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Without Yemen ceasefire mass starvation looms, critics say

Aden, Yemen, Oct 19, 2018 / 04:00 am (CNA).- The possibility of mass starvation in Yemen continues as a military engagement over a major port city could block food and other aid for millions of people.
 
“We cannot fail to be moved by the news coming from Yemen, of families ripped apart by this war,” said Giovanna Reda, head of Middle East humanitarian programs for CAFOD, the Catholic relief agency of the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales.
 
“The impact of this conflict is devastating,” Reda said in an Oct. 16 CAFOD briefing. “Hunger affects 17 million Yemenis which is 60 percent of the population. People do not know where and when they will get their next meal. Millions of people don’t have access to safe drinking water and proper sanitation. Last year, the country faced the largest outbreak of cholera, claiming the lives of thousands of people.”
 
Reda called on the U.N. security council to act to secure a ceasefire and “halt the suffering of millions of people.”
 
At least 6,500 civilians have been killed in the three-year conflict, as have over 10,000 combatants.
 
Yemen’s costal city Hodeidah is a key port of entry for U.N. and other humanitarian aid. The city is now the center of a three-year-old conflict between Arab allies backed by Saudi Arabia and Iran-backed Houthi rebels.
 
Saudi-allied ground troops are now seeking to capture the city from the Houthis, CNN reports.
 
Yemeni civilians face the dangers of war: airstrikes, sniper attacks, and a fuel blockade. On top of this, they face severe water shortages and difficulties securing food, shelter, sanitation, and medical care.
 
Jan Egeland, secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council, said that starvation is a weapon of war.
 
“Civilians in Yemen are not starving, they are being starved. Let it be known that the worst famine on our watch is wholly man-made by Yemen’s local conflict parties and their international sponsors,” Egeland said. “Yemen has long been bombarded with air strikes and subjected to strangling tactics of war. Mass starvation is a deadly byproduct of actions taken by warring parties and the Western nations propping them up.”
 
The manner of waging war has “systematically choked civilians by making less food available and affordable to millions of people,” said Egeland, who said widespread famine can be avoided if the U.S., the U.K., France and Iran call for an immediate ceasefire and bring warring factions together for a peace deal.
 
Stephen Anderson, the U.N.’s World Food Programme Yemen country director, told CNN that since June over 500,000 people have fled their homes because of fighting in Hodeidah. The Yemeni currency, the riyal, has collapsed in value and basic food items’ cost has increased by 33 percent in a year’s time.
 
Due to the unpredictable security situation around Hodeidah, the WFP cannot import 51,000 tons of wheat stocks at its Red Sea Mills facility, Anderson said. Those supplies could feed 3.7 million people for a month.
 
CAFOD is supporting 500 Yemeni families who have fled as refugees to neighboring Djibouti. The aid, provided by Caritas Djibouti, helps provide emergency medical care, food assistance, and support for micro-credit businesses to help these families become more economically independent.
 
The Catholic agency has a relief partner working in the Yemen but it is not naming it or its areas of work “because they are operating at great risk to their own safety… publicizing their work could endanger both them and the life-saving programs they are delivering.”
 
“Against a challenging environment, they have been able to check thousands of children suffering from malnutrition or showing signs of the condition--providing the nutritious food supplements needed for proper treatment,” the agency said.
 
Before the blockade and attack on Hodeidah, its partner was able to provide nutrition services, identifying children under five years old and breastfeeding mothers who have acute malnutrition. The partner group trained community volunteers to spot the worst cases of malnutrition in their communities and help get treatment for mothers and babies.
 
The U.S. government is providing some forms of military support to Saudi Arabia and U.S.-supplied weapons to Saudi Arabia have been traced to incidents that have killed civilians. An Aug. 9 ariel bombing of a school bus killed dozens of children with a bomb manufactured by U.S. defense contractor Lockheed Martin, CNN said.
 
Then-President Barack Obama had banned the sale of precision-guided military technology to Saudi Arabia, citing human rights concerns, but the Trump administration overturned the ban in March 2017.
 
The Saudi-led coalition has defended its targeting standards and said it will investigate claims of civilian deaths reported by CNN.

New Zealand bishops reaffirm commitment to government abuse inquiry

Wellington, New Zealand, Oct 19, 2018 / 12:00 am (CNA).- The Catholic bishops of New Zealand have countered reports that say they are backing away from an upcoming government inquiry into sexual abuse cases in state and religious institutions in the country.

“Listening to individuals who have been harmed is critical in ensuring the Church’s response will be thorough, effective and compassionate, and forms part of our experience for developing safeguarding for today and into the future,” the bishops said in a statement published on their website.

They wrote responding to reports that they had backed away from a royal commission inquiry, which will examine historical cases of sexual abuse at institutions of care in New Zealand between the years 1950-1999.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced the royal commission of inquiry into sex abuse cases in January 2018, the highest form of long-term investigation available in the country.

While the original terms of the inquiry included youth detention centers, psychiatric hospitals and orphanages, as well as any government care services contracted out to private institutions, the Catholic bishops of New Zealand published a letter in March 2018 calling for an expansion of the inquiry’s terms to include Catholic care institutions.
 
In that letter, the bishops said they would be “active contributors and learners within the Royal Commission of Inquiry.”   

“We assure you once again of our support and our desire to learn from this national undertaking which we are confident will contribute positively to the strengthening and safeguarding of our whānau, communities and society,” they wrote.

In their recent statement, the bishops referenced their March letter and reiterated their support of the inquiry.

“The Bishops and representation from Catholic Religious orders wrote to Prime Minister Ardern, Minister Martin, and Sir Anand Satyanand in March this year. That letter explicitly sought the broadening of the draft Terms of Reference to include Church institutions and was made publicly available and reported in the media,” the bishops said.

The statement comes amid pressure from two New Zealand men who are publicly calling for the release of Church files on Father Cornelius O'Brien, an Irish priest who moved to New Zealand in 1963 and served at least seven parishes until 1976, at which point he was accused of indecency against a 10 year-old and returned to the UK. He is reportedly believed to have sexually abused multiple children during his time in New Zealand. O’Brien died 6 years ago, his priestly faculties having never been removed.

The New Zealand Royal Commission inquiry is expected to take several years and is similar to the recently-concluded five-year Royal Commission inquiry in Australia, which examined sex abuse in Australian schools, churches, and sports clubs, and set up a government program to financially compensate victims.

The bishops of Australia said in August that while they have accepted hundreds of specific recommendations from the final report, they reject the recommendation that priests violate the seal of confession in cases of sexual abuse disclosed during confession.

 

How diapers impact the bottom line, and how an NYC law can help

New York City, N.Y., Oct 18, 2018 / 07:00 pm (CNA).- The New York City council passed a law Wednesday that will require many centers serving women and children in the city to provide diapers and baby wipes free of charge. The bill had no opposing votes in the council.

The new law covers child care centers, domestic violence shelters, youth shelters, and homeless shelters that are contracted with the city to provide services. Each location must have clear signage or a written notice informing mothers that diapers and wipes are available to them for children three years old and younger.

The provision also includes family justice centers, which provide legal, counseling and supportive services for survivors of domestic violence, elder abuse and sex trafficking; and LYFE centers, an NYC Department of Education program that provides free early childhood education to children of student parents.

In an Oct. 16 committee report, the New York City council laid out the need for the new law, noting that an infant will use over 3,000 diapers in their first year of life at a cost of more than $500.

The report also noted that the Women, Infants, and Children assistance and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program cannot be used to purchase diapers, and that Medicaid will only reimburse diapers purchased for individuals older than 3 years.

Alison Weir, Chief of Policy at the National Diaper Bank Network, testified to the city council that the provision of free diapers to low-income families in Connecticut resulted in a decrease in the spread of disease and in decrease in rashes and other skin irritations among babies.

The New York Daily News reported that the sponsor of the bill estimates that the new provision will cost the city $1.1 million in fiscal year 2019, increasing to nearly $5 million in 2020 because of increasing demand. New York’s total budget for FY2019 is over $88 billion.
 
The law is set to take effect within four months of its passage. The Department of Citywide Administrative Services will provide the supply of diapers and wipes to the appropriate city entities, or to independent organizations contracting with the city.

The Connecticut Diaper Bank, which provides free diapers to women in that state, testified before the city council that: “Access to a reliable supply of clean diapers affects families in significant ways, like enabling parents to maintain employment, complete their education, and improve the health and well-being of their children.”

 

40 percent of U.S. children born to unmarried parents, rate increasing worldwide

Washington D.C., Oct 18, 2018 / 05:00 pm (CNA).- New data shows that an increasing number of babies worldwide are born to unmarried parents.

The data was released in an annual report published by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA.)

About 40 percent of U.S. children born in 2016 had unmarried parents, the report shows. This is more than double the percent of U.S. children born with unmarried parents in 1980, and 10 percentage points higher than in 1990.

In the rest of the world, even more children are born to unmarried parents. In 2016, 60 percent of French babies were born with unmarried parents.

The UN data showed that across the areas studied--the United States, France, Spain, Sweden, the EU, Japan, and Russia, the unwed pregnancy rate has increased or remained relatively stable in recent years. France has had the highest percent of babies born to unmarried parents since 2010, eclipsing Sweden, the previous leader.

One exception to the trend is Russia, which has seen the percent of children born to an unwed mother drop from a high of 30 percent in 2004 to 22 percent in 2016. Russia’s abortion rate has also fallen during this time period.

In 2017, the organization Save the Children rated the Scandinavian countries Sweden, Norway, and Finland, as among the most accommodating for single mothers.

Japan’s unmarried parenthood rate is far lower than western nations. In 2015, 98 percent of Japanese babies were to married parents. Japan’s fertility rate also remains among the lowest in the world.

Heritage Foundation Senior Fellow Robert Rector wrote a report in 2012 that described marriage as “America’s greatest weapon against child poverty.” Children living in a home with two married parents were 82 percent less likely to live in poverty than children who did not have married parents, said Rector. This number applied even when controlling for education level.

In 2009, the U.S. Census found that 37 percent of homes with children headed by a single parent were in poverty, compared to only 6.8 percent of homes with children and married parents.

 

Youth synod will write message to youth, discussion group names will not be released

Vatican City, Oct 18, 2018 / 03:56 pm (CNA).- The 2018 Synod of Bishops has elected a group of eight participants to begin drafting a message from the synod to the youth of the world.

The text will be put to the entire assembly for approval before it is published.

Announced in an Oct. 18 press briefing, among members of the commission are youth auditors Briana Santiago, an American consecrated women of the Apostles of the Interior Life and Anastasia Indrawan, a member of the youth commission for the bishops’ conference of Indonesia.

The bishop members of the committee are Archbishop Dieudonne Nzapalainga of Bangui, Auxiliary Bishop Emmanuel Gobilliard of Lyon, Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney, and Bishop Eduardo Horacio Garcia of San Justo, Argentina.

Fr. Alois, prior of the Ecumenical Community of Taize, and auditor Michele Falabretti, leader of the youth pastoral care office at the Italian bishops’ conference are also part of the group selected to write the message.

Contrary to what was communicated to journalists earlier in the week, names of the members of each small language group, called “circoli minori” will not be released, the Vatican’s chief of communication, Paolo Ruffini, said Oct. 18.

The reason for this, he said, “is to seek to show forth the spirit of the synod, which is a spirit of communion” and to reflect the desire of the synod’s General Secretariat “to not transform the synod into a debate about ‘who said what’ but to tell it for what it is: a communal reflection of the Church.”

During the press conference, veteran Vatican journalist Sandro Magister noted that the names of members of each small group were published by synod organizers at the 2015 synod on the family, to which Ruffini replied that he would share the suggestion, though “each synod has its rules.”

Ruffini told journalists the small groups are now discussing the third part of the Instrumentum laboris, and the final document is well under way. Among those who spoke at the press conference was Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev, a bishop of the Russian Orthodox Church who is participating in the synod as a “fraternal delegate.”

Topics of discussion and speeches inside the synod hall the last two sessions included the importance of sanctity, reading the Bible, prayer, and community for young people. The importance of fasting was also brought up as a practice which is mostly abandoned in western culture and should be rediscovered.

Other proposals from inside the hall were the creation of a pontifical council of young people on the same level as other Vatican departments, and which could be led by a woman. Discussing the role of women in the Church, a synod of bishops on women was also suggested.

The issue of the migration of youth was also covered. Cardinal Berhaneyesus Demerew Souraphiel of Ethiopia spoke about the issue during the press briefing, explaining that in Africa, about 80 percent of migration is internal, within the continent.

He said lack of good governance, corruption, conflict and civil war, and the arms trade all contribute to the challenge of migration and displacement in the African continent.

The cardinal spoke about a loss, particularly in parts of Europe, of what he sees as the biblical tradition of receiving guests and refugees well. “It is sad when we hear that some borders are being closed to people seeking safety,” he said. “Where are the Christian roots of Europe? Where are the Christian values?”

 

Federal agents investigate abuse in Pennsylvania dioceses

Philadelphia, Pa., Oct 18, 2018 / 03:40 pm (CNA).- The Department of Justice has served subpoenas to several dioceses in the state of Pennsylvania, in what is believed to be a state-wide move by federal authorities to investigate sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy.

Chanceries across the Commonwealth were served with requests for documentation and files Oct. 18.

While Pennsylvania diocesan officials have not commented on the scope of the materials subpoenaed, a senior Church official told CNA the investigation concerns the federal crimes of transporting minors across state lines to abuse them, and the production or distribution of illegal pornography, including electronically.

The files requested of at least one diocese date back only to 2001, the official said.

There has been widespread speculation that a federal investigation might focus on charges related to institutional cover-ups or conspiracy, perhaps seeking to build a case under the federal RICO laws meant for dealing with organized crime. The official told CNA that, at present, the scope of the investigation does not seem to include conspiracy or other institutional charges.

“The files they are asking to be handed over, at least here, are in relation to the possible commission of particular crimes,” he said.

“As its been explained by the agents coming in, it’s those two crimes [transporting minors across state lines and illegal pornography] that are being looked at, maybe that’s got something to do with why they are only looking at files going back to ’01,” the official said.

“Maybe there is more to come, but it looks like they are beginning by looking for actual acts of abuse of minors and not yet on the institutional side of things – at least so far.”

So far, six of the eight the dioceses in the state have confirmed being served by federal agents, these are: Pittsburgh, Allentown, Scranton, Erie, Philadelphia, and Harrisburg.

“The Archdiocese of Philadelphia has received a subpoena issued by a federal grand jury, which requires the production of certain documents. The Archdiocese will cooperate with the United States Department of Justice in this matter,” Ken Gavin, spokesman for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, told CNA.

Bill Genello, director of communications in the Diocese of Scranton told CNA that “the Diocese of Scranton has received the subpoena and will completely cooperate.”

The federal investigation comes just over two months after the Aug. 14 publication of a Pennsylvania grand jury report investigating clerical sexual abuse. That report identified more than 300 priests accused of abusing 1,000 victims over a period of seventy years.  

The report resulted in charges being filed against only two priests. The federal statutes of limitations that apply to crimes crossing state borders could lead to further indictments.

A spokesman for the Archdiocese of Washington told CNA that “the archdiocese knows nothing about a Department of Justice proceeding beyond the initial media reports.”

Washington’s recently retired archbishop, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, served as Bishop of Pittsburgh from 1988-2006, and came under fire after the grand jury reported suggested that he had permitted at least one priest accused of sexual abuse to remain in ministry after an accusation had been made.

According to the Washington Post, the decision to open the investigation was made by federal prosecutors in the U.S. attorney’s office in Philadelphia and was not a directive from Washington, D.C.

State-led investigations into clerical sexual abuse are currently underway in several states including Maryland, Michigan, Nebraska, New Jersey, and Missouri. Other states, like New York, have announced they will soon begin taking similar action.

The news of a federal investigation in Pennsylvania raises the possibility that similar probes could also be launched in other states.

 

 

Questions arise about Vatican official mentioned in Vigano report

Vatican City, Oct 18, 2018 / 11:52 am (CNA).- An Italian magazine has raised new questions about a Vatican official mentioned in the August “testimony” of Archbishop Carlo Vigano. The report from L’Espresso, an Italian newsweekly, could be seen to provide support for at least one claim made in Vigano’s controversial testimony.

L’Espresso reported Oct. 12 that Venezuelan Archbishop Edgar Peña Parra, 58, who began serving Oct. 15 as “sostituto” of the Vatican’s Secretariat of State, might have been dismissed from a seminary where he studied because he was thought by seminary administrators to have a homosexual orientation.

As ‘sostituto’, the archbishop is tasked with overseeing much of the day-to-day business of the Vatican’s Curial offices.

The magazine published a February 1985 letter from Archbishop Domingo Perez, then Archbishop of Maracaibo, the archdiocese in which Parra was later ordained. The letter was written to the rector of the St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary, at which Parra did the first part of his seminary studies before being dismissed.

In the letter, Perez said that he had received negative reports about Parra from the St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary, and acknowledged that Parra had been dismissed from studies there. Perez said that he had subsequently sent the student to another seminary in Caracas, and had received positive reports about him there.

However, Perez wrote that he had received an anonymous letter alleging that Parra had been expelled from his first seminary because he had a homosexual orientation and was, he wrote, “a sexually sick person.”

Perez asked the seminary rector to make inquiries into those allegations. L’Espresso did not report any additional communications between the archbishop and the seminary rector. Parra was ordained six months after Perez sent his letter.

Parra is among the bishops mentioned in Vigano’s Aug. 25 “testimony” regarding Archbishop Theodore McCarrick. In that document, Vigano claimed that while he oversaw personnel for Vatican diplomatic offices, he had received “worrisome information” about Parra, who worked at that time in the Vatican diplomatic corps.

Vigano did not specify what “worrisome information” he had received, but the questions raised about Parra’s seminary formation could seem to fit with the tenor of Vigano’s testimony.

The archbishop’s testimony made claims about the sexuality of other Vatican officials, while arguing that “the virtue of chastity must be recovered in the clergy and in seminaries. Corruption in the misuse of the Church’s resources and of the offerings of the faithful must be fought against. The seriousness of homosexual behavior must be denounced. The homosexual networks present in the Church must be eradicated.”

The credibility of Vigano’s claims has come under fire lately, as some Vatican officials have denounced his testimony as an attack on Pope Francis.

Nevertheless, an Oct. 7 letter from Cardinal Marc Oullet, prefect of the Vatican Congregation for Bishops, corroborated Vigano’s central claim, that McCarrick had been directed by the Vatican to withdraw from public life because of reports about his alleged sexually abusive behavior toward priests and seminarians.

On the other hand, Oullet's letter refuted the notion that the measures against McCarrick were formal “canonical sanctions,” a claim initially made by Vigano that seems to mostly have been disproven.

A September report from Catholic News Service corroborated Vigano’s claim that the Vatican had received at least some reports about McCarrick as early as 2000.

CNA independently confirmed another Vigano claim, that McCarrick had been ordered by a Vatican official to move out of the Washington, DC seminary where he had been living after his retirement.

On Oct. 18, L’Espresso added to its report, noting that Parra had a longtime close relationship with Cardinal Oscar Maradiaga, the coordinator of the pope’s C9 Council of Cardinals. Vigano had also noted their friendship.

The magazine also claimed that the archbishop had developed a friendship with Bishop Juan Jose Pineda, former auxiliary bishop of Maradiaga’s Archdiocese of Tegucigalpa, who in recent months had been accused of sexual misconduct involving seminarians and other adult men.

L’Espresso reported Oct. 18 that the Vatican declined to respond to its questions about Parra.

 

USAID head meets with Vatican officials to talk aid for Iraq

Vatican City, Oct 18, 2018 / 11:45 am (CNA).- The head of the United States government’s international aid agency met with Vatican officials and an Iraqi cardinal Wednesday, in an effort to highlight U.S. efforts in the Middle East.

Mark Green, who leads the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), told CNA that the objective for his Oct. 17 day at the Vatican was to show what his organization has been doing on the ground in Iraq, working to rebuild communities and provide emergency relief.

He said it was a chance for Vatican officials “to kick the tires and offer ideas and suggestions.”

Effective development work, Green said, “is always based around dialogue and a conversation.”

The USAID Administrator met with the Vatican’s Archbishop Paul Gallagher, Secretary for Relations with States, and with Cardinal Peter Turkson, prefect of the Dicastery for the Promotion of Integral Human Development.

Green’s visit to Rome took place after an announcement earlier this month that USAID had signed an agreement with the Knights of Columbus. The two groups will partner in assisting religious minorities in the Middle East rebuild their communities after the persecution and genocide of the Islamic State.

Enlisting the direct help of religious groups like the Knights of Columbus, Malteser International, and Samaritan’s Purse is “crucial” to the success of USAID’s projects in the region, Green said.

The U.S. agency also announced Oct. 16 that it was increasing assistance to religious and ethnic minorities in Iraq by around $45 million. This new commitment brings the total amount in planned and active efforts in support of minority communities in northern Iraq to more than $239 million.

While in Rome, Green also met with Cardinal Louis Sako I, head of the Chaldean Catholic Church and the Archbishop of Baghdad.

The meeting followed strong comments from the patriarch, who had claimed that U.S. government policies were empty promises of help.

Speaking to journalists Oct. 16, Sako said, “until now,” there has been nothing from the American government to help Iraqi people return to their homes.

Green told CNA that his meeting with Sako was a good opportunity both to show what USAID was doing already, and to hear ideas from him on what else can be done.

“I’m a tough metrics guy, so don’t just tell me you’re doing it, show me that you’re doing it,” Green said. “That’s what I wanted to bring to [Cardinal Sako]. And a commitment that the door is open, that we will continue to listen.”

Sako was shown photographs of projects already underway in Iraq, and graphics illustrating the reach of the aid efforts, Green said.

He emphasized that he did not think there was major disagreement between Sako and himself, but that it is “a matter of helping to show him what it is that we’re doing and learn about more that we could be doing.”

Green travelled to northern Iraq this past summer, together with Congressman Jeff Fortenberry and Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback, to evaluate how U.S. aid money is being applied and see at first-hand the situation facing Iraqi minorities.

Following that trip, Green said, USAID had stationed a special representative, Max Primorac, in the U.S. Consulate General in Erbil as an on-the-ground special representative for minority assistance.

This new post, Green said, is to “take a clear-eyed, tough-minded look” at what is happening, to see what is working and what is not, and to help ensure results.

“I think what this whole effort is doing... is not only helping to meet some immediate needs, not only helping to do some strengthening and bolstering of infrastructure, but also hopefully strengthening the capacity of organizations on the ground for the long run.”

The hope, Green said, is to “continue to build up this part of Iraq, so that families say, ‘my future is here, I can live here, my children can go to school here, there will be the kinds of jobs that keep them here.’”

Pope Francis & South Korean president pray for peace

Vatican City, Oct 18, 2018 / 09:45 am (CNA).- South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in met with Pope Francis today after praying for peace on the Korean peninsula in St. Peter’s Basilica. The visit marked the 55th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Seoul and the Vatican.

 

“I come to you as president of South Korea, but also as a Catholic. My baptismal name is Matthew,” Moon said as he greeted Pope Francis in the Vatican Apostolic Palace Oct. 18.

 

The Korean president and the pope discussed their common commitment to fostering initiatives to overcome the tensions that still exist in the Korean Peninsula, according to the Holy See Press Office.

 

After the papal meeting, Moon met with Archbishop Paul Gallagher, Secretary for the Relations with States, and Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin.

 

The evening before the visit, Moon also participated in a “Mass for Peace” on the Korean peninsula celebrated by Cardinal Parolin in St. Peter’s Basilica.

 

“Peace is built with the choices of every day, with a serious commitment to the service of justice and solidarity, with the promotion of the rights and dignity of the human person, and especially through the care of the weakest,” Cardinal Parolin said in his homily.

 

The chief Vatican diplomat prayed that “even in the Korean Peninsula, after so many years of tensions and division, the word peace can finally resound fully.”

 

President Moon said after the Mass that their prayers in St. Peter’s will “resound as echoes of hope in the hearts of the people of the two Koreas as well as the people of the whole world who desire peace.”

 

“Just as your holiness prayed before the U.S.-North Korea summit, we are paving a desirable way toward assuring a peaceful future for the Korean Peninsula and the world,” Moon said.

 

The pope and the Korean president exchanged gifts, including a medallion of olive branches as a message of peace and a Korean image of the Virgin Mary.

 

When Pope Francis saw Moon’s gift of a sculpture of the face of Jesus by a Korean artist, he remarked that he could see the suffering of the Korean people in Christ’s crown of thorns.

 

Last month, Moon traveled to Pyongyang for the third inter-Korean summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. The leaders of the two Koreas pledged to make a joint bid for the 2023 Summer Olympics.

 

During their meeting, Kim Jong Un asked the South Korean leader to extended an invitation to Pope Francis for a papal visit to North Korea. Kim told Moon that he would “greatly welcome” the pope in Pyongyang, according to South Korea’s presidential office.

 

A South Korean bishop attending the 2018 Synod of Bishops said last week that a papal visit to Pyongyang would be “a giant step forward for peace on the Korean peninsula,” but cautioned that there must be “some sort of religious freedom” before such a visit takes place.

 

North Korea has consistently been ranked the worst country for persecution of Christians by Open Doors. Christians within the atheist state have faced arrest, re-education in labor camps, or, in some cases, execution for their faith.

A United Nations investigation in 2014 produced a 372-page report that documented crimes against humanity, including execution, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, forced abortions, and knowingly causing prolonged starvation.

The U.S. State Department estimates that there are currently an estimated 80,000 to 120,000 people in North Korea’s six political prison camps.

 

“Only those who have experienced the inscrutable mystery of the apparent absence of God in the face of suffering, oppression and hatred can fully understand what it means to hear the word peace resound again,” Cardinal Parolin said at the Mass for the Korean peninsula.

 

“I and all my people hold dearly the pope's message that 'dialogue is the only solution in every conflict.' [We] will solemnly walk toward democracy, lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula and an inclusive nation," Moon wrote in an article published by Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano Oct. 17.

 

President Moon expressed hope that “exchange between the Vatican and North Korea will further increase.”



Get real: What young religious hope to hear from the youth synod

Denver, Colo., Oct 18, 2018 / 04:00 am (CNA).- Tonia Borsellino knows she’s a part of the “one percent” in the U.S. It doesn’t bother her. In fact, she seems proud.

She’s actually Sister Tonia Borsellino. And as a newly-veiled, 23 year-old novice with the Mercederian Sisters, she is among the one percent of religious sisters in the United States under the age of 40.

While her life, and the lives other young religious, may look different from those of their lay counterparts, Borsellino and other young religious say they are looking for similar things from the bishops participating in the Vatican’s synod of bishops on young people, taking part in Rome this month.

CNA spoke with several young consecrated religious sisters and brothers about their hopes for the synod.

Chief among their concerns is authenticity - they want leaders who are honest and holy; they want their bishops to be unafraid to speak the full truth of the Gospel to young people, even when it’s hard.

Brother Lawrence Johnson, 29, is a friar with the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal in Bronx, New York.

Johnson, who participated in a pre-synod meeting in Rome with other young people, told CNA that authenticity was one of the key concerns of the delegates at that meeting. The words “authentic” or “authenticity” appear seven times in the 14-page document from that meeting.

“We talked at the pre-synod meeting about the power of testimony and personal witness as something that really resonates with young people, and so I think to see Church leaders...give their own testimony to the power of their encounter with Christ is something youth need to hear,” he said.

It’s particularly important at this specific time in the Church, he said - the months just after the so-called  “summer of hell”, when sexual abuse scandals continued to break throughout the Church in the United States and other countries throughout the world.

Young people need an answer from their leaders as to why they are still Catholic even in difficult times, Johnson said, “because even religious and priests can have a temptation to discouragement.”

“So I think we need to talk about what’s happened, to speak credibly and authentically, but at the same time with joy and fervor...centered on the center of our faith, on the reality of God’s love manifested in Jesus Christ.”

Sister Benedicta Turner of the Daughters of St. Paul is another young sister - “yes, we exist!” - who hopes that the synod fathers recognize young people’s desire for clarity and truth, even when it is difficult.

“It is a generation that strongly values clarity and authenticity, perhaps to a fault. Slick, expensive presentations go ignored while raw, sincere testimony is held with reverence,” she said.

Turner said that Church leaders need to return to an authentic presentation of the totality of the Gospel, and to challenge rather than compromise with the current culture.

“I think we need leaders who are willing to answer the hard questions young people are asking, who are more inclined to engage the culture than to make excuses for it, and who are willing to admit mistakes and failure with honesty and humility,” she said.

“We need leaders who are unafraid to give us the Gospel in its most intense, undiluted form; the Gospel for which the martyrs offered their lives and whose beauty has inspired countless works of art over the centuries,” she added.

Only this kind of engagement with the Gospel and the hearts of young people will be effective in calling them out of complacency and into relationship with Christ, she said.

Br. Neil Conlisk, a 30 year-old Carmelite brother, told CNA that he feared the synod’s bishops would not listen to young people’s desire for authenticity and truth and that they would continue on with “business as usual” and talk past young people.  

“No one wants a worldly Church,” he said. “I fear that the Synod Fathers will try to change the Church in the name of the youth, but this ‘change-the-church’ fever is a symptom of the illness that has caused the long decline, and we simply cannot afford to destroy the Church any more.”

“We are hearing, from many bishops, moralistic therapeutic deism, but we want the fullness of the faith within the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church,” he added.

In addition to speaking the truth, Johnson said that what he hopes arises from the synod is a greater recognition throughout the Church of the need to live lives of holiness, so that young people have examples to follow in the Christian life.

“Young people need to see examples of holiness so that they know that Christianity is true, it’s beautiful and its attainable,” he said.

When young people need to see that there are Christians who “weren’t born perfect, but there are people who admit their weaknesses and rely on the Lord’s strength and are able to lead lives of holiness,” whether that person is a bishop or a priest or a lay member of the Church, he said.

This need for examples of Christian holiness is not new, Borsellino told CNA, but it is a constant need throughout the history of the Church.

“Young people need radical, authentic witnesses of the Gospel in this world that are willing to speak to their hearts,” she said. “It has always been and will always be a need. Jesus knew that well when he formed those intimate relationships with his disciples.”  

Vocational discernment is another point of focus for the youth synod. As young people who have discerned at least the first few steps of a religious vocation, many of the young religious CNA spoke to said they hoped the synod bishops would emphasize the importance of a relationship with Jesus through prayer and the sacraments as key to discernment.

“Discernment is about listening to God's voice and one cannot do that without having a relationship with Jesus,” said Sr. Kathryne of the Holy Trinity, a 26-year old with the Mercederian Sisters. “Then once that relationship is established, it cannot remain stagnant.”

Johnson said he was surprised by the strong desire for increased access to the sacraments and Eucharistic adoration expressed by the delegates at the pre-synod meeting - something that has been echoed in synod’s working document.

“When it comes to questions of discernment and being disposed to discern God’s will, I think focusing on silence and being in the presence of Christ (particularly) in the Eucharist” are important, he said.

Another desire of young people expressed in the pre-synod document was for more formation in the faith. Borsellino said she was surprised by how many basic things about the faith she did not know until she began religious life, and emphasized the need for ongoing formation even after young people are confirmed.

“...it is important for the Church to educate the faithful because the desire will then grow in them to continue pursuing that truth,” she said.

“Especially ministering to young people, post-confirmation, when the sense of 'obligation' to continue practicing the faith is lost if there is not an understanding of the faith or deep love for Christ in their hearts.”

Overall, Borsellino said she is encouraged that the bishops are trying to listen to the young people of the Church, and encouraged Catholics not to be too discouraged by the growing number of young people who are religiously unaffiliated.

“I think the messages from the youth synod so far are proof of a desire that young people have for Truth, who is Jesus Christ,” she said. “There might not be many young people filling the pews right away but souls are being transformed. Look at the attendance at World Youth Days or FOCUS conferences,” she said.

“Young people might just go for fun at first, but then something clicks because we encounter Christ's real presence in our lives.”

She added that parishes and the whole Church community need to support each other in the journey to sainthood.

“We must all, young and old, pray for each other!”