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US Secretary of State discusses international religious freedom threats

Nashville, Tenn., Oct 15, 2019 / 01:01 pm (CNA).- In a speech on Christian leadership Friday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo highlighted international religious freedom threats, especially in China, Iran, and Iraq.

Pompeo spoke Oct. 11 in Nashville to the American Association of Christian Counselors, discussing Christian leadership in disposition, dialogue, and decision making.

“Before you can help others, you need to have the right approach to yourself,” he began in speaking of disposition. “How you carry yourself is the first arena of Christian leadership.”

Pompeo noted he keeps an open Bible on his desk, and tries to read it each morning. “I need my mind renewed with truth each day. And part of that truth … is to be humble.”

He also noted the importance of forgiveness in one's disposition.

Turning to dialogue, Pompeo emphasized the importance of listening carefully and not rushing to judgement, but especially truth telling.

He noted that as Secretary of State “I’m especially telling the truth about the dire condition of religious freedom around the world. America has a proud history of religious freedom, and we want jealously to guard it here. But around the world, more than 80% of mankind lives in areas where religious freedom is suppressed or denied in its entirety.”

He said the Chinese Communist Party “is detaining and abusing more than one million Uighur Muslims in internment camps in the Xinjiang” and “Christian pastors today are being unlawfully arrested, beaten, detained inside the Islamic Republic of Iran. We need to speak about this.”

“Christian areas in northern Iraq that I’ve had the privilege to visit have been ravaged by ISIS, part of a greater trend of Christian persecution all across the Middle East,” he added.

Pompeo spoke of the State Departments efforts in recent years to emphasize religious freedom, saying, “we've hosted ministerials. We bring leaders from all around the world called the Ministerial on Religious Freedom at the State Department. We’ve told the world about these shortfalls and the success of nations when individuals are given their basic human dignity to practice their conscience, their faith, or to choose no faith if they so choose all around the world.”

Finally, the state secretary addressed decision making, focusing on faithful stewardship and intentional use of time.

“Decisions are a question of priorities, often … I am grateful that my call as a Christian to protect human dignity overlaps with America’s centuries-old commitment to the same mission in our foreign policy all across the world.”

Pompeo noted that “international organizations will try, from time to time, to sneak language into their documents claiming that abortion is a human right. And we’ll never accept that. We’ve worked diligently to find every dollar that might be going to that and we have worked tirelessly and successfully now to bring it nearly to an end.”

El Paso bishop encourages Catholics to overcome racism with acts of inclusion

El Paso, Texas, Oct 15, 2019 / 12:19 pm (CNA).- Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso issued a pastoral letter Sunday reflecting on the area's history of racism and encouraging Catholics to be a source of justice, after a mass shooting in the city some months ago.

Night Will Be No More was issued Oct. 13 “on the theme of racism and white supremacy to reflect together on the evil that robbed us of 22 lives.”

Bishop Seitz wrote that “God can only be calling our community to greater fidelity. Together we are called to discern the new paths of justice and mercy required of us and to rediscover our reasons for hope.”

An armed man opened fire at a shopping complex in El Paso Aug. 3, killing 22 and injuring more than two dozen. The shooter reportedly published a four-page document online in the hours before the attack, detailing his hatred toward immigrants and Hispanics.

“Hate visited our community and Latino blood was spilled in sacrifice to the false god of white supremacy,” said Bishops Seitz.

“I know God will never allow the hate that visited our community on August 3rd to have the last word. We must recommit ourselves to the hospitality and compassion that characterized our community long before we were attacked, with all the risk and vulnerability which that entails. We must continue to show the rest of the country that love is capable of mending every wound,” he added.

While a lack of gun control and mental healthcare contribute to mass shootings, the bishop said, he noted racism as the prime motivator for the attack in El Paso.

“This mystery of evil also includes the base belief that some of us are more important, deserving and worthy than others. It includes the ugly conviction that this country and its history and opportunities and resources as well as our economic and political life belong more properly to ‘white’ people than to people of color,” he said.

“This is a perverse way of thinking that divides people based on heritage and tone of skin into ‘us’ and ‘them’, ‘worthy’ and ‘unworthy’, paving the way to dehumanization.”

He said that “the history of colonization can discern both the presence of a genuine Christian missionary impulse as well as the deployment of white supremacy and cultural oppression as tools of economic ambition, imperial adventurism and political expansion.”

The bishop asserted that “it was in the encounter between the Spanish colonists and Indigenous communities that fateful identities were co-produced and sinful notions of civilized versus uncivilized and the invention of the savage were born.”

He chronicled the history of racism and discrimination among various groups in the area.

“Older generations of El Pasoans still talk about entrenched attitudes against Latinos and how the system was stacked against them growing up. Latinos were excluded from political life by a closed network dominated by White, wealthy men. Latino children at school didn’t see themselves, not in the faces of their teachers or school leadership, but only custodial and cafeteria staff,” he said.

He called the wall on the US-Mexico border wall “a powerful symbol in the story of race” which “has helped to merge nationalistic vanities with racial projects.”

“It is not just a tool of national security. More than that, the wall is a symbol of exclusion, especially when allied to an overt politics of xenophobia … The wall deepens racially charged perceptions of how we understand the border as well as Mexicans and migrants. It extends racist talk of an ‘invasion’.”

For Bishop Seitz, the border wall “perpetuates the racist myth that the area south of the border is dangerous and foreign and that we are merely passive observers in the growth of narco-violence and the trafficking of human beings and drugs.”

It is the responsibility of Catholics to defend the immigrant, he said. He pointed to the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe, who asked Saint Juan Diego to build a church in her honor. In the image, Our Lady is depicted as a mestiza “who takes what is noble from each culture, elevates it and points out new ways towards reconciliation,” he said.

“Our Lady affirmed Juan Diego against dehumanization. And that affirmation came with a divine charge to make persistent petition before the authorities and build a temple.”

Likewise, he said Catholics must build a “Temple of Justice” through which solidarity, friendship, and charity may take place. He said the evil history of racism may be overcome with encounters of love.

“God offers us the chance to build a new history where racism does not prevail. The ‘manifesto’ of hate and exclusion that entered our community can be countered with a manifesto of radical love and inclusion. I want to see an El Paso that addresses both the legacy of racism and one which builds more just structures to eradicate and overcome that history.”

He said there must be practical steps of inclusion and love, overcoming unjust political measures and the racism of the past. There needs to be a new history of human rights and bridge building, he said.

“It is not enough to not be racist. Our reaction cannot be non-engagement. We must also make a commitment to be anti-racists in active solidarity with the suffering and excluded,” he said.

“We must take active steps to defend the human rights of everyone in our border community and their dignity against dehumanization as we work to forge a new humanity. What racism has divided, with the help of God, we can work to restore.”

To combat racism, he said, measures need to be taken to ensure equal educational opportunities, universal health care, immigration reform, improved wages, and environmental protections. He also emphasized the role of priests and the importance of the sacraments, which communicate anti-racist themes.

“In [baptism] we celebrate the radical transformation and equality that comes from renewal in Christ. In the anointing with holy oils we proclaim a reverence for human life without distinction. The strength of these symbols should flow into our daily parish life and work for justice,” he said.

“Likewise, in our celebration of Mass, pastors can lead our people to a deeper consciousness of the weight of communal and historical sin that we bring to the table of the Lord in the penitential rite. We should ask ourselves carefully who is yet not present, and whose cultures are not yet reflected at the banquet of the Lord that we celebrate at the altar,” he asserted.

He also encouraged President Trump, members of Congress, and the jurists of the highest U.S. courts, “in the absence of immigration reform … to listen to the voice of conscience and halt the deportation of all those who are not a danger to our communities, to stop the separation of families, and to end once and for all the turning back of refugees and death at the border.”

Newman scholar critiques Catholic universities

Vatican City, Oct 15, 2019 / 11:00 am (CNA).- Catholic universities should try to do more than run an assembly line of information for students who never learn to think, a prominent scholar told said this week, adding that many contemporary Catholic universities are not recognizably Catholic, or living up to their mission.

“John Henry Newman famously described a Catholic University as ‘an Alma Mater, knowing her children one by one, not a foundry, or a mint, or a treadmill’,” said Professor Tracey Rowland of the University of Notre Dame, Australia, and a member of the International Theological Commission. 

“I would argue that most of our universities are what Newman would call factories, mints and treadmills, that is, places where thousands of students, known to the university only by their student numbers, pass exams to qualify for employment in a particular field,” Rowland said.

Rowland spoke at an Oct. 12 symposium in honor of Newman hosted by the Thomistic Institute at the Angelicum - the Pontifical University of St Thomas Aquinas - on Oct 12.

There are “only a very small number of academic institutions anywhere in the world where something like Newman’s vision has any possibility of success. Most of these institutions operate at the level of liberal arts colleges that are specifically Catholic,” the professor said.

“Excluded are numerous institutions with the adjective Catholic in their title where no attempt is made to offer a specifically Christian formation of every aspect of the soul, or a specifically Christian integration of the various disciplines, but where there are merely buildings named after local Catholic worthies, a chapel, a chaplain who is a priest if you are lucky, and lots of opportunities to improve the welfare of minority groups,” she said.

“The accountants who normally run such institutions might be members of the Catholic Church but the institutions themselves, their ethos, the content of their curricula, their marketing strategies, the beliefs of their faculty members, administrators, janitors and librarians and the bureaucratic idioms found in their policies are not only not Christian but in many cases simply the outcome of corporate ideology.” 

“Newman would not recognize these institutions as in any sense consistent with his own vision.”

The conference, “Newman the Prophet: A Saint for Our Times,” was held as part of the celebrations of St. John Henry Newman,’s canonization which took place on Sunday, Oct. 13, in St. Peter’s Square. Newman was an expert in university education, and the author of “Idea of a University,” a text that Rowland said offers a compelling vision for Catholic universities.

Newman was a 19th century English theologian, author, Catholic priest and cardinal born in 1801. While holding a prestigious teaching position at Oxford University, he converted to the Catholic faith from Anglicanism in 1845. His conversion came at great social and personal cost.

He became a Catholic priest in 1847, and founded the Oratory of St. Philip Neri in England. Continuing his dedication to education, Newman also founded two schools for boys and the Catholic University of Ireland, which later became University College, Dublin.

Rowland said Newman envisioned a Catholic university as a true spiritual mother, where students are known by their professors on a first-name basis and live in a Catholic community, rather than a place for Catholics to simply earn degrees for potential employment—“although this may be a happy secondary effect,” she said.

The object of such a university is not an impersonal vision of knowledge for its “own sake,” Rowland said, but it exists for the betterment of the souls of students, “with a view to their spiritual welfare and their religious influence and usefulness.”

A chief problem of Newman’s age was “an ethical atheism” which for many had become “a lived reality of which one is convinced and for which one is willing to die,” she said. Many colleges and universities today are either “factories” dispensing degrees for potential employees, or hotbeds of anti-Catholic social theories, Rowland said.

The professor argued that most elite institutions have devolved and distorted senses of the liberal arts.

“In so many of these institutions the liberal arts have morphed into social theory subjects like gender studies and the objective is no longer to produce gentlemen but to form social activists, people who act like trained assassins against the last vestiges of Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian civilization.”

This, she said, is far from Newman’s vision of a university.

“A residential university college, limited to a couple of hundred students, can thereby be an ‘alma mater’ as Newman understood it,” she said. Other models that could work today could be Catholic programs at secular universities, such as the University of Chicago’s Catholic Studies program, she said.

Rowland praised a few specific institutions: Christendom College in Virginia, the Franciscan University of Steubenville, St. Mary’s University in London, among others.

In Newman’s university, she continued, a student receives more than “knowledge of great Catholic literature and music, philosophy and theology,” but is also “someone whose soul has been nourished by the sacraments,” she said.

That kind of formation would foster an “integrated personality,” she said, “a personality that is

driven by a fully Catholic heart, intellect, memory, will and imagination, all nourished by

sacramental graces, all seeking to participate in that which is true, beautiful and good.”

A Catholic university must educate students in the Catholic intellectual tradition, she said, but must also equip them to understand modern disciplines like “feminist theory and its spin-offs, queer theory and gender theory,” in order “to understand the chaotic dictatorship of relativism into which they have been born.”

Having learned to engage various thinkers with “their memories, their intellects, their

wills, their imaginations and above all their hearts,” Rowland said, such students will be “able to

operate with equally high levels of competence across a range of social positions” when they graduate.

“In the final analysis a genuinely Catholic University” according to Newman “would be an alma mater, not a foundry, mint or treadmill, or what we today call a sausage factory, because it would dare to form the human soul with reference to all that true, beautiful and good,” Rowland said.

New York will get statue of Mother Cabrini

New York City, N.Y., Oct 15, 2019 / 10:30 am (CNA).- New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has announced the state will erect a statue of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini.

The announcement comes two months after a New York City public arts program decided they would not build a statue of Mother Cabrini, despite the saint topping a poll organized by the program. 

During a public nominations period for the She Built NYC program, Mother Cabrini received 219 nominations--more than double the number received by Jane Jacobs, who received the second-most nominations.

In an announcement at the annual Columbus Day Parade in New York on Oct. 14, Cuomo said 

“We’re also pleased to announce we’re going to build a statue to Mother Cabrini.”

The move was immediately welcomed by the Diocese of Brooklyn.

“I welcome the assistance the Governor is promising in erecting a statue for Mother Cabrini, which we hope is a monument to her for her work on behalf of immigrants,” said Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn on Monday. 

Cabrini was the founder of the Institute of the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and opened and operated many schools and orphanages in New York City. She was canonized in 1946, the first naturalized American citizen to be declared a saint, and she is venerated as the patron of immigrants.

The Diocese of Brooklyn participated in the annual Columbus Day parade on Monday, marching with a float and banner in honor of the saint and calling for the erection of a statute in her honor.

“Almost all of our churches in Brooklyn have a statue of Mother Cabrini. It’s not another statue we’re talking about. It’s respect for immigrants,” DiMarzio said.

“We will work with Governor Cuomo's office to make it happen.”

The state commission will work alongside the Diocese of Brooklyn and the Italian-American heritage organization the Columbus Citizens Foundation to construct the statue. Cabrini was an Italian immigrant who arrived in New York in the late 19th century. 

The She Built NYC program was created to increase the number of statues of women throughout the city. In mid-August, the program’s selection committee, led by Chirlane McCray, married to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, and former deputy mayor Alicia Glen, announced that statues were to be built of Rep. Shirley Chisolm, Katherine Walker, Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, Elizabeth Jennings Graham, Billie Holiday, and Dr. Helen Rodriguez-Trias. They received the third, fifth, seventh, 19th, 22nd, 24th and 42nd-most nominations, respectively. 

Johnson and Rivera, who are both biological men who identified as “drag queens,” will appear on a statue together. 

In August, a spokesperson for Ms. McCray told CNA that the public nominations process was not intended to determine which women would be honored, but only to inform the judgment of the selection committee.

“Nominations made by the public were the foundation of this entire process – only those submitted were considered by the advisory committee and the City,” Siobhan Dingwall, press secretary for the Office of the First Lady in New York City, told CNA in a statement. 

In addition to the public nominations, She Built NYC also considered other factors, such as proposed locations, existing monuments, and site availability when deciding who and where to erect new statues.

Pope names members of drafting committee for Amazon synod final doc

Vatican City, Oct 15, 2019 / 09:53 am (CNA).- Pope Francis Tuesday made four personal nominations of members to the group responsible for drafting the final document of the Amazon synod.

In addition to the members who will be voted to the committee by the synod, Pope Francis has nominated Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna, Austria; Argentinian Bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo, chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences; missionary Archbishop Edmundo Ponciano Valenzuela of Asuncion, Paraguay; and Italian Salesian Fr. Rossano Sala.

Maltese Bishop Mario Grech, who is pro-secretary general of the Synod of Bishops, is also part of the drafting committee.

The nominations were announced by the Vatican communications chief Paolo Ruffini during a press conference on the Synod of Bishops on the Amazon, an Oct. 6-27 meeting on the Church’s life and ministry in the region.

The drafting committee will meet over the next two weeks to assemble into a document the recommendations of the small groups -- called circoli minori -- from their discussions during the Amazon synod.

The final document of the synod will then be voted on by synod members, called synod fathers, on the second-to-last day of the gathering. Per synod norms, it must pass with a 2/3 majority. The document of synod recommendations will then be given to Pope Francis for him to use or not use as he desires in the writing of a post-synodal exhortation.

The members of the drafting committee elected by the synod assembly are Bishop Mario Antonio da Silva of Roraima, Brazil; Archbishop Hector Miguel Cabrejos Vidarte of Trujillo, Peru; Bishop Nelson Jair Cardona Ramirez of San Joes del Guaviare, Colombia; and Archbishop Sergio Alfredo Gualberti Calandrina of Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia.

Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, secretary general of the synod; Cardinal Michael Czerny, head of the migrants and refugees section in the Vatican; and Bishop David Martinez de Aguirre Guinea of Puerto Maldonado, Peru are also members of the committee.

The drafting committee's president is Cardinal Claudio Hummes, archbishop emeritus of Sao Paulo, Brazil and president of REPAM.

Speaking in the press conference Oct. 15, Bishop Eugenio Coter, apostolic vicar of Pando, Bolivia, said that in response to calls for greater accompaniment of Catholics in the Amazon, there has been during the synod the suggestion of creating not only a Church structure, but “a permanent episcopal organism.”

On the idea of creating an “Amazon rite,” Coter clarified that the synod is asking for an inculturated liturgy, not a new liturgical rite.

On giving the liturgy an “Amazonian face,” Coter proposed the creation of Church commissions to explore the topic directly.

Proposals for the inculturation of the Mass have included the translation of the Mass into the local language of the various ethnic groups, of which there are around 300.

Bishop Rafael Alfonso Escudero López-Brea of the prelature of Moyobamba, Peru, also suggested the introduction of some “symbols” or “rituals” which are ornamental and do not impact what is essential about the celebration of the Eucharist.

Escudero said his proposal to the synod was one of “profound evangelization of an explicit proclamation of Jesus Christ, Son of God, our Savior, through preaching, teaching, and charity, so that the peoples and cultures are imbued with salvation, which comes from Jesus Christ.”

An evangelized culture, he said, is one which will naturally produce vocations to the ordained ministries of priesthood and the diaconate, and non-ordained ministries and services. He thanked God for the many active lay men and women who are involved in serving the Church in the Amazon.

“That is a reason for hope and thanksgiving to God,” he said.


This story was updated Oct. 16, 2019 with the names of all of the drafting committee members.