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Cardinal Zen urges prayer for Christians in China

Rome, Italy, May 24, 2017 / 12:43 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- As Chinese Catholics celebrate the feast of Our Lady, Help of Christians, Cardinal Joseph Zen has asked for prayers on behalf of Christians in the country, who often face difficulty and even persecution for their faith.

“In the history of the Church, Our Lady, Help of Christians always came to help the Church in difficulty,” Cardinal Zen, Bishop Emeritus of Hong Kong, told CNA in an interview, adding that this help has always been particularly strong when attached to the rosary.

Noting how the Church is celebrating the centenary year of the apparitions in Fatima, he noted that in her appearances there Mary “came to ask for prayer.”

“Our Lady of Fatima, Our Lady, Help of Christians, they are really interested, concerned or maybe even worried about the situation of the Church, especially in the places where there is no freedom of religion,” he said.

“So please intensify your prayer – this is only thing we can do, and the only thing most useful and efficacious.”

Cardinal Zen, 85, is one of the most prominent Catholic voices in China, and is outspoken when it comes to the country and it’s Christian population.

He spoke ahead of the May 24 feast of Mary, Help of Christians, who is highly venerated among Chinese Catholics. Sheshan Basilica in Shanghai is dedicated to her, where she is also known as Our Lady of Sheshan.

Cardinal Zen recalled that in a letter to Chinese Catholics in 2007, Benedict XVI “composed a wonderful prayer” to Our Lady of Sheshan, suggesting that May 24 could become her permanent feast, and asking that it be a day of prayer dedicated to the Church in China.

In his letter, Benedict said the day is “an occasion for the Catholics of the whole world to be united in prayer with the Church which is in China.”

As the feast is celebrated, then, Cardinal Zen voiced his hope that Catholics throughout the world would pray for Christians in China, who often face persecution for their beliefs while living in an atheistic culture.

When it comes to Vatican relations with China, ever since the communist victory in the Chinese Civil War, the Holy See has had a reduced diplomatic presence in Beijing, with the nunciature being moved to Taiwan in 1951.

China-Vatican relations have been cool ever since, but with some apparent thaws. After Benedict XVI’s letter in 2007, a series of bishops’ appointments approved both by the Chinese government and the Holy See took place.

The Church in China, however, is still in a difficult situation. The government of the Chinese People’s Republic never recognized the Holy See’s authority to appoint bishops. Instead, it established the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (PA), which is a sort of ecclesiastical hierarchy officially recognized by the Chinese authorities.

In his letter, Benedict said the PA was “incompatible with Catholic doctrine,” since in their assemblies, held every few years, both legitimate and illegitimate bishops were treated equally by the PA, particularly regarding the sacraments.

For this reason, Chinese bishops recognized by the Holy See entered a clandestine state, thus giving life to the so called “underground Church” that is not recognized by the government.

But despite the hiccups that still exist, the Vatican has been working diligently to come to an agreement with the Chinese government, particularly regarding the appointment of bishops.

Talks with China are currently centered on bishop appointments, but as of now haven’t touched the possibility of establishing diplomatic ties.

The deal currently on the table would essentially allow the government to pick a list candidates for the episcopacy and propose them the names to the Pope for approval or denial.

For Cardinal Zen, the danger of this that it leaves open the possibility that the Pope will either be forced to approve a “bad bishop,” or his denial could be vetoed by the Chinese government.  

Whereas currently the Vatican sends a list of potential candidates to China to approve or deny, in the new deal it would be the clergy who elect candidates, and the Pope giving the final word on people who may or may not be government stooges.

Cardinal Zen said that while accurate information on the deal is hard to find, at the moment “it seems to be stopped,” which in his opinion is good news, because “the whole initiative starts from the government of China and the Holy Father has only the last word. But the last word may not be enough.”

Right now in China “there is no freedom, so people cannot speak out, and those who speak out, it means they have too good of a relationship with the government,” he said, adding that those vocally in favor “seem to hope in this agreement which may confirm their situation of privilege.”

“So I try to tell the people that no deal is better than a bad deal,” he said. “They should really consider the real good of the Church and not just to have an agreement at any cost.”

His recent comments echoed those he made to CNA earlier this year.

Cardinal Zen said he would “never criticize the Pope,” and that what he wants above all is for “everybody to be rational.”

“But I hope the people around the Pope stop giving him bad advice, because the Pope really needs to know the reality, and the reality is that there is no freedom, the reality is that we cannot see any goodwill on the part of Beijing government,” he said. “They are still controlling the Church and they want to control it even more.”

ISIS ally in Philippines storms Catholic cathedral, takes hostages

Marawi, Philippines, May 24, 2017 / 11:48 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Islamic State-allied militants in the Philippines have taken a Catholic priest and a group of church-goers hostage, threatening to kill them if the nation’s military does not cease its current offensive against them.

The hostages were taken during a militant siege in the southern Philippines city of Marawi on Tuesday and Wednesday. Militants also burned the Catholic cathedral of Marawi.

Archbishop Socrates Villegas, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, denounced the hostage-taking. He said the priest and the hostages had no involvement in the conflict between the military and the militants.

“He was not a combatant. He was not bearing arms. He was a threat to none,” the archbishop said. “His capture and that of his companions violates every norm of civilized conflict.”

The country’s Catholic bishops have urged prayers for the captured priest and the other hostages in the area. While the majority of the Philippines is Catholic, they make up only a small percentage of the population in Marawi, a mostly Muslim city of about 200,000 people, located on the island of Mindanao.

About 100 armed militants moved through Marawi on Tuesday, the Associated Press reports. They beheaded a police chief and burned buildings, including the bishop’s residence. They raised the black flag of the Islamic State group while also taking the hostages.

Responsible for the attack is the Maute group, a clan-based group with members in Marawi. It is one of under a dozen new armed Muslim groups that have pledged allegiance to ISIS. The groups have formed a loose alliance, reportedly led by Isnilon Hapilon, a commander of the Abu Sayyaf militant group.

The militants’ siege of Marawi followed an army raid on the hideout of Hapilon. The militant leader has pledged allegiance to ISIS and the United States has offered a $5 million reward for information leading to his capture.

Bishop Edwin de la Peña of Marawi was not at home at the time of the attack, but his secretary is reportedly among the hostages. He received a phone call from a militant who used his secretary’s phone. The militant introduced himself as a member of ISIS and demanded a unilateral ceasefire.

“They want a ceasefire and for the military to give them access out of Marawi. Otherwise, they will kill the hostages,” Bishop de la Peña told CBCP News.

The bishop reported that he was allowed to speak with Fr. Chito Suganob, the captive priest who is the vicar general of the Territorial Prelature of Marawi, in order to make their demands clear.

In addition to the priest, hostages include three church staffers and ten worshipers, the Associated Press said.

Bishop de la Peña himself barely missed being taken hostage.

“I was supposed to go to Marawi yesterday but I was asked to cancel my trip because of the siege,” he said.

Archbishop Villegas, the Catholic bishops’ conference president, urged prayers for peace and asked the militants to show mercy.

“We call on the Maute group that claims to bear arms in the name of a Merciful and Benevolent God – the very same God we Christians worship and adore – to do the One God true honor by the mercy and benevolence that are two of our God’s most exalted attributes,” he said.

The archbishop also addressed the response of government forces, saying, “We beg of them to make the safety of the hostages a primordial consideration.”

President Rodrigo Duterte, who has been heavily criticized for a brutal crackdown on illegal drugs, has cut short his trip to Russia and placed all of Mindanao island under martial law. The president has sought peace talks with two large Muslim rebel groups in the country’s south but has ordered the military to destroy smaller extremist groups like the Maute.

“It is difficult to root out because they are from there,” political analyst Ramon Casiple told the Associated Press. “The Mautes are embedded in the population.”

The group was blamed for a September 2016 bombing that killed 15 people in southern Davao city, the president’s hometown. A military raid on their jungle camp last month reportedly found homemade bombs, grenades, combat uniforms, and passports of suspected Indonesian militants.

 

Ivanka Trump meets with human trafficking survivors in Rome

Rome, Italy, May 24, 2017 / 10:30 am (CNA/EWTN News).- After a visit with Pope Francis Wednesday, Ivanka Trump met a group of human trafficking survivors, calling them examples of strength and addressing various legislative ways the U.S. government can help victims.

Ivanka met with a dozen victims of human trafficking from Nigeria and Eritrea. She described them as “remarkable women,” who are “testaments to strength, faith and perseverance in the face of unspeakable adversity and challenge.”

Ivanka is currently accompanying her father, U.S. President Donald Trump, on his first international tour, which also included stops in Saudi Arabia and Israel. Earlier in the day, Trump and Pope Francis had their first highly anticipated meeting.

The encounter between Ivanka and human trafficking victims took place at the headquarters of the Community of Sant’Egidio in Rome’s Trastevere neighborhood.

Ivanka Trump visited headquarters of the Community of Sant’Egidio in Rome. Learn more: https://t.co/3cfk2BrCX7 ???? Credit: Daniel Ibáñez/CNA pic.twitter.com/yr6lw0ITcr

— Catholic News Agency (@cnalive) May 24, 2017 Founded in 1968 by Italian layman Andrea Riccardi, a historian and former minister in the Italian government, the community focuses their mission on service to the poor and refugees, conflict resolution, and both ecumenical and inter-faith dialogue.

Sant’Egidio is a favorite of Pope Francis, who often praises the community for their work. It has long been involved in campaigns to combat human trafficking – also an important topic for Pope Francis – and has partnered with the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See for several events.

Ivanka thanked the community for their work, which she said “resonates strongly” not just in Italy, “but throughout the world.”

She said that in her meeting with representatives of Sant’Egidio, they were able to discuss several programs “that have been successfully launched and developed over many, many years now.”

These programs, she said, “have provided support and help to those who need it most, whether it's the elderly or the disadvantaged, and also victims of human trafficking throughout Africa and the whole world.”

“So it was a great privilege to be able to be here and the hear firsthand from these tremendous thought leaders about the work that's being done, what has worked and what has the potential to work better and to be better executed in the future,” she said, adding that she looks forward to further collaboration.

In comments to journalists following the meeting with Ivanka, two women from Sant’Egidio who work with the trafficking victims said it was an “intense” and “moving” encounter.

Some of the women told their stories, including how they were rescued, how their lives have changed and the situations they are in now.

There was “a lot of interest” on the part of Ivanka, they said, noting that she “listened very carefully” to their stories, but also asked questions about possible legislative initiatives on the part of the government to stop human trafficking, specifically when it comes to women.

Trafficking in the Mediterranean and Africa was mentioned specifically, including the trafficking of children, and a strong emphasis was placed on how the process begins in the countries where the victims originate.

According to the women from Sant’Egidio, Ivanka referred to her brief meeting with Pope Francis earlier that morning, telling the women that he is “a great advocate of your stories” of success and integration.

Ivanka then asked the victims what could be done. They said there is a greater need for communication and the sharing of information in their countries of origin, since many women are tricked into a trafficking ring under the false pretense that they will be moving to Europe for legitimate work, in many cases as a cook or maid.

They said that “public campaigns” are needed, because most women “never imagined” they would end up being trafficked.

In addition to the trafficking of persons, organ trafficking was also discussed, as well as the role of religion in ending violence and achieving peace, the freedom of women and the education of children.

In brief comments to journalists, Sant’Egidio founder and president Andrea Riccardi noted that Ivanka made a strong reference to collaboration with the organization’s projects in Africa, specifically in terms of helping to get legal documents for the continent’s “ghost children,” meaning children who are not registered and therefore have no legal identity, making them extra vulnerable and easy prey for traffickers.

Riccardi said Ivanka also showed a strong interest in an initiative the community is currently trying to push forward in Italy to get legal documents for women rescued from forced prostitution.

Before leaving with her father on his first international tour, Ivanka hosted an anti-human trafficking roundtable discussion at the White House May 17. The event gathered a swath of bipartisan lawmakers and representatives of numerous organizations that deal with human trafficking.  

According to reports, Ivanka spoke during that discussion about the Trump administration’s efforts to combat trafficking not only in the U.S., but throughout the world, telling attendees that “combatting human trafficking and modern slavery is both a moral and strategic interest domestically and abroad.”

That particular roundtable was a follow-up to a February discussion on the same topic, which was also organized by Ivanka. At the time, President Trump said he would use the “full force and weight” of the U.S. government to fight against trafficking.

 

Pope Francis: Even in the darkest moments, Jesus walks with us

Vatican City, May 24, 2017 / 08:39 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Wednesday Pope Francis said that no matter what trials we might face, we have hope because Jesus is always by our side, just like he was for the disciples on the road to Emmaus.

“All of us, in our lives, have had difficult, dark times; moments in which we have walked sad, thoughtful, without horizons and (with) only a wall in front,” Pope Francis said May 24.

However, even in these moments “Jesus is always beside us to give us hope, warm the heart and say, ‘Go ahead, I'm with you. Go ahead,’” the Pope said, adding that “the secret of the road leading to Emmaus is all here: even through unfavorable appearances, we continue to be loved.”

The Pope met with thousands of pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square for his weekly general audience, immediately following his meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump.

Francis said that no matter what, God always wants the best for us and “will walk with us.”

“Even in the most painful moments, even in the worst moments, even in moments of defeat: the Lord is there. And this is our hope. Let's go ahead with that hope! Because he is next to us and walks with us always!”

The Pope reflected on hope as it is found in the story of Christ’s appearance to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, when they feel sad, discouraged and defeated because Jesus has been killed, but they do not yet know about his Resurrection.

All of their hopes from before the crucifixion have been shattered, but this is because they “cultivated only human hope,” Francis said.

It is on this scene that Jesus appears. “This scenario – the road – had already been important in the accounts of the Gospels,” he explained, but “now it will become even more, as they begin to recount the story of the Church.”

This encounter of Jesus with the disciples seems “fortuitous,” he said, in the way it resembles the many times we are carrying our own crosses or burdens of sorrow and disappointment. But Jesus joins them, even though they do not recognize him, and he begins what Pope Francis called a “therapy of hope.”

The first step in this therapy, he said, is to “ask and listen: our God is not an intrusive God. Even though he already knows the reason for the disappointment of those two, he leaves them time to be able to gauge the depth of the bitterness that he has undergone.”

Then, listening to their words, we hear “a chorus of human existence: ‘We hoped, but…We hoped, but….’”

“How much sadness, how many defeats, how many failures there are in each person's life!” the Pope said, noting that “we are all a bit like those two disciples.”

“How many times in life we hoped, how many times we felt a step away from happiness, and then we found ourselves disappointed,” he reflected.

“But Jesus walks with all discouraged people who go forward with head down. And walking with them, in a subtle way, he succeeds in returning hope.”

When he does speak to them, Jesus does it first through the Scriptures. In the Bible, you will not find stories of “easy heroism, thunderous campaigns of conquest,” the Pope said. “True hope is never cheap: it always goes through defeats.”

In fact, Francis said, Jesus models this for us by not being the kind of leader that drags his people to victory by violently destroying his opponents. Instead, he takes a position of disdain himself.

Later that same night, when the disciples have invited him to eat dinner with them, they recognize him when he breaks the bread, repeating the gesture of the first Eucharist.

“In this series of gestures, is there not the whole story of Jesus? And is there not, in every Eucharist, the sign of what the Church must be? Jesus takes us, blesses us, ‘breaks’ our lives – because there is no love without sacrifice – and offers it to others, offers it to everyone.”

Jesus’ encounter with the disciples on the road to Emmaus is quick, he said, but in it we find “the fate of the Church.”

“He tells us that the Christian community is not locked up in a fortified citadel, but walks in its most vital environment; namely, the road. And there it meets people, with their hopes and their disappointments, sometimes heavy.”

“The Church listens to the stories of everyone, as they emerge from the depths of personal conscience, in order then to offer the Word of Life, the testimony of love, faithful love to the end,” he concluded. “And then, the hearts of people return to burning hope.”

St. Louis rule creates legal traps for pro-lifers, lawsuit charges

St. Louis, Mo., May 24, 2017 / 06:18 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A St. Louis city ordinance that could force Catholic schools and pro-life pregnancy centers to hire employees who support abortion has drawn legal opposition from the Archbishop of St. Louis and several pro-life organizations.

“As Catholics, we know that all life is a gift from God and our parents, and must be protected at any cost,” St. Louis Archbishop Robert Carlson said May 22. “Sadly, legal protection for those members of the human family waiting to be born in this country was removed by the Supreme Court in 1973.”

“Now, some of our St. Louis politicians have made a protected 'class' out of 'reproductive health,' which is merely a politically correct euphemism for abortion,” the archbishop said at a press conference on the steps of the federal courthouse in downtown St. Louis.

He said the archdiocese will not comply with the “vile bill.”

Archbishop Carlson was joined by Peggy Forrest of Our Lady’s Inn, which promotes abortion alternatives for pregnant women, archdiocesan newspaper the St. Louis Review reports. Also present was Sarah Pitlyk, special counsel for the Thomas More Society, which has filed the lawsuit seeking judicial review.

The Archdiocesan Elementary Schools of St. Louis, Our Lady’s Inn, and the private company O’Brien Industrial Holdings, LLC are parties to the lawsuit concerning St. Louis Ordinance 70459, also called Board Bill 203 Committee Substitute. The ordinance, enacted in February, creates a protected status for anyone who has “made a decision related to abortion,” even in cases where the abortion was not their own. The protections apply to corporations and all businesses, not only individuals.

Opponents said the bill would bar any individual or entity, including Christian organizations, from refusing to sell or rent property to individuals or businesses that promote or provide abortions. It could require Catholic schools to hire abortion supporters or potentially be sued.

The lawsuit notes the archdiocesan schools require teachers and employees to sign a statement saying they will not publicly support abortion and will otherwise live in harmony with Catholic teachings in their professional and personal lives. Organizations that require such a statement face criminal fines under the city bill, while individuals who enforce it face a fine and even jail time.

“The passage of this bill is not a milestone of our city’s success. It is, rather, a marker of our city’s embrace of the culture of death,” said Archbishop Carlson.

Pitlyk of the Thomas More Society further criticized the ordinance.

“The City of St. Louis, by pushing an abortion agenda, is clearly out of step with the rest of the state,” she charged. “The city has taken the protections typically granted to prevent discrimination for ‘race, age, religion, sex or disability’ and applied them to those who have made or expect to make ‘reproductive health decisions’,” she said.

Forrest said that the ordinance would bar Our Lady’s Inn from hiring only individuals who support its mission to provide abortion alternatives.

She said that since the ordinance was passed, her organization has received several suspicious calls that seemed like possible legal traps. She said there is a great possibility “that women either pretending to need services or knowing full well they don't want the services that we provide will engage us just to see if they can catch us in violating the ordinance.”

“It’s insincere and takes up time for women who really are interested in our services,” Forrest added. “We support women who have already made a choice for life. And if that's not the choice they’ve made then our services don’t match them.”  

The ordinance would also require businesses to include abortion coverage in employee health care plans, even if owners object. The Thomas More Society said this requirement is unlawful under the 2014 U.S. Supreme Court decision involving Hobby Lobby’s challenge to a federal rule mandating coverage of contraceptive drugs, including drugs that can cause abortion.

The Catholic-owned O’Brien Industrial Holdings, LLC, was also part of the Hobby Lobby case.

The St. Louis legal complaint said the ordinance violates other constitutional protections involving free speech, free association, the religion clauses of the First Amendment, due process rights, and equal protection, as well as several state laws.

Pitlyk also faulted the ordinance’s “extremely limited” religious exemptions for housing and employment, and its lack of exemptions for individuals who have “sincere religious, moral or ethical objections to abortion.”

“That is unconstitutional, and directly violates both federal and state law,” she said.

St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson defended the law in a statement, saying, “We don’t believe the ordinance infringes on the rights of the Archdiocese,” according to the Associated Press.

While backers of the ordinance said it aimed to address discrimination against individuals who have had, or were planning to have abortions, they could not find examples of such.

Pitlyk said the ordinance was “a remedy in search of a problem.”