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Bishops visiting Holy Land ask for application of international law

Jerusalem, Jan 17, 2020 / 06:01 pm (CNA).- Following a trip to the Holy Land, a group of bishops from the United States and Europe called on their countries’ governments to acknowledge the state of Palestine and to apply international law in Israel and the surrounding area in order to promote peace and justice.

“We are inspired by their enduring resilience and faith in a worsening situation,” the bishops said of those who live in the Holy Land in a Jan. 16 statement.

The bishops added that the Catholic bishops of the Holy Land have “lamented the international community’s failure to help realize justice and peace here in the place of Christ’s birth. Our governments must do more to meet their responsibilities for upholding international law and protecting human dignity. In some cases they have become actively complicit in the evils of conflict and occupation.”

The bishops are part of the Holy Land Coordination group, which was founded by the Catholic Bishop’s Conference of England and Wales and is comprised of bishops from the U.S. and Europe. Besides their annual trip to the Holy Land, the group promotes awareness, action, and prayer for the region.

During the Jan. 11-16 trip, the bishops visited Christians in Gaza, East Jerusalem, and Ramallah.

After their recent visit, the bishops said it was “painfully clear” that living conditions for the people of the Holy Land are worsening, particularly “in the West Bank where our sisters and brothers are denied even basic rights including freedom of movement.”

“In Gaza the political decisions of all sides have resulted in the creation of an open-air prison, human rights abuses and a profound humanitarian crisis. We were welcomed by families whose focus is now day-to-day survival and whose aspirations have been reduced to bare essentials such as electricity and clean water,” they said.

The visiting bishops said that local bishops warn “that people are facing further 'evaporation of hope for a durable solution'.” They added: “We have witnessed this reality first-hand, particularly how construction of settlements and the separation wall is destroying any prospect of two states existing in peace.”

The bishops encouraged their own countries’ governments to find political solutions to the conflicts in the Holy Land, including: “insisting upon the application of international law; following the Holy See’s lead in recognizing the State of Palestine, addressing the security concerns of Israel and the right of all to live in safety, rejecting political or economic support for settlements, and resolutely opposing acts of violence or abuses of human rights by any side.”

The Vatican recognized the state of Palestine in May 2015.

They also thanked the religious sisters, priests, and laypeople in the region who are providing services such as education and healthcare to the vulnerable populations, and encouraged the increasing number of Christians making pilgrimages to the Holy Land to engage with the local communities in the area on their trips.

“In taking these steps the international community can meaningfully stand in solidarity with those Israelis and Palestinians who are refusing to give up their non-violent struggle for justice, peace and human rights,” the bishops added. “We pray for the peace of Jerusalem.”

The delegation on the trip included Bishop Declan Lang of Clifton, chair of the Holy Land Coordination; Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the U.S. Military Archdiocese; bishops from throughout Europe; and an Anglican bishop.

2020 Pope Francis trip to Indonesia, East Timor, and Papua New Guinea possible

Vatican City, Jan 17, 2020 / 05:00 pm (CNA).- A visit from Pope Francis to Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, and East Timor may happen in September, according to an Indonesian Muslim leader who met with the pope this week.

Sheikh Yahya Cholil Staquf leads the 50 million member Nahdlatul Ulama movement, which calls for a reformed “humanitarian Islam” and has developed a theological framework for Islam that rejects the concepts of caliphate, Sharia law, and “kafir” (infidels).

Staquf met with the pope this week, while in Rome for a meeting of the Abrahamic Faiths Initiative, which gathers Christians, Muslim and Jewish leaders to discuss the promotion of peace and fraternity. U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback attended the meetings.

Pope Francis met with the group Jan. 15.

After that meeting, Staquf told CNA that the pope said he plans to visit Indonesia, East Timor, and New Guinea in September.

The Vatican has not yet confirmed such a trip.

Indonesia is home to the largest population of Muslims in the world. The country’s 229 million Muslims make up more than 12% of the global Muslim population. Nearly all of Indonesia’s Muslims are Sunni.

There are 24 million Christians living in Indonesia, 7 million of them are Catholic. Pope St. Paul VI visited the country in 1970, and Pope St. John Paul II traveled there in 1989.

East Timor is a small country on the island of Timor. It gained independence from Indonesia in 1999, following decades of bloody conflict as the region vied for national sovereignty.

The country’s second president, Jose Manuel Ramos-Horta, shared the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize with East Timorese Bishop Ximenes Bolo, for their efforts to reach a peaceful and just end to fighting in the country. Bishop Belo is now a missionary in Mozambique.

More than 1 million people live in East Timor; more than 98% of them are Catholic. It is one of few majority Catholic countries in Southeast Asia. Pope St. John Paul II visited East Timor in 1989.

Papua New Guinea is a country of nearly nine million people on the eastern half of the island of New Guinea. The other side of island consists of two Indonesian provinces. Papua New Guinea is a nation of considerable cultural diversity, comprised of small traditional communities of various groups, some of which remain uncontacted by Westerners. 

Nearly all Papua New Guinea citizens are Christians, and 26 percent of the population is Catholic.

Pope St. John Paul II went to Papua New Guinea in 1984.

Pope Francis has long expressed interest in visiting Indonesia, and has also expressed interest in visiting Iraq in 2020.

 

Supreme Court will hear Little Sisters of the Poor case, again

Washington D.C., Jan 17, 2020 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- The Little Sisters of the Poor will have their case heard before the Supreme Court yet again in their years-long fight against the federal contraceptive mandate.

The Supreme Court announced on Friday that it would hear oral arguments in the case of the sisters against the State of Pennsylvania, which challenged the order’s exemption from the contraceptive mandate.

“It is disappointing to think that as we enter a new decade we must still defend our ministry in court,” said Mother Loraine Marie Maguire of the Little Sisters of the Poor, in a statement on Friday. 

“We are grateful the Supreme Court has decided to weigh in, and hopeful that the Justices will reinforce their previous decision and allow us to focus on our lifelong work of serving the elderly poor once and for all,” she said. 

“We are hopeful that this trip to the Supreme Court will be their last,” said Montse Alvarado, vice president and executive director of Becket, which represents the sisters in court.

The Little Sisters of the Poor is an order of religious founded in 1839 by St. Jeanne Jugan. Their mission is to care for the poor and the elderly in more than 30 countries.

Their case, Little Sisters of the Poor v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, stems from a lawsuit by the State of Pennsylvania against the exemption granted to the Little Sisters of the Poor to the contraceptive mandate.

The sisters originally sued the federal government over the mandate that employers provide contraceptives, sterilizations, and abortion-causing drugs in health plans. The religious exemption that the Obama administration originally granted was so narrow that the sisters, and many other religious non-profits were not eligible.

When the administration issued an accommodation for the objecting non-profits, the sisters and other religious entities, including Catholic dioceses and charities, still challenged it in court.

Under the revised procedure, the objecting parties would report their objection to the government, which in turn would notify the insurer or third-party administrator to provide the contraceptive coverage anyway. The sisters said they would still be cooperating with the provision of morally objectionable drugs and procedures.

In 2016, the Supreme Court sent the case of the sisters and others back to the circuit courts, ordering the government and the objecting parties to come to an agreement respecting both the administration’s goal of contraceptive coverage and the sisters’ wishes to be exempt from participation in it.

Then in October of 2017, the Department of Health and Human Services issued a new rule protecting religious entities that objected to the mandate.

However, attorneys general for Pennsylvania and California challenged the rule in court, saying that the sisters and other objecting religious non-profits should not be exempt.

The Supreme Court held oral arguments in March of 2018 to determine if the sisters could intervene in the states’ lawsuits, which in April the Court said they could.

At the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, the sisters lost their case against Pennsylvania in July of 2019, and appealed to the Supreme Court in October. The Court on Friday agreed to hear their case.

The sisters also lost their case against California’s lawsuit in the Ninth Circuit Court in October.

'No misunderstanding': Cardinal Sarah meets with pope emeritus

Vatican City, Jan 17, 2020 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- Cardinal Robert Sarah has met with Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI to discuss the controversy following around their recently-published book "From the Depths of Our Hearts,” and insisted that there is no ill feeling between the two. 

The book, presented as a co-authored work by the two, is subtitled “Priesthood, Celibacy, and the Crisis of the Catholic Church.” Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s contributions have been the subject of controversy since the book was announced on Sunday, and conflicting statements on the extent of the pope emeritus’s involvement in the project have been released over the last week.

Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, issued a series of statements via Twitter on Friday, saying that his meeting with the former pope went well.

“Because of the incessant, nauseating and deceptive controversies that have never stopped since the beginning of the week, concerning the book From the Depths of Our Hearts, I met Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI this evening,” said Sarah. 

The tweets were published in French and signed “-RS.”

“With Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, we have seen how there is no misunderstanding between us,” said Sarah. “I came out very happy, full of peace and courage from this beautiful interview.”

Sarah encouraged people to read and reflect on the book, and thanked his editor and his publisher, “for the thoroughness, probity, seriousness, and professionalism which they have shown,” and added “excellent reading to all!”

The book contains a chapter credited to Benedict, a chapter credited to Sarah, and an introduction and conclusion, which have been attributed to the two men jointly.

On Jan. 14, Benedict’s private secretary, Archbishop Georg Ganswein, said the former pontiff was not informed he would be presented as co-author of the book and had not seen its cover, adding that Benedict has asked for his name and photo to be removed from the cover.

Ganswein affirmed that Benedict had written the chapter attributed to him, and gave permission for it to appear in a book, but said that Benedict had not actually co-authored the introduction and conclusion attributed to him. Ganswein also communicated the request that Benedict’s name be removed as co-author of the book and he instead be listed as a contributor.

Despite the request from Ganswein, Ignatius Press--who will be publishing the English-languge edition in February--stated this week that it considers the book to have been co-authored by Benedict and Sarah.

The publisher told CNA that critics suggesting that the pope emeritus did not co-author the book, or authorize its publication, are wrong.

“Are these people really implying that Cardinal Sarah is involved in a conspiracy to distort the truth?” Father Joseph Fessio, SJ, editor-in-chief of Ignatius Press, asked Jan. 13.

“If Cardinal Sarah is telling [Ignatius Press] that the chapters from Pope Benedict are from Pope Benedict, we take his word for it,” Fessio said, adding that the publisher stands by its attribution of the book to both Sarah and Benedict.

The publisher’s statement followed a Jan 14. release from Sarah, who said that he had in October proposed a jointly authored book to Benedict, and that after the two corresponded over the matter, he sent on Nov. 19 “a complete manuscript to the pope emeritus containing, as we had mutually decided, the cover, a common introduction and conclusion, the chapter of Benedict XVI, and my own chapter.”

Chinese bishop and priests evicted over 'fire safety'

Beijing, China, Jan 17, 2020 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- Chinese officials have evicted members of the clergy, including a bishop, from their homes and are closing Catholic parishes in the Diocese of Fujian. While the officials cited “fire safety standards” as the reason for the evictions, all the clergy and churches affected have refused to join the Communist-controlled Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association.

The CPCA, the state-run Catholic Church, entered into an agreement with the Vatican in 2018, regularizing the status of its bishops. While the terms of the agreement have not been released, it has widely been reported that it gives the Communist party effective veto power over future episcopal appointments. 

The deal was intended to regularize the status of the so-called underground Church in China, which had always been in communion with Rome, despite decades of persecution by the Communist government. While the Vatican has said that underground clergy are not obliged to join the CPCA, government authorities have escalated policies and enforcement actions aimed at bringing all religious practice under Communist control.

According to a Jan. 16 report by AsiaNews, Bishop Vincenzo Guo Xijin, auxiliary bishop of Fujian has been evicted from the curia and clergy house and is now homeless. 

The priests who lived in the house were also evicted, reportedly due to “security reasons” and noncompliance with fire regulations.

Chinese government officials reportedly cut electricity and water supply to the chancery building in an effort to encourage the clergy to leave the building. The building, which is 10 years old, was built in compliance with all relevant permits. 

Bishop Guo and his priests have refused to join the state-run Church, and thus have not been approved by the Chinese government. 

Guo was the Vatican-recognized bishop of the underground Diocese of Mindong until the conclusion of the recent Vatican-China deal. Following that agreement, which gave communist officials the right to enforce “sinicization” on local Catholic practice, the Holy See recognized the communist-approved Bishop Zhan, who had previously been considered an excommunicated schismatic, as the diocesan bishop, and compelled Guo to accept the position of auxiliary bishop in his diocese.

AsiaNews also reported Thursday that “at least five” parishes in the Diocese of Fuijan have been closed due to “fire safety standards” despite prior compliance with permits and regulations. One of these parishes has 10,000 communicants, and another has roughly 3,000. 

The priest of these now-shuttered parishes, who have all refused to join the CPCA, are now homeless. 

On January 13, the Chinese government closed a retirement home administered by the Little Sisters of Mercy and Charity. The home, which housed 30 people, has been open for 20 years and had operated without major issues. Now, some of the residents do not have anywhere to live, and others have gone to live with relatives. 

In the city of Suanfeng, a parish that was closed for “fire safety” reasons was re-opened after a CPCA priest was appointed to the parish. There were no repairs made to the building to bring it up to any sort of code during the time it was closed, says AsiaNews.

A little less than half of the “underground” priests--20 out of 57--from the Diocese of Fujian have declined to join the CPCA, despite urging from Bishop Zhan. The priests are reluctant to sign on with the CPCA as they do not wish to be affiliated with an entity of the Chinese Communist Party.

In June, the Vatican issued “pastoral guidelines of the Holy See concerning the civil registration of clergy in China.” While recognizing the need to continue efforts to normalize relations between the Catholic community and government authorities, the document “respects the choice” of priests who refuse to register with the state.

“For some time, requests have been received by the Holy See from Bishops in mainland China for a concrete indication of the approach to be adopted in relation to the obligation of presenting an application for civil registration,” the document says, noting that “many pastors remain deeply disturbed [at] the modality of such registration.”

The Holy See also noted that the act of registration “requires, almost invariably, the signing of a document in which, notwithstanding the commitment assumed by the Chinese authorities to respect also Catholic doctrine, one must declare acceptance, among other things, of the principle of independence, autonomy and self-administration of the Church in China.”

If, the Vatican said, “the text of the declaration required for the registration does not appear respectful of the Catholic faith,” priests should specify - in writing if possible, or else in front of witnesses – that the declaration is made only to the extent it is “faithful to the principles of Catholic doctrine.”

“At the same time, the Holy See understands and respects the choice of those who, in conscience, decide that they are unable to register under the current conditions.”

Guo has previously been arrested for refusing to participate in public events with Zhan. In February, Guo told the New York Times that “we must obey Rome's decision,” and that “our principle is that the Chinese Catholic Church must have a connection with the Vatican; the connection cannot be severed.”