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UN rights office: Myanmar junta's violence amounts to crimes against humanity

The UN rights chief urges the international community to redouble its efforts to restore democracy in Myanmar before it is too late.

Salvadoran archbishop thanks president for promise not to approve pro-abortion constitutional changes

Nayib Bukele, president of El Salvador. / Presidencia SV

San Salvador, El Salvador, Sep 23, 2021 / 17:00 pm (CNA).

The Archbishop of San Salvador thanked Saturday the president of El Salvador, Nayib Bukele, for his commitment not to approve abortion, gender ideology, or euthanasia in the constitutional reforms outlined by his government. 

In his homily at a Sept. 18 Mass for the nation’s bicentennial, Archbishop José Luis Escobar Alas, who is also president of the Salvadoran bishops’ conference, said that “we want to take this moment to thank the president of the republic for the commitment he has expressed not to amend those articles of the Political Constitution relating to respect for human life from its conception to the final phase of human existence, in a natural way.”

The prelate also thanked Bukele "for his commitment not to approve euthanasia, as well as his commitment to defend respect for marriage as a bond established by God between a man and a woman."

The archbishop was responding to a Sept. 17 Facebook post by Bukele saying, “I have decided, so that there is no doubt, not to propose any type of reform to any article that has to do with the right to life (from the moment of conception), with marriage (keeping only the original design, a man and a woman) or with euthanasia.” 

A coalition of 75 pro-life and pro-family organizations had on Sept. 13 asked Bukele to reject such proposed reforms. And more than 26,000 people signed an online petition launched by CitizenGO which warned of the dangers in the proposed reform.

The constitution of El Salvador recognizes in Article 1 "as a human person every human being from the moment of conception."

The proposed reform was intended to add the term "in general", which could open the doors to the decriminalization of abortion.

In addition, it sought to impose euthanasia by establishing "the right to a previously consented death with dignity."

The proposed reform also aimed to eliminate the mention of the union between "a man and a woman" in Article 33 which talks about family relationships, and adds to Article 32 that the family will be protected "whatever form it may take."

The Salvadoran bishops’ conference expressed Sept. 13 its opposition to any attempt to open the door to abortion, euthanasia, or gender ideology.

However, pro-life groups have warned that the proposed constitutional reform, with the modifications offered by Bukele, still opens the door to gender ideology and threatens religious freedom.

The Salvemos a la Familia platform urged in a recent statement that there be no change to “Articles 25, 26, 57 and 58 of the current Constitution in relation to the fundamental right of religious freedom and the right of parents as the first, primary and irreplaceable educators of their children to decide the education that they consider most appropriate.”

More companies speak out against Texas’ pro-life law

null / Pe3k/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., Sep 23, 2021 / 16:01 pm (CNA).

Yelp, an online directory for food and businesses, is reportedly planning to “double match” employee contributions to pro-abortion groups opposing the new Texas Heartbeat Act, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The Texas Heartbeat Act, which went into effect on Sept. 1, prohibits most abortions after the detection of a fetal heartbeat and is enforced through private lawsuits. Women who have an illegal abortion cannot be sued under the law.

More companies have begun speaking out against the law in recent days, and Yelp will now reportedly double match employee donations to Planned Parenthood, or similar organizations, in October. Yelp did not respond to CNA’s request for a comment by publication.

When the Texas law originally went into effect on Sept. 1, few companies were quick to speak out. 

Ride-hailing services Lyft and Uber were two of the earliest corporations to enter the debate. Lyft, in a Sept. 3 statement, said the law “is incompatible with people’s basic rights to privacy, our community guidelines, the spirit of rideshare, and our values as a company.”

Now, however, a new collaboration of brands and organizations have signed a joint statement against the pro-life law, called “Don’t Ban Equality in Texas: It's time for companies to stand up for reproductive healthcare.” The companies say that restricting abortion goes against their values and is “bad for business.”

Yelp was one of the 52 companies to sign the statement, along with Patagonia, Ben and Jerry’s Homemade inc., Bumble, Lyft, VICE media group, and others. The companies stated that “restricting access to comprehensive reproductive care, including abortion, threatens the health, independence, and economic stability of our workers and customers.”

According to the joint statement, abortion restrictions cause economic losses which cost the state of Texas $14.5 billion. The statement added that “nationally, state level restrictions cost state economies $105 billion dollars per year,” citing the Institute for Women’s Policy research.

“The future of gender equality hangs in the balance, putting our families, communities, businesses and the economy at risk,” the statement said.

According to the Washington Post, “according to people familiar with the matter, Starbucks and Microsoft Corp. declined to be included in the statement.

The CEO of Salesforce.com., Marc Benioff, told ABC News in an interview that his company would help Texas employees move out of the state “if they don't like where they are.”

The Wall Street Journal also reported that it viewed an email from the CEO of Dell Technologies to employees, which said, “There is a lot happening in Texas right now. We’re all feeling it.” 

The email from CEO Michael Dell reportedly said that “There’s much we still don’t know about how all of these laws will ultimately play out.”

In response to the Texas law going into effect, President Joe Biden promised a “whole-of-government” effort to maintain abortion in Texas. The Justice Department subsequently filed a lawsuit in federal court over the law, saying the state acted “in open defiance of the Constitution” in restricting “most pre-viability abortions.”

This week, a Texas doctor was sued by two non-Texas residents after he admitted to performing an abortion in violation of the state law. The case appears to be the first legal action taken under the law. 

Bill to codify Roe called one of most ‘extreme’ abortion bills seen in U.S.

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In a 218-211 vote Sept. 24, the U.S. House passed what opponents consider one of the most extreme abortion bills ever seen in the nation -- the Women's Health Protection Act.

"This bill is far outside the American mainstream and goes far beyond Roe v. Wade," Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., co-chairman of the Congressional Pro-Life Caucus, said in remarks ahead of the vote. "This bill constitutes an existential threat to unborn children and to the value of life itself.”

H.R. 3755 codifies the U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion nationwide. The measure establishes the legal right to abortion on demand at any stage of pregnancy in all 50 states under federal law.

"For the first time ever by congressional statute, H.R. 3755 would legally enable the death of unborn baby girls and boys by dismemberment, decapitation, forced expulsion from the womb, deadly poisons or other methods at any time until birth," he said,

"A significant majority of Americans are deeply concerned about protecting the lives of unborn children," the Catholic congressman said.

He pointed to a 2021 Marist Poll that found 65% of Americans want Roe v. Wade "reinterpreted to either send the issue to the states or stop legalized abortion.”

The bill nullifies: requirements to provide women seeking abortion with specific information on their unborn child and on alternatives to abortion; laws requiring a waiting period before a woman receives and abortion; laws allowing medical professionals to opt out of providing abortions; and laws stating that only licensed physicians can perform abortions.

"This deceptively named bill is the most extreme pro-abortion bill our nation has ever seen," Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, chairman of the U.S. bishops' pro-life committee, said Sept. 24. "H.R. 3755 is not about the health of women, but only about eliminating any and all protections for unborn children -- including baby girls.”

If it became law, "it would lead to the deliberate destruction of millions of unborn lives, leaving countless women with physical, emotional and spiritual scars," he said in a statement.

"This bill assumes that abortion can be the only, or best, solution to a crisis pregnancy" and "is built on a false and despairing narrative that utterly fails women," he continued. "In treating abortion as the moral equivalent to the removal of an appendix, this proposal is radically out of step with the American public.”

"As a nation built on the recognition that every human being is endowed by its Creator with the unalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, this bill is a complete injustice," Archbishop Naumann said.

"Congress should embrace public policy that respects the rights of mothers, their children and the consciences of all Americans," he added, "not advance a radical 'abortion on demand until birth' policy that is completely out of step with our country's principles.”

The Senate version of the Women's Health Protection Act, S. 1975, is not expected to pass, but sponsors of the House bill said their vote still sends a message about the outrage they say has been felt by women over the new Texas law banning abortion after six weeks.

The vote also comes ahead of the Dec. 1 oral arguments to be heard by the high court in in an appeal from Mississippi to keep its ban on abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

Supporters of the law are urging the court to reexamine its previous abortion rulings, including Roe.

"In the United States, the tragically pervasive acceptance of abortion has resulted in more than 62 million abortions since Roe v. Wade," Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of Arlington, Virginia, said in a statement.

"Still, today the U.S. House of Representatives voted to impose abortion on demand nationwide -- and thus double down on daily murder of the defenseless -- by passing the false and deceptively named 'Women's Health Protection Act,'" he said Sept. 24.

"Let us be clear: Abortion harms women and ends the life of a child; it is not health care, and it protects no one," he said. "Health and protection are about healing, defending and saving lives, not destroying them.”

National pro-life leaders were quick to respond to the House vote, including Jeanne Mancini, president of March for Life, who said that "pro-abortion Democrats have revealed their true vision for abortion policy in America" by pushing legislation she also called "deceptively named.”

All House Democrats but one voted for H.R. 3755; no House Republicans voted for it.

If President Joe Biden, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., "and their allies get their way, the United States will soon be indistinguishable from North Korea and China on the human rights issue of abortion," Mancini said.

Biden and Pelosi are both Catholics who support legal abortion and have vowed to see Roe codified in federal law.

Regarding the bill's provision invalidating all state laws, National Right to Life's president Carol Tobias noted that "the 10th Amendment, which gives each state the right to set its own policy, is in the U.S. Constitution. Abortion is not.”

"Only abortionists and abortion providers like Planned Parenthood benefit from this legislation," she said in a statement. "Tragically, the losers in this debate are the mothers and their unborn babies.”

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, in a conference call with reporters ahead of the vote called the House action a "completely extreme approach at the moment the country is moving in the opposite direction.”

Father Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life, also decried the House vote, adding: "“We are grateful that the U.S. Senate will be a firewall against this radical bill, and grateful for the role of the filibuster in saving America from such dangerous legislation.”

A few days before the House vote, San Francisco's archbishop said the bill allowed "nothing short of child sacrifice.”

The "misnamed" measure "shows to what radical extremes the supposedly 'pro-choice' advocates in our country will go to protect what they hold most sacred: the right to kill innocent human beings in the womb," Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone said in a Sept. 21 statement.

Denver Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila also weighed in with a statement a day later, echoing the San Francisco prelate in urging the bill be defeated.

"Today, the abortion industry and its supporters are pushing one of the most extreme national abortion bills this country has ever seen, and doing it under the lie that abortion is a form of health care that must be protected and promoted," he said.

Early Sept. 24, Archbishop Cordileone tweeted: "Morning Prayer: On this day when our U.S. Congress votes on whether to strip all the unborn of all protections in all fifty states, May the Martyrs of Chalcedon, who refused even a pinch of incense to the Pagan God of War, Pray for us.”

Collegiality, synodality needed to face challenges in Europe, bishops say

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Heads of several bishops' conferences and councils around the world called for greater collegiality and communion among bishops to confront the challenges facing the church in Europe and across the globe.

Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, who addressed the plenary assembly of the Council of European Bishops' Conferences Sept. 24, called on the bishops to "support one another in communion in order to bear witness to the Lord's presence in all areas of life on our continent, which seems increasingly to be forgetting its history and its roots.”

The time of preparation for the 2023 world Synod of Bishops, which will reflect on synodality, communion, participation and mission, will be a "propitious occasion to reflect on the work of evangelization that awaits us in the face of the challenges of our present time, which is also in need of knowing the immutable truth of Christ and the Gospel," Cardinal Parolin said.

The Sept. 23-26 plenary of the Council of European Bishops' Conferences, which is comprised of the presidents of 33 national bishops’ conferences and a dozen other Eastern- and Latin-rite bishops from across the continent, was held in Rome.

The meeting marked the council's 50th anniversary and was a time to review its service to the continent in the light of Pope Francis' encyclical, "Fratelli Tutti, on Fraternity and Social Friendship.”

Pope Francis presided over the opening Mass of the plenary assembly Sept 23. Among those notably absent was Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, president of the council, who was diagnosed with COVID-19 and forced to remain in isolation.

In a message to the assembly, Cardinal Bagnasco echoed comments he made to Vatican News Sept. 23 when he said he was experiencing "a mild case" of COVID-19 and that his "extremely light" symptoms were thanks to the vaccinations he received in May.

Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, also addressed the assembly. He expressed his gratitude for the council's example "of communion and episcopal cooperation in Europe" throughout its 50 years.”

"In spite of conflicts over the course of centuries, in spite of the secularization and atheism present in its territory, there is still in Europe a breeding ground for faith that is always alive and capable of a new flourishing of communion and mission," Cardinal Ouellet said.

He also said European bishops must face the challenge of "offering our faithful and the suffering humanity of our time an understanding of man originating precisely from the Trinitarian mystery in its entire broad formulation; a vision filled with hope that so far has been almost held back or concealed out of little enthusiasm for the enlightening power of God’s word.”

In a written message, Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, reflected on the council's "great contribution" to humanity in promoting "the truth about the human person, created in the image of God and the universal values of freedom, equality and justice for all.”

"Through your work, the church has truly served as the 'soul' of Europe and a sign of hope for the entire world," Archbishop Gomez said.

Peruvian Archbishop Héctor Miguel Cabrejos Vidarte of Trujillo, president of Latin American bishops' council -- also known by its Spanish acronym, CELAM -- also sent a message to the assembly.

Drawing from the experience of the Latin American bishops, Archbishop Cabrejos urged greater collegiality and synodality not only among bishops, but also with laypeople and religious men and women in the church.

"A model for renewing collegiality in the light of synodality is taking shape and it involves walking together as brothers and sisters in faith, as members of God's people," he said.

New full-time chaplain, new location breathe life into Detroit campus ministry

Our Lady of the Rosary’s former convent serving as home base for ministry that’s in ‘rebuild mode’ after a year spent remote

DETROIT  With more students back to in-person classes, college is starting to feel more normal in Metro Detroit. 

At Wayne State University in Detroit’s Midtown, that includes the Catholic campus ministry, which is beginning the academic year with signs of hope, including a new location, a new website and a new priest. 

The Catholic campus ministry at the university, in partnership with the Archdiocese of Detroit, is making changes to broaden its reach and become a hub for Catholic college students across the region. 

For one thing, the Detroit Catholic Campus Ministry office moved this summer from the seventh floor of the Wayne State University Student Center to nearby Our Lady of the Rosary Church on Woodward Avenue. The center’s location is part of a move to make campus ministry accessible not only to Wayne State students, but students at surrounding colleges in the area, primarily Wayne County Community College and the College for Creative Studies. 

“Wayne State’s campus was cracking down on a lot of stuff — primarily having students from other colleges on campus for events — and we wanted to reach out to more of the surrounding colleges,” said Blake Smith, a senior electrical engineering student at Wayne State who serves as president of Detroit Catholic Campus Ministry

Blake Smith, president of Detroit Catholic Campus Ministry and a senior at Wayne State University, mans a root beer keg during a social event on the grounds of Our Lady of the Rosary Church. Smith said this is a year of transition for Catholic campus ministry, which is no longer headquartered at the Wayne State Student Center, but instead on the church’s grounds.

Moving the campus ministry student center to the former Our Lady of the Rosary convent is part of an effort to create student centers as “open houses” for Catholic college students to come to pray, study, socialize or just relax around like-minded students. 

“This is really a year of building; that’s the theme of the year,” said Fr. Matthew Hood, installed July 1 as Catholic campus ministry chaplain for Wayne State and the surrounding colleges. 

Fr. Hood is the first archdiocesan priest to be assigned as a full-time chaplain to Catholic college students — at least in several years. Priests from the Companions of the Cross religious community previously ministered at Wayne State, but Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron’s decision to designate a full-time diocesan priest isn’t lost on Fr. Hood. 

“Over the past year, it’s been difficult to have campus ministry after there wasn’t a whole lot of events on campus. Before I came here, there was no in-person learning. So, this year, what I’m mostly working on is trying to build a community to work to reach out and evangelize college students,” said Fr. Hood, who previously ministered at St. Lawrence Parish in Utica. 

The unified Detroit Catholic Campus Ministry is currently operating out of two locations: the center at Our Lady of the Rosary and the Gabriel Richard Newman Center next to the University of Michigan-Dearborn, which also serves students at nearby Schoolcraft College and Henry Ford Community College. 

The effort has been bolstered by the presence of FOCUS — the Fellowship of Catholic University Students — which sent missionaries to Wayne State last year. The vibrant campus ministry apostolate, which has more than 800 missionaries serving on more than 170 campuses nationwide, was vital in helping ministry efforts stay active during last year’s pandemic-induced shutdowns.

“FOCUS has had a tremendous impact on our community,” said Lucy Bemiss, a senior at Wayne State and vice president of Detroit Catholic Campus Ministry. “At the beginning of COVID, we lost our two full-time chaplains when they were relocated. Our chaplains really did everything from marketing to evangelization on campus; it was never a student-run organization. 

“When FOCUS came in, with Blake and I on board, they were incredible with putting our community back together with what was left of ministry during the (pandemic),” Bemiss added. “From there, they really cemented relationships and formed a community we can continue to build.” 

The rectory of Our Lady of the Rosary now serves as a student center for Detroit Catholic Campus Ministry. The center is open five days a week and intended to be a place of prayer, study, recreation and socialization for Catholic college students from Wayne State, the College of Creative Studies, Wayne Country Community College District and other institutions. 

With students finally back on campus for classes and activities, many are looking for more person-to-person contact after a year of remote classes and now-tiresome “Zoom happy hours,” Smith said.

“It’s been so good to have in-person classes and stuff like that,” Smith said. “As a Catholic group, we went to the Wayne State student organization fair, and everyone was there. It’s great for our organization to get our name out there, to meet students who haven’t connected with us yet or who are looking to reconnect after a year of being distant.” 

Getting back to the basics with regularly scheduled Masses, confession times, Bible studies, adoration opportunities and fellowship is really the goal for the rebuilding ministry, Fr. Hood said. Detroit Catholic Campus Ministry also has a new website and Instagram account where events and liturgies are posted.

“One of the first priorities is trying to make sure both student centers are open as much as possible (Wayne State’s is open Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Friday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.; while UM-Dearborn’s is open Monday through Wednesday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.),” Fr. Hood said. “We want students throughout the day who are looking for a home base on campus to stop by and meet other students who are seeking to grow closer to the Lord.”

Fr. Matthew Hood, in his first year as full-time chaplain for Detroit Catholic Campus Ministry, said having a robust, unified campus ministry is crucial to helping Catholic college students find fellowship and a place to grow in faith during their first years away from home. 

Fr. Hood participated in student fairs at Wayne State and UM-Dearborn, working to re-establish campus ministry at both schools and be available for students with questions about campus ministry or the faith in general. 

“We reached out to a good number of students at the fair, informing people about the changes,” Fr. Hood said. “The goal is to be present on campus as much as possible because that’s where the students are.” 

An effective campus ministry is critical to the Church’s missionary evangelization efforts, Bemiss said. 

“I think this is the perfect time to recruit young adults in one of the most crucial formation moments of their lives,” Bemiss said. “This is a time when students are either falling away from the Catholic Church or growing in it. And they need supportive communities, resources to grow in the faith.” 

Away from their parents and home for the first time, college is often the first chance for many students to find themselves and who they are, Fr. Hood said.

Catholic college students socialize during a “root beer kegger” at Our Lady of the Rosary Church in Detroit on Sept. 12. Blake Smith, president of Detroit Catholic Campus Ministry, said face-to-face events are critical this year after last year was filled with online classes and remote happy hours. 

“College students are at a point in their lives where they are trying to figure out questions about their careers and make big life decisions,” Fr. Hood said. “They are asking deeper questions about their life — questions all of us have in the depths of our hearts, looking for truth, looking for answers. 

“Campus ministry, I think, can be an opportunity to meet students at that level who are looking for truth, looking for direction, so they might come to know Christ as the answer to those questions and grow in relationship with Him.” 

Detroit Catholic Campus Ministry

To learn more about Detroit Catholic Campus Ministry, including Mass and confession times, Bible studies, social events and volunteer opportunities, visit detroitcatholiccampusministry.org.

USCCB, Catholic Charities ramp up efforts to welcome Afghan refugees

Afghan refugees are being processed inside Hangar 5 at Ramstein Air Base in Germany, Sept. 8, 2021. / Olivier Douliery/POOL/AFP via Getty Images.

Denver Newsroom, Sep 23, 2021 / 15:01 pm (CNA).

Over the next several months, the USCCB and Catholic Charities locations across the U.S. will welcome upwards of 7,500 refugees from Afghanistan.

The USCCB is one of nine resettlement networks in the United States, and it partners with 45 Catholic Charities agencies across the country to provide resettlement services.

“For the past few weeks, we've been trying to coordinate and help ready our network to be able to respond to an increased number of vulnerable Afghans being resettled throughout our network,” said Rachel Pollock, director of resettlement services for the USCCB Office of Migration and Refugee Services.

The influx of refugees is a result of the recent departure of United States forces from Afghanistan. Many refugees fled the country during a two-week period between when U.S. President Joe Biden announced the end of the war in Afghanistan Aug. 14 and the Taliban’s deadline to withdraw troops from Afghanistan by Aug. 31. The United States then scrambled to deploy more military units to Kabul to facilitate its diplomatic and humanitarian evacuation.

In an interview with CNA, a refugee, who cannot be named for security reasons, shared that she had to leave Afghanistan because her husband worked for the U.S. Army for eight years as an interpreter.

“It was dangerous for anyone who worked with the U.S. because the Taliban saw them as traitors to their country and traitors to the religion of Islam,” she said. “If someone is a traitor, he has no right to be alive. My husband’s life was in danger.”

The refugee and her husband spent two days and one night outside the Kabul airport, and a couple days inside the airport with “scarce water and food,” she said.

“The Taliban were beating us with wooden stakes and firing on us to control the people,” she said.

The refugee left her family members and a “country where we were free together,” she said, referring to the time before the Taliban assumed control of Afghanistan.

“It’s painful to leave home,” she said. “I only share my tears with my daughter and husband.”

While she was able to leave Afghanistan because of her husband’s work, she is faced with starting over in the U.S., with little-to-no communication with her family back home out of fear for their safety.

“There was no time for people to get their affairs in order, to say ‘goodbye,’” said Stephen Carattini, president and CEO of Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Arlington.

Carattini, who has worked in refugee resettlement since 2004, said this time is different from what he has experienced over the last several years of helping to resettle refugees.

“This is very traumatic,” he said. “We're talking to people who were in Kabul just last week or two weeks ago under those terrible circumstances at the airport, and who have been separated from loved ones. This is all happening in real time, so prayer is critical and vital for the people of Afghanistan, for these folks who have been forced to flee their homes under such dramatic circumstances.” 

Previously, Carattini said, Catholic Charities would have received notification that refugees were arriving at the airport in the U.S., so they could organize housing, provide culturally appropriate food, and even greet them at the airport. With the pace and scale of the evacuation this time, they are having to move much more quickly in locating resources and preparing for their arrival.

“Since 2008, we’ve settled over 4,000 men, women and children from Afghanistan in our diocese, and typically, in the last few years, we've been resettling approximately 350 a year,” said Carattini. “Now, obviously we're in a different world. In the last two months alone, we’ve received over 200 Afghan SIV holders, and we’re anticipating a significant number to come.” 

Pollock thinks the refugees will begin traveling to their final destination—where Catholic Charities will be awaiting their arrival—in the next couple weeks. When the refugees arrive, volunteers and employees of Catholic Charities will help them secure housing, reconnect with family members, enroll in school, find employment, and begin life anew in the United States.

“We’ll all have to work together to build as much capacity as we possibly can,” she said. “It’s not often that we get to respond to a crisis of this magnitude in our local communities. It’s a great opportunity to put into practice our commitments. There’s a lot of opportunity for us to embrace, to respond to the call, to respond with love.”

According to the White House, the United States airlifted more than 120,000 people out of Afghanistan before the withdrawal of U.S. forces was complete. The refugees arrive in the U.S. through various military bases, where they go through processing, which includes both security and health screening.

Pollock said the USCCB becomes involved once the processing has been completed, to help determine where in the Catholic Charities network is best for the family.

Currently, only refugees with a current Special Immigrant Visa are eligible for benefits and financial assistance through Catholic Charities. Refugees designated as “parolees,” either because they are an asylum seeker or because their SIV had not been processed, do not have access to the same benefits.

Obtaining a SIV is a years-long process which requires referrals from the military, background checks, security clearance, letters, and an interview, among other steps, said Tom Mrosko, director of the Office of Migration and Refugee Services for Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Cleveland.

“The goal was to evacuate all the SIVs, the folks that were pending SIV status, and then about 50,000 other individuals through a humanitarian parole process,” said Mrosko. “So you have the typical SIV and refugee side of things that is occurring in tandem with these parolees, but without having the ability to work right away, nor with some of the financial resources that an SIV or refugee would receive the minute they get here. We’re really trying to think outside the box.”

Cleveland, like other Catholic Charities locations, is relying heavily on the generosity of the community to find free or very low rent accommodations for those who are arriving.

“This is a different type of challenge, but the support for us has been tremendous,” Mrosko said.

They are also preparing to support the mental health of the refugees.

“I would imagine a lot of these individuals will be grieving what they’ve lost and who they’ve left behind just two weeks ago,” Mrosko said. “I’m sure mentally they weren’t preparing for an evacuation quite like this.”

In addition to having immigration lawyers and Department of Justice accredited representatives, Catholic Charities in Cleveland has counselors and psychologists on staff, as well as a Survivors of Torture Program to support any individual who has been tortured outside the U.S.

“This is right in line with Catholic social teaching, it goes back to the Gospel that we should provide safety and comfort and food to those in need,” Mrosko said. “We’re all created in the image of Christ and there’s a dignity in all of us, no matter where you are from.”

For Catholic Charities in the Diocese of La Crosse, providing an opportunity to recreate is another key priority. They are working alongside the USCCB to establish Morale, Wellness and Recreation centers at Fort McCoy, one of the military bases receiving refugees from Afghanistan. The goal of the MWR is to provide a place where people can build community with other refugees and have space to relax, said Karen Becker, director of marketing for Catholic Charities in La Crosse.

“One of the things we're going to be doing as a wellness center is offering women a space where they can come and have afternoon tea, and be able to build female relationships; and have people play with their children to give them a little bit of respite and mental health care as well,” Becker said. “There's a lot of trauma in these folks' lives, and whatever normalcy we can try to offer back to them is part of what we do.”

The kids at Fort McCoy are starting to recognize Becker’s truck, she said, because she often brings soccer balls, sidewalk chalk, games, and other toys with her, all of which have been donated by community members.

“I have seen such an incredible outpouring of generosity,” Becker said. “We asked for diapers, and we got boxes and boxes and boxes of diapers. The next day, I asked for flip-flops and I got inundated with flip-flops. When it rained, we had people bringing us rain ponchos.”

At Fort McCoy, base officials determine which buildings are available for housing and other services for the refugees. Then a team of relief organizations, Catholic Charities among them, come in to establish “neighborhoods,” Becker said, which include an MWR, a Red Cross distribution site, medical services, and other supplies.

“Many times, when we look at where we provide services in a disaster, we think, ‘Let's give them food, let's get them clothing, let's get them housing, and those are the very basic needs, but, on top of that then comes being able to offer humor, and human connection,” she said.

Catholic Charities of Eastern Oklahoma is planning to resettle 25 to 50 families of the 800 refugees who are expected to arrive in Oklahoma in the coming weeks. Though the number seems small in comparison to other locations, it is a “really big deal for those 25 to 50 families,” said Father Brian O’Brien, pastor of St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Stillwater, Oklahoma.

“We saw the pictures, we saw what was happening and is still happening in Afghanistan—people who didn't get on those planes are being arrested and killed,” said Father O’Brien. “That's these people. If they were still there, that's what would be happening to them.”

Additional locations are needed to welcome refugees, said Father O’Brien, because some of the places that would have said “Yes”, California and the Gulf coast, are not able to because of recent hurricanes and wildfires.

“Normally, those places would be onboard and ready to go, but they don’t have housing because the housing is being used by displaced people,” he said. “It’s very complex and fast moving, and it shows our interconnectedness that we often take for granted.”

Father O’Brien said the effort is about the goodness of the Church and her willingness to help people.

“Most will have obviously never been to the United States, and many won't speak English, but they're fleeing for their lives and we have a chance to help them,” said Father O’Brien. “We’re in this because we love people and we want to help them in whatever way we can. It’s what Jesus would have us do.”

How Texas Catholics pushed to expand support for mothers

null / Prostock-studio/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., Sep 23, 2021 / 13:15 pm (CNA).

In addition to two major pro-life bills, the Texas Catholic Conference has successfully pushed for better support  for pregnant and postpartum mothers and their families. This reaffirms that pro-lifers care about women and families, and not only unborn children, says the conference’s executive director. 

“I think from a Catholic perspective, it's very clear. And at the legislature, the legislators on both sides of the aisle are very aware that the Catholic bishops support the dignity of all human life from conception to natural death,” said Jennifer Allmon, executive director of the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops, in an interview with CNA on Wednesday. 

Allmon noted that the state’s Catholic dioceses operate about 40 of more than 200 pro-life pregnancy centers in Texas, assisting women and their children for up to five years after birth. The conference itself has consistently advocated for policies that would directly assist women and their families, she added. 

The Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops is the public policy arm of the state’s bishops. Texas has 15 Catholic dioceses, as well as the Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter.

While much notice has been given to the recently-enacted “Heartbeat Act” in Texas, which bans abortion after the detection of a fetal heartbeat, Allmon said that other pro-life legislation was passed during the state’s last legislative session. In addition to the Heartbeat Law, the legislature passed a “trigger ban” on abortion that will go into effect should Roe v. Wade be overturned at the Supreme Court. 

Thus, the state’s Catholic dioceses knew they had to be prepared to support women in unexpected pregnancies, who might no longer have abortions because of the laws. 

“Many of our dioceses have engaged deeply in the ‘Walking With Moms in Need’ program that USCCB has launched,” she said. The program is meant to help parishes reach out to and assist local women in unexpected pregnancies. Texas dioceses have been working since early in 2021 on a deeper engagement with the program, she said.

The Texas Catholic Conference “aggressively” supported the state’s expansion of Medicaid benefits for women who have just given birth, Allmon said. 

Previously, mothers in the state were able to receive Medicaid benefits until their child was 60 days old; that eligibility period has now been expanded to six months.

The previous 60-day limit was problematic, Allmon explained, as many postpartum issues -  especially those related to mental health - do not manifest themselves until at least 60 days after women give birth. Allmon said she hopes to eventually see the six month period extended to one year of coverage, but is still “really grateful” for the current expansion. 

“Our strategy was a holistic strategy at looking at ways to support, of course, unborn life, but also how to help families choose life,” she said. “Medicaid access is a really important part. We also support expansion and improvement of the Children's Health Insurance Program and Medicaid expansion in general.” 

Additionally, the most recent state budget passed included a 25% increase for the state’s “Alternatives to Abortion” program, which supports mothers and their families until the child is  three to five years old. 

“The services that are provided are supportive and life affirming, so that women who are facing overwhelming pregnancies know that they are going to have support to parent the child or to place the child for adoption,” said Allmon. “And so that program was funded at a hundred million dollars for the biennium.” 

That money goes, in part, to the Catholic Charities affiliates throughout the state of Texas, which provide services such as parenting classes and counseling, diapers, formula, financial planning, and other necessities for newborn children. Some affiliates use private donations to expand these services until the child is 5 years old. 

“It's very comprehensive and making sure that families are able to get the support that they need, that's kind of tailored to their situation,” said Allmon. 

The existence of these programs “destroys the narrative that we’re just about birth, because that’s clearly beyond birth,” she said, calling that narrative “ridiculous,”. 

“Abortion bills are among our top priorities, but not our only priorities.”  

This article was updated on Sept. 24.

Pelosi defends her support for legal abortion: ‘God has given us a free will’

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) at her weekly Capitol press briefing, Sept. 23, 2021 / EWTN News Nightly

Washington D.C., Sep 23, 2021 / 10:45 am (CNA).

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Thursday responded to her archbishop, who had said an abortion bill she is working to pass is tantamount to “child sacrifice.”

The Women’s Health Protection Act, legislation that would override state abortion laws and allow for abortions in some cases throughout all nine months of pregnancy, is set to be voted on in the House tomorrow, Sept. 24. Pelosi declared earlier this month that she would bring the bill up for a vote in the House. Her local ordinary, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, said the bill “is nothing short of child sacrifice,” in a statement on Tuesday.

When asked about Cordileone’s comments at her Thursday press briefing in the U.S. Capitol, Pelosi responded that “it’s none of our business how other people choose the size and timing of their families.”

“The archbishop of the city of that area, of San Francisco, and I had a disagreement about who should decide this [family size and timing]. I believe that God has given us a free will to honor our responsibilities,” she said in response to the question from Erik Rosales, Capitol Hill correspondent for EWTN News Nightly.

The House will vote on the abortion legislation on Friday. Pelosi previewed the vote at her briefing, noting that “this is a very exciting day for some of us in the Congress.”

“Every woman everywhere has a constitutional right to basic reproductive health, yet for years that has been questioned by some,” she said.

Pelosi brought the bill up for a vote following Texas’ pro-life “heartbeat” bill going into effect Sept. 1. The law restricted most abortions following the detection of a fetal heartbeat, which can occur as early as six weeks into pregnancy. It is enforced through private civil lawsuits.

“The Texas law goes beyond a discussion of a woman’s right to choose. It’s about vigilantes and bounty hunters, and something that is so un-American. And it has evoked a response, okay? It’s unconstitutional and unjust,” Pelosi stated on Thursday.

The Women's Health Protection Act, introduced by Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.), recognizes the “statutory right” of women to have abortions, and would block many state pro-life laws, such as ultrasound and waiting period requirements before abortions. It overrides prohibitions on “pre-viability” abortions, and allows for late-term abortions without “meaningful” limits, the U.S. bishops’ conference has warned, thus imposing "abortion on demand nationwide at any stage of pregnancy."

In addition, the bill would require taxpayer funding of abortion and could force health care workers to participate in abortions against their consciences, the conference has said.

Archbishop Cordileone on Tuesday said that the bill “is surely the type of legislation one would expect from a devout Satanist, not a devout Catholic.” He called on Catholics to fast and pray for the bill’s defeat.

In the question-and-answer portion of the briefing, Rosales asked Pelosi to respond to Cordileone’s statement as a “Catholic.”

“I’m Catholic. I come from a pro-life family,” she said.

She noted that she had five children in just more than six years. “For us, it was a complete and total blessing, which we enjoy every day of our lives,” she said, before adding it was “none of our business” to make such decisions for other families.  

In July, Pelosi cited her Catholic faith before she justified the policy of federal funding of abortion. In response, Archbishop Cordileone stated that “no one can claim to be a devout Catholic and condone the killing of innocent human life, let alone have the government pay for it.”

New Brunswick mandates COVID vaccine pass, but Catholic dioceses take differing approaches

The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception seen amid Saint John, New Brunswick. / Wangkun Jia/Shutterstock.

Fredericton, Canada, Sep 23, 2021 / 10:10 am (CNA).

The Diocese of Saint John, New Brunswick has said proof of vaccination will not be required for Mass or the other sacraments, though it will comply with provincial rules requiring such proof for other indoor gatherings. Other dioceses in the province, those of Moncton and Edmundston, have said they will require proof of vaccination to attend Mass.

“No person will be turned away from Mass, nor any other Sacrament,” Natasha Mazerolle, communications director for the Diocese of Saint John, told CNA Sept. 22. New provincial rules requiring proof of vaccination will, however, apply to other indoor events at diocesan churches, like conferences, workshops and fundraisers, she said.

“The Diocese of Saint John continues to do its utmost to protect both the physical and spiritual needs of its faithful,” said Mazerolle. “It takes the directives of public health seriously and understands the need to make sacrifices to protect the common good, and to be prudent in slowing the spread of the virus. It also recognizes that the faithful are not to be excluded from the Sacraments for any reason, and that the Eucharist is the source and summit of our faith (and indeed what is most needed to help us face these challenging times).”

Mazerolle said “worship services (including Catholic Mass) are not directly mentioned in the government regulation.” She added “an individual’s right to practice their religion is protected under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”

Under canon law, well-disposed Catholics typically have the right to receive the sacraments at appropriate times.

“The Code of Canon Law is very clear on this,” said Mazerolle, citing canon 843, which says, “Sacred ministers cannot deny the sacraments to those who seek them at appropriate times, are properly disposed, and are not prohibited by law from receiving them.”

Provincial government rules which took effect Sept. 21 required proof of vaccination to access certain events, services, and businesses. Violation of the law could result in fines between $172 and $772 Canadian, about $135 to $605.

The rules apply to those 12 and older, including those seeking to attend “indoor organized gatherings.” Explicitly mentioned are weddings, funerals, conferences, workshops, and parties, excepting parties at a private dwelling.

“The regulations published on the Government of New Brunswick’s website do not mention worship services or Mass,” Mazerolle said. “While there can be many interpretations, the diocese defers to what has been officially written in the regulation under the Public Health Act and posted on the Government of New Brunswick’s website.”

In a Sept. 17 letter, Bishop Christian Riesbeck of Saint John pledged close cooperation with public health authorities to implement parish-level policies that will “ensure that all faithful can continue to worship Jesus and receive the Sacraments in full safety and care for one another and the common good.”

“Vaccination is proving to be the best way to reduce the spread of Covid-19 and its variants, which are on the rise and threaten to overwhelm the hospital system, seriously impacting the level of care medical professionals can provide to the ill and the vulnerable in our province,” Riesbeck said.

The bishop cited the Vatican COVID-19 Commission’s joint document with the Pontifical Academy for Life, which said, “we consider it important that a responsible decision be taken in this regard, since refusal of the vaccine may also constitute a risk to others.”

“I encourage you in charity to be vaccinated against Covid-19 if you have not already done so,” he said, referring by name to the Covid-19 vaccines which have received full approval from Health Canada.

“I once again urge each person to prayerfully consider vaccination, and to discern a decision that will best protect themselves, their loved ones, and the common good,” Riesbeck continued. “We also recognize that the decision to vaccinate must never be coerced, and that some individuals, for matters of health or conscience, may choose not to receive the vaccine.”

The bishop’s letter encouraged Catholics to “remain ever conscious of our mission to spread the joy of the Gospel throughout our diocese and face these new challenges with our gaze fixed firmly on Jesus, who walks with us and never abandons us.”

The Diocese of St. John serves over 115,000 Catholics at 28 parishes, St. Thomas University Fredericton, and an Ordinariate community. Its territory borders the U.S. state of Maine.

New Brunswick’s total population numbers over 750,000 people, about half of whom are Catholic.

There have been 49 Covid-19-related deaths in New Brunswick out of some 3,600 total cases since the pandemic began. There are now 557 active cases, compared to January’s peak of 348. The province recently witnessed its largest single-day report of new COVID cases. About 26 people in the province are currently hospitalized, 15 of whom are in intensive care.

Almost 87% of New Brunswick residents have at least one vaccine dose, while 78% are fully vaccinated. The oldest residents, who tend to be most vulnerable to severe COVID-19 infections, are also the most likely to have been vaccinated.

A Sept. 21 bulletin of the Diocese of St. John reported that the provincial health minister has asked faith communities to aim for a 90% vaccination rate. The diocese said that the health minister has asked faith leaders to survey their congregation about their vaccination status.

“This survey will be distributed at Masses this coming weekend, September 25-26, to be completed prior to leaving Mass and left with the parish,” the St. John diocese said. The parish will forward the results to the diocese and will be required to keep a record at the parish.

“If the results of the survey demonstrate that the 90% vaccination rate has not been met, further restrictions on gatherings may be mandated by the province,” said the bulletin.

The diocese cited Sept. 20 press conference remarks by New Brunswick premier Blaine Higgs. He said that failure to reach a 90% vaccination rate could mean a return to social distancing and reduced capacity requirements.

As of Sept. 22, masks will be mandatory in all public spaces. These rules explicitly include places of worship.

While the Diocese of St. John is only requiring proof of vaccination for some church events, and not Mass and the sacraments, the neighboring Archdiocese of Moncton is more strict. It will require proof of vaccination from those age 12 and older attending all religious celebrations, including Masses, baptisms, weddings, funerals, parish and pastoral meetings, catechesis, and social meetings.

Archbishop Valery Vienneau of Moncton on Sept. 17 asked for these measures to be implemented “not only to respect the government's request but above all to help stop the spread of the virus among our population.”

“We would not want one of our places of worship to be the location of a COVID exposure due to our negligence,” Vienneau said. “The Minister of Health is counting on our cooperation.”

The archbishop said volunteers are expected to be at the church doors to ask attendees for full proof of vaccination and to collect their names. This list can be used again each Sunday to avoid repeated requests for proof of vaccination from repeat visitors.

“This list may eventually be requested by the government,” the archbishop noted.

Parish employees who do not seek vaccination must wear a mask at all times and take a COVID test periodically. Any parish office visitor may be asked to wear a mask if not vaccinated.

There are about 108,000 Catholics in the Moncton archdiocese out of 215,000 people total.

The Diocese of Edmundston on Sept. 17 announced measures similar to those of the Moncton archdiocese. The diocese is predominantly French-speaking and its territory covers the northwest of New Brunswick, with about 44,000 people, almost all Catholics, living in its territory.

The Diocese of Bathurst, a predominantly French-speaking diocese in the province’s northeast, serves about 95,000 Catholics in 51 Christian communities in 12 parishes. It had no public statement on a response to the provincial rules.

The provinces of Alberta and Ontario, Canada’s most populous province, are also mandating proof of vaccination to enter some venues. Nova Scotia will begin to mandate proof of vaccination Oct. 4, but that mandate does not apply to places of worship, the Canada-based site Global News reports.

Prominent Catholic leaders have backed vaccination. Pope Francis, along with six cardinals and archbishops from the Americas, recently worked with the Ad Council to produce a public service announcement promoting the use of COVID-19 vaccines.

While most Catholics in the U.S. and Canada have received COVID-19 vaccinations, vaccine mandates have prompted debates among some Catholics about conscientious exemption, the risks and benefits of the available COVID-19 vaccines, and the ethics and legality of vaccine mandates imposed by governments and employers, including some U.S. Catholic dioceses.

In a December 2020 note, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said that “vaccination is not, as a rule, a moral obligation” and therefore “must be voluntary.” It said that the morality of vaccination depends on both the duty to pursue the common good and the duty to protect one’s own health, and that “in the absence of other means to stop or even prevent the epidemic, the common good may recommend vaccination.”

The Vatican will require all visitors and personnel to show a COVID-19 pass proving they have been vaccinated, have recovered from the coronavirus, or have tested negative for the disease in order to enter the city state beginning Oct. 1. However, this requirement does not apply to Catholics attending liturgical celebrations at the Vatican. People will be allowed to access a liturgy “for the time strictly necessary for the conduct of the rite,” while also following distancing and masking rules, a Vatican City ordinance published Sept. 20 said.