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Pope Francis in Thailand: Friendship with Jesus lights your path

Bangkok, Thailand, Nov 22, 2019 / 05:00 am (CNA).- Pope Francis told young people in Thailand Friday that the secret to happiness is to be deeply rooted in faith in Jesus Christ.

“The secret to a happy heart is the security we find when we are anchored, rooted in Jesus: in his life, in his words, in his death and resurrection,” Pope Francis said Nov. 22 in his homily at the Cathedral of the Assumption in Bangkok.

“Friendship cultivated with Jesus is the oil needed to light up your path in life and the path of all those around you,” he said.

The pope celebrated Mass for an estimated 10,000 young people in and outside of Bangkok’s Cathedral of the Assumption. The cathedral dates back more than 200 years to an initiative by  French missionaries.

“You are heirs to a precious history of evangelization that has been handed down to you as a sacred treasure. This beautiful cathedral is a witness to your ancestors’ faith in Jesus Christ,” the pope told Thai youth.

“In order that the fire of the Holy Spirit will keep burning, so that you can keep your eyes bright and your hearts aflame, you need to be deeply rooted in the faith of your ancestors: your parents, grandparents, and teachers,” he said.

The Mass concluded Pope Francis’ three-day apostolic journey to Thailand. The pope will depart Bangkok for Japan Nov. 23. There he will visit Tokyo, Nagasaki, and Hiroshima.


<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr"><a href=";ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#PopeFrancis</a> has left the cathedral in Bangkok, <a href=";ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Thailand</a> to return to the nunciature to rest before we fly tomorrow to <a href=";ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Japan</a>! <a href=""></a></p>&mdash; Hannah Brockhaus (@HannahBrockhaus) <a href="">November 22, 2019</a></blockquote> <script async src="" charset="utf-8"></script>


“Dear young people, you are a new generation, with new hopes, dreams and questions, and surely some doubts as well, yet firmly rooted in Christ,” Francis said.

“It pains me to see young people sometimes being encouraged to build a future without roots, as if the world were just starting now. For it is impossible for us to grow unless we have strong roots to support us and to keep us firmly grounded,” he said.

The pope explained that trees without deep roots can fall and die during a storm. He said that likewise young people without a firm sense of rootedness can be swayed by the “voices of the world that compete for our attention” that are appealing and exciting at first, but ultimately leaves one “empty, weary, alone, and disenchanted.”

“Do you want to keep alive the fire that keeps you burning brightly amid darkness and difficulties? Do you want to be prepared to answer the Lord’s call? Do you want to be ready to do his will?” the pope asked young people.

“Rooted in Christ, view all things with the joy and confidence born of knowing that the Lord has sought us out, found us and loved us infinitely,” he said.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">I&#39;m at the Cathedral of the Assumption in Bangkok, <a href=";ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Thailand</a> where young Catholics are waiting for Mass with <a href=";ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#PopeFrancis</a> and the choir is practicing. <a href=""></a></p>&mdash; Hannah Brockhaus (@HannahBrockhaus) <a href="">November 22, 2019</a></blockquote> <script async src="" charset="utf-8"></script>

Pope Francis said not to be afraid of the future because it will bring “the most beautiful thing that it can bring us: the definitive coming of Christ into our lives and into our world.”

“I urge you to maintain your joy and to look to the future with confidence,” he said. “Just as God had a plan for the Chosen People, so he has a plan for each of you.”

Religious freedom a 'moral imperative,' pope tells leaders of major religions in Thailand

Bangkok, Thailand, Nov 22, 2019 / 04:00 am (CNA).- In a meeting with leaders of major religions in Thailand Friday, Pope Francis stressed the importance of upholding human dignity and religious freedom.

“For our part, we are asked to embrace the moral imperative of upholding human dignity and respecting the rights of conscience and religious freedom,” he said Nov. 22 at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok.

Addressing religious leaders, he said “all of us are called not only to heed the voice of the poor in our midst: the disenfranchised, the downtrodden, the indigenous peoples and religious minorities, but also to be unafraid to create opportunities, as is already quietly occurring, to work hand in hand.”

“And to do so,” he added, “in a spirit of fraternal solidarity that can help end the many present-day forms of slavery, especially the scourge of human trafficking.”

Pope Francis met the 18 Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu, and Sikh leaders at Chulalongkorn University, which was founded in 1899 and is the oldest university in Thailand. It is considered highly prestigious, and is the university which members of the royal family and nobility have attended.

The university is named for King Chulalongkorn, who ended slavery in Thailand. In his address, Pope Francis recalled a significant moment from 122 years ago, when Pope Leo XIII met with King Chulalongkorn, also known as King Rama V, at the Vatican, the first time a non-Christian head of state was received in audience there.

“May the memory of that significant encounter, as well as that of his reign, whose virtues included the abolition of slavery, challenge us, in our own time, to pursue the path of dialogue and mutual understanding,” Francis said.

He stressed the importance of religions working together to protect the environment, and noted the many challenges faced by society today, such as civil conflicts, which cause mass migration, refugees, famine, and war.

“All these situations require us to be bold in devising new ways of shaping the history of our time without denigrating or insulting anyone,” he stated.

“Now is the time to be bold and envision the logic of encounter and mutual dialogue as the path, common cooperation as the code of conduct, and reciprocal knowledge as a method and standard.”

Pope Francis also asked the religious leaders to build solid foundations, “anchored on respect for, and recognition of the dignity of persons, the promotion of an integral humanism, alert to and concerned for the protection of our common home, and a responsible stewardship that preserves the beauty and richness of nature as a right fundamental for existence.”

“All of us are members of the human family. Each person, in his or her own way, is called to be actively and directly engaged in building a culture founded on the shared values that lead to unity, mutual respect and a harmonious coexistence,” he said.

How this Croatian cardinal saved thousands of Jewish lives

Zagreb, Croatia, Nov 22, 2019 / 04:00 am (CNA).- When Esther Gitman proposed a topic for a Fulbright Fellowship, the administrator taking proposals was incredulous.

In her 50s at the time, Gitman was already well past the age of most applicants to the prestigious fellowship. But what shocked the representative was not Gitman’s age, but her story.

“I'll write about the rescue of Jews in the independent state of Croatia (during World War II),” Gitman said.

“Why in the world would you like to write such a thing?” the representative asked. “Don't you know that all the Jews and many of the Serbs and Gypsies were murdered there?”

But Gitman was living proof that this was not the full story. She, her mother, and all the Jews she had known in her childhood, had been spared - protected in Italian-occupied territory while the Ustase, the facist puppet-state of the Nazis, controlled Croatia and the surrounding region.

Gitman could barely finish her story of survival before the Fulbright representative blurted out: “Look, I have never heard this story. This is an amazing story. Write a good proposal and then you can even send it to me for a review.”

The proposal was approved. But even when she arrived in Croatia to begin the project, Gitman faced serious doubts from her Croatian collaborators that the research would be fruitful at all. Gitman said she promised to write whatever she found, and if she found nothing, she would describe how she came to find nothing.

It wasn’t until Gitman was well into her research for her Fulbright fellowship in Zagreb, Croatia that she learned the name of the man to whom she and thousands of others owed their rescue: Archbishop Alojzije (Aloysius) Stepinac.

Learning of Archbishop Stepanic

When Gitman began her application for a Fulbright, she knew little about her own rescue as a Jew from Bosnia-Herzegovina (in the former Kingdom of Yugoslavia) other than that she and all the other Jews she knew during her childhood were spared.

She was spurred to learn more not, initially, out of her own curiosity, but her daughter’s.

“I really never asked my mother and my stepfather about it. I wasn't interested in it,” Gitman told CNA. Moreover, her family, like most others in the region, didn’t speak of their rescuers out of fear of retaliation from the Communist regime that took control of the region after the war.

“I remember that after the war my family had an expression, ‘the walls have ears,’” Gitman wrote in her book “Alojzije Stepinac: Pillar of Human Rights.”

But her daughter’s questions sent her down a road of research that led her back to school to earn her Ph.D. and a Fulbright fellowship to study those very questions. 

Gitman’s Fulbright research included combing through thousands of pages of documents - including 5,000 specifically related to rescues during the war - and interviewing 67 Croatian survivors and rescuers from the war.

As she amassed page after page on Jewish rescue in the region, Gitman’s husband encouraged her to narrow down her work by selecting a common denominator among the documents on which to focus.

One name, in particular, kept popping up: Archbishop Stepinac.

“When I started to hear the name of Stepinac, I, in my own biased mind, thought: it cannot be that a priest and still an archbishop would save Jews,” Gitman said.

But as she searched through the archives of the Catholic cathedral in Zagreb, where Stepinac was assigned during the war, “I couldn't believe what this man has done. I had a few hundred documents and I started to interview people and I just collected hundreds and hundreds of them and I saw...what an amazing thing this man has done.”

In total, and through various strategies, Stepinac directly and indirectly rescued more than 6,000 Jews from the Holocaust.

Who was Archbishop Stepinac?

Aloysius Stepinac was born on May 8, 1898 to a farming family in the village of Brezaric, some 30 miles south and west of the capital of Zagreb.

In 1916, he graduated high school and soon after was drafted to fight in World War I as an Austrian officer on the Italian front, where he was taken as an Italian prisoner of war from July-December of 1918. After the war, he briefly enrolled in a university to study agronomy, but soon returned home to work on the farm and further discern his vocation, and he found himself torn between the priesthood and farming.

“If I were a child again...I would still choose as my vocation either to be a priest or a farmer. A man is somehow closest to God there. Look at the peasant: he works and toils, but he sees how, in everything, he depends on God. He finds Him in nature. He observes His traces,” Stepinac once said. In 1924, Stepinac entered seminary and was sent to study in Rome at the Pontifical Gregorian University. His ordination to the priesthood took place on October 26, 1930.

While his heart was that of a parish priest, Stepanic was brought to serve as a master of ceremonies at the archdiocesan chancery by Archbishop Antun Bauer in Zagreb, the capital of Croatia. While there, Stepanic established the Zagreb branch of the Catholic charity Caritas, and founded the Caritas magazine, in which he advocated for better economic policies for the poor and urged the wealthy to donate generously to those in need.

In 1934, Pope Pius XI named Stepanic as the coadjutor to Bauer, effectively naming him as his successor. At the age of 37, Stepinac reluctantly became the youngest bishop in the world at the time, after begging Archbishop Bauer to change his mind.
“It shocked me so much that at first I thought that the old man had lost his reason...on the occasion of the consecration everyone cheered and rejoiced. But my heart bled,” Stepinac would later recall. 

Not long after being made a bishop, as early as 1936, Stepanic knew of the threat facing Jewish people in Europe and sought to raise funds to help those who were fleeing Nazi Germany and Austria.

He appealed to wealthy Croatian Catholics for their help: “Dear Sir, due to violent and inhumane persecution, a large number of people have had to leave their homeland. Left without means for a normal life, they wander throughout the world...Every day, a large number of emigrants contact us asking for intervention...It is our Christian duty to help them...I am free to address you, as a member of our Church, to ask for support for our fund in favor of emigrants. I ask you to write your free monthly allotment on the enclosed leaflet,” he wrote to them.

In an address to students in 1938, Stepanic condemned the racist ideologies of the Third Reich: “Love toward one’s nation cannot turn a man into a wild animal, which destroys everything and calls for reprisal, but it must ennoble him, so that his own nation secures respect and love of other nations.”

In 1939, he launched another fundraising campaign to help Jews and other persecuted migrants fleeing their countries because of the war, again emphasizing the Christian’s duty to help those in need regardless of their race or creed.

Stepinac and the rescue of Jews during World War II

War officially came to the Kingdom of Yugoslavia (which was comprised of modern-day Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, and Slovenia) on April 6, 1941, when German forces invaded the region.

During the occupation, the Kingdom of Yugoslavia was divided by the Axis powers, who thought that they could control the region better with divided countries that could be pitted against each other, Gitman said. The Independent State of Croatia was established as a puppet state of the Nazis, with Ante Pavelić at the head of the Ustase - the Croatian fascists loyal to Hitler.

Stepanic, as head of the Catholic Church in the majority-Catholic Croatia, had the difficult task of opposing the Ustase’s violent and inhumane policies while still attempting to maintain peace and order in his country.

“His duty as the head of such a big group (as) the Catholics was to go and establish a working relationship (with Pavelic),” Gitman said, a move that angered many Croatians at the time.

“They hated each other, but he had to establish a working relationship for the sake of peace and order,” she added. 

Stepinac found subtle and not-so-subtle ways to oppose Pavelic and the Ustase regime. Gitman said that, for instance, there were two priests and five nuns in the archdiocese who were of Jewish ethnicity, and therefore had to wear the Jewish star.

At one point, Pavelic decided it was embarrassing to the regime to have priests and nuns wearing the star, and so he absolved them of the obligation. But Stepanic urged the priests and nuns to continue wearing the star, as a sign of solidarity with the Jewish people. It humiliated Pavelic.

“This was an embarrassment to Pavelic that, Stepinac is telling them to wear the sign when they got permission not to wear (it),” Gitman said.

Gitman also learned that the Jewish rabbi in Zagreb came to rely on the friendship and help of Stepinac during the war. Unlike the rabbi, Stepanic was granted what were known as “Aryan rights” under the Ustase regime, which meant he was free to roam around the city like a normal citizen, while Jews were forced to wear a yellow star to identify themselves, and their movements were curtailed and monitored. Stepanic used this right to help those without such privileges.

“So whenever (the rabbi) needed something, he would send a request to Stepinac, and he always did whatever he could,” Gitman said.

Privately, Stepanic organized hiding places for an unknown number of Jews using Croatian Catholic connections he had throughout the country, or raised funds to help them escape to a safer place. When Stepanic’s own life was in danger, he warned all those that he had helped hide, and told them to find a different hiding place so that they would not be found out.

Stepinac also told his priests in no uncertain terms that they were to accept any requests from people who wanted to convert to the Catholic Church in order to try to save their lives - whether they were Jewish, Serbian, Gypsies, or other persecuted groups.

“He had a policy: when you (a priest) are approached by a Jew or a Serb whose life is in danger and they wished to convert, convert them, because the Christian duty is in the first place to save (their) life,” Gitman said.

“When you are visited by people of the Jewish or Eastern Orthodox faith, whose lives are in danger and who express the wish to convert to Catholicism, accept them in order to save human lives. Do not require any special religious knowledge from them, because the Eastern Orthodox are Christians like us, and the Jewish faith is the faith from which Christianity draws its roots. The role and duty of Christians is in the first place to save people. When this time of madness and savagery has passed, those who would convert out of conviction will remain in our church, while others, after the danger passes, will return to their church,” read a note distributed to parishes in Zagreb during the war.

Stepanic also stood up to the Ustase to protect Jewish people in mixed marriages with Christians. Stepanic told the Ustase that if they started sending Jews in mixed marriages to the concentration camps, that he would close his churches indefinitely and their bells would not stop ringing. He was able to save roughly 1,000 Jews in mixed marriages.

A 1943 letter from Nazi agent Hubner to Hans Helms the Nazi police attaché in Zagreb, later reviewed by Gitman, shows that the Nazi’s were aware of Stepinac’s tactic to protect the Jews:

“...the Archbishop promised protection and that he sent a letter to the Pope in Rome. According to the ‘dogmas’ of the Catholic Church, a couple in a mixed marriage cannot be separated. And if the Croat government undertakes action against mixed marriages, then in protest against such acts, the Archbishop will close all the Catholic Churches for a certain period. Such acts he [Stepinac] considers interference in the internal affairs of the church. Furthermore, the rumors circulating in Zagreb are that the Pope turned personally to the Fuehrer to obtain assurances that no actions would be taken against mixed marriages. For the time being, verification of this information cannot be obtained. But it is probable that this information is accurate because it is acknowledged that Stepinac is a protector of the Jews.”

The act of Stepinac that saved the most Jews - roughly 5,000 - from the Holocaust was his appeal to the Vatican to protect the Jewish refugees from Yugoslavia living in Italian-controlled territory.

When the war came to Yugoslavia, Gitman and her mother, along with thousands of other Jews, flocked to the Dalmatian coast, which was controlled by the Italians. Originally from Sarajevo in the country of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Gitman’s mother had heard that Jews would be safe in Italian territory, because they didn’t have the same mentality toward Jewish people as Nazi Germany did. (Gitman’s father died before the war came to Yugoslavia.)

But by 1942, just a year after the start of the war, the governor of this Italian region, Giuseppe Bastionini, “decided that he cannot have so many people unemployed, roaming around his territory and so he will collect all of them and ship them off back to the Ustase, to the Croatian fascists,” Gitman said.

When Stepinac heard this, he knew it would be certain death if the Jews were sent back to the Ustase. Together with the apostolic visitor to Croatia, Benedictine abbot Dom Giuseppe Ramiro Marcone, Stepinac pleaded with the Vatican to help them negotiate permissions for the Yugoslav Jews to remain in Italian territory. According to Gitman, the men emphasized the terrible conditions for Jews under the Ustase, as well as the fact that many of the Jews living in Italian territory were actually Catholic converts.

“Many were (Catholics),” Gitman said, “but not by a large measure. But it helped, and they received the permit to stay and the Italian second army protected them until the capitulation of Italy in 1943.”

In 1943, when Italy surrendered to the Allied powers, the status of the Jews in Italian territory was once again thrown into question. Germans were now invading Italy, and most of the Jews in Italian territory had to be transferred to other regions to stay safe, if they didn’t leave to fight on the Partisan front (comprised of Jewish resistance and local resistance groups).

Gitman and her mother, along with some of the other Jews, were transferred from Korcula (a Croatian island occupied by Italians) to Bari, Italy on the coast of the Adriatic by some fishermen. They remained there until the war ended in 1945.

Stepanic also saved a group of 58 elderly Jews who were living in “Lavoslav Schwarz,” a nursing home in Zagreb. In 1943, German authorities ordered the elderly people to evacuate the building or face deportation to Auschwitz. Stepinac relocated the group to nearby Church property, secured humanitarian aid for them from Switzerland, and frequently visited the home. The elderly Jews lived in the Church-owned building until 1947, and only five of them died during the war of natural causes, Gitman wrote.

Besides the Jews he rescued, Stepanic also spoke out against the Ustase and Nazi ideology in his sermons, which were banned by the Ustase from being printed and redistributed. But that does not mean the people of Croatia listened.

Stepanic’s defense lawyer wrote in 1946: “His sermons were attended in masses, not only by the Catholics but even by those who otherwise did not go to Church. Those sermons were spread, recounted, copied and propagated in thousands and thousands of copies among the people and even penetrated to the liberated territory. They became an underground press, a means of successful propaganda against the Ustase, a substitute for an opposition press.”

Glaise von Horstenau, a German general in Zagreb, said of the sermons: “If any bishop in Germany spoke this way in public, he would not come down alive from his pulpit!”

Stepinac’s activities earned him the ire of the Nazis and the Ustase, who called him and his collaborators “judenfreundlich (friends of the Jews) and therefore enemies of National Socialism.”

Angered by his sermons on the human dignity of all, including Serbs and Jews and Gypsies, a group of Ustase youth wrote to Stepinac: “You have to know that you are ‘Our greatest enemy’, but we are letting you know that if you go on speaking against us as you have been doing till now, and despite your red Roman belt, we will kill you in the street like a dog.”

In 1943, during a visit to the Vatican, Stepanic was informed that he had officially been labeled a traitor by the Nazis and that his life was therefore in danger. He had “no illusions” about the consequences of his words and actions, Gitman wrote, but stood by them, prepared to die. While in Rome, he met a famous Croatian sculptor, and told him he expected to be killed either by the Nazis or by the communist regime that would follow: “With God (a farewell), it is most likely that we will not see each other again. My life is threatened, either the Nazis will kill me now, or the Communists will kill me later.”

Trial and legacy of Cardinal Stepinac

Less than a month after the end of World War II, on June 2, 1945, the communist regime of Josip Broz Tito came to power and once again united Yugoslavia.

Threatened by the influential Stepinac, who also opposed communism, Tito tried to force Stepinac and other Catholic leaders in the country to cut ties with Rome and form an independent Catholic Church in Croatia - one that could be more easily contained and controlled.

Stepinac did not show up to the meetings where such negotiations were taking place, and instead continued to speak out against the regime, including against their imprisoning of priests, prohibition of religious marriages, and the confiscation of Church property, Gitman wrote.

Because of his obstinance towards the regime, and his popularity, Stepinac was seen as an obstacle to the regime’s success. Tito and his official launched a campaign to smear Stepinac’s reputation by trying to paint him as the main Catholic supporter of the Ustase during World War II.

Stepinac was first placed under house arrest, and then under actual arrest in on September 18, 1946, for the charges. After what many considered to be a “bogus” trial, Stepinac was found guilty on all charges and was sentenced to 16 years of hard labor on October 11, 1946.

At the time, Tito said: “It is not true that we persecute the church, we simply do not tolerate that certain people serve with impunity foreign interests instead of the interests of their own people.”

Gitman wrote that even many officials in Tito’s government recognized the trial and verdict as a sham, “because the Ustase had violated every precept of the church, and...Stepinac was not their supporter.”

Milovan Djilas, Tito’s former secretary of media and propaganda, later admitted as much.

“To tell you truthfully, I think, and not only me, that Stepinac is a man of integrity, a strong and unbreakable character. Although really innocent he was convicted; but then history frequently tells of innocent people being convicted for political necessity.”

A dispatch from the American embassy in Belgrade to the U.S. State Department noted on November 9, 1946 - before the trial’s conclusion - that it had been “fixed.”

“Everybody in Yugoslavia knows that Archbishop Stepinac was arrested and condemned by the Communist Party, and that his sentence was fixed outside the court and long before the trial itself took place. While the trial was still in progress, a highly placed Communist in the executive branch of the government said: ‘We can’t shoot him as we should like to do, because he is an archbishop;he will get a term in prison.’”

In 1950, American senators tried to negotiate for Stepinac’s freedom by making it a condition of American aid to Yugoslavia. Tito agreed to the deal but said that once freed, Stepinac must leave Yugoslavia.

But the Vatican rejected the arrangement according to Stepinac’s own wishes, Gitman wrote. “They will never make me leave unless they put me on a place by force and take me over the frontier. It is my duty in these difficult times to stay with the people,” Stepanic had declared. It was a wish he expressed repeatedly - to not leave his people as long as his country was not free. In December 1951, Tito released Stepanic and placed him again under house arrest in his hometown of Krasic, where he died in 1960 from illnesses he had contracted while in prison, according to the Blessed Aloysius Stepinac Croatian Catholic Mission.

“Tito’s acts against Stepinac made him both a Croatian martyr and a Catholic icon,” Gitman wrote. In 1953, Pope Pius XII made Stepinac a cardinal. On October 3, 1998, Stepinac was beatified by Pope John Paul II.

Nevertheless, to this day, there are many today who still oppose Stepinac and try to smear his reputation, Gitman said.

Beginning in the 1950s, many historians within Yugoslavia started arguing in their accounts that while Stepinac did some good during the war, he could have used his position to do much more, and that he dragged his feet in opposing the Ustase.

As an example Menachem Shelah, an Israeli historian from Zagreb, write of Stepinac that while it is true that he worked to save Jews “towards the middle of 1943” and saved Jews in mixed marriages, “Stepinac cannot be absolved because by his procrastination and public expressions he convinced the public that the Ustase were a lesser evil than the communists, because the Ustase crimes were a childhood malaise...Stepinac’s failure in taking action against dozens of priests who willingly took part in the murders.”

According to Gitman: “Historians who argued that Stepinac could have done much more are arguing in hindsight and on wishful thinking. Thus, such declarations are speculative because their claims could be neither evaluated nor substantiated by facts. Can any historian rightfully claim that if Stepinac had acted differently the outcome would have been substantially different and more Jews, Serbs and others would have survived? The answer clearly is no.”

Stepanic also continues to face criticism from many Serbians, in large part because of the propaganda promulgated against Stepinac in their country, and because of Croatia and Serbia’s hundreds of years of fraught history over border disputes, accusations of genocide against one another, and religious conflicts between the Catholic Croatia and the Orthodox Serbia.

“As I said, Stepinac is an icon. He represents in the Croatian psyche everything that is good, righteous and so on. And he believed that the Catholic church in this part of the world should remain and exist. He did everything to accomplish that,” Gitman said.

“Whereas the objective of King Alexander (a Serb), of Tito, and the communist regime...was  always to annex Croatia and make a greater Serbia. And I think without the glue, which is Stepinac, that keeps the people so loyal to him - and no matter under what circumstances, they believe in him - without his image, without his persona, they would be able to achieve it because there were many communists in Croatia also,” Gitman added.

Nevertheless, the Catholic Church has long held that Stepinac was a holy man who acted to uphold human dignity in some of the most difficult times his country had seen. Upon Stepinac’s death in 1960, Pope Pius XII called Stepinac “a shepherd who is an example of Apostolic zeal and Christian fortitude.”

At his beatification, Pope John Paul II called Stepinac an “outstanding figure of the Catholic Church” who risked his own life to help others.

“In his human and spiritual journey Blessed Alojzije Stepinac gave his people a sort of compass to serve as an orientation. And these were its cardinal points: faith in God, respect for man, love towards all even to the offer of forgiveness, and unity with the Church guided by the Successor of Peter,” Pope John Paul II said.

“He knew well that no bargains can be made with truth, because truth is not negotiable. Thus he faced suffering rather than betray his conscience and not abide by the promise given to Christ and the Church.”


Pope to Thai bishops: Stand with the poor, the exploited

Bangkok, Thailand, Nov 22, 2019 / 02:30 am (CNA).- Pope Francis told bishops from Thailand and other countries in Asia Friday to stand with and intercede for their people, especially those who are affected by economic inequality or who are victims of exploitation or trafficking.

“You have taken upon yourselves the concerns of your people: the scourge of drugs and human trafficking, the care of great numbers of migrants and refugees, poor working conditions and the exploitation experienced by many labourers, as well as economic and social inequality between rich and poor,” the pope said in Bangkok Nov. 22.

“In the midst of these tensions stands the pastor who struggles and intercedes with his people and for his people.”

Pope Francis met the bishops’ conference of Thailand and members of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences during a six-day visit to Thailand and Japan, where he will fly Nov. 23.

He noted, in his speech, that the bishops of Asia “are living in the midst of a multicultural and multi-religious continent, endowed with great beauty and prosperity, but troubled at the same time by poverty and exploitation at various levels.”

Rapid technological advancement, though it can include increased possibility, can also create greater focus on consumerism and materialism, he stated.

The pope’s meeting with bishops took place in the sanctuary church of the Shrine of Blessed Nicolas Bunkerd Kitbamrung in the Sam Phran district on the western edge of Bangkok.

Blessed Kitbamrung was a Thai priest, catechist, and evangelist who helped teach Salesian missionary priests the Thai language. He was ordained a priest in Bangkok’s Assumption Cathedral, where Pope Francis will celebrate Mass with young Thais in the afternoon Nov. 22.

The Thai authorities, who were Buddhist, were suspicious of Kitbamrung and, in 1941, accused him of spying for the French during the French Indochina war, sentencing him to 10 years in prison.

He died in prison in 1944 from Tuberculosis for which he received no treatment. Kitbamrung was declared a martyr and beatified by St. Pope John Paul II in 2000.

May Blessed Kitbamrung, Pope Francis said, “inspire us with a great zeal for evangelization in all the local Churches of Asia, so that we may increasingly become missionary disciples of the Lord, enabling his Good News to spread like a fragrant balm throughout this great and beautiful continent.”

Francis also reminded the bishops that they are part of their people and “were chosen to be servants, not masters or managers.”

“This means we are to accompany those whom we serve with patience and kindness, listening to them, respecting their dignity, always promoting and valuing their apostolic initiatives,” he said.

According to Pope Francis, a missionary Church makes “service its hallmark,” and knows that it is the Holy Spirit who is in charge of the mission, not one’s own plans and strategies.

He encouraged the bishops to “cast aside” whatever is making it harder for them to renew evangelization in their countries, recognizing that some ecclesial structures and mentalities can hamper evangelization efforts.

“Even good structures are only helpful when there is a life constantly driving, sustaining and assessing them,” he said.

Notre Dame conference to focus on call to lay leadership

South Bend, Ind., Nov 22, 2019 / 12:39 am (CNA).- A professor at the University of Notre Dame has offered his reflections on lay leadership in the Church, in preparation for a conference on the subject, which will be held at the university next year.

Leadership in the Church should not be understood merely as the hierarchy, insisted John Cavadini, McGrath-Cavadini Director of the Institute for Church Life and a theology professor at the University of Notre Dame.

Rather, he said, all members of the Church, especially the laity, are called to be leaders in the New Evangelization.

This idea of lay leadership will be a major theme at the “Called & Co-Responsible” conference taking place at the University of Notre Dame March 4-6. The conference will analyze the call for lay leadership issued by popes over the last 65 years, ranging from Pope Paul VI in Vatican II to Pope Francis in Evangelii Gaudium.

“Our conference hopes to make this ‘co-responsible’ form of leadership visible as such, and at the same time to make the theology that empowers it visible as such as well,” said Cavadini.

“Lay people do not have a responsibility for mission that is limited to participating in a governance structure already fully intact, in which they are then slotted into subordinate roles,” he said. “It means that lay leadership is not limited to (though it certainly includes) ‘lay ecclesial ministry,’ which is a subordinate participation in the ministry specific to the ordained.”

He pointed to an address from Pope Benedict XVI, who spoke at the 6th Ordinary Assembly of the International Forum of Catholic Action in 2012. The pope made an important distinction between the role of the laity as “co-responsible” for the Church’s mission rather than merely “collaborators” of the clergy, he said.

Benedict XVI defined the mission of the Church as “guiding people to the encounter with Christ” and “proclaiming his message of salvation,” Cavadini said, and this is a mission that belongs to all Catholics.

“This great challenge is not presented to only a few in the Church - it is not directed to the hierarchy alone - but instead is the challenge properly belonging to all the faithful,” Cavadini said.

He also pointed to the words of Pope Francis, who has stressed the importance of formation for the laity in order for them to be equipped to fulfill their responsibilities.

“Lay people are, put simply, the vast majority of the people of God. The minority - ordained ministers - are at their service. There has been a growing awareness of the identity and mission of the laity in the Church,” Pope Francis writes in Evangelii Gaudium.

“At the same time, a clear awareness of this responsibility of the laity, grounded in their baptism and confirmation, does not appear in the same way in all places. In some cases, it is because lay persons have not been given the formation needed to take on important responsibilities.”

The “Called & Co-Responsible,” conference will delve into these questions about leadership in the Church and formation of the laity. It will consider structures for consolidating lay leadership, the difference between governance and management, what it looks like for clergy to empower the laity for leadership, and how to ensure this leadership is ordered toward the sacramental life of the Church.

“Actually, we believe the answer is just under our nose!” Cavadini said. “It is already visible in the concrete and fully ‘co-responsible’ leadership of lay people and of clergy, already striving, almost instinctively, towards this new conception of leadership that Benedict introduced and Francis has developed.”

“We want to make this striving more visible and to reflect upon it consciously,” he said.

Pope Francis asks priests, religious in Thailand to inculturate the Gospel

Bangkok, Thailand, Nov 21, 2019 / 09:21 pm (CNA).- In a meeting with priests and religious in Thailand Friday, Pope Francis urged an inculturation of the Gospel which allows it to have a “Thai face and flesh,” and not be seen as a religion only for foreigners.

“Let us not be afraid to continue inculturating the Gospel,” he said Nov. 22 in St. Peter Parish in the district of Sam Phran to the west of Bangkok.

“We need to seek new ways of transmitting the word, ways that are capable of mobilizing and awakening a desire to know the Lord,” he said, adding that he was saddened to learn that for many people in Thailand, Christianity is “a foreign faith, a religion for foreigners.”

“This should spur us to find ways to confess the faith ‘in dialect,’ like a mother who sings lullabies to her child,” he urged. “With that same intimacy, let us give faith a Thai face and flesh.”

It is about more than making translations, he said, “it is about letting the Gospel be stripped of fine but foreign garb; to let it ‘sing’ with the native music of this land and inspire the hearts of our brothers and sisters with the same beauty that set our own hearts on fire.”

He added that it is “vital that the Church today be able to proclaim the Gospel to all, in all places, on all occasions, without hesitation and without fear.”

Francis met with priests, seminarians, catechists, and consecrated and religious, including cloistered nuns, on his second full day in Thailand, part of a six-day trip to Asia. He will fly to Japan Nov. 23.

After the meeting, the pope will walk to meet Thailand’s bishops in the nearby shrine to Blessed Nicolas Bunkerd Kitbamrung, a Thai priest who died in 1944 due to three years of imprisonment by Thai authorities. He was beatified in 2000. The parish and the shrine are both located in the Catholic village of Wat Roman a Tha Kham.

In his address, Francis reflected on the encounter priests and religious must have with both the face of the Lord and the faces of their brothers and sisters they meet on the streets.

“We see them no longer as orphans, derelicts, outcasts or the despised,” he stated.

“So many of you manage to see beauty where others see only contempt, abandonment or an object of sexual gratification,” he added. “In this way, you are a concrete sign of the Lord’s mercy, alive and at work: a sign of the anointing of the Holy One in these lands.”

He urged them to be faithful to deep prayer, like that of the elderly who constantly pray the rosary.

“How many of us have received the faith from our grandparents, from seeing them doing their household chores, rosary in hand, sanctifying their entire day,” he noted. “This is contemplation in action, making God part of the little things of each day.”

The pope called them to have “apostolic fruitfulness” and to “struggle valiantly for the things that the Lord loves and for which he gave his life.”

“I would even ask you to be wounded by that same love; to have that same passion for Jesus and for his kingdom,” he said.

Pope Francis asked Catholics to remember all the catechists and consecrated men and women, now elderly, who helped to draw them “into the love and friendship of Jesus Christ” and to find their vocation.

Gratitude is important, he said. “I believe that the history of each of our vocations is marked by those people who helped us discover and discern the fire of the Spirit.”

“So let us think of them with gratitude, and, standing on their shoulders, may we too feel called to be men and women who help bring about the new life the Lord bestows on us.”

China pressures Trump to veto bill of solidarity with Hong Kong protesters

Washington D.C., Nov 21, 2019 / 05:19 pm (CNA).- After the US Congress passed a bill Wednesday showing solidarity with Hong Kong protesters, China threatened President Trump if he would not veto the legislation.

China’s foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang demanded Nov. 20 that Trump veto the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act “before it’s too late,” adding that "If the US continues to make the wrong moves, China will be taking strong countermeasures for sure,” according to al-Jazeera.

The bill was passed in the House by a vote of 417 to one.

The act shows solidarity with protesters in Hong Kong, a special administrative region on China’s coast that for a century was a British colony, until its return to China in 1997.

The agreement of Hong Kong’s return was that the region would retain its own economy and legislature, although there have been ongoing concerns about Beijing’s efforts to influence and exert pressure on Hong Kong.

Massive protests in Hong Kong began in June over an extradition bill, but have morphed into larger actions against police brutality and in favor of democracy and greater freedoms.

The legislation passed by Congress on Wednesday directs sanctions against human rights abusers in Hong Kong. It would ensure that nonviolent protesters who have been arrested or detained would not have that record held against them as a primary reason for denial of entry into the U.S.

It also seeks to hold the island’s government accountable for any U.S. technology that is transferred into the Chinese mainland for mass surveillance or policing activities by the central government.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), co-chair of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China and member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, authored the final bill S. 1838 in collaboration with the House, that passed both chambers.

Both the Chinese central government and Hong Kong’s government “continue to violate the basic rights of the Hong Kong people,” Rubio stated on Wednesday, and “the United States must make clear that we continue to stand with Hong Kongers fighting for their long-cherished freedoms.”

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) cosponsored the bill, saying it provides “additional tools to back up our long-time commitment to Hong Kong with action.”
Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), co-chairman of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, authored the companion bill to Rubio’s legislation that passed the House in October. He first introduced the legislation in 2014 amid growing concerns over the increasing influence of the Chinese Communist Party in Hong Kong.

On the Hosue floor before the vote on Wednesday, Smith noted recent abuses such as “the kidnapping of booksellers, the disqualification of elected lawmakers, and the political prosecutions of Joshua Wong, Nathan Law, Benny Tai and others.”
“Today, Hong Kong is burning,” Smith said, warning that “the brutal government crackdown on democracy activists has escalated” and that Chinese president Xi Jinping has threatened “crushed bodies and shattered bones.”

“And the Hong Kong government prefers bullets and batons over peaceful and political dialogue that would address the Hong Kong people’s rightful grievances,” Smith said.

Around 1 million took to the streets of Hong Kong in protest of the extradition bill in June; the bill would allow extradition of alleged criminals into mainland China for trial.

Although the bill was soon suspended, and then finally removed from consideration in October, the protests—largely non-violent at the outset—have continued with some outbursts of violence against both police and protesters.

Crackdowns by police that have fueled serious concerns about brutality. Authorities have used rubber bullets, tear gas, water cannons, and even live rounds in several instances as one protester was shot by police at point-blank range in a video taken Nov. 10.

Some protesters have resorted to violence against police or against other protesters, as evidenced in video showing protesters throwing Molotov cocktails at police and in one instance a masked protester setting a man on fire.

Two protesters have died in November, one falling from a parking garage during a clash between police and protesters, and another hit by a hard object from other protesters.

Some Catholics have participated in the protests as a means to fight for religious freedom. They have also expressed fears that the extradition bill could have been used by the central government to further control religion; some Catholics have been subject to a travel ban to the mainland by the central government, which is reportedly wary of mainland Catholics working with Hong Kong activists to fight for greater religious freedom on the mainland.

Local bishops have asked for an “independent commission of inquiry” to investigate police abuses and for the extradition bill to be pulled. The auxiliary bishop of Hong Kong, Joseph Ha Chi-shing, has also called for Catholics to pray the rosary and fast on Fridays for peace and reconciliation.

Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) was the lone “No” vote on the Hong Kong bill, saying on Fox Business on Wednesday that its use of sanctions against human rights abusers would “escalate” U.S.-China tensions. “You don’t pull a gun unless you’re ready to shoot it,” he said.

Federal executions put on hold while court case moves forward

Washington D.C., Nov 21, 2019 / 04:01 pm (CNA).- A federal judge on Wednesday issued a preliminary injunction halting federal executions in the U.S., saying that a challenge to the proposed execution method should be given time to receive a court ruling.

The Trump administration had announced over the summer that it was planning to resume federal executions, after a 16-year moratorium on the use of the death penalty for federal prisoners.

Attorney General William Barr ordered executions to be scheduled for five inmates on death row. Four of those inmates challenged the lethal injection protocol that was scheduled to be used. The fifth inmate had his execution halted separately in October.

U.S. District Judge Tanya S. Chutkan of the District of Columbia said Nov. 20 that the four death row inmates must have a chance to argue their case in court.

The challenge involves the use of a three-drug cocktail, which sedates, paralyzes, and stops the heart of the person upon whom it is used.

The drugs have been controversial. In several botched executions, prisoners took as long as two hours to die, and appeared to be in excruciating pain, leading to questions about whether the paralyzing drug simply gave the appearance of a peaceful death rather than actually ensuring one. Critics have argued that the execution method constitutes a form of “cruel and unusual punishment,” prohibited by the constitution.

After a series of rulings against the three-drug protocol, which was used commonly in state executions, the Obama administration in 2003 placed the federal use of the death penalty on hiatus, while the Justice Department revised execution protocols.

In resuming federal executions, Attorney General Barr announced that the adoption of a single drug protocol. However, Judge Chutkan pointed to a stipulation in the Federal Death Penalty Act requiring federal executions to be conducted “in the manner prescribed by the state of conviction.” Two of the men sentenced to die had been convicted in states using the three-drug protocol.

Pope Francis has called the death penalty a rejection of the Gospel and of human dignity, calling on civil authorities to end its use. Last year, the Catechism of the Catholic Church was revised to describe the death penalty as “inadmissible,” citing the increasing effectiveness of detention systems, the unchanging dignity of the person, and the importance of leaving open the possibility of conversion.

According to the Death Penalty Information Center, there are currently 62 federal inmates on death row.

Vatican officials: Swiss bank suspected of money laundering led to Pell conflict

Vatican City, Nov 21, 2019 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- The Holy See’s relationship with a disreputable Swiss bank triggered an internal dispute between the Secretariat of State and Vatican financial authorities. At the center of the conflict was a multimillion-dollar line of credit used to fund a controversial investment in London property speculation.

Sources inside the Vatican’s Prefecture for the Economy confirmed to CNA that a substantial part of the $200 million used to finance the Secretariat of State’s purchase of a luxury development at 60 Sloane Avenue came through credit extended by BSI, a Swiss bank with a long track record of violating money-laundering and fraud safeguards in its dealings with sovereign wealth funds. 

In 2018, BSI was the subject of a damning report by FINMA, the Swiss financial regulator, which concluded that the bank was in “serious breaches of the statutory due diligence requirements in relation to money laundering and serious violations of the principles of adequate risk management and appropriate organization.”

The bank was absorbed by the EFG Group last year. The merger was approved by FINMA on the condition that it was “fully integrated and dissolved” within a year and that no BSI employee be given a senior management role in EFG. Had the merger not been approved by FINMA, BSI would have had its banking license revoked and the business shuttered.

On Nov. 4, CNA reported that in 2015 Cardinal Angelo Becciu attempted to disguise $200 million loans on Vatican balance sheets by cancelling them out against the value of the property purchased in the London neighborhood of Chelsea, an accounting maneuver prohibited by financial policies approved by Pope Francis in 2014.

The attempt to hide the loans off-books was detected by the Prefecture for the Economy, then led by Cardinal George Pell. Senior officials at the Prefecture for the Economy told CNA that when Pell began to demand details of the loans, especially those involving BSI, then-Archbishop Becciu called the cardinal in to the Secretariat of State for a “reprimand.”

“Becciu summoned the cardinal - summoned him,” one senior official told CNA. “Pell was supposed to be the ultimate authority in monitoring and authorizing all Vatican financial business, answerable only to Pope Francis, but Becciu shouted at him like he was an inferior.”

Becciu reportedly told Pell the cardinal was “interfering in sovereign business” by looking into the Secretariat’s dealings with BSI. 

“Cardinal Pell was given to understand that as far as [Becciu] was concerned, the prefect was basically an administrative clerk and a rubber stamp, no more.”

Cardinal Becciu declined to answer questions from CNA on the topic, and Pell is incarcerated and unavailable for questions.

Pell raised the attempt to disguise the loans at the Council for the Economy, an agency led by Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Münich and charged with final oversight of Vatican financial transactions. 

One senior curial source told CNA that the issue was “noted, but no action was taken” by the council, despite the highly irregular nature or the arrangement.

One senior official at APSA, which acts as the Holy See’s reserve bank and manages the Vatican’s sovereign asset portfolio, defended the Vatican’s relationship to BSI and similar financial institutions.

“You have to understand, a lot of good can be done in those grey areas,” he told CNA. “Not everything the Church does or supports can be printed in a financial statement like a normal company. Sometimes the Church must be able to help without being seen to be helping.”

Among other charges, BSI was found guilty of allowing sovereign wealth funds to use the bank for “pass through transactions,” in which funds are transferred into a bank and passed through multiple accounts in a single day before being transferred back out again. Such activity is considered by regulators to be a clear warning sign of money-laundering. BSI was found to have systematically failed to document or investigate such transactions.

The FINMA report also highlighted instances in which BSI employees complained about the lack of transparency in handling transactions by sovereign wealth fund clients. Forbes magazine quoted one employee’s internal complaint, saying "My team is implementing these transactions without really knowing what we are doing and why and I am uncomfortable with this. […] there should be a stronger governance process around all this." No action was taken in response to this and similar complaints.

The connection to BSI comes to light as the Vatican’s own financial watchdog is struggling to assert its credibility. On Nov. 18, the president of the Financial Information Authority (AIF), René Brüelhart, resigned his post.

Although the Vatican press office characterized the departure as the end of “a five year term,” Brüelhart had not appointed for a fixed period, and he made it clear he had resigned.  

Shortly thereafter, Marc Odendall, a member of the AIF board, resigned as well, saying that the Egmont Group, through which 164 financial intelligence authorities share information and coordinate their work, had suspended the AIF.

Odendall told the Associated Press that the AIF had been effectively rendered “an empty shell” and that there was “no point” in remaining involved in its work.

The agency’s director, Tommaso Di Ruzza, was recently given a clean bill of health after a suspension which followed a raid on his office by Vatican gendarmes. That raid also targeted offices at the Secretariat of State and is believed to be part of an internal investigation into the London property deal funded by the BSI loans.

In addition to Di Ruzza, several officials at the Secretariat of State were also suspended and barred from entering the Vatican following the raids. Among them were Msgr. Mauro Carlino and Dr. Caterina Sansone, both of who have served as directors of a London holding company used by the Secretariat of State to control the London property.

Archbishop Gomez: The Church belongs to Christ

Los Angeles, Calif., Nov 21, 2019 / 11:39 am (CNA).- Following his election as president of the US bishops' conference, Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles has noted that what is of importance is not his own vision for the Church, but that of Christ.

“In interviews this week, I am getting asked a lot about my 'vision' for the Church. It is a good, sincere question. But I’m not sure it is the right question,” he wrote in a Nov. 19 column at Angelus News.

“The Church does not belong to any archbishop, even the president of the bishops’ conference. The Church does not belong to any of us. She belongs to Jesus, the Church is his Body and Bride.”

Archbishop Gomez said that the Church's mission and identity given her by Christ is “to tell the world about his life and what he has done for us, and to help them know that Jesus is the way that leads to the truth about their lives, to the love and happiness that they long for.”

The baptized “are called to be people who evangelize, disciples who are missionaries … this is the true nature of the Church. And our mission is urgent.”

The archbishop noted that our culture is confused “about the meaning of human life and freedom,” and that “there are many competing narratives now about how to find happiness and what is essential in life.”

The Church, he said, has a duty “to reach out to those who are no longer practicing any religion and also to those who come to church regularly but may not be sure what it means to be Catholic, or what the Church teaches and why.”

Archbishop Gomez called for the Church “to find new ways to propose Jesus Christ as the answer to the questions that every person holds in their hearts and minds. We need to call every man and woman to experience the full beauty of the gospel, the joy and newness of life that we have in Jesus Christ. We need to call them to find their home in the Church, in the saving mysteries of the sacraments, especially the Eucharist.”

“So, my 'vision' is that we work together — priests, deacons, seminarians, consecrated men and women, lay people in every walk of life — all of us seeking to do God’s will, spreading the good news of Jesus and his salvation and calling everyone to holiness.”

This is possible only by God's grace and “in union with Christ’s vicar on Earth,” he recalled.

Pope Francis “is leading us and calling all of us in the Church to rediscover this idea: that God has created us, and in baptism has given us a part to play in his plan of salvation — to be missionary disciples.”

Archbishop Gomez said he is honored and humbled by the support and confidence indicated by his Nov. 12 election as USCCB president.

He said the election “is a reflection of the growing diversity of the Church in this country, and I also think it is a reflection of what we are doing here in Los Angeles.”

“Certainly, the bishops recognize the presence and importance of Latinos in the Church and in our nation,” he added.

The universality of the Church is seen “in the amazing diversity of the local Church here in Los Angeles,” the archbishop stated. “But more and more, the face of the Church is changing in dioceses across the country.”

He said this is beautiful, reflecting that “Christ intends his Church to be a home for all people, God’s family on earth, with children of God from every race and culture, every nationality and language all following him and living as brothers and sisters.”

“This is the only reason the Church exists: for this great mission of calling the family of God into being, building God’s kingdom on Earth.”

Archbishop Gomez solicited prayers as he takes on the responsibility of USCCB president, and entrusted his time in the role “to the maternal care of Our Lady of Guadalupe.”

“May she intercede for us and inspire every Catholic to follow Jesus with deep love and a true desire to share his message of salvation with the people of our time,” Archbishop Gomez concluded.