Browsing News Entries

Religious leaders, scholars ask Obama to declare ISIS violence a genocide

Washington D.C., Oct 7, 2015 / 04:03 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- More than 100 religious leaders, scholars, and human rights advocates signed a letter Monday asking President Obama to formally declare the killing and displacement of Middle Eastern religious minorities a “genocide.”

“We humbly request that your office publicly acknowledge and denounce the Islamic State’s actions as genocide and act with all due haste to ensure that this ongoing, abominable crime is halted, prevented and punished and that the religious freedom and human dignity of all people currently suffering under the Islamic State are allowed to flourish,” the Oct. 5 letter stated.

The Islamic State – known also as ISIS and ISIL – has waged a campaign of violence against the religious minorities of the region, including the “Christian, Yezidi and Shia Muslim communities,” the letter said. The list of grievances includes “displacement, forced conversion, kidnapping, rape and death.”

The atrocities meet the United Nations’ definition of “genocide,” the letter claims.

ISIS has captured large parts of Syria and Iraq in the last two years and has established a strict caliphate, forcing the local religious minorities under pain of death to leave their homes, convert to Islam, or remain and pay a special tax.

They have consequently displaced myriads of Christians, Yazidi and Shia Muslims, inflicting countless atrocities upon those populations. In the Nineveh Plain alone in Northern Iraq, over 100,000 Christians have been displaced from their homes.

ISIS has also desecrated, looted, and destroyed monasteries, shrines, and other ancient relics and artifacts of the region.

The letter to President Obama was signed by numerous religious and civic leaders, including Carl Anderson, Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus; Professor Robert Destro of the Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law; and Dr. Thomas Farr, director of the Religious Freedom Project at Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs.

There are certain conditions that must be met for genocide, according to the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide.

There must be an “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial, or religious group.” The actions in question can range from murder to torture, kidnappings, prevention of births, and withholding of critical resources like food and water from a group of people.

A declaration of genocide also has international legal consequences. The offending parties must be tried before an international court or by a tribunal of the state where the alleged crimes were committed. Parties declaring genocide must also act to prevent further violence from taking place.

A resolution calling the atrocities genocide has already been introduced in the House by Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.), weeks earlier. It currently has 96 cosponsors.

Pope Francis, in his address before the United Nations General Assembly on Sept. 25, pleaded for the international community to protect endangered Middle Eastern religious minorities.

“I must renew my repeated appeals regarding to the painful situation of the entire Middle East, North Africa and other African countries, where Christians, together with other cultural or ethnic groups, and even members of the majority religion who have no desire to be caught up in hatred and folly, have been forced to witness the destruction of their places of worship, their cultural and religious heritage, their houses and property, and have faced the alternative either of fleeing or of paying for their adhesion to good and to peace by their own lives, or by enslavement,” he said.

In a later interview with CNA, Professor Robert Destro remarked that the Holy Father, with those words, used what is “the legal definition of genocide” to describe the atrocities without saying the actual word “genocide.”

Ultimately, the religious and ethnic minorities “face an existential crisis,” and their communities are threatened with “eventual non-existence without swift moral leadership on behalf of the administration and the international community,” the letter concluded.

Archbishop Chaput: We need more accurate translations of synod docs

Vatican City, Oct 7, 2015 / 04:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Synod of Bishops’ English-language translations are not always accurate and some synod fathers are worried about whether they will understand the synod’s final document before they vote on it, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia said Wednesday.

“Among English speakers, we don’t have typically the skills in as many languages as the French and the Spanish,” the archbishop said at an Oct. 7 press briefing at the Vatican.

“So one of the issues we’re dealing with is the official documents are in Italian, and the translations are more or less, accurate. Not always.”

Archbishop Chaput is a spokesman, also known as a relator, for one of the four English-language discussion circles at the synod. He said the English-speaking bishops have “the additional problem of trying to deal with very serious issues, in languages we don’t clearly understand.”

“As we move on to the process, there is a bit of worry in our group that when the final document is pronounced in Italian, and we’re asked to vote, we may not be very clear on what we’re voting for,” he said.

The archbishop faulted himself rather than Vatican personnel.

“That’s my problem, not the Holy See’s problem, because I don’t know languages as I wish I did, and perhaps I should.”

At the same time, the English-speaking bishops have asked for translations of the synod’s official documents, he said.

He noted that “we also have an English translation of Cardinal Erdo's talk; but it's not considered official, it's just background information.”

An English translation of Cardinal Erdo's Oct. 5 introductory speech to the synod fathers has been provided by Catholic News Agency. The Vatican had released the text only in Italian.

Archbishop Chaput also noted the importance of the wording used in the original, definitive versions of synod documents – not only their translations.

“The language is a big issue, it's not just sensitivity to the world but also sensitivity to the Gospel and the truth of the Gospel and we have to be careful in the language we use to protect both,” he said. “We must affirm the ninety-nine when we go looking for the one.”

During the press briefing, Fr. Federico Lombardi, the Holy See press officer, noted that while the statements, or interventions, of bishops at the synod will not be distributed by the press office, bishops are free to publicize the text of their own interventions at their will.

Archbishop Chaput in his Oct. 6 intervention suggested that the synod’s instrumentum laboris, or working document, appears to present “two conflicting views: pastoral despair or a decision to hope.”

“When Jesus experienced the pastoral despair of his apostles, he reminded them that for man a thing may seem impossible, but for God all things are possible,” the archbishop said.

He particularly reflected on paragraphs 7-10 of the working document, which discussed anthropological changes, cultural and social contradictions, and the weaknesses and strengths of the family.

While the archbishop praised these sections’ description of the condition of contemporary families, he worried that “overall, the text engenders a subtle hopelessness.”

“This leads to a spirit of compromise with certain sinful patterns of life and the reduction of Christian truths about marriage and sexuality to a set of beautiful ideals – which then leads to surrendering the redemptive mission of the Church,” he said. “The work of this synod needs to show much more confidence in the Word of God, the transformative power of grace, and the ability of people to actually live what the Church believes. And it should honor the heroism of abandoned spouses who remain faithful to their vows and the teaching of the Church.”

Archbishop Chaput cited the French writer George Bernanos’ definition of hope: “despair, overcome.”

“We have no reason to despair. We have every reason to hope. Pope Francis saw this himself in Philadelphia. Nearly 900,000 people crowded the streets for the papal Mass that closed the World Meeting of Families,” he added.

People attended the World Meeting of Families both because they love the Pope and because they believe in marriage and the family, he said. They were “hungry to be fed by real food from the Vicar of Jesus Christ.”

Archbishop Chaput made several recommendations to the synod.

“We need to call people to perseverance in grace and to trust in the greatness God intended for them –  not confirm them in their errors. Marriage embodies Christian hope – hope made flesh and sealed permanently in the love of a man and a woman,” he said.

“This synod needs to preach that truth more clearly with the radical passion of the Cross and Resurrection.”

What saves us from loneliness? Family! Pope Francis says

Vatican City, Oct 7, 2015 / 04:34 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Family rescues us from indifference and loneliness and teaches us the essentials of life, Pope Francis said – adding that as the family of God, the Church has the same role and must evaluate how to live this out. 

“Like Saint Peter, the Church is called to be a fisher of men, and so too needs a new type of net. Families are this net,” the Pope told pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square for his Oct. 7 general audience.

Families, he said, “free us from the sea of loneliness and indifference, so that we can all experience the freedom of being children of God.”

Pope Francis made his comments in his first general audience after the Oct. 4 launch of the Synod of Bishops, which is meeting for three weeks to discuss the theme “The vocation and mission of the family in the Church and in the contemporary world.”

After recently concluding a series of catechesis on the family as a lead-in to this year’s synod gathering, Pope Francis explained that he would start a new catechesis on the “indissoluble” relationship between the Church and the family, with the good of all humanity in mind.

He began by drawing attention to the synod’s theme, and said that the family today “requires our full attention and care, and the Synod must respond to this demand.”

“When families journey along the way of the Lord, they offer a fundamental witness to God’s love, and they deserve the full commitment and support of the Church,” he said.

Francis stressed that it’s inside the family that we learn and develop the bonds of fidelity, sincerity, trust, cooperation and respect which unite us, even when there are difficulties.

It is families who teach children how to honor one's word, to respect others and to understand one's limits, he said, adding that they also give “an irreplaceable attention to members who are smallest, most vulnerable, wounded and devastated in life.”

But the Pope also noted that despite the values families offer, they are frequently not supported by the political and economic sectors of life, which seem “to have lost the ability to incorporate the virtues of family life into the common life of society.”

It is here, he said, that the Church is called to live out her mission by first evaluating to what extent she is living as the family of God.

For the Church, the family “is like her Magna Carta: the Church is and must be the family of God,” he said.

The Pope explained that this can be seen in scripture when St. Paul says that those who were once far off are no longer strangers or guests, but rather “fellow citizens of the saints and the family of God.”

Through the Church, “Jesus again passes among us to persuade us that God has not forgotten us,” he said, adding that it is through the family that “the Church again goes out fishing in order to prevent men from drowning in the sea of loneliness and indifference.”

Referring to how, after a night of catching nothing, Peter cast his net out into the deep waters at Jesus’ command, Francis prayed that the Church herself would “go out into the deep” with confidence that she will have a good catch.

Pope Francis closed his audience by praying that the Synod Fathers, “inspired by the Holy Spirit, encourage the Church to cast out her net with confidence and faith in the Word of God.”

He then greeted pilgrims present from various countries around the world, and asked that those present continue to pray for the ongoing Synod on the Family. He prayed that they would always be witnesses to God’s love and mercy in the world.

Afterward, Francis offered a special greeting to a group of Iraqi refugees who were present in the audience, and entrusted both pilgrims and the work of the synod to the intercession of Our Lady of the Rosary.

What was JPII's secret to inspiring the youth? His mere presence, secretary says

Washington D.C., Oct 7, 2015 / 03:16 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Ahead of next year’s World Youth Day in Krakow, the long-time secretary for Pope John Paul II explained how the saint inspired a generation even though many never saw him in person.

“The thing that was attractive, that attracted young people to John Paul II, was not even what he was saying to them, but who he really was,” Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz of Krakow, told CNA through a translator.

For the youth, “it was enough for him to look at them, and they could feel his love toward them, and that’s why they were so close to him.”

“The Pope loved the youth, and he understood young people” who were searching for truth and beauty, the cardinal added, “and he was able to respond to their questions.” That bond still exists to this day, as seen at World Youth Day 2013 in Rio de Janeiro, when Pope Francis announced that the next one would be held in Krakow, “the city of John Paul II.”

“There was this great enthusiasm and joy of the young people who haven’t even met John Paul II,” Cardinal Dziwisz said. “They still see great authority in him.”

The cardinal spoke with CNA at the St. John Paul II National Shrine in Washington, D.C. on Oct. 2, after consecrating the altar for the shrine’s new Redeemer of Man Church.

At the end of the dedication of the altar, he extended an invitation “to all young people from the United States and Canada” to attend World Youth Day 2016 in Krakow.

“I take this opportunity for my visit on American soil to invite the young people from the United States and Canada to the 2016 World Youth Day to Poland and to Krakow, the city of John Paul II, the spiritual capital of divine mercy,” he said.

Poland will open its doors to pilgrims, he said, asking them in return to share “the enthusiasm of your faith.”

“We are very much looking forward to this mutual exchange of gifts,” he said.

Also present at the dedication Mass were concelebrant Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, supreme chaplain of the Knights of Columbus, and Carl Anderson, CEO of the Knights of Columbus.

The church’s altar, crafted by Italian sculptor Edoardo Ferrari, features the 12 apostles carved on its four sides. Seven relics of saints connected to Pope St. John Paul II and the evangelization of North America were deposited into the altar during the Mass.

In his homily for the dedication Mass, celebrant Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C. explained how the altar is the “symbol of Christ” in every church and also the place where the “Risen Lord” becomes “present to us” in the celebration of the Holy Eucharist.

The altar’s carvings of the 12 apostles represent the Church built upon the apostles, he explained. The apostles are facing outward, symbolizing their going out from the Body of Christ into the world.

In addition, the replica of St. Thomas the Apostle shows him touching the altar, the “tangible, visible, real, authentic sign of the Risen Christ,” just as St. Thomas touched the wounds of the Risen Christ in order to believe in the Resurrection.

“Our proclamation of faith when we approach this altar and we approach the celebration of the Eucharist on this altar,” Cardinal Wuerl said, must echo the words of St. Thomas in Scripture, “My Lord and my God.”

The entire church is full of “catechesis for pilgrims,” the shrine’s executive director Patrick Kelly explained to CNA, from the altar to the mosaics around the walls.

“What stands out in the mosaics is a vision of salvation history,” he explained, with one side showing the “history of sin” in the Old Testament and the other the “history of salvation.” This “culminates in Christ the High Priest” above the altar.

Evangelization of families is also a particular focus of the shrine, he added, since “the family was so close to John Paul II.”

In his remarks at the end of the Mass, Cardinal Dziwisz expounded upon the legacy of the Pope.

For St. John Paul II, “faith was the center of his life.” His was an “ordinary holiness, lived and attained day after day in daily prayer and service,” he explained.

“John Paul II was a mystic,” he added, noting that the Pope “would stand every day before God to contemplate the grace of God.”

During his pontificate, St. John Paul II preached “the logic of merciful love” and “called for building the civilization of love,” which was an answer to the materialism of the day,” the Cardinal said. His teaching on marriage and the family was expressed in his work Love and Responsibility as well as his apostolic exhortation Familiaris Consortio, “On the Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World.”

His 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae, “The Gospel of Life,” was “a great Magna Carta of the Church’s teaching on the dignity and sanctity of human life,” Cardinal Dziwisz said.

“John Paul II defended life, defended the right to live for the unborn, those that are the most vulnerable, and who do not have a voice,” he said.

Pope Francis backs the new synod process in an unanticipated speech

Vatican City, Oct 6, 2015 / 04:15 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- In an unexpected speech at the synod on Tuesday, Pope Francis has stated that this gathering is in continuity with 2014 synod, which he said never called into question the Church's teaching on marriage.

He also emphasized that the official documents of the 2014 synod are his two speeches, and its final report.

The full text of the Holy Father's intervention has not made public, but Fr. Federico Lombardi, director of the Holy See press office, reported about it in his Oct. 6 press briefing.

Pope Francis' speech came after Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, secretary general of the Synod of Bishops, had taken the floor to give a long explanation about the synod’s new methodology, as there had been on Monday several synod fathers asking for explanations about the new process, which had alarmed not a few of them.

According to Fr. Lombardi, Cardinal Baldisseri explained the synod’s new method, presented the 10 member commission the Pope appointed in order to assist in drafting the synod’s final report, and underscored that the procedure was approved by the Pope Sept. 7, during one of the sessions of the Council of the Synod.

After Cardinal Baldisseri’s intervention, the Pope wanted to take the floor, Fr. Lombardi recounted.
According to Fr. Lombardi, the Pope wanted “essentially to clarify two issues.”

The first is that “this synod must be lived in continuity with last year’s extraordinary synod.” The Pope then stressed – ‘with these very words,’ Fr. Lombardi said – that “from the extraordinary session of the synod, three are the official documents: the Pope’s inaugural speech, the Pope’s final speech, and the final report.”

The final report was controversial because it also included the midterm report paragraphs that had not gained the supermajority of two thirds – that is, they did not reach a consensus. Customarily, the propositions that do not reach a consensus have been removed from the final documents of synods.

However, the Pope underscored – Fr. Lombardi recounted – that “the Council of the Synod looked into the 2014 synod’s final report in the time between the extraordinary and the ordinary synod, and that the report has been integrated with other contributions,” and that the Synod’s working document is a result of this effort taken between the 2014 and 2015 synods.

“The Pope said the working document has been approved by the Synod’s Council in meetings in which the Pope himself took part,” Fr. Lombardi stressed.

Then Pope Francis wanted to clarify a second issue: that “Catholic teaching on marriage has not been put into question by the previous synod, and that synod fathers should not be conditioned to circumscribe the Synod to only the issue of access to Communion for the divorced-and-remarried,” said Fr. Lombardi.

While it is not unusual for the Pope to take the floor during a synod – Benedict XVI having done so in those held in 2008 and 2012 – it is however the first time the Pope's speeches at the synod are considered the official documents of the synod itself.

These contents will then be the guidelines of the upcoming discussions at this year's synod. The synod fathers are now divided into small groups by language, to discuss particular issues, having been so divided the afternoon of Oct. 6.

In these first two days, 72 synod fathers took the floor. Fr. Lombardi said there were 10 interventions from Latin America, 7 from North America, 26 from Europe, 12 from Africa, 8 from Asia and Oceania, and 6 from the Middle East. Italian and English have been the most used languages.