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Cardinal Turkson brings rosaries to Rome hospital treating coronavirus patients

Vatican City, Apr 3, 2020 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- Cardinal Peter Turkson visited Rome’s largest hospital on Friday, encouraging staff and handing out rosaries blessed by Pope Francis.

“I bring you the pope’s embrace. You are not alone in the fight against the coronavirus!” Turkson, who is prefect of the Dicastery for the Promotion of Integral Human Development, told hospital staff and chaplains April 3, according to a press release.

The cardinal, who was accompanied by the two undersecretaries of the dicastery, met with staff and told them he was bringing the greeting of Pope Francis to all of the coronavirus patients and their families.

The three Vatican officials also handed out rosaries blessed by Pope Francis and assured hospital personnel of “the prayer and support of the Church in this difficult moment of struggle against the pandemic and of physical and spiritual trial,” the release stated.  

Agostino Gemelli University Policlinic is Rome’s largest general hospital and a teaching hospital for the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Milan.

During the coronavirus outbreak, the Gemelli hospital is working in partnership with one of Rome’s dedicated COVID-19 hospitals, the nearby Columbus Hospital.

The hospital’s foundation started a COVID-19 research unit to help fight the virus and to coordinate the research efforts throughout Italy.

As of April 3, there are more than 3,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Rome’s region of Lazio, with nearly 1,400 of these patients being treated in the hospital. The reported number of deaths is 199.

A rosary for an end to the coronavirus was broadcast live on national Italian television from the St. Joseph Moscati chapel of the Gemelli hospital April 2. The rosary concluded with a prayer for the intercession of Pope St. John Paul II on the anniversary of his death.

'In the risen Jesus, life conquered death,' Pope Francis says in Holy Week video

Vatican City, Apr 3, 2020 / 01:30 pm (CNA).- Pope Francis on Friday sent a video message to Catholics around the world, urging them amid the global coronavirus pandemic to hope, solidarity with those who suffer, and to prayer.

“In the risen Jesus, life conquered death,” Pope Francis said in  an April 3 video, speaking about the upcoming Holy Week which will begin on Sunday, and culminate with Easter.

“We will celebrate Holy Week in a truly unusual way, which manifests and sums up the message of the Gospel, that of God’s boundless love,” the pope said.

“And in the silence of our cities, the Easter Gospel will resound,” Pope Francis said. “This paschal faith nourishes our hope.”

Christian hope, the pope said, is “the hope of a better time, in which we can be better, finally freed from evil and from this pandemic.”

“It is a hope: hope does not disappoint, it is not an illusion, it is a hope. Beside each other, in love and patience, we can prepare a better time in these days.”

The pope expressed solidarity with families, “especially those who have a loved one who is sick, or who have unfortunately experienced mourning due to the coronavirus or other causes.”

“These days I often think about people who are alone, and for whom it is more difficult to face these moments. Above all I think of the elderly, who are very dear to me. I cannot forget those who are sick with coronavirus, people who are in hospital.”

“I also remember how many are in financial straits, and are worried about work and the future, a thought also goes out to prison inmates, whose pain is compounded by fear of the epidemic, for themselves and their loved ones; I think of the homeless, who do not have a home to protect them.”

“It is a difficult time for everyone,” he added.

Amid that difficulty, the pope praised “the generosity of those who put themselves at risk for the treatment of this pandemic or to guarantee the essential services to society.”

“So many heroes, every day, at every hour!”

“Let's try, if we can, to make the best use of this time: let's be generous; let's help those in need in our neighborhood; let's look for the loneliest people, perhaps by telephone or social networks; let's pray to the Lord for those who are tried in Italy and in the world. Even if we are isolated, thought and spirit can go far with the creativity of love. This is what we need today: the creativity of love.”

More than one million people worldwide have contracted the coronavirus, and at least 60,000 have died. The pandemic has led to a global financial crash, in which tens of millions have lost jobs in recent weeks. While some parts of the world are now thought to be on the downslope of the viral spread, many nations have locked themselves down in the midst of the pandemic, or in the hope of quelling it early in its spread within their borders.

In Italy, one of the countries hardest hit by the virus, more than 120,000 people have contracted it, and there have been almost 15,000 recorded deaths from the virus. 

To conclude his video, the pope urged tenderness and prayer.

“Thank you for allowing me into your homes. Make a gesture of tenderness towards those who suffer, towards children, and towards the elderly,” Pope Francis said. “Tell them that the pope is close and pray, that the Lord will soon deliver us all from evil.”

“And you, pray for me. Have a good dinner.”

Coronavirus crisis cannot justify discrimination, bishops say

Washington D.C., Apr 3, 2020 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- The coronavirus pandemic does not justify abandoning medical ethics, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops told medical professionals in an urgent warning issued on Friday.

“Every crisis produces fear, and the COVID-19 pandemic is no exception,” said a joint statement issued April 3 in response to reports of healthcare rationing plans being drawn up in different parts of the country. 

“However, this is not a time to sideline our ethical and moral principles. It is a time to uphold them ever more strongly, for they will critically assist us in steering through these trying times.”

The statement was signed by Bishop Kevin Rhoads of Fort Wayne-South Bend, who leads the USCCB’s doctrine committee, Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas, head of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities, and Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City, chairman of the USCCB’s domestic justice and human development.

The bishops praised the “courage, compassion, and truly remarkable professional care” shown by medical workers “in a time of growing crisis.” At the same time, they encouraged them to steadfast in their principles, in the face of the challenges presented by the pandemic, including the shortage of essential medical supplies.

At least two states, Alabama and Washington, have been accused of drafting discriminatory guidance that would prioritize patients without disabilities over those with them, should there be a shortage of medical equipment, such as ventilators.

The several Catholic groups, as well as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), have condemned these proposals, pointing out they would violate human rights and anti-discrimination laws. 

“Our belief in evidence-based clinical care and public health measures should be translated through the lens of Catholic medical ethics and social teaching with respect to justice and the just distribution of scarce resources,” said the Catholic Medical Association in a statement.  

“Catholic social teaching is therefore predicated on these key principles: (1) the inherent and fundamental principle of the dignity of human life; (2) the principle of subsidiarity; and (3) the principle of solidarity.” 

The Catholic Medical Association stressed in their statement that “God does not make man the arbiter of the value of life” and that “in humility the Catholic health care worker recognizes that no choice should be made that sacrifices the innate dignity of the individual human person, even when questions about scarce resources arise.” 

The bishops said they were “grateful” for these statements, particularly the one from the Office of Civil Rights at HHS. 

On Saturday, the civil rights office at HHS issued a bulletin stating that “In this time of emergency, the laudable goal of providing care quickly and efficiently must be guided by the fundamental principles of fairness, equality, and compassion that animate our civil rights laws.” 

“As such, persons with disabilities should not be denied medical care on the basis of stereotypes, assessments of quality of life, or judgments about a person’s relative ‘worth’ based on the presence or absence of disabilities,” the bulletin said.

“We also commend the Office of Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for issuing a reminder that in a time of crisis we must not discriminate against persons solely on the basis of disability or age by denying them medical care,” said the bishops. 

“Good and just stewardship of resources cannot include ignoring those on the periphery of society, but must serve the common good of all, without categorically excluding people based on ability, financial resources, age, immigration status, or race.”

The bishops also wrote that even in a time of limited resources, medical professionals must keep the dignity of their patients in mind when making healthcare decisions. This care, they said, will often require that medical professionals consult with the patient and their loved ones in order to provide the best and most appropriate care. 

“Foremost in our approach to limited resources is to always keep in mind the dignity of each person and our obligation to care for the sick and dying,” they said. 

“Such care, however, will require patients, their families, and medical professionals to work together in weighing the benefits and burdens of care, the needs and safety of everyone, and how to distribute resources in a prudent, just, and unbiased way.”

In Japan, Church finds 16 cases of child sex abuse

CNA Staff, Apr 3, 2020 / 11:39 am (CNA).- A Japanese news agency reported Thursday that an investigation by the country's bishops' conference has found 16 cases of sexual abuse of minors by clerics, which occurred from the 1950s to 2010s.

The findings have not yet been made public, but sources familiar with the matter spoke with Kyodo News April 2.

Acts of abuse occurred in rectories, church buildings, and foster homes.

The Japanese bishops announced the inquiry a year ago, and committees were established in each of the 16 dioceses to receive claims and consultations about abuse.

In 2002 an internal survey made inquiries with the leading priest in each diocese. This resulted in two reported cases of sex abuse.

A 2012 survey aimed to be a reference point in a manual for internal use. It did not aim to investigate facts or to resolve sex abuse. Five sex abuse cases were reported then.

A 2004 survey on sexual harassment found 17 cases of “coercive physical contacts,” mostly by priests. The victims included minors. That survey had 110 respondents.

In February 2019 Pope Francis held a meeting with bishops from around the world on the sexual abuse of minors.

“Let it be clear that before these abominations the Church will spare no effort to do all that is necessary to bring to justice whosoever has committed such crimes. The Church will never seek to hush up or not take seriously any case,” he said in his 2018 Christmas greetings to the Roman curia.

Analysis: Policy and pastoral leadership in a time of crisis

Washington D.C., Apr 3, 2020 / 10:49 am (CNA).- Across the U.S., and around the world, bishops are struggling to adjust to the pastoral emergency which has accompanied the coronavirus pandemic.

In entire countries, the public celebration of Mass has been suspended, as local governments ban gatherings of even a handful of people. 

And at the same time, the pandemic and ensuing economic collapse have led many to consider seriously their mortality and the state of their soul, with even the supposedly irreligious turning to prayer in increasing numbers.

Among many Catholics, there is a hunger for the sacraments, and for the faith. Catholics are looking to their bishops for leadership. Bishops, in response, are forging attempts to address a complicated situation that few, if any, ever thought they might face. 

The results have been mixed.

Some American dioceses are, for now, allowing pastors to try to meet the needs of their flocks while conforming with government rules. Drive-through confessionals have sprung up in many parishes, as have drive-in Eucharistic adoration and benedictions. And some bishops have taken to preaching online with regularity, adoring the Eucharist on cathedral steps, or making plans for the next stage of the pandemic

But other bishops have opted to err on the side of extreme caution, locking every church building and attempting to bar the administration of all sacraments except in danger of death, even if not required by law or public health recommendation to do so.

In some dioceses, priests have been told they cannot hear confessions, at least not unless death is imminent, that they can not baptize, except in an emergency, or that, in at least one diocese, they can not anoint anyone who is dying. 

As bishops look for the right ways to lead, at least some of their priests have been struggling to adjust to the ever-tightening web of restrictions on their sacramental ministry. 

Some priests have begun to wonder, in quiet consultations and conversations, whether they’re really prohibited from offering the sacraments of mercy and healing now, when they seem most needed.

And some priests have begun considering a question they never expected to find themselves asking: ‘Should I obey my bishop?’

The patchwork of policies and guidelines circulated by chancery officials seems to have varying degrees of clarity and authority for priests, and can risk appearing pastorally distant to Catholic laity.

The orders raise a number of as-yet-unanswered canonical and pastoral questions. For example, it is not immediately apparent that a memorandum circulated by the vicar general of the diocese meets the canonical criteria to effectively suspend the faculty of every priest in the diocese to hear confessions. Nor is it clear that a bishop has the authority to prohibit the anointing of the sick. 

And lay people, at least some lay people, have begun to ask why they shouldn’t baptize their own newborn babies, or even invoke a little-used canon that would permit them to marry outside of canonical form when circumstances warrant it.

This week, a group of lay people called for bishops to find whatever ways are possible to continue the administration of the sacraments. How bishops will respond remains to be seen.

But the situation could become contentious.

Priests with whom CNA has spoken in recent days have said they want to make every effort possible to be obedient to their bishops. But some have said they’re not sure what they’ll do if a person comes to them in mortal sin seeking forgiveness, or a parishioner calls about a loved one dying at home, especially from causes that are not coronavirus, and seeking anointing. 

Even a sense that disobedience might become morally necessary could become demoralizing to priests, and lead to ecclesial dissension at a time when faithful unity seems critical. 

And the situation would become even worse if priests looking for attention or validation decide to make a spectacle of disobedience to norms they finds problematic. Such a thing would be unfortunate, but in the contemporary social media and ecclesial climate, completely unsurprising.

Priests in many places are left feeling conflicted: trying to balance a commitment to their flock with the desire to conform to the will of their bishop. 

At the same time, the impression that some bishops are out of touch with the reality facing the faithful is not helped by pastoral letters that seem more concerned with fundraising than spiritual leadership. 

Catholics are, more than ever, looking for true shepherds in a time of crisis. Responding with an approach that is too policy-heavy may leave bishops at risk of appearing to legislate from a bunker, as priests and laity struggle with spiritual and physical isolation.

Pope Francis has urged against “drastic measures,” and said he is praying that bishops will “provide measures which do not leave the holy, faithful people of God alone, and so that the people of God will feel accompanied by their pastors, comforted by the Word of God, by the sacraments, and by prayer.”

The pope also intervened in the Diocese of Rome, reopening the churches for private prayer after they were initially closed completely, and commanded international attention when he offered a special Urbi et Orbi benediction to an empty St. Peter’s square.

St. Charles Borromeo is an historical example being cited by many as a model for bishops in times of pandemic. The Archbishop of Milan closed the churches of his diocese against the plague in the sixteenth century, though he delivered the sacraments to quarantined houses himself, preached holy hours, and processed through the city with the Eucharist.

Around the world, some bishops have sought to lead by personal example, even as they scrupulously observe public health rules.

In Cologne this week, Cardinal Rainer Woelki reopened the archdiocesan seminary as a temporary center for the city’s homeless, offering shower facilities and hot food. Overseen by health workers from Malteser International, the cardinal personally welcomed guests into the center.

Meanwhile, in China, where public health restrictions have been at least as dramatic as parts of the U.S., Bishop Stephen Lee Bun-sang of Macau sat outside his house last week, wearing a surgical mask and hearing confessions from behind a screen.

Examples like the pope, Cardinal Woelki, and Bishop Lee, seem to have helped local Catholics, priests and laypeople, to feel both loved by their bishop and led in faith and service to each other, while at the same time setting examples about conforming to local regulations on social distancing.

To ensure that a public health emergency does not become a pastoral crisis, American bishops face two pressing challenges. The first is to find some coherent path forward for sacramental ministry that is neither negligent of legitimate health concerns nor heedless of real pastoral needs, and the genuine priestly desire for the administration of the sacramental life. 

The second is to reflect on how to become more visible in their ministry as shepherds, in solidarity with their people, and eager for their spiritual care. 

While doing everything necessary to prevent contagion, it may become increasingly urgent that bishops be seen to stand with Catholics and their pastors, not between them.

Bergamo bishop: In coronavirus, churches as mortuaries an 'act of tenderness'

Rome, Italy, Apr 3, 2020 / 10:01 am (CNA).- The bishop at the epicenter of Italy’s coronavirus outbreak has said churches are serving as makeshift mortuaries as there are so many dead bodies “you do not know where to put them anymore.”

In an interview with CNA’s Italian-language partner agency ACI Stampa, Bishop Francesco Beschi of the Diocese of Bergamo said the use of churches “is an act of tenderness towards people who die alone and [whose] bodies are likely to remain piled up.”

The presence of the bodies in the church “is a gift of respect and concern,” he added.

The confirmed number of COVID-19 deaths across Italy as of April 2 was 13,915, according to Italian health officials. Of these, 2,060 deaths confirmed to be from the coronavirus occurred in the wider Bergamo province during the month of March.

The bishop said deaths are “multiplying,” and while many people are dying in hospital, there are also many who die at home, and who are not registered in official coronavirus death counts. 

According to an analysis from the Wall Street Journal April 1, the number of COVID-19 deaths in Italy is likely much higher than official counts show.

Especially in the hardest-hit northern regions of the country, many people who have died outside the hospital were not tested for the coronavirus, especially large numbers of elderly living in nursing homes.

According to the WSJ report, in the city of Bergamo in March 2020 there were 553 deaths overall, among these, 201 confirmed coronavirus deaths. By comparison, in March 2019 there were only 125 total deaths in Bergamo.

“All of this is accompanied by very deep feelings,” Beschi noted.

He said one of the priests of his diocese confided in him the difficulty of losing his father to the coronavirus while his family is separated and under quarantine: “there is no funeral, he will be taken to the cemetery and will be buried, without anyone being able to participate in this moment of human and Christian piety which is now so important because it is missing.”

“Furthermore, when the patient is taken away from home with an ambulance and hospitalized among the infected or placed in intensive care, family members no longer see him, no longer hear from him, they cannot even speak to him by phone,” he added. 

“The sorrow is immense.”

Among the many victims of COVID-19 in Bergamo are priests, the bishop said, stating that at least 25 priests of his diocese have died from the virus since March 6.

He said he finds it a comforting sign, however, that 60 priests with the coronavirus seem to be on the mend.

The Bergamo diocese has more than 700 priests and Beschi said he is “in constant contact” with them through messages of support and paternal affection.

“There is an inner force even wider and deeper than evil: this is the faith that is the sap in the roots of the people of Bergamo,” the bishop said, addressing Catholics and victims of the coronavirus.

The faith, he said, “will be the firmness on which to rebuild families, on which to restart work, on which to force the lever to lift an economy crushed to the ground, on which to have the strength to heal emotional wounds, on which to lean to revisit a grief that has only been swallowed up, on which to stand to look toward the horizon and start again.”

Offering a word of hope, Beschi said “these days extend shadows of death over our common life and our families and, at the same time, we cannot help but recognize the signs of spring.”

“The resurrection is the flower that blooms and anticipates the joy of being able to taste its fruit one day. It is the bud that is blooming.”

“To die like Christ and with Christ, in the events of our life, is to make the power of love dwell in our dead,” he stated. “We do not have the strength of the love of Christ but he confers it on us.”

The bishop said Italy has been through many crises, and people always say “we must learn from mistakes, we must not repeat them.”

He added that he does not have an answer for the many losses the families of his diocese are facing and will face after this pandemic.

The two decisive elements, he said, are solidarity in sharing and the exercise of personal responsibility. “If we manage to grow, at least a fruit will have come from this terrible story.”

Vatican extends lockdown measures through Easter Monday

Vatican City, Apr 3, 2020 / 09:00 am (CNA).- The Holy See has extended its lockdown measures through April 13, the Monday of the Octave of Easter, in accordance with Italy’s recently extended national lockdown, the Vatican announced Friday.

St. Peter’s Basilica and square, the Vatican Museums, and several other public offices in the Vatican City State have been closed for more than three weeks. Originally scheduled to last through April 3, these measures have now been extended an additional nine days.

A total of seven confirmed cases of the coronavirus have been diagnosed among Vatican employees to date. 

According to a statement from Matteo Bruni, the director of the Holy See press office, departments of the Roman Curia and of the Vatican City State have continued working only “in essential, obligatory activities which cannot be deferred.”

The Vatican City State has its own legal order that is autonomous and separate from the Italian legal system, but the Holy See press office director has repeatedly said that Vatican City is implementing measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus in coordination with the Italian authorities.

During the Vatican lockdown, which went into effect March 10, the city state’s pharmacy and supermarket remain open. Instead the mobile post office in St. Peter’s Square, the photo service office, and bookstores are closed.

The Vatican continues “to ensure essential services to the Universal Church,” according to a March 24 statement.

EU’s Christian leaders warn against ‘fear and nationalism’ during COVID-19 crisis

The European Union's top Christian leaders have called for the continent to show “our joint commitment to the European project and to common European values of solidarity and unity, instead of capitulating to fear and nationalism” during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

Cardinal Parolin says he hopes closed churches will reopen soon

Vatican City, Apr 3, 2020 / 07:00 am (CNA).- The Vatican Secretary of State said Friday that he hoped churches closed because of the coronavirus crisis would be reopened “as soon as possible.”

In an interview published on the Vatican News website April 3, Cardinal Pietro Parolin also said he was disturbed by reports of Catholics dying without the Sacrament of the Sick and expressed concern about the disease’s impact on impoverished countries. 

The cardinal said: “The suspension of celebrating the liturgy was necessary to avoid large gatherings. However, in almost every city, churches remain open. I hope those that may have been closed will reopen as soon as possible. Jesus is present there in the Eucharist; priests continue to pray and celebrate Holy Mass for the faithful who cannot participate there. It is nice to think that the doors to God’s house remain open, just as the doors of our houses remain open, even though we are strongly encouraged not to go out except for essential reasons.” 

Parolin acknowledged the suffering of Catholics who are currently deprived of the Sacraments because they are living under lockdown.

“I would like to say that I share their sorrow,” he said. “But I would like to recall the possibility of making a spiritual communion, for example.” 

“Moreover, Pope Francis, through the Apostolic Penitentiary, granted the gift of special indulgences to the faithful, not only to those affected by COVID-19, but also to healthcare providers, family members and all those who care for them in various ways, including through prayer.” 

“In a vigil like this one, there is also another aspect that must be highlighted and reinforced. This is possible for everyone: to pray with the Word of God; to read, to contemplate, to welcome the Word who is coming. With His Word, God has filled the void that frightens us in these hours. God communicated Himself in Jesus, the complete and definitive Word. We must not simply fill time, but fill ourselves with the Word.”

The cardinal said he was troubled by stories of Catholics dying alone without the consolation of the Sacraments. 

“This is one of the consequences of the epidemic that, in a certain sense, upsets me,” he said. “I have read and heard dramatic and moving stories. When, unfortunately, a priest cannot be present at the bedside of a person who is dying, every baptized person can pray and bring comfort by virtue of the common priesthood received with the Sacrament of Baptism.”  

“It is beautiful and evangelical to think that at this difficult time, in some way, even the hands of doctors, nurses, healthcare providers, who every day comfort, heal or accompany the sick in their last moments, become the hands and words of all of us, of the Church, of the family that blesses, says goodbye, forgives and comforts. It is God's caress that heals and gives life, even eternal life.”

Parolin said that he was especially worried about how coronavirus would affect developing countries. 

He said: “Unfortunately, we are facing a pandemic and the virus is spreading like wildfire. On the one hand, we see how many extraordinary efforts are being made by developed countries. Many sacrifices have been made by ordinary individuals, families and national economies, to effectively tackle the health crisis and combat the spread of the virus.” 

“On the other hand, however, I must confess that I am even more concerned about the situation in the less developed countries. There, healthcare facilities are not able to ensure necessary and adequate care for the population in the event of a more widespread diffusion of the COVID-19 virus.”  

“The Holy See’s vocation is to consider the entire world. It seeks not to forget those who are farthest away, those who suffer the most, those who perhaps struggle to gain the attention of the international media.”

He continued: “There is a real need to pray and to commit ourselves, all of us, so that international solidarity never fails. Despite the emergency, despite the fear, now is not the time to shut ourselves off from others.”

Parolin confirmed that there were currently seven coronavirus cases among Vatican employees. All of them had passed the critical phase and were now improving, he said.

The cardinal, who works closely with Pope Francis, said that the pope was searching for new ways to reach out to people suffering around the world. 

“Pope Francis is seeking every way possible to be close to people throughout the world,” he said. “Contact with people has always been fundamental for him, and he intends to maintain this, even if in a new and unprecedented way.” 

“The daily live broadcast of the Holy Mass from Santa Marta is a concrete example. The constant prayer for the victims, their families, healthcare personnel, volunteers, priests, workers, families is another. All of us collaborators are trying to help him maintain contact with the Churches in all the countries of the world.”

He explained that Vatican officials were seeking to ensure that as many people as possible could follow the liturgies of the Easter Triduum while confined to their homes.

“We have studied different options than the traditional ones,” he said. “In fact, it will not be possible to welcome pilgrims, as has always been the case. In full respect of the regulations to avoid infection, we will try to celebrate the great Rites of the Easter Triduum in order to accompany all those who, unfortunately, will not be able to go to church.”

Trump campaign kicks off Catholic voter outreach project

President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign is ramping up its courtship of Catholic voters ahead of a likely November matchup against a devout Catholic Democrat, former Vice President Joe Biden.