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Gibraltar abortion referendum: Voters back bill legalizing abortion

Baby Feet. / Morgan via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

London, England, Jun 24, 2021 / 19:09 pm (CNA).

The people of Gibraltar voted in a referendum Thursday to approve a bill legalizing abortion.

The referendum vote took place June 24, after it was postponed from March 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The measure was approved by 7,656 votes in favor and 4,520 against.

Gibraltar is a British Overseas Territory located at the southern tip of the Iberian Peninsula with a population of around 32,000 people. Its northern border is with Spain, which asserts a claim to the territory.

More than 23,000 Gibraltarians were registered to vote, with postal and proxy votes permitted, as well as votes at the ballot box.

Abortion has been illegal and punishable by up to life imprisonment in Gibraltar, except where the mother’s life is at risk.

In 2019, the Gibraltar Parliament passed the Crimes (Amendment) Act 2019 with the intention of legalizing abortion up to 12 weeks if the woman’s mental or physical health is considered at risk or if she would face grave injury.

Abortion would also be permitted at any time if the child has a fatal fetal abnormality.

Voters were asked: “Should the Crimes (Amendment) Act 2019, that defines the circumstances which would allow abortion in Gibraltar, come into force?”

The Gibraltar Pro-Life Movement opposed the bill and ran the “Save Babies, Vote No” campaign ahead of the referendum.

Around 500 people attended the group’s March for Life on June 15.

Gibraltar has one Catholic diocese and an estimated 25,000 Catholics.

Churches in the Diocese of Gibraltar hosted holy hours and other prayer events for the intention of protecting unborn life before the vote.

Bishop Carmel Zammit of Gibraltar issued a pastoral letter on June 19 urging Gibraltarians to defend the right to life.

“The people of Gibraltar are being presented with a choice: To choose between life or death; to choose whether the most vulnerable in our society will continue to enjoy the present status of the right to life, or will be subject to a significant broadening of the grounds for their legal termination,” he wrote. 

“To vote ‘no’ is to emphatically defend the right to life as enshrined currently in Gibraltar’s Constitution.”

He continued: “Let us turn in prayer to Our Lady of Europe, our Patroness and Mother, and to St Joseph, her spouse, that they may protect us with their parental care.”  

“May the Virgin Mary, who gave birth to Jesus, protect all mothers, all unborn babies, and enlighten all of us in our duty to show them love and support whilst protecting the right to life of the unborn.” 

15-year Courage staffer says apostolate 'helped me to become the man I am today'

Angelo / Courage International/YouTube

Washington D.C., Jun 24, 2021 / 19:00 pm (CNA).

A 25-year member of the Courage International apostolate says the ministry formed him into the man he is today. 

Angelo, who attended his first Courage conference in 1995, said he found his way to the group through the suffering of his own experience while living a gay lifestyle in New York City and Hollywood, in his video testimony published Thursday on YouTube.

The Courage apostolate aims to help people with same-sex attraction practice their Catholic faith and live according to Church teaching. It was founded in New York by Father John F. Harvey, OSFS in 1980 at the request of then-archbishop of New York, Cardinal Terence Cooke. 

Now under current executive director, Fr. Philip Bochanski, Angelo has worked at Courage International as a staff member for 15 years. 

Each member and chaplain of Courage, Angelo said, “has helped me to become the man I am today.”

Angelo said he first noticed an innocent “fascination with men” from a young age. After he graduated high school, he was drawn to hanging around other men who were acting on same-sex attraction, because it made him feel more comfortable with himself; he noted he always had an internal moral struggle. 

Angelo ultimately came to the conclusion that if he was going to enter into the gay lifestyle, it would be best if he went as far away as he could. 

“It was starting to get too close to home and I just thought ‘I gotta get out of here,’” he said. Angelo then left for Hollywood, California. 

Angelo spent about 13 years in California and lived a promiscuous life with “various partners.”  During his time there, he said he experimented with “a good amount” of recreational drugs as well. 

Then, he said, “things got dark.”

For months, Angelo felt as if he were having a nervous breakdown; he knew he needed God. 

“I thought I was going mad,” he said. Angelo spoke with a psychologist, but also reached out to his brother who was a priest at the time. 

“He was the one who mentioned Courage,” Angelo said. “I didn’t hear that name in quite some time.” Angelo had previously known of the apostolate because his sister worked for the past executive director, Fr. John Harvey. 

“I knew about Courage, but I didn’t want to know about it for a very long time,” Angelo said. 

In the days leading up to the conference, Angelo had a profound ongoing conversion. He said he experienced the “gift of tears” at the 1995 Courage conference in the Bronx, New York.

He returned to the Catholic Church and remains close with friends he made at the Courage conference. He said he has been tempted at times to return to his former lifestyle, but credits the grace of God and his privilege of serving others for his stability.

Angelo said that he was hearing God’s voice at the time of his struggle as a younger man, but chose not to listen. He would tell his younger self to “be open and receptive” to God’s voice and trusted people’s voices.

Philippine Catholic Church leaders honor departed former president

Former Philippine President Benigno Aquino III and His Holiness Pope Francis view the gifts at the Sala dei Papi of the Apostolic Palace during the Philippine president’s private audience with the pope in the Vatican on Dec. 04, 2015. / Joseph Vidal / Malacañang Photo Bureau

Washington D.C., Jun 24, 2021 / 18:00 pm (CNA).

Catholic Church leaders in the Philippines honored the country’s former president, Benigno Aquino III, who died on Thursday, June, 24, from a lingering illness. He was 61 years old.

The former president was the son of two of the country’s political icons, — former president Corazon Aquino and former senator Benigno Aquino Jr.

Cardinal Jose Advincula of the Archdiocese of Manila led Church leaders in offering prayers for the country’s former president.

“We have been informed of the sad news of the passing away of our former president,” announced the cardinal at his installation as the 33rd archbishop of the national capital on Thursday morning.

“Let us entrust him to the mercy of our loving father and let us now pray for the eternal repose of his soul,” said the cardinal.

“Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May his soul, and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace,” prayed Cardinal Advincula.

Aquino’s father and namesake, Benigno Jr., was an opposition leader during the rule of strongman Ferdinand Marcos. He was assassinated when he returned home from political exile in the United States in 1983.

The killing shocked the nation and helped propel Marcos out of office in the 1986 “People Power” revolution, and ushered in the presidency of Aquino’s mother, Corazon.

Known popularly as “Noynoy,” the younger Aquino rode a wave of public support to the presidency after the 2009 death of his mother.

“As president, [Aquino] proved himself to be a worthy son of such great parents to whom the nation is indebted for the restoration of democracy in our country,” said Bishop Pablo Virgilio David of Kalookan, also in the national capital region.

“Sincere prayers and condolences to the family of the former president. May God’s love and mercy be his as he has shared his life to the people,” said Bishop Rex Alarcon of Daet, south of Manila.

Retired Bishop Arturo Bastes of Sorsogon, also in the southern part of the main island of Luzon, said the Filipino people “deeply mourn the untimely death” of the former president.

“He was a humble hard working president who greatly improved the economy of our country,” said the bishop, adding that the Filipino people “will never forget the patriotism of this extraordinary family.”

Bishop Jose Colin Bagaforo of Kidapawan in the southern Philippine region of Mindanao said Aquino would be remembered for his “economic reforms and his government stance of life’s sacredness.”

“We extend our condolences to his family and offer prayers for the repose of his soul,” said the bishop, who heads the social action commission of the bishops’ conference.

Bishop Ruperto Santos of Balanga said he remembers former president Aquino’s “goodness,” adding that the Filipino people “are grateful for the goods he has shown and did to our country.”

In a statement, Senator Imee Marcos, daughter of the late dictator, paid tribute to Aquino for his “kind and simple soul” and said he would be deeply missed.

Aquino still carried a bullet wound from a 1987 attempted military coup against his mother’s administration, during which he was shot five times and three of his bodyguards were killed. 

In 2010, after Aquino said that Filipino couples should be allowed to use artificial contraceptives if they wish, then-president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), Bishop Nereo Odchimar, opposed the push and asked for dialogue with Aquino.

In 2012, Aquino supported a “reproductive health” bill that would mandate sex education in schools and subsidize contraceptives. He said it would reduce birth rates among the poor, as a defense of the legislation. The Catholic bishops opposed the legislation, and Fr. Melvin Castro, head of the bishops’ Episcopal Commission on Family and Life, said Aquino was “hard-hearted” for refusing to consider the concerns of bill opponents.

Lubbock’s Catholic cathedral finds $250k missing, FBI finds embezzlement suspect in Colombia

Cathedral of Christ the King, Lubbock, Texas / Diocese of Lubbock (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Denver Newsroom, Jun 24, 2021 / 17:00 pm (CNA).

A man who allegedly stole more than $250,000 from Lubbock’s Christ the King Cathedral has been located in Colombia, and U.S. officials are seeking his return. 

The suspect managed the cathedral’s donations and its Venmo and PayPal accounts. The cathedral rector was not implicated in the theft but resigned after its discovery.

Nathan Allen Webb, a cathedral parishioner, had assumed responsibilities at the cathedral that included managing donations and paying bills, in August 2019, according to Everything Lubbock. In March 2021, a lawyer for the Diocese of Lubbock “reported that Webb was engaged in a fraud scheme to embezzle money” from the cathedral, the FBI criminal complaint said.

Webb faces charges of wire fraud. Federal officials have asked the Colombian government to detain him through INTERPOL.

“Webb was embezzling thousands of dollars each month by making unauthorized transfers of money from (Christ the King’s) Venmo account to his personal Venmo account,” according to the FBI criminal complaint.

During at least part of this time, Webb was in South America.

In March, Father John Ohlig, rector of Christ the King Cathedral - as well as the parish finance committee - reportedly discovered funds were missing from the cathedral’s bank account and reported this to the diocese, according to the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal.

“The FBI was notified immediately,” the Lubbock diocese said in a June 23 statement. “The parish and the diocese assisted the FBI in a thorough investigation since that time. The Diocese of Lubbock did not reveal the theft to preserve the integrity of the investigation.”

“Father Ohlig is in no way implicated in the theft of the funds,” said the diocese.

According to the FBI complaint, Fr. Ohlig confronted Webb on March 3. Evidence suggests that Webb closed his PayPal account on the same day.

An arrest warrant was issued for Webb on June 10. Webb’s father had assured the FBI that he would fly to Florida and submit himself for arrest. Though he was scheduled to fly from Cartagena, Columbia to Fort Lauderdale, Florida on June 14, he did not board the plane.

Prosecutors have taken all steps to have Webb detained.

Two days after Webb's scheduled flight, he checked into a hotel in Pereira, Colombia. He was arrested for a visa overstay. Colombian officials planned to deport him but he tested positive for COVID-19, the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal reports.

On June 10, Ohlig submitted his resignation as rector to Bishop Robert M. Coerver. In his resignation letter, the priest said: “I simply believe it is best for the administration of Christ the King Cathedral Parish and its entities to be handled by a different person as the faith community tries to move forward from this unfortunate incident.”

The priest is available for reassignment within the diocese. His new assignment and the appointment of a new cathedral rector will be announced soon, the diocese said.

The diocese and the cathedral are working with a third-party finance firm “to continue a thorough examination of the parish financial records and to assist in constructing enhanced accounting procedures.”

“Changes in office management have also been made,” the Lubbock diocese said.

The Lubbock diocese serves over 136,000 Catholics in 61 parishes across 25 counties of west Texas, the diocese’s website says. It was established in 1983. Catholics make up about 25% of the population in the diocese’s territory, which has some 530,000 residents.


Church in Venezuela can facilitate talks between government and opposition, says cardinal

Cardinal Baltazar Enrique Porras Cardozo of Merida, Venezuela takes possession of St. John the Evangelist Church in Rome, Italy on June 12, 2017. / Daniel Ibanez/CNA

ACI Prensa Staff, Jun 24, 2021 / 16:02 pm (CNA).

Cardinal Baltazar Porras, archbishop of Mérida and apostolic administrator of Caracas, said that the Church in Venezuela can help facilitate talks between the government of President Nicolás Maduro and the opposition, led by national assemblyman Juan Guaidó, to overcome the serious crisis currently affecting the country.

"As always, our role does not even have to be a mediator, but a facilitator," Porras said in an interview with Unión Radio reported by the EFE news agency.

The cardinal explained that the talks should not focus on the country’s problems - which are already known - but on encouraging the political will to define "what we want and where we want to go."

"It can't simply be with half-measures that don’t solve the problem,” as the international community knows that “there must be a series of fundamental freedoms so sanctions can also be negotiated and there be access to so many things that we need," the archbishop explained.

The Venezuelan cardinal stressed the importance of recovering a "minimum of confidence" so there can be foreign investment in Venezuela, because at this time there is no guaranteed proper application of the law, "and logically who would come at their own risk".

In May, Guaidó said he is willing to negotiate with the Maduro government to reach a "national salvation accord" to overcome the serious social, political, economic and health crisis in Venezuela, which has led to millions of Venezuelans emigrating to Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Argentina, and other countries in search of a better future.

Guaidó stressed that Venezuela needs "free and fair" elections. Maduro responded to that proposal, saying he is ready to meet with "the entire opposition," but demanding that international sanctions be lifted before starting the talks.

The opposition leader also called for the release of political prisoners. However, the Maduro regime denies that there are any such prisoners. According to the socialist leader, the people being imprisoned have committed crimes.

On June 18, Guaidó announced that an opposition delegation began an international tour to discuss the lifting of sanctions if an accord is reached.

On June 22, Guaidó posted on Twitter a message entitled "Let's save Venezuela!" in which he reiterated his call for "free and fair" elections at all levels, beginning with the presidential elections, so there can be "democracy and life" in Venezuela and so that "no one dies of hunger" or is forced to "leave the country.”

So far no date has been set for the start of talks between the government and the opposition.

Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro was sworn in for a second term as president on Jan. 10, 2019, after winning a contested election in which opposition candidates were barred from running or were imprisoned.

Venezuela's bishops called his new term illegitimate, and Guaidó, head of the National Assembly at the time, declared himself interim president on Jan. 23, 2019. 

Guaidó was recognized as interim Venezuelan president by the United States, Canada, much of the European Union, and several Latin American nations. However, this had no practical effect as Maduro, backed by the military, remained firmly in control of the country.

Since Maduro succeeded Hugo Chávez as president of Venezuela in 2013, Venezuela has been marred by violence and social upheaval. Under the socialist government, the country has seen severe shortages of food and other necessities, as well as hyperinflation. In December 2020, United Nations agencies estimated that 5.4 million had left the country.

LGBT activist dances and strips in atrium of Catholic cathedral

Cathedral of San Gil / Oscar Espinosa/Shutterstock

ACI Prensa Staff, Jun 24, 2021 / 15:01 pm (CNA).

An LGBT activist danced and stripped to scanty underwear in the atrium in front of the cathedral in the town of San Gil, Colombia this week. 

The suggestive dance took place amid the ongoing demonstrations for the national strike, and as part of "gay pride" month, creating a controversy on social media and outrage among Catholics.

On the night of June 21, a group of LGBT activists gathered outside the cathedral in San Gil, which is located about 150 miles north of Bogota, and watched a member of their group dance and strip to the rhythm of the music.

In a blurry video posted on Facebook by the Colombian media El Regional, a voice is heard over a loudspeaker system presenting the “performance” by “Sasha” who before starting to dance, exclaims: “Long live the queers and long live the whores!”

“Religion cannot oppress our way of loving, love is love and the strike must be diverse, inclusive and free of stereotypes. We are love, we are diversity,” says a message from the LGBT group as reported by Blu Radio.

A national strike called by different leftist organizations began in Colombia on April 28, and has been marked by violence and excesses in different cities, leaving at least 50 dead and dozens injured.

A citizen, who preferred to remain anonymous, told Blu Radio that the dance presented by the LGBT community showed "a lack of respect, vulgarity and bad values." He also condemned "their disrespect for a symbol of religion such as the main atrium of the cathedral."

"They can do their crazy things elsewhere, but not in front of children, families and parts of the community that don’t share these ideas, sexual orientations and ideologies," he added.

On the El Regional Facebook post, a user identified as Ollu Veri said “at that time the Eucharist was being celebrated, where there were a number of people praying and interceding for their families, going through the pain of losing their loved ones. Put yourself in the place of these families! There are many places in San Gil to make your rights known.”

Although the post has several comments in favor of the dance of the LGBT group, the user named Henry Celis said that what was done in the atrium of the cathedral “is simply unacceptable. Every church is the house of God ”

Irish parish removes LGBT ‘Pride’ flag after archdiocese intervenes

Our Lady of the Assumption Catholic Church, Ballyfermot, Ireland, displays the LGBT rainbow flag / Ballyfermot Assumption Parish/Facebook

Denver Newsroom, Jun 24, 2021 / 14:00 pm (CNA).

A Catholic parish in Ireland has reluctantly taken down a rainbow LGBT “Pride” flag that was erected last week outside the church, after an intervention from the Dublin archdiocese. 

Our Lady of the Assumption parish in Ballyfermot, near Dublin, last week flew both an Irish flag and a striped rainbow flag - a common symbol of “LGBT pride” - outside the parish, during the month of June which is celebrated as “Pride Month.”

The Archdiocese of Dublin last Friday asked the parish to remove the flag due to its a policy against flying any flags on church grounds, except for national flags on appropriate occasions. 

Father Adrian Egan, pastor of Our Lady of the Assumption, apologized to "all those genuine people" who expressed confusion and hurt at the raising of the Pride flag, but also to "those who were hurt" by the flag's removal. 

In a statement to The Journal, the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference said: “On special occasions, only the Papal flag and/or the National flag, are permitted to be flown on church grounds in the Archdiocese of Dublin[.]”

Father Egan said in his Sunday homily June 20 that he approved the flying of the Pride Flag because of his desire to make the parish a "place of welcome for all.”

On June 14, Father Egan said that the parish council met and discussed June's status as the month dedicated by the Church to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. 

"We were also talking about how June has become a significant month for gay people, for gay men and women, and that there are lots of secular events and things going on in that regard during the month of June," Father Egan said, adding that the parish council came to the conclusion that the image of the Sacred Heart represents a love that is "inclusive of everybody." 

The parish has some gay members, he said, who say they have been "hurt" by the language that the Church uses in its teaching on homosexuality. The parish council decided they wanted to send out a message that "God loves them," Egan said. 

The parish posted photos of the flag flying outside the parish on its Facebook page. 

“Just an effort by a parish pastoral council to say to our gay brothers and sisters, ‘God loves you, your parish loves you, and you are welcome here’. Applies to all of you too!” an unsigned June 16 Facebook status from the parish’s page reads. 

Egan said when the flag was displayed, he received many messages of "thanks and appreciation," and also messages from "very good Catholic people" who were hurt and dismayed by the flag. He noted there were still other messages which were "aggressive and hostile and nasty." 

While the flag was flying, a group of Catholics reportedly gathered to pray the rosary across the road from the church. By Friday evening, Egan said the archbishop called to ask the parish to remove the flag. 

"Am I in trouble? Probably," Father Egan said. 

"The flag is down, but the message of the banner is still out there, and it remains exactly the same. And I believe it reflects the Gospel." 

Pride Month is celebrated widely throughout June each year, with parades, parties and concerts celebrating the LGBT lifestyle.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 2358 teaches that persons who experience same-sex attraction “must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity,” but is also clear in paragraph 2357 that “under no circumstances can [homosexual acts] be approved.” 

Fr. Philip Bochanski, the executive director of the Catholic apostolate Courage, told CNA in 2019 that the answer to the unjust treatment of people identifying as LGBT is not to change the Church's teaching or to affirm homosexual relationships, but rather to “call all of our brothers and sisters to a life in holiness which always includes the virtue of chastity, among the other virtues.”

He also said that it’s important to present the fullness of the truth of God’s plan for sexuality, but also stressed the importance of loving people with same-sex attraction as persons, and helping them to see that their identity does not lie solely within their sexuality.

After ‘Remain in Mexico’ policy is dismissed, USCCB urges acceptance of migrants

Members of the migrant caravan take temporary shelter in a stadium in Mexico City on their way to the United States border, Nov. 8, 2018. / David Ramos/CNA

Washington D.C., Jun 24, 2021 / 13:30 pm (CNA).

The U.S. bishops’ conference on Thursday emphasized the need to welcome immigrants after the Supreme Court resolved a challenge to the Trump administration’s “Remain in Mexico” policy.

“Going forward, we must work as a nation to welcome the newcomer and respond to those in need with Christ-like compassion,” stated Bishop Mario Dorsonville, auxiliary bishop of Washington and chair of the U.S. bishops’ migration committee, on Thursday.

Bishop Dorsonville issued the statement in response to the Supreme Court’s ruling in Mayorkas v. Innovation Law Lab, a challenge to the Trump administration’s Migrant Protection Protocols.

The protocols required non-Mexican asylum-seekers at the U.S.-Mexico border to remain in Mexico while their requests were adjudicated in immigration court. Advocates argued that the policy, termed the “Remain in Mexico” policy, subjected immigrants with legitimate asylum claims to long periods of waiting in poor conditions.

The Trump administration implemented the protocols in January 2019. While they first applied to asylum-seekers at the San Ysidro border crossing, the policy was since expanded to include entries across the entire U.S.-Mexico border. Asylum seekers would receive a notice to appear in immigration court and could re-enter the U.S. for that court date; to stay in the U.S., they had to prove a fear of persecution or torture in Mexico.

Unaccompanied child migrants and those with known physical or mental health problems were exempted from the policy, among others.

Both a federal district court and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the Trump administration; the Ninth Circuit court held that the Department of Homeland Security drafted the rule “without notice-and-comment rulemaking.”

The Biden administration repealed the policy on June 1, 2021. Following that decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Monday that a lower court’s ruling in the case was “moot,” and dismissed the case.

“We welcome the final resolution of this case,” Bishop Dorsonville said, while adding that the ruling “should not be seen as legal vindication” of the Migrant Protection Protocols, “which remains contrary to our laws and morals.”

He also called for an end to “the misuse of Title 42 to turn away vulnerable asylum seekers,” as well as actions “addressing the root causes of migration, and reforming our bogged down immigration system.”

“It is possible to do these things while respecting the rule of law; we need only commit ourselves to the task,” he said.

The Biden administration has ordered a review of Title 42, the policy closing entry to asylum-seekers on the U.S.-Mexico border due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The administration has not ended the policy, however.

Axios has reported that the White House is considering lifting the policy at the end of July. On Monday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that “when it comes to Title 42, there's been no change.”

Beirut’s St. Joseph church, badly damaged in port explosion, to reopen

A painting of the Holy Family at the Church of St. Joseph in Beirut, Lebanon. / Courtesy of Aid to the Church in Need.

Rome Newsroom, Jun 24, 2021 / 13:00 pm (CNA).

A nearly 150-year-old church badly damaged by the Beirut port explosion is due to reopen in July.

The Church of St. Joseph has been restored with funds from Aid to the Church in Need, a pontifical foundation.

Located less than two miles from the port of Beirut, the church’s windows and wooden doors were destroyed by the Aug. 4 explosion, which also damaged the pitched roof and lighting fixtures.

Before the explosion, the Jesuit-run church supported a diverse Lebanese Catholic community, offering Masses in French, English, and Arabic in the Maronite rite.

Aid to the Church Need is one of the Catholic aid groups affiliated with the Reunion of Aid Agencies for the Oriental Churches (ROACO), which Pope Francis received in an audience at the Vatican on June 24.

“I thank you for your efforts to support Lebanon in this grave crisis,” the pope said in the meeting with the ROACO assembly participants.

/ Vatican Media.
/ Vatican Media.

The pope also asked people to pray for his upcoming meeting with Lebanese Christian leaders at the Vatican on July 1, that “the Holy Spirit will enlighten and guide us.”

“I would also like, through you, to extend my gratitude to all those who support and make possible your projects: ordinary members of the faithful, families, parishes, and volunteers who understand what it means to be ‘brothers and sisters all’ and who devote a portion of their time and resources to assisting you in the services you provide,” Francis said.

“I have been told that the income from the 2020 collection for the Holy Land was only about half of that received in previous years,” he said.

Pope Francis stressed the importance of continuing to support the Church in the Holy Land through charitable contributions, as St. Paul described in his letters.

“While the crisis may have encouraged us to focus on what is essential, we cannot remain indifferent when we think of the deserted streets of Jerusalem and the loss of those pilgrims who go there to strengthen their faith, but also to express concrete solidarity with the local Churches and their people,” he said.

Pope Francis said that he hoped to see God’s “bow of peace” over the Holy Land, where, he said, the “skies have been darkened by missiles bringing destruction, death, and fear.”

“The pleas for help rising from Syria are never far from God’s heart, yet do not seem to have touched the hearts of leaders in a position to affect the destiny of peoples,” he said.

“We think of the continuing scandal of 10 years of conflict, millions of internally and externally displaced persons, the victims and the need for reconstruction, all held hostage to partisan thinking and the lack of courageous decisions for the good of that war-torn nation.”

/ Vatican Media.
/ Vatican Media.

ROACO’s 94th assembly took place in Rome on June 21-24. Other aid agencies affiliated with ROACO include Caritas Internationalis, Missio, and Malteser International.

Patriarch Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, and Cardinal Mario Zenari, apostolic nuncio to Syria, were among the attendees at the Rome assembly, as well as papal representatives in Lebanon, Iraq, Ethiopia, Armenia, and Georgia.

“Your own way of life is important, for it helps pastors and faithful to concentrate on what is essential and helpful for the proclamation of the Gospel, as together you show the face of a Church that is a Mother, with particular concern for the poor and the vulnerable,” Pope Francis said.

“If at times it is necessary to reconstruct buildings and cathedrals, including those destroyed by war, we need to be concerned above all for the living stones who have been wounded and dispersed.”

Catholic charity: Ethiopians in agony as water crisis deepens

People wait outside a distribution point to receive aid rations in Oromia Region, Ethiopia, in February 2018 / Will Baxter/Catholic Relief Services

Tigray, Jun 24, 2021 / 12:41 pm (CNA).

Residents of various parts of Ethiopia are trekking for miles and spending days in long queues to get water far away from home, a Catholic charity in Ireland reported.

In a Friday, June 17 report, the leadership of Trócaire, the overseas development agency of the Catholic Bishops of Ireland, expressed concern that those adversely affected by drought and water shortage in the horn of Africa are also suffering from mental challenges owing to the shortage of water and their futile search for the precious commodity.

The organization detailed the experience of Abba Tesfalem, a 58-year-old Ethiopian Orthodox Priest who lives in Tigray, the northern Ethiopia region that has been besieged by armed conflict since November last year.

“When you don’t have water, all you think about is water. When you queue for water, all you think about is the water you hope to get. You worry that you won’t get water. It plays on our mind, it’s like a sickness. We all feel this way here. It’s a very difficult situation to think only of water,” Abba Tesfalem told Trócaire.

“The lack of water in the region is having a severe psychological impact on locals in Ethiopia like Abba Tesfalem and his family," Trócaire explained.

Abba Tesfalem narrated the rough ordeal of spending days on the road in search of water, spending more time at the well and going back home empty handed, and said that the experience is having a toll on the people who continually search for water and do not have any time left to do other jobs.

“There is a hand pump not far from here, so we use donkeys, and we send our children there to get water or we go ourselves. Then we bring the water,” the Tigray resident stated.

“When the well dries up, there is a water supply system in the sub-district which is miles from here. There, we wait for days for water. If the water has run out in between, we go to that hand pump.”

In a message on World Desertification and Drought Day celebrated on June 17, the leadership of Trócaire reported that Ethiopia is also experiencing its worst hunger crisis in 20 years.

As drought worsens across Ethiopia, collecting water is the main task of the day for 23-year-old Abdellah from the Afar region of Ethiopia, the organization reports.

In the Afar region, people who are desperate to get water are forced to drink the water that has been contaminated by animal urine and fecal matter.

“Afar is extremely hot, the water is dirty, contaminated by monkey urine and the trek to collect it is horrendous,” Trócaire reported, adding, “Afar townspeople like Abdellah who are surviving on little, if not nothing, find it a challenging journey to navigate in the extreme heat and with no sustenance.”

Abdellah noted that the journey for water is long, and explained, “We have to leave early from the village while it is still dark. We walk through the riverbed, then climb the mountains, then go down into a valley, then climb another mountain a little way to finally get to the water. That is the journey.”

“We drink water that monkeys go to the toilet in. It’s bad water. It makes us sick. You can see the animal dung at the other points of the journey. Monkeys and hyenas have been there,” Abdellah said.

Abdellah is acutely aware of the struggle he is faced with every day. It is not something he is just used to and without help or support his situation won’t improve.

Without water, it is difficult for many people to get jobs and for children to go to school. Instead of going to school, children are sent on long trips to search for water.

“I don’t have any more words to express how hard it is,” Abdellah told the charity organization. “I find it hard collecting water like this every day. I collect so little, then what I do get is not good. It has made us sick. What we need most and what we ask for is water.”

Ethiopia has already endured 10 major droughts since 1980, Trócaire reported, a number even more significant because 85 percent of Ethiopians live in rural areas and most rely on subsistence farming for survival.

This article was originally published by ACI Africa. It was adapted by CNA.