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Pope Francis: The meek are not pushovers

Vatican City, Feb 19, 2020 / 04:00 am (CNA).- Pope Francis said Wednesday that a meek Christian is not weak, but defends his faith and controls his temper.

“The meek person is not accommodating, but is a disciple of Christ who has learned to defend another land well. He defends his peace, defends his relationship with God, and defends his gifts, preserving mercy, fraternity, trust, and hope,” Pope Francis said Feb. 19 in Paul VI Hall.

The pope reflected on the third beatitude from Christ’s Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”

“Meekness manifests itself in moments of conflict, you can see how you react to a hostile situation. Anyone might seem meek when everything is calm, but how does he react ‘under pressure’ if he is attacked, offended, assaulted?” Pope Francis asked.

“A moment of anger can destroy many things; you lose control and do not evaluate what is really important, and you can ruin the relationship with a brother,” he said. “On the other hand, meekness conquers many things. Meekness is capable of winning the heart, saving friendships and much more, because people get angry, but then calm down, rethink and retrace their steps, and you can rebuild.”

Pope Francis quoted St. Paul’s description of “the sweetness and meekness of Christ,” and said that St. Peter also called attention to this quality of Jesus at his passion in 1 Peter 2:23 when Christ “did not respond and did not threaten because ‘he entrusted himself to the one who judges with justice.’”

The pope also pointed to examples from the Old Testament, quoting Psalm 37, which similarly links “meekness” with the possession of land.

“In Scripture the word ‘meek’ also indicates one who has no landed property; and therefore we are struck by the fact that the third beatitude says precisely that the meek ‘will inherit the earth,’” he said.

“Possession of land is a typical area of ​​conflict: one often fights for a territory, to obtain hegemony over a certain area. In wars the strongest prevails and conquers other lands,” he added.

Pope Francis said that the meek do not conquer the land, they “inherit” it.

“The People of God call the land of Israel which is the Promised Land ‘inheritance’ … That land is a promise and a gift for the people of God, and it becomes a sign of something much bigger and deeper than a simple territory,” he said.

The meek inherits “the most sublime of territories,” Francis said describing heaven, and the land he conquers is “the heart of others.”

“There is no land more beautiful than the heart of others, there is no more beautiful territory to be gained than the peace found with a brother. And that is the land to be inherited with meekness,” Pope Francis said.

Picture this: Knights of Columbus publish new illustrated history

New Haven, Conn., Feb 19, 2020 / 12:00 am (CNA).- A multitude of photos and copies of historic records enliven a new history of the largest Catholic men’s organization in the world, “The Knights of Columbus: An Illustrated History,” to be released in March.

“It’s a testament to the power of faith in action,” Andrew Walther, a co-author of the book, told CNA.

Readers will “get a sense of just how many things the Knights have affected in so many different ways for the betterment of communities large and small.”

The book includes hundreds of photos depicting the Catholic men’s organization and its work through the decades alongside a written history of the Knights of Columbus, whose membership now numbers close to 2 million Catholic men around the world.

Walther is vice president for communications and strategic planning at the Knights of Columbus. He co-authored the book with his wife Maureen Walther, a lifelong parishioner at the Connecticut parish where the fraternal order was founded in 1882.

Father Michael J. McGivney, parish priest of New Haven’s St. Mary’s Church, launched the organization to help counter the pressures that Catholic men and their families faced, including peer pressure to leave the faith. If a family’s male breadwinner died, the family tended to be split up by the state for economic reasons and sent to poor houses or to relatives. This prompted McGivney to incorporate an insurance agency into the fraternal order to support its members and their families, and to use any profits from insurance sales to advance Catholic and charitable causes.

McGivney saw the need for an organization designed “to help men grow in faith together” and “to help keep families unified even in the event of tragedy,” Walther said.

“There was a sense that Catholics were second-class citizens, which was an additional level of pressure on these men in their faith,” Walther continued.

“Father McGivney named the organization after Christopher Columbus to make the clear point that a good Catholic could also be a good American, Columbus being the one Catholic hero of American history in the late 19th century.”

The Walthers’ book takes the reader from the founding of the Knights through the present day.

“It’s the first new history of the Knights in decades and it’s the first illustrated history ever,” he said, adding that the photos “really bring these stories to life in a way that people will find inspiring.”

Walther said he was surprised by “the breadth and depth” of the Knights of Columbus in its nearly 150-year history.

From the level of the local council to projects of a global scale, the Knights of Columbus have long been involved in charity work and disaster relief. Knights rallied to support victims of the massive 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire, and have aided victims of more recent disasters, like Hurricanes Katrina, Sandy and Harvey.

They have also spoken up for the faith in public life. In the early 1900s the order protested anti-Catholic policies in Cuba and the Philippines after the Spanish-American War. Knights objected to a strict French secularism law passed in 1905.

In the 1920s the Knights of Columbus opposed the persecution of the Church in Mexico, where anti-clerical Mexican leaders had made strict laws to hamper the clergy.  Priests who were not discreet risked execution. The Knights had “a real impact” on the thinking of the U.S. government, the American people and global opinion, Walther said.

“The Knights of Columbus was an organization decades ahead of its time on the integration issue,” Walther noted. The organization had African-American members in the 19th century and was the only U.S. group to run racially integrated recreation and hospitality centers for soldiers in World War I.

Responding to the exclusion of African-Americans from American history, the Knights commissioned the African-American scholar and civil rights advocate W.E.B. DuBois to write the book “The Gift of Black Folk.”

“We wanted to make sure the contributions of African-Americans were not neglected in the story of the country,” Walther said. The order also commissioned books about Jewish and Hispanic Americans.

“You see the Knights of Columbus having a real impact that was transformative in a lot of ways, and groundbreaking in others,” he added.

In the 1920s, the rise of the Ku Klux Klan empowered its strongly anti-Catholic politics. The Knights worked “to stop the Klan from outlawing Catholic education in Oregon” and funded the court case that led to a Supreme Court victory against a state law that mandated that all children attend public schools.

In the 1930s and 1940s, the organization spoke out against Nazi attacks on Jews and Catholics. Before and during the Cold War, it objected to communist persecutions. The knights backed religious freedom efforts in Poland and gave assistance to Pope John Paul II’s work to promote human rights in communist eastern Europe.

More recently, the Knights have supported persecuted Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East, especially those threatened by the Islamic State group. The order was instrumental in an official U.S. declaration recognizing the persecution as genocide.

In researching the book, Walther said the co-authors rediscovered some prominent people in history whose membership in the Knights of Columbus had been forgotten. This included Jim Thorpe, the athlete and Olympic gold medalist of the early 20th century; John Myon Chang, one of the founding fathers of the modern state of South Korea; and Prime Minister of Canada Louis St. Laurent.

“These men were leading figures and joined the Knights out of their sense of the faith and also because the knights were a really important element in their country and in their communities,” Walther said.

Other prominent men who were well-known Knights of Columbus include Major League Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Babe Ruth, U.S. President John F. Kennedy, National Football League champion coach Vince Lombardi, and poet and World War I soldier Joyce Kilmer.

Charitable figures of the Knights of Columbus are tallied together, representing thousands of local councils and 2 million men who “contribute in an incredible way at this local level that then generates this global impact.

Walther described local councils as “the backbone of the Knights of Columbus.” When Knights pioneered the first national blood drive, this was driven by action in the local councils.

Walther had praise for his co-author and wife Maureen, whose connections to New Haven meant the early history of the Knights was deeply interesting to her as a local.

“She’s just an amazing researcher,” he added. “She found incredible nuggets on so many different elements. She uncovered a lot of things that might otherwise have been missed in the annals of Knights of Columbus.”

“The Knights of Columbus: An Illustrated History” will be released on March 9, and is now available for preorder.

Supreme Knight Carl Anderson has praised the book, saying it is “not simply a record of yesterday’s harvest, but also contains within it the seeds of a future filled with promise.”

 

Christ is hope for the Church and the world, Archbishop Perez says at installation

Philadelphia, Pa., Feb 18, 2020 / 04:48 pm (CNA).- The hope of Christ is far more profound than hope as the world defines it, Archbishop Nelson Perez said during his homily at his installation Mass as Archbishop of Philadelphia on Tuesday.

“Hope is the confident expectation of what God has promised, and its strength is in his faithfulness. That’s hope,” Perez said.

He said that he chose “Jesus: Hope for the World” as the theme of the celebration of his installation.

During a Feb. 18 Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul in Philadelphia, Archbishop Nelson Perez was installed as the 14th bishop and 10th archbishop of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, succeeding Archbishop Charles Chaput, who is retiring.

Besides Chaput and Perez, the Mass was attended by Archbishop Christophe Pierre, Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, as well as Catholics, priests, and bishops from the area and from throughout the U.S., including from the Diocese of Rockville Centre, New York, where Perez had served as auxiliary bishop, and the Diocese of Cleveland, where Perez most recently served as bishop.

For Perez, the appointment to the Archdiocese of Philadelphia is a homecoming of sorts. While he was born in Florida and raised in New Jersey, Perez was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia in 1989, and continued to serve there as a priest until 2012, when Benedict XVI appointed him as auxiliary bishop of Rockville Centre.

“My brother priests, I’ve always said that once a Philly priest, always a Philly priest, and while I left ministerially, I didn’t leave humanly,” Perez said in his homily.

“Know that I love you, and I need your support. I can’t do this alone and I shouldn’t do this alone, because this is not about me, it’s about us,” he added.

After he addressed and thanked the other bishops and priests in attendance, as well as his family, the people of Cleveland, and city officials, among others, Perez focused on the theme “Jesus Christ: Hope for the World.”

“What is hope, and what does hope look like? We know what the definition of hope is like in a dictionary...a feeling of expectation, a desire for a certain thing to happen, that’s how the dictionary defines it,” he said.

The word “hope” is used often, which can lead Christians to forget its Christian definition, Perez added.

“We say I hope you have a good day, I hope it doesn’t rain...I hope the Phillies win the World Series, and the Eagles the Super Bowl next year right?” he said. “Sometimes hope is just wishful thinking. I hope that I will weigh 30 lbs less in a month - wishful thinking.”

But Christian hope is rooted in the resurrection of Christ, Perez said.

“Where is the source of hope? Not in us, not in the self-help section of the bookstore. The source of our hope is Christ, the same Christ who walked the planet, who rose from the dead,” he said.

“At the very core of our Christian faith is a basic reality, a truth,” he said. “Someone asked me, with everything going on in the Chruch and the world, do you have hope? And I said to this person: Listen, I gave my life to a faith that believes that a dead man rose from the dead. Yes, I have hope.”

“This is the foundation of our Christian faith, this hope, that no matter how dark it gets, no matter how much it appears that it is the end, it is not,” he added.

Perez said he wants to see the Church continue to be a sign of hope for all, especially those who have been hurt by the abuse scandals.

“Despite...the sad betrayal of some of our own, who have deeply hurt those they were called to serve, for which I and we are ever so deeply sorry to these victims, we continue to work with hope that we will make it right and be a source of healing for them,” he said.

Perez also invited everyone to renew their relationship with Christ, and invited those who have been away from the Church to come back.

“So wherever you find yourself on your journey...it is time to reach out and grab His hand, the Lord’s hands. Like the woman who hemorrhaged for such a long time, she had the conviction and hope that if she could just touch his garment (she would be healed),” he said.

In their remarks, both Perez and Pierre also thanked Archbishop Chaput for his years of service to the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and to the other places where he served.

“Chaput faced lots of challenges when he got here, and he embraced them with great steadfastness … and he made decisions that sometimes a father has to make, that sometimes brought him great suffering and criticism,” Perez said.

Chaput is “a man of great faith, incredible faith, who proclaims the truth of the Gospel and our faith with courage, and the archdiocese owes this man an incredible debt of gratitude for who he was, is and will continue to be,” he added.

Pierre, who presented Perez with the official announcement of his installation signed by Pope Francis, also thanked Chaput for his “tireless promotion of the faith.”

He said that Chaput showed “courage and prudence” when confronted with handling the sex abuse crisis that had happened in the archdiocese when Chaput arrived.

“You ensured that the joyful message of the Gospel can continue to go forward,” Pierre added.

“I thank you for a lifetime of dedication and service, and I believe firmly you have earned a little rest.”

At the end of his homily, Perez said he does not have a “plan” for the archdiocese, beyond listening to its people and learning from them, but that he does have a vision, which he is taking from Pope Francis’ 2013 apostolic exhortation Evangelii gaudium.

“The Church which ‘goes forth’ is a community of missionary disciples who take the first step, who are involved and supportive, who bear fruit and rejoice. An evangelizing community knows that the Lord has taken the initiative, he has loved us first, and therefore we can move forward, boldly take the initiative, go out to others, seek those who have fallen away, stand at the crossroads and welcome the outcast,” he said, quoting the exhortation.

The archbishop closed with his own quote, which he asked everyone present to remember: “Never underestimate the power of the Spirit of God working in you, through you, and despite you!”

Elderly Chinese bishop recovers from coronavirus

Nanyang, China, Feb 18, 2020 / 04:23 pm (CNA).- Bishop Joseph Zhu Baoyu, Bishop Emeritus of Nanyang, has recovered from coronavirus. At age 98, he is among the oldest infected patients to have recovered.

Bishop Zhu was diagnosed with COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by coronavirus, Feb. 3. He was treated at a hospital in Nanyang, in China's Henan province, and was said to be no longer infected Feb. 14.

In mainland China the fatality rate from coronavirus is 2.3%, though that figure jumps to nearly 15% for those 80 years or older.

In mainland China, the death toll of the coronavirus has reached 1,868, and more than 72,400 have been infected in the country.

Originating in Hubei province (which borders Henan), the new strain of coronavirus can cause fever, cough, and difficulty breathing. In some cases, it can lead to pneumonia, kidney failure, and severe acute respiratory syndrome.

Most of the reported cases of COVID-19 are in mainland China, but it has spread to 26 countries, with about 600 cases outside mainland China.

There have been five deaths outside mainland China, in Hong Kong, France, the Philippines, Japan, and Taiwan.

According to the Chinese health authority, 80.9% of coronavirus infections are mild, 13.8% are severe, and 4.7% are critical.

The Vatican has donated between 600,000 to 700,000 facemasks to help stop the spread of the virus.

Jinde Charities, a government-recognized Catholic group in China, has also provided $132 million worth of aid to support medical treatment.

“Given the continuing severity of the epidemic, the provision of medical supplies such as protective clothing and masks to designated hospitals remains a top priority,” the charity said Feb. 12.

“At present, the entire society, including the Chinese Catholic Church, is fighting the epidemic to save people,” it added.

Bishop Zhu was ordained a priest in 1957, and in 1995 was consecrated a bishop, having been appointed Coadjutor Bishop of Nanyang. He succeeded as ordinary in 2002, and retired in 2010 at the age of 89. He was succeeded by his coadjutor, Bishop Peter Jin Lugang.

Bishop Zhu was a bishop of the underground Church, and was long imprisoned and in re-education camps.

After his retirement he was recognized by the Chinese government, which continues to consider him the ordinary of the Diocese of Nanyang. The government did not recognize Bishop Jin's consecration until 2019, and it considers him a coadjutor.

Historic Iraqi church to be rebuilt

Mosul, Iraq, Feb 18, 2020 / 03:10 pm (CNA).- The rebuilding of a Syriac Catholic church in Mosul, Iraq, destroyed by ISIS will begin soon, the U.N.’s heritage agency (UNESCO) announced last week.

Al-Tahera church, in the old city of Mosul, was severely damaged after ISIS invaded the city in June of 2014.

Among numerous documented murders and other atrocities committed against Christians and other religious and ethnic minorities in the area, ISIS destroyed at least 28 significant religious sites in the city, one of which was the Al-Tahera church.

The church suffered extensive damage to its arcade and outer wall which must be rebuilt, as well as its remaining ceiling which will be demolished and reconstructed. Landmines inside the church will also have to be removed.

UNESCO announced in October that it was partnering with the United Arab Emirates to rebuild the church which was built in 1862. The partnership said that another church in the city, the Dominican Al-Saa'a church which dates to 1873, will also be rebuilt.

The reconstruction will be part of the agency-led “Revive the Spirit of Mosul” initiative. UNESCO says the reconstruction project will create jobs and provide further education, training, and experience for local young professionals and craftsmen.

The second largest city in Iraq, Mosul is the seat of two bishoprics in Iraq for the Chaldean Catholic and Syriac Catholic churches. Its Christian population fell from 35,000 in 2003 to only around 15,000 at the time of the ISIS invasion in 2014.

After the ISIS takeover of Mosul and the surrounding region, there were numerous reports of militants forcing Christians to convert to Islam, pay a tax, or be killed.

The Syriac Catholic Patriarch of Antioch estimated that ISIS killed 500 people in its conquest; thousands were killed during the ISIS occupation and nearly one million people fled the city.

In 2016, a report by the Knights of Columbus and In Defense of Christians documented accounts by victims or witnesses of killings, rapes, and girls and women being forced into sex slavery. A separate U.N. report said that ISIS had abducted 800 to 900 children in Mosul and subjected them to religious and military training.

In March of 2016, the U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that ISIS was committing genocide against Christians, Yezidis, and Shi’a Muslims in Iraq and Syria.

ISIS was driven out of Mosul in 2017, but conditions in the city and in much of Northern Iraq remain tenuous for Christians.

Barely 40 Christians have returned to live in Mosul, according to Syriac Catholic priest Father Amanuel Adel Kloo, in an interview with Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) from July of 2019. Around 1,000 other Christians commute into the city to attend the University of Mosul by day, but they leave the city at night due to continued fears of insecurity, he said.

In an April, 2019, interview with ACN, Archbishop Petros Mouche of the Syriac-Catholic Archdiocese of Mosul expressed concern at a lack of funds to rebuild homes in the region and “very few initiatives” for jobs.

Bishops and aid agencies praise coronavirus response

Washington D.C., Feb 18, 2020 / 02:41 pm (CNA).- American bishops and leaders of Catholic aid agencies have praised Vatican and U.S. responses to the coronavirus outbreak, and encouraged the faithful to stay informed about the disease.

“As communities and public health officials respond to the outbreak of novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in China and closely monitor its presence and progression in other parts of the world, we join in solidarity and prayer for those impacted or working to treat those infected by the disease,” said a statement from Bishop David Malloy of Rockford (IL), Sean Callahan, president of Catholic Relief Services, and Sr. Mary Haddad, RSM, president of the Catholic Health Association of the United States. 

Malloy is the chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on International Justice and Peace. 

The three organizations “hope that governments will work together in partnership to improve all nations’ capacity to prevent, detect, and respond to this virus.”

“The Catholic Church in the United States stands in solidarity with those affected by the coronavirus and their families, health workers who are valiantly trying to diagnose and treat patients, and those under quarantine awaiting results of their screening for the virus,” said the statement. 

They offered both prayers for continued healing, as well as for support for various organizations that are working to contain the outbreak and treat those who are sickened. 

The statement highlighted efforts by both the United States and Vatican. 

Earlier this month, the Vatican sent 700,000 respiratory masks to China, and “Catholic healthcare providers are at the front line of providing treatment and care to those impacted by the virus.” 

The U.S. has transported more than 17 tons of medical supplies to China, something the bishops conference said “demonstrates the critical importance of the need to work together and to invest in crucial health care systems here and in other countries, thus preventing and responding to community-wide emergencies.”

“We urge the U.S. Congress to support these efforts by protecting access to domestic health care safety net programs and by providing additional emergency international assistance to areas impacted by the virus,” said the letter.

The faithful are encouraged to follow the Centers for Disease Control for up-to-date information about the coronavirus. 

China has so far reported approximately 2,000 deaths from coronavirus, although experts have speculated that the number could be far higher. 

The coronavirus has sparked a massive public health response in China and neighboring nations, including widespread quarantines. Catholic Masses have been canceled in Hong Kong and Singapore in an effort to prevent the faithful from contracting the disease. 

Retired Bishop Joseph Zhu Baoyu of Nanyang, who is 98 years old, recently became the oldest person in China to fully recover from the coronavirus. Zhu was diagnosed with COVID-19 pneumonia on February 3, and was declared free of infection on February 14. 

Zhu’s remarkable survival has resulted in mainstream media profiles in China.

Pope Francis approves Caritas Internationalis’ new statutes

Vatican City, Feb 18, 2020 / 01:26 pm (CNA).- The Vatican announced Feb. 17 that Pope Francis had approved changes to Caritas Internationalis’ governing statutes and internal rules.

The new statutes had been in effect since May 2019 after a decree from the Vatican Secretariat of State approved changes made by the general assembly of Caritas.

Pope Francis approved the amended statutes and internal rules for Caritas Internationalis in a Jan. 13 meeting with Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin. The meeting considered “the need to redefine the purpose and order of Caritas Internationalis,” according to the Vatican statement.

The changes include moving the oversight of Caritas Internationalis to the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development. The international charity had been a part of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, which was absorbed by the development dicastery in 2017.

Caritas Internationalis did not disclose the changes to its internal rules. According to ACI Stampa, Caritas has encouraged women’s leadership and the presence of young people with a representative council within the organization.

As the the umbrella organization for 165 Catholic relief services throughout the world, Caritas Internationalis is the largest Catholic global aid network.

Cardinal Luis Tagle continues to serve as president of Caritas Internationalis in his new post as prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples. Aloysius John was elected secretary general of Caritas in May.

John said last week that Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation Querida Amazonia will serve as a “road map” for Caritas Internationalis to follow.

Querida Amazonia clearly shows that caring for the environment and caring for the poor are ‘inseparable,’” John said in a press release that highlighted the organization’s accompaniment of indigenous communities’ “fight for their rights” in Brazil.

Kidnapped Nigerian priest has been released

Lagos, Nigeria, Feb 18, 2020 / 01:25 pm (CNA).- The Nigerian priest who was abducted by gunmen last week has been freed. Fr. Nicholas Oboh was kidnapped last week in the southwest region of Nigeria and was freed Tuesday evening, his diocese reported.

“I am pleased to inform this house that our priest who was kidnapped last week Thursday, Rev. Fr. Nicolas Oboh, has regained his freedom,” a spokesman for the Diocese of Uromi told Nigerian Catholic leaders in a WhatsApp message Feb. 18.

“He was released this evening,” the spokesman said. ““Many thanks for your prayers and goodwill.”

The Uromi diocese is expected to release additional details about the priest’s release.

Nigerian media reported that several children were kidnapped at the same time Oboh was abducted Feb. 13. The condition and circumstances of those children are not yet known.

Oboh’s kidnapping is the latest in a series of abductions and killings in Nigeria which have involved Catholics and other Christians; clergy, seminarians, and lay people.

Earlier this week, suspected Islamist militants in Borno state staged an arson attack which killed 30 people, including a pregnant mother and her baby. The attack also destroyed 18 vehicles filled with food supplies for the region.

Seminarian Michael Nnadi, 18, was killed in late January, weeks after he and three other seminarians were abducted from their seminary in Nigeria. The seminarians kidnapped with Nnadi have been released, but one is facing life-threatening injuries.

Also in January, Rev. Lawan Andima, a local Government Chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria and the married father of nine children, was beheaded by Boko Haram.

Archbishop Augustine Obiora Akubeze of Benin City said Andima was killed “simply because he was a Christian.”

In a Feb. 7 interview with Aid to the Church in Need, Archbishop Akubeze, who is president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria, warned that “The current situation in Nigeria reflects an unnecessary, unwarranted and self-inflicted tension. A politically polarized nation.”

“The President of Nigeria recently stated that he was shocked at the unabated killing of Nigerians, who are mostly Christians. Many Nigerians wonder whether the president lives in a parallel universe,” Akubeze stated.

“How can he be surprised at this time? After some of us have attended mass burials of Christians killed by Boko Haram? The government is certainly not doing enough to protect both Christians and Muslims.”

Boko Haram, an Islamist militant group that has sworn allegiance to the Islamic State, has been active in Nigeria for years. While the group has attacked both Muslims and Christians in the past, the archbishop said that recent attacks have focused on the killing and kidnapping of Christians.

Akubeze said that the situation is dire and getting worse.

“One area that I think the Western nations and the media can be of great help is to cover the stories of these atrocities in Nigeria,” Akubeze reflected.

“The number of killings is just mind boggling. Maybe with significant Western coverage, the Government of Nigeria may be put under pressure to act.”

 

A version of this story was first published by ACI Africa, CNA's African news partner. It has been adapted by CNA.

Vatican official raided over London property deal investigation

Vatican City, Feb 18, 2020 / 09:06 am (CNA).- Vatican authorities have seized documents and computers belonging to a senior curial official as part of an investigation into financial misconduct, the Holy See announced on Tuesday.

In a statement issued Feb. 18, the Vatican press office confirmed that investigators had raided the office and home of Msgr. Alberto Perlasca, the former head of the administrative office at the First Section of the Secretariat of State. The raid is part of an ongoing investigation into financial misconduct by officials at the secretariat.

“This morning, as part of a search ordered by the Promoter of Justice, Gian Piero Milano, and the deputy, Alessandro Diddi, documents and computer equipment were seized at the office and home of Msgr. Alberto Perlasca,” the Vatican statement said.

Perlasca was the head of the Secretariat of State’s administrative office from 2009 until July 2019, when Pope Francis appointed him Promoter of Justice at the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signature; chief prosecutor of the Church’s highest ecclesiastical court.

The statement confirmed that “the measure was taken in the context of the investigation into financial investments and the work of the Secretariat of State.”

Vatican authorities have been investigating financial activities at the Secretariat of State since October, when Gendarmes staged similar raids at the offices of the secretariat and the Vatican’s Financial Information Authority. Those raids resulted in the suspension of four staff at the Secretariat of State as well as the director of the AIF.

The raid on Perlasca’s home and office was in connection with “interrogations” of the five suspended officials, the statement said.

The investigation involves a complicated series of financial transactions through which the Secretariat of State acquired a luxury property development in London for hundreds of millions of euros. Two of the four suspended officials at the Secretariat of State were registered directors of a London holding company controlled by the secretariat.

CNA has reported that the property was acquired by the Secretariat of State in a staggered series of purchases financed through loans by two Swiss banks, Credit Suisse and BSI. BSI was subsequently closed by financial authorities for systematic failures to prevent money laundering activity.

The building, at 60 Sloane Avenue in west London, was bought from Italian financier Raffaele Mincione, who arranged the Vatican’s purchase through a string of his own companies and investment funds, making hundreds of millions of euros in profit from the deal.

The principle vehicle for the Secretariat of State’s investment in the property was Mincione’s Athena Global Fund, which was used by Mincione to make no-strings-attached loans to another of his companies, Time & Life SA, through which he made high-risk speculative investments for himself, and helped an Italian bank illegally evade financial regulations.

CNA has also reported that another fund in which the Secretariat of State invested tens of millions of euros has links to two Swiss banks investigated or implicated in bribery and money laundering scandals involving more than one billion dollars. 

The raid on Msgr. Perlasca comes one day after Cardinal Angelo Becciu, the former sostituto at the Secretariat of State, told Italian media that "not everything was clear" about the London investment.

“So, I mean, did everything go well? No, there was something that didn't go well,” Becciu told Huffington Post’s Italian edition. 

Although he commented on the details of the project’s financing, the cardinal insisted that he is not personally not under investigation, pointing instead to two suspended members of his former staff at the Secretariat of State, Msgr. Mauro Carlino and Dr. Caterina Sansone, both of whom reported to Becciu during his time as sostituto and were registered as directors at the London holding company responsible for the development.

Court evidence suggests abuse cover-up by high ranking Legionaries of Christ

Milan, Italy, Feb 18, 2020 / 12:01 am (CNA).- Evidence to be presented in an upcoming criminal trial suggests an elaborate cover-up of sexual abuse allegations against a former priest of the Legionaries of Christ whom an Italian court has convicted of sexual abuse of a minor.

The case, set to begin in March, names four Legion priests and a Legion lawyer who are accused of attempting to obstruct justice and extort the family of a sex abuse victim, according to reporting by the Associated Press.

The names of the priests and lawyer in question have not been released, and the Legion did not respond to CNA’s request for comment.

The Legion of Christ, a religious congregation consisting of fewer than 1,000 priests worldwide, was long the subject of critical reports and rumors before it was rocked by Vatican acknowledgment that its charismatic founder, Father Marcial Maciel, lived a double life, sexually abused seminarians, and fathered children. Maciel abused at least 60 minors.

In 2006 the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, with the approval of Benedict XVI, removed Maciel from public ministry and ordered him to spend the rest of his life in prayer and penance. The congregation decided not to subject him to a canonical process because of his advanced age, and he died in 2008.

Benedict XVI appointed Cardinal Valasio De Paolis, a highly respected canon lawyer, to lead the religious order in 2010.

De Paolis, who died in 2017, has faced criticism for leaving much of the leadership of the congregation from Maciel’s time in place and failing to investigate claims of cover-up.

The present case chiefly concerns Mexico native Vladimir Reséndiz Gutiérrez, who was ordained a priest in 2006 and immediately was sent to oversee young boys at the Gozzano youth seminary near Italy's border with Switzerland, the AP reports.

The Legion has said it first recieved allegations of sexual abuse against Reséndiz during March 2011. An Austrain boy reported the allegation to a church ombudsman’s office in Austria that receives abuse complaints, according to the AP.

In addition, the son of Yolanda Martinez, a church employee in Milan, revealed in 2013 during sessions with his psychologist that Reséndiz had abused him at the Gozzano youth seminary in 2008.

In October 2013, the Legion offered a settlement of 15,000 euros to Martinez, but in return, her son would have to recant the testimony he gave to prosecutors that Reséndiz had repeatedly assaulted him, the AP reports.

Martinez called De Paolis to complain about the proposal. According to their wiretapped Jan. 7, 2014 conversation, De Paolis told Martinez not to sign the deal and to negotiate a different deal, without lawyers.

Authorities obtained the tape of the conversation, as well as numerous documents to be presented at the trial, during a 2014 raid of the Legion’s headquarters in Rome.

Documents obtained during the 2014 raid suggest that Reséndiz was known to the Legion as a risk to children even when he was a teenage seminarian in 1994, with his novice director writing that he believed Reséndiz to be “a boy with strong sexual impulses and low capacity to control them.”

A lawyer for the Legion is accused of recommending various schemes to Legion leaders aimed at covering up Reséndiz abuses.

The lawyer recommended in a March 2011 email that Father Gabriel Sotres, a Legion priest who was tasked with revising the congregation’s constitution a decade ago, go to Austria to convince the alleged victim not to tell their parents or the authorities.

Documents also suggest that Legion knew about another possible victim in Venezuela, where Reséndiz had been moved in 2008. The lawyer proposed a plan to report only Reséndiz’s name to Venezuelan police to comply with local reporting laws, leaving out that he was a priest, that he was accused of a sex crime against a child, and the name of the Legion, as well as noting that he no longer lived in Venezuela, the AP reported.

All of this would be done in order to mitigate the possible damage to the order.

That same month, Reséndiz was removed from priestly ministry after his religious superior questioned him, but documents suggest he hearing confessions in schools and celebrating Mass in Colombia while he was supposedly suspended, and later assigned to an administrative position.

Evidence to be presented at the trial suggests that although De Paolis opened a canonical investigation of Reséndiz within the congregation, he did not alert the police.

Authorities in Milan did not learn of the abuse allegations against Reséndiz until March 2013, when Martinez’s son’s psychologist reported them.

Reséndiz eventually confessed to his crimes in a letter to Cardinal Gerhard Mueller in 2012. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith dismissed Reséndiz from the clerical state during April 2013, the Legion says.

An Italian court convicted Reséndiz in absentia during March 2019, and during Jan. 2020 an appeals court confirmed the conviction. Reséndiz faces a sentence of six and a half years in jail. He is believed to be living in Mexico.

The Legion reported in December 2019 that since its founding in 1941, 33 priests of the Legionaries of Christ have been found to have committed sexual abuse of minors, victimizing 175 children, according to the 2019 report.

The preliminary hearing for the present criminal trial in Milan is scheduled for March 12.