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HK Catholic activists arrested, US lawmakers sanctioned in China crackdown

CNA Staff, Aug 10, 2020 / 11:30 am (CNA).- Chinese authorities arrested pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong and imposed new sanctions on American lawmakers August 10, as part of an apparent crackdown on civil liberties in Hong Kong.

Prominent democracy activists were arrested and charged for violating Hong Kong’s new national security law Monday, including Agnes Chow, a 23-year-old Catholic democracy activist. Chow has been outspoken in her support for civil rights in the former British colony.

Chow is a former candidate for elected office in Hong Kong but was barred from appearing on the ballot because of her advocacy for self-determination for Hong Kong. She is also the founder and a former leader of Demosisto, a pro-democracy political party which was disbanded shortly before the new law came into effect.

On July 1, the National Security Law went into effect in Hong Kong, having been imposed on the territory by the mainland government, bypassing the Hong Kong legislature. 

Under the new law, a person who is convicted of secession, subversion, terrorism or collusion with foreign forces will receive a minimum of 10 years in prison, with the possibility of a life sentence. The law’s broad definition of terrorism includes arson and vandalizing public transportation “with an intent to intimidate the Hong Kong government or Chinese government for political purposes,” while secession charges can be brought for displaying or announcing slogans such as “Free Hong Kong.”

The law has been harshly criticized by the leaders of several Western countries, as well as some Catholic leaders, as the end of the “one country, two systems” policy agreed at the time of Hong Kong’s handover from Great Britain. 

Chow’s arrest was first reported Monday by Nathan Law, a former leader of Demosisto with Chow. Hong Kong Standard later reported she had been detained for “inciting secession.” Chow was already facing charges related to her participation in anti-government protests last year.

Also arrested on the same day was Jimmy Lai, publisher of Apple Daily, a Chinese-language newspaper in Hong Kong known for its overt criticism of Hong Kong and mainland government action. Lai has reportedly been charged with “foreign collusion” under the new law.

The arrests came on the same day as China announced new sanctions against U.S. lawmakers, after the Trump administration issued sanctions against Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam last week.

Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL), Ted Cruz (R-TX), Tom Cotton (R-AR), Josh Hawley (R-MO), and Pat Toomey (R-PA), as well as Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) were all subject to new sanctions and travel bans issued by Beijing following their outspoken support for democracy in Hong Kong and against China’s mass internment of Uyghurs in a network of concentration camps in Xinjiang province. 

On August 7, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced sanctions against Lam for her role in bringing the new national security law into effect in Hong Kong and “undermining [Hong Kongers’] autonomy.”

“In response to that wrong U.S. behavior, China has decided to impose sanctions on individuals who have behaved egregiously on Hong Kong-related issues,” said Zhao Lijian, China’s foreign ministry spokesman during a briefing on Monday announcing the sanctions.

While the Chinese government acted against several legislators, no action was announced against officials of the Trump administration, despite the Treasury Secretary’s Aug. 7 announcement.

Additional Chinese sanctions were announced against several NGOs, including the leaders of the National Endowment for Democracy; the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs; the International Republican Institute; Freedom House; and Human Rights Watch.

Details of the sanctions’ provision were not announced.

Rubio, Cruz, and Smith were also the subject of earlier sanctions and bans on traveling to China issued in July. Those sanctions were related to their statements against China’s persecution of the Uyghur population. 

Cardinal says Lebanon leaders should resign after Beirut blast

Rome Newsroom, Aug 10, 2020 / 10:30 am (CNA).- Lebanon’s Maronite Catholic patriarch called for the resignation of the entire Lebanese government Sunday, following the devastating explosion in Beirut last week.

“The angry protest movements we witnessed yesterday confirms the impatience of the oppressed and humiliated Lebanese people, and indicates the determination to change for the better,” Cardinal Bechara Boutros Rai said in his homily Aug. 9.

“The resignation of a deputy from here and a mister from there is not sufficient. Rather, out of sensitivity to the feelings of the Lebanese and the grave responsibility, the government must reach the resignation of the entire government, as it has become unable to advance the country, and to hold early parliamentary elections,” the Lebanese cardinal said.

Rai called for an international investigation into the explosion at Beirut’s port that killed at least 155 people and injured about 5,000 others. On Aug. 4 a fire that started near the port’s large grain silos spread to a warehouse holding 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate, a fertilizer that can be made into an explosive. The ensuing explosion’s shockwave caused damage within a six-mile radius. 

The patriarch said that the Lebanese people have a right to know why huge amounts of explosive materials had been kept for six years in the dangerous place in the capital. He said it is “necessary to hold everyone responsible accountable for this massacre and catastrophe.”

In the weeks prior to the explosion, Rai had spoken out about Lebanon’s political and economic crisis, urging the importance of the country maintaining its neutrality in regional rivalries for a peaceful future in the Middle East. 

He underlined this again on Sunday, stating that the disaster in Beirut and the days of protests that have followed require “bold decisions in a democratic state that reconsider … the way it is governed.”

“We firmly believe that Lebanon will rise as a state to a new system, which is the "active neutrality regime," Rai said. “This ‘neutrality’ would achieve stability, secure the good of all Lebanese, and restore the unity of the Lebanese family with all its components and the beauty of its diversity.”

The cardinal thanked French President Emmanuel Macron for visiting Lebanon in the wake of the disaster, noting that a distinguishing feature of the Lebanese-French friendship is that “it believes in … the Christian-Muslim partnership in … a neutral, free independent state.”

He also expressed gratitude to all the countries who rushed to give assistance after the explosion, and thanked Pope Francis for his prayers and words on behalf of the Lebanese people.

Rai said in his homily that he was offering the Divine Sacrifice of the Mass for the innocent victims and their families, the injured, the missing, and all those who lost homes, businesses, schools, and places of worship. 

The Maronite patriarch noted that among the wounded 120 people are in critical condition and 60 more people remain missing. He said that 8,000 homes were destroyed and 300,000 people displaced by the explosion, and prayed for aid to rebuild and restore the hospitals, schools, and churches that were destroyed. 

Pope Francis baptizes conjoined twins separated in Rome

Vatican City, Aug 10, 2020 / 08:30 am (CNA).- Pope Francis has baptized twins who were born conjoined at the head and were separated at the Vatican’s pediatric hospital.

The twins’ mother had said at a press conference following the successful surgery at the Bambino Gesù Hospital on June 5 that she wanted the twins to be baptized by the pope. 

“If we had stayed in Africa I don’t know what fate they would have had. Now that they are separate and well, I would like them to be baptized by Pope Francis who has always taken care of the children of Bangui,” said the girls’ mother Ermine, who came with the twins from the Central African Republic for the surgery, July 7. 

Antoinette Montaigne, a Central African politician, posted a photo on Twitter of Pope Francis with the twins in their baptismal gowns on August 7, writing that the pope had baptized the separated twins the day prior. 

Après leur séparation chirurgicale réussie à la pédiatrie du Vatican Bambino Jésus, le Pape a baptisé les jumelles Centrafricaines hier à Rome. pic.twitter.com/6v4Df7nzq4

— Antoinette MONTAIGNE (@Banzekaa) August 7, 2020 The Italian news agency ANSA reported August 10 that the twins had been baptized at the pope’s residence, Casa Santa Marta.

Following the surgery in June, Dr. Carlo Efisio Marras, director of neurosurgery of the Bambino Gesù hospital told CNA that the twins have a high chance of living normal lives after undergoing the 18 hour operation which involved more than 30 medical staff. 

The twins, Ervina and Prefina, were born on June 29, 2018 in a village about 60 miles outside Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic. They were joined together with “one of the rarest and most complex forms of cranial and cerebral fusion,” known as total posterior craniopagus, according to the Bambino Gesu hospital.

Mariella Enoc, president of the Bambino Gesù, met the twins in July 2018, during a visit to Bangui, where the sisters had been transferred after their birth. Enoc was helping to oversee the expansion of pediatric services in the country, which is one of the world’s poorest, in response to an appeal from Pope Francis. She decided to bring the girls to Rome for surgery.

A multidisciplinary team, including neurosurgeons, anesthesiologists, and plastic surgeons, prepared for more than a year for the operation to separate the twins. The hospital’s ethics committee contributed to a plan ensuring that the girls would have the same quality of life.

The hospital said the twins were joined via the back of the head, including the nape, sharing both skin and cranial bones. But the greatest challenge for doctors was that they were joined at a deeper level, sharing membranes inside the skull as well as the venous system, through which blood used by the brain is transported back to the heart.

The separation took place in three stages. In the first, in May 2019, neurosurgeons started to separate and rebuild the membranes and venous systems.

The second, a month later, focused on the confluence of sinuses in the brain. The hospital said it was a critical phase of the treatment as “the operating space is a few millimeters.”

The two operations prepared the girls for the third and final phase of complete separation on June 5.

“From a neurological standpoint, the two little girls are doing very well and have excellent prognosis for normal lives in the future," Marras said.

Cardinals condemn China’s ‘potential genocide’ of Uyghurs

Rome Newsroom, Aug 10, 2020 / 07:30 am (CNA).- The Chinese government’s treatment of Uyghurs is “one of the most egregious human tragedies since the Holocaust,” two Asian cardinals and 74 other religious leaders wrote in a statement released August 8.

Cardinal Charles Maung Bo, archbishop of Yangon and president of the Federation of Asian Bishops Conferences, and Cardinal Ignatius Suharyo, archbishop of Jakarta, Indonesia, were among the 76 signatories calling for “prayer, solidarity and action to end these mass atrocities” against the Muslim minority in China.

“After the Holocaust, the world said ‘Never Again.’ Today, we repeat those words ‘Never Again’, all over again. We stand with the Uyghurs. We also stand with Tibetan Buddhists, Falun Gong practitioners and Christians throughout China who face the worst crackdown on freedom of religion or belief since the Cultural Revolution,” the statement said.

“We make a simple call for justice, to investigate these crimes, hold those responsible to account and establish a path towards the restoration of human dignity,” it states.

The letter’s signatories -- which include the former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and other Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, and Christian leaders -- cited China’s incarceration of one million Muslims and campaign of forced sterilization among the “many persecutions and mass atrocities.”

According to multiple reports, anywhere from 900,000 to 1.8 million Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities have been imprisoned in Xinjiang, China’s far northwest province. The government has set up more than 1,300 detention camps where survivors have reported being subjected to political and anti-religious indoctrination, torture, beatings, and forced labor.

The AP reported on June 29 that many Uyghurs had also reported being forced by authorities to implant IUDs and take other forms of birth control, as well as being forced to undergo abortions and sterilizations in order to enforce China’s family planning policies. One expert told the AP that the campaign is “genocide, full stop.”

In addition, authorities have set up a system of mass surveillance in the region to track the movements of people, one that includes DNA sampling and facial recognition technology, as well as predictive policing platforms.

The religious leaders’ statement asserted that the forced sterilization of Uyghur women of childbearing age campaign in four Uyghur-populated prefectures could elevate this action to the level of genocide according to the 1948 Genocide Convention.

“The clear aim of the Chinese authorities is to eradicate the Uyghur identity. China’s state media has stated that the goal is to ‘break their lineage, break their roots, break their connections and break their origins,’” the statement reads.

“Parliamentarians, governments and jurists have a responsibility to investigate,” it states. “As faith leaders we are neither activists nor policy-makers. But we have a duty to call our communities to their responsibilities to look after their fellow human beings and act when they are in danger.”

Twenty rabbis and 19 imams signed the statement, as did the representative of the Dalai Lama in Europe and the Coptic-Orthodox Archbishop of London Archbishop Angaelos. Other Catholic signatories include Bishop Declan Lang of Clifton, UK and Fr. Nicholas King, a chaplain at the University of Oxford.

Human rights advocate Benedict Rogers responded to the statement by asking when Pope Francis and Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby will speak out about the plight of the Uyghurs in China.

“Perhaps they have had their reasons for biding their time until now. Yet now that so many of their own clergy are speaking out, the world will be looking to these two spiritual leaders for their response,” Rogers wrote Aug. 10. “When it comes to genocide, crimes against humanity and mass atrocities, the world expects faith leaders to take a stand.”

Theology professor: German theology no longer has worldwide impact

Berlin, Germany, Aug 9, 2020 / 03:01 pm (CNA).- Theology in Germany, with a few exceptions, is in a crisis. This is the conclusion reached by a German theology professor, who is the William K. Warren Professor of Theology at the University of Notre Dame. Dr. Ulrich Lehner earned a doctorate in theology at the University of Regensburg, and a habilitation doctorate in history at the Central European University.

Speaking with CNA Deutsch, the professor and author of numerous books, including God is not Nice, criticized not only a “qualitative regression of German theology”, while noting important exceptions, but also the way some of his colleagues work.

“I have followed many appointments in Germany and can only say: academic mediocrity is always hiring mediocrity,” said Lehner. He believes a “handful of professors” give their former students appointments, “regardless of the weaknesses they have”. It is noticeable that “especially those who are loyal to the Church never get a chance, because they are sorted out beforehand”.

German theology in crisis

As an example, the researcher cites a married female theologian with three children whose appointment to a chair was prevented because the professors found out that she went to daily Mass. She took her faith too seriously – “too seriously for a professor”, Lehner said. In another case the applicant’s five children destroyed his chances for a hire. There are numerous cases in which colleagues are rejected without taking academic criteria into account, often “with the knowledge and cover of the university administration”, commented Lehner.

Lehner stated: “If the people outside academia knew how professors in Germany invent criteria or engage in intrigues to make Catholic hires impossible, then academic theology would lose even the small remainder of its reputation.”

In an Aug. 3 article at katholisch.de, the social ethicist Bernhard Emunds from the Sankt Georgen Graduate School of Philosophy and Theology, a Jesuit college in Frankfurt, was quoted as saying that theology in German-speaking countries has “an exalted academic reputation and importance worldwide”.

Lehner does not share this assessment: “German theology is no longer what it was 25 years ago. Unlike then, it no longer has a global impact today.”

As evidence for this, Lehner cites the dearth of translations of German-language theological works into English, French, or Spanish. Conversely, global research in Germany garners “astonishingly little attention.” This means that one is largely cut off from international research, according to the academic.

“While you still have to learn German in doctoral programs in the US, I had noticed already 20 years ago in Germany that doctoral students could not read lengthy English texts,” Lehner noted. German theologians would by an large only cite each other.

Germany's 'theologian shortage'

According to katholisch.de, there are roughly 200 seminarians in Germany, fewer than ever before.

Among all theology students (of whom there were 18,251 in 2018-19), those choosing the full course in theology are a small proportion (just 2,549 in 2018), according to the report. For the rest, theological training is only part of their teaching degree.

Regardless of the relatively small number of "full theologians", there are still many places in Germany where theology is taught. There are a total of 19 Catholic theological faculties and colleges, more than 30 institutes and chairs for Catholic theology, various research institutions, three colleges that offer a degree in "Religious education and Church educational work", as well as an online theology degree, according to the secretariat of the German bishops' conference.

However, the scientific “output” remains low. As reported by the German statistical office, only eight people received their second doctorate required for a university professorship in Catholic theology in 2019. “Considering that many smaller departments there – not all – have almost no students but have good financial resources, one would expect groundbreaking research results", Lehner remarked.

Yet, the number and quality of publications is also at a low level, so that Lehner “seriously” wonders “what my German colleagues do all day”, he remarked.

The theology professor therefore called for a reconsideration: “The academic mediocrity of German theology – with some exceptions – and the small number of students cannot justify the outrageous number of theology departments and chairs. Maintaining them is akin to holding on to medieval privileges.”

Benedict XVI, too, has lamented developments in theology.

In his April 2019 essay “The Church and the scandal of sexual abuse”, the emeritus pope, who long worked as a theology professor before his episcopal consecration, wrote: “Indeed, in theology God is often taken for granted, but concretely one does not deal with Him. The theme of God seems so unreal, so far removed from the things that concern us. And yet everything becomes different if one does not presuppose but present God. Not somehow leaving Him in the background, but recognizing Him as the center of our thoughts, words and actions.”

Pope Francis: Even in times of darkness, God is there

Vatican City, Aug 9, 2020 / 05:59 am (CNA).- When caught in difficult moments or trials, turn your heart to God, who is near even when you do not search for him, Pope Francis said in his Angelus address Sunday.

“Having faith means, in the midst of the storm, keeping your heart turned to God, to his love, to his tenderness as a Father. Jesus wanted to teach this to Peter and his disciples, and also to us today, in moments of darkness, moments of storms,” the pope said Aug. 9.

Speaking from a window overlooking St. Peter’s Square, he said “even before we begin to seek Him, He is present beside us lifting us back up after our falls, He helps us grow in faith.”

“Perhaps we, in the dark, cry out: ‘Lord! Lord!’ thinking that he is far away. And He says: ‘I’m here!’ Ah, he was with me!” Pope Francis continued.

 “God knows well that our faith is poor and that our path can be troubled, blocked by adverse forces. But He is the Risen One, do not forget this, the Lord who went through death to bring us to safety.”

In his message before the Angelus, the pope reflected on the Gospel reading from St. Matthew, when Jesus asks the apostles to get in a boat and cross to the other shore of the lake, where he will meet them.

While still far from shore, the disciples’ boat gets caught in some wind and waves.

“The boat at the mercy of the storm is an image of the Church, which in every age encounters headwinds, sometimes very hard trials,” Francis noted.

“In those situations, [the Church] may be tempted to think that God has abandoned her. But in reality, it is precisely in those moments that the witness of faith, the testimony of love and the testimony of hope shines the most,” he said.

He pointed to the Gospel: In this moment of fear, the disciples see Jesus walking to them on the water and think it is a ghost. But he reassures them and Peter challenges Jesus to tell him to come out onto the water to meet him. Jesus invites Peter to “come!”

“Peter gets off the boat and takes a few steps; then the wind and the waves frighten him and he begins to sink. ‘Lord, save me!’ he cries, and Jesus takes him by the hand and says to him: ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’” Francis recounted.

This episode “is an invitation to abandon ourselves with trust to God in every moment of our life, especially in the hour of trial and turmoil,” he said.

“When we feel strong doubt and fear and we seem to sink, in the difficult moments of life, where everything becomes dark, we must not be ashamed to cry out, like Peter: ‘Lord, save me!’”
“It is a beautiful prayer!” he noted.

“And the gesture of Jesus, who immediately reaches out his hand and grasps that of his friend, must be contemplated for a long time: Jesus is this, Jesus does this, it is the hand of the Father who never abandons us; the strong and faithful hand of the Father, who always and only wants our good,” he said.

After praying the Angelus in Latin, Pope Francis noted the presence of a group of pilgrims holding the Lebanese flag in St. Peter’s Square and said his thoughts have been with the country since the deadly explosion in Beirut Aug. 4.

“The catastrophe of last Tuesday calls everyone, starting with the Lebanese, to collaborate for the common good of this beloved country,” he said.

“Lebanon has a peculiar identity, the result of the meeting of various cultures, which has emerged over time as a model of living together,” he noted. “Of course, this coexistence is now very fragile, we know, but I pray that, with the help of God and the loyal participation of all, it may be reborn free and strong.”

Francis invited the Church in Lebanon to be close to her people during this “Calvary,” and asked the international community to be generous in helping the country.

“And please, I ask the bishops, priests and religious of Lebanon to stay close to the people and to live a lifestyle marked by evangelical poverty, without luxury, because your people suffer, and suffer so much,” he concluded.

The pope also noted the 75th anniversary of the atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which took place on Aug. 6 and 9, 1945.

“While I remember with emotion and gratitude the visit I made to those places last year, I renew my invitation to pray and to commit ourselves to a world totally free from nuclear weapons,” he said.

The Miraculous Medal: St Maximilian Kolbe's weapon for evangelization

Rome, Italy, Aug 9, 2020 / 05:40 am (CNA).- As World War II raged around him in Poland, St. Maximilian Kolbe fought for souls using a printing press and another “weapon” – the Miraculous Medal.

“Even though a person be the worst sort, if only he agrees to wear the medal, give it to him…and then pray for him, and at the proper moment strive to bring him closer to his Immaculate Mother, so that he have recourse to her in all difficulties and temptations,” Kolbe said of the Miraculous Medal.

“This is truly our heavenly weapon,” the saint said, describing the medal as “a bullet with which a faithful soldier hits the enemy, i.e. evil, and thus rescues souls.”

The Miraculous Medal is a sacramental inspired by the Marian apparition to St. Catherine Laboure in Paris in 1830. The Virgin Mary appeared to Laboure as the Immaculate Conception standing on a globe with light streaming from her hands and crushing a serpent under her foot.

“A voice said to me, 'Have a medal struck after this model. All who wear it will receive great graces, especially if they wear it around the neck',” Laboure said.

As a Franciscan seminarian studying in Rome in 1917, Kolbe was moved by the story of the role the Miraculous Medal played in the conversion of Alphonse Ratisbonne.

Ratisbonne was a French Freemason and an atheist of Jewish descent, who received the grace of conversion while wearing a Miraculous Medal given to him by one of his Catholic friends in Rome. The Virgin Mary appeared to Ratisbonne Jan. 20, 1842 in a side chapel in the Church of Sant'Andrea delle Fratte in Rome.

St. Maximilian Kolbe chose to celebrate his first Mass April 29, 1918 in the side chapel in Sant'Andrea delle Fratte, where the Virgin Mary appeared to Ratisbonne.

Ratisbonne went on to be ordained a Jesuit priest, and eventually left the order to move to Jerusalem in 1855 to found a convent for sisters in the Congregation of Our Lady of Sion, a congregation founded to “to witness in the Church and in the world that God continues to be faithful in his love for the Jewish people.”

Kolbe went on to give his life in place of a fellow prisoner in Auschwitz, a man who had a wife and children. He died of a carbolic acid injection in the concentration camp Aug. 14, 1941. The Nazi officials cremated Kolbe’s body on the feast of the Assumption of Mary.

Kolbe is known for being an effective evangelist and missionary. Before moving to Japan in 1930, Kolbe made a pilgrimage to the Chapel of the Miraculous Medal on Rue de Bac in Paris.



The Chapel of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal in Paris. Credit: Courtney Mares/CNA.

St. Pope John Paul II remembered Kolbe’s visit when he prayed in the Paris chapel in 1980:

“I come as a pilgrim, after all those who came to this chapel in 150 years, like all Christians who flock here every day to express their joy, their trust and their supplications. I come as Blessed Maximilian Kolbe: before his missionary journey to Japan, just 50 years ago, he came here to seek your support to propagate what he later called ‘the Militia of the Immaculate’ and undertake his prodigious work of spiritual renewal under your patronage, before giving his life for his brothers,” John Paul II said.

Kolbe formed the Militia Immaculata in 1917 to “lead every individual with Mary to the most Sacred Heart of Jesus.” He asked all Militia Immaculata members to wear the Miraculous Medal as a sign of their total consecration to Mary.

“Now in this epoch of the Immaculate Conception the most Blessed Virgin has given mankind the ‘Miraculous Medal’. Its heavenly origin has been proven by countless miracles of healing and particularly of conversion,” Kolbe wrote.

“The Immaculata herself in revealing it promised all who would wear it very many graces; and since conversion and sanctification are divine graces from God, the Miraculous Medal will be one of the best means for attaining these gifts,” he said.

Kolbe also added to St. Catherine’s prayer associated with the sacramental: “O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to you.” To this, Kolbe added, “and for all who do not have recourse to you, especially the enemies of the Church and those recommended to you. Amen.”

This article was originally published on CNA Aug. 14, 2019.

Catholic groups aid recovery after Beirut explosion

CNA Staff, Aug 8, 2020 / 03:01 pm (CNA).- Following an explosion that killed more than 150 people in Beirut, international Catholic groups have responded by providing health services and necessities to the victims.

At least sixteen Catholic organizations, including Catholic Relief Services and Caritas International, have responded to the Aug. 4 explosion at Beirut’s port.

As victims in Beirut face an urgent need for shelter, medication, hygiene kits, and mental health services, these organizations have dispatched medical teams and relief groups to assist with basic necessities. 

The explosion killed at least 154 people, and injured about 5,000 others. Beirut Governor Marwan Abboud estimated that the explosion has caused as much as $10-15 billion in damages and as many as 300,000 people to be temporarily displaced from their homes, according to the BBC.

The fire started near the port’s large grain silos. It soon spread to a warehouse holding 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate, a fertilizer that can be made into an explosive.

Many buildings and warehouses along the docks were completely destroyed, and the explosion’s shockwave caused damage within a six-mile radius. The adjacent areas included Beirut’s mostly Christian neighborhoods of Mar Maroun and Achrafieh.

Despite damages to their own facilities, CRS has provided relief to the victims of the explosion. Caritas Lebanon has offered water and hot meals at several locations throughout Beirut. Caritas health care centers have also opened, and a mobile medical unit and mental health team have been available to the public.

“Our partners started working right away to make sure people were getting help, even though their own buildings were damaged in the explosion,” said CRS spokesperson Megan Gilbert.

“At CRS we’re privileged to contribute to the overwhelmingly generous volunteer response of the Lebanese people, despite all that they have been through over the past year,” she said Aug. 6.

Gilbert added, “many people in Lebanon were struggling to get by even before this explosion. Now because of the destruction, people are staying in severely damaged homes, or even out in the streets. They are going to need long-term support to get through this.”

Lebanese president Michel Aoun promised a transparent investigation into the explosion.

"We are determined to go ahead with an investigation and unveil the circumstances surrounding what happened as soon as possible and hold those responsible and those who were negligent accountable and serve them the most severe punishment," he said Aug. 5.

However, many Lebanese have blamed the government for corruption and negligence. They see the investigation as an attempt by political officials to avoid blame.

The ammonium nitrate had been stored at the port since 2014.

Italy considers allowing abortion pill without hospitalization

Rome, Italy, Aug 8, 2020 / 12:11 pm (CNA).- Italy’s health ministry is expected to approve a proposal to remove mandatory hospitalization for the administration of the abortion pill and to expand the time frame in which it can be prescribed.

The RU486 drug is prescribed to induce a chemical abortion. Use of the drug was legalized in Italy in 2009, and in 2010 standards were set which require women to be hospitalized for three days during its administration.

The proposed change in guidelines will allow the drug to be administered in an outpatient clinic or at home. Italy’s Ministry of Health is also expected to expand access to the abortion pill by two weeks, allowing it to be prescribed until the ninth week of pregnancy.

“This is a real abortion. It is no less ‘abortion’ due to the fact that it does not occur with surgical instruments,” Marina Casini, president of Movimento per la Vita told Vatican News.

She pointed to the significant health risks associated with chemical abortions, stating that Italy is “facing propaganda in favor” of the abortion drug RU486.

Casini said the proposed changes are based on ideology -- an attempt to convince people that abortion is “a trivial fact -- after all, it is enough to drink a glass of water -- to make us forget that at stake is the destruction of a human being in the prenatal stage.”

RU486 is the administration of two different drugs several days apart. Mifeprex causes the mother’s body to stop nourishing the unborn child; Misoprostol, taken afterward, causes contractions and expels the child and placenta from the mother’s body.

Currently, only two out of 10 abortions which take place in Italy are chemical abortions.

Italian media noted that dropping the hospitalization requirement could result in more Italian women choosing to have a chemical abortion instead of surgical.

In a document from the Superior Health Council, the drop of the hospitalization requirement was also noted to have potentially cost-saving benefits to the health system.

Casini condemned this attitude. “It is much less expensive to give this product to the woman and say: do it yourself, do it alone. It saves beds, anesthesia and even human investment of doctors and health workers,” she noted. “There is a nice cut in spending, however, it is carried out on the skin of children on their way to birth and their mothers.”

Abortion was legalized in Italy in 1978 with the establishment of “Legge 194.” The law made abortion legal for any reason within the first 90 days of pregnancy, and afterward for certain reasons with the referral of a physician.

Since its legalization, it is estimated that more than 6 million children have been aborted in Italy.

Coronavirus, vaccines, and Catholic ethics

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Aug 8, 2020 / 07:00 am (CNA).- Production for a new coronavirus vaccine is speeding along, but if one is developed to fight the pandemic, ethical questions remain about its development, and who should receive it first.

There are many workers in health care and in the public sector who could be considered a priority to receive any new vaccine, as they come into contact with many different people due to the nature of their profession, explained Edward Furton, ethicist and director of publications at the National Catholic Bioethics Center.

“All of those who come into contact with many different people through their ordinary line of work, they would be first in line,” Furton told CNA. People in this group might include first responders, physicians, nurses, and other health care workers, police officers, and public transit employees.

Authorities should also consider prioritizing citizens living in crowded urban conditions, as “an effort to tackle the disease and the places where it’s most likely to spread,” he said.

Multiple vaccine candidates to fight the new coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) are entering the latter phases of production and testing.

On July 27, the biotech company Moderna and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) announced that their vaccine was entering phase 3 of clinical trials, during which it will be tested for safety and effective prevention of the virus in two doses.

Another vaccine being developed by the University of Oxford in collaboration with Astrazeneca has entered phase 3 of trials.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of NIAID and White House health advisor, has said that a coronavirus vaccine might not be developed, approved, and made widely available until several months into 2021.

The Trump administration is funding several vaccine candidates as part of “Operation Warp Speed,” including the two by Moderna/NIAID and the University of Oxford/AstraZeneca.

However, Catholics are also discussing whether an obligation exists for one to receive a vaccine for SARS-CoV-2, if it is made available. And other ethical questions remain, such as the source of the vaccines being developed and the speed at which they are being produced.

Two bishops of the conference of England and Wales recently produced a paper on vaccination in light of the pandemic.

“We believe that there is a moral obligation to guarantee the vaccination coverage necessary for the safety of others. This is especially important for the discovery of a vaccine against COVID-19,” they said.

In 2017, the Pontifical Academy for Life addressed the issue of commonly-used vaccines in a document.

The academy said that, in the case of commonly-used vaccines against rubella, chickenpox, polio, and hepatitis A, there exists a moral obligation for Catholic parents to vaccinate their children in light of possible threats to the vulnerable caused by a resurgence in the prevalence of the diseases.

The academy said that “the moral obligation to guarantee the vaccination coverage necessary for the safety of others is no less urgent, especially the safety of more vulnerable subjects such as pregnant women and those affected by immunodeficiency who cannot be vaccinated against these diseases.”

However, those vaccines have been used for years, while a vaccine for the new coronavirus has yet to be fully developed, approved, and distributed.

One of the preeminent issues with current COVID vaccine candidates is whether or not they are being produced by using cell lines from aborted babies—something that Vatican has warned against in previous documents.

In the 2008 document Dignitas Personae, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said that researchers may not use biological material of “illicit origin,” or cell lines from aborted babies, in developing a vaccine.

Parents gravely concerned about their children’s health could use the vaccine, the CDF said, but must “make known their disagreement and to ask that their healthcare system make other types of vaccines available.”

Some of the vaccines being developed to fight the new coronavirus are using the HEK-293 cell line, one commonly used in vaccines and which is derived from aborted fetal tissue. The candidate being developed by the University of Oxford and Astrazeneca is using this cell line.

Other candidates do not use this cell line, such as one being developed by Sanofi Pasteur. The  Moderna vaccine candidate does not rely on this HEK-293 cell line for production. Rather, it uses a Spike protein, the gene sequence of which was determined through testing that involved a HEK-293 cell line. The gene sequence was not determined by Moderna scientists, but was simply selected by the company as the target for the vaccine.

Another ethical question that is being discussed is the rapid nature of the vaccine development. The prevalence and deadly nature of the coronavirus has prodded scientists to enter the final testing phase in record time, yet some ethicists are cautioning that a vaccine must be produced that is safe for widespread use.

“We all agree that it’s great to go as fast as possible, as safely as possible” during the production phase of vaccines, Joseph Meany, Ph.D., president of the NCBC, told EWTN Pro-Life Weekly.

However, he said, during the trial phases “safeguards exist for a purpose.”

“They should be very cautious about cutting corners when it comes to human safety” in the trials, he said.

If an ethical vaccine is developed and made available, the question remains as to the responsibility of Catholics to receive it.

“I think it would be reasonable for the government to issue a mandate, and require people to vaccinate, but there should also be exemptions—for obvious reasons,” Furton said.

Some legitimate exemptions that could be crafted might be someone’s medical risk or frail condition, he said, or other attributes that logically exempt them from being vaccinated.

If multiple vaccines are developed, and one of them is ethically sourced, Catholics would have a “moral obligation” to seek out one which is not ethically compromised, he said, unless for some reason the ethical vaccine is not distributed in someone’s immediate vicinity.

“Then the case might be different, depending on how difficult it would be to get it,” he said.