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Enforcement is key in fight against human trafficking, report says

Washington D.C., Jun 28, 2017 / 04:51 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- With an estimated 20 million victims of human trafficking today, all governments must step up their enforcement efforts, a new report by the State Department insists.

“We are all confronted with a choice: Do nothing or do something,” Ambassador Susan Coppedge of the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons said Tuesday at a press conference launching the 2017 Trafficking in Persons report.

“When it comes to human trafficking, everyone has a role to play and an obligation to act,” she added. “We must choose to do something to end modern slavery.”

The annual Trafficking in Persons report was released by the State Department on Wednesday, over 400 pages in length and detailing the state of human trafficking around the world.

There are an estimated 20 million persons being trafficked today, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson noted on Tuesday at the launch of the report. This number includes children. Trafficking takes many forms, including sex slavery, debt bondage, forced marriage, and involuntary servitude.

“Human trafficking is as old as humankind. Regrettably, it’s been with us for centuries and centuries,” Secretary Tillerson stated. However, he added, “it is our hope that the 21st century will be the last century of human trafficking, and that’s what we are all committed to.”

Ivanka Trump, daughter of President Donald Trump and senior advisor to the president, was present at the launch of the TIP report on Tuesday. “On a personal level, as a mother, this is much more than a policy priority. It is a clarion call to action in defense of the vulnerable, the abused, and the exploited,” she said.

“Last month, while in Rome, I had an opportunity to talk firsthand with human trafficking survivors,” she said, recalling her meeting with trafficking victims at the Community of Sant’Egidio in Rome after President Trump met with Pope Francis on May 24.

“They told me their harrowing stories, how they were trapped in this ugly, dark web, how they survived, how they escaped, and how they are very slowly reconstructing their lives,” she said.

Pope Francis, during a November audience with RENATE, a network of European religious who fight trafficking and exploitation, emphasized that “much more needs to be done on the level of raising public consciousness and effecting a better coordination of efforts by governments, the judiciary, law enforcement officials and social workers.”

The TIP report is required to be compiled and released annually by the State Department to document how foreign governments are “prosecuting traffickers, protecting victims, and preventing the crime.” It was mandated by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, of which Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), who chairs the House global human rights subcommittee, was the prime author.

The 2000 law also set up a tier ranking system for foreign countries based on their commitment and success in fighting human trafficking. Tier 1 countries are those that are abiding by “the minimum standards” of fighting trafficking, which were set by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA).

Meanwhile, Tier 2 countries do not meet those minimum standards “but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards,” the TIP report explained. A Tier 2 Watch List is for countries with more serious trafficking problems which are nonetheless making sufficient efforts to curb trafficking and meet the minimum standards of the TVPA.

Tier 3 countries are the worst trafficking offenders, because they have been determined to be not even working to meet the minimum standards for fighting trafficking.

To hold these countries accountable for their poor records on trafficking, the U.S. can take actions against these countries as allowed by the TVPA, like withholding non-humanitarian, non-trade related assistance or voting to bar them from loans by the International Monetary Fund.

China was downgraded to Tier 3 status in the most recent report, and Rep. Smith had “high praise” for the administration for recognizing China’s “shameful complicity in sex and labor trafficking.”

“They turn women into commodities for sale,” Smith said of trafficking of women from nearby Burma, Cambodia, and Vietnam for commercial sex or forced marriages in China. Goods made from Chinese slave labor are also in the supply chains of U.S. businesses, he insisted.

During a Tuesday press conference at the State Department, Ambassador Coppedge outlined some other concerns with China’s record on trafficking. According to reports from NGOs, trafficking victims have not been cared for sufficiently.

Rep. Smith stated his desire for the designation to be utilized in the future to push China toward reform of its notorious trafficking record.

“Hopefully, the new tier ranking coupled with robust diplomacy – including the imposition of sanctions authorized under Tier 3 – will lead to systemic reforms that will save women and children’s lives and ensure that Chinese exports are not made with slave labor.”

Also, many North Koreans are also working in China in slavery, with their wages effectively going to the North Korean government, Smith noted.

“The North Korean regime receives hundreds of millions of dollars per year from the fruits of forced labor,” Secretary Tillerson stated on Tuesday. “Responsible nations simply cannot allow this to go on, and we continue to call on any nation that is hosting workers from North Korea in a forced labor arrangement to send those people home.”

Of the 187 countries considered for the tier system, 40 were listed as Tier 1 countries, 80 as Tier 2, 45 were placed on the Tier 2 Watch List, and 23 were designated as Tier 3 countries, Coppedge said. Twenty-one of the countries were downgraded in status in the 2017 report, while 27 countries were upgraded.

Many countries do not prosecute trafficking as they should, Ambassador Coppedge noted, and this leads to greater impunity for traffickers to continue working. This was the theme of the 2017 TIP report, the need for governments to more strongly enforce laws against human trafficking.

“In addition to protecting victims from retribution or re-victimization, an effective criminal justice response brings traffickers to justice both to punish them for their crimes and to deter others,” the report stated.

Yet, at times, governments can be actively colluding with traffickers, Ambassador Coppedge said.

“We still see instances of government officials protecting brothels, taking bribes from traffickers, and obstructing investigations for profit, and while we still see governments criminalize and penalize victims for crimes their traffickers force them to commit,” she said.

“Trafficking in persons is a hidden crime rooted in deception,” she added. “Victims are coerced or intimidated into silence, and they often fear that if they do come forward they will be punished. When governments enact and enforce strong, comprehensive anti-trafficking laws, they send an unmistakable message to criminals: We will not tolerate this.”

The report also quoted Archbishop Bernardito Auza, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, as saying that today, “wars and conflicts have become the prime driver of trafficking in persons.”

“They provide an enabling environment for traffickers to operate, as persons fleeing persecutions and conflicts are particularly vulnerable to being trafficked,” the archbishop said. “Conflicts have created conditions for terrorists, armed groups and transnational organized crime networks to thrive in exploiting individuals and populations reduced to extreme vulnerability by persecution and multiple forms of violence.”

 

Cardinal Arborelius shows the Church's Scandinavian 'peripheries'

Stockholm, Sweden, Jun 28, 2017 / 04:24 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- When thinking of the “peripheries” of the Church, many think of places such as Latin America, Africa, or maybe Asia. However, in Wednesday's consistory Pope Francis sought out a periphery that slips the minds of many: Sweden.

Cardinal Anders Arborelius of Stockholm told Vatican Insider he was “somewhat shocked” to get the news of his elevation, saying that “(w)e must also be happy that Sweden and all Scandinavia can be said to have entered the map of world Catholicism, as the gates of the Catholic Church open more to our land.”

“The last become first!” he told CNA while in Rome to receive his red biretta June 28.

Catholics number only about 150,000 in the largely secular and Lutheran country, whose sole diocese is led by the new cardinal. His time as bishop has been dominated by building connections with others, both of different creeds and those who come from different lands.

Cardinal Arborelius was born in Switzerland to Swedish parents in 1949, making him the first Swedish-origin bishop of Sweden since the Protestant Reformation. A historic shortage of priests in the country led to the need to appoint bishops from Germany or the United States to head the Diocese of Stockholm.

However, he was born into a Lutheran family; he converted to Catholicism at age 20 after coming into contact with the Bridgettine sisters. Two years later he entered the Discalced Carmelites, under the influence of the writings of St. Therese of Lisieux. He has since written a biography of St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross.

He took perpetual vows in 1977, and was ordained in 1979 after receiving his doctorate in Rome.

Cardinal Arborelius was appointed Bishop of Stockholm in 1998 by St. John Paul II.

With his elevation to cardinal, Arborelius is also the first Swede in history to wear the red hat.

In a country dominated by secular culture and with a strong Protestant population, ecumenism has been at the forefront of Cardinal Arborelius’ ministry. In 2016, Pope Francis visited the country to mark the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, speaking on the need for unity.

Cardinal Arborelius, 67, has been on the Ecumenical Council of Sweden for more than 15 years and has participated in conversations with a broad range of ecclesial communities and Churches, not only Lutheran, but also Orthodox and Pentecostal.

“Naturally, the Catholic Church and the Orthodox have a particular importance because we share a heritage and a tradition which go back to the origins of Christianity,” the newly minted cardinal told CNA.

“But we must do what is possible to involve the Lutheran Church and the evangelical communities in the common work of rendering Christ and his message alive for the greatest possible number of people in Sweden.”

In an interview with the National Catholic Register regarding the 2016 meeting, he described how “(a)ctually, Catholics and Lutherans have already come to an agreement that the Reformation should not be celebrated. Instead, we have agreed that it should be remembered in a spirit of prayer and reconciliation in order to heal.”

Cardinal Arborelius pastors a flock who come from many countries: he estimates the true Catholic population of Sweden is double the official count due to a strong immigrant presence, coming from the Middle East and Asia. This has given the Church there a deep appreciation for migrant peoples, a forefront issue of Francis’ pontificate.

The Church in Sweden is also seeing steady growth due to converts.

“In reality, the number of converts is rather constant, around a hundred every year,” he told CNA. “Their provenance is very mixed. Always more numerous are those who come from evangelical communities. Some come because they are attracted by more traditional groups, others are more engaged by the media, but often they are very different between themselves.”

The appointment comes at a time of increasing attention given to Sweden by the Vatican in recent decades. In 2002, the papal nuncio for Scandinavia was moved from Denmark to Sweden, and the country received its first papal visit from St. John Paul II in 1989.

 

Angela Ambrogetti contributed to this report.

UK parents lose final appeal to keep baby alive for treatment

London, England, Jun 28, 2017 / 03:36 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A final appeal to allow continued life support for a U.K. baby whose parents want to seek experimental treatment in the U.S. has been rejected by the European Court of Human Rights.

According to the BBC, the European Court judges agreed on the decision to withdraw life support, stating that the experimental treatment would only expose the baby, Charlie Gard, to “continued pain, suffering and distress,” while adding “no prospects of success.”

A legal battle has been ongoing since early March, after Charlie was diagnosed with Mitochondrial Depletion Syndrome – an extremely rare disease which progressively weakens muscles and causes brain damage.

Specialists in the U.S. offered Charlie nucleoside therapy, an experimental treatment, which his parents were hoping would be a second chance for their son, and asked the court to keep him on life support.

Charlie’s parents – Chris Gard and Connie Yates – had raised nearly $1.6 million on GoFundMe, an online fundraising site, to cover the experimental treatment in the U.S.

The nearly 11-month-old baby is thought to be one of only 16 people in the world who suffer from Mitochondrial Depletion Syndrome. He has thus far suffered severe brain damage and is only able to survive by a feeding tube and an artificial ventilator.

Charlie’s life support machine is expected to be turned off within the next few days. His parents have said that the money they raised will be donated to a charity to help other children with their son’s condition.

Charlie’s case was initially taken up by the Family Division of the High Court at the beginning of March.

A decision was reached in April, with the judge, Justice Francis, saying, “There is unanimity among the experts from whom I have heard that nucleoside therapy cannot reverse structural brain damage. I dare say that medical science may benefit, objectively, from the experiment, but experimentation cannot be in Charlie’s best interests unless there is a prospect of benefit for him.”

The judge applauded the efforts of Charlie’s parents, praising “their absolute dedication to their wonderful boy, from the day that he was born,” but still made the decision to pull life support from the child.

An appeals court agreed with the lower court in a May ruling.

However, the lawyer for Charlie’s parents maintained that the experimental treatment would not cause further harm or suffering. And the young boy’s mother Connie told the BBC that even if the experimental treatment did not help her son, she would like to be a stepping stone in developing a treatment that might save the lives of other babies with similar diseases.

“We just want to have our chance. It would never be a cure but it could help him live. If it saves him, amazing. I want to save others. Even if Charlie doesn’t make it through this, I don’t ever want another mum and their child to go through this,” she said.

 

Father Solanus Casey beatification set for November

Detroit, Mich., Jun 28, 2017 / 11:40 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Venerable Solanus Casey, an American-born Capuchin priest who died in 1957 known for his ability as a spiritual counselor, will be beatified at a Nov. 18 Mass in Detroit, the local archdiocese announced Tuesday.

“We are filled with joy at receiving the final date of the beatification of Father Solanus,” Father Michael Sullivan, OFM Cap. and Provincial Minister of the Capuchin Franciscan Province of St. Joseph, said June 27. “It is a beautiful way to celebrate the 60th anniversary of his passing.”

Venerable Casey was known for his great faith, attention to the sick, and ability as a spiritual counselor.

The beatification Mass will be said at Ford Field in Detroit, which can accommodate as many as 60,000.

Venerable Casey will be the second American-born male to be beatified.

Born Bernard Casey on Nov. 25, 1870, he was the sixth child of 16 born to Irish immigrants in Wisconsin. At age 17 he left home to work at various jobs, including as a lumberjack, a hospital orderly, and a prison guard.

Reevaluating his life after witnessing a drunken sailor brutally stab a woman to death, he decided to act on a call he felt to enter the priesthood. Because of his lack of formal education, however, he struggled in the minor seminary, and was eventually encouraged to become a priest through a religious order rather than through the diocese.

So in 1898 he joined the Capuchin Franciscans in Detroit and after struggling through his studies, in 1904 was ordained a “sacerdos simplex” – a priest who can say Mass, but not publicly preach or hear confessions.

He was very close to the sick and was highly sought-after throughout his life, in part because of the many physical healings attributed to his blessings and intercession. He was also a co-founder of Detroit's Capuchin Soup Kitchen in 1929.

For 21 years he was porter at St. Bonaventure Monastery in Detroit.

He is also known for his fondness for playing the violin and singing, although he had a bad singing voice because of a childhood illness which damaged his vocal chords.

Even in his 70s, Fr. Solanus Casey remained very active, and would even join the younger religious men in a game of tennis or volleyball. He died from erysipelas, a skin disease, on July 31, 1957, at the age of 87.

A miracle attributed to Venerable Casey's intercession was recognized by Pope Francis at a May 4 meeting with Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.

“I’m grateful to hear from the Capuchin friars that the date of the beatification has been finalized,” Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit stated.

“The beatification of Father Solanus will be a tremendous blessing for the whole community of southeast Michigan, an opportunity for all of us to experience the love of Jesus Christ.”

Keep your eyes fixed on the cross, Pope urges new cardinals

Vatican City, Jun 28, 2017 / 08:05 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Wednesday, Pope Francis created five new cardinals, encouraging them to walk with Jesus, keeping their eyes fixed securely on the cross and on the realities of the world, not becoming distracted by prestige or honor.

“I speak above all to you, dear new Cardinals. Jesus ‘is walking ahead of you,’ and he asks you to follow him resolutely on his way. He calls you to look at reality, not to let yourselves be distracted by other interests or prospects,” the Pope said June 28.

“He has not called you to become ‘princes’ of the Church, to ‘sit at his right or at his left.’ He calls you to serve like him and with him.”

“To serve the Father and your brothers and sisters. He calls you to face as he did the sin of the world and its effects on today’s humanity. Follow him, and walk ahead of the holy people of God, with your gaze fixed on the Lord’s cross and resurrection.”

Pope Francis addressed the five bishops he chose to receive a red hat last month, and others present, during an ordinary consistory for the creation of new cardinals in St. Peter’s Basilica.

He had announced his intention to create the new cardinals during a Regina Coeli address on May 21st.

Immediately following a reading from the Gospel of Matthew and his short reflection, the Pope made the proclamation creating the new cardinals. Afterward they received their red biretta and cardinal’s ring. At this time they were also assigned a titular church, tying them to Rome.
 
In his choice of cardinals, Pope Francis has remained true to his vision of a broader, more universal representation of the Church, forged during his last consistory, Nov. 19, 2016, where he created 17 new cardinals from 11 different nations and five different continents.

Among this consistory's picks are Bishop Anders Arborelius of Stockholm, Sweden, and Bishop Louis-Marie Ling Mangkhanekhoun, Apostolic Vicar of Pakse, Laos and Apostolic Administrator of Vientiane, and Archbishop Jean Zerbo of Bamako, Mali.

All three are the first cardinals from their respective countries.

Also noteworthy is his appointment of San Salvador’s auxiliary bishop, José Gregorio Rosa Chávez, marking the first time the Pope has tapped an auxiliary as cardinal.

Bishop Chávez was chosen over his archbishop, Jose Luis Escobar Alas, for the red hat, showing that Francis, as seen in his previous appointments, is willing to skip over “cardinal sees.”

In contrast to the other four is Archbishop Juan José Omella of Barcelona, Spain. His red hat is not a dramatic departure from tradition, as Barcelona is traditionally a see with a cardinal and Archbishop Omella’s predecessor, Cardinal Lluis Martinez Sistach, turned 80 on April 29.

All of the new cardinals are under 80, and therefore eligible to vote in the next conclave.

In his homily, Francis reflected on the Gospel heard during the ceremony, which came from Matthew 10:32-45. In the passage, Jesus and the disciples are walking toward Jerusalem. This is when the third prediction of the Passion of Christ happens, which is nearing.

“‘Jesus was walking ahead of them.’ This is the picture that the Gospel we have just read presents to us. It serves as a backdrop to the act now taking place: this Consistory for the creation of new Cardinals,” he said.

Jesus walks ahead of them with full knowledge of what is going to take place in Jerusalem, but at this moment there is a divide, a distance, between his heart and the hearts of his disciples, which only the Holy Spirit can bridge, Francis said.

He knows this and is patient with them. “Above all, he goes before them. He walks ahead of them.”

Along the way, though, the disciples become distracted by things which have nothing to do with what Jesus is preparing to do, or with the will of the Father.

“They are not facing reality! They think they see, but they don’t. They think they know, but they don’t. They think they understand better than the others, but they don’t…” the Pope exclaimed.

“For the reality is completely different. It is what Jesus sees and what directs his steps. The reality is the cross.”

This reality, Francis continued, is the sin of the world, which the Lord came to take upon himself and to “uproot from the world of men and women.”

The reality of sin is manifest in the world in the innocent who suffer and die as victims of war and terrorism, in the many forms of human slavery that exist, he said. It’s found also in refugee camps, which are more like hell than purgatory, and it’s in the discarding of people and things that society doesn’t find useful.

“This,” he said, “is what Jesus sees as he walks towards Jerusalem.”

“During his public ministry he made known the Father’s tender love by healing all who were oppressed by the evil one (cf. Acts 10:38). Now he realizes that the moment has come to press on to the very end, to eliminate evil at its root. And so, he walks resolutely towards the cross.”

“We too, dear brothers and sisters, are journeying with Jesus along this path,” he said.

“And now,” he concluded, “with faith and through the intercession of the Virgin Mother, let us ask the Holy Spirit to bridge every gap between our hearts and the heart of Christ, so that our lives may be completely at the service of God and all our brothers and sisters.”

After the consistory, Pope Francis and the new cardinals will stop by the Vatican's Mater Ecclesiae Monastery to pay a visit to Benedict XVI, who was not present at the ceremony.

As is customary, the cardinals will then proceed to the atrium of the Pope Paul VI hall where they are formally greeted and congratulated.

The new cardinals will also concelebrate Mass with Pope Francis in St. Peter's Square on June 29, the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, the patrons of Rome. At the Mass the Pope will also bestow the pallia on the new metropolitan archbishops appointed during the last year.

The consistory was the fourth of Pope Francis’ pontificate. With the 5 new cardinals included, the number of voting cardinals comes to 121, and the number of non-voters to 104, for a grand total of 225.

Senate health care bill 'unacceptable,' bishop says after budget office report

Washington D.C., Jun 28, 2017 / 06:36 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The Senate’s health care bill remains “unacceptable,” one U.S. bishop insisted after a non-partisan government office estimated it would result in millions more uninsured.

“This moment cannot pass without comment,” said Bishop Frank Dewane, chair of the U.S. bishops’ domestic justice and human development committee, in response to the scoring of the draft Senate health care bill by the Congressional Budget Office on Monday.  

“As the USCCB has consistently said, the loss of affordable access for millions of people is simply unacceptable,” he said of the office’s estimate that the number of uninsured could increase by 22 million by 2026. “These are real families who need and deserve health care.”  

The Congressional Budget Office released its scoring of the Senate health care bill on Monday, H.R. 1628, the Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017.

The bill eliminates the individual and employer mandates of the Affordable Care Act, replacing the individual mandate with a six-month waiting period for new insurance in non-group plans if one goes without insurance for more than 63 days.

Also, the bill makes it easier for states to waive essential health benefits, or the list of benefits like emergency services and maternity care that was mandatory in health plans under the Affordable Care Act. The elderly can be charged up to five times more than younger persons in their premiums by insurers, as opposed to the limit being three times more than younger people.

The bill could reduce the federal deficit by over $320 billion over 10 years, according to the CBO, largely because of cuts to the rate of increased spending on Medicaid over that time (almost $800 billion in cuts) and cuts in the amount of federal subsidies for health plans.

The Medicaid cuts would take place through “per capita” caps on federal Medicaid funding of states. Thus, the funding in the future would be dependent upon the populations of the states.

An estimated 22 million more people would also be uninsured by 2026, increasing the projected number of uninsured from 28 million to 49 million.

Some of those uninsured would be persons who voluntarily forego having health insurance because of the removal of the individual mandate, which levies heavy fines on those without health insurance.

Instead, the new bill would fine persons with a gap in coverage once they sign up for insurance again, at a rate of 30 percent of their new premium.

In the short-term, this would be the “primary” reason behind the increase in the number of uninsured, the CBO said. However, after several years, other policies could increase the number of uninsured, like the cuts to Medicaid spending and federal subsidies.

For instance, for persons under the age of 65 by the year 2026, Medicaid enrollment would be down 16 percent, the office estimated.

The White House panned the CBO estimates in a statement released on Monday evening.

“The CBO has consistently proven it cannot accurately predict how healthcare legislation will impact insurance coverage,” the White House stated. “In 2013, the CBO estimated that 24 million people would have coverage under Obamacare by 2016.  It was off by an astounding 13 million people – more than half – as less than 11 million were actually covered.”

“To date, we have seen average individual market premiums more than double and insurers across the country opting out of healthcare exchanges,” the White House continued, urging action to be taken to reform health care.

Bishop Dewane, meanwhile, promised to pray for the Senate “to keep the good aspects of current health care proposals, to add missing elements where needed, and to not place our sisters and brothers who struggle every day into so great a peril on so basic a right.”

Last week, the bishop had outlined his serious concerns with the draft legislation. The bill, he said, in some ways made the problems with the House health care bill on health coverage for low-income persons worse.

“It is precisely the detrimental impact on the poor and vulnerable that makes the Senate draft unacceptable as written,” he said on Thursday. The cuts to Medicaid funding in particular would “wreak havoc on low-income families and struggling communities, and must not be supported,” he insisted.

Bishop Dewane also noted the lack of language protecting “conscience rights” of those in the health care industry from mandates that they perform morally objectionable procedures like abortions or gender-transition surgeries.

He did praise the language protecting tax credits from being used to pay for abortions, but showed caution in warning that the language could very well be removed by the chamber’s parliamentarian because it could be ruled as not pertaining to the budget.

Other parts of the health care bill that the CBO scored included changes to premiums for persons in non-group plans.  

The average premiums for these plans would increase in the short-term, the CBO estimated, but by 2020 would drop to 30 percent lower than the premium estimates under the current health care law.

However, some could still see their health care costs rise because their benefits might be cut and their out-of-pocket health costs could be higher, especially those living in states which choose to waive the essential health benefits.

The marketplaces for non-group health insurance would still be stable in the coming years, the CBO estimated, but in certain areas for “a small fraction of the population,” insurers might not participate in non-group coverage.

This would be because fewer people would sign up for health plans due to fewer available subsidies, or even if the insurers participate in marketplaces, the plans themselves might be more expensive.

When asked on Monday if the White House would take CBO scores into account to the extent that they would go “back to the drawing board” on the bill if necessary, press secretary Sean Spicer answered that the White House would continue its current plan on health care reform.

“We feel very confident with where the bill is,” he stated. “And he [President Donald Trump] is going to continue to listen to senators who have ideas about how to strengthen it. But it's going to follow the same plan as we have.”

 

Pope Francis: The way of Christ is the way of persecution

Vatican City, Jun 28, 2017 / 03:57 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Wednesday Pope Francis said that following Christ means taking a path contrary to that of the world, and being prepared to suffer because of this; though we have hope because of God’s constant presence.

“Persecution is not a contradiction to the gospel, but is part of it: if they persecuted our Master, how can we hope that we will be spared the struggle?” he said June 28.

“However, in the midst of the whirlwind, the Christian must not lose hope, thinking he has been abandoned. Jesus reassures his disciples saying, ‘Even the hairs of your head are all counted.’ As much as to say that none of the sufferings of man, even the most minute and hidden, are invisible to the eyes of God.”

“God sees, and surely protects; and will give his ransom.”

Pope Francis continued his catechesis on the theme of Christian hope during the weekly general audience Wednesday in St. Peter’s Square. This time he reflected on the counter-cultural life of the Christian, which will mean withstanding persecution on some level, and for some, even martyrdom.
 
“Christians are therefore men and women ‘against the current,’” he said. “It is normal: since the world is marked by sin, manifested in various forms of egoism and injustice, those who follow Christ walk in the opposite direction.”

As Christians we do this “not for a contrary spirit, but for loyalty to the logic of the Kingdom of God, which is a logic of hope, and is translated into a way of life based on the directions of Jesus,” he continued.

“Christians must therefore always find themselves on the ‘other side,’ on the other side of the world, that chosen by God; not persecutors but persecuted; not arrogant, but gentle; not conmen, but submissive to the truth; not imposters, but honest.”

The first indication of a life lived based on this logic is poverty, the Pope said. In fact, he emphasized, “a Christian who is not humble and poor, detached from wealth and power and above all detached from himself, does not look like Jesus.”

Following this way has its difficulties and struggles, of course, the Pope said. But in difficulty, we must remember that Jesus is with us, and he never leaves his disciples alone.

“This fidelity to the way of Jesus – a way of hope – unto death, will be called by the first Christians with a beautiful name: ‘martyrdom,’ meaning ‘testimony,’” he said.

The early Christians could have chosen a different name for this act, like ‘heroism,’ 'abnegation,' or 'self-sacrifice,' but instead they chose this one, Francis said.

Martyrs are not selfish, living for themselves. “They do not fight to assert their own ideas, and accept that that they have to die only for loyalty to the gospel,” he said, which is the only “force” or strength the Christian uses.

In his catechesis, Francis recalled that Jesus warned us that he sends us “as sheep in the midst of wolves.” And the Christian does not have weapons or claws against these wolves. He or she may need to be cautious, even shrewd at times, he said, but violent never.

A Christian travels through life with the essentials for the journey, but with a heart full of love, he said, because true defeat for the Christian isn't poverty, it's to fall into the temptation to respond to evil with evil.

There is, in fact, “Someone” among us who is stronger than evil, he said.

But martyrdom is not even “the supreme ideal of Christian life,” Francis continued, because above all there is charity, that is, the love of God and of neighbor.”

Reflecting on charity, the Apostle Paul says: “If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing.”

This is why it Christians are disgusted by the idea that suicide bombers might be called “martyrs,” the Pope explained. “These do not know the martyrs – there is nothing in their end that can be brought closer to the attitudes of the children of God.”

The martyrs of yesterday and even of today had hope that no one and nothing could separate them from the love of God. So we ask that God gives us this same strength to be his witnesses, he concluded.

“He gives us the opportunity to live Christian hope especially in the hidden martyrdom of doing well and with love our duties of every day.”

Mexican priest moved to intermediate care after stabbing attack

Mexico City, Mexico, Jun 28, 2017 / 12:07 am (CNA).- Father Miguel Angel Machorro, who was stabbed May 15 at the Mexico City Cathedral, left intensive care and was transferred to the Intermediate Care Area of Angeles Mocel Hospital in Mexico City, according to a June 20 statement by the Archdiocese of Mexico.

Fr. Machorro was injured in a knife attack occurring around 6:45 p.m. on May 15, at the end of Mass in the Cathedral. The assailant has been identified as Mexican citizen, Juan René Silva Martínez.

Martinez attempted to slit the throat of the priest, instead injuring him on the right side of his neck. Expert reports have determined that the assailant has a “psychotic disorder.”

Authorized personnel of Ángeles Mocel Hospital told the archdiocese that the priest’s transfer to the Intermediate Care Area does not mean that Fr. Machorro’s health problems are solved.

“He has a long road ahead of him in the field of neurological and pulmonary rehabilitation,” they explained, and warned that it is very likely that Fr. Machorro will maintain a “permanent significant motor and respiratory disability.”

 

Detroit event combines biking, sacred architecture

Detroit, Mich., Jun 27, 2017 / 10:08 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Nearly 250 pilgrims made their way through downtown Detroit visiting different churches on Sunday.

What made this a spectacle? They were all riding along on two wheels.

“I love these architectural gems that were gifts to us from prior generations of the faithful. I love biking, I love bringing people together, I love celebrating our heritage as Detroiters,” said event organizer Danielle Center. “So here we are, the marriage of all these things.”

Center told the Detroit Free Press that she expected about 20 people to show up to the event, named “Holy Rollin’.” She had wanted to put on such a gathering for years, but feared that people would be reluctant to bike downtown Detroit, which has been undergoing a process of depopulation for years.

However, her fears turned out to be groundless: though she had expected 20 bikers to show up, more than ten times as many brought their wheels to downtown.

“To have so many people here is pretty special,” Annie Schunior told the Detroit Free Press.

Bikers stopped at four churches after departing from Center’s workplace, Ste. Anne – St. Aloysius, Sts. Peter and Paul, Old St. Mary, and St. Joseph Oratory. At each, bikers got a taste of the art and history of each building.

“In the Catholic church there is a lot of beautiful art but there are not a lot of opportunities for people to tour and see it,” said Schunior.

Fr. Loren Connell gave the group a tour at St. Aloysius, saying he welcomed the chance to let such a group into the church building.

"It's about hospitality," he told the Detroit Free Press. "We open our doors to street people and visitors and everyone in between."

Unity is more than 'bland uniformity,' Pope tells Orthodox

Vatican City, Jun 27, 2017 / 04:12 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis met with a delegation from the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, saying their journey toward full communion is one that ought to respect their unique traditions – rather than a uniformity that would, in the end, make the Church more boring.

“Peter and Paul, as disciples and apostles of Jesus Christ, served the Lord in very different ways,” the Pope said June 27.

“Yet in their diversity, both bore witness to the merciful love of God our Father, which each in his own fashion profoundly experienced, even to the sacrifice of his own life.”

Because of this, since ancient times the Church in the East and in the West has celebrated the feast of the two Apostles together, he said, adding that it is right to jointly commemorate “their self-sacrifice for love of the Lord, for it is at the same time a commemoration of unity and diversity.”

Pope Francis spoke to a delegation from the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, who are currently in Rome for the June 29 celebration of the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul. The Pope is particularly close to the Orthodox Church of Constantinople, and has met with their Patriarch, Bartholomew I, several times since his election in 2013.

In his address to the delegation, Francis said the traditional exchange of delegations on the feast of their patrons is something that “increases our desire for the full restoration of communion between Catholics and Orthodox.”

This, he said, is something “which we already have a foretaste in fraternal encounter, shared prayer and common service to the Gospel.”

He noted how in the first millennium, Christians of both the East and West were able to share the same Eucharist and preserve the essential truths of the faith while at the same time cultivating and exchanging a variety of theological, canonical and spiritual traditions founded on the teaching of the apostles and the ecumenical councils.

“That experience,” Francis said, “is a necessary point of reference and a source of inspiration for our efforts to restore full communion in our own day, a communion that must not be a bland uniformity.”

Francis then noted how this year marks 50 years since Blessed Pope Paul VI visited Istanbul's Phanar district in July 1967, where the seat of the ecumenical patriarchate is located, to visit Patriarch Athenagoras, as well as the visit of  Athenagoras to Rome in October of the same year.

“The example of these courageous and farsighted pastors, moved solely by love for Christ and his Church, encourages us to press forward in our journey towards full unity,” Francis said.

The Pope then expressed his gratitude for the many occasions on which he has been able to meet with Patriarch Bartholomew, which have taken place largely during his various trips and ecumenical prayer events.

At the end of his speech, Pope Francis noted that in September, a meeting of the Coordinating Committee of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church will take place in Leros, Greece.

He voiced his hope that the event “will take place in a spiritual climate of attentiveness to the Lord’s will and in a clear recognition of the journey already being made together by many Catholic and Orthodox faithful in various parts of the world, and that it will prove most fruitful for the future of ecumenical dialogue.”

The Pope closed by voicing his hope that with the intercession of Saints Peter, Paul and Andrew, through mutual prayer they would become “instruments of communion and peace.”