60TH ANNIVERSARY ST. SABINA CATHOLIC CHURCH 1957-2017

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Supreme Court poised to hear biggest challenge to Roe v Wade in 48 years

An unborn baby at 20 weeks -- well within the second trimester, when dilation and evacuation abortions are commonly performed. / Steve via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0).

Denver Newsroom, Sep 17, 2021 / 14:31 pm (CNA).

Jackson Women’s Health Organization, Mississippi’s lone abortion clinic, presented its legal argument Monday for why the U.S. Supreme Court should strike down the state’s 2018 law prohibiting abortions after the first 15 weeks of pregnancy, setting the stage for a momentous showdown over Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that legalized abortion nationwide.

The filing means that both parties in the case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, have now laid out their legal strategies. The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the case during its fall term, which begins Oct. 4.

While the constitutionality of Mississippi’s law is the primary question before the Court, both sides make clear in their respective briefs that the law is meant to be a direct challenge to Roe itself, and the decision that affirmed Roe’s central argument 18 years later, Planned Parenthood v. Casey. In its brief, the State of Mississippi explicitly asks the Court to overturn Roe, arguing that “the conclusion that abortion is a constitutional right has no basis in text, structure, history, or tradition.”

The parties' opposing arguments focus largely on two key points of contention: the legal doctrine known as stare decisis, which holds that legal precedents should not be easily overruled lest the rule of law be eroded, and the concept of fetal “viability,” or the point at which fetal life can survive outside the womb.

Citing Roe and Casey, courts have repeatedly shot down state efforts to restrict abortion prior to viability as unconstitutional. But in Dobbs, the State of Mississippi and other parties filing briefs supportive of its petition, argue that the Court’s viability standard — approximately 24 weeks into a pregnancy — is scientifically outdated and legally unworkable.

In their amicus brief, legal scholars Mary Ann Glendon and O. Carter Snead argue that stare decisis obligates the Court to overturn Roe and Casey, because doing so would protect the Court’s integrity.

“These precedents are notoriously badly reasoned, and involve unworkable, constantly shifting standards that have sown confusion in this and other areas of the law,” Snead, a law professor at the University of Notre Dame, told CNA in an email.

“Indeed, there are not five justices on the Supreme Court now who agree on what these precedents require,” he wrote. “Moreover, they have caused grievous real world harms; there have been more than 60 million abortions because of these lawless, anti-democratic, incoherent precedents.”

In its brief, Jackson Women’s Health claims Mississippi is “re-litigating” Casey, which held that a woman’s “liberty interest” is stronger than the state’s interest in protecting fetal life before a baby is viable.

The brief maintains that the Casey Court “carefully considered every argument Mississippi makes here for overruling Roe,” asserting that no “legal or factual change occurred that justifies giving any less protection for that liberty interest today.”

In Jackson Women’s Health’s view, the need to rely on past precedents is compelling, since “two generations … have come to depend on the availability of legal abortion,” and have “organized intimate relationships and made choices … in reliance on the availability of abortion.”

Additionally, the brief asserts that “no changed factual circumstances related to viability exist on this record,” and that “[m]edical consensus and the undisputed facts in the case establish that viability occurs no earlier than 23-24 weeks of pregnancy, precisely the time identified thirty years ago in Casey.”

Jackson Women’s Health asserts that the viability line must be maintained because it is the only standard that can consistently be applied by the courts.

“There is no heightened scrutiny framework (stripped of the viability rule) that lower courts could administer against the inevitable cascade of abortion bans that would follow if the Court does anything other than affirm” the lowers courts' rulings that Mississippi's law is unconstitutional, the brief states.

Countering that assertion is an amicus brief filed by a group of women obstetricians and gynecologists and the Catholic Association Foundation. That brief calls the viability standard established by Roe and Casey “outdated according to current science,” adding that “’viability’ no longer means what it did at the time of Roe and Casey.”

The same brief also details the advances in ultrasound technology since Casey, now available in vivid 4D renderings, that have provided more precise knowledge about fetal development. At 15 weeks, the brief states, all the fetus’ major organs are fully formed and functioning, as is the cardiovascular system.

“This is the living reality of what is at issue in this case: a tiny boy or girl who, at 15 weeks, kicks, breathes, and hiccups, who has little fingers that open and close — and who has undeniably ‘assum[ed] the human form,’” the brief states.

Although viability remains a matter of debate, the State of Mississippi and others argue that it ought to be left to democratically elected state legislatures to decide how to handle such contentious questions, not the courts.

“The legal standard, set forth in Gonzales v. Carhart (upholding the constitutionality of the federal partial birth abortion ban act), is that when there is a disagreement among learned scientific experts, the state is free to legislate according to its best judgment,” Snead wrote in his email to CNA.

“There need not be unanimity among experts for a state to legislate in a contested domain,” he explained.

“But the deeper point here is that because this is an area of scientific and medical disagreement, the Supreme Court lacks the institutional competence to serve as the nation's ad hoc abortion medical review board of last resort,” Snead wrote. "That is best [left to] the political branches.”

Senators ask Google why it removed ads for abortion pill reversal

Google offices in Chelsea, Manhattan, New York / MNAphotography/Shutterstock

Denver Newsroom, Sep 17, 2021 / 14:01 pm (CNA).

A dozen U.S. senators on Thursday sent a joint letter to Google’s CEO asking why pro-life ads for abortion pill reversal were removed by the search engine giant earlier this week. 

The group of 12 senators, led by Sens. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) accused Google of suppressing information about a viable alternative to chemical abortion, while leaving numerous ads for dangerous abortion pills intact. 

“While banning pro-life [abortion pill reversal] ads, Google continues to allow ads for purveyors of the deadly abortion pill mifepristone by mail, despite the fact this drug has resulted in at least 24 mothers’ tragic deaths and at least 1,042 mothers being sent to the hospital,” the Sept. 16 letter reads. 

“Google’s double standard on abortion is disingenuous and an egregious abuse of its enormous market power to protect the billion-dollar abortion industry,” the senators stated. 

“The practical consequence of Google’s abortion distortion is that pregnant mothers in crisis will only have the option to be marketed abortion drugs through Google’s ad platforms, while life-affirming alternatives are suppressed.”

Medical abortions, procured by way of a two-drug abortion pill regimen, have become an increasingly common method of abortion in the United States, making up between 30% and 40% of all U.S. abortions. 

The two drugs involved are mifepristone (also called Mifeprex) and misoprostol. Mifepristone effectively starves the unborn baby by blocking the effects of the pregnancy hormone progesterone. The second drug, misoprostol, is taken up to two days later, and induces labor.

Chemical abortions can be reversed after a woman takes mifepristone, but before she takes misoprostol - although this action must be taken quickly. The administration of progesterone to reverse the abortion pill regimen has not been specifically approved by the FDA, although many pro-life medical professionals consider it safe.

Live Action advertises a hotline for women seeking to potentially reverse the first step of a chemical abortion, with a physician available to help women. 

On Sept. 13, according to Live Action president Lila Rose, Google “disapproved” all of Live Action’s advertisements for abortion pill reversal, claiming they were “unreliable” and contained false information. The advertisements had been running for more than four months and had previously been approved by Google, she said. One of the 18 ads has since been reinstated, she said. 

Google also pulled ads promoting Live Action’s “Baby Olivia” video, a three-minute narrated look at the development of a baby in utero from fertilization until birth.

According to the president of the pro-life group Heartbeat International - which operates a 24-hour hotline for women seeking abortion pill reversal - calls to the hotline have dropped significantly since the abortion pill reversal ads were removed from Google.

“As of this morning, none of our APR [abortion pill reversal] ads or Live Action's are running,” Jor-El Godsey told CNA on Friday, noting that calls to the group’s Abortion Pill Rescue Network hotline had dropped by 75%, and chats had dropped by almost 100%.

“What we are getting is coming from organic search, small third party advertisers, and sidewalk counselor outreach,” he said. 

Google, in blocking the ads, cited a brief from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), which called abortion pill reversal treatments “unproven and unethical.” The brief failed to cite any controlled studies done on the procedure. ACOG has released statements in the past advocating for increased access to abortion, and has pushed in court for the federal government to deregulate the abortion pill regimen. 

The reversal regimen, promoted by Live Action and other pro-life medical professionals, “involves an FDA-approved, bioidentical pregnancy hormone called progesterone that has been used for dozens of years to prevent miscarriage and has already saved thousands of lives,” Rose said. 

If an ultrasound confirms the unborn baby is still viable, the mother is given a large dose of progesterone to reverse the effects of mifepristone, with additional doses of progesterone needed throughout the first trimester.

Each woman who undergoes an attempt to reverse her abortion is also referred to a help center for support throughout the remainder of her pregnancy.

The American Association of Pro-Life Gynecologists and Obstetricians (AAPLOG) has expressed support for the abortion pill reversal regimen, describing progesterone as an “antidote” to the mifepristone and noting that “There is a very long and solid history of safety of the use of natural progesterone in pregnancy.”

“[D]uring the development of Mifeprex, it was clearly demonstrated that Mifeprex is a REVERSIBLE blocker of progesterone,” the group said. 

"Google continues to deny women the choice to choose to keep their baby,” Godsey told CNA on Thursday. 

“Denying them the ability to find Abortion Pill Reversal is forcing these women to go through with an abortion they no longer want. More than 2,500 women have made this choice all ready. Google should not stand in the way of those seeking reversal help today."

Heartbeat International claims that more than 2,000 women have successfully used the abortion pill reversal to stop an abortion. 

A study published in 2018 in Issues in Law and Medicine, a peer-reviewed medical journal affiliated with the pro-life organization Watson Bowes Research Institute, examined 261 successful abortion pill reversals. It showed that the reversal success rates were 68% with a high-dose oral progesterone protocol, and 64% with an injected progesterone protocol.

Dr. Mary Davenport and Dr. George Delgado, who have been studying the abortion pill reversal procedures since 2009, wrote the study. Delgado sits on the board of the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and co-founded the Abortion Pill Rescue Network. 

Delgado told the Washington Post that he believed more research should be done on abortion pill reversal, but that he believes there should be nothing to stop doctors from using the progesterone protocol in the meantime.

“[T]he science is good enough that, since we have no alternative therapy and we know it's safe, we should go with it,” he said.

The director of a women’s clinic in Denver told CNA in April 2018 that she has found the abortion pill reversal protocol to be safe and effective with her patients, and her clinic has successfully treated several women who come in seeking a reversal after taking the first pill.

“I think the fact that we have now over 300 successful reversals is evidence that it works,” nurse practitioner Dede Chism, co-founder and executive director of Bella Natural Women’s Care in Englewood, Colorado, told CNA at the time.

Disclaimer: CNA’s Executive Director, Alejandro Bermúdez, is a board member of Heartbeat International

Mexican episcopate won't cover medical expenses of priests with COVID-19 who aren't vaccinated

null / Ball Lunla/Shutterstock

Mexico City, Mexico, Sep 17, 2021 / 13:00 pm (CNA).

The financial assistance service of the Mexican bishops’ conference stated last month that it will not cover the medical expenses of priests with COVID-19 who chose not to be vaccinated against the disease.

In an Aug. 30 statement, the service provided by the episcopal conference which assists diocesan priests warned that to help with the expenses involving COVID-19 it is required that the priest “was vaccinated” and “maintained personal protection measures.”

In addition, priests who require financial assistance from the service for their medical care must "notify their diocesan representative early" and get a medical evaluation by calling the service’s special telephone line for outpatient cases, which can direct them to the proper medical facility for an appointment on the nearest date.

OCEAS states on its website that it is an in-house service of the Mexican bishops’ conference  “that participates with each bishop in his diocese to carry out the work of Priestly Social Assistance."

The purpose of the service is to attend to "to the clergy in their health, needed rest, old age or disability needs so that they can carry out the mission that God has entrusted to them according to the stage of life in which they find themselves."

In its Aug. 30 statement, OCEAS said that "the last three weeks have been really complicated for the community of our different dioceses", because "we have seen our brother priests pass away due to lack of timely notification."

OCEAS noted that “98% of COVID cases that ended in death had three particular characteristics: 1. They were not vaccinated when they could have been. 2. Late notification (oxygen level less than 80%). 3. More than 60% of the lung surface affected.”

After assuring that they will continue to "help with the expenses incurred by the medical care of the beneficiaries under the criteria of solidarity and search for the common good," OCEAS specified four cases in which "they will not be subject” to paying for amounts the priest cannot pay out of his own pocket.

First, "when the beneficiary took unnecessary risks such as attending indoor entertainment venues or meetings, conventions and non-essential activities or outside the scope of his pastoral activity."

The second exclusion criterion is for those priests who, after testing positive for COVID-19, despite having been notified that they have risk factors that would complicate their case, refuse to "go to a hospital for an evaluation, rejecting the possibility of timely medical care.”

A third case in which priests will not be able to receive an additional amount of financial assistance is when they “deliberately” put “their life and that of their community at risk, by omitting the use of masks due to a personal decision that affects priests at the national level and the People of God.”

The last case mentioned for which priests will not be able to receive additional amounts for COVID-19 care is "when the beneficiary decides not to get vaccinated, putting his life and that of his community at risk."

The statement, signed by Bishop Ramón Castro Castro of Cuernavaca, treasurer of the Mexican bishops’ conference and president of OCEAS, ends by stressing that "the above measures will allow us to take more care of our health and that of our community."

"We don’t want more priests dying when it could have been avoided, their life is valuable to us and irreplaceable for the community that follows them," he concluded.

More than 3.5 million cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in Mexico, and more than 269,000 deaths.

At least six bishops and 245 priests in the country have died from COVID-19.

Afghanistan’s Christians ‘completely ignored’ in European Parliament resolution

The European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, on Nov. 25, 2014. Credit: Alan Holdren/CNA. / null

Strasbourg, France, Sep 17, 2021 / 12:00 pm (CNA).

A member of the European Parliament said on Thursday that the EU’s law-making body “completely ignored” the plight of Afghanistan’s Christian minority in a recent resolution.

Carlo Fidanza, the co-chair of the parliament’s Intergroup on Freedom of Religion and Belief, said that the resolution adopted on Sept. 16 showed Europe’s general indifference to Christians.

He said: “This resolution demonstrates once again the guilty lack of attention by Europe, not only to Afghan Christians -- who are completely ignored by the text -- but to Christians in general.”

The Italian politician recalled that the European Parliament rebuffed a proposal in June for an annual observance raising awareness about religious liberty.

“As I have already said on the rejection of the establishment of a European Day for Religious Freedom, it is worrying that it is now considered normal that a silence falls upon the tragedy faced by persecuted Christians,” he said.

The resolution, passed in Strasbourg, France, said that the European Parliament was “appalled” by reports of the Taliban’s actions against “women and girls, human rights defenders, LGBTI+ people, religious and ethnic minorities, journalists, writers, academics and artists.”

The resolution mentioned the Shia Hazaras as an example of a persecuted minority, but it did not specifically refer to the country’s Christians.

Fidanza, an MEP for North-West Italy, expressed concern that failing to highlight faith could “lead politics to be timid towards regimes that violate religious freedom on a daily basis.”

The post of EU religious freedom envoy is currently vacant after the incumbent, Christos Stylianides, stepped down after just months in the role. The position had previously remained unfilled for two years.

Adina Portaru, senior counsel for the Christian legal group ADF International in Brussels, welcomed the European Parliament resolution as a “positive step towards action.”

“We urge the international community to make every attempt to secure the safety of those who face grave danger, simply on account of their faith,” she said.

ADF International estimates that 10,000 Christians are living in danger following the Taliban takeover of the country of 38 million people that lies at the crossroads of Central and South Asia. Most have converted from Islam to Christianity, an act punishable by death under Sharia Law.

The legal group said there were credible reports that Taliban forces were killing Christians discovered using public transportation and executing those found with the Bible on their cell phones.

One young Afghan Christian recently contacted CNA, saying that the Taliban were searching for him as he desperately sought to leave the country.

Giorgio Mazzoli, a legal officer representing ADF International at the United Nations, said: “The UN Human Rights Council must address the concerns raised by the European Parliament by establishing a mechanism tasked with monitoring the situation of human rights in Afghanistan, focusing particularly on the human rights of vulnerable persons such as those belonging to religious minorities.”

Priest’s rumored involvement in IRA bombings revisited in lawsuit against Derry diocese

Claudy bombing memorial statue created by sculptor Elizabeth McLaughlin / Bjmullan, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Denver Newsroom, Sep 17, 2021 / 11:01 am (CNA).

After the Northern Ireland government and police agreed to settle a lawsuit with several families of victims of a bombing during The Troubles, the Diocese of Derry remains a defendant in contested claims that it aided in a cover-up by transferring a priest suspected, but never arrested, in the bombing.

The lawsuit has prompted statements of compassion for the victims’ families, but also questions about whether there is sound evidence for their claims.

Three bombs exploded without warning on July 31, 1972 in the County Derry village of Claudy, killing nine people and injuring more than 30. At a time of tense conflict between predominantly nationalist Catholics and predominantly pro-United Kingdom Protestants, the bombing’s victims included people of both religions.

No one has been charged in the attack and no group claimed responsibility, though the Irish Republican Army was widely blamed.

Without admitting liability, the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the Northern Ireland Office agreed to pay civil claims to relatives of three of the victims as well as their legal costs, said their legal representatives KRW Law. The three victims were William Watson Temple, 16; David Miller, 60; and James McClelland, 64.

The lawsuit charges that Catholic Diocese of Derry collaborated with state officials in transferring Father James Chesney, an outspoken republican priest who died of cancer in 1980. Church superiors had questioned him about his alleged involvement in the bombings, which he denied. The trial could take place next year.

Michael Kelly, editor of the Irish Catholic, told CNA on Sept. 16 that he hoped 

“I certainly hope the settlement from the British government and the Police Service of Northern Ireland goes some way to helping the families know that the loss of their loved ones and the ongoing suffering is acknowledged by the civil authorities who have acknowledged that they ought to have done more to bring the perpetrators of the bombing to justice,” Kelly told CNA Sept. 16.

“When it comes to the diocese and the alleged role of the late Fr. James Chesney, if police suspected Fr Chesney of the atrocity, they should have arrested him,” he added. “It is clear that when questioned by the Church authorities about the rumors of his involvement, Fr. Chesney denied this. What was the diocese to do if the police were – as it appears – not confident enough of Fr. Chesney’s guilt to arrest him?”

In 2010, a police ombudsman report said detectives had intelligence and information that pointed to Chesney’s participation in the bombing, but they decided not to pursue this investigation. 

According to the report, then-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland William Whitelaw and then-Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland Cardinal William Conway discussed the priest’s alleged IRA activities, and discussed transferring him across the border to Donegal. Chesney was later transferred and was never again assigned to Northern Ireland.

Police drew on intelligence and other material from a variety of sources, and concluded that Chesney was the IRA’s Director of Operations in South Derry and allegedly was directly involved in the bombings and other acts of terrorism. This intelligence presented “significant investigative opportunities” which should have led police to further investigate, and either implicate the priest or eliminate him as a suspect, the 2010 report said.

A senior officer with the Royal Ulster Constabulary - the predecessor to Northern Ireland’s police service - had sought the government’s assistance to engage the Catholic Church to render the priest harmless. This “was wrong and compromised the investigation,” said the ombudsman report. A former special branch detective reportedly told ombudsman investigators he had wanted to arrest the priest in the months after the bombing, but that this request was refused. He was told the matter was being taken care of.

The ombudsman report said there was “no evidence of criminal intent on the part of any Government Minister or official or on the part of any official of the Catholic Church.” It also acknowledged that key individuals in the case are deceased, and cannot explain or defend their decisions or actions.

The role of the Catholic Church in this matter is a key area of debate.

“The failure to question him [Chesney] or pursue a criminal conviction rests squarely with law enforcement,” Kelly commented. “No evidence has been provided that the Church engaged in any kind of cover-up. The rumor that Fr. Chesney was involved was known to the civil authorities. We can only speculate why they did not act to arrest him and let the criminal process take its course.”

At the same time, Kelly voiced sympathy for the victims’ families.

“Sadly, the passage of time and the deaths of many of those who could have helped enquiries makes that now seem impossible. It is a situation unfortunately faced my [sic] many.” 

Solicitor Kevin Winters, who is representing the families involved, told the Irish state broadcaster RTE News that the families will never have total closure. However, he added, “they felt empowered” because their initiating legal action helped them “access key information.”

Their lawyers said the families wanted “to place on record their anger and disgust at the attitude of the Church to date within the legal proceedings,” the Irish Times reports. “The families would like to finally say that they were deeply disappointed in the lack of a proper investigation into the murder of their loved ones by the Police.”

The attorneys said that police and the Northern Ireland Office showed a “mature attitude” in mediation that helped the families in “understanding some serious failings by the state.”

Bishop Donal McKeown of Derry told CNA that the case is under legal consideration and “it would be inappropriate to comment.”

When the ombudsman report was released in 2010, Catholic leaders issued two separate statements.

A joint statement from then-Archbishop of Armagh Cardinal Sean Brady and then-Bishop of Derry Seamus Hegarty called the bombing “an appalling crime” and noted “the terrible human cost of this atrocity.” They accepted the report’s conclusions and said the priest should have been arrested and questioned if there was sufficient evidence. They said that all known Catholic Church material was made available to investigators.

Another 2010 statement, from the widely respected Bishop emeritus Edward Daly of Derry, was more skeptical. In an opinion article in the Irish News, Daly said he was not at all convinced of Chesney’s involvement, though the priest was an outspoken republican sympathizer. Daly’s predecessor and superior never informed him they believed the priest was a murderer, and Daly himself had the priest observed.

Further, he said, the quality of intelligence produced by the Royal Ulster Constabulary at the time was notoriously poor, and led to the internment of many who were falsely accused of IRA activities.

Bishop McKeown, who has headed the Derry diocese since 2014, told CNA the 2010 statements are “still valid commentary.”

Daly’s 2010 commentary said the Claudy bombing was “one of Northern Ireland’s most despicable acts of terror.” He prayed for the truth to come out for the families, the community, and Chesney’s relatives.

“I hope the Claudy families launch a campaign that achieves justice and truth,” he said.

At the same time, Daly said that the media reports on the ombudsman’s findings were “very disquieting.” News media should have questioned “key aspects” of its claims that Chesney was a senior IRA figure linked to the bombings.

The bishop suggested that police wanted the priest out of the area “because of his publicly proclaimed republican sympathies and a fear of the influence these might exert on young people in the area.”  

In Kelly’s view, it’s possible Chesney’s reputed involvement - or the source of the rumors about him - may never be known.

“What we do know, however, is that there is a very murky world when it comes to the activities of the intelligence community in Northern Ireland including allegations of such egregious violations of the sacraments as placing listening devices in confessional boxes,” he told CNA. “For large parts of the history of Northern Ireland, the civil conflict was accompanied by a very ‘dirty war’ of propaganda and half-truths.”

“I feel profoundly sad for the losses endured by the Claudy families, and my thoughts are also with the family of Fr. Chesney who see his name repeatedly raised in this context without him even having been questioned by the police,” said Kelly.

Brady and Hegarty in 2010 lamented that the lack of an investigation failed those murdered, injured or bereaved in the attacks. They emphasized that the Church was “constant in its condemnation of the evil of violence” during the Troubles, adding that it was “shocking” that a priest was suspected of involvement.

“The Catholic Church did not engage in a cover-up of this matter,” Brady and Hegarty said.

Malaysian Catholic bishops call for unity, ‘national recovery’ from pandemic  

Pilgrims from Malaysia. / JMJ Oficial Flickr.com/Madrid011

Manila, Philippines, Sep 17, 2021 / 09:30 am (CNA).

The archbishop of Kota Kinabalu and the bishop of Keningau, both in Malaysia, called on Malaysians “to rise above” the challenges brought about by the pandemic and find “alternative ways” to “national recovery and unity.”

“This prolonged pandemic has turned life upside down. There are uncertainties in every dimension of life,” said Archbishop John Wong on Kota Kinabalu on Sept.16, the 58th anniversary of the country’s founding.

“To many, the new norms are ‘abnormal’ because they are quite alien to the very nature of man as a social being,” said the Church leader, referring to the global health crisis brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a statement, Archbishop Wong said that people “need to rise above all [the challenges] and find alternative ways to express our sense of nationhood, especially towards national recovery and unity.”

“As believers, let us turn to the Lord to seek His consolation and wisdom,” said the archbishop, addressing the country’s Catholic minority.

“The trials and tribulations we go through as individuals, families or a nation are sometimes beyond our comprehension,” he said.

“To a certain extent, our social analysis may lead us to identify the root causes of the situation,” he added.

“But unless we transcend these obstacles and resort to our faith to help us through at this difficult moment, the ‘blame game’ will lead us nowhere,” said Archbishop Wong.

In a separate statement released for Malaysia Day, Bishop Cornelius Piong of Keningau called on the country’s leaders to be “exemplary role models” and inspire everyone to be upstanding citizens.

Bishop Piong called on all Malaysians to have a sense of pride in their identity as citizens of a multi-racial, multi-cultural and multi-religious nation.

He went on to remind political leaders to be fair in the distribution of the country’s wealth and to ensure that everyone is treated equitably.

He said that it is vital that everyone, irrespective of race, religion or ethnicity, feel a sense of belonging to the nation.

He warned that this can only be achieved if leaders govern with “fairness and justice” and are attentive to the welfare of all.

Bishop Piong also urged everyone to commit toward saving the environment “that God created for us and for future generations.”

Only 9.2% of Malaysia’s population of 32.7 million are Christians.

According to the most recent census in 2010, up to 61.3% of the population practices Islam; 19.8%, Buddhism; 6.3%, Hinduism; 1.3%, Confucianism, Taoism, or other traditional Chinese philosophies and religions;. Less than 1% are members of other religious groups, including animists, Sikhs, Jehovah’s Witnesses, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Baha’is.

Almost all Muslims practice Sunni Islam of the Shafi’i school. Ethnic Malays, defined in the federal constitution as Muslims from birth, account for approximately 55% of the population.

Rural areas – especially in the peninsular east coast of the country – are predominantly Muslim, while the states of Sabah and Sarawak on the island of Borneo have relatively higher numbers of non-Muslims.

Two-thirds of the country’s Christian population inhabits the East Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak.

Archbishop Wong said that over the years Malaysia has proven that “nation building is possible within a multi-ethnic and multi-religious setting.”

He admitted, however, that “the diverse cultures, demands and aspirations” of the population have “put pressure on interethnic and inter-religious relations, and have at times resulted in some tensions.”

“But, praise God, sense and a spirit of tolerance have kept us going,” he said.

The archbishop said the pandemic has deprived the people of Malaysia of the real celebration “that could have been manifested through fellowship and social interaction.”

Some Malaysian Christians would usually hold fasts ending on Malaysia Day, and pray for Muslims during the celebration to promote religious harmony and the celebration of religious freedom.

Since 2000, the National Evangelical Christian Fellowship, with 2,800 member churches, has been organizing fasts.

Archbishop Wong said that the spike in COVID-19 cases and casualties in recent months has diverted and drained much of the people’s energy, resources and attention.

“Our public health system is stretched to the limit and frontliners are simply burnt out. The economic sector suffers tremendously, and many are hit by loss of job and income,” he noted.

He said that while people rely heavily on media technology, divisions in communities are “further widening,” especially between those in the rural and urban areas.

“Squabbles on the political front too are not contributing well to the already stressful situation,” said the Catholic Church leader.

“As disciples of Christ, we are called to be ‘salt of the earth and light of the world,’” he said, addressing the Christian population.”

“Instead of cursing the darkness, let us each light our own candle and, together, we can find a way out,” said Archbishop Wong as he assured the people of prayers that this year’s Malaysia Day observance “will be an occasion to make the difference.”

“Where there are lies and deceit, let us uphold truth and integrity. Where there is hatred and vengeance, let us show pardon and forgiveness. Where there are bullies and exploitations, let us stand firm and defend the human dignity of everyone, irrespective of color or creed. Where there are negative forces at play, let us defeat them with the forces of love,” said the prelate.

He concluded his statement with a call on all Malaysians to let their love for the country “bring out the best in us as we march forward through and beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Philippine cardinal, 130 nuns, convent staff test positive for COVID-19

Cardinal Jose Advincula kneels to pray after entering the Manila Cathedral at the start of his installation as the 33rd archbishop of the Archdiocese of Manila on June 24, 2021. / Jose Torres Jr. / LiCAS News

Manila, Philippines, Sep 17, 2021 / 08:29 am (CNA).

Cardinal Jose Advincula of Manila has tested positive for COVID-19, two days after a religious congregation in the Philippine capital announced that 62 of its nuns also tested positive for COVID.

In a statement released on Friday, Sept. 17, the Archdiocese of Manila said that aside from a “slight fever,” the archbishop “does not feel any other symptoms.”

“He is in quarantine, observing strict protocols. Doctors are also monitoring his condition,” read the statement.

Earlier, the Congregation of the Religious of the Virgin Mary said that 62 of its nuns and at least 50 of its staff — caregivers, health aides, and drivers — also tested positive for the disease.

In a statement released on Sept. 15, the religious congregation said the infections were confirmed after the nuns were tested on Sept. 10.

The congregation said that, since Sept. 14, the entire convent located in Quezon City “has been on lockdown” and is “fully cooperating” with health officials.

Another religious congregation of nuns, the Holy Spirit Sisters, also reported 22 COVID cases and one death. In one of its convents, which is also located in the national capital, 13 nuns and nine staff members tested positive for COVID; the congregation said that one of the nuns has since died of the disease.

A statement by the city’s Epidemiology and Disease Surveillance Unit said it has started investigating how the nuns were infected.

The nuns were still waiting to be vaccinated, according to health officials, although all the staff members were fully vaccinated.

The sisters said the outbreak may have been caused by an asymptomatic visitor to one of its elderly sisters.

“We seldom leave the convent. But from time to time we allow fully vaccinated visitors to visit especially if they are family members of our elderly sisters,” read the congregation’s statement.

The Philippines on Friday reported 20,336 new COVID-19 cases, with more than 300 deaths - the highest in almost a month.

The country's total COVID-19 cases stood at 2,324,475, with active infections at 188,108, or 8.1% of the running tally. 

Positivity rate is at 26.6% based on the test results of 75,766 people, according to the health department’s latest bulletin, exceeding one positive result out of every four tests.

Experts said earlier that community transmission of the more contagious Delta variant, as well as the public's violation of health protocols, have contributed to the country's record infections. 

The Philippines shifted to an alert level quarantine scheme this week in an attempt to stop the spread of COVID-19 cases while trying to revive the pandemic-battered economy.

Pope Francis hopes new ministry of catechist will ‘awaken this vocation’

Pope Francis greets Archbishop Rino Fisichella in the Vatican's Clementine Hall, Sept. 17, 2021. / Vatican Media.

Vatican City, Sep 17, 2021 / 07:30 am (CNA).

Pope Francis said on Friday that he instituted the new ministry of catechist with the hope that it would help to “awaken this vocation.”

Addressing participants in a meeting organized by the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization on Sept. 17, the pope referred to his decision to formally institute the new lay ministry in May.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

He said: “We must insist on indicating the heart of catechesis: the risen Jesus Christ loves you and never abandons you! We can never tire or feel we are being repetitive about this first proclamation in the various stages of the catechetical process.”

“This is why I instituted the ministry of catechist. They are preparing the rite for the, I quote, ‘creation’ of catechists. So that the Christian community may feel the need to awaken this vocation and to experience the service of some men and women who, living the celebration of the Eucharist, may feel more vividly the passion to transmit the faith as evangelizers.”

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

The pope established the new ministry through the apostolic letter Antiquum ministerium (“Ancient ministry”) on May 11.

While catechists have served the Church since New Testament times, an instituted ministry is a type of formal, vocational service within the Catholic Church.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

The newly instituted ministry of catechist is for lay people who have a particular call to serve the Catholic Church as a teacher of the faith.

In the apostolic letter, the pope said that the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments would “soon publish” the Rite of Institution of the new ministry.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

In his address, the pope noted that last Sunday he celebrated the closing Mass of the International Eucharistic Congress in Budapest, Hungary.

He said that catechesis “can be effective in the work of evangelization if it keeps its gaze fixed on the Eucharistic mystery.”

“We cannot forget that the privileged place of catechesis is precisely the Eucharistic celebration, where brothers and sisters come together to discover ever more the different forms of God's presence in their lives,” he said.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

Speaking in the Vatican’s Clementine Hall to Catholics responsible for catechesis in Europe, the pope fondly recalled the two catechists who prepared him for First Communion.

“I felt a great respect, even a feeling of thanksgiving, without making it explicit, but it felt like veneration,” he said.

“Why? Because they were the women who had prepared me for my First Communion, together with a nun. I want to tell you about this experience because it was a beautiful thing for me to accompany them to the end of their lives, both of them. And also the nun who prepared me for the liturgical part of Communion: she died, and I was there, with her, accompanying her. There is a closeness, a very important bond with catechists…”

Referring to the Directory for Catechesis, released in June 2020, he said that catechesis should not be understood as “an abstract communication of theoretical knowledge to be memorized as like mathematical or chemical formulas.”

“It is rather the mystagogical experience of those who learn to encounter their brothers and sisters where they live and work, because they themselves have met Christ, who has called them to become missionary disciples,” he said.

He then referred to his address on Monday in St. Martin’s Cathedral, Bratislava, in which he encouraged Slovakian Catholics to draw inspiration from Sts. Cyril and Methodius, who translated the Bible into the Slavonic language.

He told catechists in Rome: “They beat new paths, invented new languages, new ‘alphabets,’ to transmit the Gospel, for the inculturation of the faith.”

“This requires knowing how to listen to the people, to listen to the peoples to whom one is proclaiming: listening to their culture, their history; listening not superficially, already thinking of the pre-packaged answers we carry in our briefcase, no! To truly listen, and to compare those cultures, those languages, even and above all the unspoken, the unexpressed, with the Word of God, with Jesus Christ, the living Gospel.”

“And I repeat the question: is this not the most urgent task of the Church among the peoples of Europe? The great Christian tradition of the continent must not become a historical relic, otherwise, it is no longer ‘tradition.’”

He continued: “Tradition is either alive or it is not. And catechesis is tradition, it is trador [in Latin], to hand down, but as living tradition, from heart to heart, from mind to mind, from life to life. Therefore: passionate and creative, with the impetus of the Holy Spirit.”

“I used the word ‘pre-packaged’ for language, but I fear catechists whose heart, attitude, and face are ‘pre-packaged.’ No. Either the catechist is free, or he or she is not a catechist. The catechist lets herself or himself be struck by the reality he or she finds, and transmits the Gospel with great creativity, or is not a catechist. Think about this well.”

Polish Catholic leader expresses ‘deep pain and sadness’ as report on charismatic priest faults Dominicans

A press conference launching a report by a commision of experts on the activities of Polish Dominican priest Paweł M., Sept. 15, 2021. / Screenshot from the Katolicka Agencja Informacyjna YouTube channel.

Warsaw, Poland, Sep 17, 2021 / 05:35 am (CNA).

A Polish Catholic archbishop expressed “deep pain and sadness” this week following the publication of a report concluding that the Dominican Order failed to support victims of a charismatic priest.

In a Sept. 15 statement, Archbishop Wojciech Polak thanked the victims for coming forward and contributing to the 261-page report on the actions of the priest, identified only as Paweł M.

The report, released on Wednesday, found that the priest, regarded by young people as a “charismatic guru,” created sect-like groups while engaging in physical and sexual abuse.

Polak, the Primate of Poland and the Polish bishops’ conference delegate for the protection of children and youth, said: “First of all, I would like to express my closeness, sympathy, and support to the wounded people who, although they were adults, were defenseless against psychological manipulation based on pseudo-theology, as well as against physical violence and sexual abuse on the part of the friar.”

“Unfortunately, they were also harmed by the lack of understanding and support from the order’s authorities. We all owe these people a debt of gratitude and respect for their courage and determination in exposing the evil they experienced and the consequences of it that they still face today.”

The priest, Paweł M., was placed in pre-trial detention in March and is subject to a canonical trial.

Fr. Paweł Kozacki, Prior Provincial of the Dominican Province of Poland, asked an independent commission of experts that month to investigate the actions of Paweł M. and the Dominican Order’s response.

In a Sept. 15 statement, Poland’s Dominican province said that the report “reveals -- in a fuller form than known so far -- the enormity of the evil committed by Paweł M.”

“We sincerely apologize for all this evil, for which we ourselves are horrified and for which we are responsible in various ways. First of all, to those who have suffered the most direct and painful harm, but also to all those who have been affected by it and whose faith is thus put to the test,” it said.

“We are ready to make reparation for the wrong that has been done, we want to seek with determination to repair the damage and the mistakes, and above all we want to continue to serve you, realizing -- as never before -- that we are not worthy to do so.”

“Therefore, we dare to ask you to pray for all those who have been wronged. We also ask you to pray for us, Dominicans -- for conversion and for us to be able to fulfill our vocation and serve you, the Church, and God better, more responsibly, wisely, and zealously.”

The Catholic Church in Poland is undergoing a reckoning on clerical abuse.

It announced in June that it had received 368 allegations of clerical abuse in the past two and a half years.

The claims relate to abuse reportedly committed by 292 priests and religious between 1958 and 2020. The allegations were made between July 1, 2018, and Dec. 31, 2020.

Since November 2020, the Vatican has disciplined a string of mainly retired Polish bishops after investigations under Pope Francis’ 2019 motu proprio Vos estis lux mundi.

Polak thanked those involved in the work of the commission, which was led by Tomasz Terlikowski, a journalist and philosopher.

The archbishop said: “I know what a tremendous amount of work they did and how taxing it was for them. I have no doubt that they did it out of genuine concern for those who were wronged and genuine love for the Church.”

“I am also close to the Dominican friars and those they minister to. I appreciate the courage and humility to stand in the truth that hurts and shames, but also cleanses and enables healing.”

“All of us in the Church must draw conclusions from the work of the commission, and especially take to heart its recommendations, in order to stand unequivocally on the side of the disadvantaged and effectively protect the weakest.”

He added: “I pray for all of us who are wounded and aggravated by this evil, that we may emerge from this trial strengthened, trusting that Jesus is with us in this painful experience.”

Pope Francis tells elderly priests: ‘Aging is a privilege’

Pope Francis visits the elderly priest-residents of Casa San Gaetano in Rome, June 17, 2016. / L'Osservatore Romano.

Vatican City, Sep 17, 2021 / 04:00 am (CNA).

Pope Francis told elderly priests from northern Italy that aging is a privilege because they have the chance to suffer like Jesus Christ.

“You are experiencing a season, old age, which is not a disease but a privilege,” he said in a Sept. 16 letter to priests from the Lombardy region.

“And even those of you who are sick live, we can say, a privilege: that of resembling Jesus who suffers, carrying the cross just like Him,” he added.

Pope Francis sent the letter as elderly priests and the bishops of the Lombardy region met for a day of prayer and community at the shrine of Santa Maria del Fonte in Caravaggio, 25 miles east of Milan.

The day began with Mass offered for the repose of the souls of the 92 Lombardy priests who died as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. The Mass was followed by a shared lunch.

“Think of Simeon and Anna: just when they are elderly, the Gospel enters fully into their lives and, taking Jesus in their arms, they announce to everyone the revolution of tenderness,” the pope wrote in his letter.

Francis said that the sick and elderly priests were not merely an object of assistance, but also active protagonists in their communities.

“You are the bearers of dreams, dreams full of memory and therefore very important for the younger generations precisely because your dreams are the root,” he wrote.

“From you comes the sap to flourish in the Christian life and in ministry,” he commented.

The 84-year-old pope, who underwent colon surgery in July, also said that communities caring for sick and elderly priests are “well rooted in Jesus,” and closed his letter by asking for prayers.

“Please, pray for me who is a little old and a little, but not too much, sick!” he said. “May the Lord bless you and Our Lady keep you.”

The Sept. 16 gathering of priests and bishops took place at the Basilica of Santa Maria del Fonte, a shrine dedicated to Our Lady of Caravaggio in the province of Bergamo, one of the areas in Italy worst affected by the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020.

The Shrine of Our Lady of Caravaggio was built on the site of a 15th-century Marian apparition.

The Blessed Virgin Mary reportedly appeared to a young peasant girl, Giannetta Varoli, in a hay field outside the town of Caravaggio on May 26, 1432.

In her message, the Virgin urged penance for sin, including fasting on Fridays. The apparition is also called Our Lady of the Fountain because a spring of water appeared under the stone where the Virgin stood, and on which she left an imprint of her feet.

That same year, the first small shrine was built at the site. More than 100 years later, in 1575, St. Charles Borromeo, then the archbishop of Milan, hired an architect to begin the long process of expanding the shrine into what it looks like today.