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Polish cardinal, St. John Paul's aide, defends pontiff's record on abuse

IMAGE: CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano via Reuters

By Jonathan Luxmoore

WARSAW, Poland (CNS) -- A close aide to St. John Paul II has vigorously defended the late pope's handling of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy and denied accusations that he ignored the problem during his 27-year pontificate.

"Emerging opinions that John Paul II was sluggish in guiding the church's response to sexual abuse of minors by some clerics are prejudicial and contrary to historical facts -- the pope was shocked and had no intention of tolerating the crime of pedophilia," said Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, who was the pontiff's personal secretary for 39 years.

St. John Paul saw how local churches "dealt with emerging problems and gave help when necessary, often at his own initiative."

The 79-year-old cardinal, who retired in 2016 after 11 years as archbishop of Krakow, was reacting to media criticisms that the Polish pontiff failed to confront abuse claims when they became widespread in the 1980s.

In a March 20 statement to Poland's Catholic Information Agency, KAI, he said the pope had concluded "new tools were needed" when the abuse crisis "began to ferment" in the United States.

He added that the saint had given church leaders new powers to combat it, including indults, or special licenses to ensure "a policy of zero tolerance," for the U.S. and Irish churches in 1994 and 1996.

"These were, for the bishops, an unambiguous indication of the direction in which they should fight," Cardinal Dziwisz said.

"When it became clear local episcopates and religious superiors were still unable to cope with the problem, and the crisis was spreading to other countries, he recognized it concerned not just the Anglo-Saxon world but had a global character," the cardinal said.

Criticisms of St John Paul's record have increased in recent months.

A March 16 commentary in Britain's Catholic weekly, The Tablet, said St. John Paul advanced several cardinals accused ignoring sexual abuse, including U.S. Cardinals Bernard F. Law and Theodore E. McCarrick, Austrian Cardinal Hans Hermann Groer and Scottish Cardinal Keith O'Brien.

The commentary added that the pope's "turning a blind eye to sexual abuse" had been shaped by communist-era experiences in Poland and had caused "the mess the church is in today."

However, in his statement, Cardinal Dziwisz said St. John Paul had promulgated legal norms of "groundbreaking importance" for tackling abuse crimes in May 2001 -- a year before "a wave of revelations" in the U.S. -- requiring sexual abuse committed by clergy be referred to the Vatican's Apostolic Court.

He added that the pope had presented his own analysis of the crisis to U.S. cardinals in April 2002 following the publication of "Spotlight" claims and had also "known and approved" the launch of Vatican investigations in December 2004 against Father Marcial Maciel Degollado, the Mexican head of the Legionaries of Christ.

"To this day, this analysis serves as a reference point for all those committed to fighting against the crime of sexual abuse of minors by clerics," said Cardinal Dziwisz, who also defended St. John Paul's record in a Polish TV interview during a February Vatican summit on protection of minors.

"It helps diagnose the crisis and indicates the way out, and this has been confirmed by the Vatican summit convened by Pope Francis, who is following with determination the path of his predecessors in fighting against this problem."

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Panel: Policies to empower women must protect femininity, human dignity

IMAGE: CNS photo/Thomas Mukoya, Reuters

By Beth Griffin

UNITED NATIONS (CNS) -- Women should not be required to divest themselves of femininity to achieve empowerment and gender equality, according to panelists at a March 19 event at the United Nations.

Women's dignity and distinctiveness also must not be sacrificed to win social protections, public services and sustainable infrastructure, they said.

Speakers addressed "Protecting Femininity and Human Dignity in Women's Empowerment and Gender Equality Policies Today" at a side event to the 63rd session of the Commission on the Status of Women. The program was co-sponsored by the Vatican's Permanent Observer Mission to the United Nations.

"True respect for woman starts with accepting, indeed reverencing, her according to all aspects of her humanity," said Msgr. Tomasz Grysa, who is first counselor at the Vatican's U.N. mission. "It involves creating the social conditions for her to live freely and fully, without discrimination, according to her feminine genius, the special wisdom she has in caring for the intrinsic dignity of everyone, in nurturing life and love and in developing others' gifts."

"When women are given the opportunity to thrive in full appreciation for all their talents and potential, the whole of society benefits," he added.

The full dignity of women should be promoted and protected with regard to marriage, motherhood and family life, Msgr. Grysa said. Because the unique value and dignity of motherhood is insufficiently defended, appreciated and advanced in some societies, women must choose between intellectual and professional development and their personal growth as wives and mothers.

"Women's essential contributions to the development of society through their dedication to their marriage and to raising the next generation are inadequately acknowledged ... and disparaged as an antiquated and unwholesome model of feminine life," he said.

Msgr. Grysa said, "We need more than words condemning all forms of unjust discrimination against women. We need more than social protections, access to public services and sustainable infrastructure that allow women to take up work outside the home or even to enable them to meet their families' needs without needing to sever their maternity from their femininity.

"We need an effective and intelligent campaign for the promotion of women, concentrating on all areas of women's life and beginning with a universal recognition of their dignity," he added.

Sue Ellen Browder, a journalist and former 20-year writer for Cosmopolitan magazine, said the real conflict between women is not over feminism, but the false joining of feminism with the sexual revolution.

"What strong pro-life feminists oppose is destroying a woman's dignity by reducing her personhood to her sex organs, her sexual desirability and her sexual urges and then pretending this animalistic reduction of her dignity is somehow a form of 'freedom,'" Bowder said.

"To bring peace to this war on women in the world, we need to separate true feminism from the sexual revolution in our minds and the minds of others," she said.

Browder traced the history of the modern women's movement from the early 1960s. She said leader Betty Freidan and other feminists fought for equal opportunity for women in academia and the workforce, not abortion and contraception.

The sexual revolution, championed by Cosmopolitan editor-in-chief Helen Gurley Brown, was a divisive movement whose false promise was that "splitting sex from love actually empowered women," Browder said.

According to Browder, the male founders of the National Abortion Rights Action League persuaded Freidan "to insert abortion as a 'right' into the women's movement." The decision to do so split the feminist movement, a division which persists today.

"Separate feminism from the sexual revolution in your mind and heart. Then you will at last set women and girls truly free," she concluded.

Retired U.S. Navy Cmdr. Susan Yoshihara realized an unexpected appreciation of her unique femininity in the middle of a task she was assigned to because she was a woman.

During a mission in the South China Seas, the combat logistics pilot was replaced by a male pilot in her helicopter seat after landing on the deck of a ship. She was assigned to bathe Vietnamese women who had been rescued by the Navy and brought aboard the ship from small boats as they fled Vietnam.

In the midst of her anger over temporarily losing her flight position in a competitive field, Yoshihara was brought to earth by the sight of a woman cowering in the shower wearing only a small medallion of Mary. Yoshihara felt ashamed when she realized the woman expected her to take the medal.

Yoshihara was reminded of religious sisters from her high school who were similarly devoted to Mary. She was able to lighten the mood and help the women relax and laugh as they dressed in oversized donated men's clothing.

Yoshihara said her experience that night, far from the top ranks or the front lines, was a reminder that small acts of kindness bring happiness under and on the way to the mythical glass ceiling.

Yoshihara is senior vice president for research at the Center for Family and Human Rights.

Anne Kioko, the founder and director of the African Organization for the Family, said some international policies are out of sync with what women and girls actually need. As a result, some organizations that claim to represent women at the grassroots do not speak for their reality.

She said girls in the rural Kenyan village where she was raised do not need contraception to be empowered. They also do not need policies that prioritize abortion or comprehensive sexual education curricula that "reduce women to her sexualization," she said.

Instead, girls will be empowered by access to good education, competent medical care and clean, accessible water, she said.

Kioko said abortion is illegal in Kenya, but an international organization affiliated with the United Nations provides it. "Why must we continue to see ... that giving a mother the right to take the life of her baby in the womb is essential to her empowerment?" she asked.

"When abortion is prioritized for women like those in my country, it is not the woman we are protecting, it is the bloodthirsty abortion industry," Kioko said.

Lila Rose, founder and president of Live Action, described abortion as a global crisis. She said the solution to the mistreatment of women is not to abolish the differences that exist between men and women, but to celebrate the totality of womanhood, including the ability to become mothers.

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Copyright © 2019 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.

Theologian supports declaring St. Romero 'doctor of the church'

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Rhina Guidos

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- One of the founders of liberation theology in Latin America said he supports an effort to declare St. Oscar Romero a doctor of the Catholic Church.

During a March 18 livestream of an event celebrating the Salvadoran saint canonized in October, Dominican Father Gustavo Gutierrez, considered by many as the father of liberation theology, said he thought the idea of naming St. Romero a doctor of the church was an "excellent" proposition.

While some value a person's writings or academic record, when it comes to declaring a saint a doctor of the church, "love toward another person is worth more than all of the theologies," said Father Gutierrez, recalling something he'd read from another theologian. He was speaking via internet to those gathered for "Romero Days," an event sponsored by the University of Notre Dame.

St. Romero's feast day is March 24.

Saints who are declared doctors of the church "are probably best thought of as doctors in the Ph.D. sense of the word," said Father Larry Rice, explaining the term in 2015 on the website of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

"Through their research, study and writing, they have advanced the church's knowledge of our faith. To be declared a doctor of the church does not imply that all their writings are free from error but rather that the whole body of their work, taken together serves to advance the cause of Christ and his church," he wrote.

St. Romero was a prolific writer and much can be gleaned from his works, explained Father Gutierrez, who said he encountered the Salvadoran saint in the early 1970s. But contrary to the belief that many promulgated that St. Romero himself was a follower of liberation theology and its embrace of the "preferential option for the poor," there isn't much to support that, said Father Gutierrez.

"We can't say that," he said, because St. Romero was traveling a different journey, and he had already encountered a world of poverty in Eastern El Salvador in 1970 when he served there. Father Gutierrez's book that gave a spotlight to liberation theology wasn't published until 1971. By then, St. Romero was making "advances" of his own because of the poverty he had seen among his people, Father Gutierrez said.

Just before St. Romero's May 2015 beatification in El Salvador, Chilean Father Pablo Richard Guzman, a well-known liberation theologian in Latin America, told Catholic News Service that while the Salvadoran archbishop was not a follower of liberation theology, "he influenced us."

While he may have heard of the liberation theology, St. Romero was undergoing a "process," not the much-talked about conversion others tout, Father Gutierrez believes.

"Much has been said about Romero's conversion and people have the right to say what they think," Father Gutierrez said. "I just want to say that I don't agree."

Rather than a "conversion," Father Gutierrez said he believes St. Romero's "process" was one guided by the injustices he witnessed. Then he had the humility to say, "I need to learn," Father Gutierrez said.

He did seem to show a bit of "distrust" of certain movements within the church in Latin America, Father Gutierrez said, but he was always willing to keep an open mind.

He said later in life he read the saint's notes about meeting with him. St. Romero wrote: "Father Gustavo was different than what people had told me."

Witnessing his canonization decades later was not a surprise, Father Gutierrez said.

"It was a great pleasure but, like many, I was sure it was coming," he said.

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Update: As cyclone slams Africa, churches, aid agencies coordinate response

IMAGE: CNS photo/Josh Estey, Care International via Reuters

By Bronwen Dachs

CAPE TOWN, South Africa (CNS) -- Two boys at a Catholic boarding school in Zimbabwe are among the more than 300 people killed in the aftermath of a cyclone that slammed into Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi in mid-March. Officials fear the death toll from the cyclone could reach 1,000.

A landslide sent rocks crashing into a dormitory at St. Charles Lwanga Seminary Secondary School in Mutare Diocese, trapping about 50 students and staff. They dug themselves out, and teachers carried the boys' bodies for about 10 miles in the Chimanimani district, a mountainous area in eastern Zimbabwe, before the group was picked up by the army and taken to the nearest hospital.

In Mozambique, more than 200 people have died and nearly 350,000 are at risk, President Filipe Nyusi said March 19. In Zimbabwe, the government said about 100 people had died, but the death toll could triple.

"It's very difficult to know the extent of the damage" and the death toll, with collapsed infrastructure and communication lines down, Erica Dahl-Bredine, Catholic Relief Services' representative for Mozambique, said in a March 18 telephone interview.

Beira, Mozambique's second-largest city and a major port, "is almost completely destroyed, and some areas outside the city are impossible to reach," she said. The cyclone knocked out electricity, shut down Beira's international airport and cut off access to the city by road.

"People are stranded on roofs of houses and in trees, waiting for help," Dahl-Bredine said, noting that roads and bridges have been washed away.

With overflowing rivers, whole villages have been submerged and bodies were floating in the floodwaters, she said.

Catholic Relief Services is working with local Caritas and other church and relief groups to assess the needs and provide help, she said.

Mozambique is a long, narrow country of about 30 million people with a 1,500-mile coastline along the Indian Ocean.

The cyclone, called Idai, landed in Beira late March 14 before moving to Zimbabwe with strong winds and heavy rain.

Because Zimbabwe is a landlocked country, the "sheer force and strength of the cyclone" was worse than anticipated, Rita Billingsley, who works for Catholic Relief Services in Zimbabwe, said in a March 19 telephone interview from the capital, Harare.

With crops, livestock and homes destroyed in the storm, "about 12,000 people are believed to have lost their livelihoods" in Zimbabwe, Billingsley said, noting that numbers are expected to rise in affected countries as the extent of the cyclone's destruction becomes clearer.

Church premises throughout Zimbabwe are being used to provide refuge for those who have lost their homes, as well as to coordinate the emergency response with all those involved, she said. With "overwhelming local support," the church is "well placed to give a targeted and meaningful response."

"We need to get supplies to those who need it most and quickly," Billingsley said, noting that supplies are ready and airdrops are planned.

Unrelenting rains, rockslides and fallen trees have destroyed roads and bridges in many places, making rescue efforts very difficult, she said.

Also, with the destruction of Beira, the trade route to Zimbabwe will have to change and prices of goods are likely to rise, she said.

"Some goods won't be available at all, which will harm the markets" around Zimbabwe, Billingsley said.

"This means in-kind support rather than cash" will be prioritized, she said, noting that "provision of medical supplies is a major area of concern."

Shortages of food, fuel and medical supplies are already acute in Zimbabwe.

At the Vatican, Pope Francis prayed those affected by the flooding, which has "sown sorrow and devastation," be able to find comfort and support.

He expressed his concern and sorrow for "the many victims and their families" at the end of his general audience in St. Peter's Square March 20. He said he was praying that those "hit by this calamity" would find "comfort and support."

Father Frederick Chiromba, secretary-general of the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops' Conference, said in a March 18 telephone interview from Harare that early warning systems for the cyclone were in place but "the extent of the damage was worse than we had expected."

With "changing climate patterns, our droughts and other weather shocks seem to get more severe every time," he said.

Neighboring Malawi was also affected by the heavy rains. The government confirmed 56 deaths in the flooding, which caused rivers to burst their banks, leaving houses submerged and around 11,000 households displaced.

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Editors: Catholic Relief Services is collecting for cyclone victims: https://bit.ly/2JrkYrL

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God's will is clear: to seek out, save humanity from evil, pope says

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Christians have faith in a God who wants to and is able to transform the world, conquering evil with good, Pope Francis said.

That is why "it makes sense to obey and abandon oneself" to God and his will, even during life's most difficult moments, the pope said March 20 during his general audience in St. Peter's Square.

Continuing a series of talks about the Lord's Prayer, the pope focused on the line, "Thy will be done." It is the third petition in the prayer right after, "hallowed be thy name" and "thy kingdom come."

God's will -- what he wants -- is clearly illustrated throughout the Gospel, the pope said; it is "to seek out and save whoever is lost."

"Have you ever thought about what that means, that God is looking for me, for each one of us" personally, "knocking on the door of our heart" with love, hoping to capture people's attention and take them by the hand toward salvation, the pope said.

"God is not ambiguous," Pope Francis said. "He does not hide behind riddles" or inscrutable plans; he wants everyone to know the truth and be saved.

The Our Father is a prayer asking that this desire be fulfilled and that each person and all of humanity be saved, he said.

When people pray, "Thy will be done," they are praying not as subservient "slaves" but as children who understand and trust their father and his loving plan, the pope said.

"It is a courageous, even confrontational prayer because there are so many, too many things going on in the world that are not according to God's plan," he added.

In a world experiencing war, hatred and exploitation, he said, people of faith know that God wants what is best, which is why they pray his will be done and that swords be turned into plowshares, because "God wants peace."

The Lord's Prayer is meant to ignite the same deep love Jesus felt for his father, the same passion to "transform the world with love."

Christians do not believe in random, unalterable or "inescapable fate," the pope said. Rather, they truly believe "that God can and wants to transform reality, conquering evil with good," and this, he said, is why people pray.

Even though Christ was being "crushed by the evil of the world," he abandoned himself fully and confidently to God's will, the pope said.

That path to salvation may be difficult, and people may experience suffering, pain or harm, but God "will never abandon us. He will always be with us, next to us, within us."

"For a person of faith, this is more than a hope, it is a sure thing -- God is with me."

Present at the pope's general audience was Nobel Peace Prize recipient, Setsuko Thurlow, 87, a Japanese-Canadian survivor of the United States' atomic bombing of Hiroshima in 1945. She received the prize in 2017 on behalf of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.

She was part of a delegation of activists led by Earth Caravan, an interfaith group based in Japan and Canada. The group visiting the Vatican was made up of people from different countries and cultures, including four 13-year-old girls -- girls the same age as Thurlow when the bomb dropped on her city and killed her family.  

The group was to present Pope Francis with an oil lamp lit with a flame that was taken from the burning ashes of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. The flame, the group said on its website, has been burning continuously since Aug. 6, 1945.

The group was going to ask the pope to blow out the flame they brought as a symbolic gesture of wishing for a world free of nuclear weapons and a brighter, more peaceful world.

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Templeton Prize winner believes science, spirituality are complementary

IMAGE: CNS photo/Eli Burakian, Dartmouth College

By

WEST CONSHOHOCKEN, Pa. (CNS) -- A Dartmouth College cosmologist and theoretical physicist, who considers himself a religious agnostic even though he has devoted his career to examining link between science, philosophy and spirituality in exploring the mystery of creation, is the 2019 Templeton Prize winner.

Marcelo Gleiser, 60, often describes science as an "engagement with the mysterious" because he believes it cannot be separated from humanity's relationship with the natural world.

A native of Brazil, he is the first Latin American to be named a Templeton Prize Laureate.

In announcing the award March 19, the John Templeton Foundation called Gleiser "a prominent voice among scientists, past and present, who reject the notion that science alone can lead to ultimate truths about the nature of reality."

The Templeton Prize, established in 1972 by Sir John Templeton, aims to recognize someone "who has made an exceptional contribution to affirming life's spiritual dimension, whether through insight, discovery or practical works."

Gleiser's work has earned international acclaim. His books are best-sellers, especially in his homeland, and his television series has drawn millions of viewers.

"The path to scientific understanding and scientific exploration is not just about the material part of the world," Gleiser said in a videotaped acceptance of the prize released by the foundation, based in West Conshohocken. "My mission is to bring back to science and to the people that are interested in science, the attachment to the mysterious, to make people understand that science is just one other way for us to engage with the mystery of who we are."

Despite his agnosticism, Gleiser has disavowed atheism.

"I see atheism as being inconsistent with the scientific method as it is, essentially, belief in nonbelief," he said in a 2018 interview with Scientific American. "You may not believe in God, but to affirm its nonexistence with certain is not scientifically consistent."

Among Gleiser's significant scientific contributions is his work as a co-discoverer in 1994 of "oscillons," which the foundation described as "small, long-lived energy 'lumps' made of many particles." He continues to study their properties.

His current research involves the use of information theory to explore how the stability of physical systems -- from subatomic particles to massive structures in the universe -- is encrypted in the complexity of their shapes.

The foundation said Gleiser also focuses on the origin of life on earth, examining the role of biochemical asymmetries in the early formation of polymers, the precursors to complex biomolecules. In addition, his views have risen in prominence in the growing astrobiology field.

Gleiser was born in Rio de Janiero and was raised in the Jewish community, attending Hebrew school. He graduated from the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janiero in 1981 and later received a doctorate in theoretical physics from King's College London.

He joined the Dartmouth College faculty in Hanover, New Hampshire, at age 32, teaching physics and astronomy. By the time he was named a full professor at the school in 1998, Gleiser had expanded his scientific views into a larger cultural context, the foundation said.

His work led to his first book, "The Dancing Universe," which was developed as a college textbook for non-science majors. It explored the philosophical and religious roots of scientific thinking and their influence throughout human history and result in Gleiser's rise as a public intellectual.

The prize includes a cash award of more than $1.4 million. A formal award ceremony is scheduled May 29 in New York.

Previous Templeton Prize winners include religious figures St. Teresa of Kolkata, Anglican Bishop Desmond Tutu, the Rev. Billy Graham and the Dalai Lama as well as scientists Martin Rees and Freeman Dyson.

 

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In Syria, Caritas works to promote understanding among neighbors

IMAGE: CNS photo/Muhammad Hamed, Reuters

By Dale Gavlak

RAMTHA, Jordan (CNS) -- As Syria's civil war enters its ninth year, citizens in and outside the country find themselves in limbo. Catholic and other aid agencies are urging a swift resolution to the crisis.

Caritas Syria is campaigning for "an immediate end to the violence and suffering" and calling for "all sides of the conflict to come together to find a peaceful solution," chiefly through reconciliation work.

"We are initiating reconciliation among the various communities to correct misconceptions in the minds of those living in Damascus, Ghouta, Aleppo and elsewhere about people outside their religious community," said Sandra Awad, communications director for the Catholic aid agency Caritas Syria.

Caritas Syria is the country's branch of Caritas Internationalis, the Catholic Church's international network of charitable agencies.

Awad told Catholic News Service by telephone from Damascus that a meal involving Christians, Alawites and Muslims brought about a wonderful understanding and compassion for the suffering shared by all.

She said a Christian woman told her at the start of the lunch that she did not want to sit next to a woman wearing a headscarf because Muslims had kidnapped her son. Militants had entered her home and beat her son, resulting in psychological problems for him. They shot another son's legs, leaving him paralyzed. The militants kidnapped the third son with his wife and child.

But Awad said she told her, "This woman with the headscarf lost her husband from mortar shelling, and her 15-year-old son lost his legs. She is taking care of her children by herself without any income."

The Christian woman then responded: "Yes, all of us have suffered."

"I could see her ideas begin to change," Awad said. "The people spoke about the pain they experienced during the war. They began to feel that people have suffered as much as themselves and perhaps even more," she said and, as a result, they got along together.

During a Caritas-sponsored visit to the Damascus suburb of Ghouta, a Muslim man questioned why militants were calling for people to be killed, rather than supported.

"Let them see who is helping us," he said. "A Christian organization is helping us now."

Caritas' reconciliation efforts underline the practical support it provides to thousands of Syrians by distributing food baskets, clothes and blankets as well as medical assistance and psychosocial support.

Pope Francis has been closely engaged with the Syrian crisis, consistently calling for an end to the fighting. He has acknowledged the assistance Caritas gives to Syrians regardless of their ethnic or religious affiliation as the best way to contribute toward peace.

Syria's war has killed more than 400,000 people and forced more than 6 million Syrians out of their homes inside Syria; 5.5 million have fled to neighboring countries since the outbreak of the conflict in 2011.

CAFOD, the Catholic international development charity in England and Wales, and Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. bishops' international aid and development agency, are part of the Caritas network.

In a statement provided to Catholic News Service, CAFOD said it "believes that until a political process addresses the underlying issues that led to the Syrian war, there will be no safe future in Syria for the millions of Syrians caught up in this conflict.

Syrian refugees sheltering in neighboring Jordan and Lebanon, many for longer than they ever imagined, have expressed concern for their future.

"My family believes that we cannot return to Syria because our home was destroyed, so there is nothing to go back to," Um Mohamed, using her familial name in Arabic, told CNS in the northern Jordanian border town of Ramtha, which abuts Syria. "But we're also finding it impossible to stay in Jordan because there is no work, my husband is sick, and our savings are running out."

Another Syrian refugee at the large Zaatari camp, also near the border, said she is worried about her son left behind in Syria.

"He was living in an area controlled by the rebels, although he didn't fight with them. But because of being in that place, he and other young Syrian men have turned themselves into the Syrian authorities in the hopes of getting a lesser jail term," Um Sami told CNS, saying the Syrian government views them with suspicion.

"But the fear is that the government will forcibly conscript these men into the Syrian military and put them in frontline positions without any training. Or, what if my son is never seen again?" she said, her eyes welling with tears.

Other Syrian refugees are fearful that the regime considers them "traitors."

"A lot of young men left Syria because they didn't want to fight in the conflict," Maha Yahya, director of the Carnegie Middle East Center, told CNS.

"A lot of refugees said to me, 'I left so I don't kill, and I don't get killed.' Even if they go back today, there is a new amnesty law, but there are no guarantees that they won't be thrown into prison or sent to the frontline," she explained.

Other refugees around Zahle, near the Syrian border in Lebanon, said they, too, fear a return, but for some there is no other choice.

A Christian aid worker told CNS about a Syrian widow who died unexpectedly in March. She left behind three young children who must go back to Syria to join relatives to care for them. But these family members live in the militant stronghold of Idlib in Syria's north, making their fate uncertain.

Eight million Syrian children are now in need of assistance, including psychosocial support, according to the U.N. children's agency, UNICEF.

"Every single Syrian child has been impacted by violence, loss, displacement, family separation and lack of access to basic services, including health and education. Grave violations of children's rights -- recruitment, abductions, killing and maiming continue unabated," UNICEF said March 6.

Syrians live without "peace or war," Maronite Archbishop Samir Nassar of Damascus, told the Vatican news agency, Fides, March 11. "It's an uncertain and difficult situation, which is becoming unsustainable for the weakest," he said.

Archbishop Nassar warned that Syria's historic Christian population has decreased in some areas by 77 percent, compared to the time before the conflict.

 

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Copyright © 2019 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.

Cardinal Parolin celebrates 150th anniversary of children's hospital

IMAGE: CNS photo/Vatican Media

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Vatican-owned Bambino Gesu Children's Hospital in Rome is a sign of the Catholic Church's commitment to caring for and protecting the dignity of the sick, said Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican secretary of state.

Commemorating the hospital's 150th anniversary March 19, Cardinal Parolin said that the identity of Bambino Gesu Hospital is rooted in Jesus' call to care for the ever-evolving needs of the sick in a "prophetic" way.

"Even if the situation has radically changed since the time of its first pioneering experiences, the church will never stop paying attention to the sick with that look of love and with that 'prophetic' attitude," Cardinal Parolin said.

Founded in 1869 by Duchess Arabella and Duke Scipione Salviati, it became the first pediatric hospital on the Italian peninsula.

In an effort to guarantee the hospital would have a secure future, in 1924 the Salviati family donated it to Pope Pius XI.

Over time, the hospital added new pavilions, new operating rooms and new outpatient departments. Today, with two branches outside Rome, Bambino Gesu Children's Hospital is one of the most modern and well-equipped pediatric facilities in the country.

Among those present at the 150th anniversary celebration were Italian President Sergio Mattarella, Rome Mayor Virginia Raggi and various local officials as well as hospital staff.

Cardinal Parolin said that church-run hospitals like Bambino Gesu are a sign of the Catholic Church's "constant attention to the human person."

Love, he said, is not only demonstrated in the effectiveness of the hospital's assistance to patients but also "in the ability to be close in solidarity with those who suffer."

"Putting the sick at the center means, among other things, knowing how to combine the action of curing the disease with that of taking care of the whole patient, of his or her person and of his or her emotional, relational, psychological and even spiritual world," the cardinal said.

Although Bambino Gesu Hospital carries out its mission in Italy, Cardinal Parolin said it also shares the universal mission of the Catholic Church to proclaim God's love in the farthest corners of the world.

The commitment of Bambino Gesu Hospital to expanding and training staff at a pediatric hospital in Bangui, Central African Republic, he said, "is a testimony that for Bambino Gesu Hospital, there are no walls or boundaries, nor race or religious affiliation that separate it from charity."

"With great passion," the cardinal said, "we want to continue our great task of taking care of sick children, including those who in their countries do not have the possibility, as a sign of the charity of Jesus Christ and his church and to open up and embrace with hope the future that lies before us."

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju

 

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Counselors offer 'loving sources of hope' for women seeking abortions

IMAGE: CNS photo/Natalie Hoefer, The Cr

By Natalie Hoefer

INDIANAPOLIS (CNS) -- Two women stood near the busy road on a chilly February morning in Indianapolis. A steady, penetrating mist -- and sometimes an icy splash from a speeding car -- made for a dampness that digs deep and lingers despite layers of clothes. The temperature hovered just above freezing.

"It's always 10 degrees colder here than anywhere else," Sheryl Dye said with a patient grin. Her companion, Ann Clawson, nodded in agreement.

By "here" she meant the entrance of the driveway of the Planned Parenthood abortion facility on the northwest side of Indianapolis. It is the state's largest abortion provider.

Dye and Clawson are committed to standing, praying and hailing approaching cars with a wave and a smile for at least two hours there every Wednesday morning.

They are members of the Indianapolis North chapter of Sidewalk Advocates for Life. Per its website, the organization's mission is to train and support volunteers "to be the hands and feet of Christ, offering loving, life-affirming alternatives to all present at the abortion center, thereby eliminating demand and ending abortion."

Dye and Debra Minott established the chapter in 2016 and currently serve as its coordinators.

Sidewalk counselors have been there for 13 years, since the facility opened in 2006, said Dye, 54. "It started as a grass-roots effort. ... Deb and I used to counsel together. We started talking about the need for more comprehensive training and getting more people involved. Sidewalk Advocates has a great training program."

Each chapter designates the abortion facility it will cover. A chapter also exists in Bloomington, covering the Planned Parenthood abortion center near Indiana University.

Being a sidewalk counselor does not require any kind of degree or persuasive ability, said Minott, 63, told The Criterion, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

"First and foremost (it requires) a very strong faith," she said. "Because to be successful, you need to recognize you are an instrument of the Holy Spirit, and it's not anything you're doing.

"Second is a passion for life. If you're not there believing that this is a life to be saved, it's going to come through to the person you're talking to."

Having "thick skin" is needed, too, "because some of the things people say aren't very nice," admitted Minott, a member of St. Marie Goretti Parish in Westfield, Indiana, in the Diocese of Lafayette.

Both agree on several misconceptions about what sidewalk counselors do -- that they are there to yell and protest against the abortion center, or there to shame the women as they drive in.

"No matter what is said to us, no matter what goes on, we are peaceful, loving sources of hope," said Dye, a member of St. John the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis. "Our goal is to let (the women) know there's help, that there's pain that can come with abortion, and that they're better than that and don't have to experience that."

One might say the counselors' first goal is to get a car to stop.

"We just wave and offer a big smile and make eye contact," Dye said of the counselors' approach to cars entering the drive.

"There are times when you get no one to stop, then sometimes you get eight cars to stop" during the two- to two-and-a-half-hour shifts, Minott added.

When a car does stop, a counselor offers the driver brochures and information on alternative pro-life organizations that will help them at no charge. For instance, 1st Choice for Women is a pregnancy clinic less than a mile from the abortion center. It is a ministry of Great Lakes Gabriel Project, which also sponsors the north Indianapolis Sidewalk Advocates chapter.

Counselors also offer to walk over immediately and meet the woman at the Women's Care Center that abuts the north boundary of the Planned Parenthood property.

"Even if I talk to someone for a minute -- and that's really about all the time you have -- and they still go in (to the abortion center), I believe my prayers have an impact," Minott said of what counselors spend most of their time doing by the drive: praying.

Counselors often use a rosary booklet with tailor-made intentions Minott designed. But with volunteers from different faith backgrounds, any and all prayers are welcome, she said.

"If I didn't have faith that being there praying was having an impact, I couldn't go on doing it because there's just not enough tangible rewards coming back to you," Minott said.

Occasionally there are tangible rewards, though. Dye told the story of a woman who stopped not long ago to talk to a specific counselor.

"This woman said she had been driving up and down Georgetown Road for a year trying to find the counselor," Dye said. "She wanted her to know that even though she went on in for her abortion after the counselor talked with her, she changed her mind, and she was now the mother of a healthy baby boy."

At 69, Larry Clark has been a sidewalk counselor at the Planned Parenthood abortion center in Indianapolis for about 10 years. He, too, knows the joy of seeing a woman choose life for her baby.

"I've got to be here -- it's the right thing to do," said Clark, a member of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish in Carmel, Indiana, in the Lafayette Diocese. "(The clients) need somebody -- not only the children, but the moms and dads need us, too. ... There's nothing more cheering and exciting than when someone chooses life here in this driveway."

Dye and Minott agree the mission of sidewalk counselors has become more urgent.

Dye said that in the six years since she's been a counselor outside the abortion facility, "it's getting harder to get (the women) to see that it's something that could potentially cause harm to them. It's hard because society tells them it's no big deal."

And with only 13 full-time sidewalk advocates, about 10 part-time and substitute volunteers, and the need to always have two counselors on each shift, the task is even more challenging, said Minott.

There is no "typical" counselor, said Dye, who is the mother of two grown children and a teacher at Lumen Christi Catholic School in Indianapolis.

"We have women and men, people who are outgoing and people who are more quiet, people who work and people who don't work or are retired," she said.

Minott also is married with two grown children. She is retired, running for the Carmel City Council, and has "a lot of other things going on."

Clawson, a retiree in her mid-60s who also worships at St. Maria Goretti, is in her third month of volunteering.

She had a "save" on her first day of counseling -- a woman she spoke with who decided to go to the Women's Care Center instead of Planned Parenthood.

"That's like being on cloud nine," she said with a smile. "Those are the things that keep you coming."

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Hoefer is a reporter at The Criterion, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

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Copyright © 2019 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.

For Chaldeans who fled Iraq, New Zealand attacks brought back memories

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy NZ Catholic

By Michael Otto

AUCKLAND, New Zealand (CNS) -- The St. Addai Chaldean Catholic community in suburban Auckland felt the impact of the Christchurch mosque killings with a special poignancy, because many members have experienced the sufferings inflicted by terrorism.

"There is a lady in my community -- they beheaded her son in front of her," Chaldean Father Douglas Al-Bazi told NZ Catholic. "Another man, they killed his parents in front of him."

Father Al-Bazi, who was kidnapped for nine days by Islamic militants in 2006 in Iraq, suffering serious injuries -- including being shot in the leg by an assailant wielding an AK-47 -- said that when he heard of the events in Christchurch, he was "really angry."

"There were thousands of questions in my head, and also for my people," he said.

He said he told his parishioners that "we fully understand as Iraqi people, especially Christian, we really understand" the pain, "because we are survivors of genocide, systematic genocide."

"I am still shocked, me and my people, how this could happen here in New Zealand," he added.

Father Al-Bazi said people at his church have said they are scared in the wake of the events in Christchurch, fearful of revenge attacks.

"I told them, no, this is not the time to be scared. It is the time to be united. So, show your happiness, show we are brave, and we have to tell the people how to be calm. Because already, we have had that experience. So, we have to guide people to tell them."

Parishioners placed a floral tribute with a message of support in Arabic outside a local mosque the day after the shootings.

Father Al-Bazi said most of his community came to New Zealand seeking a safe place, and the violence that happened in Christchurch is unacceptable.

"I don't know what we can do for those survivors, for those relatives, the only thing we can do is pray for them and say, 'This is not New Zealand.'"

At the end of Mass March 18, everyone at St. Addai Church sang the national anthem, "God Defend New Zealand" in Maori and in English.

Police were stationed outside the church and told Father Al-Bazi, "It is for your protection." The priest said he asked the officers to park a little down the road, so as not to alarm Massgoers.

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Otto is editor of NZ Catholic.

 

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Copyright © 2019 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.