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Argentina bishops: Abortion vote shows we have work to do

Buenos Aires, Argentina, Jun 17, 2018 / 04:13 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The bishops of Argentina said that this week’s vote in the House of Representatives to legalize abortion shows the shortcomings of both the Church and society in accompanying women and educating people.

In a statement, the bishops said the vote calls them to recognize the “weaknesses in our pastoral efforts: comprehensive sex education in our educational institutions, a fuller recognition of the common dignity of women and men, and the accompaniment of women at risk for abortion or who have gone through that trauma.”

“These are all calls from reality that call us to a response as a Church,” they said.

By a vote of 129 to 125 with one abstention, Argentina's House of Representatives passed a bill on Thursday that would legalize abortion through 14 weeks of pregnancy.

The bill will now be sent to the Senate, and then to President Mauricio Macri, who has encouraged “responsible” debate over the topic and said that he personally opposes the legislation but will not veto it if Congress approves it.

The current law in Argentina prohibits abortion, except when the mother’s life or health is determined to be in danger, or in cases of rape.

If passed, the bill would allow would allow abortion for any reason up to the 14th week of gestation. Minors under 16 could get an abortion without having to inform their parents.

Health care workers under the bill could be eligible for conscience-based objections to participating in an abortion if they make such a request in advance “individually and in writing” to the director of their medical center. Institutions and health care facilities as a whole would not be allowed to conscientiously object to abortion.

The Argentine bishops stressed the need for dialogue and efforts “to seek new and creative solutions so that no woman has to go for an abortion.” They pointed to the need to address the challenges facing many women experiencing unplanned pregnancies, such as poverty, social marginalization and gender violence.

Unidad Provida (Pro-Life Unity), an Argentine network representing some 100 pro-life organizations, echoed the need to address challenges facing women rather than offer abortion as a solution.

With the passage of the abortion bill in the House, the group said, “we are dangerously approaching the establishment of a throwaway policy which allows the systematic elimination of persons, without solving maternal mortality or other profound problems that harm women.”

The network charged that the House vote “took place in a context overshadowed by disinformation campaigns, political pressures and economic interests which undoubtedly influenced the vote of our representatives.”

“False figures, expressions and gimmicky slogans have been thrown around, far removed from reality… [This] blinds us from understanding the magnitude of what we are debating, which is nothing more than institutionalizing violence against women. In each abortion an innocent boy or girl dies, and a woman is destroyed,” the group said.

As debate moves to the Senate, Pro-Life Unity voiced hope, saying that the heavily-attended marches for life throughout the country show that “the Argentine people have become aware of what is at stake.”

The network renewed its commitment to work “with even greater enthusiasm, offering our representatives all our support.”

Catholic input ‘ignored’ in Uganda’s new sex-ed program, bishops say

Kampala, Uganda, Jun 17, 2018 / 05:00 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A new sex-education program created by the government of Uganda will be rejected by Christian schools unless considerable revisions are made, the Catholic bishops of the country have said.

While a team of Catholic experts was consulted while the program was being created, their suggestions were “substantially ignored” in the final document, the bishops noted.

Among the shortcomings of the new program are that it ignores “the vital role of the family, especially in the early ages” and that it exposes children ages 3-5 years to “content and life skills which are not appropriate for their age.”

Furthermore, the bishops said, the information and life skills provided for upper level students are “open to interpretation and practices which may contrary to moral Christian values.” They also added that the program provides “no provisions or guaranties that school teachers are prepared and able to teach in a balanced and proper way such delicate and emotionally charged topics.”

“As it stands now, the National Sexual Education Framework, though containing some valid ideas and guidelines, fails to answer some crucial questions and address in an adequate manner some important issues,” the Uganda Episcopal Conference said in a statement issued after their plenary assembly earlier this month.

According to 2014 Census data, Roman Catholics constitute the largest religious denomination in Uganda, with nearly 40 percent of the population identifying as Catholic. Another 32 percent are Anglican, while Muslims make up about 14 percent of the population.  

The Ugandan bishops emphasized that “contrary to what many people think, the Church is in favor of a positive, age appropriate, culturally and religious (sic) sensitive sex education which upholds moral and Christian values.” “This is the task and shared responsibility of the family, the Church and the state throughout the schools,” they added.

The document is now undergoing a final evaluation by Catholic experts who are compiling suggested amendments to the program, the bishops said.

However, should the document remain unchanged, the Catholic Church in Uganda together with the Orthodox Church have decided “that we shall not be able in conscience to have it introduced and taught in our Christian-founded schools.”

Pope Francis: God works in mysterious ways – trust him

Vatican City, Jun 17, 2018 / 03:14 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Sunday Pope Francis compared the action of grace to the growth of seeds planted in a garden, saying God often works in ways that are both unknown and surprising, but which always bring fruit, and because of this it is important to always trust and never lose faith.

In his June 17 Angelus address, the pope noted that if one looks back at history, it can seem like the world is going “in an opposite direction to the design of the heavenly Father, who wants justice, brotherhood and peace for all of his children.”

Catholics, he said, are invited to live these periods “as seasons of trial, hope and of vigilant waiting for the harvest.”

Pointing to the parable of the seeds in the day's Gospel reading from Mark, Francis explained that both in the past and today, the Kingdom of God “grows in the world in a mysterious and surprising way, awakening the hidden power of the small seed and its victorious vitality.”

“Inside the wounds of personal and social events which at times seem to mark the shipwreck of hope, we must remain confident and in the subdued but powerful action of God,” he said.

Because of this, when moments of darkness and difficulty come along, “we must not break down, but remain anchored to the fidelity of God and to his presence, which always saves...Remember this: God always saves, he's the savior..”

Pope Francis spoke to pilgrims present in St. Peter's Square during his Sunday Angelus address, in which he focused on the two parables Jesus told his disciples in the day's Gospel reading, the first being about a seed which is scattered and grows of its own accord, culminating with the gathering of the harvest.

The second parable is about the mustard seed, which is the smallest seed but which grows to be one of the biggest shrubs.

In the first parable, the message conveyed is that through Jesus' preaching and action,” the Kingdom of God is announced, he made it burst into the field of the world and, like the seed, it grows and develops on its own, with its own strength and according to criteria that are not humanly understandable.”

This growth and sprouting inside history, he said, is not dependent on the work of man, but is “expressed by the power and goodness of God.”

On the parable of the mustard seed, Francis noted how the small seed grows to become one of the biggest plants in the garden, which is “an unpredictable, surprising growth.”

“It's not easy for us to enter into this logic of the unpredictability of God and to accept it in our lives,” he said, explaining that Lord encourages each person to have “an attitude of faith which overcomes our own projects, our calculations, our provisions.”

This is an invitation to open oneself with greater generosity to God's plan on both a personal and community level, Francis said, adding that every community must pay special attention to “the small and the great opportunities for goodness that the Lord offers to us, allowing  us to be involved in his dynamics of love, of welcome, and of mercy toward all.”

The authenticity of the Church's mission, he said, is not measured “by success or the gratification of results, but by going forward with the courage of trust and the humility of abandonment to God.”

“It's the knowledge of being small and weak instruments, which in the hands of God and with his grace can fulfill great works, advancing his Kingdom, which is justice, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit,” he said, and prayed that Mary would help Catholics to be attentive to God and to collaborate in helping the Kingdom of God grow “in hearts and in history.”

After leading pilgrims in the traditional Marian prayer, Pope Francis offered prayers for Yemen, as fighting continues to escalate near the port city of Hudaydah. If the port closes, desperately needed food and other aid would be cut off from thousands of people who already face starvation in the country, increasing the already dire humanitarian situation.

Francis appealed to the international community on behalf of Yemen, asking that they bring conscience “to the table of discussions in order to avoid a worsening of the already tragic humanitarian situation.” He then led pilgrims in praying a Hail Mary.

He then kicked off the “Global Action Week,” which is part of the Share the Journey initiative of the papal charity organization Caritas International, urging governments to adopt the global U.N. compacts on migrants and refugees in order to “reach an agreement to ensure the assistance and protection of whoever is forced to leave their own home.”

Novena for North Korea sheds light on issues beyond denuclearization

Seoul, South Korea, Jun 16, 2018 / 03:58 pm (CNA).- Following two historic summits involving North Korean Chairman Kim Jong Un, South Korea’s bishops are calling on Catholics to pray a novena for nine specific intentions for the Korean peninsula June 17 - 25.

The novena culminates on June 25, the annual “Day of Prayer for the Reconciliation and Unity of the Korean People.”

This novena is by no means a new endeavor for the Korean bishops, who have been leading Catholics in prayer for the reconciliation and unity of the divided Korean peninsula for decades. According to Archbishop Kim Hee-joong of Gwangju, Korean Catholics have observed June 25 as a day of prayer the Korean peninsula since 1965.

The first documented novena for Korean reconciliation and unity was in June 1993, a time when North Korea was beginning its descent into a famine caused by the collapse of their Communist economy, which had formerly been sustained by a heavy reliance on the Soviet Union. It is estimated that 500,000 to 600,000 people died in North Korean famine from 1993 to 2000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

A novena is nine days of consecutive prayer for a particular intention, often appealing for the intercession of a saint. It is modeled after the nine days the apostles spent in prayer between the time of Jesus’ ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

This year’s nine prayer intentions capture the complexity of the issues facing the peninsula in 2018:

June 17: Pray for the healing of a divided nation

Nearly 3 million Korean people died, 10 percent of its overall population, in the brutal Korean War from 1950 to 1953. But the Korean peninsula is technically still at war, 65 years after the armistice signed in 1953.

Since the division of the Korean peninsula along the 38th parallel, the North and South have significantly diverged economically and culturally.

On April 27, the leaders of the two Koreas signed the Panmunjom Declaration in which they committed to pursue future meetings with the goal of declaring an official end to the Korean War.  

June 18: Pray for divided families

Hundreds of thousands of people were permanently separated from their families by the division of the Korean peninsula. According to South Korea’s Ministry of Reunification, fewer than half of South Koreans divided from their family members are still alive, and their average age is 81.

The North and South Korean governments have occasionally held tear-filled reunions for the divided families. At one reunion in 2015, an 85-year-old wife was reunited with her husband, whom she had not seen in 65 years. They had 12 hours to spend together before they had to return to their respective countries.

June 19: Pray for our North Korean brothers and sisters

Twenty-five million people live in North Korea, the country with one of the worst human rights records in the world. A United Nations investigation in 2014 produced a 372-page report that documented crimes against humanity, including execution, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, forced abortions, and knowingly causing prolonged starvation.

There are currently an estimated 80,000 to 120,000 people in North Korea’s six political prison camps, in which the U.S. State Department has found evidence of starvation, forced labor, and torture.

June 20: Pray for North Korean defectors

There are currently 31,530 North Korean defectors living in South Korea, according to the unification ministry. Nearly all North Korean defectors escape by crossing the northern border into China before embarking on another dangerous journey to escape China, which repatriates escaped North Koreans discovered on Chinese soil. Many women refugees have been sold into sex trafficking in China.

PTSD is common in North Korean defectors after surviving such a journey, and many struggle to adjust to the South, where they often face discrimination. Catholics have been working with North Korean defectors for years to help them adjust to South Korean society.

June 21: Pray for the leaders of North and South Korea

Kim Jong Un was 26 years-old when he became the leader of North Korea in 2011, following the death of his father Kim Jong Il. He is the third “Supreme Leader” in the Kim family dynasty begun by his grandfather Kim Il Sung.

Kim made history in 2018 by crossing the military demarcation line into South Korea to meet the South Korean president in April and then being the first North Korean leader to meet an American president in June. While it is unclear whether this is an indication of Kim’s willingness to make serious changes in North Korea, the South Korean bishops request prayers for Kim Jong Un.

Moon Jae-In became president of South Korea in May 2017 after his predecessor was impeached on corruption charges. Moon is a practicing Catholic, former human rights attorney, and the son of North Korean refugees. He prioritized peaceful diplomacy with the north at a time when tensions with North Korea were high.

June 22: Pray for the evangelization of North Korea

In 1945, there were about 50,000 Catholics registered in parishes in what is now North Korea, according to the Korean Bishops Conference, with more than double that number of Protestant Christians. Before the Korean War, Pyongyang was referred to as the “Jerusalem of the East” and was considered a center of Christianity in Northeast Asia.

Just before the Korean War broke in 1950, most of the priests who were in North Korea were captured, killed, or disappeared, according to the Korean Bishops Conference. The beatification process has begun for 40 monks and sisters of Tokwon Benedictine Abbey who were martyred by the Communists.

In 1988, the “Korean Catholic Association” created by the Communist government registered 800 members. This association is not recognized by the Vatican, but is one of three state-sponsored churches that operate in North Korea under strict supervision of the Communist authorities.

Mass is occasionally celebrated in Pyongyang's Changchung Cathedral when a foreign priest is on an official visit to the country, but on Sundays the liturgy of the word is usually celebrated by state-appointed layperson, explained Father Lee Eun-hyung in an interview with Aid to the Church in Need.

Persecution of Christians is worse in North Korea than anywhere else in the world, according to the World Watch List by Open Doors, who estimates that there could be as many as 300,000 Christians practicing their faith underground in North Korea. Christians within the atheist state have faced arrest, re-education in a labor camp, or, in some cases, execution for their faith.

Pastors who have traveled to North Korea with the hope of secretly evangelizing have been arrested, but Christian organizations in Seoul continue to broadcast the Gospel via radio into the North with the hope that someone will find a way to tune into the signal.

June 23: Pray for the various exchanges between North and South Korea

One part of the Panmunjom Declaration signed by both Korean leaders is a commitment to more cooperative exchanges between the two countries. In the past, these exchanges have been both cultural and economic. The theme of the South Korean bishops’ annual symposium this year will look at the future of Inter-Korean exchange and cooperation on June 21 at the Catholic University of Daegu.

On June 13, the South Korean ministry approved an official exchange program between students from Seoul National University and Kim Il Sung University, the leading universities of the two countries respectively.  

June 24: Pray for the true reconciliation of the North and the South

“Reconciliation” is a word that the South Korean bishops frequently use when discussing North Korea. “Until the day finally arrives when peace is permanently established on the Korean Peninsula and our divided people are united, the Catholic Church in Korea shall continue to accompany the journey towards the reconciliation and unity of the Korean people with one accord,” said Archbishop Kim Hee-joong on April 27.

Since the division, both countries have produced significant propaganda dehumanizing each other. The novena prayer (see below) includes this line, “Forgive us our slander and fighting with one another and heal the wounds of division, grant us the grace of reconciliation.”

June 25: Pray for the peaceful reunification of the Korean people

For many Korean Christians, the peaceful reunification of the Korean peninsula is the ultimate goal. “Just as the church in Germany took an important role in the reunification of East and West Germany, the Korean church will raise our voice for the peaceful co-existence of two Koreas,” said Father Timothy Lee Eun-hyeong, the secretary of the bishops’ Committee for the Reconciliation of the Korean People in 2017.

“The Korean nation is symbolic of a world divided and not yet able to become one in peace and justice,” said Saint John Paul II on a papal trip to South Korea in 1989, “yet there is a way forward. True peace – the shalom which the world urgently needs – springs eternally from the infinitely rich mystery of God’s love.”

The pope saint continued, “As Christians we are convinced that Christ’s Paschal Mystery makes present and available the force of life and love which overcomes all evil and all separation.”

 

Here is the English translation of the South Korean bishops’ novena prayer:

 

Novena prayer for reconciliation and unity of the Korean people

Lord, You have created us in Your own image and likeness.

Make us daily more like You.

You have made us one in love.

Strengthen our love for one another.

O Lord, Your desire is for peace among us.

May peace be restored on this peninsula.

Forgive us our slander and fighting with one another and heal the wounds of division, grant us the grace of reconciliation.

O Lord, You desire the unity of all people. Heal the pain of separation that divides us.

Make us aware of our mutual indifference and help us strive for unity as we share all we have with one another.

Help us to respect and love one another and so bring about peaceful reunification.

Give us faith, Lord, to believe in You and let the Kingdom of God reign in this land.

We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Amen.

Mary, Queen of Peace, Pray for us!

All Korean Martyr Saints, Pray for us!

 

Pope says abortion of sick, disabled children reflects Nazi mentality

Vatican City, Jun 16, 2018 / 08:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In a speech to a family association Saturday, Pope Francis again stressed that God's vision of the family is between a man and a woman, and compared the abortion of children who are sick or disabled to a Nazi mentality.

“I've heard that it's fashionable, or at least usual, that when in the first few months of pregnancy they do studies to see if the child is healthy or has something, the first offer is: let's send it away,” the pope said June 16, referring to the trend of aborting sick or disabled children.

This, he said, is “the murder of children...to get a peaceful life an innocent [person] is sent away...We do the same as the Nazis to maintain the purity of the race, but with white gloves.”

“It's an atrocity but we do the same thing,” he said, according to Italian media.

Pope Francis spoke to members of the Forum of Family Associations, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.

His words on abortion come just days after his home country of Argentina voted June 14 in favor of a bill that would legalize abortion as early as the first 14 weeks of pregnancy. The comments also come just over a month ahead of his Aug. 25-26 trip to Ireland for the World Meeting of Families, which will feature Jesuit Fr. James Martin as a keynote speaker on how to be welcoming to the LGBT community.

During his speech, Francis tossed his prepared remarks, telling participants that a prepared text “seems a bit cold,” according to Italian newspaper La Stampa.

The pope, the paper reported, said it is “painful” to think that society would accept the killing of children simply because they are sick or disabled, but this is the current mentality.

On the family, he noted that in modern society “one speaks of different types of family,” defining the term in different ways.

“Yes, it's true that family is an analogous word, yes one can also say 'the family of stars,' 'the family of trees,' 'the family of animals,'” he said, but stressed that “the family in the image of God is only one, that of man and woman...marriage is a wonderful sacrament.”

Turning to his 2016 post-synodal apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis said that some have reduced the document to “you can, you can't,” referring to the debate surrounding access to the sacraments for the divorced and remarried in the document's eighth chapter.

“They have understood nothing,” he said, explaining that his exhortation “does not hide problems,” but goes beyond mere case studies. To understand the text, he said, one must read chapter four on the spirituality of everyday life, which he said is the “is the core” of the document.

Francis then pointed to the emphasis placed on marriage preparation in Amoris Laetitia, saying the family “is a beautiful adventure and today, I say it with pain, we see that many times we think of starting a family, getting married, as if it were a lottery. We go and if it works, it works, if not we end it and start again.”

What is needed, he said, is “a catechumenate for marriage...men and women are needed who help young people to mature.”

And this begins with small things, such as marriage preparation, he said, adding that “it's important to love each other and receive the sacrament, and then have the party you want.” However, it is never acceptable for “the second to take the place of the most important.”
 
He also spoke about the importance of educating one's children, but noted that this is not easy for parents, especially in a virtual world, which “they know better than us.”

The pope also pointed to the increasing difficulty for families to spend time with their children, especially in times of social and economic crisis.

“To earn money today one has to have two jobs, the family is not considered,” he said, and encouraged parents to take up this “cross” and the excessive hours of work, while also spending time playing with their children.

“Children are the greatest gift,” he said, even when they are sick. Children, he said, must be “received as they come, as God sends them.”

However, alluding to the growing trend to be “childless by choice,” Francis noted that there are people who simply don't want children, and pointed to a couple who did not want to have kids, but who instead had three dogs and two cats.

Francis closed his speech talking about the need for patience in married life, saying “there are life situations of strong crisis, terrible, and even times of infidelity come.”

“There are many women – but also at times men  – who in silence wait, looking the other way, waiting for their husband to return to being faithful.” This, he said, is “the holiness that forgives because it loves.”