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Bishops 'deeply concerned' by Trump border emergency declaration

Washington D.C., Feb 15, 2019 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement Feb. 15 opposing President Donald Trump’s declaration of a national emergency on the southern border. Trump made the declaration as part of an attempt to secure full funding for the construction of a border wall.

 

“We are deeply concerned about the President’s action to fund the construction of a wall along the U.S./Mexico border, which circumvents the clear intent of Congress to limit funding of a wall,” said the statement, which was jointly written by USCCB President Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston and Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, who leads the USCCB’s migration committee.

 

The two bishops said they were against the use of additional funds for the construction of a border wall. In the latest appropriations bill, Congress allocated $1.3 billion to erect barriers along parts of the southern border, but included several exceptions for locations where the funding may not be used to construct barriers.

 

Trump had requested $5.7 billion to fund the entire project.

 

On Friday, in an effort to supplement the funding allocated by Congress, the president declared a national emergency on the southern border. By invoking the National Emergencies Act, the president can gain access to sources of funding otherwise unavailable to him. The 1976 act does not contain a specific definition of what constitutes a “national emergency.”

 

“The current situation at the southern border presents a border security and humanitarian crisis that threatens core national security interests and constitutes a national emergency,” said Trump in a declaration announcing the state of emergency.

 

“The southern border is a major entry point for criminals, gang members, and illicit narcotics,” Trump said.

 

The president asserted that illegal immigration is a worsening problem on the border, and therefore action must be taken to address this issue.

 

The bishops disagreed with the president's assessment of the situation at the border, and on the suitability of a border wall.

 

In their statement, DiNardo and Vasquez said the wall was a “symbol of division and animosity” between the United States and Mexico.

 

“We remain steadfast and resolute in the vision articulated by Pope Francis that at this time we need to be building bridges and not walls,” they added.

 

On Feb. 14, the House of Representatives and Senate both passed a bill to provide $1.3 billion in funding for the construction of barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border, but which contained a list of five specific places where these funds cannot be used to build a wall. One of these was the site of La Lomita Chapel in Mission, TX, in the Diocese of Brownsville.

 

The Brownsville diocese has been contesting government attempts to survey public land around the chapel ahead of a border wall being erected.

 

The diocese filed suit against the federal government arguing that the construction of a border wall restricting access to the chapel would be a violation of religious freedom.

 

On Feb. 6, U.S. District Court Judge Randy Crane ruled that allowing the federal government to survey the land surrounding the chapel to determine if a wall could be built would not interfere with the exercise of religious freedom rights.

Pope Francis: Be not afraid of migrants

Vatican City, Feb 15, 2019 / 10:05 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis said Friday that people need to overcome their fear of migrants and refugees, and look for the face of Christ in each immigrant arriving in their countries.

“The Lord speaks to us today and asks us to let Him free us from our fears,” Pope Francis said in a homily Feb. 15 at the Fraterna Domus di Sacrofano, a Catholic retreat center north of Rome.

In fear, we tend to become closed off, Pope Francis explained. “This withdrawal into ourselves, a sign of defeat, increases our fear of ‘others,’ the unknown, the marginalized, the strangers.”

“It is not easy to enter the culture of others, put yourself in the shoes of people so different from us, understand their thoughts and experiences. And so often we give up the meeting with the other and raise barriers to defend ourselves,” he continued.

“Faced with the wickedness and ugliness of our time, we … are tempted to abandon our dream of freedom. We feel legitimate fear in front of situations that seem to us with no way out. And the human words of a leader or prophet are not enough to reassure us,” he said.

However, when fear holds one back from encountering the stranger, it is a missed opportunity to practice charity, the pope explained.

“The meeting with the other, then, is also an encounter with Christ. He told us himself. It is He who knocks on our door hungry, thirsty, stranger, naked, sick and imprisoned, asking to be met and assisted,” he said.

“It is really Him, even if our eyes [struggle] to recognize Him: with broken clothes, with dirty feet, with a deformed face, with a wounded body, unable to speak our language,” Pope Francis added.

Pope Francis celebrated the opening Mass for a Feb. 15-17 gathering called, “Freedom from Fear,” a meeting of people and organizations dedicated to welcoming migrants. The event was organized by the Italian bishops conference and Caritas Italiana.

In the Mass, Pope Francis prayed that all pastors “know how to train all the baptized to welcome to migrants and refugees.”

Vatican ambassador under investigation for sexual assault

Paris, France, Feb 15, 2019 / 08:26 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Bishop Luigi Ventura, apostolic nuncio to France since 2009 and a long-time Vatican diplomat, is under investigation for alleged sexual assault.

The French newspaper Le Monde reported Friday that Ventura, 74, is being investigated by Paris authorities after he was accused late last month of having inappropriately touched a young male staffer of Paris City Hall.

A Vatican statement Feb. 15 said that it was made aware of the French authorities’ investigation of the envoy through the press and is “awaiting the outcome of the investigations.”

The alleged assault is said to have taken place in Paris’ City Hall Jan. 17, during a reception for the annual New Year address of Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo. The address is usually given to diplomats, religious leaders, and civil society members, with a role by the apostolic nuncio.

The claim against Ventura was brought to French authorities by Paris City Hall six days after it allegedly took place. The alleged victim has not been identified.

Ventura, who comes from the northern Italian region of Lombardy, was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Brescia in 1969.

He entered the diplomatic service of the Holy See in 1978 and was stationed in Brazil, Bolivia, and the UK. From 1984 to 1995 he was appointed to serve at the Secretariat of State in the Section for Relations with States.

After his episcopal ordination in 1995, Ventura served as nuncio to the Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Niger, Chile, and Canada. He was appointed apostolic nuncio to France by Benedict XVI in September 2009.

The allegation comes just days before a special summit convened by Pope Francis at the Vatican to discuss the sexual abuse crisis facing the Church worldwide.

While organizers of that meeting, which will include the heads of the world’s bishops’ conferences, have stressed that the agenda will focus on the specific issue of the sexual abuse of minors, some bishops and commentators have suggested it should also treat allegations of sexual misconduct or abuse of adults by clerics.

The investigation against Ventura also comes amid expectations that the Vatican is soon to announce a decision in the canonical process handling the case of Archbishop Theodore McCarrick. McCarrick is accused of sexually abusing a number of minors and adults, including seminarians, over a period of decades.

Pope Francis: 'Inequality is disastrous for the future of humanity'

Vatican City, Feb 15, 2019 / 06:13 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis spoke out about inequality, the environment, sustainable development and the elimination of poverty during his visit to the United Nations’ agricultural development agency in Rome Thursday.

“Few have too much and too many have little, this is the logic of today. Many have no food and go adrift, while a few drown in the superfluous,” Pope Francis told staff members of the UN International Fund for Agricultural Development, or IFAD.

“This perverse current of inequality is disastrous for the future of humanity,” he said.

The International Fund for Agricultural Development is specialized agency of the United Nations based in Rome and dedicated to improving rural food security and fighting poverty through grants and low-interest loans to rural farmers and indigenous peoples around the world.

“The poorest of the earth” are people who live mostly “in rural areas, in regions far from big cities, often in difficult and painful conditions,” Pope Francis said.

“They live in precarious situations: the air is stale, the natural resources are depleted, the rivers polluted, the soils acidified; they do not have enough water for themselves or their crops; their sanitary infrastructures are very deficient, their houses scarce and defective,” he said.

Francis added, “the exodus from the countryside to the city is a global trend that we can not ignore in our considerations.”

Three quarters of the poorest people in the world live in rural areas, according to IFAD, which has a particular focus on supporting indigenous communities in their traditional food systems and livelihoods.

After his formal UN address, the pope met with delegates from 31 different indigenous peoples from America, Africa, Asia and the Pacific region.  

“The presence of all of you here shows that environmental issues are extremely important and invites us to once again look at our planet, hurt in many regions by human greed, by warlike conflicts that engender a wealth of evils and misfortunes, as well as for the natural catastrophes that leave in their wake poverty and devastation,” the pope said in Spanish.

“Native peoples … become for everyone a wake-up call that emphasizes that man is not the owner of nature, but only the manager, the one that has as vocation to watch over it with care, so that its biodiversity is not lost, and the water can remain healthy and crystal clear, the air pure, the forests leafy, and the soil fertile,” he continued.

“The earth suffers and the native peoples know of the dialogue with the earth, they know what it is to listen to the earth, to see the earth, to touch the earth. They know the art of living well in harmony with the earth. And we have to learn that,” he continued.

Pope Francis warned the UN agency of the danger posed by a humanitarian aid culture that “can end up generating dependencies” and hinder development.

Instead, he asserted, “The aim is always to affirm the centrality of the human person, remembering that the new processes that are being developed cannot always be incorporated into schemes established from the outside, but must start from the same culture.”

Pope Francis also acknowledged the potential of technology and sustainable development to aid the poor in meeting their daily needs.

“It is necessary to bet on innovation, entrepreneurial capacity, the protagonism of local actors and the efficiency of productive processes to achieve rural transformation in order to eradicate malnutrition and to develop in a sustainable way the rural environment,” he said.

“Put technology really at the service of the poor,” Pope Francis said, and exhorted the IFAD staff to always utilize the creative power of love.

“Those who love have the imagination to find solutions where others only see problems. Those who love help others according to their needs and creativity, not according to pre-established ideas or common places … love leads you to create, it is always ahead.”

Eucharist desecrated, statues smashed in series of French church attacks

Paris, France, Feb 15, 2019 / 12:30 am (CNA/EWTN News).- At least 10 incidents of vandalism and desecration of Catholic churches have been reported in France since the beginning of February, according to French news sources and watch groups.

Vandals in Catholic churches throughout the country have smashed statues, knocked down tabernacles, scattered or destroyed the Eucharist, burnt altar cloths and torn down crosses, among other acts of desecration of religious items.

According to La Croix International, one of the earliest incidents occurred February 4 at St. Nicholas Catholic Church in Houilles, Yvelines, where a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary was found smashed on the ground. The church had experienced earlier incidents of vandalism just weeks prior, when the altar cross was found thrown to the ground and the celebrant’s chair was damaged.

The Observatory on Intolerance and Discrimination Against Christians in Europe, a Christian watchdog group, documented another attack at St. Nicholas Church on February 10, when the tabernacle was found thrown to the ground. A 35 year-old man later confessed to committing the act to police.

On February 5, an altar cloth was found burnt and crosses and statues torn down or disfigured at Saint-Alain Cathedral in Lavaur, in south-central France. The fire was found early by a parish secretary and did not spread, though the smoke damaged the altar and adjacent walls.

The 800 year-old building had also recently undergone renovations, local sources reported.

“I strongly condemn the vandalism of Lavaur Cathedral and I share the outrage aroused by this intolerable act,” Jean Terlier, a local district deputy, said in a statement following the incident, according to La Croix.

“God will forgive. Not me,” the city's mayor Bernard Carayon said of the vandalism, La Croix reported.

On February 6, just a day after the Saint-Alain Cathedral incident, vandals at a Catholic Church in Nimes broke into the tabernacle and scattered the hosts on the ground, drew a cross on the wall with excrement and damaged other religious items in the church, according to local reports.

In a statement posted to the Diocesan website, Bishop Robert Wattebled of Nimes denounced the desecration, which “greatly affects our diocesan community. The sign of the cross and the Blessed Sacrament have been the subject of serious injurious actions. This act of profanation hurts us all in our deepest convictions,” he said.

The Bishop also announced that a Mass of reparation must be said in the church before regular Masses can continue, and noted that local religious orders of the diocese had already offered to observe days of fasting and prayer in reparation for the act. He encouraged lay Catholics to join in acts of prayer and reparation.

The Observatory on Intolerance and Discrimination Against Christians in Europe documented another incident on February 9 at the Church of Notre-Dame de Dijon in Côte-d'Or, about 175 miles to the south and east of Paris.

Again in this incident, the tabernacle was opened and the Eucharist scattered. An altar cloth was also stained and a missle book was torn.

Father Emmanuel Pic from Notre-Dame parish told La Bien Public news that since nothing of great monetary value was damaged, it seems the vandals wanted to attack the “heart of the Catholic faith.”

“Nothing of value has been broken, but it is the intent that is very shocking. This is what characterizes profanation,” Pic said.

The vandals seemed to have known that attacking the altar and the Eucharist would be “a very strong symbol for (parishioners), since the hosts consecrated during the previous Mass are no longer just a piece of bread in the eyes of Christians” but the body of Christ, he added. The priest also posted photos of the desecration to his Twitter account. Mass resumed at the parish after a Mass of reparation was said by the local archbishop.

In a statement posted to the group’s newsletter, Ellen Fantini, executive director of the Observatory on Intolerance and Discrimination Against Christians in Europe, joined local priests, bishops and civil authorities in condemning the “shocking” acts of vandalism.

“It is our sincere hope that the perpetrators are brought to justice and that awareness of increasing anti-Christian hostility in France reaches the public square,” she said.

In a statement posted to Twitter on February 13, Prime Minister of France Edouard Philippe also condemned the acts ahead of a meeting with the country’s bishops.

“In one week, in France, 5 degraded churches. In our secular Republic, places of worship are respected. Such acts shock me and must be unanimously condemned. I will tell the bishops of France at the meeting of the forum of dialogue with the Catholic Church,” he said.

Besides the confession in the incident at St. Nicholas Church, investigations are ongoing as to the perpetrators of these acts of vandalism.

While it is yet unclear if the incidents are at all related, they recall the series of attacks and vandalism that the Catholic Church in France and Belgium experienced in 2016 by the Islamic State. The worst of those attacks included the murder of Fr. Jacques Hamel, who was killed by jihadists while celebrating Mass at a church in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray in Normandy. The assailants entered the church and took the priest and four others hostage. Local law enforcement reported that the priest’s throat was slit in the attack, and that both of the hostage takers were shot dead by police.