs,” Fiedorek said.
HAVANA, CUBA, March 28 (CNA/EWTN News) .- As the fifty year economic embargo and diplomatic isolation between the U.S. and Cuba comes to a close, the thaw of their historically icy relationship could have more than just social and cultural implications.
The renewed affiliation between the two countries, which began late last year, could have implications on how the Church operates in Cuba.
In fact, the first Catholic church since the 1959 Cuban revolution is set to be built in the small town of Sandino - a promising start to the renaissance of Catholic culture within the country.
“Let us hope that the future will bring peace and normality to the relations between the two nations,” Bishop Alfredo Petit Vergel, an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of St. Christopher of Havana, told international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need March 25.
The Holy See aided in the restoration in Cuban-US diplomatic relations, playing a key role behind the prisoner exchange between the two countries last December with hopes that the restored relationship will improve human rights and religious freedom within Cuba. Some US politicians and commentators have argued that the move is a “victory for oppression.”
Bishop Petit responded that arguing that the lifting of the embargo gives a victory to a government that denies fundamental rights to its people “is a poor consideration of the Cuban reality as a whole.”
“Let us wait for future events to see who is right,” he advised.
Under Fidel Castro, who came to power in 1959, only two years before Bishop Petit was ordained a priest, the Church was heavily restricted, with thousands of priests jailed or exiled. Although some measures of freedom have been allowed since then, the Church in Cuba is still monitored.
Bishop Petit said that “Among other obstacles, there has been the lack of priests and pastoral workers. The government has always controlled the number of priests in the country -- and it is never enough to do the pastoral work. That number has always been capped at 400 in a country of 11 million people.”
“The other difficulty for the Church has been gaining access to the media,” he added, while also noting that the Cuban government does not currently have oversight or control over the Church's initiatives in the country.
The greatest need of the Church in Cuba is prayers, Bishop Petit reflected.
“Then, we must find ways to address the lack of priests and pastoral workers. Also, there is a need for economic support so that we can supply medicines and food to the very poorest people and we need the means to fulfill all our pastoral duties and attend to the spiritual needs of the faithful.”
He reflected that “the members of the Catholic Church in Cuba, as in every other place in the world, are part of the Cuban people,” saying the presence of the Church in Cuba brings a transcendent and Christian dimension to everyday life.
“The Catholic Church does not look for special privileges in Cuban society,” Bishop Petit concluded.
“The Catholic Church in Cuba, as in every other country of the world, looks only for the space to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
CONCEPCION, CHILE, March 27 (CNA/EWTN News) .- Both the Archbishop of Concepcion and the apostolic nuncio to Chile have maintained that Pope Francis understood all the facts in the case when he made a bishop appointment in the country earlier this year which has met with protests.
The Chilean Archbishop Fernando Chomali Garib of Concepcion said Thursday that Pope Francis “told me he had analyzed all the past records and that there was no objective reason at all” that Bishop Juan de la Cruz Barros Madrid “should not be installed as the diocesan bishop.”
In an interview with the Chilean newspaper El Sur published March 26, the Archbishop of Concepcion disclosed the details of a meeting he had with Pope Francis March 6, shortly before Bishop Barros was to be installed as head of the Diocese of Osorno.
Bishop Barros' installation was marred by a group of protesters who are accusing him of having covered up sexual abuses committed by Father Fernando Karadima, a charge the prelate denied numerous times. Bishop Barros' vocation was fostered by Fr. Karadima, and he was among his closest circle of friends decades ago.
Archbishop Chomali explained that he gave Pope Francis a “document with detailed information on the consequences of the appointment he had made. All the documentation that I cited came to him, whether through the nunciature or the Chilean embassy to the Holy See. He was very much up to date on Bishop Barros’ situation, and in fact a few days prior he had spoken with him.”
“With firmness and much conviction he told me that he had analyzed all the past records and that there was no objective reason that Bishop Barros should not be installed as diocesan bishop,” Archbishop Chomali explained.
Concerning the violent incidents inside the cathedral the day of the installation Mass, Archbishop Chomali said, “we never even imagined that. It was absolutely surprising. It had a deep impact on us.”
“It is certainly a sad episode … clearly those who profaned the church and the Mass and attacked are not Catholics.” In fact, only 52 percent of the population of the Diocese of Osorno is Catholic, making it one of Chile's least-Catholic regions.
The violence at the Mass, the archbishop said, “is a symptom more of the level of violence that there is in the country, and it demonstrates that we are far from an authentic democracy and mutual respect.”
Reflecting on the larger context of the case of Fr. Karadima, Archbishop Chomali said it “profoundly affected individuals and society. What happened is a wake up call for the whole Church concerning the consequences of abuse, which lasts for years and inflict wounds that need to be healed.”
The judge in Fr. Karadima's civil case dismissed the abuse charges, as they were from too far in the past. Nevertheless, in February 2011, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith completed its own investigation and declared 84-year-old Fr. Karadima guilty. He was sent to a life of solitude and prayer.
When reports of sexual abuse and other scandal surrounding Fr. Karadima surfaced, Bishop Barros, like a number of other prelates, at first did not believe the accusations. Once the reports were confirmed in 2011, Bishop Barros said he “learned about this situation and its diverse and multiple effects with deep astonishment and pain.”
Archbishop Chomali explained that he had a telephone conversation with Juan Carlos Cruz, one of the victims, and moreover he will meet with him soon. “What’s most important is that once and for all Karadima ask the victims for forgiveness and wishes to repair the evil he caused before he dies,” the archbishop said.
The prelate then asked those that rejected Bishop Barros’ arrival as Osorno’s new bishop to “give him an opportunity, that they can get to know one another and that they help him in his pastoral ministry. Bishop Barros has hope in the future.”
In an interview with La Tercera newspaper the same day Archbishop Chomali made his comments, the Apostolic Nuncio to Chile, Archbishop Ivo Scapolo, stated, “everything that was said in the letter that the congressional representatives delivered to the nunciature was given to the Holy Father. Everything was passed on to him. Nothing was hidden from the Holy See.”
Regarding the violence at the installation ceremony, Archbishop Scapolo said, “the great majority of those who were in the church had white balloons (while the protesters had black balloons). They were people who love their bishop.”
EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND, March 29 (CNA) .- Scottish Archbishop Leo Cushley of St Andrews & Edinburgh is launching a new promo film across social media as he unveils his plans for the future of the Catholic Church in his part of Scotland.
“It’s a wee movie with a big message – bringing the joy of the Gospel to a contemporary Scottish society in desperate need of the healing love of Jesus Christ,” Archbishop Cushley said March 29.
The plans are set out in a Pastoral Letter entitled We Have Found the Messiah, which is being launched in all churches in the archdiocese on Palm Sunday.
“My big message is that the renewal and, yes, growth of the Catholic Church in our part of Scotland is very possible, but only if we create vibrant Christian communities gathered closely around Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist – that’s where Christ is most truly and powerfully present in our contemporary world,” the archbishop explained.
The Archdiocese of St Andrews was rocked by scandal in 2013 when Cardinal Keith P. O’Brien resigned after admitting to making homosexual approaches to other priests in the 1980s. Following his resignation, Pope Francis personally selected Leo Cushley – then a senior Vatican diplomat – to take over as archbishop.
Despite inheriting a reduced number of priests and practicing Catholics, Archbishop Cushley says that continued decline is far from inevitable.
“We must set about rebuilding God’s household with hope and joy. We can use this time as an opportunity for spiritual renewal and for refocusing our energies on a new evangelisation of our world.”
As well as the promo film, Archbishop Cushley’s vision is also set out in a pocket-sized booklet to be distributed to every person attending Palm Sunday Mass. He then intends to set off on a tour of 31 venues across the archdiocese in order to discuss his plans with both local priests and parishioners.
“We have to employ new ways – and rediscover some old ways – of communicating the timeless and beautiful proposition of Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church. If that means using social media, printed booklets and public meetings then great, let’s do it.”
A key part of Archbishop Cushley’s plan is to undertake a “realistic assessment” of the resources presently available to the Church at a local level, including numbers of clergy, churches and parish halls. While that process may lead to the eventual merging of some parishes, Archbishop Cushley was quick to stress that no conclusions have yet been reached.
“Contrary to speculation, no decisions have been taken and no decisions will be taken until we’ve had a fully inclusive discussion across the Archdiocese as to the way forward. I want to hear from everybody who has something to say. Timescale? Well, it will take the time it will take.”
ABUJA, NIGERIA, March 30 (CNA/EWTN News) .- Almost a year after the terror group Boko Haram kidnapped hundreds of Nigerian school girls, humanitarian workers are fighting what they call global inaction in the face of the humanitarian crisis.
Most of the girls abducted from Chibok have not been rescued, though some have escaped on their own. “That sends a strong message to us – not just to Nigerians, but to the human race – that 200 and something girls could be abducted somewhere and 343 days after they are not back. That is a big problem we have to look into,” said Bukky Shonibare, a Nigerian humanitarian worker who was strategic coordinator of the #BringBackOurGirls campaign.
That movement tried to raise awareness about the abducted girls in the aftermath of their capture by Boko Haram last April 15. Most of the girls still have not been rescued; 57 have successfully escaped on their own, Shonibare said.
Shonibare spoke at the Hudson Institute Mar. 23 about Boko Haram and the humanitarian crisis in Nigeria. She was joined by Nigerian-born human rights lawyer Emanuel Ogebe, who also addressed the Islamist terror group’s recent pledge of allegiance to the Islamic State.
Boko Haram, the name meaning “book-education is forbidden,” has conducted a spree of violent attacks and kidnappings in West Africa, escalating in number and degree since 2009. Their attacks have killed more than 15,500 since 2012.
Any response to the abductions must be “holistic,” Shonibare insisted, because girls kidnapped by the terror group have returned pregnant or infected with HIV.
Some have even developed a “Stockholm Syndrome,” or allegiance to their captors, which is “fearful for us, because these people have the tendency to perpetrate the same evil that their abductors perpetrate,” Shonibare said. In a gruesome example, one girl who returned from captivity proceeded to murder her own mother.
Both Shonibare and Ogebe are frustrated with what they see as global inaction on the crisis. Ogebe described his disillusion on a recent trip to the United States with some of the escaped school girls, in a “rude awakening.”
In the U.S., he said, “we’ve not gotten any institutional funding from any major donors. It’s all been a completely grassroots affair.”
One big donor told him he couldn’t contribute to a fund for the girls because the kidnapping was so long ago. “I’m thinking that doesn’t change the fact that they [the girls] have needs. They’re here now,” Ogebe told CNA in a later interview.
One girl who received a scholarship to attend college in the U.S. was denied a visa by the U.S. embassy.
“That I don’t get, because she was in the same class with all these other girls, she was abducted with all these other girls,” Ogebe told CNA. She is now “back in Nigeria at risk, because the U.S. embassy is applying a different set of rules to one girl.”
He even reached out to contacts at the White House to possibly arrange a visit for the girls, especially since Michelle Obama had participated in the social media campaign for the girls.
“Nothing. We get nothing,” Ogebe said dejectedly.
As for large charity organizations in the U.S., “none of them is doing anything in Nigeria,” he said, which is baffling considering Nigeria has the largest persecuted Christian population in the world. Catholics are doing the most work of any Christian charity groups.
“When it comes to humanitarian work, Catholics are pretty much front-line there in doing good,” he added.
Nigeria has been racked with violence resulting in an estimated 3.2 million refugees or internally displaced persons. This particular crisis is a “ticking time bomb,” Shonibare said from her experience working with internally displaced persons as coordinator of Adopt-A-Camp.
Young men who are not in school or working are ripe for recruitment to violence. These boys want to be educated, she insisted, but not “if going to school is synonymous to being abducted or being killed. That is what we are going through in Nigeria.”
“We want something to be done,” she said, tearing up.
To compound matters, Boko Haram pledged allegiance to the Islamic State earlier this month, something Ogebe called one of the “worst marriages of terrorism,” adding that it could pose problems throughout Africa.
“Boko Haram killed in the first week of January the same number of people that it took ISIS six months to kill last year. So if they begin to share weapons and tactics, we’re looking at a very significant uptick in the bloodflows,” Ogebe said at the Hudson Institute.
The Nigerian terror group has a larger bodycount than Islamic State, yet the latter is more “tech-savvy,” he explained. That could change if their merger is successful.
And it could well have a continent-wide effect, he insisted. Boko Haram has expanded its operations into surrounding countries in West Africa, and Islamic State is active in North Africa.
Other terror groups – al-Shabaab in East Africa and MUJAO in Northwest Africa -- could conceivably join the new union down the road as the start of a movement that could engulf the continent, he warned.
The U.S. State Department hasn’t helped matters by fundamentally misunderstanding the nature of the conflict, he added.
“They tend to see what is happening in Africa through the lens of ‘oh, this is poverty-induced,’” he said, “and that is wrong. This is ideologically-driven, not a function of poverty.”
The U.S. also “misled Nigeria on how to deal with this situation,” he continued, because they initially “refused to recognize it as terrorism.”
However, the State Department did not put Boko Haram as a group on the official terror list until 2013 for multiple reasons, said Dr. Maryann Cusimano Love, a professor of international relations at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
First, the Nigerian government did not want an official terror designation given so as not to draw additional attention and resources to Boko Haram from sympathizers, she said. “Also, the bureaucratic process takes time,” she added.
The Nigerian conflict is complex and not purely ideological or economic, she explained.
“There has been violence in northern Nigeria long before Boko Haram, and that violence has economic and political roots and also breaks along religious and tribal lines,” she told CNA, adding that the country’s Cardinal John Onaiyekan of Abuja has re-affirmed this.
“While religion is often used to justify the violence, Boko Haram also began in opposition and outrage at the corruption and mismanagement of the Nigerian government, a view shared by many Nigerians who do not favor Boko Haram,” she added.
ERBIL, IRAQ, March 28 (CNA/EWTN News) .- Hoping to awaken the world conscience on Iraq, a Pontifical delegation traveled to Erbil and Dohuk to foster local communion and shed light on the dramatic plight of Christians in the country.
The delegation also offered an icon of Our Lady Undoer of Knots, blessed by Pope Francis, to the local bishops.
“Our goal is to foster communion among Caritas and the other charitable agencies operating in Iraq to assist internally displaced persons, so that any intervention will be even more effective than it has been until now,” said Msgr. Segundo Tejado Munoz, under-secretary of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum and head of the delegation.
He told CNA that while the commitment of international charities until now “has been huge and of great impact,” there are ways to make it even more effective.
CNA was part of the delegation that traveled to Iraq March 26-29, visiting refugee camps in Erbil and Dohuk, in the territory of the Iraqi Kurdistan. The delegation included a representative from the Congregation for Eastern Churches, the general director of Caritas Internationalis, and representatives of some of the Catholic charities active in the territory.
With ISIS forces beginning a major offensive in June 2014, more than 2.5 million refugees – many of them Christian – fled from Mosul and the Nineveh Plan to Erbil and other cities in the Kurdish area, finding protection in Peshmerga-controlled lands.
There are now about 25 camps in the area housing internally displaced persons, and a house renting plan has been put into action.
Archbishop Barshar Warda of Erbil explained how the renting plan has developed.
“Around Erbil, there were houses that were not inhabited, and we managed to get 560 of these houses for rent for internally displaced persons,” he told CNA.
Rentals generally cost $500-1000 per month, but usually “two or three families can live in those apartments, and so they can manage the expense,” he said.
He added that the recovery plan for internally displaced persons was based on three priorities: shelter, education and health.
Churches in Erbil and Dohuk are now barely capable of sustaining Mass attendance, which multiplied with the arrival of massive refugee numbers.
Almost 1,000 young boys and girls took part in an early Palm Sunday celebration on March 28, concluding by throwing their caps into the air.
Archbishop Warda stressed that “for Easter, I want to underscore that any help here will make a difference in the life of the refugees – of the Christian refugees and of all the refugees here. The longer they are coming to stay, the more they are desperate.”
In Erbil, the Al Amal Hope Center hosts about 170 families in an unfinished building. Each family receives one or two rooms, and they can cook and wash their clothes in common areas.
One refugee, Farouq, lived in Mosul but was in Paris visiting his son when the violence arose in Iraq.
“I could remain there with him, and escape any danger. But I had a family in Iraq,” he said. So, he returned, fleeing with his wife and younger daughter to Erbil.
Another refugee, Ozman, was a school principal in Mosul. Now, he lives in the informal settlement of Sharia, not far from Dohuk, with his wife and his five children.
“Before the sudden arrival of the militants of the ISIS, we used to live in peace and harmony with Muslims,” he explained, adding that they feel betrayed by the militants.
The situation of internally displaced persons is critical. Many have been living in camps for nine months now, with no expectation of returning to their home towns.
The people do their best as they adjust to their new life for the foreseeable future. One settlement is surrounded by a fruit and vegetable market. Staff members of Caritas and other charities organize activities for children and offer informal classes.
Still, conditions are far from “normal,” and the people living in the camps miss their home towns.
Bishop Rabban Al-Qas of Dohuk and Amadiiyah told CNA that “the area is now safe, because we fostered a culture of encounter and harmony. But we need a new education, so that these things will never happen again.”
The Pontifical delegation gave the re-production of the icon depicting Our Lady Undoer of Knots to Archbishop Warda and Bishop Al-Qas. The icon was blessed by Pope Francis at the end of March 25 general audience.
“We explained Pope Francis that we were going to Iraq, and he was very pleased with that,” Msgr. Munoz said.
Pope Francis has repeatedly spoken about the situation in Iraq, offering prayers of solidarity and words of comfort, along with calls for dialogue and peace.
As a result of the Pope’s continual interest in the situation in Iraq, several more Papal delegations will travel to the country in the coming days.
Cardinal Fernando Filoni, prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, who had been appointed Papal envoy to Iraq last August, will spend Holy Week in Iraq.
Shortly after him, Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for the Eastern Churches, will visit. A trip by Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for the Interreligious Dialogue, is also expected in the coming weeks.
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