Posts Tagged ‘Europe’

Will Pope Francis’ visit to Europe’s parliament bolster family issues?

Brussels, Belgium, Nov 22, 2014 / 06:03 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Awaiting the Pope’s visit to Strasbourg next week, an official of the Federation of Catholic Family Associations in Europe says she hopes Francis will insist on family issues, as they are crucial to fulfilling Europe’s dream of peace.

“If you want peace, then defend the family,” Maria Hildingsson, secretary general of federation which works for political representation of family interests from a Catholic perspective, told CNA Nov. 20.

Founded in 1997, FAFCE works with both the European Union and the Council of Europe, and is the only independent organization clearly registered in the EU as Catholic; it represents organizations from 15 nations.

Pope Francis will travel to Strasbourg Nov. 25, there addressing the local seat of European Parliament and the Council of Europe.

The European Parliament includes members of parliament from the 28 states of the European Union, while the Council of Europe is the organization for the defence of human rights in Europe, and has 47 members.

Based on her experience of years of advocacy in the two international bodies, Hildingsson has found a split between them.

“The split is about issues of human sexuality. The EU is very active in promoting the ‘gender’ ideaology agenda, without finding much resistance; while in the Council of Europe the EU states find a lot of resistence on these issue by countries outside the EU, especially the eastern countries which have introduced laws to counter propaganda on homosexuality,” Hildingsson said.

She lamented that “the family is almost forgotten among the official issues of the European Union. The Euro 2020 strategy is about work – and we know you cannot raise a family without economic support – but it is not based on a family perspective, it is rather about improving the competiveness of European countries. The family is thus put aside.”

Hildingsson explained that in fact “the vast majority of European children live with a father and a mother,” but on the other hand “this sense of economic sense of insecurity puts at risk the capacity to establish stable relationships.”

FAFCE has been working to affect public opinion in Europe by organizing conferences, petitions, and campaigns. On the occasion of the European elections, it launched a manifesto in order to identify politicians with family friendly policies, and it also led a campaign to decry the ‘Estrela report’.

Drafted by the Portuguese member of parliament Edite Estrela, the report put reproductive health on a par with human rights. Though it was non-binding, it could have paved the way to push this agenda on all the countries of European Union.

The report did was not approved, with the EU ruling that sexual issues must be discussed at a national level. It is believed that this decision was due in part to the international campaign led by FAFCE involving several citizen and family assocations.

This is why Hildingsson stresses it is “important that in his speech Pope Francis insist on subsidiarity, of the respect of the heritage and culture of each country.”

And then, she suggested, “the Pope could emphasize that if you want to build peace, you cannot manage it without the family. We must respect the profound anthropological difference of man and woman. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in the original French version, speaks about a family composed by one woman and one man.”Will Pope Francis’ visit to Europe’s parliament bolster family issues?

US cardinal to the undocumented: you can ‘come out of the shadows’

Rome, Italy, Nov 21, 2014 / 10:15 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The vice president of the U.S. bishops’ conference has said that charitable immigration reform must address the needs of both legal and illegal immigrants, encouraging the latter to come forward and receive help.

“Immigration (reform) should be more comprehensive, that is, we cover all immigrants, even the undocumented. We give people a chance to get their green card, a chance to come out of the shadows, so that when they work the money they get for themselves helps the culture too,” Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo told CNA on Nov. 19.

“From my point of view, it’s important that immigrants come out of the shadows, particularly the undocumented ones. In my mind it’s one of the most important things we could do.”    

Present in Rome for a Nov. 17-21 congress on the Pastoral Care for Migrants, Cardinal DiNardo, who is Archbishop of Galveston-Houston, Texas, offered his comments just one day before U.S. President Barack Obama revealed a major immigration reform package, issued by executive order.

In what is seen as a highly-contentious move, the president announced that he would stay the deportation of certain undocumented immigrant parents for up to three years, allowing them to work legally. Eligibility requirements include having lived in the U.S. for at least five years, having children who are U.S. citizens or legal residents, passing a criminal background check and agreeing to pay taxes.

Roughly 4 million people will likely qualify for this measure, while thousands of others will benefit from other changes. The president extended benefits of temporary residence to more children of undocumented immigrants, expanding the eligibility for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and extending their temporary stay from two to three years.

In addition, the president said he would increase border security resources and deport those who had illegally crossed the border recently. He said he would focus government enforcement resources on criminals and those who threaten security.

The executive order will mark the biggest change in immigration policy in three decades.

In his televised address, President Obama echoed Cardinal DiNardo’s sentiments in telling immigrants to “Come out of the shadows and get right with the law.”

The president insisted that his proposals did not amount to amnesty or straight-shot path to citizenship, although it will offer Social Security cards to those who qualify for the deferred deportation.

“What I’m describing is accountability – a common-sense, middle ground approach,” the president said.

“Mass amnesty would be unfair,” he stated. “Mass deportation would be both impossible and contrary to our character.”

Auxiliary Bishop Eusebio Elizondo of Seattle, chair of the U.S. bishops’ migration committee, issued a Nov. 20 statement welcoming the announcement of deferred deportations, saying that the United States has “a long history of welcoming and aiding the poor, the outcast, the immigrant and the disadvantaged.”

Each day in the Church’s social service projects, hospitals, schools and parishes, the devastating consequences of the separation of families due to the deportation of parents or spouses can be seen, he said.

The bishop noted that the episcopal conference had asked the Obama administration to “do everything within its legitimate authority to bring relief and justice to our immigrant brothers and sisters,” adding that as pastors, “we welcome any efforts within these limits that protect individuals and protect and reunite families and vulnerable children.”

He urged President Obama and members of Congress to work together in pursuing permanent reforms to the U.S. immigration system that seek the best interests of both the nation and the persons who migrate to the country in search of refuge.

“We will continue to work with both parties to enact legislation that welcomes and protects immigrants and promotes a just and fair immigration policy,” the bishop said.

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, issued a Nov. 20 statement, saying, “There is an urgent pastoral need for a more humane view of immigrants and a legal process that respects each person’s dignity, protects human rights, and upholds the rule of law.”

“As our Holy Father, Pope Francis, said so eloquently: ‘Every human being is a child of God! He or she bears the image of Christ! We ourselves need to see, and then to enable others to see, that migrants and refugees do not only represent a problem to be solved, but are brothers and sisters to be welcomed, respected, and loved,’” the archbishop said.

On the topic of improving the pastoral care of immigrants, Cardinal DiNardo explained that the Church already offers a lot of help. However, he said that a legal reform would help “lighten-up” the Church’s burden and allow greater focus on pastoral assistance.

“The Church always emphasizes the human person, so when we talk about the human person, we don’t ask if you’re an immigrant or whether you were born in the country,” the cardinal observed.

“You are a human person that has aptitudes, has a singularity, has an excellence and a dignity that we want to draw on,” he said, stressing that this vision is important to keep in mind when welcoming immigrants and helping them integrate into society.


The life of minorities in Ukraine, one year after protests began

Kyiv, Ukraine, Nov 21, 2014 / 04:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- One year ago, Mustafa Nayyem, a Ukrainian journalist born in Afghanistan,  began Euromaidan from his post on Facebook: “Let us be serious. Who is ready to come to The Independence Square today before midnight? Likes are not considered, only the comment, ‘I am ready’.”

This year, Nayyem changed his journalistic career to become a member of the Ukrainian parliament. However, not only has his life changed this year, but all Ukraine has become different.  

Euromaidan, the protest movement centered on Maidan (as Kyiv’s Independence Square is known) led to a change of government in Ukraine in February. Tens of thousands participated in the protests, and around 100 people died. Since then, Russia has annexed Crimea from Ukraine, and more than 4,300 have died in fighting between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian separatists in the country’s east.

The protests began the evening of Nov. 21, 2013, as people gathered at Maidan objecting to the government’s announcement that it would not sign a major economic partnership agreement with the European Union, in favor of a $15 billion bailout agreement with Russia.

Serhiy Nigoyan, a Ukrainian of Armenian descent, was the first victim of the protests:  he died Jan. 22 on Hrushevskoho Street in Kyiv, just after the first stage of escalation.

“He was Ukrainian. My wife and I are left without anything. We had just one son. My wife still cries every day. One year after, nobody has told us who is actually are responsible for his death. We think we will never discover it. We just desire that he and other young people will stay in the memory of the people. After all, they are heroes,” Garik Nigoyan, Serhiy’s father, told CNA.

Serhiy’s death showed that Euromaidan was not only a protest of ‘Ukrainian nationalists’ – in addition to the Armenian-Ukrainian, Michael Zhyznevskyy, a Belarusian activist, died at Maidan Jan. 22.

Religious minorities were also joined together at the Maidan protests. While Jews and Muslims each constitute less than one percent of Ukraine’s population, both religious groups were alongside the country’s majority Christians at Maidan.

“I know that at Maidan it was the case that in one corner of a tent a young girl prayed in the Jewish tradition, and in the other a Muslim prayed with his ceremony. I don’t know if it would be possible otherwise, but for them it was absolutely natural,” the Jewish-born Ukrainian artist Oleksandr  Roitburd told CNA.

“There were people from the right and the left, conservatives and liberals, anti-Semites and Jews, but they did not come to Maidan to fight against each other, but to protest against  the government.”

“I don’t think that after Maidan there is less corruption – it is a process,” Roitburd said. “Even economic life is more difficult than before. Yet this is no longer perceived us as a humiliation, but we keep thinking hopefully. People began to appreciate the personal space of freedom.”

Russians, too, have found a place in Ukraine since the protests began a year ago.

Andrew Teslenko, who lived most of his life in Barnaul, Russia, 2,600 miles east of Kyiv, received refugee status in Ukraine this week, together with his wife.

“In Russia the police opened the criminal case against me, because of my support for Maidan – I had made just a few posts on Vkontacte,” a Russian social network. “This spring they accused me in ‘inciting inter-ethnic conflict’ and ‘calling for extremism.’ The maximum term of imprisonment is five years. They searched our flat, and removed all our computers. That night, my wife and I decided: we can’t stay there anymore, and needed to run.”

While their refugee status gives them the opportunity to legally work in Ukraine, it does not make it any easier for the Teslenkos to integrate into their new home. Nevertheless, Andrew says, “it is easier to breathe here.”

“Of course, I realize that Ukraine, as a country which was at war for a long while, cannot become successful in a short time. My wife and I want to help develop this country in the field of migration and integration of foreigners, as we ourselves passed this way.”

Christians, too, are forming new ties in Ukraine since Euromaidan.

On Nov. 13, representatives of five different Orthodox Churches in the country signed the “Rivne Memorandum,” which Archbishop Thomas Gullickson, apostolic nuncio to Ukraine, said in his Nov. 16 blogpost, “denounces inter-religious violence, calls for an end to Russian aggression in Ukraine, and formulates the wish that there should be one Orthodox Church for Ukraine.”

Two bishops  of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church which is backed by the Moscow patriarchate were among the signatories, but they later withdrew from the memo, saying they had signed “under duress.”

In Crimea, by contrast, minorities have not always fared well under the changes of the past year.

Following the change of government in Ukraine, the country’s southern peninsula was annexed by Moscow on March 18.

In Russian-administered Crimea, Tatars, the indigenous group who are nearly all Muslim and who constitute 15 percent of the population, are facing particular persecution.

On Nov. 12, arson was attempted on the mosque in the village of Sonyachna Doluna. On Oct. 6 an activist, Eden Asanov, was found dead in Yevpatoria; she had been disappeared Sept. 29.

The Tatars say that the disappearing of young activists in Crimea is common, but no one takes responsibility for these actions.

On Sept. 16, the Majilis, the Tatars’ representative office was searched for 16 hours, and the group’s leader, Mustafa Dzhemilyev, was exiled from Crimea for five years by the Russian administration.

Refat Chubarow, the head of the Majlis and who is also exiled from Crimea, told CNA: “One day this conflict should finish. I believe it will. Than we need to help Russia somehow to be our good neighbor.”

Alim Aliyev, co-founder of the volunteer  organization Crimea SOS, added that “in Crimea there is a real danger to the life of each person who has a ‘different’ opinion. Anyone who thinks the annexation of Crimea is Russia’s aggression, not a natural process, is considered an extremist. After the kidnapping, killing, and intimidation of activists, the Russian government wants Crimean Tatars to become humble citizens of the Russian Federation, or that we should leave Crimea ourselves, because of the circumstances they created. This is our land – it was too hard to return there, to leave it so easily.”

Of the 300,000 Tatars who call Crimea home, since Moscow annexed the peninsula on March 18, 8,000 have already emigrated.

“The Crimean Tatars traditionally are the most pro-Ukrainian population, because we have assimilated the most with Ukraine. With Ukrainians we are connected by common senses of life – we know what it means to defend the right to freedom; Russian don’t have this experience,” a 26-year old Tatar told CNA.

“The Crimean Tatars still clearly remember Stalin’s deportation, which for us is very painful. We don’t want back in the Soviet Union.”

What’s the biggest threat to Asia? Atheism, this cardinal says

Rome, Italy, Nov 21, 2014 / 02:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Hong Kong’s retired prelate Cardinal Joseph Zen said that amid decades of communist rule in China, human values are at stake in all of Asia and can only be salvaged by fervidly preaching the gospel.

What threatens the continent most today, Cardinal Zen told CNA, “is a humanistic atheism; people who oppose God-to-man, man-to-God.”

By looking to the history of China, it’s clear “that communism has destroyed all human values. So to save human values we have to work hard to spread the good news of Jesus Christ,” he said. “We have to preach God because only God can save man.”

The retired cardinal gave his comments during a Nov. 18 symposium on the Church in Asia, entitled “The mission in Asia: from John Paul II to Pope Francis.”

He reflected that the task of evangelization in China, as it is in all of Asia, requires boldly proclaiming human values and rights.

“So that’s what we are doing in Hong Kong. Although we are already a part of China, we still have freedom of speech so we must speak out,” he said, noting that while there will not be any immediate results, the Church must persevere.

He also touched on how Pope Francis is received in China, saying that although it is likely that the whole world has some sympathy and respect for what the pontiff is doing, the Chinese government is not ready to change anything in terms of their religious policy.

Pope Francis “has to work very hard,” the cardinal added, saying that if the Pope chooses to visit China right now, “I don’t see any probability of a success because they will surely manipulate him, because there is no sign of any good will on the part of China.”

The Pope’s ongoing push for dialogue is something key for the Asian Church and for modern times in general, Cardinal Zen observed, drawing specific attention to what he told Asian bishops during his visit to South Korea in August.

“In the mass with the Asian bishops, (the Pope) spoke about dialogue, and he said that dialogue has two essential conditions: one is that each one should be coherent to his own identity, (and) the second point is to have this empathy and this open heart to listen.”

“Both the coherence with one’s own identity and the openness of heart are important,” he noted, saying it is “very wise” advice on the pontiff’s part.

Also present at the Nov. 18 symposium on Asia was Bishop Lazzaro You Heung-Sik of Daejeon, South Korea, who welcomed Pope Francis to his diocese during the pontiff’s August visit.

Like the rest of Asia, the Church in Korea is also walking a path of dialogue, he told CNA Nov. 18, noting that it is not a dialogue of “activism or superficiality, but an authentic dialogue of Christians who live their relation to Christ every day, and which brings them close to others, listening to others.”

Only by fostering this attitude will others be influenced to come forward in dialogue as well, Bishop You said. He added that as Christians, we are “the living flowers that give lived testimony to the Gospel.”

Among the current initiatives the local church in Hong Kong is backing in the push for greater human rights are the current protests that have been organized largely by students in response to limits Chinese leadership has placed on who can run for the position of chief executive, Hong Kong’s top leader, in 2017.

With the new rules allowing only one vote per citizen for pre-selected candidates chosen by the Chinese government, protestors have accused Beijing’s authorities of breaking their previous guarantee of Hong Kong’s right to democracy.

Cardinal Zen said that the people of Hong Kong “are fighting for a real democracy,” which is not something that the new restrictions allow. “That is not a real election, so we are fighting against that,” he said.

However, despite the good intentions on the part of protestors, things are getting out of hand. The cardinal noted that whereas things began “rationally” with no immediate expectations, the students have become impatient.

“(They) have taken the whole thing in their hands, and they are impatient…they go so fast without much planning, and obviously they want to have immediate success, and that’s not possible. So in this way they are making mistakes.”

Yesterday protestors in Hong Kong clashed with police when they attempted to break into a parliament building, using metal barricades to break down a side entrance of the Legislative Council building, BBC reports.

Because the students are young, they could have the opportunity of raising “the awareness of the whole world, but then it’s dangerous to waste the sympathy of the people, because now things are dragging on too long,” he said.

Few topics more manipulated than hunger, Pope tells UN

Rome, Italy, Nov 20, 2014 / 12:49 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis on Thursday condemned the excessive consumption and misuse of food, saying that often the statistics surrounding the topic of hunger are twisted for the sake of national security.

“There are few subjects about which we find as many fallacies as those related to hunger; few topics as likely to be manipulated by data, statistics, the demands of national security, corruption, or futile lamentation about the economic crisis,” the Pope said Nov. 20.

It is “painful,” he said, to see that the struggle against hunger and malnutrition “is hindered by ‘market priorities,’ the ‘primacy of profit,’ which have reduced foodstuffs to a commodity like any other, subject to speculation, also of a financial nature.”

Pope Francis offered his comments during a speech given to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) at their headquarters in Rome. The organization is currently holding their Second International Conference on Nutrition, which began on Nov. 19, and closes Nov. 21.

The pontiff condemned what St. Pope John Paul II also spoke of at the First Conference on Nutrition in 1992, when he warned the international community against the risk of the “paradox of plenty.”

This paradox in which there is enough food for everyone – and yet not everyone can eat – still exists, the Pope observed, saying that “waste, excessive consumption and the use of food for other purposes is visible before our very eyes.”

In today’s world relations between nations are often damaged by a “mutual suspicion” which at times leads to military and economic aggression, he said, noting how this aggression damages friendships and leads to the rejection and discarding of those who are already excluded.

“This is a picture of today’s world, in which it is necessary to recognize the limits of approaches based on the sovereignty of each state, intended as absolute, and national interest, frequently conditioned by small power groups,” he said.

However, the Pope also underscored the importance of taking the discussion on hunger to a human level, in which conversation goes beyond rights and duties, and looks at those who are hungry themselves.

“While we speak of new rights, the hungry remain at the street corner, and ask to be recognized as citizens, to receive a healthy diet. We ask for dignity, not for charity,” the Roman Pontiff voiced, saying that helpful theories can’t remain “in limbo,” but must be put into practice.

Only when development plans and the work of international organizations respect the fundamental human rights, including the “rights of the hungry,” will relief efforts and humanitarian intervention gain momentum and yield greater results, he explained.

Pope Francis also spoke of the need to grow in solidarity, saying that it is a virtue most societies lack due to the growing presence of individualism and division.

“When there is a lack of solidarity in a country, the effects are felt throughout the world,” he said, noting how it is an attitude which enables people to go beyond differences and reach out to others in an effort to seek the common good.

States too, the pontiff observed, should be able to work together and help each other through the just principles and norms of international law. This law, he said, should be based on the natural law which fosters love, justice and peace.

“Like people, States and international institutions are called to welcome and nurture these values, in a spirit of dialogue and mutual listening. In this way, the aim of feeding the human family becomes feasible.”

It is the duty of every state, the Pope added, to care for the well-being of its citizens – a duty that requires perseverance and support.

He reinforced the efforts of the Church in fighting hunger and caring for the dignity of the poor throughout the world, pointing to how the Holy See has spoken out in numerous documents and statements, and is involved in various international organizations.

By doing these things the Church “contributes to identifying and assuming the criteria to be met in order to develop an equitable international system,” the Pope continued, saying that these criterion ought to be based on pillars of truth, freedom and solidarity.

The same goes for those in the legal field, he observed, saying that the same criteria should be used in defining the relationship between rights and food, the right to be protected by law, and the “obligation” of sharing economic wealth with the world.

“No form of political or economic pressure that exploits the availability of foodstuffs can be considered acceptable (and) no system of discrimination, de facto or de jure, linked to the capacity of access to the market of foodstuffs, must be taken as a model for international efforts that aim to eliminate hunger,” he said.

Pope Francis concluded his speech by urging everyone involved to place themselves at the service of those who suffer due to hunger, assisting them through close proximity and concrete action.

“I also pray that the international community might hear the call of this Conference and consider it an expression of the common conscience of humanity: feed the hungry, save life on the planet.”

Abuse allegations were addressed immediately, Spanish archbishop says

Granada, Spain, Nov 19, 2014 / 04:11 pm (CNA).- The Archdiocese of Granada, Spain, has defended its response to the case of three priests accused of abusing an underage boy over a decade ago, offering solidarity to the alleged victim.  


Poverty, divorce, alcoholism – no shortage of challenges for Church in Belarus

Minsk, Belarus, Nov 19, 2014 / 04:08 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In Belarus, western Ukraine’s neighbor to the north, the Church is doing its best to reach out to the people, even as it faces such challenges as irreligion, poverty, and alcoholism in the former Soviet republic.

“For 70 years efforts had been made to completely eradicate any belief in God,” Magda Kaczmarek, a senior staff member of Aid to the Church in Need, said after her visit to Belarus earlier in November. “The Church was not merely persecuted during Soviet times, but literally destroyed. Churches were made into cinemas, warehouses and sports halls. Priests were sent to Gulags in Siberia or murdered.”

“However, there are still Catholics today who rely on the Church for support … among them are many who are searching and people who are open to God, but who were not able to or not allowed to live out their faith for any number of reasons. The Church is committed to finding them, reminding them of their Catholic roots and offering them pastoral care once again.”

Kaczmarek noted that “examples of the Church’s support for society as a whole are the care for homeless people and families, as well as counselling services for pregnant women. Along with Russia, Belarus is among the countries with the highest abortion rates. This is a pressing problem.”

She added that “in carrying out this work, the Church takes care of everyone, irrespective of religious affiliation. Anyone who needs help finds a ready welcome.”

Among Belarusians, around 40 percent are irreligious, 48 percent are Eastern Orthodox, and 12 percent are Catholic.

“One of the greatest challenges is providing pastoral care in matters concerning children, adolescents, marriage, and family,” said Kaczmarek, who noted that 70 percent of marriages in the nation end in divorce. “However, vocations can only grow within intact families that practice their faith.”

The high divorce rate has led to a “great shortage of native priest and religious,” but “priests from other countries may only stay in the country for a few months,” she said. “The visas of foreign clergy are often not renewed … which leads to shortfalls in pastoral care.”

“Another great need is building of small churches and chapels for new communities. One question that remains unanswered concerns the restoration of the Church property that was confiscated by the state after World War II. In many cases, the granting of parcels of land free-of-charge is a positive sign. However, it can take years to actually receive building permits. The bureaucracy is making it very hard on the clergy.”

Kaczmarek noted that while the state does “welcome the Church’s social commitment, such as its soup kitchens, nurseries or pro-life activities … there is no state funding made available for any of these initiatives” and the Church is thus “largely dependent on outside help.”

Recalling how she grew up in Poland during the Cold War, she noted, “I …. felt like I was back in this period of Poland’s history while I was in Belarus.”

“You still feel the presence of communism. In the cities as well as in rural areas, monuments that honour Lenin or the soldiers of the Red Army, tanks and airplanes recall former times.”

Alexander Lukashenko, Belarus’ president, has been in office since 1994. According to Transparency International, Belarus has high levels of perceived public sector corruption, in Europe ahead of only Russia and Ukraine.

“It is common knowledge that the Belarusians live under a dictatorship,” commented Kaczmarek.

“The country seems very isolated … You feel that the people have little trust in each other. Uncertainty and mistrust are everywhere.”

She also commented that “Belarus has the highest consumption of alcohol in all of Europe.”

Despite all these challenges, Catholics and Orthodox are working together to serve Belarusians.

“We have not forgotten that the Catholic Church helped us when times were difficult,” Metropolitan Paul Ponomaryov, the Russian Orthodox patriarchal exarch for Belarus, told Aid to the Church in Need Nov. 14.

Both Churches suffered from anti-religious propaganda during the Soviet period, he said, adding that “Orthodox and Catholics have to defend the values of the Gospel. We have much in common.”

“Today, a mind-set has taken hold that places the ‘I’ into the foreground and always stresses, ‘take what you can get.’ Children are being raised with this fundamentally egotistical take on life,” he lamented.

“Christians are called to live in the exact opposite way – to develop the willingness to make sacrifices for others and to give to those who have nothing or very little.”

#savealeppo – International movement urges a ceasefire in the Syrian city

Rome, Italy, Nov 19, 2014 / 02:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- As the battle over Syria’s largest city has raged for more than two years, the Community of Sant’Egidio on Tuesday launched a campaign for international solidarity to promote a truce in the historic metropolis.

Andrea Riccardi, founder of the lay association known for its dedication to peace, said Nov. 18 that “Aleppo, a world of cohabitation, where Christians and Muslims lived together, is going to be destroyed. It is not a battle. It is an agony.”

The appeal for Aleppo included the launch of the hashtag #savealeppo to draw attention to the city’s plight.

The Sant’Egidio community’s president, Marco Impagliazzo, was recently received at the United Nations by its secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, “who gave his support to the Sant’Egidio initiative,” said Riccardi.

The Sant’Egidio community has played a leading role in successfully negotiating for peace in previous conflicts, including in Senegal in 2012; Algeria in 1995; and Mozambique in 1992.

The battle of Aleppo began in July 2012  as part of the Syrian civil war. It has involved the Syrian regime and its ally Hezbollah; moderate rebels such as the Free Syrian Army; Islamist rebels such as al-Nusra Front and Islamic State; and Kurdish forces.

“Each of these forces may surround the other; the battle is completely balanced, and people are completely stuck in the middle, while public opinion has almost forgotten what it is going on in Syria,” maintained Riccardi.

Riccardi blamed the lack of interest on the Syrian situation on the fluctuation of public opinion, which “easily forgets,” as has happened with the plight of Christians in Iraq.

According to Riccardi, “there are now about 1 million people in Aleppo, but it is difficult to assess with precision how many Christians have remained … perhaps there are 60 thousand left.”

The city is divided into zones held by the regime, Kurds, and rebels, with an estimated 300,000 persons in rebel-held areas.

In 2005, before the war began, the city’s population was estimated at 2.3 million.

The Sant’Egidio community does not want to give diplomatic suggestions, but it hopes “that the situation of Aleppo would be frozen, and eventually that there is an international intervention coordinated by the United Nations in order to free Aleppo and make of Aleppo an ‘open city’ on the model of Rome during the Second World War.”

In August 1943, Italian forces declared Rome an “open city,” saying they had abandoned the city’s defense in the face of Allied advances. The city was eventually liberated in June, 1944, without bloodshed.

In Aleppo, “many now predict it is just a matter of time” before the city falls to the Syrian regime if no ceasefire is signed, the BBC’s Lyse Doucet wrote Nov. 14. “Syrian troops are encircling (the rebel-held zone) in a pincer movement to cut supply lines, an attempt to force surrender and defeat,” she continued.

Sant’Egidio’s proposal for a ‘freeze zone’ in Aleppo has been accepted by Staffan de Mistura, the United Nations envoy to Syria.

The freeze zone plan would institute local truces in the Syrian civil war, allowing the delivery of humanitarian aid in a war that has killed at least 200,000 and forced more than 11 million from their homes.

But it is feared that the Syrian regime will not continue advancing in Aleppo unless the freeze zone is situated to its clear advantage.

Aleppo was chosen for the ceasefire “as a symbol, because Aleppo has been the biggest city of cohabition among religions,” said Riccardi.

“I remember when the bells of Christian churches rang along with the Muslim muezzin. There, the Arabic world, Kurdish world, Armenian world, and Christian world converged, and lived together.”

Aleppo has been continuously inhabited since well before Christ, and its Old City was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1986, and in 2006 was named the “Islamic Capital of Culture.”

While some 80 percent of its population before the civil war were Muslims, they coexisted well with the city’s small Jewish community, and the sizable Christian minority. Large numbers of both Orthodox and Catholics were present, with the city holding the cathedrals of six Catholic bishops of different Churches.

The Community of Sant’Egidio hopes that its efforts at an Aleppo ceasefire will mean rescuing all the religious minorities in the area.

The movement is also organizing a March 5-6, 2015 conference on Christians in the Middle East to be held in Cyprus, which will involve both Christians and Muslims of the region, as well as representatives of international organizations.

Pope’s visit to Philly will be ‘icing on the cake’ for family meeting

Rome, Italy, Nov 17, 2014 / 04:43 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- After Pope Francis officially confirmed that he will visit Philadelphia next fall for the World Meeting of Families, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput said the trip will be a blessing for the event and the world.

The Philadelphia archbishop explained that while the Pope had already said privately that he would come, it “gave me great joy” to hear the official announcement.

“This way we can prepare more formally with our state and with our Church to welcome the Holy Father,” he told CNA Nov. 17. “We have a concrete expression of his interest and his commitment and I hope to get a broad response from the community in the United States in reaction to this news.”

The Holy Father’s visit will come at the end of the World Meeting of Families, a global Catholic event that will be hosted in Philadelphia Sept. 22-27. The event, founded by St. John Paul II in 1994, occurs every three years and is meant to strengthen and encourage families throughout the world.

Even before the Pope’s announcement, the meeting was expected to draw tens of thousands of people. With the Pope’s visit during the weekend portion of the meeting, Archbishop Chaput said he now expects around 1 million people during that part of the event.  

“He won’t take part in the conference (portion)… but he is kind of like the icing on the cake,” Archbishop Chaput said, “and I am sure he will be briefed on how the spirit of the meeting was and what we’ve talked about and use those reflections to help the world understand what we are about and what we are celebrating next September.”

The World Meeting of Families occurs just one month before the Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops in October 2015, which will continue the conversation on family issues started at the Extraordinary Synod on the Family that took place in October 2014.
Archbishop Chaput said he hopes the World Meeting of Families will provide some clarity for the lay faithful on issues of family and marriage.

“What we hope to achieve through this meeting is a strengthening of family life,” he said. “Not just in the Catholic Church but also in the world, in so far as we can contribute to others’ clarity of thinking on marriage and most importantly the commitment of husbands and wives to each other for the sake of their children.”

People from every continent are coming to the World Meeting of Families, and Archbishop Chaput said he wants the event to be as inclusive as possible.

“We even have a scholarship program to help the poor come from different parts of the world because this is supposed to be a meeting of the whole world and not just of people who can afford the travel to the United States,” he said. “We have plans to make this a very inclusive gathering with people from all over. I look forward to being part of that celebration.”

More information on the World Meeting of Families can be found on their website:

‘The right to forget’: sins are left behind in the confessional

Rome, Italy, Nov 17, 2014 / 10:47 am (CNA).- Speaking about the “right to forget” sins after confessing them, a Vatican official stressed that God’s mercy truly frees us from our past sins if we truly repent of them.

Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, the head of the Apostolic Penitentiary – a Vatican tribunal dealing with issues involving the forgiveness of sins as well as indulgences – explained that while “it is right to sanction someone who has made a mistake,” there is also a right “to not have the errors of the past harm one’s reputation forever.”

According to L’Osservatore Romano, Cardinal Piacenza concluded a conference on “The Secret of Confession and Pastoral Privacy,” which the Apostolic Penitentiary held at Rome’s Palace of the Chancery on Nov. 13.

In the ordering of divine justice, he explained, this right to forget past sins “is always acknowledged for the penitent who, with a humble and repentant heart, approaches the Sacrament of Reconciliation.”

After absolution has been granted, he continued, “God, rich in mercy, no longer remembers the sin of the penitent, because it was definitively eliminated by the greatness of his love.”

With regards to the seal of confession, he said, the Church has acquired vast experience over the course of centuries and has developed “detailed and rigorous norms aimed at shielding and protecting what could undoubtedly be considered the highest form of secrecy, which belongs to each confessor.”

Cardinal Piacenza noted that these norms have formed the basis for civil society norms governing professional confidentiality.

He also highlighted other topics discussed during the conference, including the importance of confession and spiritual direction as the principal means for formation at the most personal and interior dimensions.

Other speakers at the conference focused on young people’s need to “be listened to, to authentically relate to the truth, for mercy, guidance and salvation,” he noted.

Justice “is another way of loving God, that is, another way in which God wishes the good of man,” the cardinal explained.  

“It should be emphasized that when God uses justice, He is loving. One of the forms of love is respecting justice.”

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