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Australian Catholic Youth Festival draws tens of thousands

Sydney, Australia, Dec 11, 2017 / 05:10 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Church in Australia kicked off Advent with a Catholic Youth Festival in Sydney last weekend, drawing some 20,000 attendees and including the country's largest Mass since the World Youth Day in 2008.

The event was also the opening of a “Year of Youth” meant to “open new horizons for spreading joy joy for the young Church and our communities.”  

Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney said that “our culture has messed up about life and love, justice and mercy,” at the festival's Dec. 9 Mass, citing political challenges such as the recent legalization of voluntary euthanasia in Victoria.

“If ever we need new John the Baptists to call to people to repent and to believe, to offer some really good news amidst all the bad and to point people to Christ, it’s right now.”

The festival was held Dec. 7-9, shortly after Archbishop Denis Hart of Melbourne, president of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, invited the nation's youth to participate in the 2018 Year of Youth, which will last until Nov. 25, 2018.

The festival mostly took place at the Sydney Olympic Park. There young people attended workshops, Mass, faith-filled discussions, and even interactive games, such as a Saint John Paul II video game.

However, the highlight of the weekend was a pilgrimage through Australia’s largest city followed by the closing event. Depending on the desired length, people could begin the pilgrimage at either the St Mary Mackillop Shrine, Harbour Bridge, or St Mary’s Cathedral, but the pilgrims all converged for a concert and closing Mass at the Domain in the Royal Botanical Gardens.

The nearly three hour praise and worship concert included Matt Maher and tributes to the country’s aboriginal groups. A Saturday anticipated Mass soon followed the event, celebrated by Archbishop Fisher, who cancelled all other anticipated Masses to encourage attendance at the youth Mass.

“Episode Eight is coming,” said the archbishop at the beginning of his homily, referring to the new Star Wars movie which will be released this month.

He explained that he had first seen Star Wars during his last year of school nearly 40 years ago, and how it is now a cultural staple which has earned billions of dollars and spawned cultural phrases such as “I am your father.”

Although the series has a bizarre religious perspective, he said, it is still based on the theme of a struggle between light and darkness, adding that the movies include champions who fought on behalf of goodness.

“One thing is still clear, we still look for heroes,” he said, pointing to John the Baptist, an unlikely hero who ate bugs, honey, and smelled like camels.

“All together, JB (John the Baptist) is not the kind of guy your parents would want you to bring home from ACYF as your new boyfriend or new best mate,” he joked.

However, he said this saint aimed to bring people the good news, namely Christ, and stood up against the evils of the times, even if it meant losing his head to Herod because he denounced the king’s illegitimate marriage.

Archbishop Fisher highlighted the evils of euthanasia, which was recently legalized in the state of Victoria, and warned that people can no longer rely on the Christian presence within the culture, but will have to choose for themselves to believe in the teachings of the Catholic Church.

“Things are sliding in our culture, and going forward Christians may not be as influential or even welcome as they used to be. Christian’s won’t be carried by the culture any more. They will have to decide for themselves.”

The culture needs Catholic youth to be heroes and to proclaim the good amid the darkness of the world, he said, noting the example of Mary, the mother of God.

“There were many challenges for [Mary] and not just at the beginning. Accompanying Christ to the cross tore her Immaculate Heart,” he said.

But instead of despairing over evil, he challenged Catholic youth to respond as Mary did at the resurrection.

“Being held by him after the resurrection must have been the greatest joy a human heart, even an immaculate one, could ever have contained. Indeed she couldn’t contain that joy. The next time we see her in the New Testament she is praying in the cenacle of the Church as she awaits her new children to be over shadowed by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

Soros money means legal trouble for Amnesty's Ireland abortion campaign

Dublin, Ireland, Dec 11, 2017 / 05:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Amnesty International is in no position to oppose an Irish law against foreign political funding now that it is under scrutiny for taking money from U.S. financier George Soros’ Open Society Foundations to target the country’s abortion restrictions, Irish pro-life advocates have said.

“The arrogance they have shown in the past few days on this issue is staggering. They are now trying to argue that they have a ‘human right’ to take money from billionaires to push to have abortion legalization in Ireland, while they also argue that preborn children should not have the most basic human right of all – the right to life,” Niamh Ui Bhriain, a spokesperson for the Irish-based Life Institute, told CNA Dec. 11.

She said the action shows the reliance of Irish pro-abortion rights campaigners on foreign funding. Millions of dollars in overseas funding have targeted Ireland’s pro-life laws for decades, as have other U.S. groups like the Center for Reproductive Rights.

“It’s made for a very un-level playing field in the abortion debate in Ireland,” she said.

The Republic of Ireland’s Standards in Public Office Commission has told the human rights and pro-abortion legalization group to return about $160,000 in funds to the Soros foundations. According to the commission, the money violated Irish law barring foreign donations to third party groups seeking to influence the outcome of a referendum campaign.

Colm O’Gorman, Amnesty International’s executive director, said in a Dec. 8 statement that it would oppose the election funding law.

“Ireland is targeting Amnesty International purely for its human rights work,” he claimed.

The organization is backing repeal of the Eighth Amendment to the Republic of Ireland’s constitution. The amendment, passed by voters in 1983, acknowledges “the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother.”

“Amnesty International will not be complying with the instruction from the SIPOC and will deploy every means at its disposal to challenge this unfair law,” said O’Gorman.

He claimed the instruction is “an indefensible attack on human rights defenders” and shows the election funding law is a threat to civil society organizations in the country.

However, Cora Sherlock, deputy chairperson of The Pro-Life Campaign, characterized the Amnesty statement as “nothing more than a public relations exercise to disguise the fact that they have been receiving vast sums of money from abroad to fund their campaign to repeal the Eighth Amendment.”

“Amnesty are behaving like they are above the law and are hiding behind the term ‘human rights’ as a justification for everything they do,” she said Dec. 8. “Amnesty should immediately return the money and stop trying to portray itself as a victim in all of this.”

The effort to repeal the amendment is expected to launch in February 2018, The Irish Times reports.

In August 2016, CNA broke the news that documents that had been reportedly hacked from the Open Society Foundations and posted to the site DCLeaks.com included a strategy proposal targeting Ireland’s pro-life amendment.

The groups apparently intended to serve a role in this strategy were the Abortion Rights Campaign, Amnesty International Ireland, and the Irish Family Planning Association.

The strategy suggested that a pro-abortion rights victory in Ireland “could impact other strongly Catholic countries in Europe, such as Poland, and provide much needed proof that change is possible, even in highly conservative places.”

Abortion Rights Campaign Ireland had received about $29,500 from the foundations in 2016, but returned it later that year after being contacted by the standards commission, which warned that the organization could be reported to the national police.

On Dec. 8, Amnesty International objected that the commission in 2016 told the organization that its work against Ireland’s abortion laws, including work supported by the Open Societies Foundations, did not violate the election funding law. The organization cited the election commission’s 2003 suggestion that the law’s definition of “political purposes” was too broad and could regulate many unintended groups, specifically naming Amnesty International.

O’Gorman contended that it was not clear why the commission reversed its position. He said his organization’s critics have “portrayed foreign funding as somehow sinister.” He contended that the Irish law contradicted the Irish government’s criticisms of “draconian anti-NGO laws elsewhere.”

Sherlock stressed the importance of the stated purpose of the Open Society Foundations grant: “to assist the coordination of groups in Ireland with a view to repealing the Eighth Amendment and taking away legal protection for the baby in the womb.”

She said the involvement of the U.S.-based foundations represented “a gross interference in our democracy and in safeguarding the right to life.”

Amnesty International was neutral on abortion until April 2007, when its leadership decided to support decriminalization of abortion. The change resulted in protests and resignations from leading Catholics and other objectors to abortion among the membership.

At present, Ireland’s Standards in Public Office Commission is also in talks with the Irish Family Planning Association, which received $150,000 from the Open Society Foundations in 2016, because of possible violations of the Republic of Ireland’s election laws on political funding.

A spokeswoman for the Irish Family Planning Association said that in 2016 the association and the commission agreed that the grant did not require the association to register as a “third party” organization under election funding rules. She said the money was not being used for campaign purposes, the Irish Times reports.

There has been more recent correspondence, and the family planning association is again in discussions with the commission.

Ui Bhriain said that pro-abortion rights campaigners see Ireland as “the jewel in the crown of the pro-life movement.” Ireland shows “you don’t need abortion to protect women or to make them safe in pregnancy.”

She cited the country’s “excellent” maternal healthcare and its U.N. ranking as among the safest places to have a baby.

“Ireland is proof that we can best serve mother and baby without abortion, and that a compassionate and truly progressive nation rejects the violence of abortion,” she said.

“That makes us a prime target for the global abortion industry, and, in the next six months, we will see them working night and day to help overturn our pro-life law in this upcoming referendum.”

Arlington priest pays restitution for burning KKK cross in family's lawn

Arlington, Va., Dec 11, 2017 / 03:48 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- An Arlington priest who was formerly a KKK member has written an apology letter and paid restitution to a family for burning a cross in their lawn in 1977.

Fr. William Aitcheson, a priest of the Diocese of Arlington, Va. is a former member of the Ku Klux Klan and was arrested in 1977 for burning six crosses, one on the lawn of Philip and Barbara Butler. He was 23 years old at the time.

In a handwritten letter to the Butlers released on Friday, Aitcheson apologized for his “despicable act” and for the pain that it caused. “I also know that the symbol of the most enduring love the world has ever known must never be used as a weapon of terror,” he wrote.

Besides the letter, the priest also sent the Butlers a check for $23,000, the original restitution owed them in 1977, and offered to pay their legal fees of $9,600.

While the family originally refused to accept Aitcheson’s apology and money, the diocese said in a press release that the Butlers “have since reconsidered and accepted” the restitution and money for legal fees, which were paid from Aicheson’s personal funds and a private loan.

The diocese also stated that “Fr. Aitcheson had no legal obligation to make restitution, and it should be clarified that he had no obligation under Church law either. Fr. Aitcheson felt a moral obligation to pay as much as he could. The Diocese supported this decision.”

“Fr. Aitcheson acknowledges that he should have reached out to the Butler family and paid restitution decades ago, but he hopes this resolution begins a process of healing and peace,” the diocese added.

In August, Aitcheson’s past as a KKK member was made public when he wrote an article in the diocesan newspaper “with the intention of telling his story of transformation” from being a Klan member to abandoning his racist beliefs and becoming a Catholic priest.

The article, entitled “Moving from hate to love with God’s grace,” was written in the wake of the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va. on Aug. 11-12, which drew national attention. According to the diocese, a freelancer reporter contacted the diocese at that time after she found that Fr. Aitcheson’s name matched that of a man arrested in the 1970s. Fr. Aitcheson saw it as a chance to share his story of conversion, and the diocese agreed to publish his account.

“He left that life behind him 40 years ago and since journeyed in faith to eventually become a Catholic priest,” the diocese said in a statement in August.

The Butlers’ lawyer has told local media that the family is still pursuing a civil suit against the law firm that originally represented them at the time of the incident and failed to renew the judgment on the case, allowing it to expire. The family is seeking to collect the interest accrued on the original $23,000, which would now be more than $68,000.

The family is also looking into a civil suit against the diocese, which they believe should have come forward about Aitcheson’s past, and alleging harm caused by an apology letter published by the priest.

The diocese has said that they were aware of Aitcheson’s past KKK involvement but were not made aware of the civil suit until August.

Fr. Aitcheson entered the seminary and was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Reno-Las Vegas, Nev. in 1988. He came to the Arlington Diocese in 1993. The Arlington Diocese stated in August that “there have been no accusations of racism or bigotry against Fr. Aitcheson throughout his time in the Diocese of Arlington.”

Fr. Aitcheson has been on a voluntary leave of absence since August. According to the diocese, “plans for (Aitcheson’s) future priestly ministry are still being discerned.”

 

Vatican conference highlights role of laity in addressing modern challenges

Vatican City, Dec 11, 2017 / 03:12 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Leading lay experts and top Vatican officials have joined forces this week to talk about how they can collaborate in addressing key areas of modern concern, placing a special emphasis on the role of laypeople.

“Even before the (Second) Vatican Council, the conviction of the Church was that lay involvement in certain spheres of life, particularly political and social, was absolutely indispensable,” Archbishop Paul Gallagher told CNA Dec. 11.

The importance of the laity “is quite clear even more today,” he said, explaining that without their activity and social and political advocacy, the Church would lose its voice.

“It is absolutely key, crucial, for the future of the Church's engagement with society that laypeople should be prepared to do this, should be courageous in doing it, and should have this great will to bring the voice of Christ now in the political sphere and social sphere, on a local level and an international level,” he said.

“I think they can do a great service to the Church and to the world in this way,” he said, adding that “any form of engagement” is encouraged.

Msgr. Gallagher, Vatican Secretary for Relations with States, spoke before celebrating Mass on the opening night of a Dec. 11-13 conference organized by the Forum of Catholic-inspired NGOs, titled “Promoters of Humanity in a Transforming World.”

The conference, which drew a slew of representatives from various NGOs around the world, including non-Catholics, focused on how Catholic-inspired organizations can help safeguard core values such as family and religious freedom, and ensure the that a proper integral human development is achieved in the context of a rapidly changing global society.

In his speech for the conference, Gallagher said the Holy See and Catholic-inspired NGOs can work together to achieve “the ideal of human fraternity and a means for its greater realization.”

He stressed that the Holy See isn't “controlling” the forum, but that rather, the members and leaders of the NGOs are the real protagonists, since they bring “real life experiences and expertise” to the table through their work.

Among those “protagonists” present for the conference was Helen Alvare, a professor of family law, law and religion, and property law at Antonin Scalia Law School, George Mason University. She is also the cofounder of the “Women Speak for Themselves” organization, the president of “Reconnect Media” non-profit communications group, and an adviser to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.  

In comments to CNA, Alvare also stressed the importance of the role of laity, specifically women and the poor, in advocating key issues in the Church, especially in regards to the family.

Through the organizations she is involved with, Alvare focuses on giving voice to people on the grassroots level and empowering them to have a greater role in the push for both religious freedom and the family values lost in the sexual revolution. The hope is to show that questions on sexuality “cannot be separated from issues about economic well-being and poverty and human happiness.”

Pope Francis has been a leading voice advocating for women and the poor, Alvare said.  However, while the Pope has set “a wonderful tone” on these issues, she believes that “one of the signs of the times is that it cannot come from top down in the Church.”

“No matter how lovely a tone Pope Francis sets on empowering women and the poor, when the subject matter turns to sex, marriage and parenting, the powers that be don't want to hear from him or the Church in any level,” she said.

Rather, the argument needs to come from those who have supposedly been empowered by the sexual revolution – laity, and especially lay women.

When the Church hierarchy joins forces with laity and religious on the ground, they can have a powerful effect, Alvare said, and this includes reaching the people taken in by the agenda of the sexual revolution.

Speaking of the partnership the Holy See can have with NGOs and the people who run them, Gallagher in his speech highlighted several key areas of collaboration, the first being to advance the 2030 sustainable development goals, which Pope Francis has called “an important sign of hope” and which in large part are aimed at ending poverty, protecting the environment, and promoting education.

He also pointed to the issues of forced migration and displacement resulting in “unprecedented population shifts,” giving specific mention to the 2018 U.N. global compacts on migration and refugees.

Other major areas of concern, he said, are climate change and the promotion of an integral human ecology; the freedom of thought, conscience and religion, which includes concern for religious discrimination and persecution; and freedom of expression, as well as the freedom to convert.

While the global landscape in light of these issues might seem “immense and complex,” Gallagher said it is also promising, because the efforts that appear to be small are capable of “developing and achieving ends for the benefit of the common good of all.”

In a brief Q&A after his talk, Gallagher encouraged members of NGOs to be active and involved in the debate on relevant issues in their competence, keeping the papal representatives in the loop on the discussion and seeking advice or input from the Holy See when needed.

“Part of the thing about autonomy, is one shouldn't be waiting for instructions,” he said. “It's about working together, its about collaborative ministry together,” he said, adding that it's not about “a voice coming from on high saying, 'Do a,b,c'.”  

Responding to a question on his advice for Catholic doctors and medical personnel who work with Catholic-inspired medical organizations, Gallagher said the most important traits needed today are “great courage and sacrifice.”

Part of this courage also means exercising the right to follow their conscience. “We expect you to assert the rights of your conscience and that of your more vulnerable colleagues,” he said, adding that the role of the conscience for those working in the medical field right now “is absolutely fundamental.”

Analysis: What the Vatican does to stop money laundering

Vatican City, Dec 11, 2017 / 01:30 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Council of Europe’s Moneyval committee has praised the Holy See’s financial intelligence unit, the Financial Information Authority, in a report published last week.

The report noted the progress the Holy See has made in establishing an effective reporting system for suspect transactions, and in its international cooperation with investigation and reporting of financial irregularities. The report recommended that the financial authority “actively pursue” pending criminal cases of money laundering.

Moneyval is the Council of Europe’s “Committee of Experts on the Evaluation of Anti-Money Laundering Measures and the Financing of Terrorism.” It evaluates how financial systems in European states work to counter money laundering and stop the flow of funds to organizations connected to terrorism.
 
The progress report is part of the Moneyval’s regular evaluation procedure, which it conducts for all members.

The Holy See applied to Moneyval in 2011, after issuing its first anti-money laundering legislation. Moneyval issued a general “mutual evaluation report” on the Holy See and Vatican City State in July 2012. That evaluation called for improvements to the Holy See’s financial oversight procedures, which the Vatican has since pursued.
 
After the first general report, each state is called to report on its progress the year after the general evaluation, and to submit subsequent progress reports every two years.

The Holy See submitted a progress report in 2013, 2015 and now in 2017. The next report will be submitted in 2019, and it is expected that there will be an on site visit by Moneyval inspectors in the course of 2018.
 
The reports’ data confirm that Vatican is now in the third phase of implementing effective protections against money laundering.
 
The first phase, “the assumption of responsibility,” led to a Monetary Convention between the Holy See and European Union in 2009, and Benedict XVI’s motu proprio that established the first Vatican anti-money laundering laws at the end of 2010.
 
The second phase was “debugging financial transparency reforms.” The Vatican’s anti-money laundering law was amended and substantially re-written, and this led to a generally positive evaluation by Moneyval. In 2013, the Vatican financial system was furtherly improved with the issuance of additional laws and policies.
 
The third and current phase is that of improving the effectiveness of the system.
 
The progress report highlights a sort of “two speed” situation for Vatican financial reforms. While the overall system is working, the court system still needs to be developed, as reports on suspected money laundering did not lead to prosecutions.
 
Both Monyeval and Holy See Press Office releases acknowledge that the Holy See’s Financial Intelligence Authority (AIF) has carried out a significant work in the past two years.
 
According to Moneyval, the Holy See “has established a functioning reporting system.”
 
“In the past two years,” a Dec. 8 Moneyval release said, “the Holy See has established a functioning reporting system. Both the AIF and the judicial authorities have sought and were responding to international cooperation requests in their work.”
 
The AIF has established 24 new Memoranda of Understanding with foreign financial intelligence units and 4 new Memorandum of Understanding with supervisory authorities.
 
The Holy See recieved 380 requests for cooperation from foreign authorities in 2015, a number that increased to 837 in 2016, probably due to the Institute for Religious Works remediation process that led to the closure of about 4,800 IOR accounts. In 2017, the number of international cooperation requests decreased to a total of 104.
 
Beyond the data on international cooperation, the report also provides data about money laundering investigations.  
 
Since Jan. 2013, the report says, “69 disseminations to the Promoter have been made by AIF where money laundering was suspected”. The Promoter for Justice – the Vatican prosecutor – opened 27 criminal distinct investigations out of the 69 AIF disseminations.
 
Of those investigations, 8 investigations “have been closed formally without any charges”, while 6 investigations concluded without an indictment and their formal closure has been requested. There are currently 8 criminal investigation open as money laundering investigations.
 
These facts also bring to light the main problem highlighted by the Moneyval report.
 
The Moneyval report noted that “the Holy See had still not brought a money laundering case to court”.
 
The committee stressed that “while considerable amounts of assets continued to be frozen, no criminal case had yet produced a confiscation order.”  For this reason.  “Moneyval recommends the Holy See ensure that the money laundering aspects of all outstanding investigations in criminal cases by proactively pursued”.
 
“In this regard, the committee noted that the overall effectiveness of the Holy See’s engagement with combating money laundering depends on the results that will be achieved by the prosecution and the courts,” the release concluded.
 
However, there have been steps forward on the side of the Holy See’s judicial system that show how the Vatican is working to meet the requirements of its new money-laundering laws.
 
A Holy See Press Office release delivered Dec. 8 underscored that Moneyval welcomed “the creation of a specialized Economic Financial Crimes Investigation Unit within the Corps of the Gendarmerie and the appointment of a specialized Assistant Promoter of Justice.”
 
These two steps are crucial in making of the Vatican City State judicial system more prompt in prosecuting suspect money laundering cases.
 
It must be clear that the report is not about particular cases, and does not review any internal problem. Without naming them, the report describes five cases of Vatican trials that involved financial issues – some of them more recognizable, and some of them not.
 
But Moneyval is called to assess if the financial system to counter money laundering and financing of terrorism works, and not to judge on singular cases. The report is not in any way related to situations like, for instance, the recent firing of Giulio Mattietti, adjunct director to the IOR, which led to much speculation on the state of Vatican finances reforms.

It was a positive sign that the Vatican’s progress report was approved within Moneyval’s regular process. Otherwise, the Vatican would have had to submit a new report in a future plenary session.

The committee’s approval shows that the Holy See’s commitment, despite needed improvements, is welcome and appreciated by its European neighbors.
 
Moneyval’s progress report said that, despite some things that need to be fixed, the Holy See’s commitment to financial transparency, started under Benedict XVI, meets international standards, despite the unique reality of the Vatican City State and Holy See’s mission.
 
For the Vatican, finances are just a tool to carry out the mission of evangelization, and not an end in themselves. 

Court rejects Washington archdiocese's Advent metro ad

Washington D.C., Dec 11, 2017 / 11:23 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A federal court has denied relief to the Archdiocese of Washington, in its request for an injunction that would have allowed it to run bus ads encouraging riders to discover the true meaning of Christmas.

“We are disappointed that the federal court denied our emergency request for an injunction to run our ‘Find the Perfect Gift’ Advent ad campaign,” said Ed McFadden, Secretary for Communications for the Archdiocese of Washington.

“While this preliminary ruling that there should be no room made for us on [Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority] buses is disappointing, we will continue in the coming days to pursue and defend our right to share the important message of Christmas in the public square.”

The district court’s decision denied emergency relief to the archdiocese after the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) declined to run the ad campaign, citing a 2015 policy which prohibits the promotion or opposition of religion in advertisements.

The archdiocese’s ad shows the Star of Bethlehem and reads “Find the perfect gift,” advertising the website www.findtheperfectgift.org and the hashtag #PerfectGift.

A version of the ad which includes a Bible verse is already posted at numerous city bus stops, which are controlled by the District Department of Transportation, not WMATA. The bus ads have been running for nearly a decade, and reach areas of the city which do not have many bus shelters.

U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson stated in her decision that she declined to grant the archdiocese relief from WMATA’s decision because she does not believe its case will succeed on religious freedom or free speech grounds.  

“The advertisement does not seek to address a general, otherwise permissible topic from a religious perspective — the sole purpose of directing the public to www.findtheperfectgift.org is to promote religion. The website declares: ‘JESUS is the perfect gift. [F]ind the perfect gift of God’s love this Christmas’,”she wrote.

 

Pope Francis: Health care is part of the Church’s mission

Vatican City, Dec 11, 2017 / 06:48 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Just as Jesus healed people during his earthly mission, care for the sick is a mission the entire Church is called to take part in, Pope Francis said in a message published Monday for the World Day of the Sick.

“Jesus bestowed upon the Church his healing power…The Church’s mission is a response to Jesus’ gift, for she knows that she must bring to the sick the Lord’s own gaze, full of tenderness and compassion,” the Pope wrote in a message published Dec. 11.

“Health care ministry will always be a necessary and fundamental task, to be carried out with renewed enthusiasm by all, from parish communities to the largest healthcare institutions.”

“Doctors and nurses, priests, consecrated men and women, volunteers, families and all those who care for the sick, take part in this ecclesial mission.”

The World Day of the Sick will be celebrated Sunday, Feb. 11, 2018, with the theme: “Mater Ecclesiae: ‘Behold, your son... Behold, your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his home (John 19:26-27).”

Reflecting on the scripture passage from which the theme was taken, Francis explained how John, as a close disciple of Jesus, could testify to the fact that Christ healed many people suffering from both spiritual and physical illnesses.

Jesus, he said, “healed the sick as a sign of the abundant life of the Kingdom, where every tear will be wiped away.”

The disciples know that Jesus’ heart is “open to all and excludes no one. The Gospel of the Kingdom must be proclaimed to all, and the charity of Christians must be directed to all, simply because they are persons, children of God.”

Pointing to the Church’s long history of care for the sick, including innumerable initiatives, Francis said we cannot forget this “history of dedication,” which continues “to the present day throughout the world.”

In countries with adequate public health care systems, Catholic religious congregations and dioceses and their hospitals provide quality medical care that puts the human person at the center, also carrying out scientific research that fully respects life and Christian moral values, he said.

And in countries with inadequate, or even non-existent, health care systems, the Catholic Church works to improve health, eliminate infant mortality and combat widespread disease.

“In some parts of the world, missionary and diocesan hospitals are the only institutions providing necessary care to the population,” he noted.

This is all a cause for rejoicing within the Christian community, but we also need to take that long legacy and use it to help us build a better future, he stressed. Especially in cases where Catholic hospitals fall prey to the business mentality that seeks to turn health care “into a profit-making enterprise, which ends up discarding the poor.”

“Wise organization and charity demand that the sick person be respected in his or her dignity, and constantly kept at the center of the therapeutic process,” he said.

“May our prayers to the Mother of God see us united in an incessant plea that every member of the Church may live with love the vocation to serve life and health.”

Why 'Silence Breakers' are key in any abuse crisis

Denver, Colo., Dec 10, 2017 / 04:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- This week, TIME Magazine announced a group of women and men as their collective Person of the Year.

What do these people have in common? They are what TIME called “The Silence Breakers” - people who have blown the whistle on sexual assault and abuse within the workplace, largely in the industries of film, politics, and media.

In recent months an avalanche of abuse allegations have been brought to light against powerful figures, starting most notably with a piece in the New York Times in which several women accused Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein of sexual assault. This sparked a flood of men and women coming forward with other allegations of abuse against numerous people in positions of power.

“These silence breakers have started a revolution of refusal, gathering strength by the day, and in the past two months alone, their collective anger has spurred immediate and shocking results: nearly every day, CEOs have been fired, moguls toppled, icons disgraced. In some cases, criminal charges have been brought,” TIME reported.

Not long ago, the Catholic Church in the United States was reeling from its own sex abuse crisis. In the early 2000s, reporters at the Boston Globe broke the story of a former priest who was accused of molesting more than 100 boys over 30 years, which led to a large-scale uncovering of thousands more allegations of abuse in dioceses throughout the country.

Since then, the Church has taken care to provide numerous resources to such victims, and develop robust child protection policies.

Edward Mechmann, director of public policy and the safe environment office for the Archdiocese of New York, told CNA that the “silence breakers” who came forward and continue to come forward with accusations of abuse by clergy and Church personnel are key in maintaining a safe environment in the Church.

“I think the one thing we have to make sure we understand is who the whistleblowers are, and for the most part, the whistleblowers are victims,” Mechmann said.

“As much as the outside observers like the Boston Globe and the media in general contributed to our awareness of the scope of the problem, we would really be nowhere unless we had some of these courageous victims coming forward, because without them, we would have many more men in service who are victimizers,” he added.

It is especially important that victims come forward in order to protect others from abuse, he noted, because in some cases, abusers have victimized numerous people over the span of many years.

Recently, the Church has seen victims coming forward “much more willingly now, because they see that we’re serious, they see that we’re not going to victimize them again, and they see concrete results” such as accused persons being removed from ministry, he said.

“The first and most important thing we do is we listen to them, and I can’t tell you how important that is,” Mechmann said.

“So many people that come in to see us are afraid, they’ve been victimized, they’re afraid they’re going to be victimized again, and just the fact that we listen to them is just an enormously healing thing,” he said.

Besides listening to victims, Mechmann said the Church also provides support through counseling and through talking with victims about the Church’s internal processes for dealing with cases of abuse.

“And we stay in contact with them, if they want to stay in contact with us, we walk with them,” he added.

Dr. Benjamin Keyes, a Catholic psychologist and Director for the Center for Trauma and Resiliency Studies at Divine Mercy University, told CNA that supporting and encouraging victims who come forward is of the utmost importance.

“There’s a whole lot of relief that someone has finally heard the story...they’re no longer isolated with the information, and how well they fare afterwards really depends on what happens around them,” he said. “Are they supported, are there people in their network, whether it's family, friends, or co-workers, that really understand and really support them in the courage that it takes to do this?”

Sometimes it can takes months or even years for victims of abuse to break the silence on what happened to them, Keyes said, because there is usually “a lot of embarrassment, a lot of shame involved, and most people, women in particular, don’t want to expose that to the public or to others, even to those who are close to (them),” he said.

The fear of retaliation or retribution is also something that can keep victims from coming forward, especially if the abuse came from someone who is in a position of power over the victim, Keyes noted.

For these reasons, victims need encouragement and support from the Church in order to feel comfortable coming forward.

“The Church can be supportive, especially in the parishes, (by) making it safe for (whistleblowers) to be who they are, by acknowledging the courage that it took for them to do that, and to be supportive vocally within the body of the Church so that people hear that the Church is supporting it,” he said.

Supporting victims also involves “making sure that they stay networked into not only the activities that they’ve been involved with, but that they stay networked into the body of the Church, so that they don’t walk away,” he added.

The parish priest, as well as members of the parish community, are especially key in making victims feel welcomed and supported, he noted, which can be done simply by including them and befriending them.

“We’re taught in the Bible to love and to love unconditionally, and this is part of that,” Keyes said.

“It’s embracing the broken places and binding up the suffering and reaching out to the broken-hearted, and we’re called as Christians, not just as counselors, to do that,” he added.

Since the sex abuse crisis in the Church in the United States, the bishops have put into place numerous policies and practices to protect victims, and especially children from sexual abuse, including the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' Charter for Child and Youth Protection, which calls for an annual audit and report of all the dioceses in the country.

The Church has also implemented safe environment trainings that call for a zero-tolerance policy of abuse in Church environments.

“I think a lot of what’s happening is really good,” Mechmann said, regarding the silence breakers in media and politics who have recently come forward.

“Maybe the world as a whole could learn a little bit from the way that we have handled this, in terms of creating a clear corporate culture of zero tolerance. Transparency is at the heart of what we’ve done, and I hope that some of these other industries can do the same.”

Vatican voices concern over Trump's Jerusalem move

Vatican City, Dec 10, 2017 / 09:34 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Following U.S. President Donald Trump’s Dec. 6 notice that he will be moving the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, the Holy See has expressed its concern for recent violent outbreaks and urged leaders to promote peace and security. 

A Vatican communique Dec. 10 pointed to concerns for peace and security in Jerusalem and reiterated its belief that “only a negotiated solution between Israelis and Palestinians can bring a stable and lasting peace,” as well as “guarantee the peaceful co-existence of two states within internationally recognized borders.”

The brief statement was published just days after the news broke that President Trump would recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem – a widely controversial decision that has provoked a mixed reaction from the international community.

The Vatican said it is watching the development of the situation closely, especially in Jerusalem, which is a “Sacred city for Christians, Jews and Muslims from all over the world.”

The statement also reiterated the Holy See’s position on the importance of maintaining the status quo in Jerusalem, as per the repeated requests of the international community, and the hierarchies of the Catholic and Christian communities of the Holy Land.

Renewing an appeal made by Pope Francis during his general audience on Dec. 6, the statement reiterated the Pope's “fervent prayers” for national leaders, that they be committed to promoting peace, justice and security and averting “a new spiral of violence” in the nation.

Israel has traditionally always recognized Jerusalem as its capital. However, Palestinians claim that the eastern portion of the city is the capital of the future Palestinian state. In recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the U.S. is the first country to do so since the state was established in 1948.

Debate on the issue is in many ways the crux of the conflict between Israel and Palestine, which is backed by Arab leaders, including Saudi Arabia, and the wider Islamic world.

According to the 1993 Israel-Palestinian peace accords, the final status of Jerusalem is to be discussed in the late stages of peace talks. Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem has never been recognized by the international community, and all countries with diplomatic relations have their embassies in Tel Aviv.

More than 30 Palestinians have been injured in clashes across the West Bank and the Gaza Strip amid protests against Trump’s decision.

The position of the U.N. on the Jerusalem issue is that East Jerusalem is occupied Palestinian territory, and that the city should eventually become the capital of the two states of Israel and Palestine.

The Vatican has long supported a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and on a diplomatic level recognizes and refers to both “the State of Israel” and “the State of Palestine.”

In Advent, prepare your heart like your hearth, Pope says

Vatican City, Dec 10, 2017 / 05:49 am (CNA/EWTN News).- During Advent, we should prepare our hearts for the coming of Jesus like we joyfully prepare our homes for a visit from a family member or friend, Pope Francis said Sunday, especially removing anything keeping us from Christ.

“When we await at home a visit from a loved one, we prepare everything with care and happiness. In the same way we want to prepare ourselves for the coming of the Lord: to wait for him every day with solicitude, to be filled with his grace when he comes,” the Pope said Dec. 10.

In his weekly Angelus address, Francis reflected on the day’s first reading from Isaiah, which says to “make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God! Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill shall be made low.”

The Pope pointed out that the valleys in this passage can represent our sins of omission, such as failing to pray, or praying very little. The valleys could also be the ways we have failed to have charity toward others, especially those most in need of material or spiritual help.

In Advent, “we are called to be more attentive to the needs of others, those closest (to us). Like John the Baptist, in this way we can open roads of hope in the desert of the dry hearts of many people,” he said.

Therefore, Advent is a good time to fill these valleys in our life, he said; to pray more intensely, to prioritize your spiritual life.

On the other hand, when the verse says, “every mountain and every hill be lowered,” we are reminded of our faults of pride, arrogance and superiority, which must become attitudes of meekness and humility, just like our Savior is “meek and humble of heart.”

Then, when we’ve examined our conscience, “we are asked to eliminate all the obstacles we put into our union with the Lord” with joy, he said, because we are preparing for the coming of our Savior.

“The Savior we are waiting for is able to transform our life with the power of the Holy Spirit, with the power of love. Indeed, the Holy Spirit pours into our hearts the love of God, an inexhaustible source of purification, of new life and freedom,” Francis said.

May the Virgin Mary, he concluded, who prepared for the coming of Christ with her whole being and existence, “help us to follow her example and guide our steps to meet the Lord who is coming.”