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Pope Francis prays for Mexico during this ‘moment of sorrow’

Vatican City, Sep 20, 2017 / 09:05 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Wednesday, Pope Francis expressed his closeness to the people of Mexico after they suffered a devastating earthquake Sept. 19, asking for the intercession of Our Lady of Guadalupe for all those who have died or lost loved ones.

“Yesterday a terrible earthquake has devastated Mexico. I saw that there are many Mexicans here today among you. It caused numerous victims and material damages,” the Pope said in Spanish after the General Audience Sept. 20.

“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.”

He also asked for prayers for all military personnel and others who are helping those affected, and prayed for “our mother,” Our Lady of Guadalupe, to be “close to the beloved Mexican nation.”

A 7.1-magnitude earthquake struck southern Mexico City Tuesday destroying dozens of buildings and killing at least 217 people, according to the head of Mexico's civil protection agency, Luis Felipe Puente.

Citizens and rescuers worked through the night to dig people out of the rubble. The death toll is expected to rise as the rescue continues.

The powerful quake hit Puebla state just 76 miles south-east of Mexico City, and follows less than two weeks after a magnitude 8.1 quake, the strongest the country has experienced in a century, struck off of the southern coast of Mexico Sept. 8, killing at least 61 people.

The Sept. 19 earthquake, with more than 11 aftershocks, hit Mexico City exactly 22 years to the day after an 8.0-magnitude earthquake which killed thousands struck the city in 1985.

In his weekly General Audience address, Pope Francis gave an encouraging reflection on hope, saying that this week he intended to address those gathered in St. Peter's Square as an educator or as a father speaking to a child.

He encouraged those present to not give up, or let themselves become bitter, but to trust in God the Creator, who in the Holy Spirit moves all things for good in the end. “Believe it, he is waiting for you,” he emphasized. “Think, where God has sown you, he hopes! He always hopes.”

“Do not,” he said, “ever think that the fight you lead down here is completely useless.” All will not end in shipwreck. “God does not disappoint: if he has placed hope in our hearts, he does not want to wear it out with continued frustration.”

Everything has been created to eventually bloom in an eternal spring, he continued, even we have been created by God to bloom.

But, Francis urged, we cannot sit around waiting, we must act. “If you’re on the ground, get up!” he said. “If boredom paralyzes you, drive it away with good works! If you feel empty or demoralized, ask the Holy Spirit to again fill your nothingness.”

“And above all,” he said, “dream! Do not be afraid to dream.” Throughout history, those who have had hope in dreams are the ones who have won great victories, like the end to slavery, or better living conditions, the Pope said, and we should look to these people as examples.

We must be responsible for the world and for the life of every person, he said, because injustice done to any man is “an open wound” which dampens even our own dignity.

And in this responsibility, Francis continued, we must have “the courage of truth,” even while we remember that we are superior to no one. “If you were the last to believe in the truth, do not shy away from the company of men,” he said.

“Even if you live in the silence of a hermitage, bring into your hearts the suffering of every creature. You are a Christian; and in prayer give all back to God.”

He also advised against listening to the voices of those who spread hate and division, saying that human beings were created for community, and to live together in peace.

Even though living the truth and cultivating ideals takes courage, never stop, be loyal, Francis urged, even if you have to pay “a salty bill.” Your life, from your Baptism, has already been steeped in the mystery of the Holy Trinity, he said. You belong to Jesus, so do not be afraid.

“And if one day you get scared, or you think that evil is too big to be challenged, simply think that Jesus lives in you. And it is He who, through you, with his mildness wants to subdue all the enemies of man: sin, hatred, crime, violence; all our enemies,” he said.

The Pope continued his counsel, saying that when you make a mistake, as humans do, it’s important not to let it imprison you, but to turn it over to God, remembering that he came to save sinners.

And when you make a mistake again, “do not be afraid,” he said. “Get up! Do you know why? Because God is your friend.”

“If you are bitter, believe firmly in all the people who still work for good: in their humility there is the seed of a new world. Spend time with people who have kept their heart like that of a child. Learn from wonder, cultivate amazement,” he concluded.

“Live, love, dream, believe. And with God’s grace, never despair.”

Korea exhibit at Vatican shares history, peace through art

Vatican City, Sep 20, 2017 / 06:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- An exhibit at the Vatican this month shows the 230-year history of the Catholic Church on the Korean peninsula, highlighting the faith of its martyrs and promoting a message of peace.

Fr. Matthias Hur Young-yup , a spokesperson of the Archdiocese of Seoul, told CNA that with the exhibit they want to promote peace and teach people about Korean culture.

“As you know there is a nuclear crisis going on in the Korean peninsula, and through this exhibition we wanted to deliver a peace message, especially to our brothers and sisters in the North,” Fr. Hur said.

The exhibit, called “Come in cielo cosi in terra” (“On earth as it is in heaven”), is a first-ever collaboration between the Vatican Museums and the Seoul archdiocese. It is also sponsored by the Seoul Metropolitan Government and the South Korean embassy to the Holy See.

It opened in the Vatican’s Braccio di Carlo Magno museum Sept. 8.

The archdiocese also hopes the exhibit will “introduce the unique history and culture of the Korean Catholic Church worldwide, and to take a step forward to fulfill our mission of the evangelization of Asia.”

The exhibit is “only a part of the different projects” on which Korea and the Holy See are partnering, Barbara Jatta, director of the Vatican Museums, told CNA. In 2012, the Vatican Museums sent Renaissance pieces by artists such as Michelangelo and Raphael for an exhibit in Seoul.

They are also working on several restoration projects within the ethnological museum. But “this is the first time that Koreans expose, in the heart of the Vatican City State, their own history,” she said.

She hopes the exhibit will “show how evangelization can bring peace and more evangelization, and (that) even persecution is not an obstacle to that.”

 

Korean martyrs & other works at the "Come in cielo così in terra" exhibit at the #Vatican showing history of the #Catholic Church in Korea pic.twitter.com/svmIeXagAF

— Hannah Brockhaus (@HannahBrockhaus) September 19, 2017


 

The Catholic faith was originally introduced to Korea through Catholic books brought to the country from Beijing. A group of scholars studied the books, from them developing a belief in the Catholic faith. One scholar was baptized in Beijing in 1784, returning to Korea to baptize others.

These scholars formed the first Catholic community in the country.

“As the number of believers increased, they discovered that it was not a very good way, to just spread the faith among the lay people,” Fr. Hur explained. “So that is when they decided to ask for a missionary, a priest, to come to Korea for a more formal evangelization of the country.”

He said that it is very significant to the members of the Church in Korea that Catholicism in their country was begun by lay people.

As they waited for a priest, the faith continued to grow among the lay people, until finally in 1794 they received a missionary priest from Beijing.

But even before this, persecution of Christians in Korea had begun. From the beginning of her history, the Church in Korea has been marked with suffering, including a century of religious persecution resulting in the martyrdom of at least 8,000 Catholics.

“With the 230 years of history in Korea, we believe especially that we have been through all the persecutions and we didn't die…but we prospered. Especially that the martyrs have become a good role model for all believers…that is the best fruit that has appeared in the country of Korea,” Fr. Hur said.

This exhibit “is not only a very good chance for us to introduce the history of the Korean Catholic Church, but also the culture and the special characteristics of the Korean country itself. I believe that this is a very good introduction for the world to our Korean culture.”

The exhibit outlines, chronologically, the history of Catholicism in Korea from its start through the present time. It includes religious books and objects, as well as Korean religious art.

There are many beautiful works depicting the Madonna and Child, as well as portraits of the martyrs from throughout their history.

 

Blessed Feast of the Nativity of Mary! (Our Lady as a Korean Madonna and Child, part of an exhibit on the Korean Church now at the Vatican) pic.twitter.com/Cq4oAVGiAo

— Hannah Brockhaus (@HannahBrockhaus) September 8, 2017


 

Despite persecution, the Catholic population in Korea has continued to grow; in the 1950s they had only 500,000 Catholics (about two percent of the population). As of 2016 there are nearly 6 million (10 percent of the total population).

In the 1950s they only had 290 priests. Today they have approximately 5,100.

Pope Francis visited Korea in August 2014, his first pastoral visit to an Asian country. While there he beatified 230 martyrs during a Mass in Gwanghwamun, with around 1 million people present.

Pope St. John Paul II was the first Pope to visit South Korea when he went to Seoul in May 1984, marking the 200th anniversary of the Church in Korea. During his visit he presided over the canonization of 103 Korean martyrs, the first canonization ever celebrated outside the Vatican.

He again visited South Korea in 1989 to participate in the 44th International Eucharistic Congress in Seoul. And in 2001, during an ad limina visit of the Korean bishops at the Vatican, he said that “inter-Korean reconciliation and solidarity and the evangelization of Asia is the mission of the Korean Church.”

Fr. Hur said through the exhibit they want people to know that no one on the Korean peninsula wants war, but that peace is what they really want.

“That is the message we wanted to share with all the people through this exhibition and we hope that all the people will pray for us and for peace on the Korean peninsula.”

What it's like to gather relics of Fr. Stanley Rother

Oklahoma City, Okla., Sep 20, 2017 / 03:23 am (CNA/EWTN News).- When Fr. Stanley Rother, a missionary priest from Okarche, Oklahoma, was killed by rebels in Guatemala, his body was transferred back to the United States to be buried by his family.

But his heart remained in Guatemala.

Literally.

The native Guatemalans loved their pastor so much that they enshrined his heart at the mission parish in Santiago Atitlan.

On Sept. 23, that heart will go from being a disembodied remain to a first-class relic, a sacred artifact of someone who has been beatified by the Catholic Church.

The keeping and venerating of relics is perhaps one of the more bizarre Catholic practices, but it’s a scripturally-backed practice of the Church since its beginning.

There are three classes of relics recognized by the Church. First-class relics are bodily remains of a saint, such as bones or flesh or hair. Second-class relics are belongings of the saint, such as clothes or other personal items. Third-class relics are items that have been touched to a first- or second-class relic of that saint.

When Archbishop Paul Coakley was installed as head of the Oklahoma City Archdiocese in 2011, he inherited the task of the cause of canonization for Fr. Stanley Rother. As part of this undertaking, he also inherited the task of his gathering relics, a process that officially commenced once it was clear that the martyred priest’s beatification was imminent.

The second-class relics were easy. Over the years, the archdiocese had collected a handful of personal items of Fr. Stanley, donated by friends and family, including some of his clothes, and a pipe that he smoked. Once he is beatified, these things become second-class relics.

But when it came to exhuming the body to collect first-class relics, Archbishop Coakley admits he was a little lost.

“We had to do a lot of research,” the archbishop told CNA. “This happens so rarely, we didn’t know how to go about preparing for this.”

First, he obtained permission and rights to Fr. Stanley Rother’s remains from the priest’s two surviving siblings.

Then, according to Vatican protocol, he gathered the proscribed team of witnesses and medical experts who would help with the canonical exhumation and examination of Fr. Stanley’s body.

The medical team consisted of a pathologist and an orthopedic surgeon, both local Catholics. They helped examine and describe the remains, and compile a report sent to the Holy See. Among other things, the Church looks for signs of incorruptibility, when a body does not decompose. The condition has been found among some saints, although by itself, it is not enough to prove sanctity.

“They had expertise that would be helpful in describing what would be found when his tomb was opened, because we didn’t know what we could find,” Archbishop Coakley said.

Both the exhumation and examination are done “with great dignity and reverence, and there is a process by which we exhumed his body from the family plot at the parish cemetery in Okarche,” the archbishop added.

“And in that process we took one of his ribs, and that’s what we used for preparing first class relics,” he said.

His body was then transferred to a temporary resting place in Resurrection Cemetery, a Catholic cemetery next to the pastoral center in Oklahoma City, while his rib was sent to Rome.

“There is an Augustinian monastery of St. Lucia in Rome, and they are custodians of relics and have experience in preparing relics, so we sent our relic of Fr. Rother to them,” Archbishop Coakley said.

The sisters there will divide the rib into many tiny fragments, which will be encased in reliquaries, available to bishops who wish to obtain relics of Fr. Rother for public veneration. First-class relics are no longer distributed to lay persons, in order to protect the relics from negligence or abuse.

Meanwhile, the task of preparing the third-class relics (sometimes referred to as “touched relics”) of Fr. Stanley fell to the Carmelite Monastery of Rochester, New York, a congregation of 11 discalced, cloistered Carmelite nuns.

Mother Therese, the prioress of the convent, told CNA that while the sisters had done smaller “touched relic” projects for Carmelite saints, this was the first major relic project the convent has undertaken.

“A sister from Oklahoma City mentioned to me that the archdiocese was looking for someone to put together relic cards for Fr. Stanley’s beatification,” she said. “I said, ‘Well we’ve not done this on a huge scale but we are familiar with this process’...so that’s how it came about, a simple question from one of our Carmelite nuns.”

Often, third-class relics distributed at beatifications come in the form of a little piece of cloth embedded in a holy card.

“When the body was exhumed, the bones were wrapped in a very large and special cloth,” Mother Therese said.

This cloth was signed and dated by Archbishop Coakley during the exhumation in May and then sent to the nuns, who are punching small holes in the holy cards of Fr. Stanley and affixing the pieces of cloth – which will become relics once Fr. Stanley is beatified – to the cards.

The holy cards also have a picture of Fr. Stanley on the front, and a prayer for his canonization on the back – some in English and some in Spanish. The sisters have already made 10,000 and are expecting to make several thousand more.

“It’s a very great privilege for us,” Mother Therese said. “It has brought us very close to Fr. Stanley...we feel that he will intercede for us and that he will bless our community and the Church in the U.S. as well, because he’s the first American-born martyr.”

Archbishop Coakley said working on Father Stanley’s cause has been an honor, especially as someone who graduated from the same seminary as Fr. Stanley (though years later) and has been interested in his story for quite some time.

“I took that as a great privilege to be coming into the Oklahoma City Archdiocese at such a time,” he said.

“I...entrusted my ministry to him and prayed for his assistance and intercession as I undertook this ministry, I’ve felt a very near kinship with him since I was a seminarian and a priest and as the archbishop now.”

 

 

 

Catholic health care growth a benefit, not a threat, ethicist says

Washington D.C., Sep 20, 2017 / 12:03 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A research paper that depicts the growth of Catholic health care as a threat to reproductive health ignores the attraction of Catholic hospitals and downplays the ethical concerns about procedures like abortion and sterilization, one commentator has said.

The number of hospitals that are Catholic-sponsored or Catholic-affiliated has increased 22 percent from 2001 to 2016, including through mergers or changes of ownership. This growth is the focus of a September 2017 working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research, “Medically Necessary but Forbidden: Reproductive Health Care in Catholic-owned Hospitals.”

“The ‘problem’ that the authors of this study are examining results from the fact that Catholic hospitals and Catholic healthcare systems have been remarkably successful in America's competitive market,” Edward Furton, an ethicist with the National Catholic Bioethics Center, told CNA Sept. 18.

“Catholic hospitals tend to be better managed, are governed by a sense of social duty, perform greater amounts of charitable care, and have strong ethical safeguards in place to protect their patients.”

Furton attributed the growth of Catholic healthcare to patients’ appreciation for these features.

The National Bureau of Economic Research is an  influential domestic policy think tank based in Cambridge, Mass. Its working paper estimated that the expansion of Catholic hospitals reduces by 30 percent the annual rates per-bed of inpatient abortions. The rates of tubal ligations or sterilizations drop 31 percent.

Elaine Hill, a co-author of the working paper, is a professor of health economics at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry. She said access to procedures is part of how to “reduce unwanted pregnancy.”

“Policies addressing the ways in which ownership of hospitals might impede access could be very beneficial to the population of women affected,” she told STAT, a health, medicine and scientific research publication from Boston Globe Media.

Furton, however, said the working paper was written by “a group of economists, not healthcare workers.” He questioned the paper’s use of the phrase “medically necessary but forbidden.”

“Neither abortion nor permanent sterilization can be properly described as a medical necessity. They are typically chosen for reasons other than maintaining health,” he said.

“Often times, studies such as this are designed to highlight supposed impediments to health care access within Catholic institutions. In other words, they suffer from an inherent bias,” he added. “In this case, the authors assume that all Americans want unlimited access to abortion and sterilization. That is obviously not true.”

He also defended the presence of Catholic ethics in health care.

“Many people see the reduction in abortion and sterilization as positive goods. The authors assume that denying access to these ‘services’ represents a moral failing of some sort, but not many people would agree,” he said.

“Abortion is obviously of great concern to most people, and few among the general public are fooled by the claim that the lack of sterilization procedures in Catholic hospitals is going to affect contraceptive use among American women,” said Furton. “Contraception is widely available and the refusal to offer permanent sterilizations in Catholic hospitals is not going to change that fact.”

The study estimated that there are about 9,500 fewer tubal ligations each year because Catholic hospitals do not perform them. It charged that this represents “a substantial cost to women, who must subsequently rely on other, more inconvenient suboptimal forms of contraception.”  It claimed that black and Hispanic women were disproportionately affected by these restrictions.

The same working paper found that Catholic hospitals showed no statistically significant increase in complications from miscarriages or sterilization procedures.

Data used in the study came from the states of Arizona, Florida, New Jersey, California, New York, and Washington.

The study said that Catholic ethics are not always followed or it would have found a 100 percent reduction in abortions and sterilizations.

Furton said it is regrettable that not all Catholic hospitals follow Church teaching. However, he suggested that some of the procedures cited in the paper’s data could reflect actions that would not violate Catholic ethics.

“For example, some of what the authors of this paper would call abortions are in fact actions in which the child is unavoidably lost while the medical team is performing a procedure that has some hope of saving either the child, the mother, or both. These should not be classified as abortions. They are justifiable under the principle of double effect.”

Some opponents of the expansion of Catholic hospitals that operate according to Catholic teaching include the American Civil Liberties Union and the group the MergerWatch project. They co-authored a 2013 report that claimed the growth of Catholic hospitals was a “miscarriage of medicine.”

Togo's bishops call for peace while reform goes to public vote

Lome, Togo, Sep 19, 2017 / 08:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Following Togo's largest protests in over a decade, the bishops of the small African country urged political leaders toward a constitutional reform aimed at lasting peace.

The time is “right to organize prayers in each diocese for peace, or more specifically, for institutional and constitutional reforms,” said Archbishop Denis Amuzu-Dzakpah of Lomé, according to La Croix International.

Tens of thousands of protesters marched through Togo's cities during the week of Sept. 6, demanding for the end of the Gnassingbé regime – a 50-year long father-son dynasty.

Directed towards an audience of political leaders, priests, religious, and lay people gathered on Sept. 17, Archbishop Amuzu-Dzakpah urged the government to revisit a limit for the presidential term, which was removed in 2002.

Additionally, the bishops prayed for light of the Holy Spirit to inspire the country's leaders “that they may urgently carry out the reforms requested by the people in accordance with the 1992 Constitution.”

Having first claimed power in a 1967 coup, Gnassingbé Eyadema responded to protests in the 1990s by instituting an apparent multi-party democracy and ostensibly limiting the presidential term to two periods of five years. The limit was then scrapped 10 years later by lawmakers to allow for Eyadema to run again.

He died in 2005 shortly after his re-election. While an election was supposed to be held within 60 days, the military removed a clause which would have temporarily placed the President of Parliament into power. Faure Gnassingbé was then installed to finish his father's term.   

Since Faure's rise to power, opposition leaders have called for protests to reinstitute a presidential limit as well as two round voting system. Recent protests incited the government to restrict internet and phone access to the public, and demonstrations were met with violence by security forces.

The bishops challenged the Togolese army to keep a neutral position. They also urged political leaders to refrain from opposing “demonstrations on the same day to avoid clashes resulting from these rallies.”

According to Agenzia Fides, Togo's Conference of Catholic Bishops also issued a recent pastoral letter condemning the army's “excessive use of force against their fellow citizens.”

In the letter, the bishops emphasized the importance of constitutional reform, stating that without it, “peace and social cohesion” would be impossible.

On Sept. 19, Togo's parliament failed to agree on a reform. According to Reuters, opposition parties boycotted the reform because no clause was included which would prevent Faure from being re-elected for an additional two terms, potentially leaving him in power until 2030. A referendum will be held by popular vote in the next few days.

While Togo's bishops have openly called for reform, the clergy has also urged for non-violence on both sides and encouraged social media to be used only for building peace, instead of spreading hatred.