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Pope Francis to bishops: The saints spread the Gospel, not a ‘social program’

Pope Francis celebrates Mass in St. Peter's Basilica. / Daniel Ibanez/CNA

Vatican City, Sep 23, 2021 / 09:50 am (CNA).

Pope Francis invited Europe’s bishops Thursday to not just worry about secularization and a growing lack of faith, but to do something about it by introducing people to the joy of an encounter with Jesus.

“So many people are induced to feel only material needs, and not a need for God,” the pope said at a Sept. 23 Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica. “Certainly, we are ‘preoccupied’ by this, but are we really ‘occupied’ with responding to it?”

“It is easy, but ultimately pointless, to judge those who do not believe or to list the reasons for secularization,” he underlined. “The word of God challenges us to look to ourselves. Do we feel concern and compassion for those who have not had the joy of encountering Jesus or who have lost that joy? Are we comfortable because deep down our lives go on as usual, or are we troubled by seeing so many of our brothers and sisters far from the joy of Jesus?”

Pope Francis addressed 39 bishops from Europe during a Mass for the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences (CCEE). The Mass marked the opening of the CCEE’s plenary assembly, which is taking place in Rome Sept. 23-26.

In his homily, Francis reflected on a reading from the Book of the Prophet Haggai.

“Those words – ‘Reflect on your ways!’ – are challenging because today, in Europe, we Christians can be tempted to remain comfortably ensconced in our structures, our homes and our churches, in the security provided by our traditions, content with a certain degree of consensus, while all around us churches are emptying and Jesus is increasingly forgotten,” he said.

He urged them to think about how many people have lost their hunger and thirst for God, because “there is no one to awaken in them a hunger for faith and to satisfy that thirst in the human heart, that ‘innate and perpetual thirst’ of which Dante speaks (Par., II, 19) and which the dictatorship of consumerism gently but insistently tries to suppress.”

Pope Francis also warned about seeing the faith as “a relic of the past,” which he said happens when people have not seen Jesus at work in their own lives.

“Often this is because we, by our lives, have not sufficiently shown him to them,” he told the bishops and others present.

“God makes himself seen in the faces and actions of men and women transformed by his presence,” he said. “If Christians, instead of radiating the contagious joy of the Gospel, keep speaking in an outworn intellectualistic and moralistic religious language, people will not be able to see the Good Shepherd.”

Francis explained that people “will not see the One whose incredible passion we preach: for it is a consuming passion, a passion for mankind. This divine, merciful and overpowering love is itself the perennial newness of the Gospel.”

“It demands of us, dear brothers, wise and bold decisions, made in the name of the mad love with which Christ has saved us.”

According to Pope Francis, “Jesus does not ask us to make arguments for God, but to show him, in the same way the saints did, not by words but by our lives.”

The saints, he said, “were not concerned about dark times, hardships and those divisions that are always present. They did not waste time criticizing or laying blame. They lived the Gospel, without worrying about relevance or politics.”

With the gentle strength of God’s love, the saints “built monasteries, reclaimed land, enlivened the spirit of individuals and countries,” the pope continued. “They did not have a ‘social program,’ in quotes, but the Gospel alone.”

“Let us help today’s Europe, faint with weariness – this is the sickness of Europe today – to rediscover the ever youthful face of Jesus and his Bride. How can we fail to devote ourselves completely to making all people see this unfading beauty?” he concluded.

Catholic cardinal says Haiti's 'catastrophic situation' led Haitians to U.S. border

Haitian Cardinal Chibly Langlois speaks during a Caritas Internationalis webinar, Sept. 21, 2021. / Screenshot.

Rome Newsroom, Sep 23, 2021 / 06:00 am (CNA).

Cardinal Chibly Langlois has said that the “catastrophic situation” in Haiti caused by poverty, violence, and natural disasters has led to Haitians seeking asylum at the U.S. border.

The Catholic cardinal, who was injured in Haiti’s recent earthquake, is also a leader in the recovery efforts for the island nation facing the consequences of the 7.2 magnitude earthquake, aggravated by widespread poverty and gang violence.

“The people of Haiti are suffering, believe me,” Langlois said on Sept. 21.

The Haitian cardinal spoke in French with live interpretation into English at a webinar organized by Caritas Internationalis in Rome.

Thousands of migrants from Haiti encamped in Del Rio, Texas on the U.S.-Mexico border this week.

The Biden administration responded by bringing more federal personnel to the border, placing many Haitians on expulsion flights, and busing others to immigration processing centers in El Paso and Laredo, Texas.

The Washington Post reported Sept. 22 that the U.S. government is preparing to nearly double the number of Haitians being deported from Texas to Haiti.

Meanwhile, Mexico has offered asylum to 19,000 Haitians so far this year, according to the Associated Press.

Langlois, 62, became the first Haitian to become a Catholic cardinal in 2014. He said that Catholics in Haiti are on the frontlines serving those in need as they suffer themselves.

“The Church is present practically everywhere in the country. Wherever you look around the country -- where poverty is rife, where violence is spreading, where catastrophes take place -- the Church is present and the church is a first responder,” Langlois said.

“But the church also suffers because we too are a victim of these natural catastrophes.”

At the webinar, Cardinal Langlois launched an appeal to all his Catholic brothers and sisters, as well as all people of goodwill, to come to the aid of Haiti to help the country emerge from the serious poverty that made the country susceptible to more damage when natural disasters strike.

In Haiti, 1.5 million people are in need of assistance after the earthquake, the cardinal said.

“And the entire world speaks about the poverty in Haiti,” he said, repeating that the natural disasters combined with the widespread poverty has created a “catastrophic situation” in the Caribbean state.

The cardinal also thanked people for their prayers after the earthquake.

“Yes, I was a victim during the earthquake, and I can tell you that to see something falling all around you is something quite breathtaking. And to escape … is another miracle,” Langlois said.

The 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti about 90 miles west of the capital Port-au-Prince on the morning of Aug. 14. It was stronger than the 2010 earthquake from which the island is still recovering.

The earthquake killed at least 2,207 people with more than 12,260 people sustaining injuries, according to a USAID report published on Sept. 7.

Two days after the quake, Tropical Storm Grace made landfall in Haiti overnight, flooding the country with as much as 15 inches of rain in a single day in certain areas.

More than 100,000 homes were destroyed, as were at least seven churches. A Catholic rectory in the diocese of Les Cayes, where Cardinal Langlois serves as bishop, was severely damaged causing three fatalities: one priest and two employees.

Haiti has also been battling a spike of gang violence and kidnappings for ransom this year.

The Archdiocese of Port-au-Prince said in a statement in April that gang violence had reached “unprecedented” levels in the country.

“Now the church of Haiti, in effect, is very much in the frontlines considering the situation we live in the country today. You’ve got ongoing violence, attacks, a considerable amount of stress,” Langois said

The Haitian president Jovenel Moïse was assassinated in his home in July by a group of gunmen.

The violence has also directly touched the Church. Ten Catholic leaders were kidnapped in Haiti on April 11 by one of the several criminal groups operating in the country.

Four Haitian priests and a nun as well as one French priest and one nun were among the kidnapped, who were not released by their captors until April 30.

“This earthquake struck a country that was hard hit by COVID-19 and in an economic crisis, and in a political crisis after the assassination of the president,” Aloysius John, the secretary general of Caritas Internationalis, said at the webinar.

“Haiti has perhaps become a forgotten emergency,” John said.

“We cannot turn a blind eye on Haiti. People are suffering … and the needs are tremendous in the country and international support is more than ever indispensable. So we need to reach out to the Haitian people in need,” he said.

Court rejects challenge to UK’s Down syndrome abortion law

Heidi Crowter speaks outside the High Court in London England, July 6, 2021. / Don’t Screen Us Out via Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0).

London, England, Sep 23, 2021 / 05:00 am (CNA).

The High Court in London rejected on Thursday a landmark challenge to a U.K. law allowing abortion up to birth for disability.

In its Sept. 23 ruling, the court declared that a law allowing abortion up to birth for disability was not discriminatory.

The challenge was brought by Heidi Crowter, a woman with Down syndrome, and Máire Lea-Wilson, a mother whose son has Down syndrome.

Speaking after the verdict, Crowter, a 26-year-old from Coventry, in central England, said: “I'm really upset not to win, but the fight is not over. The judges might not think it discriminates against me but I'm telling you that I do feel discriminated against.”

“This is a very sad day but I will keep on fighting,” she said. “I won't give up. Let's do this!”

Lea-Wilson, a 33-year-old from West London, said: “People with Down syndrome face discrimination in all aspects of life. This ruling condones discrimination by cementing the belief in society that their lives are not as valuable as the lives of people without disabilities.”

“I do not regret bringing this case because I believe it has helped raise awareness around the wonderful lives of people with Down syndrome and their families’ lives,” she added, “and helped to dispel some of the negative, outdated, and prejudiced attitudes that are prevalent in society and the medical profession.”

“As Aiden's mother, I will continue to fight and I will look to appeal this judgment with Heidi because everyone should be equally valued regardless of the number of chromosomes that they have,” Lea-Wilson said.

Section 1(1)(d) of the the U.K.’s Abortion Act 1967 permits abortion up to birth if “there is a substantial risk that if the child were born it would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped.”

There were 3,083 abortions on the basis of disability recorded in England and Wales in 2020, 693 of them following a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome -- an increase from 656 in 2019.

Jason Coppel, a senior barrister representing Crowter and Lea-Wilson, told the High Court in July that Crowter had been “the subject of abuse because of her disability and believes that the existence of a law allowing abortion up to birth for babies with DS [Down’s syndrome] is a contributory cultural cause of this type of abuse.”

The claimants, who are supported by the group Don’t Screen Us Out, have crowdfunded more than $147,000 for the case.

Lea-Wilson told CNA in May that she was inspired to take part in the case after seeing Crowter discussing the law on television.

She said that the disability rights campaigner’s words resonated with her following the birth of her second son, Aidan, in June 2019.

“I had discovered that Aidan would likely be born with Down syndrome when I was 34 weeks pregnant, and then was asked repeatedly if I wanted to terminate the pregnancy,” she said.

“Suddenly the way I was treated changed from an excited parent expecting a second child, to a woman facing a great tragedy who had to make a ‘choice’ -- to abort my pregnancy or not.”

“I have two sons who I love and value equally, so I cannot understand why the law does not value them equally.”

Speaking to supporters outside the High Court on July 7, Crowter said: “The judges need to know that we are not suffering and our parents and family don’t suffer. The doctors need to hear this, they need to hear from people like me and learn more about life with Down’s syndrome.”

“My fight for justice and equality has brought us here today to change a law that makes me think I shouldn’t have been born.”

“When the law changes for us then we will have won the fight.”

Pope at Mass for CCEE jubilee: Love alone satisfies the human heart

Pope Francis celebrates Mass with the Council of Bishops’ Conferences of Europe, and encourages bishops to reflect on three words as they celebrate their golden jubilee: reflect, rebuild and see.

Archbishop Gallagher at UN: 'Racism can and must be defeated'

Archbishop Paul Gallagher, the Vatican secretary for relations with states. / Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

New York City, N.Y., Sep 23, 2021 / 01:00 am (CNA).

The Vatican’s foreign minister on Wednesday addressed heads of state at the United Nations, noting that the Church is “engaged in combating all forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.”

“Racism is rooted in the erroneous and evil claim that one human being has less dignity than another. This not only disregards the truth that ‘all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights,’ but also the foundational ethical summons to act toward “one another in a spirit of brotherhood,” said Archbishop Paul Gallagher, Secretary for Relations with States at the Vatican Secretariat of State.

Archbishop Gallagher addressed the UN high-level meeting Sept. 22 to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the adoption of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, an agreement between states to address racism and racial discrimination. 

“Universal human rights are indivisible and interdependent and thus cannot exist in opposition,” he noted. “Laws and norms that seek to root out discrimination and intolerance must therefore respect the right to freedom of opinion, thought, religion, and conscience. Monitoring, investigating, and prosecuting incidents of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance should never become a justification for States to violate the human rights of minorities or to censor minority opinions.”

“Racism can and must be defeated through a culture of encounter, fraternity, and solidarity,” Archbishop Gallagher said. 

“While adopting international agreements and declarations such as the Durban Declaration are an important and necessary step, they must lead to real change through implementation by governments as well as through education and ethical media reporting, providing fact based and objective information in ways that respect the dignity of all and do not foster a divisive ‘us against them’ mentality.”

The Durban Declaration and Programme of Action called for affirmative action to ensure equal opportunities for victims of racism and discrimination, as well as compensation for victims of racism, among other measures. 

In addition to racial discrimination, Archbishop Gallagher also noted that religious discrimination and persecution remains a serious problem throughout the world, though “The Durban Declaration rightly expresses concern about intolerance, hostile acts, and violence against religious groups.”

“In recent years, we have witnessed an overall rise in religious persecution by both State and non-State actors,” he said.  

“Individuals and entire populations are discriminated against because of their faith while perpetrators often enjoy impunity. Some religious minorities in certain regions even face extinction, including Christians who represent the most persecuted group globally.”

He also highlighted the “insidious practice of eugenics.”

“Today, we could say that a eugenic mentality often lurks behind artificial procreation techniques and the dark sides of pre-natal diagnostics, where the idea that there are human beings of inferior value because of disability, sex, or other traits often leads to the denial of their right to life,” he said.

“Such a mindset entrenches principles of discrimination squarely opposed to the Durban Declaration and cannot be ignored.”

Armenian Synod elects new Catholicos-Patriarch of Cilicia

The Synod of the Armenian Catholic Church, meeting this week in Rome, has elected Raphaël Bedros XXI Minassian as the 21st Catholicos-Patriarch.

Catholic leaders call on US to reassess treatment of migrants

Bishop Mario Dorsonville, the chair of the USCCB’s Committee on Migration; and Sister Donna Markham, president and CEO of Catholic Charities USA issue a statement calling on the US government to reassess the treatment of Haitian and other migrants on the border between Mexico and the United States.

WHO: Air pollution threat to health and climate

The World Health Organisation (WHO) issues new air quality guidelines calling on its 194 member states to slash the recommended maximum levels for several pollutants, including nitrogen dioxide, both of which are found in fossil fuel emissions.

UN: Millions in Yemen ‘a step away from starvation’

The United Nations organized a side event on September 22 on the sidelines of the 76th UN General Assembly, focusing attention on Yemen, the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

Bassi: No sustainable development without intergenerational balance

Vincenzo Bassi, President of the Federation of Catholic Family Associations in Europe (FAFCE), reiterates Pope Francis’ concerns about the demographic winter in Italy and Spain, and highlights the need for measures that recognize and promote the role of the family in society.