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Armed rebels threaten peace agreement in Central African Republic, bishop warns

Bangui, Central African Republic, Jul 15, 2019 / 02:45 pm (CNA).- Armed rebel groups are thwarting the prospects for success of the Central African Republic’s recent peace agreement, warned the president of the country’s Catholic bishops.

“The government is keeping its part of the bargain in this current peace agreement, but the armed group leaders are not really eager to implement their own part of the obligations,” Bishop Nestor-Desire Nongo-Aziagbia of Bossangoa, the president of the bishops’ conference in the CAR, told CNA in an interview July 15.

In February, the government signed an agreement—the Political Accord for Peace and Reconciliation—in Khartoum, Sudan, with more than a dozen rebel groups. Several other peace agreements to end the country’s prolonged conflict have fallen through in recent years.

Violence has gripped the country since late 2012, when rival Muslim factions in the Northeast merged into the group “Seleka” and “anti-balaka” groups and began fomenting sectarian violence against both Christians and Muslims.

More than half the country’s population needed humanitarian assistance in 2018, the group Human Rights Watch reported, and over 640,000 were internally displaced in 2018 according to UN figures; the total number of refugees was reported to be 574,600.

However, reports that the violence in the CAR is religious-based misses the true nature of the conflict, Bishop Nongo-Aziagbia said, as many Christians and Muslims have not joined in the fighting which is instead carried out by the rebel groups that claim to represent Christians and Muslims.

“The reality is, the Muslim population have been taken hostage by the Seleka,” the bishop said, “who present themselves as protectors and defenders of the Muslims in the country.” Meanwhile, “the anti-balaka are also abusing the rights of the non-Muslim population.”

In March, the CEO of the UN’s International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) called the CAR “the most dangerous place in the world for children,” noting that 1.5 million children were at risk of starvation.

Complicating matters is the ineffectiveness of the country’s army to deal with the armed rebels which can purchase sophisticated weaponry as needed. “That has to change,” Bishop Nongo-Aziagbia told CNA.

The recent peace agreement, the bishop acknowledged, is “nothing to write home about” according to civil society leaders, but it is still “better than nothing.” It has a “mechanism” to bring peace to the country, he said, but the rebel groups are not cooperating.

Christians are “people of faith and hope,” Bishop Nongo-Aziagbia said. “I strongly believe that with a bit of good will from each and every one of us, we will be able to work out something good” and “come out of this crisis.”

The country’s bishops issued a message in June “to the Church Family of God, to men and women of good will,” where they noted that “the people are tired of the hypocrisy that characterizes the signing of the various agreements that have taken place in the country.”

“Indeed, hardly these Agreements are signed, immediately they are violated by the same signatories,” the statement noted. 

The visit of Pope Francis to the CAR in 2015 provided a critical message on the need for unity, the bishop said, as it “really helped in making the people understand that it is their responsibility to stand for their country, fight for their country, and then come together as brothers and sisters.”

Some other challenges to establishing peace in the country are a lack of access to education and lack of investment, he told CNA. With an illiteracy rate of around 70%, “people are easily manipulated in such circumstances,” and lots of youths are recruited by armed groups as child soldiers.

“That is the future of the Central African Republic,” he said. “We have to take those youths from the grip of these armed leaders, give them something else, let them rely upon themselves, let them trust in themselves,” and “education is the key.”

There is a particular need for technical and professional education, Bishop Nongo-Aziagbia said, to help young people provide an honest living for themselves and their families. “The Church is trying our best in that regard,” he said.

N Ireland bill legalizing abortion, gay marriage faces challenges in House of Lords

London, England, Jul 15, 2019 / 02:42 pm (CNA).- As the British parliament continues to consider a bill on Northern Ireland including amendments that would legalize abortion and same-sex marriage, a peeress from the region has warned the amendments are “not workable.”

The bill and its amendments will take effect only if the Northern Ireland Assembly, which has been suspended the past two years due to a dispute between the two major governing parties, is not functional by Oct. 21.

Last week the House of Commons voted to add amendments legalizing same-sex marriage and liberalizing abortion provision in Northern Ireland to the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill, which is designed to keep the region running in the absence of a functioning devolved government.

Thence the bill passed to the House of Lords, where it is now at the committee stage. It will remain in the upper house until July 17, when it will return to the House of Commons for amendments.

Nuala O'Loan, Baroness O'Loan, a member of the House of Lords from Northern Ireland, told BBC News NI July 15 that the amendments cannot work, and that it is wrong of the British government to “push it through in a situation where the people of Northern Ireland had no say.”

O'Loan said members of parliament had “hijacked” the Northern Ireland bill: “This was a bill that started its life in Parliament with the intention of allowing the secretary of state to postpone the date for an election... to enable the talks which are currently under way to restore the Northern Ireland Assembly to proceed. What happened was it was hijacked in the Commons... various amendments were put in and these should not have been accepted because they were outside the purpose of the bill.”

She added that the amendments don't work, because “it says the secretary of state must make regulations - the secretary of state can't.”

Introducing the bill into the House of Lords July 10, Ian Duncan, Baron Duncan of Springbank, said that “crucially, the amendments as drafted do not function properly and so do not enable the government to deliver on the instruction of Parliament.”

Similarly, John Larkin, attorney general for Northern Ireland, said the abortion amendment was not “drafted clearly or consistently” with human rights laws.

O'Loan noted that “100% of the Northern Ireland MPs who have taken their seat in Westminster voted against this.”

A letter opposing the bill was distributed at Masses held in Northern Ireland July 14. Authored by O'Loan and Robin Eames, who was the Church of Ireland's Archbishop of Armagh from 1986 to 2006, it focused on the bill's threat to devolution.

Addressed to British prime minister Theresa May, it said the overwhelming vote in the Commons “treats the people of Northern Ireland with contempt,” especially it was “voted for only by MPs who do not represent constituencies in Northern Ireland.”

May has said in the past that abortion should be a devolved issue for Northern Ireland.

The letter stated, “The imposition of this legislation on Northern Ireland in its current form … would represent a massive democratic deficit.”

It adds that the bill “has the capacity to undermine the delicate political calibration between Northern Ireland and Westminster and to cause significant damage to attempts to restore the Northern Ireland Assembly.”

O'Loan and Eames called on the government to withdraw the  Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill.

Failing this, they called for an amendment they introduced which would require public consultation and the support of a majority of members of the Northern Ireland Assembly before any change in the region's legislation.

Bills to legalize abortion in cases of fatal fetal abnormality, rape, or incest failed in the Northern Ireland Assembly in 2016.

Both amendments to the were introduced by Labour MPs.

Stella Creasy, who represents a London constituency and who introduced the abortion amendment, has said the Commons “spoke clearly to say we wouldn't accept the rights of women in Northern Ireland being ignored any longer”.

Earlier this year Creasy intended to propose an amendment to a draft Domestic Abuse Bill that would give the British parliament jurisdiction over abortion laws throughout the United Kingdom. However, the bill's scope was restricted to England and Wales by the Conservative government.

She also introduced an amendment to the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation and Exercise of Functions) Act 2018 to repeal Northern Irish law on abortion and gay marriage, which was defeated.

Ahead of last week's vote in the Commons, Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh registered his deep concern that the bill would be hijacked "to remove existing legal protection for unborn babies and to ‘fast track’ the legalisation of abortion on demand in Northern Ireland. How tragic it is for humanity that some legislators would ‘fast track’ the ending of the lives of the most defenceless in our society."

Abortion and same-sex marriage are both legal in both the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. Elective abortion is legal in the rest of the United Kingdom up to 24 weeks, while currently it is legally permitted in Northern Ireland only if the mother's life is at risk or if there is risk of permanent, serious damage to her mental or physical health.

Northern Irish women have been able to procure free National Health Service abortions in England, Scotland, and Wales since November 2017.

In June 2018, the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission challenged the region's abortion laws in the UK Supreme Court. While the Supreme Court concluded that Northern Ireland’s abortion laws violated human rights law by banning abortion in cases of fatal fetal abnormality, rape, and incest, it threw out the case saying it had not been brought forward by a person who had been wrongfully harmed by the law.

Amid political uncertainty, Haitian bishops announce year of prayer

Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Jul 15, 2019 / 12:01 pm (CNA).- The Catholic bishops of Haiti have announced a year of prayer and adoration for the country, which continues to face heightened tensions and instability amid calls for President Jovenel Moise to resign.

“The misery has become so sharp and the insecurity so destabilizing that the tree of hope has been torn from the ground,” the Haitian Bishops’ Conference said, according to Vatican News.

For months, protests have rocked the impoverished nation, following an official audit report finding billions of dollars missing from a government program intended to benefit low-income Haitian residents.

The 600-page report, released May 31, implicates the three most recent presidential administrations in serious financial corruption.

The controversy centers around the PetroCaribe program, created by Venezuela before its economic collapse, through which it lent oil to nearby countries, with payments deferred for up to 25 years.

Haiti, the poorest country in the region, joined the program in 2006. The money it saved was intended to be invested in infrastructure, social programs, and heath care projects.

However, the audit report found $2 billion missing, leaving taxpayers indebted to Venezuela and lacking the benefits that had been promised to them through the program, according to Time Magazine.

The report suggests that Moise embezzled funds before he took office in 2017, including $1 million received for the paving of a rural road that was paid for twice, the Miami Herald reports.

Moise has denied wrongdoing and says he will not resign from office before his term expires in three years.

Protests have turned violent, with schools and businesses shutting down, and roadblocks impairing the distribution of food, water, and medication.

Faced with this grim reality, the bishops of Haiti said that the upcoming year – which will last until the Feast of Pentecost on May 31, 2020 – will be dedicated to praying for hope and an eradication corruption in the country.

“Hasn't the Lord always listened to the voice of His people crying for him? Are we not his people, His flock?” they said in a communique, Vatican News reported.

Each diocese will organize specific events as part of the year of prayer and adoration.

The bishops called on the people of Haiti to pray, individually and in prayer groups over the coming year, seeking “to consecrate and restore to God the destiny of our country and our people.”

Vatican draws attention to sacrifice of seafarers, requests prayers

Vatican City, Jul 15, 2019 / 11:49 am (CNA).- The prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development urged prayers Sunday for seafarers, fishermen, and maritime workers, by whose work some 90% of the world's goods are transported.

“Though we do not realize it, the work of seafarers is essential for our daily lives,” Cardinal Peter Turkson wrote in a message for “Sea Sunday,” July 14.

This is because “most of the possessions that we have in our houses, the television, the fridge, the washing machine, computer and phone, not to mention the fuel for our cars, the clothes we wear, and many other items are all made in distant parts of the world and brought to us by seafarers,” he said.

In his message, Turkson underlined the need to consider and reflect upon the importance seafarers and fishermen have on the comfort and well-being of others.

“The faithful are requested to remember and pray for the 1.5 million seafarers who criss-cross the oceans and the seas, transporting almost 90% of goods from one nation to another,” the cardinal said.

He noted that hazards faced by seafarers can include depression brought on by isolation and living in confined spaces, a delayed salary, exploitation, tough working conditions, threat of piracy or terrorist attack, and lack of proper rest.

Turkson acknowledged that with the ratification and implementation of some international legislation conditions aboard many vessels have improved, though he underlined that in some parts of the world, there are still “unscrupulous ship owners” who take advantage of a lack of law enforcement.

“In the faces of seafarers from different nations, I invite you to recognize the face of Christ in
your midst,” the cardinal said. “In the confusion of languages, I recommend you to speak the language of Christian love that welcomes everyone and excludes no one.”

In his message, Turkson praised the work of Apostleship of the Sea, or Stella Maris, a Catholic organization which provides pastoral care for seafarers and their families.

The organization will celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2020, and will hold its world congress in Glasgow Sept. 29-Oct. 4 of that year. Glasgow was the location of the first meeting of Apostleship of the Sea in 1920, when they discussed a revival of ship-visiting in riverside parishes. The group’s constitution was approved by Pius XI in 1922.

Turkson said: “I would like to encourage the chaplains and volunteers of Stella Maris/Apostleship of the Sea during their daily ship visits to be vigilant and approach each seafarer and fisher with the same committed spirit that animated the pioneers of our ministry.”

The Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development released a prayer for the occasion of “Sea Sunday.”

San Francisco auxiliary bishop, seminary rector, dies age 70

San Francisco, Calif., Jul 15, 2019 / 10:32 am (CNA).- Bishop Robert Christian, O.P., an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of San Francisco and rector of St. Patrick Seminary in Menlo Park, died in his sleep Thursday at his residence at the seminary.

“I was deeply saddened to learn this morning of his passing. The Archdiocese was greatly blessed to have his wisdom and leadership even if for so brief a time as auxiliary bishop and even briefer time as rector of the Seminary,” Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco said July 11.

“We join with the Dominican community in praying for the repose of his soul and for peace and comfort for his wonderful family in their time of mourning.”

Born in San Francisco in 1948, Christian he graduated from Santa Clara University with a degree in literature in 1970.

He entered the Dominican novitiate in Oakland the same year, studying at Saint Albert College and the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology.

He made his solemn vows in 1974 and began attending courses at the Pontifical University of Saint Thomas in Rome. He was ordained a Dominican priest in 1976, and began his teaching career at Dominican College in San Rafael.

After later receiving his doctorate in theology from the Angelicum, Christian began what would be a long teaching career at the university, lasting from 1985-1997.

In California, he served as vicar and administrator of the Western Dominican Province, university professor at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, and as a member of the Clergy Education Board for the Archdiocese of San Francisco.

Christian then held the role of deputy dean of the Angelicum from 1999-2014. After a sabbatical, he became master of students for the Western Dominican Province at St. Albert Priory in 2015.

He was a peritus at the Synod of Bishops on Priestly Formation in 1990, and was a consultor to the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity and a member of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission.

Christian was appointed an auxiliary bishop of the San Francisco archdiocese in 2018, and was consecrated June 5 of that year.

He was appointed rector of St. Patrick's Seminary Jan. 14.

A visitation and vigil will be held for Christian July 22 at St. Dominic parish in San Francisco, and his funeral Mass will be said the following day at the Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Assumption.

His body will be buried at St. Dominic Cemetery in Benicia, about 60 miles southwest of Sacramento, July 24.

The Western Dominican Province said that “Bishop Christian has tirelessly served the Church and faithful for nearly 50 years. We are deeply saddened to hear of his death and entrust his soul to the loving arms of our Heavenly Father. We ask for your prayers for the repose of his soul, as well as for his grieving family, friends and Dominican brothers around the world.”

Teens encounter Christ by serving homeless persons in DC

Washington D.C., Jul 15, 2019 / 03:01 am (CNA).- It is an overcast day with threatening rain clouds overhead, but the mood in the basement of Holy Name of Jesus Church in Northeast Washington is downright sunny. Here, a group of Catholic teens are hard at work helping to prepare the “Holy Foods Market” food pantry for one of its monthly openings, and then later in the day they would make and distribute bagged lunches to some of DC’s homeless population.

The teens, under the supervision of adult volunteers, were participating in Encounter the Gospel of Life’s Service Camp, a weeklong program that place groups of teenagers with nonprofits in the Washington, D.C. area, where they serve during the day. At night, there are keynote speeches, concerts, prayers, and community building.

The Holy Foods Pantry was one of the nonprofit work sites, and a group of mostly high schoolers was stationed there for the week. CNA spoke to some of the participants to learn more about what would entice a teenager to give up a week of their summer vacation to serve on the streets of DC.

Frances Noory is a 15-year-old sophomore at a Catholic high school in northern Virginia. She told CNA that she “just really loves helping people,” and that she believes her service with Encounter is “God’s work and what He wants us to do.”

At Holy Foods Pantry, Noory said she had been working to organize the pantry, and assist clients with the “shopping” process.

“And then, we also make lunches and go out on to the streets--we hand them out to people who are in need, and we pray with them and talk with them and just give them support,” she said.

As a young, faithful Catholic, she said that living her faith “can be difficult sometimes,” but experiences like Encounter are “very encouraging and exciting.”

With programs like this, Catholic teens are given the opportunity to meet and fellowship with each other. Encounter participants are mainly from the Washington area, but the camp is open to groups from around the country.

Ryanne Thereault, 16, agreed with Noory. This is Thereault’s second time doing Encounter, but her first at the Holy Foods Pantry site. She told CNA that she loved “the atmosphere that the camp creates,” and that “everyone is just there for each other, and we all have a great time serving.”

Thereault also appreciated the opportunity to serve the less fortunate.

“I loved interacting with people on the streets,” said Thereault. “They all have really good hearts, and they were so happy to see us. They were really thankful for us.”

Many of the people CNA spoke to had been to Encounter in the past. For Matt Lawry, a 17-year-old who attends Archbishop Curley High School, this was his third summer, but his first working with the homeless. In previous summers, his service sites were primarily working with children.

“This site is more eye-opening, ‘cause you go out and interact with the homeless. It’s a completely different experience,” he said. In particular, he was struck by his encounter with a man named Orlando.

“He was in jail for like, 25 years,” said Lawry. “He was just telling us about how he did like every drug in the book, and that he promised his parents he would make it out, and he’d keep doing good things.”

Overall, Lawry said that he had enjoyed his time serving on the streets, and that “working with the homeless is like working to get closer to God.”

Young adults who have graduated from high school are also able to participate in Encounter’s service camp. Unlike the youth participants, young adults are able to pick their service site. Christine Johnson, an 18-year-old who attends the University of Maryland, chose Holy Foods Pantry.

This is Johnson’s fourth time doing Encounter. "It's been probably the best four weeks of my life, every year. I've just met so many amazing people," she said. Holy Foods was her favorite site “by far,” even though she had no idea what to expect when she first arrived.

She said she’s watched her group mates mature over the week, and they were able to overcome their initial apprehension about talking to homeless people.

Inner-city DC is very different from where Johnson grew up, and she said she has very much grown from her week serving on the streets.

"Despite the fact that we're bringing them lunches and we're talking to them, every time I interact with someone I just feel like I've gotten so much more from them than I'm able to give them,” she said.

Johnson told CNA that she has encountered Christ through her service work.

"We do this thing at the end of the day where we go around in a circle and we all say our 'God sighting' for the day,” she said. “I feel like I have so many every day from this site, just because every person I meet says something and I am like, 'That was Jesus speaking through you.'"

Encounter has given Johnson much hope for the future of the Church in the United States, and it makes her happy to see hundreds of young people gathered together to serve the Lord.

"When someone is up on stage playing music, and everyone in the crowd is like swaying together and screaming the words together--you can see in their faces they know what it means, and they're so happy to be here,” she said.

“It's the future of the Church, and it looks pretty bright to me."

This Roman basilica is dedicated to 20th century martyrs

Rome, Italy, Jul 14, 2019 / 04:08 pm (CNA).- On an island in Rome’s Tiber River, there is a basilica devoted to the Christian martyrs of the 20th century, the bloodiest century in the history of the Catholic Church.

Flanked on either side by relics of Christians martyred under Communism and Nazism respectively, the main altar of the Basilica of St. Bartholomew on Tiber Island connects the tradition of Rome’s apostolic martyrs to the persecution of Christians today.

The church was first commissioned in 998 by German Emperor Otto III to receive the remains of St. Bartholomew, who was flayed alive for his faith, and St. Adalbert, bishop of Prague who was martyred in 997 during the evangelization of Poland.

Today the basilica houses relics of the apostle and medieval evangelist alongside those of St. Maximilian Kolbe, martyred in Auschwitz, and Sr. Leonella Sgorbati, a missionary nurse in Somalia in the height of the country’s civil war. Her last words as she was murdered in 2006 were: “I forgive them, I forgive, I forgive.”

Father Angelo Romano, rector of St. Bartholomew on Tiber Island, told CNA that the basilica has received more than 120 relics from the persecuted Christian communities of modern martyrs from around the world. Many of the objects are second-class relics, which are items, or fractions of an item, that a saint personally owned.

The basilica is currently working on a crypt museum to display the entire collection because the basilica’s side chapels, which preserve the memory of recent martyrs from the Middle East, Africa, Asia, the Americas, and Europe, cannot fit them all.

“The stories of the martyrs are attractive. People want to know about them because they are very close to Jesus, and when you are close to Jesus, people love you,” Fr. Romano said.

“These people, they forgave their own persecutors, like Jesus on the cross. This is the strength of love,” he said.

As a priest, Fr. Romano said that he is challenged daily by the memory of the martyrs preserved in the basilica. “The martyrs are questioning us as to the level of our coherence, the level of our commitment, the level of our spirituality,” he said.

“It is quite a challenge because first of all I knew one of them personally,” he explained. Romano was friends with Blessed Giuseppe Puglisi, a parish priest in Palermo, who was murdered for speaking out against the mafia in 1993. His beatification “was a turning point in Sicily, for the whole society,” Romano said.

Recently, the basilica acquired the breviary of Fr. Jacques Hamel, who was killed in 2016 by ISIS terrorists in France while celebrating Mass.

“It is a story which continues,” Romano said.

On July 15, the basilica will host the launch of an independent review into the global persecution of Christians by the UK government, hosted by the UK Embassy to the Holy See.

At the event, Iraqi Cardinal Louis Sako of the Chaldean Catholic Church and representatives from Pakistan and Nigeria will speak of the persecution their communities have endured in recent years.

“As John Paul II said, freedom of religion is the basic freedom. Without it, there is no freedom at all. If you deny freedom of religion, you deny all the other freedoms,” Fr. Romano said.

The story of the basilica’s dedication to the “new martyrs” began with St. John Paul II, Romano explained.

“John Paul II was a friend of many martyrs ... he lived through the persecution of the Second World War by the Nazi regime and then the Communist persecution,” he said.

In 1998, Pope John Paul II established the Commission for the New Martyrs of the Great Jubilee, giving them the task “not only to document Catholic martyrs, but also protestant and Orthodox, saying in the blood of the martyrs, the Church is already united. There was this vision of the ecumenicism of the blood.”

The Basilica of St. Bartholomew on Tiber Island continues the ecumenical focus today by honoring the Anglican martyrs of Solomon Island, a brotherhood working for reconciliation among the ethnic groups who were killed in 1992-93, and Russian Orthodox Father Alexander Men, who was assassinated in Moscow in 1990.

There is a large icon on the altar of the “New Martyrs and Witnesses to the Faith of the 20th and 21st centuries,” which was blessed by both an Orthodox patriarch and the cardinal vicar of Rome.

Pope Francis also gave the basilica a little wooden bird from the Orthodox Church of the Holy Mother of God in Syria, a church that burned during the bombing of Aleppo in the Syrian civil war. The bird was brought back to Rome with the humanitarian corridors of the Catholic Community of St. Egidio, a lay movement dedicated to works of charity, who have been entrusted with the spiritual care of the basilica of St. Bartholomew.

“When Christians are truly leaven, light, and salt to the earth, they are, like Jesus, subject to persecution; like Him they are ‘signs of contradiction,’” Pope Benedict XVI said on his visit to the basilica in 2006.

 

Pope Francis: Judge your own heart first – not that of those in need

Vatican City, Jul 14, 2019 / 05:36 am (CNA).- Helping a person in need requires compassion toward their situation, Pope Francis said Sunday, encouraging Catholics to think first about their own hardness of heart, not the sins of others.

“If you go down the street and see a homeless man lying there and you pass by without looking at him, or you think: ‘Eh, the effect of wine. He’s a drunk,’ do not ask yourself if that man is drunk, ask yourself if your heart has hardened, if your heart has become ice,” the pope said July 14.

The true “face of love,” he continued, is “mercy towards a human life in need. This is how one becomes a true disciple of Jesus.”

In his Sunday Angelus address, Pope Francis reflected on the parable of the Good Samaritan, which he called “one of the most beautiful parables of the Gospel.”

“This parable has become paradigmatic of the Christian life. It has become the model of how a Christian must act,” he said.

According to Pope Francis, the parable shows that having compassion is key. “If you do not feel pity before a needy person, if your heart is not moved, then something is wrong,” he warned. “Be careful.”

Quoting the Gospel of Luke, Francis said: “‘Be merciful, as your Father is merciful.’ God, our Father, is merciful, because he has compassion; he is capable of having this compassion, of approaching our pain, our sin, our vices, our miseries.”

The pope noted a detail of the parable of the Good Samaritan, which is that the Samaritan was considered an unbeliever. Jesus uses a man of no faith as a model, he said, because this man, in “loving his brother as himself, shows that he loves God with all his heart and with all his strength – the God he did not know!”

“May the Virgin Mary,” Francis prayed, “help us to understand and above all to live more and more the unbreakable bond that exists between love for God our Father and concrete and generous love for our brothers, and give us the grace to have compassion and grow in compassion.”

After the Angelus, the pope reiterated his desire to be close to the Venezuelan people, who he said are facing trials in the continued crisis in the country.

“We pray the Lord will inspire and enlighten the parties involved, so that they can, as soon as possible, reach an agreement that puts an end to the suffering of the people for the good of the country and the entire region,” he said.

 

Italian Cardinal Paolo Sardi dies at age 84

Vatican City, Jul 14, 2019 / 04:35 am (CNA).- Cardinal Paolo Sardi, who served under five popes, died Saturday at Gemelli Hospital in Rome after a short illness.

The 84-year-old Piemontese cardinal had been retired from his work in the Secretariat of State, where he coordinated the office which edits papal speeches and texts.

He most recently had served as pro-patron and then patron of the Sovreign Military Order of the Knights of Malta, a position he held from June 2009 to November 2014.

In a letter of condolence to members of Sardi's family July 14, Pope Francis praised the cardinal's "priestly spirit, his theological preparation, his gifts of intelligence and wisdom... through which he has given a valuable contribution to the magisteriums of St. Paul VI, John Paul I, St. John Paul II, and Benedict XVI."

Thanking God for Sardi's witness in his service to the Holy See, Francis said he joins his prayers to those of the many Catholics who would join the cardinal at his daily Mass in St. Peter's Basilica, often said at the altar of St. Pope John XXIII.

"Faithful to his episcopal motto, 'Esto Vigilans,' he has been good and vigilant, therefore we hope that, accompanied by the Virgin Mary, the saints Peter and Paul, and the Holy Bishop Guido of Acqui, he will be welcomed into the eternal reward of heaven," the pope prayed.

In 2012, Sardi was accused alongside two others, in an article in the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, of being complicit in the leaking of sensitive papal information to the media, in the event now referred to as "Vatileaks."

At the time of the article's publication, the Vatican denied the claims, releasing a statement from the Secretariat of State expressing "firm and total disapproval of those publications, which are not based on objective criteria and seriously damage the honor of the people concerned, who have served the Holy Father faithfully for many years."

Then-papal spokesperson Fr. Federico Lombardi confirmed Sardi and the others were called to testify before a commission, but emphasized that it in no way indicated suspicion of "shared responsibility or 'complicity.'"

Sardi, who was born in the northern Italian town of Ricaldone in 1934, used to say that above all, his parents, who raised him to have a deep faith, taught him "humility and honesty." He also had the example of several priests in his extended family.

Sardi studied at a local seminary and in Rome at the Pontifical Gregorian University, where he received a license in theology. He was ordained a priest in 1958.

Sardi returned to Rome to study canon law, finishing a degree in 1963. He then taught moral theology at a seminary in the diocese of Acqui while serving at various parishes.

He later attended the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Milan for a degree in jurisprudence, continuing to teach moral theology at a seminary in Turin.

During this time he wrote a book on the history of the Church's teaching on abortion.

In 1976, Sardi was asked to come to the Vatican to work in the Secretariat of State in the section for general affairs. He was made head of an office in 1990 and in 1992 became vice assessor, coordinating the office which collaborates in the editing of the pope's speeches and texts.

He was ordained a bishop by St. Pope John Paul II in 1997, who said in his homily: "I pray for you, Mons. Sardi, that, named apostolic nuncio with special assignments, you will continue to yet work beside me in the Secretariat of State. I congratulate you for the service performed until now, I wish you to continue in the same way, with the same zeal."

From October 2004 to January 2011 Sardi served as Vice-Camerlengo of the Holy Roman Church.

He was made a cardinal by Benedict XVI in a November 2010 consistory.

For pregnant women facing poverty, pro-life groups offer resources for success

New York City, N.Y., Jul 14, 2019 / 03:26 am (CNA).- Poor women are the most likely population to obtain an abortion.

While it may seem logical that a woman who is already struggling financially is one of the most likely candidates for an abortion, the trend is relatively recent, reports the New York Times.

According to a July 9 article, data from the Guttmacher Institute, a pro-choice research organization, shows that 50% of women who obtained an abortion in 2014 were considered low-income, compared to 1994, when only one-fourth of women who got an abortion that year were living in poverty.

The reasons for this are many, according to the New York Times. More people overall live at or below the poverty line now than did 25 years ago. There are many financial resources available for poor women who are seeking abortions, and hotlines to help them access these resources.

The article ended with the story of a poor woman who, finding herself unexpectedly pregnant, decided to get an abortion in order to get through college.

But there are also abundant resources available for poor, pregnant women who want to carry their pregnancies to term and parent their children, and they should be included in stories such as these, pro-life advocates told CNA.

“The New York Times is so disingenuous to pretend that there are no services for women, no help for women, no hope for women, and basically their message is - you might as well have an abortion,” Kristi Hamrick, a spokesperson for Students for Life of America (SFLA), told CNA.

“It’s a defeatist message and it’s an anti-feminist message, because we should be about empowering women. We should be about protecting their rights against pregnancy discrimination. We should be about making sure that if you want an education, you can get one,” she added. “So I find it fascinating that these so-called champions of women aren’t willing to champion pregnant women.”

SFLA is a pro-life group that works specifically with pregnant and parenting students on campus to ensure that their rights are protected and that they have access to the resources they need.

“It’s really part of the work we’re doing every day, letting women know that there is help for them, there is support for them, and that defeatist messages from the abortion industry - that’s a marketing pitch, but that’s not the truth,” Hamrick said.

One of the main things that SFLA’s “Pregnant on Campus” initiative does is work with schools to ensure that the rights of pregnant women are protected, and that the campus is creating a welcoming environment for them.

For example, Hamrick said, SFLA works with students to ensure that their Title IX protections aren’t violated. Title IX protects pregnant students from being discriminated against based on accommodations needed for their pregnancies, making it illegal to take away scholarships, housing or placement in schools for pregnant students.

Hamrick recalled one case in which a pregnant woman missed finals because she was giving birth, and her school threatened to pull her financial aid and her place at the school.

“So SFLA got involved, we got her financial package reinstated, and frankly communicated with the school that you can’t do that. That is discrimination against women,” she said. The student was allowed to continue at the school, and her financial aid was reinstated.

Besides working to fight pregnancy discrimination, the group also works with schools to create welcoming environments for pregnant and parenting students by adding things such as short-term handicapped parking, nursing stations, and access to daycare programs on campuses.

Hamrick sent CNA an internal document used by SFLA of a list of more than 20 resources available to pregnant women in need, which includes resources such as counseling, food stamps, shelter, church groups, abortion pill reversals, adoption programs and more.

When it comes to scholarships, Hamrick said they work locally with women to determine what they are eligible for in their region and from their school. The website scholarshipsforwomen.com also lists more than 19 scholarships and grants available to pregnant women of various qualifications.

Marisol Health, a service of Catholic Charities in Denver, is another pro-life service that exists to help pregnant women in need.

In 2017, Marisol Health provided care to 821 clients, 70% of whom had incomes under $30,000; 45% had no income or incomes less than $15,000 a year. Of patients that year, 45 percent had Medicaid and 32 percent were uninsured.

“You are unique, capable and strong. You deserve to be listened to and cared for in a way that's confidential and empowering,” Marisol’s website states on its homepage.

Senite Sahlezghi, the program director of Marisol Health in Lafayette, Colorado, told CNA that they seek to serve the whole person in their services.

“The whole person... is not only a physical body, but we all have a multilayered context to our lives as well and so I think it's just been really beautiful that Marisol Health is this comprehensive OB/GYN clinic with wraparound supportive services to meet the urgent and ongoing needs of women and families,” Sahlezghi said.

Sahlezghi said the first thing Marisol does when a woman in need seeks their help is to listen to them fully.

“A lot of our families and women that come to us are in crisis situations,” she said, “which means that they're coming through our doors with a lot of circumstances that are overwhelming to them.”

The first step is to welcome these women and families in, offer them a cup of tea or a glass of water, and listen to their story and how they are doing, in order to better understand what help they most need, Sahlezghi said.

Through a partnership with Bella Natural Women’s Care, Marisol is able to offer women free pregnancy testing, free ultrasounds, STD testing and treatment, counseling, fertility awareness education, and other OB/GYN services.

But beyond services, they also provide women with accompaniment throughout their pregnancy and afterward, Sahlezghi said.

“When you're in an unexpected pregnancy or crisis situation, it is unbelievable how profound the feeling of loneliness can be and what decisions and consequences come from it,” she said. “Our main goal is to really be their village and to let them know that they're not alone.”

Besides OB/GYN services, Marisol Health is able to connect women with a variety of services, including housing, food and financial assistance through Catholic Charities. Marisol Homes provides housing for both pregnant women and homeless women with children. Through a partnership with Gabriel services, Marisol also connects women with parenting classes, education classes and other support.

Marisol also offers support groups for postpartum women, mentoring programs for fathers, and counseling and support for post-abortive women. They provide these services to women in need without discrimination, including to women who are undocumented and may have difficulty finding care elsewhere, Sahlezghi added.

“That doesn't even begin to describe the scope of the continuum of care that Catholic Charities offers,” Sahlezghi added. “Mother Theresa said, ‘Find them, love them,’ and I think that the continuum of care really allows us to try and strive after that idiom well.”

Although it has only been open for three years, Marisol Health has already helped more than 1,330 women through unexpected pregnancies.

“We want to make sure that women know that this is available to them and that their life isn't over because they're pregnant,” Sahlezghi said.