By Robin Gomes
The Catholic bishops of Indonesia’s easternmost Provinces of West Papua and Papua are urging a “better future” from the country’s authorities for their people in a territory torn by decades of struggle between Indonesian forces and separatist groups.
Representatives of the five dioceses of the two provinces recently came together for a 3-day meeting to discuss several problems affecting the Papuan people and their land, AsiaNews reported. Among the issues they focused on were the territory’s special autonomy law (UU Otsus), new job and development opportunities, and improving education, which now represents an emergency that must be tackled right away.
The Catholic Church in West Papua and Papua consists of the single ecclesiastical metropolitan province of Merauke, which includes the Archdiocese of Merauke and the suffragan dioceses of Jayapura, Agats, Timika and Manokwari-Sorong. The see of Timika is currently vacant.
In a press release on 25 Feb., at the end of their meeting, the Church leaders appealed to the country’s national and local leaders, urging them to focus on the common good of the people. According to them, peace can only be achieved through dialogue and an end to the armed struggle by separatist groups.
Indonesia’s military and security forces are pitted against local pro-independence armed groups who are pushing for “a referendum on self-determination”.
The bishops urged both sides to adopt “an approach based on love and non-violence”, inviting them to realize the “importance of peaceful dialogue”. Instead of discussing the further implementation of the special autonomy that has been in place for 20 years and which expires in 2021, they want to see the parties “get back to work together.”
Indigenous residents of West Papua and are Papua ethnically similar. The two provinces became part of Indonesia controversially in the 1960s, despite the former Dutch colony declaring independence in 1961. Since then, a separatist movement has been simmering in Papua, with sporadic violence. People have been complaining of discrimination and rights abuses at the hands of Indonesian authorities.
The prospects for peace are still conditioned by the armed struggle, which has led over the years to extrajudicial killings and violence on both sides. The civilians have suffered the most, forced to flee and seek refuge wherever they can, even inside churches.
The bishops of the two Papuan provinces are stressing the need for creating a future of hope for their people through opportunities for economic development through jobs and encouraging local businesses and enterprises.
The bishops complain that local businesses are owned by on-Papuan migrants from other provinces. “Regency officials,” they said, “should instead create opportunities for indigenous people, giving them the necessary skills and means.”
Another emergency, they said, is education which has been negatively impacted recently by the coronavirus pandemic.
With school absenteeism normally high, the pandemic has exacerbated the situation, making illiteracy a serious problem. “When the bases of primary education are inadequate, one cannot hope to achieve anything better from high school or universities,” the bishops said. (Source: AsiaNews)
By Vatican News staff reporter
It has been a year since the Pontifical Academy for Life, together with Microsoft, IBM, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the Minister for Technological Innovation of the Italian government, signed the “Rome Call for Artificial Intelligence (AI) Ethics.”
The document, which has been endorsed by Pope Francis, “seeks a commitment towards developing AI technologies in ways that are transparent, inclusive, socially beneficial and accountable.”
Marking the anniversary this 28 February, Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, President of the Pontifical Academy for Life, reiterated that “Progress can make a better world possible if it goes together with the common good.”
The Archbishop noted in a statement that in 12 months “the family of signatories has grown”, and they are working to make the document more and more known, “in view of further accessions by strategic actors for an ethical approach to the themes of Artificial Intelligence.”
The Academy president also underlined that “a channel of dialogue with monotheistic religions is open, in order to converge on a common vision of technology at the service of all humanity.”
“A year after the Call, the Pontifical Academy for Life is increasingly convinced and determined on the importance of placing itself at the service of each person in his/her entirety and of all people, without discrimination or exclusion,” he said.
The Archbishop emphasized that “the complexity of the technological world requires a more articulated ethical reflection, to make our commitment truly incisive.”
He went on to say that what is needed is a ”new alliance between research, science and ethics, because we stand at a crucial crossroads, in order to build a world where technology is actually used for the development of peoples.”
“That is a request coming from faith and reason,” continued the Archbishop. “Without equitable and widespread development there will be no justice, there will be no peace, there will be no universal brotherhood.”
Recalling the signing of the document just a year ago, the President of Microsoft, Brad Smith, said, “As we recover from the Covid-19 pandemic, the Rome Call will be even more important as we think more broadly and ethically about the future of technology.”
Meanwhile, Dario Gil, Senior Vice President and Director of IBM Research, commented that his company believes that “AI has the ability to transform and improve our lives and our society in many important ways. For all of us to benefit from AI, it requires a commitment to actively develop, deploy, and use it responsibly in order to prevent adverse outcomes.”
“By 2050, the world will have to feed about 10 billion people. This will only be possible with transformed agri-food systems that are inclusive, resilient and sustainable. Artificial Intelligence in Food and Agriculture plays a key role in this transformation and in achieving Food for All,” said FAO Director-General, QU Dongyu.
“It is essential,” underlined Archbishop Paglia, “that each of us understands that we are not an island. We are not “pulverized”, divided. We are one body, one family, for better or for worse. Let’s stick together.”
By Devin Watkins
The Migrants and Refugees Section of the Dicastery for Integral Human Development on Saturday revealed the Pope’s message for this year’s observance of the Catholic Church’s World Day of Migrants and Refugees.
In a communique, the Dicastery said the overarching theme of the Day, which will be held on Sunday, 26 September 2021, is divided into 6 sub-themes.
Pope Francis’ message will “stress the importance of being attentive to the entire human family through an inclusive Church that reaches out and is capable of creating communion in diversity.”
It will also give special attention to the care of our common home, “which translates into care of our common family, care of the ‘we’ that can, and must, become ever more open and welcoming.”
The statement went on to say the Migrants and Refugees Section will carry out a communications campaign to help Christians prepare for the Day.
The campaign will include “monthly multimedia aids, information material and reflections by theologians and experts that expand upon the theme and sub-themes chosen by the Holy Father.”
The Church marked the first celebration of the World Day of Migrants and Refugees in 1914, to express support and concern for people who are forced to flee their homes.
Catholics around the world are invited to pray for refugees and migrants in their many difficulties, and to learn more about the benefits which migration offers.
By Vatican News staff writer
On the anniversary of his death on 27 February 1862, Pope Francis sent a letter marking one hundred years since the canonisation of Saint Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows.
Canonised by Pope Benedict XV, Saint Gabriel died at the young age of 24, at the island of Gran Sasso in Italy.
In his letter, addressed to Bishop Lorenzo Leuzzi of Teramo-Atri, Pope Francis wrote that “this event showed that his Christian witness was so extraordinary and singular that it can be held up as a model for the whole Church, especially for new generations.”
The Pope went on to express his solidarity by joining spiritually in commemorating the significant anniversary with “this Diocese, the Passionist Fathers, the Christian communities of Abruzzo and Molise, and all those who will take part in the beginning of the Jubilee with the opening of the Holy Door at the Shrine dedicated to the patron saint of youth.”
Pope Francis also described St. Gabriel as “a young man of his time, full of life and enthusiasm, animated by a desire for fullness.”
It was this same fullness, continued the Pope, that “impelled him beyond worldly and passing things to take refuge in Christ.” St. Gabriel, to this day, he said, “invites young people to recognise within themselves the desire for life and fulfillment.”
“May the example of this young Passionist religious, strong in faith, firm in hope and ardent in charity, guide the path of consecrated persons and of the lay faithful in the tension of love towards God and towards their neighbour.”
The Pope noted that, especially as we face the ongoing pandemic and the resulting economic and social fragility, “it is necessary that the Lord’s disciples become ever more instruments of communion and fraternity, extending to others the charity of Christ and radiating it with concrete attitudes of closeness, tenderness and dedication.”
Finally, Pope Francis addressed “all those who will take part in the various initiatives promoted to live this significant Jubilee Year in prayer and charity,” expressing his desire for them “to rediscover the Lord, seeing him in the face of every brother and sister to whom I offer consolation and hope.”
CNA Staff, Feb 27, 2021 / 04:00 am (CNA).- For Damien Richardson, it just seemed like another job. A man had asked him if he would clear out the house of his late sister in north Dublin.
Richardson, a waste contractor, set to work. His house clearance method didn’t involve throwing household items into a dumpster. Instead, he would gather the garbage by hand into bags and then carry them to his truck for disposal.
“It was a spring morning. I remember I was in the kitchen. There was lots of rubbish around the place,” he told CNA in an interview. “Just in the corner, I spotted a box of books. There was one book that was right on top of the pile. It was a really old book.”
“I just picked it up and flicked through it. I don’t know why I picked it up like that. I saw an image of St. Oliver Plunkett, one of the most famous Irish martyrs who was martyred at Tyburn in London.”
He put the book to one side and carried on with his work. But that evening, he sat down to have a proper look at the volume.
“I just could not believe the content that was in it,” he recalled. “The book was compiled in 1896 by an Irish Jesuit priest, Fr. Dennis Murphy. And everything was recorded. It spoke of the Penal Laws, when Cromwell came to Ireland…”
“There were 264 Irish martyrs in the book. Most of them would’ve been bishops and priests. It was eyewitness accounts and it was very, very graphic.”
As he read the stories of extraordinary heroism in the face of persecution, Richardson wondered why he had never heard them before.
“I did know of St. Oliver Plunkett, but not the scale of this persecution that had gone on in Ireland,” he explained. He kept asking himself, “How come Irish people are not talking about these martyrs?”
He began to pray about how he could bring the book to as wide an audience as possible.
Richardson was born in 1973 and grew up in a supportive family in Dublin, but struggled to find his path in life.
In an interview with “Fireside with Fathers” in January, he described how he drifted apart from his warm, loving father and began taking drugs.
His father prayed tirelessly for him, but Richardson said that he was “dishonest” and “unreliable” at the time, and unable to accept help.
But in August 1996, his father persuaded him to go to Medjugorje, enticing him with brochures of sun-kissed Croatian beaches.
Richardson, then aged 23, took heroin before he got on the airplane for the week-long stay in the town in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared since 1981.
Unable to sleep for the first three days because of the effects of drugs, he wandered around the town “with a lot of dark thoughts in my head.” Eventually, he found a bench by a statue of Mary. He fell asleep briefly, then woke at around 5 a.m.
“I remember waking up. It was a very profound moment,” he said. “The sun was shining on my face. There were little birds chirping. There was this lovely breeze blowing over my head as I awoke. And I felt peace I hadn’t felt since I was a child, this interior peace.”
When Richardson discussed his battle with addiction in his interview with CNA, he emphasized: “I just want to give God glory here.”
He said that after his “mini-conversion” in Medjugorje, he entered the Cenacolo Community, which specializes in helping young people to give up drugs. The community supported him as he left behind his addictions to heroin and methadone, an opiate prescribed by doctors as an alternative to heroin.
“I joined the community in 2002 and I changed my life,” he said. “I came back to the faith and so did my wife. We’ve been blessed. We have 12 children now, and one foster child. My youngest child was born pretty sick because myself and her mother were on drugs. She’s been a missionary now for the past four years. God is just so good in every way.”
After his recovery, Richardson set up his own waste disposal company, which led him to the martyrs’ book.
While he was wondering about how best to share the work with others, the 2018 World Meeting of Families took place in Dublin.
Richardson was invited to offer his testimony, surrounded by his wife and children, before Pope Francis in Dublin’s Croke Park. (He even received a namecheck in the pope’s address that evening.)
The Richardson family was chosen to represent Europe at the gathering, alongside other families representing Asia, Africa, and the Americas.
“The other family was from Mosul in Iraq,” he said. They were the family of Fr. Ragheed Ghanni, a Chaldean Catholic priest who was shot dead outside his church in the city in 2007.
“I got to spend the weekend with his mother and father, and sisters,” he said. “It really had a big impact on me, that this guy was martyred just a few years ago. This is real, you know?”
He felt galvanized by the encounter and approached a friend, Michael Kinsella, national director of Aid to the Church in Need Ireland. With his encouragement, the charity decided to republish the book, with all proceeds going to help persecuted Christians.
Kinsella told CNA that the book had inspired significant donations.
Describing his friendship with Richardson, he said: “What obviously impressed me in the first instance was his faithfulness, his testimony of overcoming his own — as it were — martyrdom, his ‘white martyrdom,’ through recovery from addiction.”
“But it was also his humility in recognizing that the faith that he’d been gifted with had been hard-defended and won through the sacrifice of so many others. And once he was able to make that emotional and spiritual connection, love begets love. He wanted to share that — and that’s a sure sign of the Holy Spirit.”
“He was most insistent that it was a shared endeavor and that all the proceeds of the book go 100% directly, totally, to the persecuted Church.”
Richardson, now aged 47, believes that the book is particularly resonant in coronavirus times. When he spoke to CNA, public worship remained suspended by the Irish government as a precaution against the spread of the virus.
Describing life under the Penal Laws, he said: “Irish Catholics weren’t allowed to travel five miles from their house. It was forbidden for a Catholic priest to celebrate the Holy Mass. He would go to prison. That’s the same today. And it was forbidden for Irish Catholics to go to Mass.”
Not all the martyrs in the book are priests and bishops.
“There’s even a few pages on Irish Catholics who were sold as slaves when they were harboring priests,” he noted. “The penalty was that the father would get his ears cut off. His property would be confiscated. His wife would be thrown out on the streets and his daughters would be sold as slaves to the West Indies.”
“There are documents where they’re saying there could possibly be 20,000 young boys and girls sold as slaves just because they wouldn’t renounce the Catholic faith.”
(There is an ongoing academic discussion about the similarities and differences between the penal transportation and indentured servitude of Irish people and chattel slavery.)
As Richardson spoke, it was clear that the initial shock he experienced at the violence inflicted on the martyrs hadn’t worn off. He described how priests were sometimes tied between horses, then killed as the animals were driven in opposite directions.
He said that the courage Catholics showed before their executions was “unreal” and a mark of supernatural grace.
“They could have stopped this persecution,” he said, “All they had to do was renounce the Catholic faith. And they wouldn’t.”
This makes it even more baffling to him that the martyrs are rarely acknowledged in Ireland today.
“Most people haven’t got a clue about this period in Irish history,” he said.
Kinsella suggested that to preserve this precious national memory, martyrs’ stories should feature not only in history lessons but also in catechesis.
“What made people endure privation, hardship, torture for hundreds of years, in the most poverty-stricken of conditions? What made them do it?” he asked.
“Children have no idea that the very soil upon which we walk was drenched with the blood of people who happened to express faith in Christ.”
Looking back on his discovery of the book in the north Dublin house, Richardson summed it up as “a Holy Spirit moment.”
“God put this in my hands. I really believe that Irish Catholics, the faithful, need to read these stories,” he said.
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Denver Newsroom, Feb 27, 2021 / 03:48 am (CNA).- As pandemic restrictions continue to affect in-person events, a pair of ministries for people with same-sex attraction and their loved ones is hosting a free, virtual Lenten reflection to foster spiritual growth and community.
The day of reflection, hosted by Courage and Encourage, is at capacity, and registration is closed.
Father Colin Blatchford, Courage assistant director and the event’s speaker, said he is going to focus on the virtue of zeal in light of St. Joseph, to whom Pope Francis has dedicated this year.
“I’m going to talk about the virtue of zeal, which is the virtue by which we have passion or are consumed in obtaining the object of our love, Christ,” he told CNA.
“I’ve been thinking a lot because we’ve been going through the Litany of St. Joseph, and one of his titles is Zealous for Christ.”
The Lenten Day of Reflection will take place on March 6 via Zoom. This is the second virtual reflection put on by Courage and Encourage. The groups put on a similar event during Advent.
The event will begin with a prayer to St. Joseph and then continue onto the first reflection with Fr. Blatchford. Afterward, the attendees will break into small groups to discuss their Lenten experiences and their thoughts on the reflection. The priest will then hold a final discussion before closing with an additional prayer to St. Joseph.
Blatchford said the reflections will not necessarily be academic but will focus on practical ways to encounter the genuine and affirming love of God. He said Joseph is the perfect model for Christian zeal.
He said the event will look at a practical approach to zeal and seek to identify how to pursue God, raise children, and love one’s spouse amidst one’s daily routine and work.
He said Joseph took up God’s will with trust and abandon to escape with his family to Egypt and then return back to Nazareth. He said the saint lived out “this weird sort of family life in which the Blessed Mother is his wife, and he’s the most chaste spouse and he’s also the [foster] father of God.”
The priest reflected on the importance of this event during Lent. While the purpose of Lent is sacrifice, he said, it should not be an experience of self-deprecation, but rather, stripping away the excess to prepare for Easter and the resurrection.
Courage International is a Catholic group for those who experience same-sex attraction and are seeking to live chaste and faithful lives.
Encourage is a partner organization that seeks to provide spiritual support for parents, spouses, and other family members of people who have same-sex attractions or identify as LGBT. It emphasizes prayer, formation, charity, and unity.
If you value the news and views Catholic World Report provides, please consider donating to support our efforts. Your contribution will help us continue to make CWR available to all readers worldwide for free, without a subscription. Thank you for your generosity!
When I was younger, a nun told me that if I only prayed when I was in trouble, then I was indeed in trouble. That maxim was filed away and revived when I began reading Learning to Pray: A Guide for Everyone by Jesuit Fr. James Martin. For many people, prayer is a 911 call to God, used in moments of emergencies and tragedies. Without judgment, Martin offers a road map that shows how prayer is for everyone — including those who are unsure if they believe in God at all —at all sorts of times and manners.
Martin explains what prayer is and is not. Spoiler alert, the field of prayer is vast and not reserved for a select few. The practices described are often simple and open to all but never shallow. If I found one undercurrent running through Learning to Pray, it is not that prayer alone is accessible, but God is accessible to all. The book, written for a diversity of readers, especially cries out to those on the margins. The book invites those who have been away from church or those rejected into prayerful worship spaces. All are welcome.
Intentionally or not, when church or worship means online activity, this book comes as Martin has developed an ever larger online following. Despite being in its way evangelizing, the book offers a way into prayer, not religion, that is neither forceful, judgmental nor discriminating.
Learning to Pray is dedicated to Jesuit Fr. William Barry, the recently deceased spiritual director and author, who also figures prominently in the book. Barry had a profound influence on the spiritual lives of many and certainly in Martin’s life as a Jesuit. His legacy runs like a river throughout the book, coursing through the numerous prayer and spiritual life options, offering life-giving water to support the invitation to worship.
Building from the introduction’s “everyone can pray,” Learning to Pray progresses chapter by chapter through various forms of prayer practices and experiences.
For many Christians, prayer means attending Mass or service and saying prescribed prayers such as the Our Father. While making clear that such things can be important in a life of faith, Martin writes that they are not the only way to pray. For me, this is where Learning to Pray seemed to shine the brightest, by encouraging everyone to open their hearts, minds and ears to God in a wide array of options.
One favorite chapter for me was the one on petitionary prayer. Martin aptly explores why this topic has a bad rap for some, and ways to approach asking for help. Remember, I learned that only praying when I was in trouble, was in and of itself trouble. A less mature version of me frequently felt too guilty to ask God for anything after a long silence on my part. What a relief that will be for many readers. We are reminded in this chapter that wanting to have God smite our enemies is not the best way to go, but that we can assuredly turn to God to pray for justice. The underlying direction is to become close enough to God to move beyond vengeance. After expressing our fury, praying for things like patience, wisdom or forgiveness can be nurtured through a relationship with the Divine.
Another revelatory gift among the many is the chapter about the Examen, a Jesuit prayer practice that, as its name suggests, is an examination of conscience typically prayed each night. Over time, people have adapted it to various circumstances. Still, the Examen is about recognizing God and seeing our behavior through a review of our day, along with a desire to improve tomorrow. In this chapter, Martin calls on his diverse priesthood and brings us deep into a troop of actors to set the stage for learning about this prayer. Talk about a way to make something that might be intimidating available to readers who might be unfamiliar with it or intimidated by it.
The many chapters in a book that might appear dauntingly large each offer many gifts and options of a life of prayer. Martin does an incredible job of clarifying that prayer is the medium of our relationship with God. Directing readers toward this relationship and encouraging a deepening of it is evident throughout. The author has a gift of writing with authority about topics grounded in solid theological and spiritual knowledge and then translating that into highly relatable and easy-to-read chapters. For all of its instructions, Learning to Pray is ultimately a conversation between Martin and the reader, pointing to the ultimate colloquy or prayer — communicating with God. This book deserves to be widely read by believers, skeptics and even unbelievers, if for no other reason than to broaden one’s horizon. Just prepare to be changed, full-on believer or not, as you read.
How do you know?” Depending on the inflection, the emphasis one puts on you, how and know, this question could be part of a shouting match between 9-year-olds or an essay question on Ph.D. exams. Eventually, most of us struggle with this question, especially when considering a key decision or forming an important opinion. The subject may be profoundly serious, as in, “How do I know if I should marry him?” or “How do I know if belief in God makes any sense?” These latter questions are vastly more important than any exam could pose.
Today, we hear a story about Abraham’s struggle with this question. How could he know if or why God really wanted him to sacrifice Isaac? There’s a hint hidden in the language of the story. As the scene opens, we hear that God put Abraham to the test, telling him to offer his son in sacrifice. Here, the Hebrew word for God is Elohim, a common Semitic name for the gods.
Later in the story, we hear that the “Lord’s” messenger called on Abraham and prevented him from taking Isaac’s life. From this point on, Lord is the word for God. Lord refers to the divine name written as YHWH, the name God revealed to Moses, a name so sacred that faithful Jews refuse to pronounce it.
There is a world of difference between the two concepts of God here. Elohim refers to gods who demand unflinching obedience, no matter the suffering it costs. These gods appear as absolute rulers, often capricious, sometimes as tyrants whose anger must be appeased. Abraham thought this way about God and accepted the demand to make a holocaust of his beloved only son. Abraham respected Elohim as a fearsome, self-centered God who prized authority and obedience over love.
Although this narrative rivets our attention on the relationship between Abraham and Isaac and the last-minute intervention, the real story has to do with Abraham’s understanding of God. The Lord who stopped Abraham from harming his son was YHWH, the Lord who had entered into a covenant with Abraham and promised him descendants. The Lord appreciated Abraham’s desire to be obedient, but went on to teach him that instead of sacrifice, the Lord simply desires loving relationship with all the creatures made in the divine image. This is the creator God who gives life in abundance, from beginning to end.
The Lord who stopped Abraham from completing his holocaust is the God Jesus knew and called his Abba. Abraham’s encounter with the Lord was a moment of revelation. Previous to this, in spite of encounters with God, Abraham related to God from his own theology, from human concepts that envisioned a God who was like humanity but to the supreme degree. The revelation on Mount Moriah introduced Abraham to the Lord who does not fit human categories; the Lord who would do anything to attract humanity into living in the divine image.
The God Abraham began to know on Mount Moriah is the God who, as Paul tells us, took flesh in Jesus and intercedes on our behalf. Abraham had conceived of God as one who demanded intercessors and sacrifice to make us acceptable to the divine. The God he met, the God of Jesus, is the God who wants only to draw us into divine life. This upends the concept of intercession. Instead of sending Jesus to talk God into accepting us weak creatures, the Lord took flesh in Jesus to intercede with us, inviting us to live as if love were the only thing that matters.
This is what the disciples began to comprehend on the mountain of the Transfiguration. For a brief moment, they perceived that Jesus was God’s ultimate messenger, the culmination of everything in their tradition: the God who created out of love and wants only love. Like Abraham, they couldn’t take it all in. On that mountain they perceived a truth that didn’t fit their categories, it couldn’t fit into their tents. That is why the divine voice told them to listen and Jesus told them not to speak — at least not yet.
How did they know that what they had seen was truly a revelation? One sign was that what they experienced was far beyond their wildest expectations. It was truly godly.
The God to whom Jesus introduced them blew open their categories and invited them to stop trying to be best or even worthy. As Paul would teach, the key to faith was to accept the fact that they were loved beyond measure. As they gradually comprehended that, the disciples became capable of being apostles, people capable of communicating the message. And the real proof was that the more they told the story, the more they knew it was true.
“Judas and the Black Messiah” has far too much in common with “The Departed.” Obviously, director Shaka King’s film centers on Black characters, while Martin Scorsese’s Boston-set entry does not. But the general concept — a crime thriller about a man covertly working with law enforcement who infiltrates a group considered to be their threat, to eviscerate its strongest force — is the same.
It’s an awkward comparison to make because, in actuality, these films shouldn’t have many similarities. “Judas and the Black Messiah” details the story of William O’Neal’s (LaKeith Stanfield) ascent through the Black Panther Party as an informant for a racist FBI that offers him an awful ultimatum: help them take down party chairman Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya) or go to jail. It’s 1966 Chicago, and William, a Black man and petty criminal, has just been busted for impersonating an FBI agent in an attempt to steal cars. Prison could mean death for him, but being a silent “Uncle Tom” for “the man” presents another kind of moral confinement.
There’s a specificity to these real-life events and people. Fred isn’t merely a powerful, somewhat imperious male figure who cops will stop at nothing to disable. He’s a vocal leader of an organization built on the mission of equality for Black people in a country that routinely stalks and oppresses them. William, mostly referred to as Bill throughout the film, is a man that is a bit on the peripheral of that movement, having to depend on crime to survive a system where white and mostly male law officials target Black bodies for any and no reason at all. He makes ill-fated decisions in a lose-lose situation.
But these nuances are lost in King’s efforts. It is already a peculiar choice to turn this story, which rarely gets the film treatment, into a caper movie. It’s not an entirely preposterous idea, though, considering the opposing nature of the male protagonists, the impending presence of cops and the surreptitious events that culminate with Fred’s assassination in 1969.
Still, Bill and Fred—and the landscape in which they live—are too wanly drawn even to produce the type of thrilling entertainment that could also be compelling in its politics.
That’s odd, since there is quite a bit of information available on the two individuals and especially the Black Panther Party, barring any inevitably classified FBI case files. And Fred’s son, Fred Hampton Jr., the president and chairman of the Prisoners of Conscience Committee and the Black Panther Party Cubs, is credited as a cultural expert on “Judas and the Black Messiah.” But the film offers very little particularities when it comes to examining who Bill and Fred were and the world the former was especially fighting.
Bill certainly faced internal conflicts, effectively depicted through Stanfield’s unspoken dialogue, like a subtle wince, a nervous smile or a tremulous power fist at a usually nondescript rally. Because his narrative had to be insular, it would have helped if King, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Will Berson, included some information on his family or interior life — even if it was only a contrived encounter with a familiar face. But we’re left with a resounding question: Who was Bill O’Neal?
Fred is even more of an enigma in “Judas and the Black Messiah,” and he is arguably the more well-known figure between the two. His voice, one that also represents a generation, is reduced to soundbites like “I am … a revolutionary!” which roars in the movie trailer. Kaluuya has proven once again that he is a master of the manic yet quiet ferocity he showed us in both “Widows” and “Get Out,” which he duplicates in King’s film in a blur of frustratingly indistinct speeches at events and more frantic scenes opposite Stanfield. But we don’t learn much about Fred’s humanity. He put his body on the line every day for his people, even completing a prison sentence that is almost entirely glossed over in the film. Was he ever scared?
There’s only one time that the film dares even to approach this question. It’s through Dominique Fishback’s heartfelt portrayal of Deborah Johnson (now known as Akua Njeri), Fred’s girlfriend, who was nine months pregnant at the time of his murder. With a swollen belly, she asks him whether power to the people was worth the nights in jail or even potentially his death. His only response is: “When I dedicate my life to the people, I dedicate my life.”
Though Fishback, like her male counterparts in the film, rises above her uninspired characterization, especially in the film’s devastating final moments, the screenplay constrains her performance. As a result, Deborah comes dangerously close to being diminished as the trope of the concerned girlfriend in a male-driven crime thriller.
Despite impressive performances, “Judas and the Black Messiah” has very little to say. Like its character, Bill O’Neal, the film seems often to be at war with itself. Does it want to be a gripping Hollywood crime thriller that just so happens to center people either confronting or constricting the racial revolution of the 1960s? Or does it want to be a political drama that investigates the psychology of Judas and messiah figures within the Black community?
Regardless, it does neither very well.
The history of Black Christianity in America came to television screens this month in a documentary series based on a new book by Henry Louis “Skip” Gates Jr., a Harvard University historian who is simultaneously an admirer and a critic of its influential role in American society.
Gates’ book, The Black Church: This Is Our Story, This Is Our Song, was released Feb. 16, the same day the four-hour documentary began a two-day run on PBS stations. (The documentary is available to stream for free on pbs.org.) Musicians John Legend and Yolanda Adams are featured in the series.
Gates, who describes himself as a “spiritual person,” said at a virtual news conference Feb. 5 that while he is a critic of the Black church’s history of male domination and homophobia, he has celebrated its culture and rejoiced in what it has overcome.
Gates said that during his summer visits to Martha’s Vineyard, he attends services at Union Chapel, which features prominent Black preachers. “We all come together to experience that circle of warmth,” he told Religion News Service at the news conference.
When Black people come together for worship, he said, it is “a celebration of our culture, our history, of who we are, of how we got over, how we survived the madness, the claustrophobic madness of hundreds of years of slavery and then a century of Jim Crow and then anti-Black racism that we saw manifest itself at the Capitol.”
The series captures the broad sweep of this history in interviews with scholars and well-known Black clergy such as African Methodist Episcopal Bishop Vashti McKenzie, Bishop T.D. Jakes and the Rev. William J. Barber II.
Stacey Holman, who produced and directed the series, spoke to Religion News Service recently about how she and Gates distilled centuries of history into the four-hour series, her thoughts on the Black church’s future and how Oprah Winfrey made the final call on the name of the documentary.
The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
You have worked on films about the Freedom Riders and historically Black colleges and universities. What struck you most about the Black church history you helped present with Henry Louis Gates Jr.?
Holman: What struck me was that we did not come here empty-handed. There were Africans who were practicing Muslims who were brought here in the transatlantic slave trade. That connection still exists today. A religion that is very actively practiced among Black people was here when this country was first being formed. Also, just how rich the history is and just how there’s so much connective tissue to Africa, to our worship and to our praise.
Mixed in with the interviews with scholars and clergy are the personal stories of Black celebrities about the Black church. Whose stories did you find to be particularly worth telling?
I think Kirk Franklin’s story was quite moving. He talked about his friend that he lost, who was killed, and someone who was a good kid, and he was not, so — one of those situations where it’s like, wow, God, you spared my life. And I think even John Legend’s story, hearing how the church has really informed his career, but also how he was brought up and raised going to church and then becoming the choir director.
You’ve worked with Gates before. Was this series different because the subject matter related to him personally? At one point he breaks into song with Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and tells some of his faith story from the pulpit of the West Virginia Methodist church he joined at age 12.
Yes, very much so. When he was giving, as we say, his testimony, my crew was crying. It was just beautiful, just seeing him coming back home. When I have traveled to my grandparents’ church in southern Ohio, it was like that welcome home. And to see that with Skip just brought fond memories to me.
John Legend, who was an executive producer, as well as Shirley Caesar and Yolanda Adams talk about the importance of music. How did you address its influence in the Black church?
I think having those voices that you just mentioned were important. These are individuals who have used the music — John is more contemporary and pop and R&B, but there’s definitely elements of the church in what he plays. Even Kirk Franklin, the crossover songs that they’ve had, it just speaks to the richness that music has played over the centuries of the Black church.
The series shows various forms of faithful fervor, from ring shout to speaking in tongues. Why was it important to delve into that aspect of Black American faith?
I think that people think that’s all that the Black church is: We go in and people are hooting and hollering and jumping around. I think even just talking about the Great Awakening says, yeah, there were white folks doing it, too. So this whole idea of this fervor in worship is nothing new, but I think [the documentary is] really breaking it down so that people can understand the history of it. And it’s not an act. It’s a feeling. It’s an emotion that people get.
The show makes a revelation about the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s inspiration for the phrase ‘I have a dream.’[Minister and civil rights activist] Prathia Hall was listed [as an influential preacher] by the pastors we asked — at least a good third or half of them would say Prathia Hall. And I didn’t really know that story until we sat with Reverend Senator [Raphael] Warnock. I was amazed. It just spoke to the testimony of just how influential Black women are in the church and were influencing major iconic speeches. We’re running churches; we are really the staples behind the everyday activity. Our series will really give her the limelight that she’s due.
Franklin and Legend talk about their anger with the Black church for rejecting changes in music and society. Can the Black church survive the rejection of some millennials and some Black Lives Matter activists?
I think it’s a case-by-case situation. It’s a denominational question as well. Certain stories that we left on the cutting room floor were really looking at that question. There are some churches that we spoke to that are really trying to engage that. I know Reverend [Otis] Moss III, his [Chicago] church is engaged in Black Lives Matter. I do believe there are churches that will need to kind of say, hey, we need to kind of catch up with the times and embrace this. But I think the church has always been evolving and will continue to evolve.
How did you distill Henry Louis Gates’ research, and that of so many others, into just a four-show series?
It was a privilege and it was like, “Oh my gosh, I’m telling 400 years in four hours.” Just to work with him was great. He gives you that freedom as a creator [where] you’re able to collaborate and talk with him about your ideas. We did argue about the title of the film. I wanted it to be “How I Got Over,” and he was like, “Oh, ‘Blessed Assurance’ [whose chorus begins ‘This is my story, this is my song’].” And then, who broke the tie but Oprah Winfrey. Skip gave her a list of names and she left a voicemail, singing, “This is our story. This is our song.” And so he’s like, “See? That’s the title.”
By Lisa Zengarini
Catholic social justice organisations have renewed their call for debt cancellation and financial support to poorest countries in the light of the current Covid-19 crisis.
In a statement published ahead of the G-20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors meeting, which took place Friday in a virtual format, the international Catholic network for development and solidarity (CIDSE) urged the world’s leading economies to respond to the crisis with global cooperation and solidarity.
They highlighted Pope Francis’ words that “it cannot be expected that the debts which have been contracted should be paid at the price of unbearable sacrifices.”
CIDSE notes that “as well as the tragic loss of life, Covid-19 has stretched healthcare systems in many poor countries beyond breaking point, left millions of people without jobs and livelihoods, and decimated economies.”
According to the Catholic network, the crisis has exacerbated existing inequalities “whereby more powerful countries can use their position and power to secure access to vaccines and support their own economic recovery.” It has also “compounded the challenges for many countries that were struggling with the impacts of climate change.”
The organizations pointed out that “the immediate priority for all countries is to save lives and support livelihoods, and debt cancellation is the quickest way to finance this.” They added that, in the long-term, “permanent debt restructuring and new finance is needed to rebuild societies and economies that put the needs of the poorest and most vulnerable people first, care for our common home, and tackle the climate crisis.”
“We need to act in global solidarity as one human family, moving from a myopic focus of what is politically, financially and technically feasible, to concentrate on what is necessary to save lives and protect our planet for current and future generations,” they say.
CIDSE therefore urges immediate action from the G-20, namely to “support a new and significant issuance of $3 trillion Special Drawing Rights (SDRs) by the IMF, that will enable all countries to respond to the current Covid crisis and support a just, sustainable recovery” and “to extend the debt moratorium through the DSSI (Debt Service Suspension Initiative) for longer (at least 4 years) and to more countries, including those climate vulnerable countries who were already struggling to respond to added pressures of climate change.”
The Catholic network also asks that private creditors – who are currently continuing to take debt payments from countries which are struggling to respond to the needs of their citizens – should be “compelled to participate in all debt restructuring and debt relief.”
Finally, CIDSE calls for “a permanent debt workout mechanism to deliver timely, comprehensive, and fair debt restructuring to all countries with a high and unsustainable debt burden, without conditionality.”
Editor’s note: The following essay was originally delivered on January 8, 2021, as the Convocation for Spring 2021 Semester at the University of Mary in Bismarck, North Dakota.
There is an old story about the devil calling an emergency staff meeting because the latest statistics showed that too many people were getting into heaven. He called for new strategies. One lieutenant suggested, “We will tell them there is no God,” and another proposed, “We will tell them there is no heaven and no hell.” The devil replied, “They won’t fall for that. It’s simply too obvious that God exists and that there is a final reckoning.”
So, he opened the floor, and the following proposal came forth: “Let’s distract them with concerns about things other than God, and, if they experience a moment of conscience, realizing that their principal obligation is to seek God by seeking eternal truths, acknowledging those truths, and living them, then we’ll tell them, ‘Relax. Don’t worry. There are too many important things right now—other truths, truths of a practical nature, truths concerning worldly well-being. You can always return to God tomorrow. There is no hurry.’” “That’s it,” the devil exclaimed, with an unholy eagerness. “That will work.”
The devil knows the wisdom of King David, “If today you hear His voice, harden not your heart” (Ps 95:7–8). He is the master of distraction. Good things, after all, are not intrinsically evil. They are created by God, and they are good. His ruse is to play on that goodness, and to lead people to love the good things created by God with excess. This, it seems to me, is behind that pervasive distortion of conscience seen in those who consider themselves basically nice people and in a right relationship with God simply because they are “not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers …” (Lk 18:11).
Vatican II may be thought of as a counter staff meeting, of the leaders of Christ’s apostolic Church, for a reinvigorated implementation of the only strategy for getting to heaven, namely, the proclamation of the mystery of Christ.
The Pastoral Nature of Vatican II
The Council should be seen as the Church’s response to the deterioration of Christian conscience. It was an assembly of those whom Christ Himself calls and ordains to succeed His apostles, over which the successor of St. Peter presides, impelled by a pastoral solicitude spurred by the success of the enemy’s strategy. Unlike the challenge faced by previous councils, which addressed heresies and clarified the correct understanding of the Catholic faith, Vatican II’s challenge was to set forth the Church’s faith so that people—especially the faithful—could perceive the faith’s meaning-for-life. Of course, this presupposes the fact that the faith is true and has a claim on the assent of faith because it is revealed by God.
By the time of the Council, Western society and culture had become self-satisfied and self-assured with an increasingly militant secularism. The very concept of God was treated as a superstitious holdover from a more primitive era. God is irrelevant, even hostile, to man’s new fascination with securing his own liberation and a better future. A materialist philosophy reduced his world to the sphere of things that he can manipulate. The denial of man’s transcendence, implicating a rational order the precedes him, completely undercut most important dimension of what it means to be human, namely, the moral dimension. Even as his conquests over the material world advanced, moral confusion and decadence accelerated. If man cannot control himself, what assurance is there that the control he thinks he exercises over the world around him will contribute to his integral well-being?
In a cultural situation like this, the new emphasis had to be on the question of why one should believe in the first place, on how faith in the God of Christian revelation is the only definitive answer to the questions that man confronts about the meaning and purpose of life. The essential message of Vatican II is that man cannot fully know himself, and consequently he cannot direct his life to the fulfillment that he seeks, without reference to God. This is why the Council is often referred to as anthropocentric, that is, on proclaiming the integral truth about the human person, made in the image of God and called to communion with Him. Some have misunderstood this and accused the Council of a wholesale infidelity that uprooted the theocentrism of Christian faith. It is difficult to imagine a more ungrounded allegation.
Well before the Council, some were reading the signs of the times and sounding the alarm. For example, in 1958 Joseph Ratzinger gave a lecture titled, “The New Pagans and the Church.” Too many souls—not only in the world but even among those who are baptized—are “living as if God does not exist.” They may attend Mass and profess their faith on Sundays and say a prayer before meals. They may receive and be present at other sacraments, but when it comes to daily life, their decision-making is based more on the hierarchy of values of the secular culture around them than on what God has revealed and entrusted to His apostolic Church. They do not overtly reject God, Christ, the Church, and faith. Rather, they live in a state of what St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI called a “quiet apostasy.” Theirs is not a principled, thought-through materialism, but a practical materialism (and related practical atheism).
Like the Israelites of old, the Church’s contemporaries of the mid-twentieth century, including her own members, had forgotten God. Their fascination was no longer on the event that gives definitive meaning to all of life, the paschal mystery, but on the prospect of a more secure and comfortable life promised by science, technology, and clever management of the modern political and economic systems. God is not relevant to such a view, to such an understanding of human happiness. There is an increasing eclipse of the moral dimension and with it the loss of the sense of sin, the stultification of conscience, and the relegation of God to a pre-scientific, pre-technological past.
Paul VI summed up the God-centered preoccupation of the Council as the Church’s response to the new age of paganism—Godlessness—in terms of the virtue of religion:
We should like to devote this precious moment to one single thought which bends down our spirits in humility and at the same time raises them up to the summit of our aspirations. And that thought is this: what is the religious value of this council? We refer to it as religious because of its direct relationship with the living God, that relationship which is the raison d’être of the Church, of all that she believes, hopes and loves; of all that she is and does.
To appreciate it properly it is necessary to remember the time in which it was realized: a time which everyone admits is orientated toward the conquest of the kingdom of earth rather than of that of heaven; a time in which forgetfulness of God has become habitual, and seems, quite wrongly, to be prompted by the progress of science; a time in which the fundamental act of the human person, more conscious now of himself and of his liberty, tends to pronounce in favor of his own absolute autonomy, in emancipation from every transcendent law; a time in which secularism seems the legitimate consequence of modern thought and the highest wisdom in the temporal ordering of society; a time, moreover, in which the soul of man has plumbed the depths of irrationality and desolation; a time, finally, which is characterized by upheavals and a hitherto unknown decline even in the great world religions.
It was at such a time as this that our council was held to the honor of God, in the name of Christ and under the impulse of the Spirit: who “searcheth all things,” “making us understand God’s gifts to us” (cf. 1 Cor. 2:10-12), and who is now quickening the Church, giving her a vision at once profound and all-embracing of the life of the world. The theocentric and theological concept of man and the universe, almost in defiance of the charge of anachronism and irrelevance, has been given a new prominence by the council, through claims which the world will at first judge to be foolish, but which, we hope, it will later come to recognize as being truly human, wise and salutary: namely, God is—and more, He is real, He lives, a personal, provident God, infinitely good; and not only good in Himself, but also immeasurably good to us. He will be recognized as Our Creator, our truth, our happiness; so much so that the effort to look on Him, and to center our heart in Him which we call contemplation, is the highest, the most perfect act of the spirit, the act which even today can and must be at the apex of all human activity.
Secular humanism … has, in a certain sense, defied the council. The religion of the God who became man has met the religion (for such it is) of man who makes himself God (Address for the Closing of the Council, December 7, 1965).
Guided by the Holy Spirit, promised by Christ, Vatican II adopted the only strategy that has ever worked, the strategy of God Himself. Like the prophets, Christ Himself, and the apostles, the Council calls men to conversion. For this, they must enter their hearts and consciences, the only “place” where God can be encountered. While the devil contrives to keep people out of their hearts, the Church of Christ reminds them of their dignity as image of God and exhorts them to “discern their destiny beneath the eyes of God, Who probes their hearts and awaits them there” (Gaudium et spes, 14). The human heart or conscience is the battlefield of salvation. The devil detests moments of truth of conscience, while Christ’s Church professes, based on St. Paul in Romans 2:14–16, “In the depths of his conscience, man detects a law … which holds him to obedience.… For man has in his heart a law written by God. To obey that law is the very dignity of man; according to it he will be judged. Conscience is the most secret core and sanctuary of a man. There he is alone with God, whose voice echoes in his depths” (Gaudium et spes, 16).
There is an understandable reason why people readily allow themselves to be seduced by the superficial enjoyments of worldly prosperity. It is the intuitive insight that to meet God in the heart and conscience will surely entail an encounter with sin. But this is precisely why the Council’s teaching on divine revelation, on the Church, on the liturgy, and on the Church’s mission to the world places the paschal mystery of Christ at the center, as does the Creed. The paschal mystery is the ultimate revelation of God’s merciful love. For this reason, it is the definitive answer from heaven to the questions that come forth from the experience of evil and suffering on earth, especially the moral evil of sin and the corresponding suffering of a conscience burdened by unreconciled guilt.
To reinforce this teaching, Vatican II calls on all those who have ears to hear to bear witness to the transforming power of God’s merciful love in word and by the way they live. For, both words and actions have the same root, namely, the human conscience. In the apostolic kerygma, Baptism confers the gift of a conscience purified by the blood of Christ (Heb 9:9, 14; 10:2; 20–22; 1 Pet 3:21). Christ shed His blood to reveal His love and to send the Holy Spirit, the light of consciences. Men and women with consciences purified by the blood of Christ—that is, saints—are the most powerful apologia for Christ and His Church. Nothing is more relevant, more practical, more powerful for shaping history, than the life of those whose freedom has been set free for love. Holy men and women take up the mission of building up Christ’s kingdom, restoring Christian culture, and promoting a civilization and culture of love.
Thus, the Council teaches that “every benefit which the People of God during its earthly pilgrimage can offer to the human family stems from the fact that the Church is ‘the universal sacrament of salvation,’ simultaneously manifesting and exercising the mystery of God’s love” (Gaudium et spes, 45). This continues the mission of Christ, Who “by the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His love, fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear” (Gaudium et spes, 22).
In the end, that is the goal of Vatican II—the restoration of Christian culture, which is the fruit of the actions of men and women guided by consciences purified by the blood—that is, the love—of Christ. It cannot come about as the result of the privileges the Church enjoyed because of her historically unique relation to the secular power that typified the Age of Christendom. It has to come about by conquering consciences with the truth—the truth about God and His love, and the truth about man.
How should we think about Vatican II?
With this background in mind, we can turn to the original question, framed by the organizer of this lecture: How should we think about Vatican II? This question implies two things: first, that there is a right way to think about Vatican II, and, second, that there exists a certain disposition to do so. Regarding the latter, I am reminded of the refrain in the writings of St. Luke: “What should we do?” (Lk 3:10, 12, 14; 10:25; 18:18; Acts 2:37; 16:30; 22:10). And, St. John: “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” (Jn 6:28) Those who are rightly disposed realize that God’s word, whether proclaimed by John the Baptist, Jesus Himself, or the apostles, calls for a response: What must we do? It is no different for Vatican II.
So, let me give a direct answer: receive the teaching of Vatican II, in faith, as the gift and word of the Holy Spirit to the Church of our age, and live it. That is the response of two saints, St. Paul VI and St. John Paul II. That is what they did. And, they have crossed the finish line. When it comes to getting to heaven, there is no such thing as an excessive pragmatism! Do what the saints did, and what they advise you to do. The first and foundational relation of each Catholic to Vatican II is based on faith, which the Council beautifully described in the words of St. Paul as obedience to God that entails a total self-entrustment to Him by the full submission of our highest faculties, intellect and will, an entrustment that manifests itself both in assent to what God has revealed and in living out what faith holds to be true (Dei Verbum, 5).
Before the Conciliar documents are the object of theological investigation, they have a claim on Catholic faith. For, theology is faith seeking understanding. Understanding is not a condition for coming to faith, but the blossoming of faith.
It is only too painfully obvious that not all Catholics perceive Vatican II in the same way. This is a lamentable aspect of the historical context in which this address on the Council is being delivered. I might add: some very intelligent and devout Catholics disagree. Much could be said about this, but perhaps the most important thing to say is that what other Catholics do or say or hold has no claim on my faith—or your faith—our faith. Only God’s revelation in Christ can make a claim on my faith—and your faith—our faith. And, since that revelation has been entrusted by Christ to His apostolic Church, the teaching of that Church is the norm of my faith—and your faith—our faith.
The unmasked criticisms of Vatican II tend to place the faithful, who have not acquired the theological competence to verify those criticisms for themselves, in the position of having to choose between the personal views of some theologians and the apostolic Church of Christ. This reminds me of St. Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians:
For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brethren. What I mean is that each one of you says, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I am thankful that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius; lest any one should say that you were baptized in my name. (1 Corinthians 1:11–15)
To apply this to today: None of us was baptized in the name of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, Taylor Marshall, Peter Kwasniewski, or Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò. It is no small irony that at a moment when a secular culture places Catholics in a position of having to choose between being thinking, scientific, technology-using—modern—beings, on the one hand, and being a person of faith, on the other hand, some members of the Church are effectively placing Catholics in the position of having to choose between a pre-Vatican II Church and a post-Vatican II Church.
Let me directly address especially my younger brothers and sisters in Christ here in the University of Mary community of faith. Recall the devil’s strategy of distracting people, including the faithful. He is not averse to enlisting the unwitting cooperation of self-proclaimed defenders of the truth, and who are even now placing Catholics in the position of having to choose between defining their fidelity to Christ either as fidelity to the Church of Vatican II or fidelity to a pre-Vatican II Church. To repeat St. Paul’s rhetorical question: “Is Christ divided?” I exhort you: Do not let those who have confused their personal crises of hope in Christ’s promise to be with His Church, with issues of doctrine. Do not let them cause you to rethink your Catholic faith and your relation to Christ’s apostolic Church.
Thinking about Vatican II within the Faith
Does this mean that there is no place for asking questions about the teaching of Vatican II? Certainly not! The Church has always encouraged the intellectus fidei—faith that seeks understanding—and has never exhorted the faithful to believe without asking questions about the foundations and intelligibility and coherence of faith. That, in fact, has been condemned as fideism—another strategy of the Church’s enemy to undermine the credibility of the faith. What she does insist on is that dealing with questions that arise because of faith be done in a certain way—within the faith, not as a pre-condition for faith. So, my appeal to the Catholic community of the University of Mary is simply this: Think about Vatican II within the faith!
For this, your Patroness, the Blessed Virgin Mary, is a sure guide. When, at the Annunciation, she was confronted with the unimagined way in which God decreed to fulfill His promises—in her and through her—she responded with the question, “How shall this be?” This is the paradigm for thinking within the faith.
A most important corollary that follows from this is that for anyone who values his Catholic faith and is serious about living in conformity with all of its implications, it is not permissible to substitute any authority for that of the teaching office of Christ’s apostolic Church—the magisterium. In study and research, it is inevitable that the theologian will encounter difficulties. This is one of the occupational hazards of exercising the gift of theology in service to the Church.
It is, however, salutary to recall two important things. The first is St. John Henry Newman’s insight that a thousand difficulties do not constitute a single doubt. To refer again to Mary’s faith at the Annunciation, the prospect of a virginal birth presents a difficulty, but she never doubted the truth and efficacy of what Gabriel announced. Second, for the sake of the common good of the Church, a theologian or anyone who has encountered a difficulty and finds himself withholding the assent of faith should not teach it or publish it, lest the faith of others be shaken.
My appeal, directed especially to the student members of the Catholic community of the University of Mary, is to bear in mind two things. First, that another’s difficulty is not your difficulty. In order for it to become truly your difficulty, you have to do the research required to see the difficulty for yourself. Second, that to choose to side with someone who thinks he is justified in withholding consent to the teaching of Vatican II is to choose a merely human authority in place of the teaching authority of the apostolic Church, established by Christ and assisted by the Holy Spirit. And that is a grave offense against the virtue of faith.
Final thoughts, on grumbling versus believing
To conclude, let me propose a lectio divina of St. John’s account of two quite different responses to our Lord’s Bread of Life discourse. Today, some respond to the teaching of Vatican II as some among Jesus’ disciples responded to His teaching, “This is a hard saying, who can listen to it?” (Jn 6:60). In the following verse, John tells us that Jesus was aware of their grumbling. They grumbled because they could not see how to reconcile the teaching of Jesus with what they already believed. They placed themselves in the position of having to choose between continuing to follow Jesus, with all the difficulties that this presented to their faith, and leaving Him in the name of fidelity to that very same faith.
This verb, to grumble, is theologically supercharged. It is the word that describes those Hebrews in the desert who lost hope and complained against Moses (Ex 15:24; 16:2, 7, 8; 17:3). They grumbled rather than believed and trusted, and this despite all of the marvelous works of God that they had witnessed (Ps 106:21–25). It is the same verb that describes the Pharisees who cannot read the signs of the times in the mission of Jesus, especially when He associates with sinners (Lk 5:30; 15:2; 19:7)—again, despite all of the signs that Jesus had performed.
Grumbling is opposed to faith; it is a sin against faith. To grumble as the Hebrews and the Pharisees did is to disapprove of the way that God is conducting His affairs. Those who grumbled against Jesus’ Bread of Life teaching “turned back and no longer walked with Him” (Jn 6:66). The translation of the New American Bible elaborates: “As a result of this, many [of] his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him” (Jn 6:66). Presumably, they left Him in the name of being faithful to what the already believed because they thought Jesus’ teaching contradicted it. They did not approve of what God was doing to bring their faith, and the hope rooted in it, to its fulness and fulfillment. Like the Hebrews in desert who wanted to return to what they thought was the preferred security of slavery in Egypt, they retreated into their former way of living because they had become comfortable with it.
Surely, the disciples who were scandalized by Jesus’ Bread of Life teaching had followed Him in the first place because they had begun to believe that He would be the One to fulfill their eschatological hopes, their desire to witness the consolation of Israel. Yet, despite the signs that had led them to Him, His way of fulfilling that hope caused them to grumble because they could not get beyond their own expectations for that fulfillment. Peter experienced the same thing, when Jesus first predicted that His mission would lead Him to be rejected, to suffer and to die. Peter, too, disapproved of God’s way of conducting His affairs, of fulfilling His promises; he grumbled interiorly, and rebuked the Lord.
You perceive the spiritual reading of this text that I am proposing. Vatican II is like a new Bread of Life discourse or a new prediction of the passion. For some it has become the occasion for grumbling. They have believed in the Church and followed Christ in His Church, but now it is apparent that it is a qualified following. The Church must conform to their expectations, to what they think must follow from what comes before. Like Jesus, the “sign that is opposed,” the Council has become the occasion for “the thoughts out of many hearts to be revealed” (Lk 2:34–35).
It is profoundly ironic that some who so ardently desire to see the Church renewed and robust in her mission are unable to see in the Council God’s answer to their desires! But this is how God always answers our prayers, with the surprise of the divine wisdom that we cannot fathom. His answers to the prayers that express our desires are always the occasion for a choice: to grumble and to return to the way life was, or to purify and to deepen our faith and hope. Jesus’ words are ever relevant, and the Second Vatican Council is the occasion for them to echo anew: “Do you also wish to go away?” (Jn 6:67).
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CNA Staff, Feb 26, 2021 / 05:05 pm (CNA).- As religious services in British Columbia are still shut down by government orders, a Catholic archbishop is asking the government to reconsider and offer religious institutions the same rights as businesses.
On Feb. 19, Archbishop J. Michael Miller of Vancouver issued a 19-page statement asking B.C. health officials to grant the Church the same treatment as bars, gyms, and restaurants.
He asked the government to permit in-person Masses that follow COVID-19 restrictions, such as a 10% capacity limit, masks, social distancing, and other sanitation requirements.
The archbishop specified that he is asking the government to provide the Church with fair treatment, not preferential treatment. He noted that religious freedom is protected under Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
“While we respect the measures taken by the government to protect the health of British Columbians, we want to be assured that the orders are being fairly applied to all sectors of the population,” he wrote in a Feb. 24 letter to the diocese.
“Specifically, we seek to understand why gathering for worship in limited numbers with safety precautions is not allowed, while bars, restaurants, and gyms remain open.”
The ban on worship services was introduced on Nov. 19, 2020. It was extended monthly until officials extended the ban indefinitely on February 5.
“As a result, our priests have been unable to offer Holy Mass with a congregation, despite the precautions that we had previously taken to combat the spread of COVID-19,” he added.
“As Easter approaches, I want to assure you that the Archdiocese is taking steps to advocate with the Provincial Government for a safe return to in-person attendance at Mass. It is my ardent hope that we can return from our extended ‘fast’ from the Eucharist and join together to celebrate the Lord’s Resurrection this Easter.”
Prior to the ban, Catholic churches in the region followed strict safety measures, such as mask-wearing and hand-sanitizing. The archdiocese had not seen any outbreaks tied to Church services, Miller stressed.
“While there have been no known COVID-19 transmissions or outbreaks within our churches, we continue to see reports of outbreaks at skiing facilities and local businesses that have been permitted to continue in their operations,” he said.
“I have no doubts that the ban on religious gatherings has had a detrimental effect on the spirituality and mental health of Catholics in British Columbia.”
The government has acknowledged the archbishop’s statement and said it would respond “in the near future,” The B.C. Catholic reported.
Washington D.C., Feb 26, 2021 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- Online retailer Amazon is still facing questions several days after it removed a book critiquing the transgender movement.
Ryan Anderson, who was recently appointed president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center (EPPC), said earlier this week that his 2018 book “When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment” was no longer available for purchase on Amazon.com. The book critiques the biological, psychological, and philosophical areas of the transgender debate.
“I first discovered it on Sunday around 3 pm,” Anderson told CNA, adding he is not sure “when exactly it was removed.”
Anderson said that Amazon told him on Tuesday that the book “violates their ‘content policy,’” but, he added, “they won’t tell us what aspect of the policy it violated.”
“They won’t tell us what passage, what page, what sentence is the offending passage,” Anderson said.
An Amazon spokesperson told CNA in an email on Friday, “As a bookseller, we provide our customers with access to a variety of viewpoints, including books that some customers may find objectionable. That said, we reserve the right not to sell certain content as described in our content guidelines for books, which you can find here. All retailers make decisions about what selection they choose to offer and we do not take selection decisions lightly.”
On a webpage regarding its “Content Guidelines for Books,” Amazon states that if the company removes a title, “we let the author, publisher, or selling partner know and they can appeal our decision.
Anderson said that Amazon “acknowledged that they did not contact us ahead of time, in violation of their own policy to first contact authors and publishers.”
He warned about the precedent that the de-listing could send. “This means that anyone who’s telling the truth that we’re created male and female, whether from a faith-based perspective or from a science-based perspective, can be banned on a whim and without explanation,” Anderson said.
Earlier this week, four Republican senators–Marco Rubio of Florida, Mike Lee of Utah, Mike Braun of Indiana, and Josh Hawley of Missouri–sent a letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos inquiring about the company’s removal of Anderson’s book.
The senators wrote that Amazon has not provided “a sufficient explanation as to how Anderson’s book, which reached the top of two of Amazon’s best-seller lists before it was even released in 2018, supposedly violated a vague, undefined ‘offensive content’ standard.”
“When Harry Became Sally prompted important discussions in the national media and among policymakers in 2018, and remains one of the most rigorously researched and compassionately argued books on this subject,” the senators wrote.
“By removing this book from its marketplaces and services, Amazon has unabashedly wielded its outsized market share to silence an important voice merely for the crime of violating woke groupthink,” they stated.
While Anderson’s book remains unavailable for purchase on Amazon, an ebook called “Let Harry Become Sally: Responding to the Anti-Transgender Moment” remains available on the retail giant’s website. The product description says some of the book’s proceeds will be donated to the National Center for Transgender Equality.
Anderson said that “When Harry Became Sally” may be purchased directly from its publisher, Encounter Books, “as well as from Barnes and Noble, where it is currently the #2 selling book in America.” It may also be purchased from Ignatius Press.
Madrid, Spain, Feb 26, 2021 / 03:11 pm (CNA).- While maintaining restrictions on transit, gatherings, and worship services amid the coronavirus pandemic, Spanish authorities will allow marches for International Women’s Day next month.
Various feminist organizations are already calling for demonstrations in various parts of Spain March 8. In Madrid, marches of up to 500 persons have been authorized.
The Minister of Health, Carolina Darias, advises against the marches, saying, “there’s no place” for them because “the epidemiological situation would not allow nor make sense to hold these events.”
However, Fernando Simón, director of the Health Emergencies and Alerts Coordination Center of the Spanish government, has been in favor of the feminist events and said that they’re less risky than Holy Week processions.
Simón said, “it’s not the same to be under a litter carried by many people during Holy Week, than to be in a demonstration of 500 where distances can be maintained.”
The delegate of the Spanish government in Madrid, José Manuel Franco, told Onda Madrid public radio that the requests for a permit to hold marches they have received in the Spanish capital “have not been prohibited because they maintain the parameters required right now in this pandemic situation.”
In various autonomous regional governments in Spain, restrictions have already been announced for Holy Week celebrations and other celebrations associated with the Church, such as the “Sanfermines” in Navarre, which will not be held this year.
In a statement to ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish language news partner, Luis Losada, campaign director for CitizenGO in Latin America, said that “it’s outrageous that (while we have had to) give up the Fallas of Valencia and San Fermin festivals, as well as Holy Week, the feminists insist on their own celebration.”
Fr. Juan Manuel Góngora, a Spaniard, said, “these days we are watching with astonishment how in the middle of the pandemic, the Government Delegation in Madrid is going to authorize the 8M demonstrations with ridiculous measures.”
“Allowing these demonstrations is a farce for all of us citizens who are complying with the imposed measures and it constitutes a shameful double standard,” Góngora noted.
“At the same time we are already hearing 24/7 that this year we must act as if ‘Holy Week does not exist,’” he added.
The priest said that “if on Easter Sunday I go out through the door of the church that I administer holding the monstrance with the Blessed Sacrament while the parishioners accompany me duly separated, what authority does (the government) have to impose a fine on me?”
“We Catholics must stop being timid before sectarian rulers, we should act with courage and claim our right to express publicly our faith while respecting sanitary measures, those that truly respond to the requirements of healthcare but which others are using under that guise to restrict freedom,” Góngora said.
Fr. Francisco José Delgado, another Spaniard, charged that “all this time we have been enduring a real ‘demonization’ of Catholic worship, despite the fact that there is no known source of infection associated with worship activities in Spain.”
“At the same time, we see how the public events of the state religion, since the March 8 marches are nothing else, are shamelessly promoted by Podemos in the government,” he said.
Delgado said, that “the Ministry of Health advises against these marches, shows this is more about the political confrontation between the political parties in the government than from a real concern for the health of the people, which has been missing in the decisions that have been made since the pandemic started.”
“In our case, as a Church it is difficult to distinguish what part of our self-imposed restrictions belongs to prudence and what part corresponds to posturing before the world. We have to obey, and in most places we won’t have processions, obeying the bishops,” he said.
“But perhaps the task of spiritual reconstruction should be planned that must come after all this, because the world’s ideological agenda is not going to back off a millimeter, while we seem to be in retreat,” Delgado lamented.
Spain has had more than 3 million confirmed cases of Covid-19, and more than 68,000 deaths. Per 100,000 people, it has had 6,802 cases, and 147 deaths.
Washington D.C., Feb 26, 2021 / 02:30 pm (CNA).- Girls cannot be silent when forced to compete against biological males in athletics, one attorney argued on Friday.
In the case of Soule v. Connecticut Association of Schools, several female athletes had sued over Connecticut’s policy of allowing biological males—who identify as transgender females—to compete in girls’ sports. On Friday, oral arguments were held on the state’s motion to dismiss the case.
After the arguments, an attorney representing the athletes said that they will not be silenced in their complaint for equal treatment.
One of the girls “was told by coaches that if she was asked by the press how she felt about that, she just needed to say ‘no comment,’” said Roger Brooks, a senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) which represents the girls.
“And so yes, we’re deeply concerned with a world which is essentially sending a memo to girls that says ‘you’ll take it, and you’ll be meek and quiet, and say nothing,’” Brooks said.
ADF is a nonprofit group advocating for the defense of religious liberty.
In 2017, the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference began allowing student-athletes to compete in sports based on their gender identity, and not their biological sex.
After the new policy, two biological males identifying as transgender females competed in girls’ track events and won 15 state titles.
Four high school track competitors—Soule, Alanna Smith, Chelsea Mitchell, and Ashley Nicoletti—filed a lawsuit against Connecticut in 2019, alleging that they had to unfairly compete against biological males identifying as transgender female.
Soule, currently a track-and-field athlete at a NCAA Division I college, said on Friday that she was simply told she had the chance to “compete” and not a right to “win.”
“But when we’ve asked questions, we’ve been told we’re allowed to compete, but we don’t have the right to win,” she told reporters on Friday at an online news conference after a hearing in the case. “We’ve worked incredibly hard to shave fractions of a second off of our times to win, not to place third and beyond.”
Brooks stated after oral arguments that “women and girls deserve an equal and level playing field in athletics.”
“If the ACLU gets its way, women’s sports will no longer exist. There will be men’s sports, and there will be semi-co-ed sports,” he said. The ACLU has joined the lawsuit in defense of the state’s policy.
Mitchell alleges that her time would have been the best at the 2019 state championship for the women’s 55-meter indoor track competition, but the two male runners—Andraya Yearwood and Terry Miller—took first and second place, respectively.
Soule raced “17 times at least” against biological males and lost each time, Brooks said. Mitchell lost to four times to males in state championships, he added.
“I was defeated before stepping on to the track,” Alanna Smith on Friday recounted her experience facing the male runners. “Mentally, we know the outcome before the race even starts.”
“Four times, I ran races fast enough to take home a state championship,” Mitchell said.
“Girls across Connecticut and New England all knew the outcome of our races long before the start, and it was extremely demoralizing,” Soule said.
Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibits sex discrimination in federally-funded education programs and activities.
Brooks argued on Friday that Title IX doesn’t just give girls the “chance to compete” in sports, but to do so on an equal playing field mindful of the biological differences between males and females.
“Title IX promises our daughters athletic opportunities and experiences every bit the equal of what their brothers enjoy, but instead, the CIC and Connecticut are giving girls extra lessons in losing,” he said.
While the Department of Education in 2020 found that the state’s policy violated Title IX, the Biden administration withdrew those findings earlier this week.
President Biden has already signed an executive order stating that people shouldn’t be denied public goods based on their gender identity—and ADF and other groups have warned that the order would force women athletes to compete against biological males identifying as transgender females.
On Thursday, the House passed the Equality Act, a sweeping bill that would create protected classes for sexual orientation and gender identity in federal civil rights law. Critics of the bill, including U.S. bishops, have warned that it would threaten girls’ sports among a number of areas.
The act “certainly threatens equality on the track,” Brooks said, adding that he is “optimistic” the bill won’t pass the Senate. Bills such as the Equality Act “ignore the differences between men and women,” he said.
If you glanced at the recent headlines, you probably saw what appeared to be good news: The United States would finally stop selling arms to Saudi Arabia and end our involvement in the conflict in Yemen. But if you clicked through, you saw this quote from our new Catholic president, who is supposedly less supportive of Saudi Arabia’s war, and of war in general: Joe Biden announced that we were “ending all American support for offensive operations in the war in Yemen, including relevant arms sales.” First question: “offensive,” according to whom?
Our military presence in Yemen covers a number of different roles, most but not all of which are predicated on assisting Saudi Arabia, the country that is technically at war. From the Saudis’ perspective, there have never been any “offensive operations” in Yemen. They view the Houthi occupation in Yemen as an existential threat and their role in the conflict as wholly defensive in nature.
The defensive framework is really important here, as they’ve continually used it to defend the bombing of schools, hospitals and residential areas as necessary defensive measures. With our assistance, they’ve killed thousands of civilians. According to 2018 reporting by The Associated Press, “coalition airstrikes and shelling killed at least 4,489 civilians since the beginning of 2016.” Almost a year later, The Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project reported that the coalition and its allies were “responsible for the highest number of reported civilian fatalities from direct targeting, with over 8,000 since 2015.” The project estimated the total body count to be over 100,000 reported fatalities, “including over 12,000 civilians killed in direct attacks.”
Biden says we are ending the sale of “relevant arms” to Saudi Arabia, so which arms are those? Not all arms, obviously, but relevant arms, implementing a new prohibition on the kinds of weapons relevant to an undefined criteria for what does or does not constitute “offensive” operations.
To explicitly call their bombing campaigns “offensive operations” would be marginally closer in truth to what our military nominally refers to as “defensive measures.” But at no point does the president explicitly or even implicitly connect the “offensive operations” in question to our role in Saudi Arabia’s six-year bombing campaign in northern Yemen.
Then the president followed up with a disclaimer, saying “At the same time, Saudi Arabia faces missile attacks, UAV strikes, and other threats from Iranian-supplied forces in multiple countries. We’re going to continue to support and help Saudi Arabia defend its sovereignty and its territorial integrity.”
Statements like this have been the party line for the last six years. It’s always been the answer to the question of what exactly we are doing in Yemen. So, what’s actually changed?
Biden reversed the Trump administration’s decision to designate the Houthis as a terrorist group, which had been a major roadblock for humanitarian aid being able to reach Houthi occupied territory. He also called for renewed peace talks, appointing career diplomat Timothy Lenderking as U.S. envoy to the region, ostensibly to broker a new peace agreement.
Pursuing peaceful resolution to conflict is always commendable, especially after four years in which our diplomatic corps was so underutilized. But it’s worth keeping in mind the long list of peace agreements in the region, brokered by international governing bodies like the U.N. and the Gulf Cooperation Council, or GCC, that have all, without exception, backfired catastrophically and have unintentionally made the conflict worse. It is also worth noting that one such power-sharing agreement is what sent the country into a civil war to begin with.
In 2011, the GCC brokered a deal to try and ensure the peaceful transition of power from president Ali Abdullah Saleh to his vice president, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi. Saleh, who had served as president for 33 years, was accused of widespread corruption but was granted immunity in the deal. His immunity, among other things, allowed him to retain the loyalty of large factions within the Yemeni military, which he cajoled into a short-lived alliance with the Houthis.
This alliance allowed the Iran-backed Houthi movement to orchestrate a coup and capture Sanaa, the capital of Yemen, with very little resistance, sending the country spiraling into a civil war. Saleh was killed by Houthis while attempting to flee Sanaa in 2017, and Hadi is still the man we recognize as the president of Yemen despite running unopposed, overstaying a term that technically ended in 2014, and living in exile in Saudi Arabia. He spends most of his time in Riyadh.
The most recent peace deal was the Stockholm agreement in 2018, which imposed a ceasefire that allowed the Houthis to regroup and launch a major new offensive, significantly expanding the amount of territory they occupy in northern Yemen. There is no reason to believe they will respect a new ceasefire any more than they did the previous one. Especially now, when they have significantly more leverage and are one major holdout away from controlling all of northern Yemen.
I spoke about Biden’s announcement on Yemen with Mary Ellen O’Connell, a professor at the University of Notre Dame Law School and a research professor of international dispute resolution at Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies. Widely recognized for her scholarship on the ethics of military intervention, she has been a vocal critic of America’s support for Saudi Arabia in the conflict, and remains adamant that “there is no legal right for the Saudis or the United States to be interfering in a civil war, and that kind of conflict should never involve aerial bombardment.”
“There isn’t, in reality, any bright line or clear category between offensive and defensive weapons,” she told me. “It will be up to us, in consultation with the Saudis, to decide what weapons we are willing to classify as defensive,” she said, adding that she hopes the U.S. takes a conservative approach in defining that distinction.
Of the Saudi-backed Hadi regime’s shaky claim to legitimacy, O’Connell notes, “If you can’t hold on to your own country against your own people, you’re not the government. The Houthis are in a better position now first and foremost because they have a lot more popular support. The Hadi regime crushed attempts at democracy in Yemen, and drove people who would not naturally be supportive of the Houthis right to them.”
Still, she’s optimistic about Biden’s renewed efforts for a peace agreement. “The Stockholm agreement gave too much standing to the Saudi-backed forces. They lacked the legitimacy legally, and the control on the ground, to deserve the position they got [from the international community,] but there was really no alternative with how firmly the U.S. was behind Saudi Arabia,” she said.
“If we no longer make common cause with the Saudis, there’s a real chance to create a new agreement that is respectful of what the Yemeni people themselves want, which leaders they are willing to back,” she said.
Even seeing the need for a new posture is an improvement over the last six years. Still, we are clinging to the same old rationale used to enter this proxy war in the first place: that as the world superpower, we can play referee for conflicts we have neither the tools to fix nor the authority, moral or otherwise, to mediate.
Again this year in his message on New Year’s Day, Pope Francis highlighted the terrible suffering in Yemen, as he has over and over. Biden similarly called the situation there a “humanitarian and strategic catastrophe” and conditions “unendurable.” Yet he did not adequately acknowledge our role in those conditions.
And there is enough intentionally ambiguous phrasing and doublespeak in his talk of “relevant arms” and “offensive operations” to make us wonder how new this approach is from the course we’ve been on for the past six years. If we were halting all arms sales to Saudi Arabia, and withdrawing all support for operations in Yemen, he would have said so.
Both initiatives would have broad public support, and could even be one of those “bipartisan solutions” he’s always talking about. Instead, he gave a suspiciously complicated answer to a simple moral question: Are we going to continue to support a war that every day looks more like a genocide?
Those who want to see him succeed, and hope to see him exert the moral leadership that he has made his brand, need to press him hardest on this point, and on how stringent our oversight of relevant arms and offensive weapons will really be. A more disapproving posture means very little in the face of a genocide.
Clinton, N.J. — The women housed at the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility in Clinton, the only women’s prison in the state of New Jersey, seem to have the cards stacked against them.
Already facing isolation, suspended visitations and restricted gatherings — all to minimize the potential spread of the coronavirus and exposure to it — the women incarcerated there are facing another challenge: the fear of abuse.
In the early morning hours of Jan. 12, just nine months after the U.S. Justice Department issued a report denouncing past abuse at the prison, calling the abuse of the women there “severe and prevalent,” two women were reported to have been allegedly assaulted and several others were victims of abuse inflicted by corrections officers.
Bishop James F. Checchio of Metuchen, who has made regular past visits to the prison to meet and pray with the women there, called the situation “dire” and the offenses against the women “disgusting and shameful.”
In a letter shared with local media, Catholics of the diocese, the prison administrator and the chaplain supervisor, Checchio wrote that “no person, no matter their past offenses nor circumstance in life, should have to endure such abuse.”
The offenses, he wrote, “alleged to have been perpetrated by the prison officers, the very people charged with protecting the women in their custody, are terrible. This sad, ongoing situation calls to mind other failures and lack of responsibility by those in authority, even not unlike past failings by some of our own church’s leaders and members of clergy.”
“I pray that those in authority over the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women, who bear the weight of caring for and protecting the lives of those imprisoned, will honestly assess any failings and implement the proper measures so that each person there is treated as a child of God, worthy of inherent dignity,” the bishop wrote.
Situated in the rolling hills of Hunterdon County, one of the four counties that make up the Diocese of Metuchen, the prison currently houses about 380 women in three compounds and has reportedly been plagued by violence and abuse for years.
One person in the Diocese of Metuchen knows the plight of the women there especially well, the bishop said in his letter: Anthony P. Kearns III, chancellor of the diocese.
Before he was named to the diocesan post, Kearns worked to combat abuse at the women’s prison as the Hunterdon County prosecutor for about nine years. He prosecuted claims of abuse at the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women. He said that while institutional change can take time, the abuse happening there cannot be tolerated.
With 10 jails and prisons in Middlesex, Somerset, Hunterdon and Warren counties, Checchio said the diocese is fortunate to have several prison ministries to tend to incarcerated people.
Yet, he said he is “mindful that each of us is commissioned to practice the corporal works of mercy, to care for the imprisoned and to protect all human life.”
“We have a shared responsibility — as Catholics, as Christians, and as brothers and sisters united in one human family — to defend the rights and dignity of all people,” the bishop wrote.
“It is on this very same foundation of our faith, by which we are emphatically reminded that we are all equally made in the image and likeness of God,” he continued, “that we advocate for the unborn, for those facing the injustice of racism, for those confronting a terminal illness who feel compelled to choose assisted suicide, and for so many others who all too often are excluded, marginalized, or are in any other way disenfranchised.
“Sadly, this respect for life seems to be lessening in our society.”
As the women await relief, as the prison awaits reform and as the public awaits answers, Checchio encouraged prayer — for those suffering from abuse and for those with the authority to prevent it.
“We cannot be indifferent to their pain and suffering. We must strive to see more clearly the face of God in each of our brothers and sisters, regardless of their origin, race, religion, vulnerability, or past choices,” he wrote.
“May we each be reminded of our Father’s unconditional and unfailing love for us and, in turn, offer that same love, without condition and without exception, to all whom we encounter,” he added.
Berlin — The German bishops’ conference elected a woman as general secretary during a virtual assembly that turned into a crisis meeting focused on the church’s handling of sex abuse.
Beate Gilles, a 50-year-old theologian, became the first noncleric and woman to head the bishops’ secretariat. She will take up her post July 1.
“Last year, there was still the debate of whether a woman could hold such an office here. Now we know it is possible,” she said Feb. 23 at the news conference after her election.
Limburg Bishop Georg Bätzing, president of the bishops’ conference, said the appointment was a strong signal “that the bishops are honoring their agreement to promote women in leading positions.”
Yet Gilles’ election could not distract from the fact that the Catholic Church in Germany is under pressure and at a critical point. It has fallen into disrepute among its members after a litany of accusations of inadequate investigations into and cover-ups of past sexual abuse.
“As long as there is no honest, open and complete reappraisal of sexual abuse in all German dioceses set at a high scientific level and with the same standards for all, the reform efforts … will come to nothing,” said a statement from the Catholic Lay Alliance, representing seven lay organizations.
At the center of the storm is Cologne Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki. After he commissioned a report to clear up past sexual abuse cases, especially how they were handled, in the Archdiocese of Cologne, he refused to make it public, saying it contained deficiencies. He ordered a new report, scheduled to be published March 18. Parish councils, priests and most recently the diocesan council have criticized the cardinal for his handling of the abuse investigation.
While other dioceses also are dealing with abuse allegations, Woelki is seen as a symbol for the cover-up in the Catholic Church, as more and more German Catholics are turning their backs on the church. Others, like the lay alliance, are calling for fundamental changes.
In Germany, church affiliations are registered with the government, which collects church tax on behalf of the churches. This normally amounts to 5%-8% of a church member’s income.
On Feb. 19, the Cologne District Court’s online appointment booking website for people leaving the church crashed after additional dates and time slots for March and April became available for appointments, the court told the German News Agency.
At a news conference Feb. 25, Bätzing admitted that people leaving the church would eventually affect church finances. He also admitted that troubles in the Cologne Archdiocese overshadowed the spring plenary.
He reiterated that he has openly called Woelki’s crisis management “a disaster. I have advised him to pursue a different course.” He said the bishops’ conference cannot make any decision on Woelki’s future; only the apostolic nuncio can.
In his formal, final 17-page statement after the plenary, Bätzing addressed the fact that public opinion at the moment focuses on the Archdiocese of Cologne.
“I would like to clarify: Yes, there are many people leaving the church, also because of the image that the church is currently projecting. And certainly, there are many things that need to be clarified in the Archdiocese of Cologne. But to focus solely on the Archbishop of Cologne would be too shortsighted. On the contrary: all bishops of all 27 dioceses bear a responsibility for the situation, and we all have to face the criticism.”
He said much progress has been made in the last decade, since the first cases of sexual abuse in the German Catholic Church became public in 2010, “but of course there is still a lot to do. The issue is in no way closed, nor will it ever be with a view to prevention. However, I reject the accusation that the bishops have been silent or have done nothing for years.”
During the meeting, the bishops also discussed the Synodal Path, which is debating the issues of power, sexual morality, priestly life and the role of women in the church. It also heard a report from an ecumenical working group on shared Communion and discussed the dire situation of refugees on the EU borders. Bätzing asked EU governments to get involved in a situation that he described as a blot on the European Union.
Editor’s Note: EarthBeat Weekly is your weekly newsletter about faith and climate change. Below is the Feb. 26 edition. To receive EarthBeat Weekly in your inbox, sign up here.
EarthBeat is marking the end of Black History Month with a profile of Hazel Johnson, a Black woman who left an indelible mark on national environmental policy while remaining deeply rooted in Altgeld Gardens, the southeast Chicago neighborhood where she spent her life fighting polluters.
Johnson, who died in January 2011, is considered the mother of the U.S. environmental justice movement. She is known for her relentless battle against the evil that surrounded her neighborhood in the form of toxic dumps, lead paint and other pollution that sickened her neighbors and shortened their lives.
Less known, writes NCR environment correspondent Brian Roewe, is that her Catholic faith helped sustain her in the struggle.
Roewe spoke with her daughter, who carries on the work of the organization her mother founded, and others who knew and worked with Johnson. The portrait that emerges is of a woman who had to battle racism and government apathy as well as polluters.
As he delved into Johnson’s legacy, Roewe says, two things surprised him: “that Altgeld Gardens was built essentially on top of a toxic waste site, and that the community’s discovery of that reality did not lead to an immediate response from city officials in Chicago.”
Activists note that “I can’t breathe,” the phrase that became a rallying cry for the Black Lives Matter movement after the murder of George Floyd, also applies to communities where people of color are systematically exposed to high levels of toxic substances. Those neighborhoods are also hit harder by deadly heatwaves — another reminder, as Johnson knew, that environmental justice and racial justice are inextricably intertwined.
Today’s profile of Johnson is particularly timely. Just over a week ago, on Feb. 18, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that because of the coronavirus pandemic, life expectancy in the U.S. dropped from 78.8 years in 2019 to 77.8 years in 2020. That is the largest decline since World War II. The decrease was even greater — 2.7 years — for Black Americans, whose life expectancy dropped from 74.7 to 72 years.
That disparity underscores the toll the virus has taken on communities of color, which are disproportionately affected by contaminants, including air pollution, from nearby industrial plants and waste dumps. Places like Louisiana’s “Cancer Alley,” where Catholic activist Sharon Lavigne is leading a fight to stop construction of a plastics factory, have higher rates of lung diseases, which have made residents more vulnerable to COVID-19.
At EarthBeat, we regularly draw those connections in our coverage of climate issues. For more background, I recommend Jesse Remedios’ interview with Sylvia Hood Washington, an environmental health scientist and historian, and Roewe’s conversation with Robert Bullard, who is considered the father of the U.S. environmental justice movement.
One thing Roewe learned from listening to those who knew Hazel Johnson, he says, “was just how relatable she came across in practicing her Catholic faith.”
“They did not describe her as part of an archdiocesan council or project. She wasn’t dropping lines from Scripture (and there was no Laudato Si’) or weaving theological citations into her powerful testimonies for why her neighborhood deserved clean air, water and land as much as any other.”
Above all, she showed how much of a difference one person can make.
“She wasn’t someone who publicly led with her faith, but friends say it was still a driving force for why she cared, and just as much what sustained her through the difficult struggle of going against corporations and government officials,” Roewe says.
“She was a regular parishioner, and I think that aspect of her story is important for Catholics who may think that they have to operate in formal church channels to make a difference,” he adds. “It can certainly help, and the wider church certainly has a bigger role to play. But Hazel shows us you just have to start working, keep pressing and wait for no one.”
Here’s what else is new on EarthBeat this week:
Here’s what’s new in other climate news:
“The Human Roots of the Ecological Crisis,” the fourth of seven virtual talks marking the fifth anniversary year of Pope Francis’ encyclical “Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common Home”, will begin at 7:30 p.m. Central Time on March 4. Sponsored by the Center for Catholic Thought & Culture at the University of San Diego, it will feature Julia Cantzler, Andy Tirrell, Kate DeConinc and Jeffrey Burns.
You can find more information about this and other upcoming events on the EarthBeat Events page.
Several weeks ago, I asked readers to share the resources they are using for reflection during Lent.
In response, Nancy Lorence of the Church of St. Francis Xavier, in New York City, wrote, “It is the third year that the St. Francis Xavier Environment Ministry has published a Lenten Carbon Fast Calendar. We offer it to other parishes, etc., to use as they see fit.”
The calendar, which you can download here, includes reflections for each day of the week throughout Lent, from “Sustenance Sundays” through “Simple Saturdays.” I can’t help looking forward to March 25, when the calendar calls attention to the award-winning children’s book We Are Water Protectors by Carole Lindstrom and illustrator Michaela Goade. Inspired by Indigenous-led movements in North America, this book for young readers won the 2021 Caldecott Medal for its illustrations.
Is your family, parish or faith community using resources with a climate or environmental theme during Lent? If so, we’d love to hear about it at email@example.com.
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By James Blears
Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard and US Secretary of State Anthony Blinkin are sharing cyberspace on Friday in an attempt to tackle a worsening hemispheric problem. The aim is to work out a plan to halt the waves of Central American Caravans, mostly originating in Honduras from crossing over into neighbouring Guatemala and then on to Mexico, in the quest to reach US territory. One of the main ways in which this could be achieved is by creating home grown jobs, but it would need a major and sustained economic stimulus plus impetus from Washington.
The previous Trump Administration threatened loss of aid and sanctions against Nations within the Americas, who failed to significantly tighten up and clamp down against the Caravans, who`s numbers increase the more ground they cover.
Mexico, which had initially allowed them unhindered access and even provided temporary camps and shelters for them, especially in the Capital Mexico City, then changed tack, trying to hold them off at the border. Even prior to this, the Guatemalan Authorities attempted to impose their own buffers.
Many undocumented migrants have decided to flee their homelands due to a scarcity of job opportunities, but also because of threats to their children from street gangs plus other strands of organized crime. The young people are ordered to join these ranks or face death. The illicit narcotics trade and more recently the Covid 19 Pandemic has greatly worsened the dire plight of these poverty stricken people, who often trust the Church, but seldom have confidence in their own Governments.
Many would be migrants have been offered the opportunity to stay and settle in Mexico, which in turn, needs help from further North in order to maintain and extend this generous helping hand.
Washington D.C., Feb 26, 2021 / 11:02 am (CNA).- The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) is opposing the COVID relief package currently under consideration in the House, over its lack of pro-life protections.
In a digital campaign, the USCCB wrote that although the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 “addresses the needs of many vulnerable people related to the pandemic,” it lacks pro-life “Hyde” protections against funding of abortions and abortion coverage.
The Hyde Amendment is a longstanding legislative provision that prohibits the use of taxpayer funding for elective abortions. If Hyde language is excluded from the bill, that would erase this limitation and allow for possible increased funding of abortion.
As a candidate for president, Biden reversed his previous support of the Hyde Amendment, saying he now supports taxpayer-funded abortion. House Democratic leaders have also said they intended to repeal the policy in 2021.
The House is scheduled to vote on the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 on Friday evening. The $1.9 trillion package includes funding for vaccinations, testing and tracing, stimulus checks to families, and tax credits for paid sick and family leave.
The USCCB expressed its disappointment, however, noting that previous COVID bills provided economic relief and health care spending with pro-life provisions intact.
“Unfortunately, unlike previous COVID relief bills, this bill appropriates billions of taxpayer dollars that are not subject to longstanding, bi-partisan pro-life protections that are needed to prevent this funding from paying for abortions,” their website stated.
The USCCB added it is “communicating to Congress its strong opposition to any taxpayer funding of abortion as part of this legislation,” and is urging Catholics and pro-life Americans to do the same.
“Your voice is critically needed today to tell your representatives in Congress to support amendments that prevent abortion funding and to work for their inclusion in the final bill,” the conference stated.
In a statement posted to Twitter on Thursday, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) said she and some of her fellow Republican lawmakers are attempting to include the pro-life protections in the bill, “to FIX this to reflect Congress’s long bipartisan history of supporting Hyde.”
🚨🚨🚨 NEWS: Unfortunately, House Democrats did not include Hyde Protections in the $1.9 trillion reconciliation bill. @virginiafoxx, @RepWalorski, and I are leading to FIX this to reflect Congress’s long bipartisan history of supporting Hyde. #prolife #SaveHyde pic.twitter.com/HTSo4tdjs5
— CathyMcMorrisRodgers (@cathymcmorris) February 25, 2021
The congresswoman’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In a statement, Jeanne Mancini, president of March for Life, also argued that the Hyde protections should be included in the final bill.
“At a time when our country is mourning the deaths of 500,000 Americans, very little (less than 10%) of the misnamed COVID relief package actually goes towards combatting the pandemic,” Mancini said in a written statement. “Instead, pro-abortion Democrats are using this bill to push through billions of dollars in subsidies for abortions, not only here in the U.S. but also abroad.”
The Senate is using the procedure of reconciliation to pass the legislation needing only a simple majority, Mancini said, “because they would not otherwise have the votes needed to do away with popular pro-life riders that protect Americans from funding the life-ending procedure.”
“In fact, consistent polling shows that most Americans oppose their tax dollars funding abortion both here and abroad. So much for unity,” Mancini said.
By Vatican News staff reporter
Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, who was created Cardinal by Pope Francis in the consistory of 28 November 2020, delivered his first sermon for Lent 2021 in the Paul VI Hall at the Vatican. The theme for this year’s Lenten reflections is “Who do you say that I am?”, taken from the Gospel of St Matthew.
For his introductory sermon, the Preacher to the Papal Household offered an overview of the season of Lent, focusing on the passage “Repent, and believe in the Gospel!”
Repentance, or conversion, said Cardinal Cantalamessa, is mentioned in “three different moments and contexts” in the New Testament, corresponding to different moments in our own lives.
The first is founded in the words spoken by Jesus at the beginning of His ministry: “Repent, and believe in the Gospel!” This does not have a primarily moral sense, according to Cardinal Cantalamessa, but instead consists first of all in having faith, in believing, in changing how we see our relationship with God.
The second New Testament call to conversion comes when Jesus invites His disciples to “turn and become like children.” Here, “Jesus puts forward a genuine revolution,” calling them – and us – “to shift the centre from yourself, and to re-centre yourself on Christ.” Becoming like children, said Cardinal Cantalamessa, means going back to the time we first truly encountered Jesus.
Finally, in the book of Revelation, Jesus calls those who are neither hot nor cold to “be earnest… and repent.” “The focus here,” said Cardinal Cantalamessa, is on conversion from being mediocre and lukewarm to being fervent. This is not our own work, he insisted, but rather the work of the Holy Spirit.
Cardinal Cantalamessa recalled the experience of the disciples when they were filled with the Spirit at the first Pentecost. The Fathers of the Church described this experience with the image of “sober drunkenness” – the disciples were not drunk with wine, as the people imagined, but instead, having received the Holy Spirit, were spiritually inebriated.
“How can we take up this ideal of sober drunkenness and embody it in the present situation in history and in the Church?” Cardinal Cantalamessa asked. Beyond the ordinary means of Eucharist and the Scriptures, the Cardinal, citing Saint Ambrose, points to a third, “extraordinary” means, that is not institutional, but instead involves “reliving the experience of the apostles on the day of Pentecost.”
One way this occurs, he said, is in the “so-called ‘Baptism in the Spirit’,” which involves “a renewal with fresh awareness not only of Baptism and Confirmation, but also of the entire Christian life… the most important fruit is the discovery of what it means to have a ‘personal relationship’ with Jesus risen and alive.”
Cardinal Cantalamessa emphasized the importance of “a true conversion from being lukewarm to being fervent, inviting his listeners to pray for Mary’s intercession for this grace.
You can read the full text of Cardinal Raniero Cantalamessa’s Sermon on his website.
By Linda Bordoni
Unprecedented weather conditions driven by climate change continue to impact countries and communities highlighting the need for a new approach to natural resource management and conservation.
As the driest continent on the globe, Australia has been severely impacted by devastating bushfires that have wreaked death, destruction and economic loss.
But as Chiara Porro, the Australian Ambassador to the Holy See explained in an interview with Vatican Radio, Australia is also determined to take the lead in implementing new green technology infrastructure and techniques while making good use of the knowledge and techniques developed by its indigenous peoples in the course of centuries.
What’s more, Ms Porro explained, the Australian government is “on track to beat its 2030 Climate Change Goals” by reducing greenhouse gas emissions while investing hugely in renewable energy.
A year ago Australia was just coming to terms with the devastating effects of the worst bushfires, we’ve ever had in our history. Lives were lost, buildings were damaged, communities were severely affected and our wildlife was really badly damaged. As the driest continent in the world, Australia has always had to deal with extreme weather events and our indigenous population has, over the thousands of years, developed techniques to manage natural resources. However, the intensity and the frequency of what are experiencing at the moment is such that we have never seen before. I think climate change is the single greatest threat to our region at the moment. It’s clear that we need to invest in practical urgent action right now.
Observers have been quite critical regarding some of the decisions taken by the government. They say that your prime minister is walking a bit of a delicate tightrope between trying to achieve the goals set by the Paris Climate Agreement and the nation’s powerful coal industry.
Regarding the question of emissions, I think that reducing emissions is of course important for the longer term. But also what is really needed now, is a strong focus and investment in adaptation.
Keeping with the question of emissions, Australia is on track to beat our 2030 target. We’ve reduced emissions by almost 17% since 2005 which is faster than many other advanced economies.
We are also investing hugely in renewable technology and renewable energy and we’re building capacity in wind and solar energy that is 10 times the global average. This means that we have the highest uptake in the world: one in four Australian homes now have solar power.
And regarding renewable energy, it will contribute to at least 50% of our electricity by 2030. That is to say, we realise the economy needs to change and this change is happening. We are also investing very heavily in hydrogen and in other renewable technologies that could potentially one day be exported to Southeast Asia, replacing more polluting energy exports.
Australia will participate in the next COP 26 due to take place in Glasgow in November. What do you think it will bring to the table?
That’s still being debated. But I think you know we’re working very closely with the UK as the Cop26 President, and we’ve already made several announcements and commitments, including adaptation. We have also increased our climate financing already by 50% to 1.5 billion dollars at least over the next period, and we are taking leadership on climate change in our region in the Pacific.
We’ve been working on disaster relief for two decades, and we have a number of initiatives, such as our infrastructure financing facility for the Pacific, which is 2 billion dollars focused on building climate-resilient infrastructure projects.
We are also supporting meteorological services in the Pacific for data gathering and early warning systems. There is a whole range of measures in place to ensure that we know what’s happening and what’s going on.
Meanwhile, the need to get to net-zero emissions for us is not in dispute and we are very committed to that; but we are trying to push the global community to focus on how important that is for us given the urgent need for our region to adapt and become more climate-resilient.
As Australian ambassador to the Holy See do you manage to get a voice in with your government regarding the Vatican’s stance on climate change?
I do. I think Pope Francis has been very forward-leaning and vocal and I think his recent participation at the virtual Climate Summit in December 2020 really demonstrated how even such a small state like the Vatican can lead, also by committing to promote education on integral ecology. I think that’s critical and fundamental and will have a real impact all around the world, given the Catholic education system that’s present in countries like Australia. I think it really will have an impact on pushing more of that “bottom-up” demand for a more climate-neutral economy and other policies.
How influent is Catholic education in your part of the world?
A recent census shows that one in five children in Australia are educated in a Catholic institution at some point during their schooling, so it’s very prevalent. This year we celebrate the 200th anniversary of Catholic education in Australia, and it is very well regarded and has a key role in educating our youth. It extends from childcare up to higher education, and witnesses how powerful Catholic social teaching can be in terms of its outreach to youth.
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