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Pope Francis explains decision to give relics of St. Peter to Orthodox

Vatican City, Sep 13, 2019 / 05:11 am (CNA).- In a letter to Bartholomew I of Constantinople, Pope Francis has explained the unexpected gifting of a relic of St. Peter to the leader of the Eastern Orthodox Church in June, a gesture which generated controversy among some Catholics.

The pope wrote to the ecumenical patriarch Aug. 30, saying the decision to give the relic was born out of prayer and intended as a sign of the ongoing work and prayer toward visible communion between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches.

Pope Francis gave the relic to a member of a delegation from the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, which attended a Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica for the feast of Saints Peter and Paul June 29.

After the Mass, Pope Francis brought Eastern Orthodox Archbishop Job to a chapel in the papal apartments and offered the chapel’s reliquary as a gift. The bronze box contains nine fragments from what are believed to be the bones of St. Peter in the necropolis beneath St. Peter’s Basilica.

The box bears the inscription, “From the bones found in the hypogeum of the Vatican Basilica, which are believed to be of Blessed Peter the Apostle.”

When Pope St. Paul VI discovered St. Peter’s relics during excavations in 1939, he had the fragments removed to keep in the private chapel of the papal apartments.

“This gesture is intended to be a confirmation of the journey that our Churches have made in drawing closer to one another: a journey at times demanding and difficult, yet one accompanied by evident signs of God’s grace,” Francis wrote to Bartholomew Aug. 30.

“I sensed that this thought came to me from the Holy Spirit, who in so many ways prompts Christians to regain that full communion for which our Lord Jesus Christ prayed on the eve of his glorious Passion.”

Pope Francis said he was reflecting on the “mutual determination to advance together towards full communion,” and thought of a gift Patriarch Athenagoras gave to St. Paul VI of an icon of Saints Peter and Andrew embracing.

This icon, he said, “has become for us a prophetic sign of the restoration of that visible communion between our Churches to which we aspire and for which we fervently pray and work.”

“Hence, in the peace born of prayer, I sensed that it would be highly significant were some fragments of the relics of the Apostle Peter to be placed beside the relics of the Apostle Andrew, who is venerated as the heavenly patron of the Church of Constantinople.”

The Orthodox delegation brought the reliquary to Istanbul, where Monsignor Andrea Palmieri, undersecretary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, personally gave it to Bartholomew.

Bartholomew, as patriarch of Constantinople, is regarded as “first among equals” within the Orthodox communion and is seen by many as the worldwide leader of Orthodoxy.

Orthodox Archbishop Job called the gesture “another gigantic step towards concrete unity.”

Pope Francis wrote that the joining of the relics of Andrew and Peter can serve “as a constant reminder and encouragement that, on this continuing journey, our divergences will no longer stand in the way of our common witness and our evangelizing mission in the service of a human family that today is tempted to build a purely secular future, a future without God.”

Pope Francis to visit Thailand and Japan in November

Vatican City, Sep 13, 2019 / 03:40 am (CNA).- The Vatican confirmed Friday that Pope Francis will travel to Thailand and Japan in November with stops scheduled in Tokyo, Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Pope Francis will visit Thailand Nov. 20-23 in commemoration of the 350th anniversary of the Vatican Mission to Siam in 1669. The pope will then travel Nov. 23-26 to Japan, where the theme of his visit is “Protect all life.”

In recent years, the Church has been working in Japan to respond to life issues and protect the most vulnerable. The Holy See Press Office said that the trip’s motto “protect all life” not only applies to respect for all human dignity, but also extends to the environment.

“In Japan today as well there are a pile of problems related to life and peace, in addition to the issues of economy, environment and relations with neighboring countries. Moreover, recovery from natural catastrophes and nuclear plant accidents remain as persisting problems,” according to the Vatican statement.

The papal trip to Japan has been much anticipated after Pope Francis told journalists in January he was planning to travel to the country. AP reported Sept. 13 that Pope Francis will meet with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the Japanese Emperor Naruhito during his visit to the country.

Catholics in Japan make up less than 0.5% of the country’s population. Christianity was first introduced to Japan in the 16th century by Catholic missionaries, most notably St. Francis Xavier. In the years that followed the Catholics in Japan suffered many waves of fierce persecutions with hundreds martyred, including 26 canonized saints who were executed by crucifixion in 1597 in Nagasaki.

In Thailand, the small Catholic community -- representing less than 0.5% of the mostly Buddhist population --  has been celebrating the 350th anniversary of the Vatican Mission to Siam with events throughout 2019.

In May, Cardinal Fernando Filoni, the prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, celebrated Mass with four thousand Thai people in Sampran, outside of Bangkok.

“Asia is a sector of humanity rich in cultures and organized religions but with more than 85% of its members un-baptized,” Filoni said at the opening ceremony of the anniversary celebration.

“Asia is the missionary continent par excellence. The universal Church requests your willing cooperation for missionary activities in this vast continent,” he said.

“We need to reflect that our mission as baptized persons in Asia, is indeed a true mission...when the witnessing of our faith brings us into confrontation with the multitude of non-baptized persons, with their mentality and lifestyle, if not, at times, contrasting with the Gospel and the dignity of the person,” Filoni added.

Pope Francis will be the second pope to visit both Japan and Thailand. St. John Paul II visited Thailand in 1984 and Japan in 1981. During his visit to Japan, St. John Paul II visited Tokyo,  Hiroshima, and Nagasaki, including a stop in the town of the Immaculata established by St. Maximilian Kolbe.

In 2019, Pope Francis has already visited nine other countries outside of Italy, including Panama, Morocco, Madagascar, Romania, and the United Arab Emirates.

On the return flight from his trip to Mozambique, Madagascar, and Mauritius in Africa earlier this week, the pope told journalists that he does plan to visit more European countries, but he will prioritize visits to smaller countries within Europe.

Academics object to pro-choice federal appointment in Argentina

Buenos Aires, Argentina, Sep 13, 2019 / 12:00 am (CNA).- The deans of five Argentine law schools have protested the appointment of a supporter of legalized abortion as Argentina’s Ombudsman for the Rights of Girls, Boys and Adolescents since “it's a clear violation of the federal juridical order.”

On June 26 the Argentine House of Representatives confirmed Marisa Graham, a well-known abortion advocate in Argentina, to lead the nation’s Ombudsman's Office for Boys, Girls and Adolescents.

Graham’s appointment now awaits confirmation by Argentina’s senate.

The signatories to a letter of objection are the deans of the law schools of the Argentina Catholic University, the Catholic University of  La Plata, the Saint Thomas Aquinas University of the North, the University del Salvador, and Fasta University.

Graham's “public and manifest advocacy in support of the legalization of abortion is discriminatory with respect to countless people who would be unprotected, helpless and deprived of the defense of their most elementary rights,” the deans said.

These rights are contained in the articles of the National Constitution, the American Convention on Human Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the Civil and Commercial Code.

The regulations recognize “that people's lives begin with conception and from that moment they are already children up to 18 years of age; that all children have the intrinsic right to life from conception and that their survival and development are to be guaranteed from that moment to the maximum extent possible, by the State and without any discrimination,” they said.

“The arguments invoked by Dr. Graham that her position on the legalization of abortion would not influence the exercise of her office are unsustainable, while it is not understood how she will defend the right to life of the unborn child, that they are persons according to the norms of the highest level in our legal system,” they warned.

The Ombudsman Office for Boys, Girls and Adolescents monitors public policies on childhood and ensures that the State guarantees compliance with the rights of minors.

This office has been vacant since it was created in 2005 with the Law on the Comprehensive Protection of the Rights of Girls, Boys and Adolescents.

 

This story was initially published by ACI Prensa, CNA's Spanish-language partner agency. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

Catholic leaders appeal for help after Jesuit school in India attacked

Ranchi, India, Sep 12, 2019 / 07:01 pm (CNA).- Catholics in the Archdiocese of Ranchi have appealed for help after a local Jesuit mission was brutally attacked by a large armed mob last week.

St. John Berchmans Inter College, a Jesuit school and hostel in India's Jharkhand state, was attacked by around 500 armed Hindu extremists Sept. 3, the college’s secretary Fr. Thomas Kuzhively reported to Agenzia Fides.

The attackers were armed with sticks, chains, iron bars, knives, and pistols, and beat tribal students including two who were seriously injured, he said. They seriously damaged the school’s facilities.

The mob also tried to sexually harass female students, tried to prevent the transport of injured students to a hospital, destroyed and vandalized school property, stole cash, and attacked an attached hostel for tribal students, Kuzhively reported.

In the wake of the attack, school has appealed to the heads of Jharkhand, as well as other local and regional authorities, for action to be taken.

Christians in India have suffered an increase in attacks since the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party rose to power in the country’s 2014 elections.

In recent years, religious minorities have been targeted by Hindu extremists for violence and oppression in efforts to keep them out of power and influence and to keep the poorer classes in the country in poverty.

After the BJP’s massive victory in 2017 elections, violent attacks against Christians increased in number; the country’s prime minister was recently reelected in May of 2019 and the BJP kept power, which sparked serious concerns for Christians in the country.

India is listed as a “Tier 2” country by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) in its latest annual report. Tier 2 countries are not the worst offenders of religious freedom in the world, according to USCIRF, but have serious violations of religious freedom that meet at least one of three conditions: “systematic, ongoing, and egregious.”

The Indian government has allowed for these acts of harassment, intimidation, and violence against religious minorities to continue, USCIRF says.

ND judge nixes law requiring doctors to inform women on abortion pill reversal

Bismarck, N.D., Sep 12, 2019 / 06:01 pm (CNA).- After a North Dakota judge nixed part of a new law requiring doctors to inform their patients about abortion pill reversal, pro-life advocates say they hope the decision will be overturned.

“While this is a disservice to women, who have a right to this information, we're hopeful that Attorney General Stenehjem will appeal and defend this common-sense law. Women have a right to know,” Medora Nagle, Executive Director of North Dakota Right to Life, told CNA.

U.S. District Court Judge Daniel Hovland granted a preliminary injunction Sept. 10 against part of a North Dakota law which would have required physicians to tell their patients that a medically-induced abortion could be reversed if the patient acted quickly.

The injunction was sought by the American Medical Association, Access Independent Health Services, Inc., Dr. Kathryn L. Eggleston, and Red River Women's Clinic, which is the only clinic providing abortions in the state.

"Legislation which forces physicians to tell their patients, as part of informed consent, that 'it may be possible' to reverse or cure an ailment, disease, illness, surgical procedure, or the effects of any medication—in the absence of any medical or scientific evidence to support such a message—is unsound, misplaced, and would not survive a constitutional challenge under any level of scrutiny," Hovland said in his decision.

A medical abortion, sometimes called a chemical abortion, is a two-step process that involves the ingestion of two drugs: mifepristone and misoprostol. The first drug, mifepristone, effectively starves the unborn baby by blocking the effects of the progesterone hormone, inducing a miscarriage. The second drug, misoprostol, is taken up to two days later and induces labor.

Several pro-life clinics throughout the country provide abortion pill reversals, a protocol that involves giving pregnant women who regret their decision to take the first drug doses of progesterone to counteract the progesterone-blocking effects of the mifepristone.

Teresa Kenney is a women's health nurse practitioner with the Sancta Familia (Holy Family) Medical Apostolate in Omaha, Nebraska. Kenney told CNA that because progesterone is safe for pregnant women and their unborn babies, and the benefit of reversing a medical abortion is so great, the procedure “makes complete sense” from a scientific standpoint.

“If I give a medicine that decreases or blocks progesterone to stop a pregnancy, then it makes perfect logical medical sense to give progesterone to help reverse that,” Kenney told CNA.

“The benefit is overwhelmingly positive,” she added, “and in this situation...I would argue that two lives are actually saved when it works, because not only do you save the life of the baby, and that's a human life being saved...but you also save the life of the mother in the sense that when she has made a choice that she deeply regrets, and we have now given her the opportunity to emotionally and physically change that choice, and it succeeds, we've saved her life too.”

Kenney said that progesterone has been scientifically proven to be safe for women and their babies in early pregnancy to prevent natural miscarriages from occurring.

“Just because there hasn't been a randomized controlled double-blind study on abortion pill reversal doesn't mean that it doesn't make sense to implement it in medicine, because there is already scientific support for progesterone in early pregnancy in the prevention and miscarriage,” she said.

“Do we need more research? Absolutely. But to withhold treatment when, again, we know that it does no harm...we know that it medically makes sense, it scientifically makes sense, and the benefits are overwhelmingly positive, why wouldn't we do it?” she said.

Kenney said that she finds it “frustrating” that there has been a lot of research and effort in the medical community to prevent pregnancy, but not as much to support it.

“We do live in a contraceptive society,” she said. “We have a culture against life. And so all of the studies are geared towards preventing pregnancy.”

Christopher Dodson, executive director of the North Dakota Catholic Conference, said Sept. 10 that “North Dakota legislators rightly believed that women should know about the procedure before starting the abortion process.”

He stated, “the abortion lobby co-opted the American Medical Association and used legal technicalities and medical complexities to deny women the right to know. We applaud the legislators who overwhelming supported HB 1336, Governor Burgum for signing the measure, the physicians who submitted testimony to the court in support of the law, and the Attorney General for defending women’s rights.”

One pro-life clinic that offers abortion pill reversal is Bella Natural Women’s Care in Englewood, Colorado.

Dede Chism, a nurse practitioner and co-founder and executive director of Bella, told CNA in 2018 that because progesterone is known to be safe for pregnant women and unborn babies, the progesterone abortion pill reversal procedure is “common sense.”

A recent study, published in Issues in Law and Medicine, a peer-reviewed medical journal, examined 261 successful abortion pill reversals, and showed that the reversal success rates were 68 percent with a high-dose oral progesterone protocol and 64 percent with an injected progesterone protocol.

Both procedures significantly improved the 25 percent fetal survival rate if no treatment is offered and a woman simply declines the second pill of a medical abortion. The case study also showed that the progesterone treatments caused no increased risk of birth defects or preterm births.

The study was authored by Dr. Mary Davenport and Dr. George Delgado, who have been studying the abortion pill reversal procedures since 2009. Delgado also sits on the board of the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists, a group that supports the abortion pill procedure reversal.

Nagle said that women should be empowered by the law, and that they should be given “all of the information before making a decision of this magnitude.”

According to Nagle, seven other states have similar laws on the books requiring doctors to tell their patients about the abortion pill reversal procedure, which she said has saved more than 750 babies so far.

“We won't be discouraged,” she said. “We will continue to fight for women's rights to be given all of the information.”