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Church collapses in Mexico quake during baptism, killing several

Puebla, Mexico, Sep 21, 2017 / 02:46 pm (ACI Prensa).- On Sept. 19, a family in Puebla, Mexico was attending the baptism of their daughter when a 7.1-magnitude earthquake shook the church, cracking the dome above them, which collapsed and fell on top of them.

At least 11 people were killed when the Church of Saint James the Apostle collapsed, including the baby Elideth Torres de Leon, there for her baptism, her sister, mother, godmother, and a local alderman named Jacinto Roldan Capistran.

Graciano Villanueva, Elideth's godfather, managed to escape from the wreckage, along with the church's pastor and sacristan.

Villanueva told the El Universal newspaper that he lost his wife in the earthquake, along with his daughter, his son-in-law and his two granddaughters. “I have nothing left of my family,” he said.

One of Villanueva’s relatives told reporters that the victims died while they were praying, and therefore “the only thing left to do is to resign oneself to the Lord's will.”

After the earthquake, the people of the town of Atzala worked all night to recover bodies lying beneath the ruins of the 17th century church.

On Wednesday morning they placed the bodies they managed to remove in coffins and wrote their names on them. Dozens of people came by to pray and to leave flowers.

The El Sol de Puebla newspaper reported that after the dome fell, three injured people were taken to a hospital and that two people remain unaccounted for.

Shortly after the earthquake, the Archdiocese of Puebla released a statement expressing their condolences to the families of those who died in the church.

“We profoundly lament the deaths that occurred due to the quake, especially the...people who died because of the collapse of the church in Atzala near Chietla; and the three in Jolopan,” the text states.

The Archdiocese of Puebla said in the statement released this Wednesday that there are 163 damaged churches in their jurisdiction, including the Church of Saint James the Apostle.

They also encouraged people to “stay calm, be attentive to directions from the authorities, be in solidarity with those asking us for help and not risk our lives and those of others unnecessarily.”

On Wednesday, the auxiliary bishops of Puebla, Rutilo Felipe Pozos Lorenzini and Tomás López Durán, celebrated a Funeral Mass in Aztala for those who died in Saint James the Apostle Church.

To date, the 7.1-magnitude earthquake has left more than 200 dead throughout the country, including 43 in Puebla state, which was one of the hardest hit.

 

This article was originally published by our sister agency, ACI Prensa.  It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

 

Pope Francis: Fighting the mafia starts with cleaning up politics

Vatican City, Sep 21, 2017 / 01:29 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- In a meeting with Italy's Anti-Mafia Parliamentary Commission on Thursday, Pope Francis said that dismantling the mafia begins with a political commitment to social justice and economic reform.

Corruption “has a contagious and parasitic nature, because it does not nourish what good produces, but…it subtracts and robs,” Pope Francis said Sept. 21.

The meeting landed on the 27th anniversary of the death of Servant of God Rosario Livatino, who was a deputy prosecutor in an Italian court before being killed by mafia for his fight against corruption.

Called a “Martyr of Justice” by John Paul II, the Italian magistrate was commended by Pope Francis, who also praised two other judges – Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino – both killed in 1992.

The Pope's criticism of the mafia made global headlines when he publicly denounced organized crime in 2014. He said members of it were “excommunicated,” which was not a reflection of canon law per se but a call to conversion.

The fight against the mafia and organized crime is essential, the Pope said Thursday, particularly because “they steal the common good, taking away people's hope and dignity.”

However, the battle extends beyond the mafia to corrupt organizations which must also be reclaimed and transformed – and this needs commitment on an economic and political level, he said.

First, authentic politics is an important form of charity, which can work “to ensure a future of hope and to promote the dignity of each person.” And second, economic reform must be shifted to remove systems which magnify inequality and poverty.

The Pope warned that corrupt organizations can serve as an alternative social structure which roots itself in areas where justice and human rights are lacking. Corruption, he noted, always finds a way to justify itself, presenting itself as the ‘normal’ condition, the solution for those who are ‘shrewd,’ the way to reach one's goals.”

Earlier this year, Pope Francis expressed concern that these criminal groups were using economic, social, and political weaknesses as a “fertile ground to achieve their deplorable projects.”

“The money of dirty affairs and mafia crimes is blood money and produces an unequal power,” he said.

He said that these criminal organizations, whose members often claim to live a devout Christian life while continuing to carry out heinous crimes, create a “social wound.”

He then challenged the international community to greater collaboration and determination to ensure justice and defense for the weakest in society. 

In abuse cases there should be no recourse to appeals, Pope Francis says

Vatican City, Sep 21, 2017 / 12:26 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- There should be no opportunity for appealing canonical cases of sexual abuse against minors when allegations have been proven by evidence, Pope Francis said in spontaneous comments Thursday.

In off-the-cuff remarks to the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors (PCPM) Sept. 21, the Pope said that “if pedophilia, an abuse of minors, is proven it is enough to not receive appeals.”

“If there is the evidence, period: it is definitive.”

Pope Francis also explained that he would not consider direct appeals for clemency or reconsideration from priests who have been found guilty of allegations of sexual misconduct. “I have never signed one of these,” he said, “and I will never sign it.”

The Pope elaborated, saying that the Church must consider that a person that commits abuse “is sick, that they suffer from a disease.” He explained “today he is sorry, we forgive him, and then after two years he falls again.”

He also expressed regret for a case in which he chose to impose lenient sanctions against an Italian priest abuser, saying, “I learned in this.”

Speaking at the opening of the plenary assembly of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, Francis set aside his prepared remarks, handing them out to be read, explaining that he preferred to talk in a more informal manner.

“I know it was not easy to begin this work,” he told commission members. “It was necessary to go against the current, because it is a reality, the conscience of the Church...came a bit late.”

Because awareness of the problem came late, “the means to solve the problem have come late,” he continued. “I am aware of this difficulty. But it is the reality, I tell you so: we arrived late.”

The practice of moving clergy who were suspected or accused of abuse to a different diocese may have contributed to a slowing of our consciences, he reflected. He said that the Lord has raised “prophetic” men in the Church who have worked to bring this issue to the surface.

One such person the Pope pointed to is Cardinal Sean O'Malley, the president of the PCPM, who frequently raised the issue of the problem of abuse to Pope Francis. The Pope said that Cardinal O’Malley spoke to him about the ministry of Jesus to children.

“Now what I think is that it should be the way to continue with our work,” Francis said. “I say 'ours' because it is not (only) a commission, because it is a commission within the Holy See with the Pope too.”

Speaking about the process for how the Holy See handles abuse cases, Pope Francis said that he believes “for the moment” the responsibility for the resolution of abuse cases should continue to reside with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, as it has since 2001.

Some had speculated that the Pope was considering suggestions that the laicization of priests found to have committed abuse be reassigned to the Roman Rota and other tribunals of the Vatican.

“But in this moment the problem is real... it is grave that some have not taken notice of the problem,” he said, and for this reason the competency must remain with the CDF until the whole Church becomes aware.

There are many cases, at the moment, that do not move forward quickly, the Pope noted, but the newly-appointed secretary and prefect of the CDF, Bishop-designate Giacomo Morandi and Archbishop Luis Ladaria Ferrer, are working to add more people to work on the process of abuse cases, he said.

The Pope concluded by thanking the commission for their work, saying without them it would not have been possible to carry out the work already done, nor would it be possible to continue their future work within the Curia.

“That's what I wanted to tell you spontaneously,” he said, “then you have the most formal, educated speech there, but I think that this you have the right to know.”

 

Pope reiterates Church’s ‘zero tolerance’ on abuse of minors

Vatican City, Sep 21, 2017 / 08:16 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Thursday in a written speech Pope Francis reiterated the Catholic Church’s commitment to the protection of minors from sexual abuse, stating that the Church will continue to take a “zero tolerance” stance against offenders.

“Let me say quite clearly that sexual abuse is a horrible sin, completely opposite and in contradiction to what Christ and the Church teach us,” the Pope’s prepared remarks stated Sept. 21.

“That is why, I reiterate today once again that the Church, at all levels, will respond with the application of the most firm measures to all those who have betrayed their call and abused the children of God.”

Pope Francis addressed members of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors at the opening of their plenary assembly. Handing out copies of his prepared statement to those present, he then delivered off-the-cuff remarks.

In his prepared speech, the Pope wrote that the Church “irrevocably and at all levels seeks to apply the principle of ‘zero tolerance’ against sexual abuse of minors.”

He explained that the disciplinary measures which have been adopted by particular churches must apply to everyone who works within the institutions of the Church.

“However, the primary responsibility is of the bishops, priests and religious, of those who have received the vocation to offer their lives to the service, including the vigilant protection of all vulnerable children, young people and adults,” he continued.

The Pope noted how he has personally had the privilege of listening to the stories of victims and survivors of abuse and that in these encounters people have openly shared the effects that sexual abuse has had on their lives and on the lives of their families.

“I know that you too have had the blessed occasion to participate in the same meetings,” he said to commission members, “and that they continue to nourish your personal commitment to do everything possible to combat this evil and eliminate this ruin among us.”

Francis said that he wanted to share at that gathering the “profound pain I feel in my soul for the situation of abused children.” The sexual abuse scandal is, he continued, “a terrible ruin for the whole of humanity” affecting vulnerable children, young people and adults in every country and society.

The whole experience has also been “very painful” for the Church and is something “we are ashamed of,” he said.


“But we have also experienced a call, which we are sure comes directly from our Lord Jesus Christ: to embrace the mission of the Gospel for the protection of all vulnerable minors and adults.”

Francis spoke to the members of the commission after an address by Cardinal Sean O’Malley, president of the commission, and after presentations by two commission members, Sr. Hermenegild Makoro, CPS, and Mr. Bill Kilgallon, on the projects of the commission’s six working groups from the past three years.

Praising the work of the commission over the last three and a half years, the Pope said that they have worked to consistently emphasize the most important principles guiding the Church's efforts in abuse protection.

He also said that he was happy to hear that many churches have taken their advice of holding a Day of Prayer and of dialoguing with victims and survivors.

In his address, O’Malley said that the commission considers the safeguarding of minors and vulnerable adults to be “an integral part of the mission of the Church.”

“The Church’s care for victims/survivors of abuse and their families is a primary consideration in this mission. By listening attentively and sharing experiences with them, our Commission has benefitted greatly from all that survivors have offered to us.”

Other things the commission has emphasized has been educational and training programs, especially for Church leaders, and assistance for local churches to develop and implement guidelines, he said.

Following the audience with Pope Francis, he said the commission will hold their plenary assembly to continue to discuss these projects and prepare recommendations for the Pope for the continued work of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors.

Francis said that the Church is called to be “a place of piety and compassion, especially for those who have suffered.”

The Church is a field hospital, he concluded, one which accompanies each of us on our spiritual journey.

“I am fully confident that the Commission will continue to be a place where we can listen with interest to the voices of the victims and the survivors. Because we have much to learn from them and their personal stories of courage and perseverance.”

What's the secret to 70 years of religious life? The Virgin Mary, this nun says

Mexico City, Mexico, Sep 21, 2017 / 06:28 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Sister Crucita has been a member of the Josephine Sisters in Mexico for 70 years. At nearly 100 years old, she says she is happy with her vocation and would not change her decision to give her life to God.

In an interview with CNA, Sister Crucita – whose full religious name is Sister Maria of the Royal Cross – said that the secret of her perseverance has always been her trust in the mercy of God and the support of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

“I say to the Blessed Virgin Mary, 'Take care of me, you already know I'm yours. Deliver me from the snares of the devil.' The Blessed Virgin has taken great care of me,” she said.

Through the Holy Rosary she was able to persevere in face of the temptation to abandon the religious life on many occasions, she said.

“One of the strongest temptations was to want to leave the religious life, because there were a lot of difficulties at the hospital where I was. The doctors encouraged me to leave, but I trusted in God and the Blessed Virgin. And here I am, thanks to them,” she said.

Sister Crucita was born Nov. 23, 1917 in the El Oro municipality in Mexico State. From a very young age, she had a love for Christ and the Church, thanks to the devotion of her parents who took her to Mass.

“I always liked going to Mass. I had an uncle who was a sacristan and I liked to spend time with him. So I was always drawn to the things of the Lord,” she said.

She began thinking about a religious vocation after a group of religious sisters came to her home town. She even discerned with a cloistered convent, but was forced to return home after two years, due to an illness.  

Sister Crucita was introduced to the Josephine Sisters by a priest. She worked alongside the sisters at a local hospital for a few months, and then entered the novitiate.

On Aug. 15, 1947, Sister Crucita made her final vows as a Josephine sister, at 30 years of age. Currently she goes to confession about every two weeks, prays the Holy Rosary three or four times a day, and attends Mass daily.

She said her religious vocation was always tied to her profession as a nurse.

At the start of the 1950s, Sister Crucita was sent to her congregation's hospital in Cuba. Later, in 1952, she arrived in Guadalajara and was assigned as a nurse to the Civil Hospital. For many years she was the supervisor of the pediatrics department.

“I see how the sick suffer and there are many who offer everything to God, they don't complain or anything. So then I think, if they who are sick and are always thinking about God, then what can I complain about. Anything on my part is something passing and I offer it to the Lord,” she emphasized.

Sister María de la Cruz said that one of her secrets to keep on going has always been to feel welcomed by the mercy of God: “I know that He loves me much more than I love him. I have always thought that He seeks me, he calls me, that he is always with me. If something happens to me, He watches over me.”

She encouraged young people to trust “completely in God, in the love that He has for us” because “He helps us and gives us peace.”

On Nov. 23, at Our Lady of Bethlehem and Saint Michael the Archangel church, a Mass of Thanksgiving will be celebrated for Sister Crucita’s 100th birthday.

Sister Beatriz Escamilla, a 44-year-old Josephine sister, said that at nearly 100 years old, Sister Crucita is still very independent.

“She begins her routine at 5:00 am, because she moves at a slower pace, and then she comes to the chapel at 7:00 am. She is one of the most punctual sisters, and sometimes she beats us all there. Sometimes she's the one who opens up the chapel,” Sister Beatriz said.  

She also highlighted Sister Crucita's fervent prayer for “vocations and for those of us still working in the apostolate.”

“She has an hour dedicated to prayer in front of the Blessed Sacrament to especially ask for these needs,” she said.

Whenever things at the hospital get difficult, Sister Beatriz said, she can always count on Sister Crucita for encouragement.

“She's a person you're drawn to, through the peace she conveys. She offers a lesson in joy, perseverance, dedication and sacrifice,” she concluded.

 

Vatican official laments lack of fair trade label for commercial fishing

Vatican City, Sep 21, 2017 / 12:03 am (CNA/EWTN News).- An upcoming world congress by the Catholic organization Apostleship of the Sea will focus on the plight of fishermen, who frequently face exploitation in carrying out their work, according to one Vatican official.

He lamented that no ‘Fair Trade’ certification exists for their product.

“We have to be educated,” Fr. Bruno Ciceri told CNA Sept. 20. “Frozen food here is cheap, but it’s because people are exploited, because there is forced labor, because there are trafficked people that work aboard these fishing vessels.”

Referring to the label given to products from developing countries that adhere to ethical standards of trading, he said, “We talk a lot about ‘Fair Trade.’ I don't know the day when we will have ‘fair trade’ also in fishing. That will make a difference.”

Fr. Ciceri is a member of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development. He is also the Vatican delegate for the Apostleship of the Sea, which provides pastoral care for seafarers and their families.

He also worked for the Apostleship of the Sea in Taiwan for 13 years.

Their next World Congress, which is held every five years, will take place in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, Oct. 1-7. Notable attendees will include Cardinal Peter Turkson, prefect of the Dicastery for the Promotion of Integral Human Development, Cardinal Charles Bo of Yangon, and Archbishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences.

Taiwan was chosen for the 25th congress largely because the majority of the world's fishing fleets are concentrated in the island nation; about 36 percent of tuna fishing fleets in the world are Taiwanese.

When it comes to the fishing industry Taiwan faces several grave challenges, Fr. Ciceri said. For one, because Taiwan is not a member of the United Nations it is not obliged to follow UN conventions on the fishing trade.

In general though, the challenges are the same affecting the whole of the industry, he pointed out, including poor working conditions and wage and labor exploitation, such as what happens between fishermen and brokers.

For example, Fr. Ciceri said one situation that is common is when a broker will contract fishermen with a promise of a certain salary. Of this, maybe only 20 percent is given directly to the fisherman and 80 percent will be held by the broker, only to be given over after the fisherman has completed a three year contract. If he leaves before this, he loses everything.

So the fishing industry needs to “clean up their act,” he said, but so does the buyer – the big companies that buy the fish to import.

One thing the Apostleship of the Sea tries to do, he said, is ensure that big companies are checking their supply lines and guaranteeing that they are not profiting from forced labor or other violations.

“Often these companies just make sure that there are all of the hygienic things… but they don't consider the people,” Fr. Ciceri said. “While for us as the Church, people are important. Fish are important, but people are more important.”

Sometimes you will read on cans of tuna that it has been caught without “hurting any turtles or without killing any dolphins,” he said. “Thanks very much, but what about the fishermen?”

“But that is not considered. I think there should be a sort of balance on these things. It's true that we have to worry about the fish and other things, but we have to worry also about the people.”

For the average person who wants to do something, he continued, even the awareness of these practices, and why the products may be so cheap, is a good first step.

“It's true that we would always like to save money,” but maybe sometimes we could consider buying the more expensive product that we know pays people justly.

Cardinal Turkson sent a message July 9 for “Sea Sunday,” reflecting on these issues, saying that at the congress in October “we will strengthen our network with the objective to increase cooperation between the Apostleship of the Sea of the different nations; we will share resources and best practices to develop specific skills, particularly in the fishing sector.”

“Let us ask Mary, Star of the Sea, to sustain our service and dedication to seafarers, fishermen and their families and to protect all the people of the sea until they reach the ‘safe port’ of heaven.”

Bishop Conley: martyred Oklahoma priest showed courage that comes from prayer

Lincoln, Neb., Sep 20, 2017 / 04:50 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- An Oklahoma priest martyred in Guatemala will be beatified on Saturday, and his life has much to teach us, Bishop James Conley of Lincoln has said.

“To trust God can be risky and even dangerous at times,” Bishop Conley said in a Sept. 22 column for the Southern Nebraska Register.

“It requires courage. To be courageous requires that we know the Lord. To know him requires that we pray. Not all of us are called to martyrdom, as Father Stanley Rother was. But each one of us is called to trust the Lord, and to know him, love him, and serve him bravely.”

The priest’s life “gives me pause to reflect on my own courage, or lack thereof, in following the Lord,” the Nebraska bishop said. “Fr. Rother was so confident in what the Lord wanted of him. He was unwavering in courage. He walked into danger, even when others warned him against it. At the heart of his courage and confidence was his intimacy with the Lord in prayer.”

Father Rother’s beatification Mass will be said Sept. 23 in Oklahoma City. Before his last Christmas, the priest wrote home about the dangers in Guatemala: “The shepherd cannot run at the first sign of danger.”

Fr. Rother, a priest of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, was from the town of Okarche, Okla. A few years after ordination, he became a missionary to Guatemala, where he would spend 13 years of his life. The dioceses of Oklahoma City and Tulsa had established a mission in Santiago Atitlan, a poor rural community of mostly indigenous people, largely Tz’utujil Mayan Indians.

Drawing on life growing up on his family’s farm, the mission priest would work the fields and repair broken trucks. He built a farmer’s co-op, a school, a hospital, and the area’s first Catholic radio station.

The dangers of Guatemala’s civil war approached the village in 1980, and Fr. Rother supported his friends and parishioners even as many were abducted and killed – “disappeared” in the local phrasing. In January 1981, his name was found on a hit list. He returned to Oklahoma for a few months, but after receiving his bishop’s permission he went back.

On the morning of July 28, 1981, armed men broke into Fr. Rother’s rectory. They were from the non-indigenous ethnic group called the Landinos, who had been in conflict with Guatemala’s indigenous people and rural poor since the 1960s.

The men intended to disappear him, but he resisted. He struggled but did not call for help, so others at the mission would not be endangered. Fr. Rother was shot dead and the attackers fled.

Pope Francis officially recognized his death as a martyrdom in December 2016.

For Bishop Conley, Fr. Rother’s life and death provokes many questions. The priest did not have to be in Guatemala and could have stayed in Oklahoma.

“How many of us would choose to follow the Lord to a near certain martyrdom? Or, if we heard that a friend believed God was calling him to serve in a dangerous mission in a violent country, how many of us might try to stop him?” he asked.

“It would be natural to do so, and reasonable. And yet Fr. Rother knew what the Lord called him to do, and he proceeded faithfully and fearlessly. His bishop, and his family, and his friends, had courage too: the courage to trust that the Holy Spirit was leading him, even when following the Lord into the violence of Guatemala was dangerous.”

“None of us should relish danger for its own sake. None of us should be reckless without purpose,” Bishop Conley said. “But the Christian life is about following the will of the Lord, without counting the cost. And to do that, we need to know and hear the Lord’s voice, and we need to understand the movements of the Holy Spirit.”

Bishop Conley will attend Fr. Rother’s beatification Mass with dozens of bishops, scores of priests, and thousands of other Catholics.

“We will remember the holiness of Fr. Rother, and thank the Lord for the gift of his selflessness,” the bishop said. “We will pray that we might have the same courage that he did, and the same love for our mission, and for the Lord.”

“May Fr. Rother pray for us, as we turn to the Lord, seeking the courage to do his will.”

For the first time in 30 years, Sistine Choir to perform in US

Washington D.C., Sep 20, 2017 / 12:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Sistine Chapel Choir will perform in the U.S. for the first time in three decades, and will sing compositions that one expert says are an important heritage of the American Church.

Italian priest Father Massimo Palombella directs the Sistine choir, which will be singing works by Renaissance composers such as Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, Antonio Allegri and Tomás Luis de Victoria.

“As in Rome, this style of Renaissance polyphony would be adopted by the Churches of the New World as the standard style of music, especially for the Mass,” Dr. Grayson Wagstaff, dean of the Latin American Music Center at The Catholic University of America, explained to CNA.

On Sept. 20, a free concert will be hosted at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington D.C., next to The Catholic University of America.

After attending Italy's prestigious conservatory and spending years as a theology and music teacher, Fr. Palombella became the director at the Pontifical Music Chapel, and began conducting the choir in 2010.

Dr. Wagstaff applauded the Salesian priest's efforts to use the Vatican's historic repertory and rejuvenate this style of music into the daily life of the Papal Chapels.

Fr. Palombella will be performing sounds iconic of the Mexico City Cathedral and the many works of the Spanish composers which had made their way to the “new world.”

“These works by Spanish composers would be the core of music transmitted, taught and copied in manuscripts in Mexico,” Dr. Wagstaff said. “Young boys from Mexico (then 'New Spain') would be selected to receive training in music and become boy choristers for the cathedrals.”

He added that this music is very significant to the “Church's artistic patrimony,” and now has the ability inspire “parishes to focus on quality music and learning about the Church’s legacy of art,” especially from Latin America.

Fr. Palombella studied philosophy and theology at the Salesian Pontifical Unversity, and trained under organ players Luigi Molfino and Bishop Valentino Miserachs Grau. He also attended the Conservatory of Turin.

Ordained a priest to the Salesian order in 1995, he began teaching dogmatic theology at the Pontifical Salesian University and the Language of Music at Sapienza University of Rome. He then succeeded Father Giuseppe Liberto as director of the Sistine Chapel Choir.

In his remarks to CNA, Dr. Wagstaff noted the importance that the upcoming concert has to the university.

“For us, this is a celebration of CUA's role as one of the great centers in the world for teaching and preserving this musical legacy of Catholic tradition as well as our wonderful tradition of musicology and research on the history of music in Rome.”

Mexican bishops join in prayer, grief after second deadly earthquake

Puebla, Mexico, Sep 20, 2017 / 11:13 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Following Mexico’s second major earthquake in two weeks, bishops in the country called for prayers and solidarity, asking Our Lady of Guadalupe to intercede and comfort the suffering people.

“We join in grieving the victims of the earthquake, which occurred today, Sept. 19, 2017, in different parts of our country,” said Archbishop José Francisco Robles Ortega of Guadalajara and Auxiliary Bishop Alfonso G. Miranda Guardiola of Monterrey, president and secretary general, respectively, of the Mexican Bishops’ Conference.

“Once again, we are witnessing the solidarity of the Mexican people, who see the suffering of their brother,” they said, praising the lifesaving efforts to rescue and feed those affected by the quake.

“Today more than ever, we invite the People of God to unite in solidarity for our brothers who are suffering the different calamities that have plagued our country,” the bishops urged. “We ask for the comfort of our Mother Mary of Guadalupe, so that through her intercession she may help us and strengthen us, in the reconstruction of our country.”

On Tuesday afternoon, a 7.1-magnitude earthquake tore through Mexico. The epicenter of the tremor was some 80 miles southeast of Mexico City, in the state of Puebla.

According to government officials, the earthquake has killed at least 217 people. As rescue operations continue, the death toll is expected to rise.

At least 25 people – mostly children – were killed when a school in Mexico City partially collapsed, and at least 15 daily Mass attendees died as a church collapsed near Puebla.

Throughout the region, volunteers and rescue workers dug through the night to try to reach survivors.

The deadly quake struck exactly 32 years after the disastrous Sept. 19, 1985 earthquake of Mexico City, which killed thousands. It also comes only 12 days after a massive 8.1-magnitude earthquake struck southern Mexico on Sept. 7, killing at least 96.

In their statement, the leaders of the Mexican Bishops’ Conference promised that Church organizations will work to collect information and help coordinate a response.

In the past two weeks, the bishops have already been working on recovery operations from the Sept. 7 earthquake. The Catholic humanitarian organization Caritas has begun its relief efforts and echoed the bishops’ statement that a full response will come in coordination with other Church agencies.

In the Diocese of Puebla, local Caritas groups and the diocesan pastoral committee announced that they will distribute food, personal hygiene items and diapers to local shelters.

Pope Francis also expressed his concern and offered prayers for all those affected by the earthquake during his Wednesday general audience address.

“In this moment of sorrow I want to express my closeness and prayer to all the beloved Mexican population. Let us all raise our prayers together to God so that he may welcome into his bosom those who have lost their lives, comfort the wounded, their families and all those affected,” the Pope said, praying that the Virgin of Guadalupe would be “close to the beloved Mexican nation.”

The U.S. Catholic bishops also expressed their condolences in the wake of the disaster.

“Once again, our hearts go out to our brothers and sisters in Mexico, who yesterday suffered yet another catastrophic earthquake,” said Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. bishops' conference.

“We join them in prayer and solidarity, and together invoke the maternal protection of our Lady of Guadalupe, Comforter of the Afflicted and Mother Most Merciful.”

US Senate committee advances bill to aid Christians in Iraq

Washington D.C., Sep 20, 2017 / 10:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A Senate committee on Tuesday voted to advance a bill that seeks to ensure U.S. aid reaches Christian genocide victims in Iraq.

“The vote from this morning is an important step toward providing relief for those victims of the genocide committed by ISIS,” Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), one of the sponsors of H.R. 390, the Iraq and Syria Genocide Emergency Relief and Accountability Act of 2017, stated.

Christians in Iraq who were forcibly displaced from their homes by the expansion of Islamic State in 2014, and many of who have been living in Iraqi Kurdistan, have been dependent on the Chaldean Archeparchy of Erbil and aid groups like the Knights of Columbus and Aid to the Church in Need for basic needs like rent, heating, and food.

Although Mosul and surrounding towns on the Nineveh Plain have been liberated from Islamic State control by coalition forces, some families have not yet been able to return to their homes since they may not have the resources or security to repair their homes and resume their normal lives.

The U.S. has declared that Islamic State committed genocide against Christians, Yazidis, and Shi’a Muslims in Iraq and Syria but, despite being genocide victims, Christians in Iraq have also reported that they have not been receiving official U.S. aid. The aid from NGOs is “not enough,” Smith has said; the Christians need to have access to official U.S. humanitarian aid.

“We’re not asking for new money,” Smith said at a June press conference before his bill passed the U.S. House. “We’re asking to make sure the money that’s in the pot is provided to those who have been left out and left behind for about three years.”

Christians could have much greater access to the aid if it was allowed to go through churches and church organizations, who are able to reach Christian populations, Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), another sponsor of the bill, said at the press conference.

“The State Department would not allow any U.S. dollars to flow to church organizations. And this legislation allows for that,” she said.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted Sept. 19 to advance the bill out of the committee, moving it closer to a floor vote. Smith praised Tuesday’s vote, saying the bill provides much-needed support to the Chaldean Archeparchy of Erbil, which has hosted Christian victims of Islamic State for several years.

“Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Bashar Warda has been sustaining more than 95,000 Christians who escaped ISIS – almost one third of Christians remaining in Iraq,” Smith said.

“It is incomprehensible that the U.S. has not done more to help,” he said, noting that the bill should be passed soon, as “lives are depending upon it.”

And time is running out to ensure that Christians get the assistance they need. Since the Christian families have been away from home for three years and their children are going without education for another year, the Knights of Columbus said they received reports that families could leave Iraq for good by the fall if they do not have a viable way of returning home.