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Cardinal Czerny leads prayer service after Tonga volcano

Heavy ash fall is seen over Tonga, Jan. 17, 2022, several days after a volcanic eruption. / NZ Defence Force via Wikimedia (CC BY 4.0)

Rome, Italy, Jan 24, 2022 / 17:00 pm (CNA).

Cardinal Michael Czerny on Monday led a prayer service for Tonga, after an underwater volcanic eruption caused a devastating tsunami earlier this month.

“Tonga is a little known name, and for us it is a distant reality. Yet, those who suffer are never far from us who in Jesus recognize ourselves as ‘children always loved’ by the Father, called to share together with the human family a unique destiny, in the common home that is the earth,” Cardinal Czerny said Jan. 24 in Rome’s Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere.

Seen in satellite images from space, scientists have called the volcanic blast in the South Pacific on Jan. 15 the largest eruption in the world in three decades.

Some of the archipelago’s outlying islands were hit by 49-foot-high waves which destroyed homes, the Associated Press reported on Jan. 19.

Communications from Tonga were cut off after the eruption. Reuters has reported at least three known deaths from the tsunami waves.

“The majority of the population miraculously managed to avoid the worst as only three people lost their lives,” Czerny, 75, said during the prayer service. “However, the material damage is so enormous that it will take a long time to return to normal life. People have lost houses, plantations, machinery and materials for fishing and agriculture.”

“The government, the population, the Church and other entities are assessing the impact of this disaster in order to begin the work of reconstruction, inviting the international community to contribute,” he said.

The prayer service was hosted by the Catholic Sant’Egidio community. 

Cardinal Czerny serves as the interim prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, pending the appointment of new leadership following the resignation of Cardinal Peter Turkson, 73, in December.

Czerny has been under-secretary of the dicastery’s Migrants and Refugees Section since 2017.

The prayer service included the reading of a passage from the 38th chapter of the Book of Job.

The chapter begins: “Then the LORD answered Job out of the storm and said: Who is this who darkens counsel with words of ignorance? Gird up your loins now, like a man; I will question you, and you tell me the answers! Where were you when I founded the earth?”

“In the passage we have heard, God speaks to Job from the storm, subjecting him to the pressure of the unexpected, the unexpected upheaval of atmospheric phenomena, and challenges him as a human being to measure himself against the fundamental questions of existence,” Czerny said.

“Instead of answering his questions, of throwing light on what for Job remains obscure and indecipherable, God widens the field of the unknown and increases the questions,” Czerny explained: “‘Who are you?’, ‘Where were you?’, ‘Can you?’, ‘Do you know?’. It challenges every obvious answer, every cliché, every pre-understanding and forces him to recognize his own inability to have answers and control over everything.”

Society, the cardinal said, has been living under two great illusions in recent decades.

“On the one hand, as Pope Francis reminded us in his prayer in St. Peter’s Square during the pandemic, we have deluded ourselves ‘to remain always healthy in a sick world,’ in a world wounded by predatory exploitation; on the other hand, we have also deluded ourselves that we are almost omnipotent, that we dominate nature, the world, as if it were our own work,” he said.

“In this sense,” Czerny said, “Job’s story can be very revealing for us, because it shows us how presumption in the face of reality, and therefore also in the face of God, is an attitude inherent in the human heart, even in the most just and religious.”

Pope Francis offered prayers for the people of Tonga during his weekly audience on Jan. 19. 

“I am spiritually close to all the afflicted people, imploring God for relief for their suffering. I invite everyone to join me in praying for these brothers and sisters,” he said.

NYC pro-abortion activists curse at churchgoers, beam 'God loves abortion' onto St. Patrick's Cathedral

Pro-abortion demonstrators yelled obscenities at people leaving a pro-life vigil at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City on Jan. 22, 2022. / Joe Bukuras/CNA

New York City, N.Y., Jan 24, 2022 / 16:15 pm (CNA).

Barricades and a line of police protected pro-life attendees entering and exiting the Archdiocese of New York’s Prayer Vigil for Life at St. Patrick’s Cathedral Saturday night, as members of the activist group New York City for Abortion Rights chanted insults and screamed vulgarities at them.

“Go to h*** b****,” one protester screamed at a churchgoer. Multiple other demonstrators screamed “F*** you” and made obscene gestures as a range of people from young children to elderly men and women exited the midtown Manhattan church. 

In addition to the vulgarities, demonstrators chanted “Shame,” “Thank God for abortion,” “Go home fascists, go home,” and “New York hates you,” along with pro-choice slogans aimed at churchgoers.

Toward the end of the protest, pro-abortion slogans including "God loves abortion," and "Abortion forever" were illuminated up on the exterior of the cathedral as demonstrators cheered. On Jan. 20 in Washington, D.C., another activist group, Catholics for Choice, projected pro-choice slogans on the facade of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception during a Mass and Holy Hour on the eve of the March for Life.

Approximately 100 demonstrators attended the New York City rally, which organizers dubbed "F*** the March for Life" in an Instagram post. Many of the participants used drums, shakers, and other noisemakers, which were audible to those inside the cathedral.

The Prayer Vigil for Life marked the 48th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that legalized abortion nationwide. In accord with the U.S. bishops' call for penance and prayer for violations against the dignity of the unborn, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York celebrated the Vigil Mass at 5:30 p.m., which was followed by an hour of Eucharistic adoration.

"When a nation founded on the right to life and the equal protection of law for all life finds such violence to be legal, as it did 49 years ago today in legalizing abortion, boy that’s tragic," Dolan said during his homily. "That’s not right. That’s not natural. That’s not the way God intended it. That’s not the way our country intended it."

Nathan Long (in white cap) and his teenage son have a brief interaction with one of the demonstrators at a pro-abortion rally outside St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City on Jan. 22, 2022. Joe Bukuras/CNA
Nathan Long (in white cap) and his teenage son have a brief interaction with one of the demonstrators at a pro-abortion rally outside St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City on Jan. 22, 2022. Joe Bukuras/CNA

Among those who were screamed upon exiting the vigil were Nathan Long and his teen-age son. The two had a brief interaction with one of the demonstrators.

“I looked at him and I was just kind of praying,” Long told CNA afterward. “He’s just uninformed and I think he’s lost the spirit of Christ.”

Long, a father of seven from Dallas, Texas, said he thinks most of the protesters aren’t educated on the issue of life. “We’re living in a society where people just want to pick up the torch and be angry at anything,” he added.

One of the many slogans that protesters chanted at churchgoers was “Stop harassing patients!”

The chant referred to a recurring pro-life day of prayer called Witness for Life, which consists of Mass and Eucharistic adoration, followed by a rosary procession to the nearby Planned Parenthood and then a vigil in front of the clinic. 

The pro-abortion demonstrators on Saturday handed out flyers that state that many attendees at the Prayer Vigil for Life are Witness for Life attendees as well. The flyers claim there is “nothing peaceful” about the Witness for Life.

“They intimidate patients by praying, holding offensive signs, [and] impersonating clinic escorts to coerce patients,” the flyer states.

New York City for Abortion Rights often protests the Witness for Life. The pro-abortion group made headlines in July for standing in front of the rosary procession in order to block their path to the Planned Parenthood. Police officers were required to escort the rosary procession and separate the demonstrators. 

Toward the end of Saturday’s rally, a woman who appeared to be an organizer announced to the demonstrators that the group would be protesting the next Witness for Life event Feb. 5 by slowing down participants' rosary procession “with our bodies.”

Pro-life ads removed in several Spanish cities

A pro-life ad at a bus stop in Spain. / ACDP

Madrid, Spain, Jan 24, 2022 / 16:00 pm (CNA).

Alfonso Galdón, founding president of the Spanish political party Valores, denounced Friday the Murcia city government for banning the pro-life “Cancelled” ad campaign.

In a Jan. 21 YouTube message, Galdón stated that “the constitutional rights of the Spanish people have been violated by the Murcia City Council.”

Pressure from the abortion lobby has led several Spanish city councils, including those of Valencia, Valladolid, and Murcia to ban the advertisements.

The “Cancelled” campaign opposes a bill being pushed by the ruling Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party which would criminalize "harassing women going to clinics for the voluntary interruption of pregnancy." Anyone promoting, favoring, or participating in demonstrations near abortion clinics would be subject to penalties.

Penalties for what would be deemed harassment would include jail terms of three months to a year, or community service from 31 to 80 days. Depending on circumstances, an individual could also be barred from a particular location for between six months and three years.

The mayor of Murcia is a member of the PSOE.

“Today the Murcia city government has done a great disservice to our democracy by trampling on the right to freedom of speech, requiring the removal the pro-life posters that until this afternoon could be seen in the streets of Murcia,” Galdón declared.

In opposition to the bill, beginning Jan. 18, 260 posters were placed in ad kiosks on streets and at metro stops in 33 Spanish cities to "raise our voices against prison sentences."

According to the bill making its way through Spain’s lower house, pro-lifers could be prosecuted without the aggrieved person or their legal representative being required to file a complaint. 

The "Cancelled” campaign "seeks to combat political correctness, the cancel culture and the repression of freedoms.”

The posters read: "Praying in front of abortion clinics is a great thing." By using a QR code on the poster, the testimony of Dr. Jesús Poveda, one of the main promoters of the pro-life movement in Spain, can be accessed. 

The campaign will also include interviews, educational videos, and written material.

The posters state that “more than 99,000 abortions abortions are performed in Spain every year. The crime of those who pray in front of abortion clinics is to want to save some of these lives.”  

In his video message, Galdón stated that these efforts to cancel the campaign have trampled on the freedom of speech, “which only seeks to defend the life of the weakest, the unborn.” Galdón told the politicians and those promoting abortion that “you’re not going to silence us, we are growing in the face of injustice.”

Legal group seeks protection for Navy personnel objecting to COVID vaccine on religious grounds

null / Glynnis Jones/Shutterstock.

Denver Newsroom, Jan 24, 2022 / 15:00 pm (CNA).

A Christian legal group has filed a class-action lawsuit with the goal of blocking the Navy’s COVID vaccine mandate for all U.S. Navy personnel who have requested religious accommodation. 

First Liberty Institute, a Christian legal group, had filed a federal lawsuit and motion for preliminary injunction earlier this month on behalf of “dozens” of U.S. Navy SEALs and other Naval Special Warfare personnel, who represent Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestant Christianity. 

As a result of the initial lawsuit, Judge Reed O’Connor of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas on Jan. 3 issued an injunction preventing the Department of Defense from taking “any adverse action” against the plaintiffs in the case because of requests for religious accommodation. 

The amended lawsuit, which the group announced this week, seeks to cover all Navy service members who have submitted requests for religious accommodation against the vaccine mandate, almost all of which, up to now, have been denied. The group says at least 3,000 service members have submitted requests. 

In August 2021, the Pentagon announced that all service members would have to be vaccinated against COVID-19. In advance of that announcement, Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the Archdiocese for the Military Services said that receiving one of the COVID-19 vaccines approved for use in the United States was morally permissible, and that a vaccine mandate “seems prudent” and would be “very similar” to mandates already enforced in the military.

First Liberty says the religious objections that the plaintiffs in the initial lawsuit raised fell into four categories: opposition to abortion and the use of aborted fetal cell lines in development of the vaccine; belief that modifying one’s body is an affront to the creator; direct, divine instruction not to receive the vaccine; and opposition to injecting trace amounts of animal cells into one’s body.

Most of the requests made have been denied, O’Connor wrote in his ruling, and some of the plaintiffs report mistreatment as a result of asking for a religious exemption. 

Catholic bishops across the country have issued varying guidance for Catholics wishing to seek conscientious objections to COVID-19 mandates. A few have expressed explicit support for Catholics wishing to seek exemptions; some have said that Catholics may seek exemptions, but must make the case for their own conscience without the involvement of clergy; and some have stated that Catholic teaching lacks a basis to reject vaccination mandates.  

Archbishop Broglio has encouraged Catholics to follow the guidance of the Vatican and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, both of whom have stated that it is morally permissible to receive the COVID-19 vaccinations currently available in the United States, even ones with a remote connection to aborted fetal tissue. 

Archbishop Broglio has also said that service members should not be forced to receive a COVID-19 vaccine against their consciences. 

“The denial of religious accommodations, or punitive or adverse personnel actions taken against those who raise earnest, conscience-based objections, would be contrary to federal law and morally reprehensible,” Broglio said in October.

Walk for Life West Coast brings 15,000+ to San Francisco

The Walk for Life West Coast in San Francisco, Calif., Jan. 22, 2022. / Dennis Callahan via Walk for Life West Coast

San Francisco, Calif., Jan 24, 2022 / 14:00 pm (CNA).

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone condemned abortion as the equivalent of a sacrament of a “new secular religion” in his homily at the Mass for Walk for Life West Coast on Saturday at the Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Assumption in San Francisco. 

More than 15,000 people gathered Jan. 22 for the 18th annual Walk for Life West Coast. 

The event was held on the 49th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision, which found that a woman had a legal right to an abortion throughout her pregnancy. 

Cordileone, speaking about how the devil is using a strategy of “divide and conquer” to alienate humanity from both God and each other, said that this form of secularism “has all become a sort of religion on its own, one that takes the form of a hyper-aggressive, anti-Christian kind of a secularism.” 

“This is all around us nowadays, and this kind of secularism has all the marks of a religion: infallible dogmas, rituals, saints, creedal statements and condemnation of heretical teachings along with punishment of the heretics who hold them and dare to speak them in public, index of forbidden books, even sacraments,” he said. 

Abortion, said Cordileone, has become the “blessed sacrament” of this militant secularism. 

It is “what they hold most sacred, the doctrine and practice upon which their whole belief system is built.” This is why, he explained, “we see such visceral and violent reaction to any even minimal regulation of abortion in the law, regulations that even those who believe it should be kept legal would see as reasonable, such as informed consent and parental consent.” 

“It should come as no surprise that the first to challenge the Texas Heartbeat Bill was the Satanic Temple, and precisely on the grounds of deprivation of religious liberty: they need abortion to carry out their religious rituals,” said Cordileone. 

The antidote to this, said the archbishop, is living “according to true wisdom,” meaning “the path to lasting happiness, a path which is walked by means of the virtues, both the natural and the theological virtues.” This is accomplished by a devotion to the sacraments. 

“We have the real Blessed Sacrament,” said Cordileone. “How much of the desecration of human life we witness in our time is due to a loss of the sense of the sacred, even that which is most sacred, the Blessed Sacrament? Do we do all possible to respect the integrity of the Blessed Sacrament and avoid its desecration by receiving reverently and worthily, always giving God our best in worship?” 

Cordileone stated that Christians who are in favor of abortion rights, who have been “mindlessly co-opted by the new secular religion and its false blessed sacrament” are equivalent to the Israelites who worshiped Moloch. 

“But there is only one Blessed Sacrament; to live as if there were two brings desecration of what is sacred on both fronts: the Bread of Life on the altar and human life in the womb,” he said. 

Now, said the archbishop, society is at a “very pivotal moment” with the upcoming Supreme Court Decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. Despite this, and the serious potential for the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade, Cordileone warned that it is not the time to “think we can relax our efforts even with the right decision.” 

“The devil will not stop until he is defeated and returned to hell definitively when our Lord returns,” he said. “There will always be attacks on the dignity of human life, and they will intensify,” noting that California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) pledged to make California a “sanctuary state for abortion.”

“So we will continue to work to build a culture of life, by advocating for life, by providing women in crisis pregnancies love and support and all that they need to know they are valued, respected and have friends walking with them in their time of distress, giving them the opportunity to make the happiest decision of all, the decision for life,” he said.

Finnish MP facing jail after tweeting Bible verse pleads not guilty as trial begins

Päivi Räsänen, Finland’s interior minister from 2011 to 2015, speaks to reporters while holding her Bible at Helsinki District Court on Jan. 24, 2022. / ADF International.

Helsinki, Finland, Jan 24, 2022 / 13:00 pm (CNA).

A former government minister facing jail in Finland after tweeting a Bible verse pleaded not guilty to three criminal charges on Monday.

Päivi Räsänen appeared at Helsinki District Court on Jan. 24, the first day of her trial, alongside Juhana Pohjola, bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland, who is facing one criminal charge.

Finland’s Prosecutor General filed criminal charges against the pair on April 29, 2020, formally charging them with the crime of “ethnic agitation,” which falls under the section of “war crimes and crimes against humanity” in the country’s criminal code.

The state prosecutor asserted that the statements made by Räsänen, who served as Finland’s interior minister from 2011 to 2015, were “likely to cause intolerance, contempt, and hatred towards homosexuals.”

The charges against Räsänen, a 62-year-old physician and mother of five, relate to her comments in a 2004 pamphlet, her appearance on a 2018 television program, and a Twitter post in 2019.

The charge against Pohjola concerns his decision to publish Räsänen’s pamphlet, “Male and Female He Created Them.”

When the defendants arrived at the court, they were greeted by supporters holding banners.

Supporters of Päivi Räsänen Juhana Pohjola outside Helsinki District Court, Finland, on Jan. 24, 2022. ADF International.
Supporters of Päivi Räsänen Juhana Pohjola outside Helsinki District Court, Finland, on Jan. 24, 2022. ADF International.

ADF International, a Christian legal group supporting the Christian Democrat MP, said that as the trial began, the prosecution argued that the views shared by Räsänen and Pohjola were discriminatory towards minorities.

The defense appealed to the court not to impose its own theological interpretation of scripture on Finland’s 5.5 million citizens, by criminalizing traditional Christian views on marriage and sexuality.

The defense said that a guilty verdict would amount to the de facto criminalization of the Bible verses tweeted by Räsänen.

Around two-thirds of the population of Finland — a country bordering Norway, Russia, and Sweden — belong to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, one of the country’s two national churches, alongside the Finnish Orthodox Church.

The MP, who was chairwoman of the Christian Democrats party from 2004 to 2015, is an active member of the Finnish Lutheran Church. But she questioned her church’s sponsorship of an LGBT pride event in 2019.

On June 17, 2019, she asked in a Twitter post how the sponsorship was compatible with the Bible, linking to a photograph of a biblical passage, Romans 1:24-27, on Instagram. She also posted the text and image on Facebook.

Discussing the tweet in court on Monday, she underlined that the post was directed at Church leaders and concerned an important topic facing the Church.

Police began investigating Räsänen in 2019. She faced several police interviews and had to wait more than a year for the Prosecutor General’s decision.

The International Lutheran Council has described the decision to prosecute Räsänen and Pohjola as “egregious.”

It said: “The vast majority of Christians in all nations, including Catholics and Eastern Orthodox, share these convictions. Would the Finnish Prosecutor General condemn us all? Moreover, shall the Finnish state risk governmental sanctions from other states based on the abuse of foundational human rights?”

Addressing the pamphlet, which described homosexuality as “a disorder of psycho-sexual development,” Räsänen told the court that she was asked to write a text outlining Lutheran teaching on sexuality for members of her church, from her viewpoint as a politician, doctor, and Christian.

She said that the pamphlet was outdated given changes in research and legislation since 2004. But she argued that it should still exist as a document testifying to the discussions taking place at that time.

Paul Coleman, executive director of ADF International, noted that a guilty verdict would not set an instant legal precedent for other European countries. But he suggested that it would “set a new European low bar for free speech standards.”

He added that similar cases “really could happen anywhere else” because of hate speech laws across the continent.

Closing arguments will take place on Feb. 14.

How St. Irenaeus helped save the early Church from schism

St. Irenaeus depicted in the apse of Holy Ascension Orthodox Church in Charleston, South Carolina. / Andrew Gould via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Vatican City, Jan 24, 2022 / 12:00 pm (CNA).

St. Irenaeus once helped to save the 2nd-century Church from schism. Today, the newly declared “Doctor of Unity” is the patron saint of a group of theologians working on current problems in Orthodox-Catholic dialogue.

According to the St. Irenaeus Joint Orthodox-Catholic Working Group, the newest Doctor of the Church understood that “diversity in practice does not imply disunity of faith.”

During the “Paschal Controversy” in the 2nd century, Irenaeus played a decisive role in mediating the dispute over the date of Easter.

Two principal traditions existed in the early Church at the time. In much of Asia Minor, Easter was celebrated on the 14th Nisan (the Jewish Passover), an observance known as Quartodecimanism. But in Rome and much of the East, the feast fell on a given Sunday — a divergence that also had implications for fasting practices.

When Irenaeus was serving as a presbyter in Lyons, in modern-day France, he was sent to Rome in 177 to mediate a resolution to the controversy.

Irenaeus wrote: “The disagreement in the fast only speaks for our agreement in the faith.”

The saint “successfully intervened with Pope Victor to lift the excommunication of the Quartodecimans and thus avert a schism,” the Irenaeus group told CNA on Jan. 23.

The 26 Catholic and Orthodox theologians who make up the St. Irenaeus Joint Orthodox-Catholic Working Group discussed Irenaeus’ role in the Paschal Controversy during its most recent meeting in Rome.

It was during this meeting that Pope Francis first revealed that he planned to name Irenaeus the 37th Doctor of the Church with the title “Doctor of Unity.”

The pope made this official on Jan. 21 with a decree signed during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

Following the decree’s promulgation, the St. Irenaeus Joint Orthodox-Catholic Working Group told CNA why Irenaeus was an apt choice for the title “Doctor of Unity.”

“As a native of Asia Minor who eventually became a bishop in the West, Irenaeus in his person reflects the close interconnection between East and West in the early Church,” the group told CNA.

“His writings address critical issues such as the ‘rule of faith,’ apostolic succession, the canon of scripture, all of which are key elements of the faith held in common by Catholics and Orthodox.”

The St. Irenaeus Joint Orthodox-Catholic Working Group is comprised of 13 Catholic theologians and 13 theologians from various Orthodox Churches (Constantinople, Antioch, Russia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Greece, America).

The group has met annually since 2004, alternating between Catholic and Orthodox majority countries, including Italy, Russia, France, Romania, Austria, and Greece.

In line with the joint working group’s style, its responses to CNA’s questions were co-written by a Catholic and an Orthodox representative of the group and then approved by both of its co-secretaries: Assaad Elias Kattan, chair for Orthodox Theology at the University of Münster, and Johannes Oeldemann, the Catholic director of the Johann Adam Möhler Institute for Ecumenism.

“Irenaeus has left us a magnificent theological legacy written in a way particularly dear to the Orthodox, because it integrates intellectual and spiritual motifs, and at the same time so cherished in the West that his main writings have been preserved in Latin,” the group said.

With the new papal decree, Irenaeus became the first saint to hold both the titles of martyr and Doctor of the Church.

In the wake of the decree, some have raised the question of whether there is historical proof that Irenaeus was truly a martyr.

The St. Irenaeus Joint Orthodox-Catholic Working Group, however, explained why it holds that Irenaeus should have both titles.

“Though he is venerated as a martyr by both Catholics and Orthodox, there is little information about the actual manner of his death,” it said.

“However, martyrdom is not only measured by factual suffering, but also by a love expressing that eagerness to go through whatever God allows to happen. Irenaeus, in this sense, was at least a martyr of desire.”

“Moreover, in his influential writings, he was a powerful witness (‘mártys’ in Greek) to Christian faith, certainly deserving the title of martyr and ‘Doctor of Unity.’”

Cardinal Kurt Koch, the president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, has welcomed the St. Irenaeus Joint Orthodox-Catholic Working Group’s work over the past 18 years as a valuable support for the international Roman Catholic-Orthodox dialogue.

The group’s next meeting will be held in Romania in October 2022.

“The teaching of this saintly pastor and teacher is like a bridge between East and West: this is why we call him a Doctor of Unity, Doctor Unitatis,” Pope Francis said in his Angelus address on Jan. 23.

“May the Lord grant us, through his intercession, to work together for the full unity of Christians.”

India’s Catholic bishops urged to highlight anti-Christian violence

Cardinal Oswald Gracias, Archbishop of Bombay and President of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of India. / Daniel Ibáñez/CNA

Mumbai, India, Jan 24, 2022 / 08:35 am (CNA).

A Catholic group has urged India’s bishops to highlight recent attacks on the country’s Christians.

In a letter dated Jan. 10, members of the Forum for Justice and Peace claimed that the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI) had responded to rising anti-Christian violence with “complete silence.”

“During the two days Dec. 24-25, the media reported seven well-planned attacks on Christian institutions across the country,” they wrote.

“In fact, in the year 2021, there were 486 incidents of violence against the Christian community in India, according to the United Christian Front. What shocks us is the complete silence on the part of the official Church, the CBCI.”

The letter was addressed to Cardinal Oswald Gracias, the president of the CBCI and a member of Pope Francis’ Council of Cardinal Advisers.

India, the world’s second-most populous country after China, is ranked as the 10th worst country in the world in which to be a Christian by the advocacy group Open Doors.

According to a 2011 census, 79.8% of India’s 1.38 billion population is Hindu, 14.2% Muslim, and 2.3% Christian.

The country has the second-largest Catholic population in Asia after the Philippines. There are around 20 million Catholics in India, comprising Latin Rite Catholics as well as members of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church and the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church.

A report published by three civil rights groups in October 2021 concluded that Christians faced persecution in 21 of the country’s 28 states.

The Forum for Justice and Peace, whose members belong to Catholic religious communities, connected violence against Christians to attacks on Muslims, India’s largest minority community.

“We request you to guide the Catholic community in India to respond to the increasing hate speech and violence against Muslims and Christians,” they wrote.

“When Muslims were lynched by the right-wing groups, the Church in India remained silent. Now, these groups have intensified their attacks on Christians.”

“We are of the view that we Catholics cannot remain silent spectators when the drama of violent attacks against the minorities is unfolding before us. We need to act and fulfill our prophetic role before it is too late.”

The letter was signed by Father Antony F. Thekkiniyath, O.F.M. Cap., and Sister Dorothy Fernandes, P.B.V.M., respectively the national secretary and national convenor of the Forum for Justice and Peace.

The authors asked Gracias, archbishop of Bombay since 2006, to adopt a seven-point plan to help persecuted Indian Christians.

The proposals included writing to India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who invited the pope to India in October, urging him to order local leaders “to prevent such atrocities in future and to bring to book the culprits who are involved in these crimes.”

They also called for the swift denunciation of acts of anti-Christian violence by the bishops’ conference, a day of public fasting, and protest rallies.

“The violent acts against the Christian community and Muslim community or any other minority group are in complete violation of the law of the land and the Indian constitution,” the letter said.

“If we do not respond to such acts, the secular fabric of India will be lost, causing irreparable damage to the people of India, and an inclusive, democratic and pluralistic India as envisioned in the preamble of the Indian constitution could be lost forever.”

Catholic bishops of Ukraine and Poland say Russia tensions pose ‘great danger’

Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, with Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki, president of the Polish bishops’ conference. /

Kyiv, Ukraine, Jan 24, 2022 / 06:05 am (CNA).

Catholic bishops in Ukraine and Poland said on Monday that rising tensions with Russia pose “a great danger” to the whole of Europe.

In a joint message on Jan. 24, Church leaders appealed to governments to “refrain from hostilities” in Ukraine, Europe’s second-largest country by area after Russia.

“The current situation represents a great danger for the countries of Central and Eastern Europe and the entire European continent, which may destroy the progress made so far by many generations in building a peaceful order and unity in Europe,” said the appeal signed by Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, and Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki, president of the Polish bishops’ conference, among others.

The bishops issued their message the day after Pope Francis announced that Jan. 26 will be a day of prayer for peace in the Eastern European country.

“I am following with concern the increase of tensions that threaten to inflict a new blow to the peace in Ukraine, and call into question the security of the European continent, with wider repercussions,” the pope said after his Sunday Angelus address on Jan. 23.

Ukraine, which has a population of 44 million people, borders Moldova, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, Poland, Belarus, and Russia.

The Russo-Ukrainian War began in February 2014, focused on the east of Ukraine. The conflict has claimed more than 14,000 lives and driven 1.3 million people from their homes, according to Caritas Internationalis, a Vatican-based confederation of Catholic charities raising funds for those affected.

The warring parties agreed to a cease-fire in July 2020. But Russia has sent an estimated 100,000 troops to the Ukrainian border. U.S. President Joe Biden said on Jan. 19 that he expected Russian President Vladimir Putin to order an invasion.

The U.S. State Department said on Jan. 23 that it had ordered the departure of family members of U.S. government employees at the U.S. embassy in Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv.

The Ukrainian and Polish bishops lamented the lack of progress in talks between Western countries and Russia.

“In their speeches, the leaders of many countries point to Russia’s increasing pressure on Ukraine, as massive armaments and troops are gathered on its border. The occupation of Donbas and Crimea has shown that the Russian Federation — in its violation of Ukraine’s national sovereignty and territorial integrity — disregards the binding rules of international law,” they said.

Europe’s Catholic bishops expressed support for Ukraine last week.

“At this extremely delicate time, we ask Christians to pray for the gift of peace in Ukraine so that those responsible may be filled with, and radiate, a peace that is ‘contagious’ and that the crisis will be overcome exclusively through dialogue,” the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences (CCEE) said.

In their message, the bishops of Ukraine and Poland called for a diplomatic solution to the crisis.

They said: “Today, the quest for alternatives to war in resolving international conflicts has become an urgent necessity, since the terrifying power of the means of destruction are now in the hands of even medium and small powers, and the increasingly strong ties existing between the peoples of the whole earth make it difficult, if not practically impossible, to limit the effects of any conflict.”

“Therefore, drawing on the experience of previous generations, we call upon those in power to refrain from hostilities. We encourage leaders to immediately withdraw from the path of ultimatums and the use of other countries as bargaining chips.”

“Differences in interests must be resolved not by the use of arms, but through agreements. The international community should unite in solidarity and actively support endangered society in all possible ways.”

Pope Francis: Global synodal path ‘a great opportunity to listen to one another’

Pope Francis listens to a boy called Emanuele at St. Paul of the Cross parish, Rome, on April 15, 2018. / Vatican Media.

Vatican City, Jan 24, 2022 / 04:18 am (CNA).

Pope Francis said on Monday that the two-year global consultation process leading to the Synod on Synodality is “a great opportunity” for Catholics to listen to one another.

Writing in his World Communications Day message, released on Jan. 24, the pope expressed concern that people were “losing the ability to listen,” both in the Church and wider public life.

“A synodal process has just been launched,” he wrote. “Let us pray that it will be a great opportunity to listen to one another.”

“Communion, in fact, is not the result of strategies and programs, but is built in mutual listening between brothers and sisters.”

Pope Francis formally invited the world’s Catholics last October to take part in a consultation process leading to the XVI Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops in 2023.

In his new message, entitled “Listening with the ear of the heart,” the pope reflected on biblical passages illustrating the importance of listening.

“Among the five senses, the one favored by God seems to be hearing, perhaps because it is less invasive, more discreet than sight, and therefore leaves the human being more free,” he wrote.

“Listening corresponds to the humble style of God. It is the action that allows God to reveal himself as the One who, by speaking, creates man and woman in his image, and by listening recognizes them as his partners in dialogue.”

The pope lamented what he described as an absence of listening in public discourse.

“The lack of listening, which we experience so often in daily life, is unfortunately also evident in public life, where, instead of listening to each other, we often ‘talk past one another,’” he observed.

“This is a symptom of the fact that, rather than seeking the true and the good, consensus is sought; rather than listening, one pays attention to the audience. Good communication, instead, does not try to impress the public with a soundbite, with the aim of ridiculing the other person, but pays attention to the reasons of the other person and tries to grasp the complexity of reality.”

“It is sad when, even in the Church, ideological alignments are formed and listening disappears, leaving sterile opposition in its wake.”

The pope signed the message on Jan. 24, the Memorial of St. Francis de Sales, patron of writers and journalists.

He urged members of the media to develop their listening capacities.

“Communication does not take place if listening has not taken place, and there is no good journalism without the ability to listen,” he said.

“In order to provide solid, balanced, and complete information, it is necessary to listen for a long time. To recount an event or describe an experience in news reporting, it is essential to know how to listen, to be ready to change one’s mind, to modify one’s initial assumptions.”

The pope suggested that listening to society was more critical than ever due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“So much previously accumulated mistrust towards ‘official information’ has also caused an ‘infodemic,’ within which the world of information is increasingly struggling to be credible and transparent,” he said.

He particularly encouraged journalists to tell the stories of migrants.

“Everyone would then be free to support the migration policies they deem most appropriate for their own country,” he wrote.

“But in any case, we would have before our eyes, not numbers, not dangerous invaders, but the faces and stories, gazes, expectations and sufferings of real men and women to listen to.”

Quoting the German Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was executed by the Nazis in 1945, the pope underlined that there was also a great need for listening in the Church.

He said: “It is the most precious and life-giving gift we can offer each other. ‘Christians have forgotten that the ministry of listening has been committed to them by him who is himself the great listener and whose work they should share. We should listen with the ears of God that we may speak the word of God.’”

World Communications Day, established by Pope Paul VI in 1967, will be celebrated this year on Sunday, May 29, the day that some countries will mark the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord, transferred from the preceding Thursday.

The theme of this year’s commemoration, the 56th, is “Listen!”

Concluding his message, Pope Francis compared the Church to a choir.

“With the awareness that we participate in a communion that precedes and includes us, we can rediscover a symphonic Church, in which each person is able to sing with his or her own voice, welcoming the voices of others as a gift to manifest the harmony of the whole that the Holy Spirit composes,” he said.