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British doctors’ union drops opposition to assisted suicide

null / GagliardiPhotography/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., Sep 14, 2021 / 17:02 pm (CNA).

In a significant shift, the trade union for doctors in the United Kingdom, is no longer officially opposed to the legalization of assisted suicide.

In a Sept. 14 announcement, the British Medical Association adopted a “neutral” stance on the issue, following a vote at its annual representative meeting. A plurality of representatives, 49%, were in favor of moving to the “neutral” position, while 48% were opposed and 3% abstained. 

With its new official position, the association will neither campaign for nor against policies that would legalize various forms of euthanasia. It had previously been opposed to assisted suicide since 2006. 

John Chisholm, chair of the British Medical Association (BMA) medical ethics committee, noted in a Sept. 14 statement that “far from remaining silent on the issue, we will continue to represent the views, interests and concerns expressed by our members."

Chisolm noted a responsibility to uphold conscience rights for doctors, should doctor-prescribed suicide become legal in the United Kingdom. 

"Assisted dying is a highly emotive and sensitive topic that inspires a broad spectrum of views and opinions both across the wider public and among the medical profession, for whom any change of law would have a profound impact,” he said.

In the United Kingdom, “assisted dying,” “euthanasia,” and “physician-assisted suicide” are illegal. Residents seeking to end their lives in these procedures must travel to the Swiss clinic Dignitas. In 2019, 42 people from Great Britain traveled to Dignitas to end their lives, which was an increase from 24 in 2018. 

The British doctors’ association was moved to consider changing its official position on the matter following a survey of members published in October 2020. According to the survey, 40% of respondents said the organization “should actively support attempts to change the law,” and 21% of respondents argued for the “neutral” position on assisted suicide. One-third of respondents advocated for the association to maintain its opposition stance. 

Furthermore, half of the respondents said that the United Kingdom should allow for doctors to prescribe drugs that would kill their patients. 

The recent vote concerned a motion stating, “In order to represent the diversity of opinion demonstrated in the survey of its membership, the BMA should move to a position of neutrality on assisted dying including physician-assisted dying.”

With a “neutral” position on assisted suicide, the BMA joins the Royal College of Nursing as well as the Royal College of Physicians. The Royal College of Nursing adopted a neutral position on the issue in 2009, while the Royal College of Physicians did so 10 years later in 2019. 

Numerous attempts to legalize assisted suicide in the United Kingdom have failed, most recently in 2015. Parliament, however, is once again considering whether or not to legalize the practice. 

A bill sponsored by Molly Meacher, Baroness Meacher, would permit physician-assisted suicide for terminally ill adults with fewer than six months to live, subject to the approval of two doctors and a high court judge. Meacher is a crossbencher and chair of Dignity in Dying, which advocates for euthanasia and assisted suicide in the U.K.

The Assisted Dying Bill 2021 is set for its second reading in the House of Lords with a full debate Oct. 22.

Many organizations, including the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales and the advocacy group Not Dead Yet UK, have spoken out against the bill. 

America's return to God after 9/11 didn't last long, priest says

The then-remaining section of the World Trade Center surrounded by rubble, Sept. 27, 2001. / Bri Rodriguez/FEMA News Photo

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 14, 2021 / 16:19 pm (CNA).

Twenty years ago, Father John A. Perricone sat down at his desk in the rectory of St. Agnes Catholic Church in midtown Manhattan and began to write.

“I sit here writing this piece coughing on the fumes of hell,” is how he began.

It was Sept. 14, 2001. Three days earlier, Islamic terrorists crashed two airliners into the World Trade Center, setting off a cataclysmic chain reaction that killed more than 3,000 people and reduced the iconic Twin Towers to a smoldering, toxic pile of rubble.

Then a professor of philosophy at St. Francis College in Brooklyn, Father Perricone lived at St. Agnes, a historic parish located across the street from the Chrysler Building and a half block from Grand Central Terminal.

Like other city residents, and the nation as a whole, he was still struggling to process what had just happened. Others felt compelled to write about the tragic loss of life, or the heroism of first responders.

Father Perricone wrote about evil.

“Though I sit some one hundred blocks from ground zero of Manhattan Island, the winds shift and billows of that smoke of death stretch all the way to my room at St. Agnes rectory — and to every one of you, wherever you sit in this beloved nation of ours, now supine before an Islamic monster,” he wrote.

“For the evil that growls at us now sits on the doorstep of every person in America, and of the world. More importantly, it proves to over-intellectualized Americans that indeed evil exists. It kills. It corrupts. It demands a daily war against it, sometimes even requiring our blood.”

A prolific writer and lecturer, Father Perricone shared his words with friends and others in his social circle. But his reflections weren’t widely read until Saturday, the 20th anniversary of 9/11, when Crisis magazine published his essay, “9/11/01: Hell in Manhattan,” for the first time.

In an interview with CNA Tuesday, Father Perricone said that re-reading his writing 20 years later, he was struck by how mistaken he had been at the time to believe that 9/11 would somehow bring America to its senses about the reality of sin and evil, and the need for God.

“I thought naively … that maybe this jolt, like Pearl Harbor, might help people to see things differently and to shake off some of this grinding secularism that was pulverizing their souls,” he said.

“And I was completely wrong.”

Father John A. Perricone is a professor of philosophy and a prolific writer and lecturer. Courtesy of Father John A. Perricone
Father John A. Perricone is a professor of philosophy and a prolific writer and lecturer. Courtesy of Father John A. Perricone

Father Perricone recalled how his noon Mass at St. Agnes that Sept. 11 was packed with people, many of them caked in ash from the towers’ collapse.

The need to pray and the desire for God remained strong for many days and weeks, he said. But it proved ephemeral.

Writing 20 years ago, he observed, “Words like ‘sin,’ ‘Satan,’ ‘saintliness,’ and ‘virtue’ have all been made to sound slightly eccentric by secularism’s totalizing reach. It is no surprise that it has tunneled deep within religion itself. More than a few priests are slightly embarrassed by the vocabulary of religion.”

What was true in 2001 is even more true today, he believes, after two decades marked by a steady loss of faith and ever-rising secularism.

“I never thought our beloved America would worsen, but it has,” Father Perricone told CNA. “I mean, not by degrees, by magnitude.”

How so?

“We’re still addicted to that notion that evil is just a psychological syndrome,” he explained, ‘[that] evil is simply not evil, it’s some social mechanism gone wrong.”

That is not now, and has never been, the Catholic worldview, he noted.

Today, Father Perricone resides at Sacred Heart parish in Clifton, New Jersey, and he celebrates the Traditional Latin Mass at Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church in Jersey City.

Many of those who attend his Masses are Catholics in their twenties or thirties with only hazy memories of 9/11. What draws these young adults to the Traditional Latin Mass?

“The absolute certitude of the Catholic faith, the granite-like truth that the Church has preached for 2,000 years and never changed,” he replied. “They’re hungry for that.”

That desire suggests that, deep down, many today still search for answers that secularism can’t provide. But redeeming our culture will take time; there are no “quick fixes,” Father Perricone emphasized.

“We need those great, heroic bishops, like John Chrysostom, and Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory the Great, Leo the Great. At that time, at the dying of the Roman Imperium, they were the superstars. The people were led by their bishops; they adored them. … They looked to them for their strength, and they looked to them for rebuilding.

“And, indeed, Western civilization was rebuilt,” he said.

“We desperately need that today.”

Catholic Hong Kong activist honored at prayer breakfast  

Hong Kong.Hong Kong media tycoon and founder of Apple Daily newspaper Jimmy Lai Chee Ying arrives at the West Kowloon Magistrates' Court, May 18, 2020. / Yung Chi Wai Derek/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., Sep 14, 2021 / 16:01 pm (CNA).

A Catholic democracy advocate was honored in absentia on Tuesday at a Catholic gathering in Washington, D.C., while he remains imprisoned in Hong Kong.

Jimmy Lai, a media entrepreneur and Catholic pro-democracy advocate in Hong Kong, was given the Christifidelis Laici award on Sept. 14 by organizers of the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast. The award is named for Pope John Paul II’s 1988 exhortation on the mission of the laity in the world.

Lai “believed that we are created for truth and that it is our job to speak the truth,” said William McGurn, a member of the Wall Street Journal editorial board who accepted the award on Lai’s behalf on Tuesday. “His publications told the truth about China & Hong Kong.”

“He is a man of extraordinary means, serving ordinary men and women longing for freedom,” said Joseph Cella, a board member of the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast.

Lai has been imprisoned for 10 months in Hong Kong, having long supported the pro-democracy movement there and having cited his Catholic faith in support of his efforts.

An entrepreneur, he founded both Next magazine, a Chinese weekly publication, and Apple Daily, a pro-democracy publication critical of the Chinese mainland government. Apple Daily shut down publication earlier this summer, after its accounts were frozen and top leadership was arrested.

In 1997, he converted to Catholicism and was baptized by the now-retired bishop of Hong Kong, Joseph Cardinal Zen.

Lai's conversion, at the time the United Kingdom handed over sovereignty of Hong Kong to the People’s Republic of China, was “like a small green shoot breaking through the concrete,” McGurn said of the time.

Hong Kong had previously maintained its own legislature and democratic form of government under the “one country, two systems” agreement, as the U.K. prepared to hand sovereignty of the region to China. However, the Chinese mainland government had sought greater control over Hong Kong in recent years before imposing a sweeping national security law on the region in 2020, bypassing the island’s legislature. The act followed months of pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.

Under the new law, a person convicted of secession, subversion, terrorism or collusion with foreign forces would receive a minimum of 10 years in prison, with the possibility of a life sentence.

Lai was arrested in August 2020 over his support for pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, and remained on the island to face his charges. People had urged Lai – who is also a British citizen – to leave Hong Kong before he would be arrested, McGurn noted.

“If you thought that [leaving] was ever a possibility, you don’t know Jimmy Lai,” McGurn said.

Released on bail, he was arrested again later in the year, and was charged in December with breaching the terms of a lease for his company, Next Digital Media.

Hong Kong’s Court of Final Appeal on Feb. 9 denied Lai bail, but allowed his legal team the possibility of applying again for bail. He has remained in prison for 10 months.

During his prison term, he has applied the Rule of St. Benedict – “ora et labora,” or “prayer and work,” McGurn noted.

“When he’s not reading the classics of the faith,” McGurn said of Lai, “he has a job folding paper into envelopes.” Some fellow prisoners have even been baptized during his term, McGurn said.

“While Jimmy may be stuck in prison, his soul remains free,” he said.

Two months after Cuba protests, religious leaders continue to demand justice for detainees

The Cuban flag. / Steward Cutler via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

Havana, Cuba, Sep 14, 2021 / 15:19 pm (CNA).

Two months after protests of Cuba’s communist government, the Cuban Conference of Men and Women Religious has denounced irregularities in the proceedings against those detained for demonstrating.

Protests took place across Cuba July 11-12. Protesters cited concerns about inflation, shortages of food and medicine, and the Covid-19 pandemic. Some protesters were beaten, and thousands were arrested.

CONCUR Support Services noted Sept. 9 “the need for strict compliance with the law by applying the law in favor of the accused” and that the cases against peaceful protesters ought to be “freely dismissed.”

The organization noted "with regret" the "repeated refusals" of the authorities "to the changes in preventive measures requested by the lawyers, as well as not considering the evidence presented for this purpose."

CONCUR protested “the difficulty, and in many cases even the impossibility, of the lawyers to meet with their clients due to the complex epidemiological situation of the country and the prisons,” as well as “the detainees’ limited communication with their families.”

The organization of religious men and women also decried "the slow process of investigating the facts, as well as the scant evidence of the alleged crimes."

Prisoners Defenders, a Spanish NGO for the legal defense of human rights, reported Sept. 2 “that the number of detainees on the island from July 11 to July 17, a period during which it was not legally required to press charges to hold the defendants, was more than 5,000 detainees at a minimum.”

"Higher estimates from our team could put the figure between 6,000 and 8,000 detainees," the NGO said.

The Prisoners Defenders’ study was based "on the analysis of more than 100 interviews with people affected by the arrests, out of a total of more than 550 arrest records collected" by the organization.

The report published by the NGO also shows “that the number of people who remained under arrest after that time frame in police stations and prisons, through orders limiting their freedom decreed by prosecutors or through court rulings” exceeded 1,500 people.

Of those 1,500 cases, Prisoners Defenders said it was possible to verify 381 cases of people convicted and sentenced on political grounds.

“Of the trials held to date, the study shows that the vast majority, at least greater than 85%, were held summarily, and in particular trial by the Summary Process by Direct Evidence predominated, as Lisnay María Mederos Torres, Chief Prosecutor of the Criminal Procedures Directorate of the State Attorney General's Office already stated on Cuban television, a process that is of a police and not judicial nature, whereby the accused go to trial without the need for a prosecutor or a lawyer, and where they can receive prison sentences ranging from months to several years depending on the number of crimes charged, provided that each crime charged does not exceed the penalty of one year in prison," the organization explained.

According to the Spanish NGO "all the defendants who have undergone summary proceedings have suffered arbitrary deprivation of liberty, just attending to the process used."

Communist rule in Cuba was established soon after the conclusion of the Cuban Revolution in 1959, which ousted the authoritarian ruler Fulgencio Batista.

Maronite Catholic patriarch welcomes Lebanon’s new government

Cardinal Bechara Boutros Rai, the Maronite Patriarch, at the Vatican March 5, 2013. / InterMirifica.net

Rome Newsroom, Sep 14, 2021 / 14:00 pm (CNA).

The leader of Lebanon’s Maronite Catholics has welcomed the formation of a new Lebanese government after 13 months of political stalemate.

Cardinal Bechara Boutros Rai congratulated Prime Minister Najib Mikati, President Michel Aoun, and the new cabinet of 24 ministers in a social media post that wished the government success in carrying out reforms and improving the living conditions for all Lebanese people.

The formation of a government paves the way for a potential papal visit to Lebanon.

Pope Francis previously said that he wanted to visit Lebanon once its leaders formed a government.

“His Holiness the pope will visit Lebanon but after a government is formed. And this is a message to the Lebanese, that we must form a government so that everyone can gather... to revive Lebanon with our friends,” Lebanese politician Saad Hariri said after a private meeting with the pope in April.

A Vatican official confirmed in June that the pope intended to visit Lebanon once it successfully formed a government, adding that the trip could take place at the beginning of next year.

Rai was in the Hungarian capital, Budapest, for the International Eucharistic Congress when the news of the formation of a new government was announced on Sept. 10.

The Lebanese cardinal had been calling on the country’s political leaders for months to overcome partisan interests and form a government to help the country amid its economic crisis.

Lebanon’s new ministers face the challenge of coming into power at a time when three-quarters of the population live in poverty and there are widespread shortages of medicine, fuel, and food.

The World Bank has described Lebanon’s financial situation as among the “most severe crisis episodes globally since the mid-19th century.”

It estimates that country’s real GDP contracted by more than 20% in 2020, with surging inflation and high unemployment.

Lebanon’s currency has plummeted in 2021. By June, the Lebanese pound had lost 90% of its value since October 2019.

In recent months, the state has only been able to provide electricity for less than two hours a day.

Speaking at a Vatican day of prayer for Lebanon this year, Pope Francis said: “In these woeful times, we want to affirm with all our strength that Lebanon is, and must remain, a project of peace. Its vocation is to be a land of tolerance and pluralism, an oasis of fraternity where different religions and confessions meet, where different communities live together, putting the common good before their individual interests.”

The pope hosted the day of prayer for Lebanon with Catholic and Orthodox leaders from the country on July 1.

“Here I would reiterate how essential it is that those in power choose finally and decisively to work for true peace and not for their own interests. Let there be an end to the few profiting from the sufferings of many. No more letting half-truths continue to frustrate people’s aspirations,” the pope said.

“Stop using Lebanon and the Middle East for outside interests and profits. The Lebanese people must be given the opportunity to be the architects of a better future in their land, without undue interference.”

Beloved granny whose Catholic faith went viral on EWTN dies at 107

Nancy Stewart / EWTN News Nightly

Clonard, Ireland, Sep 14, 2021 / 13:00 pm (CNA).

Granny Nancy lived through two World Wars, survived the pandemic, and was born before her country – the Republic of Ireland – began. But she is perhaps best known for her Catholic faith.

Nancy Stewart’s story and her love of God went viral last year, when the 107 year old spoke with EWTN correspondent Colm Flynn in an interview that reached five million views on social media. Since then, she has appeared in additional news media reports and has grown an online presence. But on Friday, Nancy’s family revealed that she had passed away to meet the God in heaven that she so loved while on earth.

On Sept. 10, her granddaughter, Louise Coghlan, announced that “My other half of my heart went to heaven this morning at 6am.”

“The last 3yrs living with my best friend was out of this world,” Louise tweeted. “We laughed, we loved & we drank an awful lot of tea! We hope we made you smile! you were my best friend & I’ll never forget you gran.”

Born in 1913, Nancy was recognized as one of Ireland’s oldest women. She cherished every moment of her life as a gift from God.

“I do, I love it, and I love to know what’s going on,” she told Colm in 2020. “I”m well cared for, thanks be to God. The Blessed Virgin and all the saints and angels have looked after me from toe to heel and from heel to head.”

She witnessed great tragedies, including her husband’s death in a 1989 car crash, while they were driving to Mass. But she still lived life to the fullest and spent her time collecting money for children in Africa and for the poor. She dedicated her life to prayer.

“I have three rosary beads here on my arm, from three different people,” she said, showing the rosaries to Colm. “I say them several times here where I’m sitting on an armchair.”

“I say a lot of prayers now, for people I don’t know,” she added. “I ask God to mind them.”

On Sept. 10, Colm remembered Nancy’s life fondly. 

“We are so sad to hear the news today of the passing of dear old Nancy Stewart, at 107 years of age,” he wrote. “From the small village of Clonard in Ireland, Nancy captured the hearts of everyone she met, including me. She was a granny to all of Ireland during Covid, regularly uploading messaging of encouragement, positivity, and faith to social media with the help of her devoted granddaughter Lousie.”

“May her granddaughter Louise, and all her family, find strength and comfort during this difficult time knowing the joy and happiness she brought to so many,” he concluded. “Rest in peace, Nancy, and enjoy your heavenly reward.”

Earlier this year, in January, Nancy revealed to The Irish Catholic that she had a goal of attending online Masses in each of Ireland’s 32 counties. She accomplished that goal, the Irish Post reported on Sept. 13, and surpassed it. She was invited to attend Mass virtually in other countries, too, including the U.K. and the United States.

While Nancy outlived her husband and two twin daughters, she left behind three daughters, a son, and 84 grandchildren, great grandchildren and great great grandchildren, according to the Independent.ie.

She would have turned 108 on Oct. 16. The Independent reported her as saying on her birthday last year: “I don't feel 107. I feel half that, to be honest. It's all about good food, good friends, and always looking on the bright side of life. I think that's the secret to a good life.” 

She added, “When God wants me, he will come and take me but for now, I will keep enjoying my life.”

Louise documented many of her adventures with Nancy on her Facebook page, “Living and Laughing with Lou.” On Sept. 10, she remembered her grandmother in a special Facebook post.

“I love you granny,” she wrote. “You were my world for so long & for so many others, but now we must let god, my dad & all the angels & saints be blessed with your presence. Forever the other half of my heart, forever my reason to smile even when I feel low.”

Louise also spoke at Nancy’s burial on Sept. 12. She later shared the contents of a “letter of love” that she wrote with Nancy, addressed “To the people of Ireland and all across the world,” in anticipation of her upcoming 108th birthday. 

“Life has been very unusual in the last 16 months or so, but we have survived and we have coped,” Nancy began the letter. “And that is the main thing I am here to remind you all.”

Referencing the pandemic, Nancy focused on a message of hope.

“In life we will learn, as I have on so many occasions, that resilience and patience are vital to see your way through a troublesome passage,” the letter continued. “In my lifetime, I've been through many tough times that I wish to recall, but even though the ache is in my memory of the pains and struggles, I choose to focus on the good, the positive, the other side of the story, the part where I survived.”

She added: “Whenever you struggle, just think to yourself, if Granny Nancy can survive and come through wars, pandemics, times of poverty, straying as well as losing many members of my family and friends, you can too,” she encouraged. “And that is why we're writing this letter, to give you hope to keep going.”

At the funeral Mass, which was live streamed on Sept. 12, Louise stressed, “With Granny seated now in heaven, we now know we have someone very special to pray to when in times of need.” Granny Nancy was, she later described, a “real-life miracle.”

Pope Francis to Slovakia’s young Catholics: Confession is the ‘sacrament of joy’

Pope Francis addresses young people at Lokomotiva Stadium in Košice, Slovakia, Sept. 14, 2021. / Vatican Media.

Kosice, Slovakia, Sep 14, 2021 / 12:30 pm (CNA).

Pope Francis told young Slovakian Catholics on Tuesday that Confession is an “infallible remedy” for the times when they are feeling down.

Speaking at Lokomotiva Stadium in Košice, eastern Slovakia, on Sept. 14, the pope advised young people who felt downcast to receive the sacrament.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

Responding to a question from Petra Filová, a 29-year-old student, about how to overcome obstacles to encountering God’s mercy, he said: “Today, there are so many disruptive forces, so many people ready to blame everyone and everything, spreaders of negativity, professional complainers.”

“Pay no attention to them, no, for pessimism and complaining are not Christian. The Lord detests glumness and victimhood. We were not made to be downcast, but to look up to heaven, to others, to society.”

“But when we feel downcast -- because everyone in life is a little down at certain times, we all know this experience -- what are we to do? There is one infallible remedy that can put us back on our feet. Petra, it is what you said: Confession.”

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

The 84-year-old pope, who is making his first international trip since undergoing surgery in July, began his four-day visit to Slovakia on Sept. 12.

He arrived in the country after a seven-hour visit to Budapest, in neighboring Hungary, where he celebrated the closing Mass of the 52nd International Eucharistic Congress and met with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.

The pope spoke at an ecumenical gathering in the Slovakian capital, Bratislava, on the evening of his arrival.

On Sept. 13, his first full day in the country, he addressed political leaders, offered encouragement to the Catholic community, and visited a homeless center run by Mother Teresa’s nuns on the capital’s outskirts.

In his first public engagement on Tuesday, he presided at a Byzantine Divine Liturgy in Prešov, 20 miles north of Košice. In the afternoon, he met with members of the minority Roma community in Košice’s Luník IX district.

He traveled directly from Luník IX to Lokomotiva Stadium, which was built in 1970 and usually hosts soccer games.

The live-streamed event, attended by an estimated 25,000 exuberant young people, began with an introduction by Archbishop Bernard Bober of Košice, followed by three testimonies.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

The pope encouraged youngsters to see that God’s mercy, not their sins, is what lies at the heart of Confession.

He said: “I will give you a little piece of advice: after each Confession, sit still for a few moments in order to remember the forgiveness you received. Hold on to that peace in your heart, that inner freedom you are feeling; not your sins, which no longer exist, but the forgiveness that God has granted you, the caress of God the Father. Just hold on to that; don’t let it fade.”

“And the next time you go to Confession, remember: I am going to receive again the embrace that did me so much good. I don’t go to a judge to settle accounts, I go to Jesus who loves me and heals me.”

He added: “In Confession, let us give God first place. If God is the protagonist, everything becomes beautiful and Confession becomes the sacrament of joy. Yes, joy; not fear and judgment but joy.”

As the pope spoke, he was frequently interrupted by applause. He paused several times to ask the crowd questions, pretending at times not to hear their answers so they would answer more loudly.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

Continuing his reflection, he urged priests who heard Confessions to be merciful and never “curious or inquisitorial.”

To those who are embarrassed to enter the confessional box, the pope said that feeling ashamed was positive because it indicated regret.

“Feeling ashamed is a good sign, but like any other sign, it asks you to move beyond it,” he said. “Don’t let shame imprison you, because God is never ashamed of you. He loves you in the very place where you feel ashamed. And he loves you always.”

To those who are concerned that they always commit the same sins, he said: “Listen, is God ever offended? Is he offended if you go to him and ask for forgiveness? No, never. God suffers when we think that he can’t forgive us, because that is like us telling him: ‘Your love is not strong enough.’”

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

He continued: “Instead, God rejoices in forgiving us, time and time again. Whenever he picks us up, he believes in us as if it were the first time. He never grows discouraged. We are the ones who get discouraged, not he. He does not label us as sinners: he sees us as children to be loved. He does not see us as lost causes, but as beloved and hurting children; and then he feels all the more compassion and tenderness.”

“And every time we go to Confession -- never forget this -- there is a party in heaven. May it also be so on earth.”

The pope also answered a question about the value of chaste love, posed by Peter Lešak, a 37-year-old company manager who is married with three daughters.

Francis said: “Love is our greatest dream in life, but it does not come cheap. Like all great things in life, love is beautiful, but not easy.”

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

While love may begin with an emotion, he noted, it should not be reduced to a mere feeling.

“Love is not about having everything now; it is not part of today’s throwaway culture. Love is fidelity, gift, and responsibility,” he commented.

“Today, being truly original and revolutionary means rebelling against the culture of the ephemeral, going beyond instinct, beyond the instant, and loving with every fiber of your being, for the rest of your life.”

He urged his listeners not “just to make do, but to make something of our lives,” striving for both love and heroism, like Jesus when he gave his life on the Cross.

A portrait of Blessed Anna Kolesárová at Lokomotiva Stadium. Vatican Media.
A portrait of Blessed Anna Kolesárová at Lokomotiva Stadium. Vatican Media.

The pope also offered the example of a local blessed, Anna Kolesárová, who was beatified in Lokomotiva Stadium on Sept. 1, 2018.

In May that year, Pope Francis recognized Kolesárová as a martyr killed “in hatred of the faith.”

Born in present-day eastern Slovakia in 1928, she was killed by a drunken Soviet soldier in 1944, near the end of the Second World War.

At the time, Soviet troops were passing through Kolesárová's district. When a soldier entered her home and found the family in hiding, he attempted to rape Kolesárová, threatening her with death if she did not comply. Kolesárová refused, and the soldier shot her in front of her family.

The pope told young people that Kolesárová, who died at the age of 16, taught youth to “aim high,” describing her as a “heroine of love.”

He said: “Please, don’t let your lives just pass by like so many episodes in a soap opera. And when you dream of love, don’t go looking for special effects, but realize that each of you is special. Every one of us is a gift and make life, your own life, a gift. Others, your communities, the poor, are waiting for you.”

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

He encouraged youngsters to “dream fearlessly” of creating a family and having children.

He urged them not to be ashamed of their frailties, “for there is someone out there ready to accept and love them, someone who will love you just as you are.”

He said that, for love to be fruitful, it was essential that young people remembered their roots, honoring their parents and, especially, their grandparents.

“Cultivate your roots, visit your grandparents; it will do you good. Ask them questions, take time to listen to their stories,” he suggested.

“Today, there is a danger of growing up rootless, because we feel we always have to be on the go, to do everything in a hurry. What we see on the internet immediately enters our homes; just one click and people and things pop up on our screen. Those faces can end up becoming more familiar than those of our own families. Bombarded by virtual messages, we risk losing our real roots.”

“To grow disconnected from life, or to fantasize in a void, is not a good thing; it is a temptation from the evil one. God wants us to be firmly grounded, connected to life. Never closed, but always open to all.”

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

Finally, the pope answered a question about how young people can be encouraged to embrace the crosses in their lives. The question was asked by Peter Liška, 33, and his wife, Lenka, 35, who have three children.

In his testimony, Liška described his troubled youth and a five-year illness as an adult that only lifted after the family received a relic of Blessed Anna Kolesárová.

The pope said: “When we are embraced, we regain confidence in ourselves and also in life. So let us allow ourselves to be embraced by Jesus. Because when we embrace Jesus, we embrace hope again.”

He added: “When we embrace Jesus, joy is reborn. And the joy of Jesus, in pain, is transformed into peace. More than anything, I want this joy for you. I want you to bring it to your friends. Not sermons, but joy. Bring joy. Not words, but smiles, fraternal closeness.”

He urged the young people to pray for him and then led the crowd in reciting the Our Father.

On Sept. 15, his final day in Slovakia, the pope will celebrate Mass at the Basilica of Our Lady of Seven Sorrows in Šaštín, western Slovakia.

The basilica contains a revered image of Our Lady of Seven Sorrows, the patroness of Slovakia, that has attracted pilgrim visitors such as Mother Teresa and St. John Paul II.

The pope’s visit will coincide with the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows.

CMMB provides medical relief, long-term recovery in Haiti after 7.2 magnitude earthquake

A 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti on Aug. 14, 2021. / Catholic Medical Mission Board

Les Cayes, Haiti, Sep 14, 2021 / 12:00 pm (CNA).

On August 14, Josette lost everything. A single mother, she had gone to the supermarket to sell items to support her four children when a 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti. She returned home to find her house collapsed, with her mother and her children crushed beneath the rubble. Without hesitation, she began assisting her neighbors and went to the local church to ask the priest what he needed.

“She lost everything in less than a minute, but she helped her neighbors,” said Dr. Dianne Jean-François, program director for Haiti for Catholic Medical Mission Board (CMMB). “That struck me. The people have lost their loved ones, but they will go immediately, moving the rubble to take out children, women, men who are under the rubble, to save lives. That’s the resilience of these people.” 

According to a USAID report released Sept. 7, at least 2,207 people have died and more than 12,260 people sustained injuries since the earthquake struck in mid-August. Two days after the quake, Tropical Storm Grace made landfall in Haiti overnight, flooding the country with as much as 15 inches of rain in a single day in certain areas. 

People were also immediately without drinking water as mountains collapsed, preventing the passage of rivers and streams. Approximately 130,000 homes have been damaged or destroyed, and more than 650,000 people are in need of humanitarian aid.

“It was already difficult for the people, and they were already living in terrible conditions—no jobs, no income-generating activities, depending on others, they had to survive,” said Jean-François, who has been working for CMMB for 18 years. “The earthquake came and destroyed what they had as their home and more. Then, you have [tropical storm] Grace, falling in the same ward, the southern part of Haiti, causing more problems.”

Haiti has long suffered from political turmoil and gang activities, while also facing the financial impacts of COVID-19, Jean-François said. The recent back-to-back natural disasters left the already-vulnerable country desperate for international assistance. 

Within six hours of the earthquake, CMMB had medical supplies, including antibiotics, pain killers, antiseptics, orthopedic supplies, and bandages on the ground in Haiti. The organization, which provides medical and development aid to communities affected by poverty and unequal access to healthcare, has been a stable presence in Haiti for the last 100 years. 

The day after the earthquake, CMMB sponsored a local team of two orthopedic surgeons and five anesthesiologists to provide surgeries.

“When you have an earthquake, either you die or you are crushed with bone injuries and internal bleeding,” Jean-François said. “You will have a lot of injured people. We sent antibiotic painkillers, anesthetic medicine, supplies for wounded care, and plaster.” 

With the medical supplies, the doctors were able to operate quickly and stabilize those with injuries soon after the earthquake occurred, Jean-François said. 

Additionally, CMMB began to mobilize at their headquarters in New York City, gathering supplies from pharmaceutical companies and benefactors. 

“We looked at what we had on hand, and within a week, we had two 40-foot containers going down,” said Dick Day, senior vice president for programs for CMMB.

CMMB employs nearly 150 people, most of whom are Haitian. In the aftermath of the disaster, they worked closely with the local ministry of health in Haiti to determine what supplies would be helpful, noting that their in-country colleagues are the decision-makers when it comes to what supplies to send.

“It's really the people on the ground that are in the best place to define what those needs are,” Day said. “The international community should always be trying to fill gaps. There was a lot of coordination that took place with Dianne in those first couple of days to make sure that we were mobilizing resources from here that she and our partners on the ground could use.”  

Coordinating efforts, Jean-François said, was something they learned following the 2010 earthquake, during which time many relief programs were operating independently, instead of working together or with the local government. 

“We talk with the Ministry of Health because they are the ones coordinating the response, the medical emergency,” she said. “That's a lesson learned from the earthquake in 2010. There was no real coordination, and that created a lot of issues later.” 

Two weeks ago, Jean-François traveled to the southern part of the country to assess the current situation and begin planning longer-term recovery efforts. 

“We’re working with the priests and sisters in the different communities because they live in the community,” Jean-François said. “They know our vulnerable [people]. The really vulnerable will not be able to rebuild their homes. They will not have funds to live for daily living.”

“With the sisters and the priests, we will move forward, identifying the kind of infrastructure, a home that will be adapted to respond to any hurricane with winds of 150 kilometers and an earthquake of the same magnitude we had,” she said. 

After homes and rural health facilities are rebuilt, CMMB will help Haitians identify and work toward income-generating activities to establish a more secure financial situation. CMMB is also actively working with the local priests to encourage parishioners to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, an effort sidelined by the earthquake. 

“We're not fundamentally an emergency relief organization,” Day said. “We're more of a long-term public health organization, but we have a very demonstrated capacity, which has been developed over years in Haiti, because of the necessity of responding.” 

“We want to make sure we balance those two—that we have excellence in our emergency response, but also in our long-term public health programs,” he said.

Upcoming shipments from CMMB will include hygiene kits and additional medications. They will also provide water-purification systems for families to have access to clean drinking water.

As a native of Haiti herself, Jean-François is committed to helping her country with longer-term recovery, she said, beyond the current earthquake relief efforts. 

“I would like to see my fellow citizens, my brothers and sisters, living a better life,” she said. “Give them opportunities so things can change for them. That is my motivation. It’s the wellbeing of everyone living in Haiti.”

Unity can only come from God, bishop tells prayer breakfast

Bishop Steven Lopes / Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter

Washington D.C., Sep 14, 2021 / 11:01 am (CNA).

True unity comes from God and is not something created by man, the bishop of the Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter stressed at the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast on Tuesday in Washington, D.C. 

Bishop Steven Lopes, in his Sept. 14 keynote address to the audience of Catholics, said that both Catholics and Americans must be mindful of where unity comes from in order to attain true peace. God revealed Himself to humanity as “a communion of Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” he said.  

“The Father who sent his Son, the Word made flesh, and the Holy Spirit to save his people precisely by drawing them into communion with himself,” he said. At Pentecost, Jesus Christ is “made present and active,” he said, and through the baptized, Christ’s mission is carried out.

It is the sacrament of baptism, said Lopes, that “informs and secures all other forms of authentic unity and communication” with Christ. 

And it is here where the Church must inform society, he added, particularly in the American vision of “E Pluribus Unum,” or “out of many, one.” 

People of faith working in the “civil realm” are the ones that ask “hard and necessary questions about human dignity, the inherent goodness of the created order, the nature of the human person,” said Lopes. 

“And without these questions, these annoying questions, political discourse devolves into empty slogans or worse, totalitarian imposition. We’ve seen that again and again.”

Lopes delivered his remarks at the 17th annual National Catholic Prayer Breakfast, an annual gathering of Catholic clergy, leaders and public officials. 

Scripture scholar Jeff Cavins also addressed the prayer breakfast on Tuesday, urging Catholics to integrate the Word of God into their daily lives.

“If we’re going to change America, I truly believe that we have to live as disciples,” Cavins said, urging attendees to fight for their faith. “I would encourage you to fight like the third monkey on the ramp to Noah’s Ark,” he quipped. 

The event’s organizers also honored Jimmy Lai, an imprisoned pro-democracy advocate in Hong Kong, with the Christifidelis Laici Award, named after Pope John Paul II’s 1988 exhortation on the mission of the laity in the world. 

In his keynote address on unity, Lopes suggested that his own diocese, the Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter, is an example of how unity works in the Church and in the world.

In 2012, Pope Benedict XVI created a new diocese in the United States and Canada for former Anglicans wishing to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church. There are 40 parishes in the Ordinariate throughout the United States and Canada. 

In the Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter, or “Anglican Ordinariate,” as is commonly known, Mass is celebrated according to a unique missal, and other Anglican customs are observed. 

Lopes said his diocese is proof that unity with the Church does not mean that previous traditions must be abandoned. 

“My little diocese exists because unity is not just important, because it is what the Lord himself prayed for on the night before he died,” he said. “So, our experience of bridging this new life in the Catholic Church can perhaps give some insight on how unity and diversity work.” 

The bishop explained that “real unity” is “something more than the superficiality of a group of like-minded individuals acting in roughly the same way at approximately the same time.” 

Humanity was made to be in union with others, explained the bishop. 

“And, the Catholic would add, in baptism, we have received a vocation to make our Lord and God present in the world by manifesting the holiness of God who is One and Three,” he said. 

Unity, explained Lopes, is also “magnanimous.” 

Again drawing from the example of his diocese, he explained that even those who petitioned the Vatican for what would eventually become the Ordinariate “were surprised by the extent of Pope Benedict’s offer.” 

“A diocese with its own way of celebrating Mass is hugely generous and sparked comment in some corners that the Pope was ‘bending over backwards’ to accommodate people who might as well be called apostate,” he said. 

“The generosity of the gesture did not accord with a vision of the Church which would say: If you want to be in the Catholic Church, get in line with everyone else.”

This is false, said Lopes. He said that what the pope offered was not simply generosity, it was the “virtue of magnanimity.”  

“No less a figure than Abraham Lincoln built his second inaugural address around this same virtue, because he too saw it as the key to national unity,” said Lopes. “Magnanimity is part of the glue that holds communities and societies together and fosters an enrichment of those communities by integrating new people,” both in the Church and in the United States.

“The American idea works because it is not an idea,” he said. “It is a civic virtue, disposition of soul requiring real conversion and real action to embrace the other as good because we embrace the other as an equal.”

“Only then can it be a unifying force, not just a blending of diverse and divergent bodies into exterior uniformity,” said Lopes.  Lincoln’s words are engraved on his memorial just a few blocks from here serve as a summons. They are not merely meant as nostalgia.” 

What a Dominican priest from the Midwest has learned about Catholic-Muslim dialogue since 9/11

Pope Francis participates in an interreligious meeting at the site of Ur, outside Nasiriyah, Iraq, March 6, 2021. / Vatican Media

Denver, Colo., Sep 14, 2021 / 10:53 am (CNA).

Real-life relationships and a “holy curiosity” must be the basis for Catholic-Muslim dialogue, says a Dominican priest whose college discussions with Muslims after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks strengthened his own faith and set him on a path that took him to Egypt for in-depth academic study of Islam.

“American Catholics must avoid the temptation to reduce Muslims to an abstract,” Father Luke Barder, O.P., told CNA Aug. 26. “I think our charity and the teachings of the Church, particularly from John Paul II and the Second Vatican Council, require us to always maintain the dignity of our partner, even if they are of a different faith, and (to see) that their experiences are real.”

Fr. Barder, who was born in Illinois, joined the Dominicans in 2007 after working at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs. For several years he lived in Cairo and studied Islamic studies and Arabic studies at the Dominican Institute for Oriental studies, receiving a graduate diploma in Islamic Studies from the American University in Cairo. He is now pastor at St. Dominic Catholic Parish in Denver.

Catholic-Muslim dialogue, he said, often raises the same question.

“The question everybody wants to ask is: is dialogue possible?” said Fr. Barder. He likes to use the answer he heard from a friar in Cairo: “No. Not Yet.”

Dialogue presupposes some common encounter or language, he explained.

“The biggest barrier right now between Christians and Muslims has less to do with religion, and more to do about a lot of other things, whether that’s economic, societal, history, etc., and the perceptions that we have of each other,” said Fr. Barder.

“One of the biggest problems is that we think we know who the other is or what they believe but in reality we have zero idea,” he said. “Before we can have substantive dialogue, we first need substantive encounters with each other. That can take a long time. But we’re doing that work.”

He advised Catholics who discuss religion with Muslims “to have the openness and the curiosity – I would call it a ‘holy curiosity’ –about how people experience life, how they hope, and how their faith informs them.”

“It’s not about a matter of who’s right and wrong, at first,” he said. “Before true dialogue and the issues of who’s right and who’s wrong have to happen, we should really not be afraid to encounter one another.”

Fr. Barder’s freshman year of college marked a turning point for his life and the world. On Sept. 11, 2001, terrorists affiliated with al-Qaeda hijacked four planes, attacking the World Trade Towers in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., with three of them. Passengers regained control of the fourth, United Airlines Flight 93, and diverted it from its intended target. The attacks killed nearly 3,000 people and have had a lasting impact on the U.S. and the world. The American responses included the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, with combined death tolls in the hundreds of thousands.

Up until the Sept. 11 attacks, Fr. Barder said, “I knew what my faith was and what Catholicism was but I rarely met a person of another faith. All of a sudden 9-11 drove this question: ‘what is religion and its role in society’?”

Barder, then a student at Purdue University in Indiana, had an academic interest in religion. However, he particularly benefitted from his participation in a group of Christian and Muslim students through Dialogues International.

“I got to meet a lot of Muslims and learn from them,” he said. “I always attribute my encounter with Dialogues International, particularly the Muslims there, as one of the major reasons I started going back to daily Mass and fell in love with daily prayer and a reverence for the divine, as they talked about it. It was a really beautiful encounter.”

Catholics should approach dialogue with Muslims from the perspective “that there is something to be gained or learned from your partner.” Alluding to Nostra aetate, the Second Vatican Council’s declaration on the Church’s relationship to non-Christian religions, Fr. Barder said, “the Catholic Church will not deny any ray of truth wherever it is found, and seeks to be able to realize what is the impulse of faith.”

“There’s so much more to our faith experience than the simple content of the faith,” he said.

Many Catholics do not necessarily hold their faith because of a particular doctrine, according to Fr. Barder.

“We practice our faith because we have had an encounter with Christ and the sacraments. And that allows us to continue to move forward and ‘pushes’ our faith,” he said. “It is the same on the other side. Their experiences of God, prayer on a daily basis, is the ‘push’ of their faith. That is something that we can certainly begin to see, to start with, and not deny that they’ve had encounters with God because they’re not Christian.”

As Fr. Barder learned through his fellow Dominicans’ encounter with a Cairo man, both Muslims and Catholics have misconceptions about each other, sometimes from a very young age.

“We had a good, good friend who, when he first met us, was deathly afraid to come into our priory,” he said. “His friends and his family discouraged him from coming over to the invitation for dinner, because they thought that Christian monks were witch doctors and practiced devil worship. That was a genuine, palpable fear he had of Christians.”

Fr. Barder encouraged Catholics in the U.S. to have self-awareness about their own cultural context and limitations. Religion is always “incarnated” in a people, and one’s own cultural moment, historical background, and formation means a great deal for how one’s religion is expressed.

“We often align ourselves with identity with religion and faith because it is also so tied to culture and our experience and identity and community. But we have to make sure that we don’t confuse the two wholeheartedly, to say that this community, a temporal expression of Catholicism, is the only way that it can be,” he said.

“The Catholic Church is so much more than what we experience in our parish. There is a greater expression of faith and religion that involves the people, place and culture in which it’s in.” Faith can “transcend all of that and find a variety of expressions.”

As a Latin rite Catholic in Cairo, Fr. Barder was a minority even among Egypt’s Catholics, most of whom are Coptic. For their part, Egyptian Muslims mainly encounter Coptic Orthodox Christians, and this forms how they think of Christianity.

“Muslim expression is as diverse as Catholic expression,” said the Dominican priest. “What we say of Saudi Arabia is not the same thing at all that we would say of Iraq.” In addition to the regional diversity, Islam is split between Sunni and Shia branches.

“We too quickly and easily equate Islam with the Middle East,” he added, noting that the most populous Muslim nation, Indonesia, is in southeast Asia. At the same time, even in the Middle East Islam is going through a unique expression based on the last 50 to 100 years of its history.

“There are many more people of good will than not, and I truly encountered that in Egypt, living among the Muslim population,” said Fr. Barder. “The goodwill that they expressed and offered to me, and the goodwill that the Dominicans there and the Christian community there has offered to their neighbors have been quite impressive. There is a virtue that I encountered there that inspired me to go deeper in my own faith and rely on God even more.”

For Fr. Barder, both the Catholic and Muslim religions impel their adherents to “encounter and encourage the true charity which is inherent in every single human being, because we are created in God’s image.” They also seek to identify reasons “why people lose good will.”

He also acknowledged negative trends. There is a “minority voice” that makes the most notice and even has “the biggest destructive impact.”

“What we have found is that not everybody is of good will,” said Fr. Barder. “In some very dramatic and public ways like the terrorist attacks, the lack of good will towards one’s neighbor, and even our reaction to it at times, has not always been demonstrative of good will.”

Mohamed Atta, considered the ringleader of the Sept. 11 attacks, was from Egypt, though most hijackers were of Saudi Arabian nationality. Atta and several of his collaborators, however, had spent years in Germany and it was there that Atta began to pursue a strict version of Islam and seek out links with al-Qaeda.

Fr. Barder said any discussion of Atta was beyond his expertise, but he noted that some Muslims who commit terrorist acts in Europe were raised in immigrant enclaves there. He worried that the experience of some Muslims living in areas without a large Muslim community can make them feel rejected or lacking in “a sense of dignity or place and identity” that can feed extremism.

Concrete local engagement between Catholics and Muslims is also possible, said Fr. Barder.

“Go and see,” he said. “On a local level organize a group of parishioners and make a visit to a mosque. Invite a Muslim leader or a group to come and speak to you. Everybody loves food. Make a meal. Go and observe. Welcome them to come in.”

He encouraged discussion questions and topics like “what impels your faith? What do you believe? tell me the story of your faith, how it helps you through your day. What are your biggest worries in life?”

“That’s the beginning on a local level,” said Fr. Barder. “For us to be able to foster dialogue, it will only be able to happen on a foundation of mutual respect and friendship.”