|Pope laments recent violence in Syria, renews call for dialogue
Vatican City, May 1 (CNA/EWTN News) .- Pope Francis on Sunday decried the resurgence of violence in Syria in recent days, especially in Aleppo, and renewed the call to bring about peace through dialogue.
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VATICAN CITY, May 1 (CNA/EWTN News) .- Pope Francis on Sunday decried the resurgence of violence in Syria in recent days, especially in Aleppo, and renewed the call to bring about peace through dialogue.
“I receive with deep sorrow the tragic news coming from Syria, about the spiral of violence that continues to aggravate the already desperate humanitarian situation of the country,” the pontiff said May 1 after reciting the Regina Caeli address in St. Peter's Square.
Citing in particular the nation's largest city Aleppo, which has borne the brunt of the most recent violence, the Pope remembered the “innocent victims,” namely the children, the sick, and “those who with great sacrifice have pledged to help others.”
“I urge all parties to the conflict to respect the cessation of hostilities and to strengthen the ongoing dialogue, the only path that leads to peace,” he said.
Since the breaking of a ceasefire nine days ago, President Bashar Al-Assad's forces have launched against Aleppo hundreds of air and artillery strikes, as well as bombs and missals, according to The Guardian.
Reuters reports that around 30 airstrikes struck Aleppo on Saturday alone.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based monitoring group, says around 250 civilians have been killed in the Aleppo region since the most recent bought of fighting began on April 22 between government and rebel forces, The Guardian reports.
Over the course of the civil war between Syrian and government forces, which has just entered its fifth year, estimates say that hundreds of thousands of people have been killed and millions more displaced.
Later during his post-Regina Caeli address, Pope Francis commended an Italian initiative for its work in fighting against the abuse of minors in all its forms.
Child abuse “is a tragedy!” the Pope said. “We must not tolerate child abuse!” He expressed his gratitude for the “Meter Onlus” Association, an organization founded in 1989 to work for the rights of children and combating abuse.
“We must defend the children and we must severely punish the abusers,” the pontiff said. “Thank you for your commitment, and continue courageously in this work!”
Turning to the themes of the environment and employment, Pope Francis acknowledged an upcoming international conference in Rome entitled: "Sustainable development and the most vulnerable forms of employment."
He expressed his hope that Monday's conference may “alert the authorities, political and economic institutions and civil society,” in order to “promote a model of development that takes into account human dignity, in full respect of labor standards and the environment.”
Before leading the crowds in the Regina Caeli prayer, Pope Francis reflected on the day's Gospel reading which recounts Jesus, at the Last Supper, foretelling the coming of the Holy Spirit.
The pontiff notes that the Holy Spirit's mission to deepen the disciples' understanding of the Gospel as they spread proclaim it throughout the world, and to “awaken the memory” of Jesus' words.
While Jesus “already communicated everything he wanted to entrust to the Apostles with Him, the Word incarnate,” the Pope said, the Holy Spirit reminds them how to put these teachings into practice in “concrete circumstances of life.”
“It is precisely what is happening today in the Church,” the Pope continued. The Church is “guided by the light and strength of the Holy Spirit, in order that it may bring to everyone the gift of salvation: that is, the love and mercy of God.”
“We are not alone: Jesus is near us, among us, within us!” Pope Francis said. It is through the gift of the Holy Spirit that we “can establish a living relationship with Him, the Crucified and Risen One.”
“The Spirit, poured out in us through the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation, it acts in our lives. He guides us in the way we think, act,” how to know the difference between write and wrong. “It helps us to practice charity of Jesus, his gift of self to others, especially those most in need.”
VATICAN CITY, April 30 (CNA/EWTN News) .- Illuminated by the red light that spilled across Rome’s Trevi fountain, voices from persecuted Christian communities across the world shared the stories of friends and loved ones killed for the faith, and urged the world to take greater action in putting the violence to an end.
“Let us remember, tonight, the blood of the Christian martyrs, spilled by the violence of men and the sin of the world,” Cardinal Mauro Piacenza said April 29.
Quoting Pope Francis, he stressed that when confronted with the situation, “silence and secrecy are also sins.”
He expressed his belief that the Christian martyrs of today are exercising “a real and vicarious atonement, through Christ, with Christ and in Christ, in favor of all men.”
“This is why, while we shake around them, crying with their families for their violent death, we raise to God a hymn of praise for these brothers who have entered into the glory of Paradise, with the palm of martyrdom in their hands and girded with a crown of glory.”
Cardinal Piacenza, head of the Apostolic Penitentiary and international president of Aid the Church in Need, spoke against the backdrop of Rome’s famous Trevi fountain – which was colored red in recognition of all the Christians around the world who daily continue to give their lives for the faith.
Organized by Aid to the Church in need, the event drew an international presence of Church leaders including Bishop Antonie Audo, Chaldean Bishop of Aleppo, Syria, and Syriac-Catholic Patriarch Ignatius Joseph III Younan, from Baghdad.
Iraq and Syria are among the countries where Christians are severely persecuted, with the Islamic State killing, enslaving and driving people out of their homes. Christians in Nigeria are also at risk from attacks by the militant group Boko Haram, while Christianity is illegal in countries including North Korea and Somalia.
Family and friends of Christians recently killed for their faith also gathered to share testimonies and the stories of their loved ones.
Among the speakers at the event were Professor Shahid Mobeen from Pakistan, founder of the Association for Pakistani Christians in Italy and a friend of Shahbaz Bhatti, who served as the federal minister for the minorities in Pakistan and was assassinated in 2011. The Diocese of Islamabad-Rawalpindi has begun collecting testimonies about Bhatti to inquire into his martyrdom and sanctity.
Other speakers present were Maddalena Santoro, the sister of Italian Fr. Andrea Santoro, who was killed in Turkey in 2006 as he was praying inside his church, and Luka Loteng, 25, from Kenya, who had several friends killed in the Garissa University massacre of Christian students in 2015.
A Missionaries of Charity sister who had been in formation with one of the sisters recently killed in Yemen was also present.
In comments to CNA, the sister, who preferred to remain anonymous, recalled meeting fellow Missionary of Charity Sr. Judith in formation in Rome.
Sr. Judith was one of four Missionaries of Charity killed in a brutal attack on their convent in Yemen March 4.
She and three other sisters – Sr. Anslem, Sr. Marguerite and Sr. Reginette – were murdered along with 16 other victims, including volunteers from Ethiopia and Yemen, when gunmen stormed their convent claiming to have relatives living there. Each victim was found handcuffed and shot in the head.
The sister who spoke with CNA recalled how she had spent one year with Sr. Judith at the formation house in Rome, and that she was “very joyous, like all from Africa, and always willing to help.”
“She was very kind and full of life. We also organized apostolates together. She was a very beautiful sister, very joyful,” she said.
Although she was nervous to give her testimony since she is not used to public speaking, the sister said the event at the Trevi fountain is “a beautiful testimony” of Pope Francis’ constant references to “the martyrs of today.”
“The world is not so much in contact with the recent news, and maybe they don’t want to be, so he’s putting it into the light.”
Bishop Audo also voiced his hope that the event would help draw attention to the growing persecution of Christians worldwide.
In an interview with CNA, he said that lighting up such a well-known monument in Rome is “something very new and very courageous. It gives us strength in a context of difficulty and departure.”
“To have such meetings and such declarations in one of the most important places in Rome is a local and international message. It really moves me.”
The bishop expressed his admiration for those who both organized and spoke at the event, and said that “small things” such as this that will “help to change the world.”
Bishop Audo’s diocese of Aleppo has been the site of increased hostility amid Syria’s ongoing civil war, already in its fifth year.
Violence in the city reached a fever-pitch on Thursday when an airstrike on a pediatric hospital killed 50 people, including several children and doctors.
According to CNN, the Al Quds field hospital, run by Doctors Without Borders and the Red Cross, was hit by a missile from a fighter jet Wednesday night, claiming the lives of at least three children and three doctors, one of whom was the last pediatrician in the city.
Bishop Audo called the attack “a drama,” and questioned the reasoning behind it, asking “why a hospital? Why children? I don’t understand this.”
However, he stressed that just because it made international news doesn’t mean it’s an isolated event. These type of attacks happen “every day, every hour, everywhere in Syria.”
The world has to become aware of this, he said, instead of using the media “to make some propaganda for a serious event. This issue is bigger than a hospital.”
In his personal opinion, the bishop said a political solution to the conflict is both possible and important, but voiced his belief that “there are those who don’t want a political solution.”
Certain powers “want the destruction of Syria to divide the country and each one takes a piece for themselves. This is the problem, this is the deeper motive,” he said, but stressed that this is just his personal opinion.
What Christians there really want is peace, “so that there won’t be any more bombs, when there will no longer be people leaving their homes, their countries, to go across the sea and across the border,” he said, explaining that “small events” like the coloring of the Trevi fountain “help to have and to give consciousness, to inspire action.”
“Christian persecution is a risk of persecution of everyone. We defend the Christians to defend the dignity of every man, everywhere,” the bishop said, and urged prayers for peace.
“We must pray, and also an international level perhaps to put their efforts to understand the stability of Syria and the stability of the Middle East for the entire world,” he said, adding that these problems are solved “with dialogue and not with weapons.”
NEW YORK CITY, N.Y., April 30 (CNA/EWTN News) .- Advocates delivered hundreds of thousands of signatures to the United Nations on Friday, calling on the body to declare that genocide is occurring against Christians and other religious minorities.
“We’re here at the United Nations headquarters to file more than 400,000 signatures from citizens from all over the world asking the Security Council of the United Nations to declare what’s happening right now with ISIS in Syria and Iraq a genocide,” Ignacio Arsuaga, president of the advocacy group CitizenGO, stated at a Friday press conference outside the United Nations headquarters in New York City.
The petition asked the U.N. to “take a step forward to protect Christians and other religious minorities that live there,” so that “religious freedom may prevail in that region of the world.” It was delivered to the office of U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Friday.
Religious leaders like Nigerian Bishop Joseph Danlami Bagobiri and Archbishop Jean-Clement Jeanbart of Aleppo, Syria joined representatives of CitizenGO outside the U.N. The event was part of a three day-long conference on international religious freedom, #WeAreN2016, or “we are all Nazarenes.”
ISIS members had spray-painted the Arabic letter “nun” standing for “Nazarene” on the homes of Christians in Mosul, Iraq, targeting them specifically for persecution.
Specifically, the petition asked the office of Ban Ki-moon to press the U.N. Security Council to declare genocide for Christians and other religious victims of ISIS, and to enforce “mechanisms” to protect genocide victims and prosecute the perpetrators.
It also called for member nations to act “to stop the war in Syria” as well as help internally-displaced persons in Iraq and Syria return to their homes. “Safe havens” for internally-displaced persons should be created, as well as an “action plan to rescue kidnapped and enslaved Christian and Yazidi women and girls.”
Christians have left Iraq and Syria in droves in recent years, and make up 80 percent of minority victims of religious persecution, the “Call to Action” said.
Christians, Yazidis, and other minorities “are victims of the deliberate infliction of life conditions that are calculated to bring about their physical destruction by the so-called ‘ISIS/Daesh’: They are being murdered, beheaded, crucified, beaten, extorted, abducted, and tortured,” the petition added.
In addition, women and children have been enslaved, women have been raped and trafficked, children have been “forcibly recruited,” and churches and communities have been destroyed.
Christians in Nigeria have also been targeted by the terror group Boko Haram. According to the group Open Doors, there were over 4,000 Christians killed and almost 200 church attacks in Nigeria in 2015.
The U.S. State Department, the British House of Commons, and the European Union Parliament have already declared that genocide is taking place in Iraq and Syria. Multiple U.N. advisory bodies have already stated that genocide may be taking place, the petition noted.
“So we are here to support our brothers and sisters, Christians and other believers that are suffering persecution, that are suffering killings, that are suffering discrimination in this part of the world, the Middle East,” Arsuaga announced at the press conference.
After the press conference, Archbishop Jeanbart explained to CNA why it is so important for the U.N. to take action on the issue.
“We are undergoing a real genocide,” he said of his diocese in Aleppo, “and we are afraid that they want to take us out of our life, but also of our country, of the place where we were born, where the Church was born.”
“There are two kinds of genocide, human genocide and Church genocide,” he said. Not only are people dying, but the Church itself is “disappearing” from Syria.
“The Church of the first Christians is now collapsing,” he said, noting that the first Syrian Christians were Jews from the Diaspora who had made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem at the time of Pentecost, and were among the 3,000 baptized by Peter and the Apostles.
“They went back to their cities and they began Christian life there,” he continued, and they ministered to St. Paul when he converted to the faith. “That’s why it’s very important to keep this Church alive,” he said.
CARACAS, VENEZUELA, May 1 (CNA/EWTN News) .- Amid Venezuela's grave economic crisis, the country's bishops have urged the government of President Nicolás Maduro to allow the Church to bring in much-needed supplies such as food and medicine.
Venezuela is suffering from a triple-digit inflation rate, economic recession, shortages of basic goods, and a power crisis.
In their April 27 statement, the Venezuelan bishops warned that never before had the country suffered from such an “extreme lack of goods and basic food and health products” along with “an upsurge in murderous and inhuman crime, the unreliable rationing of electricity and water, and deep corruption in all levels of the government and society.”
“Casting the situation in terms of an ideology and pragmatism in order to manipulate it are exacerbating it,” they warned.
Venezuela's socialist government is widely blamed for the crisis. Since 2003, price controls on some 160 products, including cooking oil, soap, and flour, have meant that while they are affordable, they fly off store shelves only to be resold on the black market at much higher rates.
The bishops reminded the Maduro government of its duty to “encourage all forms of assistance to its citizens” to overcome the shortages.
They pointed out that “authorization is urgently needed for private institutions in the country, such as Caritas or other programs of different religious denominations (…) to bring in food, medicine, and other basic needs from national and international aid groups, and to organize distribution networks in order to meet the urgent needs of the people.”
The economic crisis has led to smuggling and a thriving black market. Widespread looting broke out last week in several cities, after extended power cuts.
Venezuela's bishops also addressed “all those who are taking advantage of the shortages” by speculating on prices or and “those who are abusing their authority by demanding bribes.”
“This kind of behavior is morally unacceptable and makes apparent the lack of ethical values in their lives. Taking advantage of another person's need for profit is a crime and a mortal sin,” they warned.
The bishops also touched on the issue of an amnesty bill which has been approved by the National Assembly, Venezuela's unicameral legislature, which is led by the opposition. Maduro has rejected the bill.
“The amnesty law is a national and international outcry and a contribution to easing social tensions,” the bishops said. “To ignore the National Assembly is to ignore and trample on the will of the majority of the people.”
“All government officials, including those of the opposition, should express their serious concern for the entire people, without getting carried away by partisan or special interests. Now is the time to demonstrate your frame of mind to stand up for the common good and the genuine interests of every citizen of Venezuela,” they added.
They urged the people to not let themselves be “manipulated by those would offer to change the situation by means of social violence. But neither let yourselves be manipulated by those who urge resignation, or those who force you into silence with threats … violence, resignation, and hopelessness are serious dangers for a democracy.”
“We should never be passive or conformist citizens, but individuals aware of our own and calamitous reality: peaceful individuals, but active, and as as result, acting like protagonists of the transformation of our history and our culture. The Gospel calls us to be effective!”
This week, the Venezuelan opposition claimed that 600,000 people – triple the number needed – have signed a petition which is the first step towards a recall referendum on Maduro.
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