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Michigan lawmakers approve ban on telemedicine abortion pill prescriptions

Detroit, Mich., Dec 13, 2018 / 11:14 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Michigan has passed a bill that would continue to prohibit doctors from prescribing abortion-inducing drugs through a teleconference call, permanently extending a ban that first took effect in 2012.  

The Detroit Free Press reports that the bill passed the legislature in the early hours of the morning Dec. 13 by a vote of 62-47, with one Republican joining all the Democrats in voting against.

The pro-life group Right to Life Michigan praised the decision to continue to disallow so-called “webcam abortions,” which they say the abortion industry uses as a cost-saving measure despite at least 22 women having died from the use of abortion-inducing drugs.

“The law poses a burden on the abortion industry, particularly Planned Parenthood,” the group wrote in a Dec. 13 blog post.

“They already utilize the abortion pill as a cost-saving measure over a surgical abortion. There are not many abortionists, due to the unattractive nature of the profession's involvement in taking human life...How much more money could the abortion industry save if the abortionist can be 500 miles away, dispensing abortion pills with the push of a button after a quick video conference?”

Michigan lawmakers had passed legislation in 2012 that allowed doctors to teleconference with patients on a wide variety of medical issues— a service particularly useful for rural patients who have limited access to hospitals and specialized doctors.

At the time, lawmakers banned the prescription of the abortion inducing drugs mifepristone and misoprostol via teleconference, in accordance with guidelines from the Food and Drug Administration.

Michigan’s ban would have expired Dec. 31, but the new bill, if it becomes law, will make the ban permanent.

The FDA’s guidelines regarding mifepristone, which was first approved for use in 2000, state that the abortion drug “may only be dispensed in clinics, medical offices, and hospitals by or under the supervision of a certified healthcare provider.” The FDA warns consumers not to buy mifepristone over the internet due to safety concerns.

The action to permanently extend the ban is one of many “lame duck” actions that the outgoing Republican-controlled legislature is undertaking in Michigan before a new group of lawmakers begin their terms on Jan. 1.

The bill now awaits a signature from outgoing Gov. Rick Snyder.  

 

Pakistani province announces plan to protect religious minorities

Lahore, Pakistan, Dec 13, 2018 / 10:40 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A Pakistani official announced this week a new “Minorities Empowerment Package” and the creation of a task force to ensure the rights of religious minorities in the province of Punjab.

According to Dawn, Punjab Minister for Human Rights and Minority Affairs Ijaz Augustine said the package will include new legislation and implement existing laws to assist religious minority communities.

A newly formed task force will be composed of professionals in human rights, law, and academics from a variety of religious communities, with the purpose of monitoring the implementation of human rights policies.

Augustine made the announcement at the Alhamra Arts Council with the Christian Care Foundation, coinciding with Human Rights Day on Dec. 10.  The ceremony included the distribution of certificates for activists and employees of the human rights department.

The empowerment package will implement religious minority quotas in jobs, education, and housing. It also looks to establish a sentence remission system and skill development trainings. The money will be taken from a Minority Development Fund worth more than $3 million.

“We are also focusing on skills development and have kept aside Rs25 million (nearly $180,000) for scholarships. We are also working on development and housing schemes specifically for the minority community,” said Augustine, according to Dawn.

The minister said an action plan, drafted by the provincial Task Force on Human Rights, will aim to carry out the goals of the Punjab Human Rights Policy 2018.

“We have also established a web-based Complaint Management System designed by the Punjab Information Technology Board for effective communication and resolution of human rights issues,” he said.

A commission to oversee equality of religious freedom has been called for in the past. The Pakistani Supreme Court ordered the creation of a National Council for Minorities in 2014, but it was subsequently ignored by past governments.

The Pakistani constitution affirms Islam as the state religion, but articles in the document prohibit discrimination and aim to protect religious freedom of minorities.

In practice, however, “the government of Pakistan has not addressed the spread of sectarian or religiously motivated intolerant speech and has not prosecuted perpetrators of violent crimes against religious minorities,” according to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

The U.S. State Department this week declared Pakistan as one of 10 “countries of particular concern” when it comes to religious freedom. The designation allows for further actions, including economic sanctions, by the United States.

In July during his presidential campaign, the Pakistani President Imran Kahn said he supported laws imposing strict penalties for blasphemy – including desecration of the Quran or insulting Muhammad.

While no one has been formally executed for the crime of blasphemy in Pakistan, mob killings have followed public accusations of blasphemy.

Servant of God Shahbaz Bhatti was Pakistan’s Federal Minister for Minorities Affairs and the only Christian member of Pakistan’s cabinet. He was killed by the Taliban in 2011 after showing support for Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian woman who in 2010 was sentenced to death for blasphemy. She was acquitted in October 2018, but her life is still in danger, as the ruling is under government review as part of a deal to appease groups that were leading riots in the streets.

Pope Francis tells Catholic TV journalists to be 'channels' of peace

Vatican City, Dec 13, 2018 / 09:55 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis told a Catholic media group Thursday to be avenues of God’s peace, sharing the stories of the poor, the least, and the voiceless.

“In your profession you can be ‘living channels’ of spirituality before God and before all your listeners and viewers,” the pope told collaborators of the Italy-based Catholic broadcasting network Telepace.

“I renew, then, the invitation to ‘promote a journalism of peace,”” he said, quoting his 2018 message for World Communications Day. “A journalism created by people for people, one that is at the service of all, especially those – and they the majority in our world – who have no voice.”

Francis addressed the group Dec. 13, for their 40th anniversary, in the Vatican's Clementine Hall. Since 1990, at the request of St. John Paul II, the network has broadcast Vatican events such as the general audience, the Angelus, and papal Masses.

Praising the network, the pope said he wanted to urge three commitments in journalism – the first, to be “antennas of spirituality.” The TV antenna has a beautiful symbolism, he said, because of its “dual function of emitting and receiving a signal.”

Broadcast journalism should be a voice for the voiceless, he stressed; above all for the poor, the least, and the excluded. “Never forget them, the poor next door!” he said, praising the network’s program about inmates on death row in Texas. This “is the spirituality of charity!” he said.

Urging journalists to consider how they can teach the Gospel to the young, he stated that he would like the media to “pay more attention to young people, not only by telling their failures but also their dreams and their hopes!”

Doing this, he said, is a matter of being witnesses of God’s Word.

He also warned the media against letting their storytelling ever devolve into gossip, which undermines human community and sows “envy, jealousy, and lust for power.”

“It is important, therefore, to communicate responsibly, also thinking about how much bad you can do with language, with chatter, with rumors,” he said.

Ignoring reality of abuse, resisting responsibility must end, says Jesuit

IMAGE: CNS photo/Claudio Peri, EPA

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Anyone who still believes the abuse crisis is an "American" or "Western" problem must become properly informed, face reality and realize problems may be hidden and explode in the future, said Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi.

And those who think too much talk and attention about abuse only blows the situation out of proportion or that it is time to change the topic are following "a mistaken path," he said in the Jesuit journal, La Civilta Cattolica.

"If the issue is not fully confronted in all of its various dimensions, the church will continue to find itself facing one crisis after another, the credibility of (the church) and all of her priests will remain seriously wounded and, above all, the essence of her mission will suffer -- that of proclaiming the Gospel and its educational work for children and young people, which for centuries has been one of the most beautiful and precious aspects of her service for humanity," he wrote.

The article, "In the Run-up to the Meeting of Bishops on the Protection of Minors," was sent to journalists Dec. 13 ahead of the issue's Dec. 15 publication date. The Rome-based biweekly magazine is reviewed by the Vatican Secretariat of State before publication.

Father Lombardi, who served as head of the Vatican press office from 2006 to 2016, is president of the board of directors of the Joseph Ratzinger-Benedict XVI Foundation and is a contributing writer to the Jesuit journal.

The article, which as of Dec. 13 was available only in Italian, looked at the aims and intentions of the summit Pope Francis convoked at the Vatican Feb. 21-24 for the presidents of bishops' conferences, representatives of religious orders and heads of Vatican dicasteries.

A major focus, he wrote, will be on helping participants understand they are being encouraged to join together -- not as representatives of their own people -- but as leaders of the people of God on a journey that requires the input and collaboration of lay experts so that there may be "a united response on the universal level."

"The entire church must feel in solidarity, above all with the victims, with their families and with their church communities that have been wounded by the scandals," he wrote.

Pope Francis, he added, has also widened the scope of abuse to include not just sexual abuse but the abuse of power and of conscience and the corruption of authority, which is no longer lived as service but as the wielding of power.

The February summit will give people a chance to share experiences and best practices, he said, and to strongly encourage everyone to make "new urgent steps forward."

While many lessons already have been learned, "there are also many open questions" left to address, he said.

One is recognizing that even though a number of countries have done much in the area of prevention and formation, "it must be recognized that in many other countries, little, if anything, has been done."

Every bishops' conference, bishop and religious superior must recognize their responsibility before God, the church and society, he said.

In many cases, the seriousness of the problem of abuse and the deep amount of suffering it causes still have not sunk in, Father Lombardi wrote.

People do not need a theoretical understanding, but actual concrete awareness of the damage caused, and that will push people to overcome "laziness, fears and very dangerous resistance" and to leap into action.

"Often one continues to delude oneself that it is mainly a 'Western' or else an 'American' or 'Anglophone' problem and with incredible naivete, thinks that (the problem) may be marginal in one's own country," he wrote.

People must look carefully and never avoid the presence of problems, which are "sometimes still hidden, but are such that future dramatic explosions are possible," Father Lombardi wrote. "Facing reality is necessary and adequate information will help a lot in this regard."

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Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Itinerant papal preacher: Capuchin will lead U.S. bishops' retreat

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- For more than 38 years, Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa has preached to the pope and top officials of the Roman Curia. In early January, he will lead the weeklong retreat of the U.S. bishops.

As they continue to study and discuss ways to respond to the clerical sexual abuse crisis, the bishops will gather for the retreat Jan. 2-8 at Mundelein Seminary near Chicago.

Pope Francis suggested the bishops hold the retreat and offered the services of the 84-year-old Father Cantalamessa, who has served as preacher of the papal household since 1980.

In an email Dec. 6, the Capuchin declined to be interviewed about the retreat, saying, "At this delicate moment in the life of the U.S. church, I don't believe it would be opportune for me to give interviews."

The theme of the U.S. bishops' retreat will be "the mission of the apostles and of their successors" and will draw from Mark 3:14, which says Jesus "appointed 12 -- whom he also named apostles -- that they might be with him and he might send them forth to preach."

Greg Burke, director of the Vatican press office, told Catholic News Service, "You can see why the pope asked the bishops to make the retreat together in what he told the bishops of Chile: without faith and without prayer, fraternity is impossible."

"At a moment like this, the bishops need to be united in prayer, and Catholics in the U.S. should see them at prayer," Burke said Dec. 13. "A retreat is always a time for conversion, and perhaps there's been no time in the U.S. with more need for conversion than now."

The job of "preacher of the papal household" is not a fulltime position; each year it requires the priest to give an average of eight meditations -- one each on most Fridays of Advent and Lent -- and the homily during the pope's Good Friday celebration of the Lord's Passion.

The title, and the ministry, has a very long history. Superiors of different religious orders took turns preaching to the pontiff and his aides during Advent and Lent until the mid-1500s, when Pope Paul IV appointed the first preacher of the papal household; his successors followed suit, always choosing a religious-order priest for the job. Pope Benedict XIV decided in 1743 to be more specific, decreeing that the preacher of the papal household always be a Capuchin friar.

St. John Paul II asked Father Cantalamessa to take the job in 1980; since then, the Capuchin has given more than 300 spiritual talks and homilies to the popes and their closest aides in the Roman Curia.

When he is not preaching to the pope, Father Cantalamessa leads retreats around the world, writes books and articles and works with charismatic Catholics; in late October, he was named ecclesial adviser of "Charis," the new international coordinating body for the Catholic charismatic renewal.

In a 2015 interview with CNS, he said the first time he climbed the steps to the lectern in St. Peter's Basilica to preach to the pope on Good Friday, "It felt like I was climbing Mount Everest."

But, he told TV2000, the Italian bishops' television station, "this post of preacher of the papal household says more about the pope than the preacher. He has the humility to set aside all his important tasks on the Fridays of Advent and Lent to come listen to the preaching of a simple priest."

The three popes he has preached to have given him the freedom to choose the topics for his meditations, he told CNS in 2015. "I try to understand, including with the help of prayer, what are the problems, needs or even graces the church is living at the moment and to make my little contribution with a spiritual reflection."

"Putting the word of God into practice must characterize all preaching," he said. "Pope Francis gives us a stupendous example of that with his morning homilies."

While focused on challenging and strengthening the faith of those he is preaching to, Father Cantalamessa's homilies have touched on religious persecution, Christian unity, signs of hatred and prejudice in society, violence against women, war and peace, the defense of human life and the abuse crisis.

His homily in St. Peter's Basilica on Good Friday in 2010 caused controversy. At the service, presided over by Pope Benedict XVI, the Capuchin focused on how Jesus broke the cycle of violence and victimizing others by taking on the world's sins and offering himself as a victim.

He had noted that in 2010 the Christian Holy Week and the Jewish Passover coincided, and he told the congregation the Jews "know from experience what it means to be victims of collective violence," and they recognize when other groups are being attacked simply because of who they are.

He then read a portion of a letter he said he received from a Jewish friend, who wrote that he was following "with disgust" attacks against the church and the pope, including because of the abuse scandal. The repetition of stereotypes and using the wrongdoings of some individuals as an excuse to paint a whole group with collective guilt reminded the Jewish author of "the most shameful aspects of anti-Semitism," the letter said.

Father Cantalamessa later said he was sincerely sorry if he offended any members of the Jewish community or any victims of sexual abuse.

The Capuchin also has preached on the need for the Catholic Church to be honest and transparent about the abuse crisis and to repent for it.

In December 2009, just a few hours before Pope Benedict XVI met with Irish bishops to discuss the clerical sex abuse crisis, Father Cantalamessa gave one of his Advent meditations. He told the pope and other Vatican officials that, as a matter of justice, the church must publicly admit the weakness of some of its priests.

However, he had said, acknowledging weakness is not enough to "launch a renewal of priestly ministry." For that, he said, the prayers of priests themselves and all the faithful are needed as is a renewed commitment by all priests to devoting themselves totally to serving God and their brothers and sisters.

And, in Advent 2006, leading a meditation on the passage from the beatitudes that says, "Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted," Father Cantalamessa said the church's tears of shame for the abuse crisis must be turned into tears of repentance.

Rather than mourning for the damage done to the church's reputation, he said, the church must weep "for the offense given to the body of Christ and the scandal given to the smallest of its members."

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Follow Wooden on Twitter: @Cindy_Wooden

 

 

 

 

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Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Pope Francis to visit Mother Teresa's birthplace in 2019

Vatican City, Dec 13, 2018 / 05:39 am (CNA).- The Vatican announced Thursday that Pope Francis will travel to Bulgaria and Macedonia May 5-7, 2019, with a stop in Mother Teresa’s hometown of Skopje.

The pope will spend the bulk of the trip in the Bulgarian cities of Sofia and Rakovski before visiting Skopje, Macedonia, the birthplace of Mother Teresa, on May 7.

While Mother Teresa is commonly associated with Calcutta, India -- the city included in her heavenly title of Saint Teresa of Calcutta -- she spent the first 17 years of her life as Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu in Skopje, Macedonia before receiving her call to a vocation as a missionary sister in 1928.

The Mother Teresa Memorial House in Skopje, the saint’s former home-turned-museum, has welcomed visitors who desired to learn about St. Teresa and venerate one of her relics since 2009.

Pope Francis will be the second pope to visit Bulgaria after St. Pope John Paul II’s visit in 2002.

The motto for Pope Francis’ Bulgarian trip is “Pacem in Terris,” recalling St. John XXIII’s 1963 encyclical of the same name. Before becoming pope, St. John XXIII was the first apostolic visitor and then apostolic delegate to Bulgaria from 1925 to 1931.

Church leaders in both Bulgaria and Macedonia invited Pope Francis to visit their respective countries, the Dec. 13 Vatican message stated.

According to the U.S. State Department, Bulgaria’s Catholics make up only 0.8 percent of its population. Seventy-six percent of Bulgarians are Eastern Orthodox Christian, mostly in the Bulgarian Orthodox Church. The second largest religious group in the country are Muslims at 10 percent of the population.

In Macedonia, an estimated 65 percent of the population is Orthodox Christian and 33 percent is Muslim.

The Vatican has confirmed that Pope Francis will also visit Panama, the United Arab Emirates, and Morocco in 2019 before his trip to Bulgaria and Macedonia.

For homeless students in New York City, challenges abound

New York City, N.Y., Dec 13, 2018 / 03:21 am (CNA/EWTN News).- As rent prices increase in New York City, so does its homeless population, affecting not only adults throughout the city but children as well.  

Roughly 1 out of 10 public school students in New York City are homeless, and these children often face significant challenges in completing their education.

According to a report from the state Education Department’s Student Information Repository System, a record high of 114, 659 students in the city’s public schools are homeless. The number has increased by 66 percent since 2010.

Brett Hartford, outreach director for New York City Relief, pointed to two major factors contributing to an increase in homelessness. First, the cheap areas of rent have turned into trendy spots, and rent prices have become astronomical. Second, he said, a rent voucher system was dropped by city about 10 years ago.

Under the policy, vouchers were given to individuals who had some source of income but did not have enough to cover rent. Subsidizing homes would then give these people a place to stay in exchange for the voucher, which the city would reimburse.

When the city no longer honored the vouchers, the subsidizing organizations stopped getting paid and lost out on millions. Although the system has been reinstituted since, he said, those companies no longer trust the vouchers will be honored and very few accept them.

Hartford told CNA that the city has laws to help individuals who have been evicted from their homes, but these policies often create situations that can be disruptive for schooling.

If families do not have anywhere to stay, the government will temporarily place them somewhere in New York City, he said, explaining that families may be moved across the city, sometimes a two-hour train ride away from their previous life.

This puts immense wear-and-tear on families, who may have difficulty traveling to work and school, he said.

Furthermore, the housing in which families are placed is often not ideal, with shared bathrooms and no secure place to lock up personal items. Once a family is assigned somewhere, Hartford said, they cannot apply for another location until a year later.

Amy Lacey, director of emergency services for Albany Catholic Charities, described to CNA the challenges facing homeless students.

When someone does not have a stable place to live, she explained, survival becomes the only goal.

“When an individual is homeless, that is the primary concern. It’s not whether the child gets up and goes to school, it’s let me make sure I have a roof over my head,” she said.

“They need to know that each day they are going to have a place to come home to, have a place to lay their head, have a place to come back to where someone is going to care for them.”

Lacey also said access to bus routes or public transportation may not always be an option, especially for chronically homeless families.

“Sometimes we have people who come into shelter who are not even at their own school district anymore.”

According to the New York Times, homeless children on average miss about 30 days of school a year. Of those living in the NYC shelters during the 2015-16 school year, only 12 percent passed the math exam for the state and 15 percent passed English.

Catholic Charities helps with the physical needs of homeless people in the Albany area – offering shelter, food, hygiene products and baby supplies – but also works through case managers to discuss education with parents.

“Having that case management for every homeless case is very important,” Lacey said. “That is someone who can sit down with a parent, sit down with a child, and say ‘where are your struggles right now?’”

“We deal with families who often time have multiple children and sometimes it is the responsibility of the oldest child to care for the youngest children,” she said, noting school for those children may be placed on the back burner. “So it is helping to change that mindset.”

She said the greatest need of young homeless people is someone to guide them and show concern. This begins with personal relationships, she said, adding that it is time and interest that truly help children improve and develop.

“What is really needed is individuals need to be able to step into the young person’s life, whether that is a guidance counselor, a teacher, a mentor, to let that child know that they are valuable, that they are worthy, and that they are intelligent.”

US State Department: Pakistan's religious freedom record a 'particular concern'

Washington D.C., Dec 12, 2018 / 07:01 pm (CNA).- Religious freedom problems in Pakistan have led the US Department of State to designate the country as of “particular concern,” with nine others, Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo said Tuesday.

“I recognize that several designated countries are working to improve their respect for religious freedom; I welcome such initiatives and look forward to continuing the dialogue,” Pompeo said Dec. 11.

In addition to Pakistan, Pompeo listed Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan. This means he believes they have engaged in or tolerated “systematic, ongoing, (and) egregious violations of religious freedom.” The designation took place Nov. 28, Pompeo said.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom makes recommendations to the State Department about the list. Its April 2018 report examined religious freedom threats in Pakistan and around the world.

In December 2017, Islamic State group-affiliated suicide bombers attacked a church in Quetta, killing nine people. The run-up to the national elections in July 2018 exacerbated religious tensions in the country. According to the USCIRF report, approximately 40 people sentenced under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws were awaiting the death penalty or serving life sentences.

“In far too many places across the globe, individuals continue to face harassment, arrests, or even death for simply living their lives in accordance with their beliefs,” Pompeo said Tuesday. “The United States will not stand by as spectators in the face of such oppression. Protecting and promoting international religious freedom is a top foreign policy priority of the Trump administration.”

“Safeguarding religious freedom is vital to ensuring peace, stability, and prosperity,” he continued. “These designations are aimed at improving the lives of individuals and the broader success of their societies.”

CNA contacted USCIRF for comment but did not receive a response by deadline.

In April, USCIRF Chair Daniel Mark told CNA he was particularly concerned about Pakistan.

“Matters concerning Pakistan are very sensitive on account of the fact that they are a partner of ours in combating terrorism around the world in the war in Afghanistan and so on,” Mark said. “But, given the rise of extremism in Pakistan... we really do think that pressure should be kept up, notwithstanding the cooperation that our two countries need.”

“Pakistan is a world leader in imprisonment and convictions, prosecutions for blasphemy and apostasy, and those sorts of things,” said Mark.

Asia Bibi, a Christian mother and field laborer, was among those facing blasphemy prosecution, spending eight years in prison despite her protestations of innocence. The Pakistan Supreme Court acquitted her of blasphemy charges in late October. The acquittal prompted protests and death threats. Her life is still in danger, as the ruling is under government review as part of a deal to appease groups that were leading riots in the streets.

Bibi’s family has sought asylum for her in the U.S., the U.K., or other countries in Europe. Italy has offered to help her find asylum.

Mark said conditions in Pakistan are bad at the legal level, such as the second-class citizenship treatment of the Ahmadi religious minority. There is also a growing “culture of impunity” in society, with vigilante mobs attacking people on the basis of blasphemy accusations.

Pompeo placed Comoros, Russia, and Uzbekistan on the special watch list for having engaged in or tolerated “severe violations of religious freedom.” In January the State Department had named Uzbekistan a country of particular concern.

The special watch list is a new designation, created by Congress’ 2016 amendments to the International Religious Freedom Act. Pakistan was first named to the watch list in December 2017.

Another list, entities of particular concern, includes al-Nusra Front, al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, al-Qaida, al-Shabab, Boko Haram, the Houthis, the Islamic State Group, the Islamic State Group in Khorasan, and the Taliban.

Pompeo noted his work as Secretary of State in hosting the first Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom in July, which brought together 85 governments and 400 NGOs that aimed to advance religious freedom.

“The United States remains committed to working with governments, civil society organizations, and religious leaders to advance religious freedom around the world,” Pompeo said.

Amid priest murders, religious freedom situation in Mexico draws concern

Mexico City, Mexico, Dec 12, 2018 / 05:40 pm (ACI Prensa).- With 26 priests murdered in the last six years, Mexico received a prominent mention in the 2018 Report on Religious Freedom in the World, recently published by the pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).

Julieta Appendini, ACN's director in Mexico, explained that although the country is not experiencing “a persecution such as in the Middle East,” where religious minorities are being killed, they are instead seeing “new forms of persecution.”

The majority of the murders of priests are due to their “getting in the way” of organized crime and drug trafficking, since the priests “provide stability to society,” Appendini told ACI Prensa, CNA's Spanish language sister agency.

She added that confrontations between Catholics and Protestants in southern Mexico are also recorded in the ACN report, as well as cases of looting churches and extortion.

The ACN director in Mexico explained that the religious freedom report analyzes the right to religious liberty in 106 countries.

“Every two years, we see how each country is doing based on this right which is founded on Article 18 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights,” she said.

Appendini said the situation in 2018 “has gotten worse,” since “in 38 countries out of 196 there is serious, heavy persecution and discrimination,” which is primarily concentrated in the Middle East and Africa.

In addition to China and Russia, India is also a critical case, where the government promotes Hinduism and encourages discrimination and repression of religious minorities such as Christians.

“Out of the world's population, 61 percent, we're talking 2.5 billion people, live in a country where there is religious persecution or discrimination.”

Faced with this situation, she said, ACN is seeking to inform and raise awareness, encourage prayer, and be bridges of charity.

“The foundation has helped financially, through all the donations of our benefactors throughout the world, especially for the persecuted Christians,” she said.

Appendini said that ACN has provided “emergency aid on all levels. Not just with spiritual support, but with food, building their churches, schools, and with emergency aid so they can survive.”

This article was originally published by our sister agency, ACI Prensa. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

 

Priest who survived major plane crash credits Our Lady of Guadalupe

Chicago, Ill., Dec 12, 2018 / 04:58 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- This year, for Father Esequiel Sanchez, the Feast Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe brings up terrifying memories - and a huge reason to be thankful.

Sanchez was one of 103 passengers aboard Aeromexico Flight 2431, which crashed and burned in a field shortly after takeoff on July 31 of this year.

While there were some injuries, no one died.

“I personally attributed that to the intercession of Our Lady, and so did the other passengers, I think most of us...saw it as miraculous,” Sanchez told CNA.

Shortly after takeoff in Durango, the plane caught strong winds, causing the left wing to hit the ground and the plane to lose both of its engines.

As the craft was hurtling toward the ground, Sanchez said he thought he would either die, be paralyzed, or be burned by subsequent explosions. All he walked away with was a broken arm.

But his fear in the moment didn’t stop his priestly training from kicking in - he immediately started to pray out loud.

“They say police officers and firefighters and soldiers will tell you that when you get into a crisis situation, your training kicks in. I think that’s happened to me too,” he said.

“I prayed ‘God come to our assistance, Blessed Mother come to help us,’ and then I began to absolve everybody on the plane. I immediately said: ‘I absolve everyone on this plane, may the Lord have mercy,’” he recalled.

“I thought it was just going to be it, because it was happening so fast. You don’t (crash) a 100-ton airplane at 150 miles per hour and think you’re gonna be ok. But happily we were.”

When the plane crash-landed, emergency crews helped evacuate everyone before the plane exploded into flames.

Sanchez’ first thought was for the victims.

“I just couldn’t imagine finding someone’s mother who died and I survived. So for me to I wanted to tell them that I tried to get to them, so my primary concern was getting to the victims as best I could, and start ministering to them. When that’s what you’re concerned about, that’s what you’re going to go after.”

Some survivors had worse injuries - a little girl with burn injuries was taken to a hospital, others had neck and back injuries.

The plane “completely disintegrated,” Sanchez said, so the lack of deaths or worse injuries is miraculous.

Besides being a plane crash survivor, Sanchez is also the rector of the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Des Plaines, Ill., a Chicago suburb.

The shrine is the site of a massive celebration for the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe every year on Dec. 12. The event attracts more than 200,000 pilgrims annually, many whom walk for hours or even days on foot to get there.  

For Sanchez, and for some other Durango plane crash survivors who have made the trek to the shrine this year, the Feast Day has taken on new significance.

“So for me, on Our Lady of Guadalupe today, and all those memories...I’m a pilgrim just like them, I come to give her thanks,” he said.

“Some of the survivors came and did the same thing, they came to give thanks to Our Lady.”

Besides being grateful for his survival and lack of serious injury, Sanchez said one of the greatest blessings since the event has been the “outpouring of everyone from the city of Chicago and beyond.”

“Everyone found out about the story and they prayed for us, there’s no place I can go without  people saying we prayed for you,” he said.

“So when you get that kind of generosity, my only response other than to say thank you is: I am so looking forward to becoming a better priest and a better minister, and I do things with a lot more joy,” he said.

Sanchez said he loves his ministry as the rector at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and that every year it brings him hope to see the numerous pilgrims on Dec. 12, many of whom come with their whole families.

“I find no more effective image or evangelizing tool than Our Lady of Guadalupe and her message,” he said.

And whether you’re a pilgrim hurtling through the air in a near-death experience plane crash, or an undocumented immigrant trekking to the Shrine to beg her help: “She’s a source of hope.”