Catholic News Agency

ACI Prensa's latest initiative is the Catholic News Agency (CNA), aimed at serving the English-speaking Catholic audience. ACI Prensa (www.aciprensa.com) is currently the largest provider of Catholic news in Spanish and Portuguese.
CNA
  1. CHOOGKY/Shutterstock

    Washington D.C., Apr 21, 2021 / 11:00 am (CNA).

    Bishops across the United States on Tuesday and Wednesday responded to the guilty verdict for former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, in the trial for the murder of George Floyd.

    Two chairs of committees at the U.S. bishops’ conference (USCCB) issued a joint statement on Tuesday evening, after a jury found Chauvin guilty of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter.

    “The death of George Floyd highlighted and amplified the deep need to see the sacredness in all people, but especially those who have been historically oppressed,” read a statement by Bishop Shelton Fabre of Houma-Thibodaux, chair of the USCCB’s anti-racism committee, and Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City, chair of the USCCB’s domestic justice and human development committee.

    “Whatever the stage of human life, it not only matters, it is sacred,” the bishops said.

    The trial of Derek Chauvin began on March 8. He was arrested on May 29, 2020, and charged with third-degree murder for the killing of George Floyd, a 46 year-old Black man.

    Chauvin and three other police officers held Floyd in custody on the evening of May 25, in Minneapolis, after Floyd was accused of using a counterfeit $20 bill at a nearby store. Video taken by bystanders showed Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes as Floyd lay handcuffed on the ground. Floyd was audibly gasping and moaning, and complaining that he could not breathe; toward the end of the video, he appeared unconscious.

    After an ambulance arrived and transported Floyd to the hospital, he was declared dead. The killing sparked mass protests and riots around the United States against racism and police brutality.

    Archbishop Bernard Hebda of St. Paul-Minneapolis, joined by bishops of the five other Minnesota dioceses, called for civility and prayer on Tuesday afternoon before the verdict was announced.

    In the wake of Tuesday’s verdict, the first African-American cardinal called for Catholics to fight racism without violence.

    “As the Gospel of Jesus Christ teaches us and the life example of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. showed us, it is the virtue of charity, non-violence, prayer, and working together that moves us toward reconciliation and true healing from trauma we have experienced,” stated Cardinal Wilton Gregory of Washington, D.C. on Wednesday.

    “May we choose to respond with civility and respect for the dignity of all of our brothers and sisters, as we continue the work of rooting out all injustices and systemic racism in our society,” Cardinal Gregory stated.

    U.S. bishops called for prayer and action to end racism. “Let us pray that through the revelation of so much pain and sadness, that God strengthens us to cleanse our land of the evil of racism which also manifests in ways that are hardly ever spoken, ways that never reach the headlines,” Bishop Fabre and Archbishop Coakley stated.

    “Let us not lose the opportunity to pray that the Holy Spirit falls like a flood on our land again, as at Pentecost, providing us with spiritual, emotional, and physical healing, as well as new ways to teach, preach, and model the Gospel message in how we treat each other,” the bishops said.

    The archbishop of Baltimore, where racial tensions and riots flared in 2015 following the death of Freddie Gray in police custody, said that the verdict should prompt Catholics to fight racism.

    “As citizens, we must insist on the elimination of all forms of racism in our societal structures. Let us take personal responsibility in overcoming racism, prejudice, and other injustices,” said Archbishop William Lori.

    Other bishops said that police officers must be held accountable for their actions.

    “When officers fail to live up to their responsibilities, they should be held accountable, as it respects the victims of their actions as well as the reputation of their fellow officers,” Bishop Michael Burbidge of Arlington, Virginia stated.

    Bishop John Stowe, OFM Conv., of Lexington, Kentucky, called the verdict “a long overdue result that finally brings justice for a Black victim of a brutal killing by police.”

    “There are many other families who are longing for this kind of justice and recognition of the worth of the lives of their loved ones; we must work to make this verdict the norm rather than the exception,” he said.

    The archbishop of Philadelphia recounted the “overwhelming” grief that followed Floyd’s death, and decried “the mortal sin of racism.”

    “I pray that the Holy Spirit stirs up a desire in our hearts to look for solutions to the problems we encounter,” Archbishop Nelson Perez stated on Tuesday.

    The USCCB vice president, Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit, said that “social injustices still exist in our country and that together we must peacefully rebuild what hatred and frustration has torn down.”

  2. A detail from Joseph with the Child and the Flowering Rod, by Alonso Miguel de Tovar (1678–1752). Public Domain.

    Rome Newsroom, Apr 21, 2021 / 10:01 am (CNA).

    The proclamation of the Year of St. Joseph by Pope Francis in December 2020 coincided with the 150th anniversary of the saint’s proclamation as patron of the Universal Church by Blessed Pius IX on Dec. 8, 1870.

    “Jesus Christ our Lord... whom countless kings and prophets had desired to see, Joseph not only saw but conversed with, and embraced in paternal affection, and kissed. He most diligently reared Him whom the faithful were to receive as the bread that came down from heaven whereby they might obtain eternal life,” the 1870 proclamation, Quemadmodum Deus, stated.

    Bl. Pius IX’s successor, Pope Leo XIII, went on to dedicate an encyclical letter to devotion to St. Joseph, Quamquam pluries.

    “Joseph became the guardian, the administrator, and the legal defender of the divine house whose chief he was,” Leo XIII wrote in the encyclical published in 1889.

    “Now the divine house which Joseph ruled with the authority of a father, contained within its limits the scarce-born Church,” he added.

    Leo XIII presented St. Joseph as a model at a time when the world and the Church were wrestling with the challenges posed by modernity. A few years later, the pope went on to publish Rerum novarum, an encyclical on capital and labor which outlined principles to ensure the dignity of laborers.

    In the past 150 years, nearly every pope has taken steps to further devotion to St. Joseph in the Church and to use the humble father and carpenter as a witness for the modern world. 

    “If you want to be close to Christ, I repeat to you ‘Ite ad Ioseph’: Go to Joseph!” said Ven. Pius XII in 1955 as he instituted the feast of St. Joseph the Worker, to be celebrated on May 1.

    The new feast was intentionally placed on the calendar to counter communist May Day rallies. But this was not the first time that the Church had presented St. Joseph’s example as an alternative path toward workers’ dignity.

    In 1889, the International Socialist Conference instituted May 1 as a holiday for labor in remembrance of Chicago’s “Haymarket affair” labor protests. In that same year, Leo XIII warned the poor against the false promises of “seditious men,” calling them to turn instead to St. Joseph, with a reminder that mother Church “each day takes an increasing compassion on their lot.”

    According to the pontiff, the witness of St. Joseph’s life taught the rich “what are the goods most to be desired,” while workers could claim St. Joseph’s recourse as their “special right, and his example is for their particular imitation.”

    “It is, then, true that the condition of the lowly has nothing shameful in it, and the work of the laborer is not only not dishonoring, but can, if virtue be joined to it, be singularly ennobled,” wrote Leo XIII in Quamquam pluries.

    In 1920, Benedict XV prayerfully offered St. Joseph as the “special guide” and “heavenly patron” of laborers “to keep them immune from the contagion of socialism, the bitter enemy of Christian principles.”

    And, in the 1937 encyclical on atheistic communism Divini Redemptoris, Pius XI placed “the vast campaign of the Church against world Communism under the standard of St. Joseph, her mighty Protector.”

    “He belongs to the working-class, and he bore the burdens of poverty for himself and the Holy Family, whose tender and vigilant head he was. To him was entrusted the Divine Child when Herod loosed his assassins against Him,” Pope XI continued. “He won for himself the title of ‘The Just,’ serving thus as a living model of that Christian justice which should reign in social life.

    Yet, despite the 20th century Church’s emphasis on St. Joseph the Worker, Joseph’s life was not defined solely by his work, but also by his vocation to fatherhood.

    “For St. Joseph, life with Jesus was a continuous discovery of his own vocation as a father,” wrote St. John Paul II in his 2004 book “Rise, Let Let Us Be On Our Way.”

    He continued: “Jesus Himself, as a man, experienced the fatherhood of God through the father-son relationship with St. Joseph. This filial encounter with Joseph then fed into Our Lord’s revelation of the paternal name of God. What a profound mystery!”

    St. John Paul II saw firsthand communist attempts to weaken the family unit and undermine parental authority in Poland. He said that he looked to St. Joseph’s fatherhood as a model for his own priestly fatherhood.

    In 1989 -- 100 years after Leo XIII’s encyclical -- St. John Paul II wrote Redemptoris custos, an apostolic exhortation on the person and mission of St. Joseph in the life of Christ and of the Church. 

    In his announcement of the Year of St. Joseph, Pope Francis released a letter, Patris corde, explaining that he wanted to share some “personal reflections” on the spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

    “My desire to do so increased during these months of pandemic,” he said, noting that many people had made hidden sacrifices during the crisis in order to protect others.

    “Each of us can discover in Joseph -- the man who goes unnoticed, a daily, discreet and hidden presence -- an intercessor, a support and a guide in times of trouble,” he wrote.

    “St. Joseph reminds us that those who appear hidden or in the shadows can play an incomparable role in the history of salvation.”

    The Year of St. Joseph provides the opportunity for Catholics to receive a plenary indulgence by reciting any approved prayer or act of piety in honor of St. Joseph, especially on March 19, the saint’s solemnity, and May 1, the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker. 

    For an approved prayer, one can use the Litany of St. Joseph, which Pope St. Pius X approved for public use in 1909.

    Pope Leo XIII also asked that the following prayer to St. Joseph be said at the end of the rosary in his encyclical on St. Joseph:

    “To thee, O blessed Joseph, we have recourse in our affliction, and having implored the help of thy thrice holy Spouse, we now, with hearts filled with confidence, earnestly beg thee also to take us under thy protection. By that charity wherewith thou wert united to the Immaculate Virgin Mother of God, and by that fatherly love with which thou didst cherish the Child Jesus, we beseech thee and we humbly pray that thou wilt look down with gracious eye upon that inheritance which Jesus Christ purchased by His blood, and wilt succor us in our need by thy power and strength.”

    “Defend, O most watchful guardian of the Holy Family, the chosen off-spring of Jesus Christ. Keep from us, O most loving Father, all blight of error and corruption. Aid us from on high, most valiant defender, in this conflict with the powers of darkness. And even as of old thou didst rescue the Child Jesus from the peril of His life, so now defend God's Holy Church from the snares of the enemy and from all adversity. Shield us ever under thy patronage, that, following thine example and strengthened by thy help, we may live a holy life, die a happy death, and attain to everlasting bliss in Heaven. Amen.”

    This article was first published Dec. 9, 2020.

  3. Cathedral of St. Mary, Fargo, North Dakota / Cathedral of St. Mary

    Washington D.C., Apr 21, 2021 / 10:00 am (CNA).

    The Diocese of Fargo and the Fargo Police Department are investigating an incident of vandalism outside the cathedral last weekend.

    A statue of Jesus in front of St. Mary’s Cathedral in Fargo was defaced with black paint on its face. The diocese said it did not know exactly when the vandalism occurred overnight between Friday, April 16, and Saturday, April 17. 

    By Monday, the paint had been removed, however. The diocese said it did not know who removed the paint, and would look for any permanent damage done to the statue. 

    The marble statue was originally sent to the cathedral from a parish in Cincinnati which had closed. The Diocese of Fargo installed the statue outside of St. Mary’s Cathedral in May 2018. 

    A spokesperson for the diocese told the local news station KVLY that the diocese would be praying for the person who committed the vandalism, hoping that he or she would “someday have an encounter with the face of Christ themselves.”

    This is the second act of vandalism at a Catholic church in the Fargo area in recent years. In 2018, a statue of the Virgin Mary was decapitated at St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church in South Fargo. 

    The incident follows a series of acts of vandalism and arson at U.S. Catholic churches last year, which has continued into 2021.

    In January, someone attempted arson at the cathedral of the Diocese of Toledo, painting the message “Jesus is Black” on the outside wall and causing an estimated $5,000 in damage.

    Other churches and statues were targeted and defaced throughout 2020, including numerous statues of St. Junipero Serra in California which were torn down or vandalized. In Brooklyn, a man toppled a statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe outside a church; the Knights of Columbus donated $10,000 for a replacement statue, which was installed on the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. 

    A historic mission church in California was destroyed by fire in a suspected case of arson, another church in Florida was set on fire with parishioners inside, and St. Mary’s basilica in Minneapolis was damaged by fire.

    Senator Joe Kennedy (R-La.) wrote Attorney General William Barr in August, asking the Justice Department to prosecute acts of church vandalism and increase its prevention efforts. 

    Rep. Chuck Fleischmann (R-Tenn.) also wrote to Barr, asking him to respond to the targeting of churches.

    “Since June, there have been nearly a dozen reported attacks on Catholic churches around the nation. These disturbing attacks range from arson to the beheading of a statue of the Virgin Mary,” he wrote. 

    “I find these attacks to be a disturbing trend, happening in multiple areas across the nation, including within my own congressional district,” he said.

  4. Pope Francis waves to pilgrims during his March 28, 2018 general audience in St. Peter's Square. / Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

    Vatican City, Apr 21, 2021 / 09:00 am (CNA).

    Pope Francis has sent four ventilators to hospitals in Colombia after the South American country recorded its highest daily death rate since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

    According to the Colombian health ministry, the country reported 420 deaths from COVID-19 in 24 hours April 20. More than 68,700 people have died from COVID-19 in Colombia since February 2020. The country has a population of 50 million people.

    The donated ventilators from Pope Francis were also accompanied by boxes of personal protective equipment. The Colombian bishops’ conference said that the apostolic nuncio sent the medical equipment to hospitals in Quibdó, western Colombia.

    The equipment was flown into the city with the help of the Colombian Air Force and the Military Ordinariate of Colombia.

    Bishop Juan Carlos Barreto Barreto of Quibdó wrote in a note: “This gesture highlights the continuous solicitude of Pope Francis for Colombia in many areas and expresses his concern for all the Churches.”

    During the coronavirus outbreak, Pope Francis has donated ventilators and other medical equipment to countries such as Brazil, Spain, and Romania.

    In South America, fears are growing over the spread of the P.1 variant of COVID-19, also known as the Brazil variant, which recent research suggests is much more transmissible.

    In March, Peru’s health minister said that 40% of cases in the capital city of Lima were caused by the Brazil variant. Cases of the new variant have also been detected in Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia, Venezuela, and Argentina.

  5. The modern Bramante Staircase in the Vatican Museums, pictured Nov. 12, 2015. Credit: Bohumil Petrik/CNA.

    Vatican City, Apr 21, 2021 / 07:00 am (CNA).

    The Vatican Museums have released a new YouTube series featuring the history behind famous works of art in short videos.

    “Secrets of the Vatican Museums” published its first video in the monthly series on April 20, at a time when the museums themselves remain closed to the public due to the coronavirus pandemic.

    The video showcases the “Belvedere Torso” -- an ancient Hellenistic sculpture that has been a part of the Vatican’s art collection for more than 500 years.

    The “static tension” in the pose of the sculpture is known to have been an inspiration to Michelangelo as he painted the athletic figures in the Sistine Chapel ceiling.

    Guido Cornini, the scientific director of the Vatican Museums’ art department, said that the sculpture has been called “the school of the world” because of its influence on artists from the Renaissance to Auguste Rodin’s “The Thinker.”

    “Artists from all over the world, especially Flemish artists like Hendrick Golttzius, began to flock here to copy, take notes, draw sketches, make the first prints, to become familiar with the great Belvedere marble statues,” Cornini told Vatican News.

    A rear view of the Belvedere Torso in the Vatican Museums / Yair Haklai via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0).
    A rear view of the Belvedere Torso in the Vatican Museums / Yair Haklai via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0).

    “Michelangelo saw, studied, and examined it at length,” he said, adding that the influence of the Belvedere Torso can also be seen in the figures of the Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel and Michelangelo’s Moses sculpture in Rome’s Church of St. Peter in Chains.

    Michelangelo's Moses / Jörg Bittner Unna via Wikimedia (CC BY 3.0)
    Michelangelo's Moses / Jörg Bittner Unna via Wikimedia (CC BY 3.0)

    Future videos in the year-long series will look at other works that inspired Michaelangelo and Raphael, as well as “mysteries of ancient pre-Christian civilizations,” according to the Vatican Museums.

    The series will also showcase the voices of the men and women who work to curate, restore, and preserve the collections in the Vatican Museums.

    Giandomenico Spinola, the curator of the Vatican Museums’ department of Greek and Roman antiquities, expressed hope that the video series would help visitors to gain a deeper appreciation of the showcased works of art, like the Belvedere Torso, once the museums reopen and tourists return.

    “Many tourists come here and do not realize the Torso’s importance. Only a few appreciate it. The visitors run to get to the Sistine Chapel. The rush of the crowd leads them right by it,” he said.

    The Vatican Museums are planning to reopen to the public on May 3 with strict new COVID-19 measures.

  6. The perpetual adoration chapel in Niepokalanów, Poland. / EWTN Poland.

    CNA Staff, Apr 21, 2021 / 06:00 am (CNA).

    Employees of EWTN Poland were preparing for the Feast of Divine Mercy when they noticed a glitch in their YouTube channel, which brings live perpetual adoration to thousands of people around the world.

    Viewers connecting to the live feed saw a black rectangle over an image of the adoration chapel in Niepokalanów, 25 miles west of the capital, Warsaw. The rectangle contained the message: “A recording of this broadcast is not available.”

    / EWTN Poland
    / EWTN Poland

    Since 2018, EWTN Poland -- the Polish branch of the global Catholic media network founded by Mother Angelica -- has offered 24/7 adoration from the chapel in the basilica of a friary founded by St. Maximilian Kolbe, who volunteered to die in place of another captive at the Auschwitz death camp.

    Fr. Piotr Wiśniowski, director of EWTN Poland, received a message from YouTube explaining that it had blocked the channel because of a breach of its community guidelines and that it would be unavailable for seven days.

    But when he attempted to contact the online video platform for an explanation, he found it hard to get through to a real person.

    “YouTube blocked the whole channel, including the adoration broadcast from Niepokalanów, where St. Maximilian Kolbe lived and worked. We have been broadcasting adoration for over two years and it has many viewers around the world,” he said.

    “It’s the biggest online chapel of adoration in the world, over a thousand people who adore the Lord Jesus non-stop, millions of views in Europe, North and South America. Clearly, people felt affected. It turns out that Christians today need such an online community. The blockade caused an international protest whose scope was very wide.”

    As the outcry over the blocking of the channel grew, employees at Google, YouTube’s parent company, reached out to Wiśniowski. It appeared that an automated system had flagged EWTN Poland’s channel for a possible breach of copyright.

    “Our channel is focused on adoration and prayer,” the priest said. “There are also our journalistic programs and American EWTN programs with Polish translation. Transmissions of the Holy Mass and adoration constitute an important element. Everything is legal and we have rights to everything we broadcast.”

    EWTN Poland was able to show that it had a license covering all copyrighted material on the channel. YouTube then restored the channel in time for Divine Mercy Sunday.

    Writing on its Twitter account on April 10, EWTN Poland said: “We are happy to announce that DIALOGUE with the YouTube team has restored the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament from Niepokalanów to its place! A big thank you to all those who supported us by passing on and commenting on our case and for prayers.”

     / EWTN Poland.
    / EWTN Poland.

    Wiśniowski commented: “The united voice of the Polish and foreign Catholic media caused Google to contact me personally. When people started talking to each other, the dialogue brought a solution.”

    He added: “You know, I am a Catholic priest. That is, I am here to build reconciliation and peace by preaching Christ. So first of all, thank you for the opportunity for dialogue, for the conversation with one of the Google directors.”

    But the EWTN Poland director said that he felt the incident -- which generated substantial media attention in Poland -- required further clarification.

    He said: “Large companies should not simply block or delete accounts. This is not even about religion or Catholics, although we can talk a lot about how we are treated. This is about freedom, which is one of the basic values of all human beings. Without it, we enter a world of enslavement, which is how totalitarianism is born. We should all remember this.”

  7. The national flag of Egypt. / kb-photodesign via Shutterstock

    Rome Newsroom, Apr 21, 2021 / 05:00 am (CNA).

    A Coptic Orthodox Christian was killed by ISIS affiliates in Egypt earlier this week, five months after being kidnapped.

    In a video, 62-year-old Nabil Habashy Salama can be seen being killed by a gunshot as he was kneeling in the Egyptian desert April 18.

    Habashy’s son, Peter Salama, released a message after the execution saying that ISIS militants “in their efforts to have him abandon the faith, they humiliated my father, and broke all his teeth to torture him. Yet, through all this, he held on, and we are so joyful for him.”

    “The ISIS militants used to contact me during the time when my father was kidnapped, and, though I knew he said this under pressure, he would say ‘All is fine, thank God,’” the son said.

    Egyptian security forces have captured and killed three of the militants responsible for Habashy’s death.

    Habashy was abducted in front of his home in Bir-al-Abd in North Sinai in November 2020. A businessman, he owned a jewelry, mobile phone, and clothing store, and was active in the Christian community.

    He used his financial resources to help build the city’s church, St. Mary.

    Sarah Bassil, communications manager for human rights organization In Defense of Christians (IDC), told EWTN News that Habashy was “a very active parishioner of the church there, and actually he helped build one of the only churches in the area, so his loss is truly felt by the community.”

    Salama said that his father “poured his heart and soul into this church, and always said, ‘Do not think that I am building this church for here; I am building for myself a home in heaven.’”

    In a statement, the Coptic Orthodox Church called Habashy “a faithful son and servant” who “adhered to his religion until death.”

    Bassil said that the Copts of Egypt, the largest Christian community in the Arab world, continue to be denied many legal rights as they face increasing physical violence.

    “Unfortunately this is the reality for the Coptic community in Egypt and IDC grows more and more worried about the situation,” she said.

    Holy Week begins on Sunday for Orthodox Christian communities, which will celebrate Easter on May 2.

    In 2017, two Coptic Orthodox churches in northern Egypt were bombed by ISIS militants during their Palm Sunday services. The attacks killed at least 44 people and injured more than 100.

  8. Pope Francis gives a general audience address in the library of the Apostolic Palace. / Vatican Media.

    CNA Staff, Apr 21, 2021 / 03:20 am (CNA).

    Pope Francis encouraged Catholics on Wednesday to read a 19th-century Russian spiritual classic.

    Speaking at his general audience on April 21, the pope said that everyone could benefit from reading “The Way of a Pilgrim,” the story of an unnamed pilgrim who travels across Russia seeking to discover the secret of constant prayer.

    He said: “We all have something to learn from the perseverance of the Russian pilgrim, mentioned in a famous work on spirituality, who learned the art of prayer by repeating the same invocation over and over again: ‘Jesus Christ, Son of God, Lord, have mercy on us, sinners!’ He repeated only this…”

    “If graces arrive in our life, if prayer becomes so warm one day that the presence of the Kingdom were perceived here among us, if that vision could be transformed until it became like that of a child, it would be because we have insisted on reciting a simple Christian exclamation. In the end, it becomes part of our breathing.”

    He added: “It is beautiful, the story of the Russian pilgrim: it is a book that is accessible to all. I recommend you read it; it will help you to understand what vocal prayer is.”

    The pope gave his address, dedicated to vocal prayer, in the library of the Apostolic Palace due to coronavirus restrictions.

    The speech was the 30th reflection in his cycle of catechesis on prayer, which he launched in May and resumed in October following nine addresses on healing the world after the pandemic.

    Pope Francis meditated on the role of words in prayer.

    “We create words, but they are also our mothers, and to some extent they shape us. The words of a prayer get us safely through a dark valley, direct us towards green meadows rich in water, and enable us to feast in front of the eyes of an enemy, as the Psalm teaches us,” he said, referring to the celebrated Psalm 23.

    He noted that words both spring from feelings and can help to shape them.

    He said: “This is why Sacred Scripture teaches us to pray, sometimes even with bold words. The sacred writers do not want to deceive us about the human person: they know that our hearts harbor also unedifying feelings, even hatred.”

    “None of us are born holy, and when these negative feelings come knocking at the door of our hearts, we must be capable of defusing them with prayer and God’s words.”

    The pope said that reciting prayers out loud is a sure way of praying because it is not dependent on our feelings.

    “Although we are all aware that praying does not mean repeating words, vocal prayer is nevertheless the surest, and can always be practiced,” he said.

    “Feelings, on the other hand, however noble, are always uncertain: they come and go, they leave us and return.”

    He contrasted what he called “the prayer of the lips” with the “prayer of the heart.”

    “The prayer of the heart is mysterious, and at certain times it is lacking,” he explained. “Instead, the prayer of the lips, that which is whispered or recited chorally, is always accessible, and is as necessary as manual labor.”

    He continued: “We should all have the humility of certain elderly people who, in church, perhaps because their hearing is no longer acute, recite quietly the prayers they learned as children, filling the nave with whispers. That prayer does not disturb the silence, but testifies to their fidelity to the duty of prayer, practiced throughout their lives without fail.”

    “These practitioners of humble prayer are often the great intercessors in parishes: they are the oaks that from year to year spread their branches to offer shade to the greatest number of people.”

    “Only God knows when and how much their hearts have been united to those prayers they recited: surely these people too had to face nights and empty moments. But one can always remain faithful to vocal prayer. It is like an anchor: one can hold on to the rope and remain, faithful, come what may.”

    Concluding his address, he urged Catholics not to overlook vocal prayer.

    He said: “One might say, ‘Ah, this is for children, for ignorant folk; I am seeking mental prayer, meditation, the inner void so that God might come to me…’ Please! Do not succumb to the pride of scorning vocal prayer.”

  9. Seasontime/Shutterstock.

    CNA Staff, Apr 20, 2021 / 20:41 pm (CNA).

    The Connecticut House of Representatives has advanced a bill to end the religious exemption from childhood vaccine requirements, beginning in 2022.

     

    The bill to end the religious exemption for childhood vaccines advanced by a bipartisan vote of 90-53. It has the support of Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont but still needs to pass the state Senate.

     

    Connecticut’s Catholic bishops took no position on a similar bill in 2020, but stressed the importance of vaccines, the need for sound public health policy, and the need to scrutinize any attempt to remove religious exemptions.

     

    About 7,600 K-12 students now have religious exemptions from the state’s vaccination requirements. The bill was amended to ensure it would not apply to any of the several thousand K-12 students with a current religious exemption. Some critics have questioned what would happen to the 683 children in pre-K and daycare who currently have exemptions.

     

    There has been an increase in the number of requests for religious exemption from childhood vaccinations. In as many as 100 schools, vaccination rates have fallen below 95%. Public health officials stress the importance of high vaccination rates to protect against outbreaks.

     

    State officials in April said an unvaccinated child from Fairfield County contracted measles on an international trip.

     

    One backer of legislation to remove the exemption, Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, a Democrat who chairs the Public Health Committee, said “vaccine hesitancy is becoming a direct and serious threat to the public health” and demands a “proactive approach.”

     

    Steinberg said “efforts by health care professionals and educators to educate families about vaccines have been unable to compete with fear instilled by the disinformation net,” NBC Connecticut reports.

     

    Commenting on a similar bill in January 2020, before the coronavirus epidemic arrived in the United States, the Catholic bishops of Connecticut recognized conscientious objection to “certain vaccines that use human fetal cell lines,” but said “the use of such vaccines is not immoral according to Church guidance. That is, there is no religious teaching against the use of these vaccines for Catholics.”

     

    They referred to the Pontifical Academy for Life’s guidance on public health, vaccinations, and alternatives. At the same time, the bishops stressed the Connecticut Catholic Conference’s stand as “a defender of religious liberty for all.”

     

    “In general, the conference maintains that all religious exemptions should be jealously guarded. Any repeal of a religious exemption should be rooted in legitimate, grave public health concerns. The existence of a health risk in the state of Connecticut is a question of fact beyond our expertise at this time,” their January 2020 statement said.

     

    CNA sought comment from the Connecticut Catholic Conference but did not receive a response by deadline.

     

    Some 45 states have a religious exemption for childhood vaccination requirements. New York, California, Maine, Mississippi and West Virginia have eliminated the exemption. Court challenges to the exemption in five other states have failed.

     

    Democratic Rep. Jaime Foster, a backer of the Connecticut bill now under consideration, said disease outbreaks have consequences. A 2018 measles outbreak in New York had financial consequences of $8.4 million, while the median cost of a measles outbreak is $32,000 per case, Foster said.

     

    House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora said the law could be challenged in court because the state constitution guarantees the right to a public education. According to Candelora, lawmakers report hearing from parents who face difficulty securing a medical exemption that they are forced to seek a religious exemption. 

     

    He objected that the bill is “totally silent” on what to do with students and parents who cannot comply with mandatory vaccination.

     

    “There are individuals in our caucus who want to protect those children from being thrown out, but it doesn’t fundamentally address the questions of what we do going forward as a state and how the children who are unable to have public education, how that education is provided to them.”

     

    Opponents of the bill testified that it could divide families or force families who cannot afford it to homeschool. Some parents said they would be forced to keep children home because they do not believe they should be vaccinated.

     

    While backers of the bill said exemptions put at risk children with compromised immune systems who cannot get a vaccine, Rep. Doug Dubitsky, a Republican, said students have little choice in the matter of their religion.

     

    “So throwing those children out of school, it’s not based on their choice, it’s based on the choice of the people in this chamber, people who should know better,” he said, the Associated Press reports.

     

    The debate comes after more than a year of the new coronavirus epidemic, which has killed hundreds of thousands and hospitalized many more. The roll-out of vaccines against the COVID-19 virus is hoped to mark a permanent decline in new coronavirus infections.

     

    A March 4 letter from the Connecticut Catholic Conference, signed by the state’s leading Catholic bishops, said “people should feel free in good conscience to receive any of the vaccines currently available for the sake of their own health and the common good, which requires the prompt vaccination of as many people as possible.”

     

    The bishops cited the guidance of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and of the Holy See.

     

    “At the same time, the Church continues to advocate for the creation of vaccines that do not rely on cell lines derived, even remotely, from abortion,” Connecticut’s bishops said.

     

    The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops last month echoed the Vatican in stating that it is “morally acceptable” to receive COVID-19 vaccines produced using cell lines from aborted fetuses when no alternative is available, but if possible, Catholics ought to choose a vaccine with a more remote connection to abortion.

     

    The mRNA vaccines available from Pfizer and Moderna have an extremely remote connection to abortion in the testing phase, leading ethicists to judge those vaccines “ethically uncontroversial,” the USCCB said.

     

    The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith published a note in December 2020 explaining that “the use of such vaccines does not constitute formal cooperation with the abortion from which the cells used in production of the vaccines derive,” while also urging pharmaceutical companies and governmental health agencies to “produce, approve, distribute and offer ethically acceptable vaccines that do not create problems of conscience for either health care providers or the people to be vaccinated.”

  10. The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Hong Kong. Credit: Volodymyr Dvornyk/Shutterstock

    Hong Kong, China, Apr 20, 2021 / 19:01 pm (CNA).

    Catholics in Hong Kong are reeling after several pro-democracy figures were sentenced last week to prison terms for their peaceful resistance to the Chinese Communist Party and its efforts to crack down on Hong Kongers’ freedom. 

    In the wake of the sentences, one observer said this week that this would be an ideal time for Pope Francis to appoint Hong Kong auxiliary Bishop Joseph Ha Chi-shing, who has publicly supported the island’s pro-democracy movement, as bishop of the diocese. 

    “Bishop Ha, a Franciscan, is widely loved and respected in Hong Kong as a pastoral leader who cares for his flock, and a shepherd who combines wisdom and courage, to stand true to his values as a religious leader without being a firebrand,” Benedict Rogers, co-founder and chair of the monitoring group Hong Kong Watch, wrote in an April 18 op-ed at UCA News

    “If I were in the Vatican, this would be precisely the moment to promote Bishop Ha. To appoint as bishop of Hong Kong someone who is courageous but not reckless, who has the trust of his flock but has proven in the past two years his ability to lie low if required, would be exactly the right exertion of ecclesial and papal authority required. Whether the Vatican will have that courage remains to be seen.”

    Hong Kong has been without a permanent bishop since the death of Bishop Michael Yeung Ming-cheung in January 2019. John Cardinal Tong Hon, who retired as Bishop of Hong Kong in 2017, has served as the diocese’ apostolic administrator since then. 

    In 2019, CNA learned that the Vatican had resolved to appoint Bishop Ha to lead the diocese. 

    While the appointment was being processed, however, Bishop Ha was publicly seen at the front of pro-democracy demonstrations against an extradition law, and his nomination was reversed before a public announcement could be made.

    During January 2020, CNA reported that the Vatican had selected Fr. Peter Choy Wai-man, a vicar general of the diocese, as Hong Kong’s new bishop but had decided to delay the announcement of Fr. Choy’s appointment indefinitely. Some in the diocese have voiced concerns about Fr. Choy’s closeness to state authorities. 

    The Vatican has not announced any current candidates for the position. 

    Hong Kong is a special administrative region of China. Hong Kongers have historically enjoyed freedom of worship and evangelization, while in mainland China, by contrast, there is a long history of persecution for Christians who run afoul of the government.

    With the 2020 passage of new “national security laws,” the Chinese government seized more power to suppress pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, which it sees as a direct challenge to its power.

    Hong Kong’s National Security Law is broad in its definitions of terrorism, sedition, and foreign collusion. Under the law, a person who is convicted of the aforementioned crimes will receive a minimum of 10 years in prison, with the possibility of a life sentence.

    On April 16, authorities in Hong Kong sentenced several Catholic pro-democracy figures, including lawyer Martin Lee and media tycoon Jimmy Lai, to prison sentences under the new security law. 

    Lai, whose publication Apple Daily is consistently critical of the government, was given a 12-month sentence, while Lee— the founder of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy party– was given an 11-month suspended sentence. Both are significantly below the maximum sentences they could have faced under the security law. 

    Joseph Cardinal Zen Ze-kiun, SDB, who led the Diocese of Hong Kong from 2002-2009 and is a critic of the Vatican’s relationship to the Chinese government, has several times signaled his support for Bishop Ha. 

    Cardinal Zen tweeted Rogers’ op-ed April 19, urging that people write to Luis Cardinal Tagle, prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, presumably to urge the appointment of Bishop Ha.

    The cardinal referred to Rogers’ statement that “where China is concerned, the Vatican prefers to play politics and diplomacy rather than exercise its moral leadership,” and mentioned an interview given by Archbishop Paul Gallagher, Secretary for Relations with States at the Secretariat of State.

    Archbishop Gallagher had last month told The Standard, a Hong Kong daily held to be politically pro-Beijing, that “I don’t think that ‘grandstanding’ statements” from the Vatican on democracy in Hong Kong “can be terribly effective.”

    “I think you have to ask what effect [a statement] is going to have? Is it going to produce a positive change, or does it make the situation more complicated for the local church and for relations with the Holy See? At the moment, we feel that’s the right approach,” he stated.

    In 2018, the Vatican reached an agreement with the Chinese government on the appointment of bishops. The terms of the agreement, which was renewed in October 2020 for two more years, have never been publicly revealed.

    The agreement was undertaken to help unite the state-run Church and the underground Church. An estimated 6 million Catholics are registered with the Chinese Communist Party, while several million are estimated to belong to unregistered Catholic communities which have remained loyal to the Holy See.

    According to new rules set to take effect on May 1, 2021, the state-run Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association will be responsible for selecting episcopal candidates. The candidates will then be “approved and consecrated by the Chinese Catholic Bishops’ Conference.” The rules reportedly do not mention any role of the Vatican in approving bishops.

    According to Cardinal Zen, Christians in China have continued to be persecuted and harassed by authorities, “despite the agreement.”