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After Beirut blast, what some Lebanese Christians are doing to help their neighbors

Denver Newsroom, Aug 14, 2020 / 04:00 am (CNA).- Last Tuesday, Julie Tegho and her husband Hicham Bou Nassif were enjoying an ordinary day at their local mall in Beirut, Lebanon. Without warning, they felt what seemed like an earthquake, followed by a mighty blast that shattered the glass all around them.

“For a second I thought the mall was falling on our heads,” Tegho told CNA. “The sound was so strong and deafening that it took us a couple of seconds to realize we had to leave the mall, because it was such a tremendous shock."

The massive explosion in the port area of Lebanon’s capital on Aug. 4 overturned cars, shattered windows, set fires, and damaged buildings across Beirut, a city of more than 350,000, with a metro area of more than 2 million people.

The ABC Mall where the couple was during the blast is located less than a mile from the port, the epicenter of the explosion.

Tegho and Bou Nassif were on different levels of the mall when the explosion hit, and struggled for several minutes to find each other in the ensuing chaos and deafening alarms. The blast had knocked out cellular coverage, making communication that much more difficult.

When Tegho did find her husband, he was bleeding from his forehead. She says they walked from the mall to her parents’ nearby home, to deal with his wound, and later they took him to the hospital.

“It’s only when we started walking that I started to grasp the magnitude of the blast, and we realized it was not just a car bombing, it was something much bigger," she said. “It was just a post-apocalyptic scene.”

Bou Nassif, an assistant professor of government who teaches at a college in California,  is now recovering with several stitches.

The windows of the couple’s house, located further from the blast, were blown out, but their house did not suffer serious damage. Tegho said her sister, who was babysitting, was able to shield their months-old baby from the flying glass.

Tegho, a high school social studies teacher, said she believes there is not a single person in Beirut that was not affected in some way by the disaster— whether they had their home or business damaged or destroyed, had a family member injured or killed, or were themselves a casualty.

Her cousin, who was much nearer to the port, managed to escape serious injury, she said. The school where Tegho teaches has been completely destroyed, she said.

As of Aug. 12, more than 200 people are confirmed dead, more than 5,000 injured and hundreds of thousands have been rendered homeless. The UN Refugee Agency has also reported that at least 34 refugees were among those killed in the blast.

Volunteers have been clearing rubble from houses since the day after the blast, Tegho said.

Beirut Governor Marwan Abboud has 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.

Many buildings and warehouses along the docks were completely destroyed, and the explosion’s shockwave caused damage within a six-mile radius.

Bou Nassif said because of where the blast occurred, the worst of the damage happened to majority-Christian neighborhoods. The adjacent areas included Beirut’s mostly Christian neighborhoods of Mar Maroun and Achrafieh.

As a result, he said, most of the aid is coming from Christian aid agencies, as well as the Maronite Catholic Church.

The Philos Project, a group that advocates for Christians in the Near East, as part of a broader goal of religious pluralism in the region and of educating Western Christians on their situation, is one such Christian organization helping those affected by the disaster in Lebanon.

Tegho said she and her husband are spearheading an initiative called Human Chain, which she said was formed in October 2019 to help the poor in the midst of protests against the government.

"In the aftermath of the disaster, we realized we could use our Human Chain network to help in relief efforts," she said.

Tegho said the main goal of the Human Chain at the moment is helping to ensure people’s homes are safe to occupy, and they have a functional living space and bathroom.

“This is where volunteers have been doing most of the work, because there has been no government involved in that [effort,” she said.
“Helping to remove the debris, making sure people who have lost everything have places to go to whether it's the church, whether it's friends, family, et cetera. But it's still too soon for those houses to be rebuilt.”

In addition to delivering food aid, Tegho and Bou Nassif have been helping to clear the rubble and ensure their neighbors do not end up on the streets.

They are also hoping to raise $30,000 for relief efforts through a GoFundMe campaign.

Tegho said the Philos Project has set up a fund of $10,000 to help the Human Chain in its humanitarian efforts. Philos is encouraging donations to its Action Fund on its website.

Bou Nassif said the best way to help the people of Lebanon is to donate to Christian agencies, rather than to the Lebanese government.

“You give money to the Lebanese state, you're not giving money to any poor person in Lebanon, Christian, or not. You're giving money to Lebanon politicians,” he opined.

On Aug. 10, Lebanon’s Maronite Catholic patriarch, Cardinal Bechara Boutros Rai, called for the resignation of the entire Lebanese government, adding that it is “necessary to hold everyone responsible accountable for this massacre and catastrophe.” The Prime Minister and the rest of the government subsequently resigned later that day.

Though millions of dollars of aid has poured in from Western governments, Bou Nassif said he trusts the Christian agencies much more than the government to distribute aid to the poor.

"Some money will come from governments, but the money that will come immediately, before this is resolved, will be coming from churches, concerned citizens, people with sympathy...to the Christian minority in Lebanon," Bou Nassif said.

“The biggest actors are the Maronite Church, the Lebanese Red Cross, the local Catholic relief or rescue organizations; they should be helped to help people,” he said.

Officials have not yet determined the cause of the explosions, but investigators believe they may have started with a fire in a warehouse that stored 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate, a fertilizer that can be made into an explosive. Lebanon’s security service warned against speculations of terrorism before investigators could assess the situation.

Bou Nassif told CNA that the widespread sentiment throughout the city is that Hezbollah, a hardline Islamic party in Lebanon, is to blame for the accident.

Sixty percent of Lebanon’s people are Muslim, evenly split among Sunni and Shia, and nearly 35% of the country’s population is Christian, most of whom are Maronite Catholic Christians. Lebanon also has a small Jewish population, as well as Druze and other religious communities.

Other Christian aid agencies, as well as the Red Cross, have been active in the city following the disaster.

Despite damages to their own facilities, Catholic Relief Services 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.

 

Korean cardinal to consecrate Pyongyang Diocese to Mary on Assumption

CNA Staff, Aug 14, 2020 / 12:38 am (CNA).- The Archbishop of Seoul, Cardinal Andrew Yeom Soo-jung, has announced that he will consecrate the Diocese of Pyongyang to Our Lady of Fatima on the Solemnity of the Assumption.

“In this meaningful year, marking the 75th anniversary of [Korean] Liberation and the 70th anniversary of the outbreak of the Korean War, I decided to dedicate the Pyongyang Diocese to Our Lady of Fatima through careful prayer and discernment,” Cardinal Yeom wrote in a message for the Assumption feast published on the archdiocesan website.

“I hope that the North Korean Church will be able to praise the Lord again in joy and peace as soon as possible through the protection and help of Our Lady,” Yeom said.

It will be the first consecration of the Pyongyang Diocese to Our Lady of Fatima since the diocese was established in 1927, according to the cardinal. The dedication will take place in a Mass in Seoul’s Myeongdong Cathedral on August 15.

The Marian feast on August 15 has a special place in the historical memory of the entire Korean peninsula as it coincides with “Liberation Day,” the date that Korea was liberated from Japanese colonial rule. It is the only Korean public holiday celebrated in both North and South Korea.

“I hope that the day will come soon when we will be able to share the joy and happiness of the Assumption with our North Korean brothers and sisters,” Yeom said.

The South Korean cardinal said that he asked Pope Francis for a special blessing for the Diocese of Pyongyang and that the pope will ask for the Virgin Mary’s protection on the date of consecration.

Cardinal Yeom serves as both the Archbishop of Seoul and the apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Pyongyang, North Korea’s capital.

“In the midst of the division of North and South Korea following liberation and the vortex of the Korean War in 1950, all of our nation suffered beyond words,” Yeom said.

“Religious people had to face greater suffering. Throughout the Korean War, all cathedrals in North Korea were closed and the monasteries were disbanded. In addition, priests, religious, and Christians were mercilessly arrested and suffered torment or killed,” he said.

The suffering of Christians in North Korean continues today. A report published by the United Nations human rights commission on July 28 details sexual violence, forced abortion, and torture of women in North Korea’s prisons.

The report is based on interviews with North Korean women who were detained in North Korea between 2009 and 2019 after attempting to escape by crossing the Sino-Korean border. An informal network of Christian groups and NGOs run an “Underground Railroad” to bring these North Korean escapees out of China, where they face repatriation, to safety.

“If one is found to have gone to a South Korean church while staying in China, they are dead. I therefore tried hard not to reveal my life in China. I was beaten up as a result. I was beaten to a level that my rib was broken. I still feel the pain,” one North Korean defector testified to the UN Human Rights staff.

Cardinal Yeom said that there is not a single active priest in North Korea. “As the head of the Seoul Archdiocese and the Pyongyang Diocese, I believe that God's special grace is necessary to resolve this unfortunate reality,” he said.

The cardinal asked Korean Christians to support and practice evangelization with determination so that North Korean Catholics can someday enjoy the freedom of faith as a fruit of this Marian dedication.

“We must also ask Our Lady, the Queen of Peace, for true peace in our society,” he said.

In a message for the 2020 Day of Prayer for the Reconciliation and Unity of the Korean People, Bishop Peter Lee Ki-heon of Uijeongbu stated that “To nurture peace on the Korean Peninsula, not an easy task, it is essential that the two Koreas join hands.”

He added that peace on the peninsula must be achieved by the Korean people, rather than by the powers surrounding the peninsula.

The bishop urged the South Korean government to arrange for the reunification of separated families, reopen the Kaesong Industrial Complex,  resume tourism to Mount Geumgang in North Korea; and develop an inter-Korean railway connection project.

He called it “most important” that a peace agreement be reached, with an official declaration of the end of the Korean War. “Such developments will have to be followed by an authentic peace treaty and new international relations,” he stated.

 

 

Lebanese scholar: The West cannot afford to abandon Lebanon

Denver Newsroom, Aug 13, 2020 / 07:00 pm (CNA).- A Lebanese academic and aid worker told CNA on Thursday that if Western nations fail to help Lebanon recover from the explosion that rocked Beirut last week, the effect on regional and global security could be disastrous.

“There are very tangible, concrete, strategic reasons why looking the other way as Lebanon sinks is very bad for the West itself,” Habib Malik, Associate Professor of History at Lebanese American University, told CNA in an interview.

“Lebanon is reeling and in very bad shape. And keeping in mind what's at stake, both on the humanitarian level, but beyond that on the strategic level, I don't think ignoring Lebanon anymore should be an option.”

A massive explosion in the port area of Lebanon’s capital on Aug. 4 overturned cars, shattered windows, set fires, and damaged buildings across Beirut, a city of more than 350,000, with a metro area of more than 2 million people.

As of Aug. 12, more than 200 people are confirmed dead, more than 5,000 injured and hundreds of thousands have been rendered homeless.

Lebanon was already reeling from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, as well as economic woes brought on by corruption, Malik said. Lebanon was already suffering high levels of public debt and low employment.

The Syrian civil war and ensuing refugee crisis also has hit Lebanon hard, with UN figures estimating the number of displaced Syrians in Lebanon at 1.6 million.

Bishop Elias Zaidan of the Maronite Eparchy of Our Lady of Lebanon of Los Angeles had in May of this year warned that if Lebanon, one of the few democratic nations in the Middle East, became a failed state, that would have dire consequences for its Christian community and for wider regional stability.

Though some foreign countries, such as France, have pledged millions of dollars in aid for Lebanon, Malik cautioned that other countries wishing to help, such as the United States, should be wary of pledging money directly to the Lebanese government.

“The last thing Lebanon now needs is money or aid coming through government channels or through the political parties,” Malik said. “Any real aid from well-meaning sources should go through very carefully vetted NGOs.”

Malik said he recommends a local NGO called NAWRAJ that normally works with isolated outlying Christian villages near the Syrian and Israeli borders.

“And now of course, they have prioritized helping in Beirut, but I know that they are honorable, they are credible, they are independent, they are fine people,” Malik said.

He also recommended an NGO called Ashrafieh 2020 that is helping to rebuild one of the predominantly Christian neighborhoods in Beirut. Beit el Baraka is another NGO that Malik has personally vetted, he said.

Malik is also a consultant for the Philos Project, a group that advocates for Christians in the Near East as part of a broader goal of religious pluralism in the region and of educating Western Christians on their situation. Philos has set up a fund of $10,000 to help a local initiative called the Human Chain with its humanitarian efforts. Philos is encouraging donations to its Action Fund on its website.

Though Lebanon endured a 15-year civil war starting in 1975, in recent years it has emerged as a relatively peaceful and pluralistic society of the Middle East. Sixty percent of Lebanon’s people are Muslim, evenly split among Sunni and Shia, and nearly 35% of the country’s population is Christian, most of whom are Maronite Catholic Christians. Lebanon also has a small Jewish population, as well as Druze and other religious communities.

Sources have told CNA that Hezbollah, a hardline Shiite Islamic party with significant political sway in Lebanon for the past 30 years, is widely suspected to be poised to profit from the explosion disaster.

“Further neglect of Lebanon actually directly undermines Western interests in the Arab Levant and in the Arab middle East, because the Iran axis represented here locally by Hezbollah, it is in their interest that Lebanon collapse, that the people become destitute and become completely desperate,” Malik continued.

“So that then, China could step in and throw us a lifeline of a few billion dollars, which the Lebanese, the exhausted Lebanese at that point, would have no choice but to accept. And that would mean China would then acquire a deepwater seaport, the first one ever in the Mediterranean. They would be then the gatekeepers of that port,” he said.

Investigators believe the explosion may have started with a fire in a warehouse that stored 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate, a fertilizer that can be made into an explosive. According to reports, the chemicals had sat in the port, neglected, for over six years.

On Aug. 10, Lebanon’s Maronite Catholic patriarch, Cardinal Bechara Boutros Rai, called for the resignation of the entire Lebanese government, adding that it is “necessary to hold everyone responsible accountable for this massacre and catastrophe.” The Prime Minister and the rest of the government subsequently resigned later that day.

Anti-government sentiment in Lebanon had most recently bubbled over in October 2019, when thousands of peaceful protestors took to the streets to challenge government corruption and mismanagement of finances. At the time, Pope Francis sent his encouragement to the mostly young protestors.  

Malik recently wrote an op-ed for the journal of the Institute of Religion and Democracy expounding on his political analysis of the post-explosion situation.

“The stench of corruption at the highest levels mingled pungently with the odors from the burnt-out hangars as well as the dust from destroyed buildings, businesses, and apartments in the stricken city,” he wrote.

“It is safe to assume that all the governments, presidents, and political leaders in power over the past six years knew about the deadly ammonium nitrate stored in Beirut port. No one lifted a finger to remove this lethal time bomb or even warn the public about it. Whether it was colossal negligence, or complicity with those storing this explosive material for whatever military or terrorist purposes, the result is the same: criminality of the highest degree at the highest levels of government.”

In terms of cleanup and relief, Malik said large piles of rubble have been moved to the side of city streets, but no one has yet been able to clear the rubble out of the city. 

Multiple Lebanese survivors of the blast have told CNA that majority-Christian neighborhoods have borne the brunt of the damage from the explosion.

Some international Christian aid agencies, as well as the Red Cross, have been active in the city following the disaster.

Despite damages to their own facilities, Catholic Relief Services 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.

Malik said although the Maronite Catholic Church is doing a lot to help survivors, the Churches— both Catholic and Orthodox— themselves are in great need since their buildings have been so badly damaged. The Maronite eparchs of the United States have similarly  been pleading for prayers and aid for the people of Lebanon.

“We have a number of churches and hospitals that happen to overlook the Beirut port area. That's kind of a scenic view in normal times, but they were just in the direct line of the blast, as you can imagine. And so huge damage has been sustained by these establishments, to the homes, the churches, and so on,” Malik said.

Malik recommended Christians and people of good will reach out directly to Beirut churches to ask them what they need.

“There are Protestant churches, Orthodox churches, Catholic churches, there's everything in Beirut. And ask them directly for their needs. And they will actually tell you,” he said.

Malik said despite the monumental rebuilding task ahead, it has been refreshing to see many young people taking to the streets to volunteer and help their neighbors.

“These volunteers are mostly of the new generation of youth. These people have come from all over the country and across the sectarian divides to help,” he said.

“And they're very genuine about it. And the refreshing thing about these people is that they have no political ties, they are not beholden to any of the clan leaders or party leaders.”

Pope Francis appealed for prayers for the Lebanese people in his Wednesday audience on August 5.

“Let us pray for the victims, for their families; and let us pray for Lebanon, so that, through the dedication of all its social, political, and religious elements, it might face this extremely tragic and painful moment and, with the help of the international community, overcome the grave crisis they are experiencing,” he said via livestream from the Vatican.

 

US Senator asks attorney general to fight anti-Catholic vandalism

CNA Staff, Aug 13, 2020 / 04:09 pm (CNA).- A United States senator has asked the nation’s attorney general to intensify efforts to fight the vandalism that has been carried out against Catholic places and statues throughout the country in recent months.

“The trend of desecrating Catholic spaces and property must stop,” U.S. Senator John Kennedy (R-La.) wrote in an August 11 letter to U.S. Attorney General William Barr.

“Catholics are under attack in America,” he said, referencing “at least nineteen attacks on Catholic churches, statues, businesses, cemeteries, parishioners, and personnel” since May.

In recent weeks, several Catholic churches have faced attacks and acts desecration. Last month, church in Ocala, Florida was set aflame while parishioners inside prepared for morning Mass. A California mission founded by St. Junipero Serra was also burned in a fire and is being investigated as an arson case, while several statues of Serra have also been pulled down.

A statue of the Virgin Mary was beheaded at a parish in Chattanooga, Tennessee. In Boston, a statue of Mary was set on fire, and in Brooklyn, a statue was tagged with the word “IDOL” in black spray paint.

Other states, including Colorado and Missouri, have seen similar acts of vandalism. While some attacks on statues, most notably in California, have been committed in public by large groups with clear political affiliations, the perpetrators of other acts have not been identified, nor have motives been determined.

“These crimes span from coast to coast and show no sign of ending,” Senator Kennedy said, noting that minority groups including Middle Eastern Christians who have fled their homelands to escape persecution have also been targeted.

“Christians have historically been and continue to be one of the most persecuted religious groups in the world,” the senator said. “To escape religious oppression, the pilgrims took a treacherous journey across the Atlantic to America, setting the stage for the eventual creation of the United States.”

America’s Founding Fathers believed religious liberty to be essential to the new nation, securing it with the First Amendment’s protections, Kennedy said. “We cannot let a handful of people destroy this fundamental right.”

He asked Attorney General Barr to work actively to prosecute those responsible for recent acts of desecration, as well as to prevent further vandalism.

“I am confident you will act swiftly and carefully in bringing an end to this injustice,” the senator concluded.

Pro-life Democrats hail Minnesota primary win

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Aug 13, 2020 / 03:30 pm (CNA).- One of the last remaining pro-life Democrats in Congress won a primary victory in Minnesota’s 7th Congressional District on Tuesday.

In contrast to the struggles faced by pro-life Democrat candidates in other parts of the country, Rep. Collin Peterson (D-MN) defeated two primary challengers in the August 11 election, garnering 75% of the vote. He will face Republican Michelle Fischbach, who is the state’s former lieutenant governor, in the general election in November. 

Peterson, who was first elected to Congress in 1990, narrowly won reelection in 2018 by a vote of 52 to 48 percent. The 7th District has been targeted by Republican campaigners, and is currently labeled a toss-up for November. The district voted for President Donald Trump in 2016. 

Democrats for Life of America (DFLA) President Kristen Day told CNA that her organization was “delighted” at Peterson’s win.

“He is an unusual species: a Democratic representative in a deep red district that overwhelmingly voted for Trump in 2016. He has an impressive record representing his constituents, especially farmers,” said Day. 

Day pointed to Peterson’s victory as proof that “pro-life Democrats are on the rise,” and are “tired of being silenced, marginalized, and pressured to violate our conscience on a matter of human rights.” She said that DFLA is working to find candidates on local levels “who feel emboldened to speak out” about abortion. 

“Stopping abortion extremism is urgent,” said Day. “Now is the time to save our Party.” 

Peterson’s victory in the primary comes months after fellow pro-life Democrat, Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-IL) was defeated in a hotly contested primary battle against challenger Marie Newman in March. Newman made her support for abortion rights the centerpiece of her campaign. 

Peterson and Lipinski were friendly during their time in Congress; in 2015, Peterson gave Lipinski his extra ticket to Pope Francis’ address. With Lipinksi’s primary loss, there are now fewer than five Democrats in Congress who identify as pro-life. 

Day told CNA that she wishes to see the Biden campaign reach out to pro-life Democrats, who she says number 21 million people.

“Vice President Biden, as a Catholic, should be willing to at least ask for our vote,” said Day. “Senator [Kamala] Harris, as a Baptist, should take the lead of her congregation, which encourages its members to ‘engage in meaningful dialogue on abortion with openness and Christian compassion.’” 

The 2016 Democratic Party Platform included, for the first time, a plank advocating for the repeal of the Hyde Amendment. The Hyde Amendment prevents the use of taxpayer funding for abortions. 

Biden counted himself among the bipartisan supporters of the Hyde Amendment for over 40 years before switching his view on the issue overnight in June 2019.

USCCB official 'elated' over Harris, Biden's pro-choice VP pick

Denver Newsroom, Aug 13, 2020 / 02:43 pm (CNA).-  

An official at the U.S. bishops’ conference said Thursday that the selection of Senator Kamala Harris as Joe Biden’s presidential running mate is good news that will offer policies favorable to marginalized people.

“I was so elated. We, the community, need good news, and this was just wonderful,” Donna Toliver Grimes, associate director of African American affairs in the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat of Cultural Diversity in the Church, told Catholic News Service, the official news service of the U.S. bishops’ conference, on Wednesday.

Grimes told CNS that Harris “wasn’t my top candidate in the primaries, and she wasn’t my top pick for vice president,” adding “she’s really deserving and brings a lot to the table.”

Mentioning her belief that Biden and Harris will offer “policy that is favorable to people on the margins,” Grimes said she expects Biden “would put good people in his Cabinet, who would not damage the agencies, or ignore the mission.”

Grimes, who was identified in the report by her USCCB position, also mentioned to CNS her hope that, if elected, Biden would address health care reform and voting-rights issues.

A spokesperson for the U.S. bishops’ conference told CNA Aug. 13 that “The Conference is a non-partisan 501(c)(3) organization that does not endorse or oppose specific candidates for office. Comments by individual Conference employees are not necessarily a reflection of the Conference’s official position.”

Grimes did not mention the issues on which Biden and Harris have clashed with U.S. bishops, among them conscience protections in healthcare policy, same-sex marriage, and, most frequently, abortion. Biden and Harris have pledged to restore currently restricted federal funding for abortion. Harris has previously pledged to use federal law to restrict state laws regulating or limiting abortion.

Pope Francis has called abortion “inhuman eugenics,” urged its eradication, and said that the unborn are among those marginalized on the “existential peripheries,” for whom the Church must have special care.

Nor did Grimes mention Harris’ 2018 questioning of a judicial nominee over his membership of the Knights of Columbus. In questions about the impartiality of nominee Brian Buescher, Harris asked if Buescher was aware that the Knights of Columbus “opposed a woman’s right to choose” and were against “marriage equality” when he joined.

The senator’s remarks were subsequently criticized as anti-Catholic and one U.S. bishop, Archbishop Charles Chaput, characterized them as “bigoted.”

Both Biden and President Donald Trump have been criticized by the U.S. bishops’ conference, with Trump frequently facing criticism for his immigration policies, use of the federal death penalty, and cuts to social safety nets.

Last year, USCCB spokeswoman Judy Keane left the bishops’ conference after media reports said that she had tweeted in support of President Trump or in opposition to Democrats.

Among Keane’s tweets was one that criticized Harris. Responding to a news story saying that Harris, then running for president, promised to raise teacher salaries, Keane wrote “She’ll be promising all kinds of things to get elected. Then she’ll raise taxes so hard-working Americans have to pay for it all. No thanks.”

After Keane’s tweets first emerged into the spotlight, the spokeswoman was placed on leave, and shortly thereafter left the bishops’ conference. The conference has not said whether she was fired or left voluntarily.

USCCB communications director James Rogers told the Washington Post at the time that “The bishops, not staff, set the conference’s federal policy positions.”

“We should be mindful not to create confusion as to where the bishops might be on any particular federal policy issue. The conference is nonpartisan and does not endorse political candidates. We take this very seriously.”

CNA asked the conference to provide its employee guidelines on political speech, but the conference has not yet done so.

Denver archbishop praying for conversion after St. Jude statue beheaded

Denver, Colo., Aug 13, 2020 / 01:33 pm (CNA).- After the statue of a saint was beheaded outside a Denver parish, the city’s archbishop said he’s praying for the conversion of those who have attacked churches and religious statues across the country in recent months.

A statue of St. Jude was beheaded in the courtyard of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish this weekend, diocesan officials confirmed, and devotional candles were destroyed at an outdoor prayer shrine.

“It is extremely disturbing to see a statue at one of our local parishes desecrated in this manner,” Archbishop Samuel Aquila told CNA Aug. 12.

“As our archdiocese begins a Rosary Crusade this weekend, one of our specific intentions is to pray for the conversion of those who carry out acts of desecration against our churches, statues, and religious symbols.”

Aquila’s crusade invites Catholics in his diocese to pray a daily rosary, beginning on the Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary, Aug. 15, through the Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows on Sept. 15. The archbishop asked that they pray for 15 distinct intentions, including for an end to the coronavirus pandemic and all those who have died of the virus, and end to abortion and euthanasia and attacks against life, as well as for peace, justice and an end to discrimination on the basis of race.
https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/bishops-of-wichita-denver-call-catholics-to-turn-to-mary-in-time-of-crisis-82116

In remarks to CNA, Aquila said “it is troubling to see the increased reports of vandalism at Catholic churches this summer, both across the county and in our archdiocese.”

But the archbishop emphasized that, to date, “we are unsure of the motive behind this act and if it was a deliberate attack against the Church, or just a random act of vandalism.”

Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish, which mostly serves Denver’s Hispanic community, was in 2016 designated an archdiocesan shrine.

Aquila named the parish a shrine “because of its service to the Hispanic population and with the purpose of promoting their salvation through the rich liturgical and devotional life that it offers to all the faithful,” he said in the official decree.

The parish has made plans to increase its security after the statue was beheaded, archdiocesan officials told CNA.

There has been a series of destructive acts at Catholic churches across the United States in recent months, including arsons, statue decapitations, and graffiti. But while some of the incidents have been caught on camera, in most cases the perpetrators, and their motivations have yet to be identified.

 

Nebraska passes dismemberment abortion banĀ 

CNA Staff, Aug 13, 2020 / 12:52 pm (CNA).- The Nebraska legislature on Thursday passed a ban on dilation and evacuation (D&E) abortions in the state, a move hailed by the Nebraska Catholic Conference.

"Life has won today in Nebraska. By ending dismemberment abortion, our state has demonstrated and reaffirmed its deep respect for the human dignity of preborn children and their mothers,” said Marion Miner, Associate Director for Pro-Life and Family at the Nebraska Catholic Conference, on Aug. 13.

“Passing LB814 will again establish Nebraska as a national leader in the cause for life. We are committed to affirming the humanity of every single life and making every form of abortion unthinkable."

D&E abortions, commonly known as dismemberment abortions, are typically done in the second trimester of pregnancy and result in the dismemberment of an unborn child.

State Sen. Suzanne Geist (District 25-Lincoln) introduced LB814 in January. Twenty-one state senators joined the legislation as co-sponsors upon its introduction, with another four joining later.

The measure passed its first vote in Nebraska’s unicameral legislature on August 5 by a 34-9 vote. Multiple senators attempted to filibuster the bill at that point, but the bill earned the 33 votes necessary to break the filibuster as Geist moved to invoke cloture.

The bill specifically bans the use of clamps, forceps or similar instruments in abortion procedures.

On Aug. 13, the final vote stood at 33-8. State Sen. Carol Blood (3-Bellevue) abstained from voting after saying she had concerns that the ban would not apply if suction is used to remove pieces of a fetus, and nor would it apply if the fetus was killed before being removed, a process that Blood called equally horrific, according to the Omaha World-Herald.

The bill now goes to the desk of Gov. Pete Ricketts, who supports the ban, to be signed into law.

According to the pro-abortion Guttmacher Institute, to date 11 states have passed bans on dilation and evacuation abortions, though because of courts blocking the measures, the bans in two states, Mississippi and West Virginia, are currently in effect, and an appeals court recently ruled to allow Arkansas’ ban to come into effect on Aug. 28.

Opponents of the Nebraska bill have maintained that courts will deem the legislation unconstitutional under Roe v Wade.

Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson recently released an opinion, at the request of State Sen. Ernie Chambers, concluding that LB814 is "likely constitutional” because it “does not appear that it will impose a substantial obstacle on abortion access in Nebraska.”

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit ruled last Friday to reinstate the 2017 Arkansas laws. They can take effect August 28, although they may still face legal challenge.

The laws include a ban on abortions based solely on the sex of the baby, and two regulations on the preservation and disposal of tissue from aborted babies, as well as legislation prohibiting D&E abortions.

A district judge had blocked the rules following a legal challenge from the ACLU and the Center for Reproductive Rights on behalf of a local abortion doctor.

A federal judge during July 2019 blocked Indiana’s D&E ban from taking effect.

In 2010, Nebraska became the first state to ban abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy, citing evidence that unborn children feel pain.

 

Catholic bishop in NJ: Don't be complacent in the face of legal assisted suicide

CNA Staff, Aug 13, 2020 / 11:58 am (CNA).- Reflecting on the first anniversary of the taking effect of a New Jersey law allowing assisted suicide, Bishop James Checchio of Metuchen has encouraged Catholics to continue in unconditional respect for human life.

“We cannot be complacent and just accept that physician-assisted suicide is the law now in our state,” Bishop Checchio said, according to an Aug. 12 statement from the Diocese of Metuchen. “When any human life, especially the weakest, is devalued by society it promotes a devaluing of all human life.”

The Medical Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act allows competent New Jersey residents deemed by two doctors to have fewer than six months to live to request lethal medication to end their lives. The patient must administer the medication themselves.

The law was approved by the New Jersey legislature in March 2019, and signed into law the following month. It took effect Aug. 1, 2019. It was temporarily halted by a judge in the state, but an appeals court allowed it to take effect while a legal challenge against it was being heard.

According to the state health department, 12 New Jerseyans ended their lives under the law's provisions in 2019.

“All life is a gift from God and … every person has inherent and inalienable dignity because we are made in God’s image and likeness – young or old, healthy or sick, all human life is precious,” Bishop Checchio reflected.

He added that respect for human life “is the same foundation of our belief and our efforts to eliminate racism from our midst.”

The bishop encouraged Catholics to support the elderly and sick by easing “their physical, emotional, and spiritual suffering.”

“We count on our faithful and all people of good will to join in this effort to make our state one we can be proud to be a part of and we recommit ourselves to join with others in our state to do all that we can to proclaim the truth that every life is sacred.”

He lamented that the temptation to die can have been “exacerbated over recent months by the COVID-19 pandemic,” saying it “has brought a raft of new stressors, including loss of community and social isolation, that have been especially difficult for the elderly and the sick, and for their families. Sadly, some reports indicate a rise in suicides as well as an increase in requests for medically-assisted death.”

“Our need for compassionate care is more important than ever,” said Bishop Checchio. “We are now challenged with finding creative new ways to provide tender accompaniment for those who are sick or near the end of life so that no one feels compelled to choose assisted suicide.”   

The law was signed by New Jersey governor Phil Murphy, a self-described “lifelong, practicing Catholic”.

Murphy said that he was aware of the Church’s opposition to assisted suicide, but that after careful consideration and prayer, “I have concluded that, while my faith may lead me to a particular decision for myself, as a public official I cannot deny this alternative to those who may reach a different conclusion.”

“I believe this choice is a personal one and, therefore, signing this legislation is the decision that best respects the freedom and humanity of all New Jersey residents,” Murphy said.

On the eve of the law's taking effect, Bishop Checchio condemned assisted suicide as “a grievous affront to the dignity of human life” that “can never be morally justified.”

“Passage of this law points to the utter failure of government, and indeed all society, to care truly, authentically and humanely for the suffering and vulnerable in our midst, especially those living with an incurable disease as well as the frail elderly, the infirm and those living with disabilities,” he said.

In the US, assisted suicide is legal in California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, New Jersey, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, and the District of Columbia, and in Montana by a court ruling.

Biden says nuns inspire him to run, plans to sue Little Sisters of the Poor

CNA Staff, Aug 13, 2020 / 08:30 am (CNA).- Presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden has released a campaign video in which he credits his Catholic faith, Pope Francis, and the example of nuns for his personal inspiration. 

The short video was released August 9 on the Democratic National Convention’s Twitter account. Biden's use of nuns as an inspirational example of “generosity to others” comes despite his promise to renew legal action against the Little Sisters of the Poor should he win election.

Biden has promised to remove freedom of conscience protections which exempt the sisters from the "contraceptive mandate," opening them back up to renewed suits by the federal government for failure to provide contraceptives to their employees.

“This is the kind of moral conviction we need in the president of the United States,” says the tweet, which led into the video. 

This is the kind of moral conviction we need in the president of the United States. pic.twitter.com/iJKAOVoFns

— 2020 #DemConvention ?? (@DemConvention) August 9, 2020 In the video, Biden, a Catholic, narrates how once, after having a brief meeting with Pope Francis at St. Peter’s Basilica, he departed the church and ran into a group of religious sisters. 

These sisters, said Biden in a voiceover, “to me, epitomize everything Pope Francis talked about in his homily and what he stands for. About generosity to other people, about reaching out, about making it a point to understand that we are our brother’s keeper,” said Biden. 

Biden said the idea that people have an obligation to look out for one another had been imprinted on him during his Catholic upbringing and “being educated by the nuns.” 

“That’s what those lovely women I’m talking to symbolize to me,” said Biden. 

He quipped he thought it was a “good omen” to see the sisters, and said the encounter was an “exciting time and it gave me a lot of hope.” 

Recognizing that people are obligated to help each other is “the only way we’re gonna make the world better and safer,” said Biden. 

Biden and the pope met in the Vatican in April 2016, when Biden was presenting at a Vatican conference on regenerative medicine, and in 2013, when the then-vice president led a delegation from the United States to Francis’ papal inauguration. 

The images and videos in the ad are from the 2016 trip. 

Biden’s use of the nuns’ example of service for campaign purposes sits in contrast to his pledge to force one religious order to violate their consciences and provide birth control, sterilizations, and abortifacient drugs to their employees. 

Shortly after the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Little Sisters of the Poor in Little Sisters of the Poor v. Pennsylvania on July 8, Biden said he was “disappointed” by the decision and promised to reinstate Obama-era policies requiring the sisters to ensure access to birth control in violation of their religious beliefs. 

Following nine years of legal battles, and two trips to the Supreme Court, the court upheld an executive action offering the sisters religious freedom and conscience exemptions to the “contraception mandate” issued by the Department of Health and Human Services following the passage of the Affordable Care Act.

“If I am elected I will restore the Obama-Biden policy that existed before the [Supreme Court’s 2014] Hobby Lobby ruling: providing an exemption for houses of worship and an accommodation for nonprofit organizations with religious missions,” said Biden in July. 

“This accommodation will allow women at these organizations to access contraceptive coverage, not through their employer-provided plan, but instead through their insurance company or a third-party administrator.” 

The Little Sisters of the Poor would not have qualified as a “nonprofit organization with a religious mission” under the Obama-era accommodations. The order serves and employs people of all or no faiths, in accordance with their vocation to serve the elderly poor. 

The Little Sisters of the Poor have repeatedly stated that authorizing a “third-party administrator” to provide birth control to their employees is still a violation of their beliefs and is not an acceptable compromise.

Following the July 8 decision, Biden said that the decision “will make it easier for the Trump-Pence Administration to continue to strip health care from women--attempting to carve out broad exemptions to the Affordable Care Act’s commitment to giving all women free access to recommended contraception.” 

When the Affordable Care Act was signed into law in 2010, the legislation did not mandate that insurance plans provide at least one form of female contraception, including sterilization. The “contraception mandate” was announced as an interim final rule on August 1, 2011, and was finalized on January 20, 2012. 

If elected president, Biden said that he would “end Donald Trump’s ceaseless attempts to gut every aspect of the Affordable Care Act.”

Biden did, however, support members of the Leadership Council of Women Religious (LCWR) groups after the Vatican ordered an inquiry into their conduct and political advocacy.

During a 2011 meeting with then-Pope Benedict XVI, Biden told the pontiff that he was being “entirely too hard on the American nuns” and that he needed to “lighten up.” 

The video is not the first time that Biden, who has promised to enshrine the fullest application of Roe v. Wade in federal law, ensuring unlimited access to abortion in the United States, has used his Catholicism in his campaign.

In February, he released a video displaying black-and-white pictures of himself with various religious figures, including Pope Francis.

“Personally for me, faith, it’s all about hope and purpose and strength, and for me, my religion is just an enormous sense of solace,” he added.

“I go to Mass and I say the rosary. I find it to be incredibly comforting,” he said. 

While Biden has repeatedly profiled his Catholicism during this election campaign, his faith has been a source of controversy over his lengthy political career, and he has endorsed policies that are contrary to Church teaching.

Shortly after his election as vice president, the then-bishop of his hometown of Scranton, PA, rebuked Biden for his views on abortion. 

“I will not tolerate any politician who claims to be a faithful Catholic who is not genuinely pro-life,” said Bishop Joseph Martino of Scranton in 2008. 

“No Catholic politician who supports the culture of death should approach Holy Communion. I will be truly vigilant on this point.”

During the 2008 campaign, Biden also received a letter from the then-bishop of the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee, after he received Communion at a parish in the diocese. The letter reiterated the Catholic Church’s views on abortion, and the bishop offered prayers that Biden would “live by the virtue of fortitude as you proclaim your support to the Person of Christ in the most vulnerable of his members: the pre-born child.” 

In October 2019, Biden was refused Communion at a Catholic church in South Carolina. The priest denied Biden Communion in accord with a 2004 diocesan policy that prohibits politicians who have been supportive of legal protection for abortion from receiving the Eucharist. 

“Catholic public officials who consistently support abortion on demand are cooperating with evil in a public manner. By supporting pro-abortion legislation they participate in manifest grave sin, a condition which excludes them from admission to Holy Communion as long as they persist in the pro-abortion stance,” says a 2004 decree signed jointly by the bishops of Atlanta, Charleston, and Charlotte.

At the time Biden was denied Communion, his website stated that one of his priorities as president would be to “work to codify Roe v. Wade” into federal law, and that “his Justice Department will do everything in its power to stop the rash of state laws that so blatantly violate the constitutional right to an abortion,” including laws requiring waiting periods, ultrasounds, and parental notification of a minor’s abortion. 

“Vice President Biden supports repealing the Hyde Amendment because healthcare is a right that should not be dependent on one’s zip code or income,” said his website. 

Biden’s website also pledges him to “restore federal funding for Planned Parenthood,” and promises to “rescind the Mexico City Policy (also referred to as the global gag rule) that President Trump reinstated and expanded.”