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State Department: ‘Threats’ from China won’t stop US fight for Uyghur human rights

Washington D.C., Jul 14, 2020 / 12:45 pm (CNA).- The State Department on Monday said that Chinese sanctions of U.S. officials will not stop the U.S. from holding China accountable for abuses of Uyghurs.

“These threats will not deter us from taking concrete action to hold CCP officials accountable for their ongoing campaign of human rights abuses against members of ethnic and religious minorities in Xinjiang,” a state department spokesperson told CNA July 13.

Earlier on Monday, China’s foreign ministry announced sanctions on U.S. officials for speaking out about the mass detention of Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities in Xinjiang.

“It must be stressed that Xinjiang affairs are purely China's internal affairs. The US has no right and no cause to interfere in them,” Hua Chunying, spokesperson for China’s foreign ministry, said on Monday.

China sanctioned U.S. religious freedom ambassador Sam Brownback, along with the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), and Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.). China did not specify the details and scope of the sanctions, although Rep. Smith said in a press release that his sanctions denial of an entry visa into the country.

According to observers, anywhere from 900,000 to 1.8 million Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities have been imprisoned in Xinjiang, China’s far northwest province. The government has set up more than 1,300 detention camps where survivors have reported experiencing indoctrination, torture, beatings, and forced labor.

The AP reported on June 29 that many Uyghurs had also reported being forced by authorities to implant IUDs and take other forms of birth control, as well as being forced to undergo abortions and sterilizations in order to enforce China’s family planning policies. One expert told the AP that the campaign is “genocide, full stop.”

In addition, authorities have set up a system of mass surveillance in the region to track the movements of people, one that includes DNA sampling and facial recognition technology, as well as predictive policing platforms.

The bipartisan Congressional-Executive Commission on China—listed for sanctions by China—warned in its most recent annual report that authorities in Xinjiang “may be committing crimes against humanity against the Uyghur people and other Turkic Muslims.”

Rubio and Smith were among the members of Congress sanctioned by China on Monday, and they each authored versions of the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act which imposed sanctions on Chinese officials complicit in the abuses committed against Uyghurs.

Rubio’s version of the legislation was eventually signed into law by President Trump on June 17, but the administration did not immediately impose the sanctions on culpable officials.

On July 9, the U.S. issued visa sanctions against Chen Quanguo, Communist Party Secretary of Xinjiang, and two other party officials of the region, Zhu Hailun and Wang Mingshan, as well as their immediate family members.

The Treasury Department also issued financial sanctions against Chen, Zhu, Wang, and Huo Liujun, a former police official in Xinjiang, blocking their assets and entities in the U.S. and forbidding U.S. persons from doing business with them.

On Monday, China imposed sanctions on U.S. officials in response. The State Department said that the retaliatory measures “further demonstrates the CCP’s refusal to take responsibility for its actions.”

“There is no moral equivalency between these PRC sanctions and actions taken by countries holding accountable CCP officials for their human rights abuses,” the State Department said on Monday.
Smith said that in remarks on the House floor, he had accused Chinese president Xi Jinping of direct culpability in “the genocide against the Muslims” in Xinjiang.
“The U.S. sanctions Chinese officials for egregiously abusing human rights and Beijing responds by sanctioning Members of Congress for defending human rights,” he stated on Monday.


California Catholic university puts St. Junipero Serra statue in storage

Denver Newsroom, Jul 14, 2020 / 11:30 am (CNA).- A California Catholic university has placed a statue of St. Junipero Serra in storage after at least three statues of the saint have been toppled by protestors in the state.

“In response to a statement from Archbishop Gomez, an outdoor statue of St. Junipero Serra on the University of San Diego campus was moved to temporary storage after several outdoor statues of the saint have been damaged in California,” a spokesman for the University of San Diego told CNA July 14.

The university referenced a June 29 letter from Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, who wrote that while “those attacking St. Junípero’s good name and vandalizing his memorials do not know his true character or the actual historical record,” increased security precautions meant that some California churches would “probably have to relocate some statues to our beloved saint or risk their desecration.”

Public statues of the saint were in June toppled in Los Angeles and San Francisco, and on July 4, a statue of Serra on the grounds of California’s state capitol in Sacramento was torn down, burned, and beaten with sledgehammers.

“The sad truth is that, beginning decades ago, activists started ‘revising’ history to make St. Junípero the focus of all the abuses committed against California’s indigenous peoples,” Gomez wrote in his June 29 letter.

“But the crimes and abuses that our saint is blamed for — slanders that are spread widely today over the internet and sometimes repeated by public figures — actually happened long after his death.”

For its part, the University of San Diego told CNA that although he “has become a touchstone for past cruelties to the indigenous peoples of California...St. Serra, America’s first Hispanic saint and missionary who brought Christianity to these lands, worked tirelessly to eliminate oppression that was clearly a part of the mission era.”

Serra was also a founder of the city of San Diego itself. In 1769, the Mission San Diego de Alcalá was founded by Franciscan missionaries led by Serra; the city grew up around that mission.

The university told CNA that it had in the last year “addressed some of the issues surrounding the recognition of injustice to Native Americans and in the mission era.” In April, the university renamed a campus building - Serra Hall - as “Saints Kateri Tekawitha and Junipero Serra Hall.” St. Kateri Tekakwitha, a convert to Catholicism who died at 24 in 1680, is the first Native American to be canonized a saint.

In an April 17 letter, the university’s president wrote that “it is hoped that by placing these two Catholic saints together, we will recognize that indigenous peoples preceded the Catholic missionaries who settled here. It is also meant to encourage continued dialogue on the important topics of colonialization, the spread of the Catholic faith and the impact both had on Native American populations.”

A university spokesman told CNA the college had commissioned and hung tapestries of Saints Serra and Tekawitha, and hung them in the newly renamed hall.

Also in April, the university announced that it would rename a campus building to Mata'yuum, a word which means “gathering place” in the language of the Kumeyaay people native to Southern California. At the same time, the university said it would name campus plazas for St. Teresa of Calcutta and Venerable Francis Cardinal Xavier Nguyễn Văn Thuận, both of whom had visited the University of San Diego, and would work to strengthen its relationship with Missionaries of Charity working in nearby Tijuana, Mexico.

The University of San Diego was founded in 1949 by then San Diego Bishop Charles Buddy and Mother Rosalie Hill, RSCJ, of the Society of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. A Catholic university, it is now administered by a lay board on which San Diego’s bishop sits.

News that the university’s Serra statue was moved comes days after California’s San Gabriel Mission, founded by the saint, caught fire and burned Saturday night. Federal and local authorities are investigating the possibility of arson.

First federal execution in 17 years lamented as 'unnecessary and avoidable'

CNA Staff, Jul 14, 2020 / 09:50 am (CNA).- The federal government executed its first federal inmate in 17 years on Tuesday, following numerous delays and requests for clemency from the family of the victims.

Daniel Lewis Lee was executed on Tuesday morning and pronounced dead at 8:07 a.m. He was executed at the U.S. Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana. An eyewitness told the Indianapolis Star that it took approximately two to three minutes for Lee to die after the lethal injection drugs were administered.

The execution was permitted by the Supreme Court one day after a lower court blocked it due to overwhelming evidence that the drug protocol the government wanted to use causes “extreme pain and needless suffering,” including feelings of panic and the sensation of drowning as fluid accumulates in the lungs.

A Catholic organization opposed to the death penalty condemned the execution as “unnecessary and avoidable.”

“The federal government relentlessly plotted its course to execute Daniel Lee despite a historic decline in public support for the death penalty, clear opposition by the victims’ family, unwavering Catholic opposition to the restart of federal executions, and an unyielding global pandemic which has already taken more than 135,000 American lives,” said a statement from Krisanne Vaillancourt Murphy, the executive director of Catholic Mobilizing Network.

Lee was sentenced to death in the 1996 murders of a family of three, including an eight-year-old girl. He insisted upon his innocence, and his final words were, “I didn't do it. I've made a lot of mistakes in my life but I'm not a murderer. You’re killing an innocent man.”

Lee, a onetime white supremacist, along with a man named Chevie Kehoe, was found guilty of robbing William Mueller, a gun dealer in Tilly, Arkansas, of cash, ammunition, and firearms before killing him, his wife Nancy, and stepdaughter Sarah. Kehoe and Lee were part of the Aryan People’s Republic, a white supremacist group which Kehoe reportedly founded. The two reportedly planned to use the stolen goods to establish a whites-only nation.

Kehoe was sentenced to life in prison. Family members of the Muellers had requested that Lee also receive a life sentence.

In June, Nancy Mueller’s mother Earlene Peterson stated that she did not wish to see Lee executed.

“As a supporter of President Trump, I pray that he will hear my message: the scheduled execution of Danny Lee for the murder of my daughter and granddaughter is not what I want and would bring my family more pain,” said Peterson.

Family members of the victims were also concerned about the safety of doing an execution during the coronavirus pandemic, as they were nervous about traveling to a prison and being in a confined room to view the execution. Prisons have been the sites of widespread coronavirus outbreaks.

The last federal execution took place in 2003. In 2014, President Barack Obama ordered a Department of Justice (DOJ) review of the federal death penalty after several botched executions by lethal injection in states including Oklahoma and Ohio.

Last summer, Attorney General William Barr instructed the Bureau of Prisons to resume execution of federal prisoners on death row.

Two more federal inmates are set to be executed this week.

On July 7, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Bishop William Medley of Owensboro, Kentucky, Bishop Oscar Solis of Salt Lake City, Bishop Thomas Zinkula of Davenport, Iowa, and Bishop Richard Pates who is the apostolic administrator of Joliet, Illinois, all joined more than 1,000 faith leaders in calling for a stop to scheduled executions of four federal death row inmates.

“As our country grapples with the COVID 19 pandemic, an economic crisis, and systemic racism in the criminal legal system, we should be focused on protecting and preserving life, not carrying out executions,” the faith leaders stated.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 2267 on the death penalty was updated in 2018 with a statement from Pope Francis, calling the death penalty “inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person.”

Polish president Duda visits Marian shrine after narrow election win

CNA Staff, Jul 14, 2020 / 09:30 am (CNA).- Andrzej Duda visited Poland’s national Marian shrine Monday following his narrow presidential election victory.

Duda attended evening prayer at the shrine of Our Lady of Częstochowa at Jasna Góra Monastery July 13 after he emerged as the victor in a run-off with Warsaw mayor Rafał Trzaskowski.

Duda, who is associated with the ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS), won a second term as president with 51.03% of the votes, with his challenger gaining 48.97% -- a difference of 422,630 votes in a country with a population of almost 38 million.

According to local media reports, Duda was present during the Call of Jasna Góra (Apel jasnogórski), a prayer addressed to Mary, Queen of Poland, that is recited at 9pm every evening at the shrine. 

Shrine custodian Fr. Waldemar Pastusiak is reported to have acknowledged Duda’s presence, praying: “We thank you for his presence here at Jasna Góra. We thank you for his witness of faith. On the threshold of the second term, we are giving him into Your hands, Mary, and all the matters of our homeland, believing that You will always be present with him.”


Podobnie jak 5 lat temu, tuż po wyborze, na #JasnaGóra przybył @prezydentpl Andrzej Duda. Weźmie udział w wieczornej modlitwie Polaków #ApelJasnogórski. To kolejna pielgrzymka głowy państwa polskiego do #Sanktuarium

— JasnaGoraNews (@JasnaGoraNews) July 13, 2020  

Częstochowa auxiliary bishop Andrzej Przybylski also spoke, local media noted, saying: “God bless our beloved homeland, Poland, all Poles. Bless the president of the most glorious Republic in this new stage of his national service.”

“Listen, God, to the great desire of Your and our Mother, Queen of Poland of Częstochowa, that we, her Polish children, may live in harmony and unity, that we may have God in our hearts, for only He can enable us to truly love and reconcile, to wisely bond Poland together and to spiritually revive it.”

Western media reports have portrayed the 48-year-old Duda as the favored candidate of the Catholic Church. On June 10, he signed a “Family Charter” opposing same-sex marriage and adoption, and committing himself to the “protection of children from LGBT ideology.”

But in the run-up to the first round of the presidential election, the Polish bishops’ conference sought to avoid being drawn into partisan debates.

In May, the bishops addressed a dispute about whether the election should go ahead despite the coronavirus pandemic. 

They called on lawmakers to resolve the issue while upholding the principles of Poland’s constitution, emphasizing that they were not seeking to engage in “purely political disputes over the form or timing of election, let alone to advocate this or that solution.”

The Polish bishops’ conference had published no official response to the election result as of July 14.

Duda visited Jasna Góra shortly after his first presidential election victory in 2015. He also visited the shrine in March this year to take part in prayers to end the coronavirus pandemic.

'Pope Francis' hospital boat delivers aid to pandemic-hit Amazon

Rome Newsroom, Jul 14, 2020 / 09:00 am (CNA).- A hospital boat named after Pope Francis has been delivering medical aid along the Amazon River as rural communities struggle amid Brazil’s devastating coronavirus outbreak. 

“This vessel has already done great miracles in the lives of our riverside people, bringing health and hope,” Franciscan Brother Joel Sousa told the Brazilian bishops’ conference news portal.

Since the boat was inaugurated in July 2019, the medical crew has carried out 46,000 medical consultations in the communities along the Amazon River. However, in the face of Brazil’s coronavirus outbreak, the crew has shifted its focus to prevention and testing.

“We couldn’t be out of this fight. We got together, reorganized ourselves in our service so that together we could also fight against COVID-19,” Sousa said.

The coronavirus pandemic has hit Brazil hard. With nearly 1.9 million COVID-19 cases, Brazil has the second highest number of recorded pandemic fatalities in the world after the United States. 

At least 72,833 people have died of COVID-19 in Brazil as of July 14, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. 

Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro announced July 7 that he had tested positive for the coronavirus.

Vatican News reported July 14 that Pope Francis has donated four ventilators to Brazil to treat those who have contracted the virus. One of them, sent to a hospital in Marabá, a municipality in the state of Pará, will be “used especially for the Indigenous peoples,” according to the local bishop.

Despite their isolation, communities along the Amazon River have not been shielded from the outbreak. The virus has spread after two cities along the mouth of the river, Belem and Macapa, experienced outbreaks in the spring.

“We are mainly treating flu-like symptoms and mild, outpatient COVID-19 symptoms. The doctor performs the consultations and we also deliver medicines to the local health department,” Sousa said.

The hospital boat is staffed by medical volunteers, crew members, and Franciscan friars. It was founded by the Fraternity of St. Francis of Assisi in the Providence of God, in partnership with their local diocese and the Brazilian government.

The Brazilian Franciscans were inspired to create the floating hospital when Pope Francis visited their healthcare facility during World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro in 2013. During the visit, the pope encouraged Friar Francisco Belotti to expand his religious order’s charitable works into the Amazon region.

The boat, 105 feet in length, contains an operating room and analysis laboratory, and is able to provide a range of medical services, including X-rays, vaccinations, electrocardiogram, mammograms, and ultrasounds. The hospital began treating its first patients Aug. 18.

In a letter marking the boat’s launch on Aug. 17, Pope Francis, who has often spoken of the Church as a “field hospital,” said that the Church can also now be seen as a “hospital on the water.”

“Just as Jesus, who appeared walking on water, calmed the storm and strengthened the faith of the disciples, this boat will bring spiritual comfort and calm to the worries of needy men and women, abandoned to their fate,” Pope Francis said.

This report has been updated to include the popes donation of four ventilators to hospitals in Brazil.

Pro-life Texas Democrat says racial slurs won't stop his pro-life advocacy

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jul 14, 2020 / 08:25 am (CNA).-  

A pro-life Texas state senator running for re-election says he won’t be deterred by racial slurs directed against him by pro-abortion groups.

State senator Eddie Lucio, representing Texas’ 27th district in the southern tip of the state, is a Catholic pro-life Democrat from a Mexican-American family. As one of ten children who grew up attending St. Joseph Catholic church in West Brownsville, he told CNA that his upbringing “taught us family values and also to respect the sanctity of life.”

“I don’t make any excuses for that, and I don’t apologize for that,” he said of his advocacy on life issues.

Senator Lucio has been a member of the state senate since 1991, having previously served two terms in the state house. His 2020 Democratic primary race extended into a runoff in May, when he received just under 50% of the vote in a three-way race to advance to the general election.

Lucio is vying with candidate Sara Stapleton Barrera for the party’s nomination for the November general election in the July 14 runoff election; Barrera has received the endorsement of pro-LGBT and pro-abortion groups.

Pro-abortion groups such as Planned Parenthood Texas Votes PAC and the Texas Freedom Network have repeatedly referred to Lucio as “Sucio Lucio” in direct mailing campaigns and online, calling him “dirty” in an apparent reference to his politics; the term, he and others have said, is offensive to Hispanics.

“It’s been used in the past to describe a ‘dirty Mexican,’” Lucio told CNA. “I take it hard for someone to use an adjective that speaks badly of my surname that I’m very proud of. My dad was a very decent, hard-working man who contributed so much to his fellow man.” Lucio said his father was a disabled American veteran who fought in World War II in North Africa and Italy.

The groups “appropriated this offensive term, without consideration of its racist undertones, and it’s wrong to use the term to describe any person of color,” Lucio said. The opposition, he said, is “wanting to defeat me because I am pro-life.”

In a press release, Lucio’s son—a state representative—condemned the “derogatory and racial slurs.”

On July 3, the Mexican American Legislative Council said that political campaigns should “steer clear of political name calling that plays on racial, sexist, homophobic, ableist, and every form of discrimination when our country is working for social justice.”

Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville also spoke out against the use of the term in a July 3 statement.

“While not surprised that Planned Parenthood would attack State Senator Eddie Lucio’s pro-life record, I am deeply discouraged that Texas Freedom Network and others would join in this malicious kind of attack, using such derogatory language to disparage him and his family,” Bishop Flores said.

Lucio appreciated Bishop Flores’ statement, noting that he voted in lock-step with the policy prescriptions of the Texas Catholic Conference last term.

“I’m very grateful to him [Flores], and I hope that we can continue to echo the sentiments of the conference of bishops because I truly believe that they represent what’s right for our society,” he said.

Lucio says that growing up in Texas, he experienced racial discrimination first-hand.

When he arrived at a South Texas university in the 1960s, Lucio said he sat at the front of the classroom in his first-period class. The professor told him “very abruptly, and in kind of a loud voice” to stand to the side.

“What he said after that, I’ll never forget,” Lucio said. The professor instructed Mexican students to sit at the back of the classroom, while telling “black athletes” to sit in the middle, and white students to sit in the front of the classroom.

In another instance in southeast Texas, Lucio said he was told by a motel there was no vacancy despite an empty parking lot outside. “So I figured it out, that it was because of me that we weren’t going to get any rooms there,” he said.

This experience, he said, has prompted him to fight against discrimination of anyone. And this also entails learning to respect areas of genuine disagreement on policy, without resorting to name-calling as Planned Parenthood did.

“I don’t want anyone, regardless of color, regardless of religious preference, regardless of our differences—we’re human beings and we certainly deserve to be treated equally,” he said. “But,” he continued, “we also have to respect religious freedom, we have to respect things that sometimes, people don’t want to.”

Lucio says that the “biggest issue,” for him, is the issue of protecting human life— at all stages. “I support life from conception until natural death,” he said, which puts him at odds with both political parties.

“Democrats will support a woman’s right to an abortion,” he lamented, “but if the baby’s born, will throw themselves in the fire to see that they get education, health care, everything else that goes with it,” he said. “And then they’re against the death penalty, most of them,” Lucio said.

“Republicans,” he said, “are pro-life, which I’m very happy about, but sometimes there are some Republicans that we find are so hard, and so far to the right, that they don’t want to vote to expand Medicaid or to add more dollars to education or health care when it’s needed in our state.”

“And they’re for the death penalty,” the senator lamented.

Speaking of his efforts to put faith before party, Lucio said: “I try to be different, and I am different in a sense,” he said.


Interfaith campaign brewing to get Hindu god Brahma off popular beer

An interfaith coalition is pressing the world's largest brewer to remove the name of a Hindu god from a popular beer that dates to the late 1800s — a dispute the beermaker insists is a case of mistaken identity

Campaigns to discredit church preceded ’89 Jesuit murders, witness says

An expert witness has testified that the slayings of six Jesuit priests in El Salvador in 1989 was "premeditated" and preceded by campaigns to discredit the Catholic Church and the Society of Jesus.

New study: Lead poisoning from Notre Dame fire worse than first thought

When the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris went up in flames in April 2019, images were made even more dramatic by thick smoke tinged with yellow as the 460 tons of lead on the roof and spire melted.

Turkey says it rejects EU condemnation over Hagia Sophia

Turkey’s foreign minister on Tuesday chided the European Union over its condemnation of a Turkish decision to convert Istanbul’s iconic Hagia Sophia from a museum to a mosque, saying the matter is an issue of national sovereignty.