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USCCB: Staffer ‘elated’ by Harris VP pick spoke in ‘personal capacity’

CNA Staff, Aug 14, 2020 / 06:40 pm (CNA).- The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said Friday that a staff member who recently said she was “elated” by the selection of Senator Kamala Harris as Joe Biden’s presidential running mate was not speaking on behalf of the conference.

“At no point are Conference staff authorized to speak on behalf of the bishops in support of, or in opposition to, candidates for elected office,” said James Rogers, chief communications officer for the bishops’ conference.

“Because the comments in question may have led to confusion among the faithful, let me be clear,” he said in an Aug. 14 statement. “As Catholics, we are each called to evaluate candidates for public office by how closely their policies align with Gospel principles, as expressed by the U.S. bishops in Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship.”

Rogers did not address the substance of the staff member’s comment.

His statement coincided with a “clarification” by Catholic News Service (CNS), the official news service of the U.S. bishops’ conference, which said that Donna Grimes, associate director of African American affairs in the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat of Cultural Diversity in the Church, was giving a personal reaction as a Black Catholic to Harris’ selection in its Aug. 12 article.

CNS said that Grimes was not asked to represent the bishops’ conference in her comments, and that she did not present herself as representing the conference.

Grimes was identified by her position at the bishops’ conference in the CNS article, and remained identified in that way after CNS issued its clarification.

She told the agency that Harris was not her first pick as Biden’s running mate, but is “really deserving and brings a lot to the table.”

“I was so elated. We, the community, need good news, and this was just wonderful,” Grimes told CNS of her reaction to the announcement of Harris. She said she believes Biden and Harris will offer “policy that is favorable to people on the margins” and said she hopes that if elected, they will address health care reform and voting-rights issues.

Grimes did not mention the issues on which Biden and Harris have clashed with U.S. bishops, among them conscience protections in healthcare policy, same-sex marriage, and, most frequently, abortion. Biden and Harris have pledged to restore currently restricted federal funding for abortion. Harris has previously pledged to use federal law to restrict state laws regulating or limiting abortion.

Pope Francis has called abortion “inhuman eugenics,” urged its eradication, and said that the unborn are among those marginalized on the “existential peripheries,” for whom the Church must have special care.

Nor did Grimes mention Harris’ 2018 questioning of a judicial nominee over his membership of the Knights of Columbus. In questions about the impartiality of nominee Brian Buescher, Harris asked if Buescher was aware that the Knights of Columbus “opposed a woman’s right to choose” and were against “marriage equality” when he joined.

The senator’s remarks were subsequently criticized as anti-Catholic and one U.S. bishop, Archbishop Charles Chaput, characterized them as “bigoted.”

Both Biden and President Donald Trump have been criticized by the U.S. bishops’ conference, with Trump frequently facing criticism for his immigration policies, use of the federal death penalty, and cuts to social safety nets.

Last year, USCCB spokeswoman Judy Keane left the bishops’ conference after media reports said that she had tweeted in support of President Trump or in opposition to Democrats from her personal Twitter account.

Among Keane’s tweets was one that criticized Harris. Responding to a news story saying that Harris, then running for president, promised to raise teacher salaries, Keane wrote “She’ll be promising all kinds of things to get elected. Then she’ll raise taxes so hard-working Americans have to pay for it all. No thanks.”

After Keane’s tweets first emerged into the spotlight, the spokeswoman was placed on leave, and shortly thereafter left the bishops’ conference. The conference did not issue a clarification on Keane’s comments. Nor did it say whether she was fired or left voluntarily.

CNA reported Aug. 13 that a spokesperson for the U.S. bishops’ conference had said, “The Conference is a non-partisan 501(c)(3) organization that does not endorse or oppose specific candidates for office. Comments by individual Conference employees are not necessarily a reflection of the Conference’s official position.”

CNA has asked the conference for its employee guidelines on political speech, but the conference has not yet provided it.


Portland street evangelist: More Bibles ‘prayed with’ than burned at protests

Denver Newsroom, Aug 14, 2020 / 05:05 pm (CNA).- A Portland street evangelist whose Bibles were burned in an Aug. 1 street protest says although he is disappointed that some of the Bibles he distributed were destroyed, he believes the positive impact of his ministry outweighs the negative actions of a few protestors.

Alan Summerhill, an Evangelical Christian, told CNA he has been giving out free Bibles out of his truck in cities across the Pacific Northwest ever since his retirement three and a half years ago. He said he typically buys cases of Bibles, for about a dollar per book, to give away.

He told CNA his evangelistic mission has brought him to cities throughout the US, but his main focus is the Portland, Oregon area. In addition to giving out Bibles, Summerhill said he also prays outside the local Planned Parenthood several days a week.

When the protests started in Portland around May 28, Alan was on the road. When he got back, he said he was somewhat reticent to approach the protests, but ultimately decided to go because of the evangelistic opportunity. So he parked his truck near the federal courthouse, the epicenter of most of the protest activity.

The Portland protests often have taken the form of crowds of hundreds of masked people protesting, ostensibly, against racism, police brutality, and fascism.

Summerhill, who told CNA he is “nearly 60,” said that he gave away dozens of free Bibles to street protestors in Portland during the week leading up to Aug. 1— most of which were surprisingly well-received.

"When I'm out, I find a great hunger and desire for the Word," he said.

He said between the night of Sunday, July 26 and the following Friday, he gave out 68 Bibles in downtown Portland, all "to people who appeared to eagerly want them."

But in the early morning hours of Aug. 1, masked protestors burned two Bibles, along with several American flags, in a bonfire in the street during the protest outside the federal courthouse.

Summerhill did not witness his Bibles being burned, but he says when he saw a video posted online of the burnings, there was no mistaking the red-and-white cover of the New King James Version (NKJV) Bibles that he distributes.

While reports of the incident from both local sources and national media, mentioned “a truck” giving out free Bibles that night, Summerhill said no one had contacted him to ask if he had provided the Bibles until he was reached by CNA.

Some media outlets reported "stacks" of Bibles burned in the streets on Aug. 1, which Summerhill and other sources have confirmed was not accurate. Summerhill "unequivocally" denied that any of his Bibles were ever unsecured, stolen, or taken in "stacks" to be burned.

Despite his disappointment that a few protestors showed such disrespect for the Bibles he gave out, Summerhill is optimistic that the many Bibles he distributed will make an impact, even if the burned ones are gone.

“I see maybe two being burned after a week where almost 70 were distributed. Many more were prayed with. Many, many more welcomed us. The Gospel is proclaimed,” Summerhill said in an Aug. 1 tweet.

“Jesus is declared. There remains an unreported story.”

Summerhill told CNA that in his ministry, he has given out about 450 Bibles this year, and talked and prayed with many passersby. He stressed that his ministry is not about him or his own fame and recognition, but rather about meeting people where they are and ministering to them.

Every time he hands out a free Bible, Summerhill says he asks the recipient to read it and be willing to discuss it with him if they see him again. He says nearly everyone agrees to those conditions.

Summerhill said his ministry is different than what most people might think of when they envision Evangelical street ministry. He does not carry a bullhorn, does not preach, and he does not aggressively push his Bibles on passersby, he said.

Instead, he merely puts up his “Free Bibles” sign and waits for people to approach him, he said.

“And I've averaged about a Bible an hour over the past three years," of being outside with the sign, he said.

Handing out Bibles at the Portland protests was not without danger, he said.

Federal agents responding to the protests in Portland have garnered criticism for using tear gas and other forceful methods against protesters. Summerhill himself says he was, at one point, caught in a tear gas assault as federal agents attempted to break up the protests.

Some of the protests have been accompanied by riots and looting. In addition to extensive property damage in the city’s downtown, there have been occasional incidents of violence within or adjacent to the protests, including shootings and stabbings.

Despite this, Summerhill says he has observed mostly peaceful demonstrations in the downtown area where he and a mission partner have worked to spread the Gospel.

"The three days I was there...I would say we were welcomed. The narrative of what's going on seems to be fueled by people with a political agenda," he opined.

Summerhill pointed out that neither he, nor anyone else who has yet publicly come forward, knows who exactly it was who burned the Bibles on Aug. 1. He said he thinks it could easily have been provocateurs from either side of the political divide.

"I have every reason to wonder who was burning the Bibles. No one has claimed responsibility, no one has identified anybody,” he said.

Summerhill noted that he sees God among many Black Lives Matters protestors. As a firsthand observer of the protests, he said the widespread perception of the protestors as a monolithic, Godless, and Marxist movement is inaccurate.

He added that he does not support the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation, an organization that promotes LGBT ideology and is often an organizer of Black Lives Matter protests.

But Summerhill said he personally has met many protestors, both in Portland and Seattle, who told him they identify as Christian.

"It is flat wrong to say that there is no Christian element in what is going on in Portland," he said.

"The answer to our problems is Jesus Christ. And if we can't figure that out, we might as well throw in the towel.”


Nebraska governor to sign D&E abortion ban into law

Denver Newsroom, Aug 14, 2020 / 04:14 pm (CNA).- Governor Pete Ricketts of Nebraska is set to sign a ban on dilation and evacuation abortions into law at a ceremony on Saturday, after the bill passed the state legislature on Thursday.

The Nebraska Catholic Conference, one of the main organizations supporting the legislation, announced that the signing would take place outside on the steps of the state capitol at 11am Aug. 15. Attendees are asked to wear a mask.

Lauren Garcia, communication specialist for the NCC, told CNA that they are happy that Ricketts is signing the bill into law right away, and in a public setting, because only five days remain in the current legislative session.

"He could have done something private, and we just hear about [the signing] later, but we wanted to make this a celebration, because this is the most significant pro-life legislation that's been passed since our 20-week ban ten years ago," Garcia told CNA.

"Even though we're in the midst of COVID and all that, we thought it would be a good opportunity for people to come out to an outside event, with plenty of safe social distance, just to celebrate this big accomplishment."

D&E abortions, commonly known as dismemberment abortions, are typically done in the second trimester of pregnancy and result in the dismemberment of an unborn child.

State Sen. Suzanne Geist (District 25-Lincoln) introduced LB814 in January. Twenty-one state senators joined the legislation as co-sponsors upon its introduction, with another four joining later.

Ricketts came out in strong support of the measure upon its introduction.

“This barbaric procedure literally rips apart a preborn child, piece by piece, to destroy the life of the baby. I urge Senators to act quickly to end this horrendous form of abortion,” Ricketts said.

“Protecting the dignity of life has been, is, and will remain a core value of what it means to be a Nebraskan. I invite you to join us in affirming the preciousness of unborn life and in opposing the brutal practices used to end it,” he said.

The bill specifically bans the use of clamps, forceps, or similar instruments in abortion procedures.

NCC, Nebraska Family Alliance, and Nebraska Right to Life are co-hosting the signing event. Geist, the sponsor of the legislation, is also expected to be in attendance at the signing.

The measure passed its first vote in Nebraska’s unicameral legislature Aug. 5 by a 34-9 vote. Multiple senators attempted to filibuster the bill at that point, but the bill earned the 33 votes necessary to break the filibuster as Geist moved to invoke cloture.

On Aug. 13, the final vote stood at 33-8. State Sen. Carol Blood (3-Bellevue) abstained from voting after saying she had concerns that the ban would not apply if suction is used to remove pieces of a fetus, nor would it apply if the fetus was killed before being removed, a process that Blood called equally horrific, according to the Omaha World-Herald.

According to the pro-abortion Guttmacher Institute, to date 11 states have passed bans on dilation and evacuation abortions, though because of courts blocking the measures, the bans in two states, Mississippi and West Virginia, are currently in effect; and an appeals court recently ruled to allow Arkansas’ D&E ban to come into effect Aug. 28.

Opponents of the Nebraska bill have maintained that courts will likely deem the legislation unconstitutional under Roe v. Wade.

However, Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson recently released an opinion, at the request of State Sen. Ernie Chambers, concluding that LB814 is "likely constitutional” because it “does not appear that it will impose a substantial obstacle on abortion access in Nebraska.”

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit ruled Aug. 7 to reinstate the 2017 Arkansas laws. They can take effect Aug. 28, although they may still face legal challenges. The laws include a ban on abortions based solely on the sex of the baby, and two regulations on the preservation and disposal of tissue from aborted babies, as well as legislation prohibiting D&E abortions.

A district judge had blocked the rules following a legal challenge from the ACLU and the Center for Reproductive Rights on behalf of a local abortion doctor.

A federal judge during July 2019 blocked Indiana’s D&E ban from taking effect.

Over 100 Democratic politicians call for platform changes to welcome pro-lifers

Washington D.C., Aug 14, 2020 / 03:49 pm (CNA).- More than 100 Democratic politicians have sent a letter to the party’s Platform Committee, calling for changes in the platform to accept pro-life Democrats and assure them that their view will be respected.

“In the U.S., pro-life Democrats have been a critical part of the coalition to expand voting rights, improve health care, and pass criminal justice reform,” the letter said. “These accomplishments would not have been possible if the Democratic Party had in place a litmus test on abortion.”

The letter voiced concern that the party’s leaders and official platform have moved to an extreme position on abortion in the last two decades, sending a message to Democrats that they do not belong in the party unless they oppose all limits on abortion.

This view fails to acknowledge that one in three Democrats are pro-life, the letter stressed, adding that as a party which prides itself on inclusivity and diversity, the Democrats must welcome and respect it’s 21 million pro-life members.

Dated August 14, the letter was signed by 105 elected Democratic politicians, both current and retired. Signatories include local officials and state legislators, as well as nine members of Congress and three governors.

Among the signatories were Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards, who signed a “heartbeat bill” into law earlier in 2019, and U.S. Senator Katrina Jackson, who authored the Louisiana law on abortion clinic admitting privileges that the Supreme Court struck down earlier this year.

Another signatory was U.S. Senator Mike Gabbard of Hawaii, father of U.S. Representative Tulsi Gabbard, whose support for limiting abortion in the third trimester put her in stark contrast with most of the other candidates vying for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.

According to Democrats for Life of America, dozens of additional politicians said they quietly supported the letter but feared the repercussions of signing it.

The letter’s signers said they worried about a type of pro-abortion litmus test that has been created within the Democratic Party.

They suggested that pro-abortion language within the party’s platform is radical and out-of-touch with the views of Americans.

While prominent party leaders have endorsed legal abortion on-demand at any time in a pregnancy, polls indicate that 79% of Americans oppose this view, they said.

They noted that the 2016 Democratic Platform endorses taxpayer funding for abortion, both in the U.S. and in developing nations – ideas that the majority of Americans reject.

The signers warned that the rigid pro-abortion views of the party’s leaders are driving voters away.

“In 389 out of 435 Congressional districts, a majority of voters support a ban on abortion after 20 weeks,” they said. “When Democratic leaders support late-term abortion, they push many voters into the arms of the Republican Party. Many people holding pro-life views are single-issue voters.”

The letter called on the party to reintroduce language into the platform recognizing a diversity of views on abortion and pledging that the consciences of all party members will be respected.

In the year 2000, the Democratic platform included such language in regards to abortion, saying, “We respect the individual conscience of each American on this difficult issue, and we welcome all our members to participate at every level of our party.” As late as 2004, the platform called for abortion to be “safe, legal and rare.”

By 2016, however, the conscience language had been dropped from the platform and the word “rare” was no longer used alongside repeated calls to make abortion “safe and legal.”

Pro-life advocates both within and outside of the Democratic Party have objected to these changes, arguing that the party has become increasingly extreme on the issue.

Joe Biden’s presumptive nomination as the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, and his selection of Senator Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) as his running mate, have prompted further concerns.

Last year, Biden shifted his position on the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits the use of Medicaid funds for most abortions. After voting for the original amendment in 1976 and supporting it for decades, Biden announced last summer that he opposed the Hyde Amendment. His change in position came amid criticism from other Democratic candidates, particularly Harris.

Harris has been prominent in pushing to limit the operations of pro-life groups.

As California attorney general, she drew criticism from the state Catholic conference by sponsoring a bill compelling pro-life pregnancy centers to advertise “free or low-cost” abortions to their clients. That law was overturned by the Supreme Court in 2018.

While seeking the Democratic presidential nomination last year, Harris proposed a plan that would bar some states from changing their abortion laws without federal approval.

As a senator, she has also co-sponsored legislation to bar any government from imposing a wide variety of limitations on abortion.

CDC report finds one in four young adults contemplate suicide

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Aug 14, 2020 / 02:05 pm (CNA).- Over a quarter of young adults aged 18-24 have seriously contemplated suicide over the last month, a new Centers for Disease Control survey has found. 

The report, titled “Mental Health, Substance Use, and Suicidal Ideation During the COVID-19 Pandemic — United States, June 24–30, 2020” was published on August 14. The data was collected from adults across the United States in late June. 

Tommy Tighe, a marriage and family counselor and host of the Catholic mental health podcast “Saint Dymphna’s Playbook,” told CNA that he found the data to be “really heartbreaking, though expected.” 

After months of extended lockdowns across the country, and anxieties about the coronavirus pandemic, Tighe said “our baseline level of anxiety has gone up during this experience.” 

“Trying to live with this higher baseline has certainly impacted our ability to tolerate frustration and stress.”

According to the CDC, “40.9% of respondents reported at least one adverse mental or behavioral health condition, including symptoms of anxiety disorder or depressive disorder (30.9%), symptoms of a trauma- and stressor-related disorder (TSRD) related to the pandemic (26.3%), and having started or increased substance use to cope with stress or emotions related to COVID-19 (13.3%).”

Those figures rose considerably among certain groups. Nearly three out of four adults aged 18-24 and slightly more than half of adults aged 25-44 reported “at least one adverse mental or behavioral health symptom” in the survey. Among Hispanics, 52.1% of respondents reported at least one adverse mental health symptom related to the pandemic, as well as two-thirds of respondents who had less than a high school diploma. 

Fifty-four percent of essential workers surveyed said they had experienced at least one adverse mental or behavioral health symptom related to COVID-19. 

Of all respondents, 10.7% reported “having seriously considered suicide” in the 30 days prior to taking the survey. That number rose to 25.5% of respondents aged 18-24, to 18.6% of Hispanic respondents, and to 15.1% of non-Hispanic black respondents. Just over 30% of “self-reported unpaid caregivers for adults” and 21.7% of self-reported essential workers said that they too had seriously considered suicide in the last month. 

Tighe said the bleak figures reflected a lack of mental health awareness in wider culture and a lack of access to services.

“Mental health symptoms and healthy coping skills to combat those symptoms are ignored by our culture at large, and thus many of us are left utterly unprepared for dealing with an experience of this magnitude,” he said. 

With the COVID-19 pandemic, schools of all levels throughout the country closed to in-person instruction. For graduating seniors at colleges and universities--most of whom are in the 18-24 age group--this meant that their final semester of college was spent online. Many students had their jobs or internships canceled due to the unstable economic effects of the pandemic. 

James Marafino, a Catholic social worker in the Washington, DC area, told CNA that these factors have certainly played a role in the feelings reported by 18-24 year olds.

“This is the age when [young adults] are going to college and finding employment,” Marafino told CNA. “This is one of their first experiences with independent living, and they are managing a pandemic most likely on their own.”

“This would cause significant mental/emotional distress. They may feel their lives are on hold or delayed, and do not know when they can ‘resume their lives,’” he said. 

Sophia Swinford, the founder of Catholic Mental Health, a nonprofit organization aiming to increase awareness and access to mental health resources for Catholics, told CNA that she is concerned that the stigma surrounding suicide prevents people, particularly those of a religious faith, from getting help. 

“It’s ironic--‘stigma’ comes from a word that refers to a mark or brand on a slave, and it is from this word that we get ‘stigmata,’” said Swinford. “So maybe it is precisely the ‘stigma’ around these people’s sufferings that should make it clear we are called to serve Christ in them.” 

Swinford called the rates of suicide and suicidal idelation a “social failure.” 

“We as a society have failed those individuals, and it’s about time we start to give serious discernment to how we can change that,” she said. 

Both Tighe and Marafino told CNA that they believe it is important to reach out to one another during this time. 

“We need to talk to each other and see how people are doing,” said Marafino. “We live in a time when we have technology to be in consistent contact with each other.” 

Spirituality plays a role in mental health as well. 

People need to “pray for each other like everything depends on it,” said Tighe. He also suggested that people facing stress set aside time to “pause, breathe, pray, medidate,” and to take note of their feelings without judgment. 

Tighe suggested taking a break from media and other settings that heighten anxiety is also important. 

“Remember to take breaks from upsetting content,” Tighe added.

“Social media really works against us. If we’re trying to work on our anxiety, we need to pay attention to the impact it is having on us and take breaks when needed.”

Christian advocacy group hails Israel-Emirates deal

CNA Staff, Aug 14, 2020 / 11:00 am (CNA).- An advocacy group for Christians and other religious minorities living in the Middle East has praised an agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates announced Aug. 13. 

On Thursday, President Donald Trump announced the diplomatic accord, and released a statement on the normalization of relations between the United Arab Emirates and Israel which included a provision that Israel will “suspend declaring sovereignty” over some areas of the West Bank. 

In Defense of Christians President Toufic Baaklini called the agreement a “historic step in the peace process” in a statement released on Thursday. UAE is now the first Persian Gulf state and, after Egypt and Jordan, the third Arab nation, to have open diplomatic relations with Israel.

“We are pleased that Israel is suspending plans to annex new areas of the West Bank, as the historic Christian communities of the Holy Land have voiced their concern about this issue,” said Baaklini.

Baaklini, however, said that there is still “much more work to be done” for advancing the cause of religious freedom in the Middle East, and that he hopes that Christians in the area are not ignored during the process. 

“We encourage all parties to Middle East Peace Talks to continue to consult with the historic Christian communities of the Holy Land in these negotiations,” he added. 

“IDC hopes that this is a positive step towards establishing a fair and lasting peace among all Middle Eastern nations,” he said.

In February last year, Pope Francis made an historic trip to the UAE, the first by a pope to the Arabian peninsula. While there, Francis signed a joint document on human fraternity with the Grand Imam of al-Azhar, Ahmed el-Tayeb. The document condemned “all forms of violence, especially those with religious motivation,” and committed the two leaders “to spreading authentic values and peace throughout the world.”

The UAE has strict laws governing religion, including the death penalty for Musilms who convert to another religion.

Following Thursday’s announcement, leaders from Egypt, Oman, and Bahrain co-signed a letter of support for the agreement. Oman and Bahrain presently do not have embassies in Israel and neither country has ever recognized Israel. 

"I thank Egyptian President al-Sisi, and the governments of Oman and Bahrain, for their support of the historic peace treaty between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, which is expanding the circle of peace and will be good for the entire region,” said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Aug. 14. 

Other states in the region have criticized the accord. Iran’s state news agency IRNA quoted the country’s foreign ministry calling the agreement a “strategic act of idiocy” and “dangerous.” 

A spokesperson for Palestinian National Authority president Mahmoud Abbas said the Palestinian government “rejects and denounces” the agreement. 

“The Palestinian leadership rejects the actions of the Emirati government, considering it to be a betrayal of the Palestinian people and Jerusalem and [the] al-Aqsa [mosque in Jerusalem],” said Nabil Abu Rudeineh.

Mauritius oil spill: Catholic cardinal says local villages are suffering

Rome Newsroom, Aug 14, 2020 / 10:31 am (CNA).- After a damaged ship leaked more than 1,000 tons of oil off the coast of Mauritius, the Bishop of Port-Louis is worried about the consequences for local fishing villages who depend on the dying sea life in the island’s coral reefs.

“Many families are afflicted by a lingering stench; fishermen and all those who earn their living on the sea, suffer particularly,” Cardinal Maurice Piat said in a diocesan statement Aug. 11.

All Mauritians have been touched by the “ecological disaster,” Piat said, adding that the communities in Mahébourg, Rivière-des-Créoles, and the villages of the east coast of the island have been particularly affected.

The oil spill came from a Japanese cargo ship that ran aground on a reef in late July, cracking its hull. On Aug. 13 the Mauritian Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth said that almost all of the remaining oil has now been removed from the damaged ship.

The cardinal said that there has been serious ecological damage to the bay, coast, and islets. Mauritius is known for its clear blue waters and rich biodiversity, which includes 1,700 species of marine life living in its lagoons and coral reefs.

Piat expressed gratitude to the local volunteers and civil society groups who organized to clean up and protect beaches, and encouraged more Christians to volunteer.

“I appeal to all Christians who can and especially to young people,” Piat said. “If you want to get involved in this cause, you can register with the Ministry of the Environment.”

Mauritius is a small island nation located off the eastern coast of Africa in the Indian Ocean. The whole country is 790 square miles with just over 1.2 million people. It has one diocese and one apostolic vicariate.

Pope Francis visited Mauritius nearly one year ago during his apostolic visit to three East African countries.

In Mauritius, the pope urged civil leaders not to let the country’s economic development come at the expense of the poor and the environment.

Pope Francis encouraged the Mauritian leaders to “promote a change in the way we live, so that economic growth can really benefit everyone without the risk of causing ecological catastrophes or serious social crises.”

Arlington diocese launches online-only Catholic school

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Aug 14, 2020 / 09:05 am (CNA).- The Diocese of Arlington is launching a new virtual school for families who want a Catholic education but are worried about sending their children back to in-person classes this September as the country still comes to grips with the coronavirus pandemic. 

The St. Isidore of Seville Virtual School was announced on August 12, in a press release from the Diocese of Arlington. The school, which is named after the patron saint of the internet, aims to be fully operational on September 8. 

Like most Catholic schools, St. Isidore of Seville will have Mass every week, along with daily prayer and preparation for the reception of sacraments. Unlike most Catholic schools, St. Isidore will have no in-person instruction, by design. 

The school will serve students in kindergarten through grade eight, and class sizes will be capped at 23 people.

“We hope this new virtual school provides parents concerned about their children returning to the classroom an option they are confident will meet the high standard of excellence they have come to expect throughout our schools,” said Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of Arlington in a statement announcing the school. 

Students at St. Isidore will be taught from the same curriculum as their brick-and-mortar peers in the diocese. 

Burbidge praised the “great creativity and flexibility” among the Catholic school community in the diocese “that has made this new endeavor a reality.” 

Dr. Joseph Vorbach, the Superintendent for Catholic Schools in the Diocese of Arlignton, told CNA that the school came about with the assistance of Burbidge during the planning process for re-opening. All of the diocese’s schools will have in-person instruction this coming school year, although some will do a hybrid model of in-person and e-learning. 

Vorbach said there was a realization “that there may be some families who are committed to Catholic education, but not ready to have their child go back into the brick and mortar school building,” as well as teachers who are at increased risk of coronavirus due to various factors.

“It started to coalesce around the idea that, ‘maybe we could develop a virtual school,’” Vorbach told CNA. This virtual school would be able to address both the needs of families, as well as “take advantage of the talents of teachers who find themselves in that situation.” 

Burbidge, he said, was “very supportive,” and that much work was done very quickly to get things ready before the school was announced. 

Tuition is set at $6,000 per year before financial aid--lower than the Catholic rate for diocesan elementary schools--and Catholic families with children at other Catholic schools in the diocese who move their children to St. Isidore will be able to apply their current financial aid discounts. Rebates will also be available if the school’s max capacity of 207 is reached. 

Tuition for other Catholic schools in the diocese varies school-to-school and depends on the number of children sent by a family, and if the family is Catholic and lives within the parish; it can be as high as $11,000 under some circumstances, and as low as $6,200 in others.

The first priority for enrollment at St. Isidore’s will be local Catholic families who were attending other schools in the diocese, said Vorbach. After diocesan families have registered, consideration will be given to those from outside the diocese who are interested in a virtual Catholic learning environment. Standard tuition is the same for all families.

Families who enroll at St. Isidore are committing for virtual education for the entirety of the 2020-2021 academic year, said Vorbach. However, their child’s slot at their previous diocesan school will be reserved for the 2021-2022 academic year if they wish to return to in-person instruction in the following Autumn. 

Vorbach told CNA that the diocese had conducted a series of surveys on virtual learning during the last semester to identify the best practices for a potential hybrid or all-online model for the coming school year. 

“The St. Isidore model is the beneficiary of everything that was learned during the spring, both in terms of technical components, as well as pedagogical components, and so on,” said Vorbach. 

“In the past, you couldn't say necessarily that anybody or any school had really tried to work through ‘What's the Catholic identity of a virtual school look like, and how do you do that?’’ Vorbach told CNA. 

The challenges of running a virtual Catholic school were unprecedented, said Vorbach. He told CNA he was not sure if there is any other entirely-virtual Catholic school in the country, except the Archdiocese of Miami Virtual Catholic School (ADOM-VCS). That school was founded in 2013. 

Unlike St. Isidore of Seville, which is for full-time online students in elementary and middle school grades, ADOM-VCS offers both full-time online programs as well as “blended learning” programs with archdiocesan schools for all grades.   

“In the spring, through the creative efforts of a lot of teachers and administrators, we saw all kinds of ways in which the Catholic identity and the particular Catholic identity of different parish schools was highlighted, reinforced, strengthened,” he said. 

While St. Isidore of Seville Virtual School is set to go for the coming school year, Vorbach told CNA that he is not sure if the school will continue on for years to come. 

“We want to evaluate the service--the niche, if you will--that this school provides,” said Vorbach. 

If things go smoothly, and it makes financial sense to continue the school in the future, “we can really seriously look at it as a component of a thorough, flourishing Catholic education going forward in the future,” he said. 

After Beirut blast, what some Lebanese Christians are doing to help their neighbors

Denver Newsroom, Aug 14, 2020 / 04:00 am (CNA).- Last Tuesday, Julie Tegho and her husband Hicham Bou Nassif were enjoying an ordinary day at their local mall in Beirut, Lebanon. Without warning, they felt what seemed like an earthquake, followed by a mighty blast that shattered the glass all around them.

“For a second I thought the mall was falling on our heads,” Tegho told CNA. “The sound was so strong and deafening that it took us a couple of seconds to realize we had to leave the mall, because it was such a tremendous shock."

The massive explosion in the port area of Lebanon’s capital on Aug. 4 overturned cars, shattered windows, set fires, and damaged buildings across Beirut, a city of more than 350,000, with a metro area of more than 2 million people.

The ABC Mall where the couple was during the blast is located less than a mile from the port, the epicenter of the explosion.

Tegho and Bou Nassif were on different levels of the mall when the explosion hit, and struggled for several minutes to find each other in the ensuing chaos and deafening alarms. The blast had knocked out cellular coverage, making communication that much more difficult.

When Tegho did find her husband, he was bleeding from his forehead. She says they walked from the mall to her parents’ nearby home, to deal with his wound, and later they took him to the hospital.

“It’s only when we started walking that I started to grasp the magnitude of the blast, and we realized it was not just a car bombing, it was something much bigger," she said. “It was just a post-apocalyptic scene.”

Bou Nassif, an assistant professor of government who teaches at a college in California,  is now recovering with several stitches.

The windows of the couple’s house, located further from the blast, were blown out, but their house did not suffer serious damage. Tegho said her sister, who was babysitting, was able to shield their months-old baby from the flying glass.

Tegho, a high school social studies teacher, said she believes there is not a single person in Beirut that was not affected in some way by the disaster— whether they had their home or business damaged or destroyed, had a family member injured or killed, or were themselves a casualty.

Her cousin, who was much nearer to the port, managed to escape serious injury, she said. The school where Tegho teaches has been completely destroyed, she said.

As of Aug. 12, more than 200 people are confirmed dead, more than 5,000 injured and hundreds of thousands have been rendered homeless. The UN Refugee Agency has also reported that at least 34 refugees were among those killed in the blast.

Volunteers have been clearing rubble from houses since the day after the blast, Tegho said.

Beirut Governor Marwan Abboud has estimated that the explosion has caused as much as $10-15 billion in damages and as many as 300,000 people to be temporarily displaced from their homes, according to the BBC.

Many buildings and warehouses along the docks were completely destroyed, and the explosion’s shockwave caused damage within a six-mile radius.

Bou Nassif said because of where the blast occurred, the worst of the damage happened to majority-Christian neighborhoods. The adjacent areas included Beirut’s mostly Christian neighborhoods of Mar Maroun and Achrafieh.

As a result, he said, most of the aid is coming from Christian aid agencies, as well as the Maronite Catholic Church.

The Philos Project, a group that advocates for Christians in the Near East, as part of a broader goal of religious pluralism in the region and of educating Western Christians on their situation, is one such Christian organization helping those affected by the disaster in Lebanon.

Tegho said she and her husband are spearheading an initiative called Human Chain, which she said was formed in October 2019 to help the poor in the midst of protests against the government.

"In the aftermath of the disaster, we realized we could use our Human Chain network to help in relief efforts," she said.

Tegho said the main goal of the Human Chain at the moment is helping to ensure people’s homes are safe to occupy, and they have a functional living space and bathroom.

“This is where volunteers have been doing most of the work, because there has been no government involved in that [effort,” she said.
“Helping to remove the debris, making sure people who have lost everything have places to go to whether it's the church, whether it's friends, family, et cetera. But it's still too soon for those houses to be rebuilt.”

In addition to delivering food aid, Tegho and Bou Nassif have been helping to clear the rubble and ensure their neighbors do not end up on the streets.

They are also hoping to raise $30,000 for relief efforts through a GoFundMe campaign.

Tegho said the Philos Project has set up a fund of $10,000 to help the Human Chain in its humanitarian efforts. Philos is encouraging donations to its Action Fund on its website.

Bou Nassif said the best way to help the people of Lebanon is to donate to Christian agencies, rather than to the Lebanese government.

“You give money to the Lebanese state, you're not giving money to any poor person in Lebanon, Christian, or not. You're giving money to Lebanon politicians,” he opined.

On Aug. 10, Lebanon’s Maronite Catholic patriarch, Cardinal Bechara Boutros Rai, called for the resignation of the entire Lebanese government, adding that it is “necessary to hold everyone responsible accountable for this massacre and catastrophe.” The Prime Minister and the rest of the government subsequently resigned later that day.

Though millions of dollars of aid has poured in from Western governments, Bou Nassif said he trusts the Christian agencies much more than the government to distribute aid to the poor.

"Some money will come from governments, but the money that will come immediately, before this is resolved, will be coming from churches, concerned citizens, people with the Christian minority in Lebanon," Bou Nassif said.

“The biggest actors are the Maronite Church, the Lebanese Red Cross, the local Catholic relief or rescue organizations; they should be helped to help people,” he said.

Officials have not yet determined the cause of the explosions, but investigators believe they may have started with a fire in a warehouse that stored 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate, a fertilizer that can be made into an explosive. Lebanon’s security service warned against speculations of terrorism before investigators could assess the situation.

Bou Nassif told CNA that the widespread sentiment throughout the city is that Hezbollah, a hardline Islamic party in Lebanon, is to blame for the accident.

Sixty percent of Lebanon’s people are Muslim, evenly split among Sunni and Shia, and nearly 35% of the country’s population is Christian, most of whom are Maronite Catholic Christians. Lebanon also has a small Jewish population, as well as Druze and other religious communities.

Other Christian aid agencies, as well as the Red Cross, have been active in the city following the disaster.

Despite damages to their own facilities, Catholic Relief Services has provided relief to the victims of the explosion. Caritas Lebanon has offered water and hot meals at several locations throughout Beirut. Caritas health care centers have also opened, and a mobile medical unit and mental health team have been available to the public.


Korean cardinal to consecrate Pyongyang Diocese to Mary on Assumption

CNA Staff, Aug 14, 2020 / 12:38 am (CNA).- The Archbishop of Seoul, Cardinal Andrew Yeom Soo-jung, has announced that he will consecrate the Diocese of Pyongyang to Our Lady of Fatima on the Solemnity of the Assumption.

“In this meaningful year, marking the 75th anniversary of [Korean] Liberation and the 70th anniversary of the outbreak of the Korean War, I decided to dedicate the Pyongyang Diocese to Our Lady of Fatima through careful prayer and discernment,” Cardinal Yeom wrote in a message for the Assumption feast published on the archdiocesan website.

“I hope that the North Korean Church will be able to praise the Lord again in joy and peace as soon as possible through the protection and help of Our Lady,” Yeom said.

It will be the first consecration of the Pyongyang Diocese to Our Lady of Fatima since the diocese was established in 1927, according to the cardinal. The dedication will take place in a Mass in Seoul’s Myeongdong Cathedral on August 15.

The Marian feast on August 15 has a special place in the historical memory of the entire Korean peninsula as it coincides with “Liberation Day,” the date that Korea was liberated from Japanese colonial rule. It is the only Korean public holiday celebrated in both North and South Korea.

“I hope that the day will come soon when we will be able to share the joy and happiness of the Assumption with our North Korean brothers and sisters,” Yeom said.

The South Korean cardinal said that he asked Pope Francis for a special blessing for the Diocese of Pyongyang and that the pope will ask for the Virgin Mary’s protection on the date of consecration.

Cardinal Yeom serves as both the Archbishop of Seoul and the apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Pyongyang, North Korea’s capital.

“In the midst of the division of North and South Korea following liberation and the vortex of the Korean War in 1950, all of our nation suffered beyond words,” Yeom said.

“Religious people had to face greater suffering. Throughout the Korean War, all cathedrals in North Korea were closed and the monasteries were disbanded. In addition, priests, religious, and Christians were mercilessly arrested and suffered torment or killed,” he said.

The suffering of Christians in North Korean continues today. A report published by the United Nations human rights commission on July 28 details sexual violence, forced abortion, and torture of women in North Korea’s prisons.

The report is based on interviews with North Korean women who were detained in North Korea between 2009 and 2019 after attempting to escape by crossing the Sino-Korean border. An informal network of Christian groups and NGOs run an “Underground Railroad” to bring these North Korean escapees out of China, where they face repatriation, to safety.

“If one is found to have gone to a South Korean church while staying in China, they are dead. I therefore tried hard not to reveal my life in China. I was beaten up as a result. I was beaten to a level that my rib was broken. I still feel the pain,” one North Korean defector testified to the UN Human Rights staff.

Cardinal Yeom said that there is not a single active priest in North Korea. “As the head of the Seoul Archdiocese and the Pyongyang Diocese, I believe that God's special grace is necessary to resolve this unfortunate reality,” he said.

The cardinal asked Korean Christians to support and practice evangelization with determination so that North Korean Catholics can someday enjoy the freedom of faith as a fruit of this Marian dedication.

“We must also ask Our Lady, the Queen of Peace, for true peace in our society,” he said.

In a message for the 2020 Day of Prayer for the Reconciliation and Unity of the Korean People, Bishop Peter Lee Ki-heon of Uijeongbu stated that “To nurture peace on the Korean Peninsula, not an easy task, it is essential that the two Koreas join hands.”

He added that peace on the peninsula must be achieved by the Korean people, rather than by the powers surrounding the peninsula.

The bishop urged the South Korean government to arrange for the reunification of separated families, reopen the Kaesong Industrial Complex,  resume tourism to Mount Geumgang in North Korea; and develop an inter-Korean railway connection project.

He called it “most important” that a peace agreement be reached, with an official declaration of the end of the Korean War. “Such developments will have to be followed by an authentic peace treaty and new international relations,” he stated.