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Mexico City, Mexico, Dec 12, 2019 / 07:10 pm (CNA).-
Just inside the entrance to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City is a small area with a bas-relief sculpture of the Virgin Mary on display, designed especially for the blind to encounter Our Lady.
Fr. Umberto Mauro Marsich, an Italian Xavarian missionary priest, explained to ACI Prensa, CNA's Spanish language news partner, that the image is made of highly durable nylon fiber and is a gift from the Institute of Italian Culture and the Italian Embassy.
The sculpture is a “gift to the Archdiocese of Mexico so the blind can come here” and venerate Our Lady of Guadalupe, he said.
“They first read the entire description in Braille, the Nahuatl symbology of the image” on a panel to the side, “and then they come over and touch the image with their hands,” he explained.
Marsich, who holds a doctorate in moral theology and teaches at the Pontifical University of Mexico, played a key role in having the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe for the blind made and donated.
The idea came about in 2008 during an exposition of a painting of the Virgin de la Pera in Mexico which was brought to the country along with a much simpler bas-relief version.
The head of an association for the blind was in attendance at the exposition. When he touched the bas-relief image he said, “Why can't we do something similar with Our Lady of Guadalupe?”
Fr. Marsich, who was also there at the time, said he worked with two other Italians to have a bas-relief of Our Lady of Guadalupe made.
“My friend Faranda went back to Italy and looked for people to make donations” for the work of art, Marsich said.
The sculpture was produced in the city of Faenza, Italy, in 2009. It cost about $22,000 to make.
A few days after its completion, it was brought to Saint Peter's Basilica in the Vatican, where Pope Benedict XVI blessed it. It was then transported to Mexico and placed in the Guadalupe Basilica on Dec. 9, 2009.
More than 100 visually-impaired people gathered on the day the statue was installed in the basilica. Marsich said he was touched by their emotion, as, “finally being able to touch her, [they] discovered the beauty of the message conveyed to them by the Nahuatl symbology, which is a very luminous symbology.”
“People were so obviously moved that they were weeping,” he recalled.
However, the image is not just to be contemplated by visually impaired people, he pointed out.
The priest stressed that everyone can express “in some way our affection, our love, our tenderness for Mary, the Virgin of Guadalupe.”
Marsich hopes other bishops will be encouraged to ask for a replica of the image of the Virgin Mary for their dioceses, which he said would cost significantly less than the original.
Beirut, Lebanon, Dec 12, 2019 / 06:01 pm (CNA).-
As anti-government protests continue in Lebanon, the country’s economic crisis is worsening. Banks have imposed restrictions on withdrawals and transfers, the currency has been devalued and many people are losing jobs. Financial despair has driven at least three Lebanese to commit suicide.
A growing number of Christians are contemplating emigration, just as happened during Lebanon’s civil war (1975-1990), when thousands of Lebanese Christians left for the West. Maronite Patriarch Cardinal Bechara Rai said Dec. 6: “Some embassies, which I will not name now, are facilitating the issue of emigration, as if it is a second war to empty Lebanon of its people and Christians.”
Aid to the Church in Need spoke about the situation in Lebanon with Melkite Archbishop Georges Bacouni of Beirut. He said:
“We are living like in an earthquake. We’re facing enormous economic problems, including a failing banking system. Since the protests began, many more people have lost their jobs, and now some are getting only half of their salary. This has a huge impact on families.
“NGOs from around the world have been taking care of the Syrian refugees in Lebanon, and this is appreciated. Now, with the new situation, will they consider helping the Lebanese people as well?
“Because of the economic crisis, Christians are facing the question of emigration, of looking for a better way of life. There’s a risk of losing the young generation: they don’t want to stay in Lebanon. There are too many question marks about the country’s future.
“The Church in Lebanon is going to face hard times as it has to care for more and more needy people. Church institutions—schools, universities and hospitals—are already experiencing serious difficulties. People cannot afford to pay tuition or medical bills. We don’t want to make difficult decisions like closing schools. Historically, Catholic schools in Lebanon have served Muslim and Druze students as well. Like Catholic universities, they are places of coexistence where young people can experience the culture of living together.
“For the first time I see Lebanese from many confessions, many religions, united and trying to put sectarianism aside. It’s beautiful. However, Church leaders have urged the demonstrators to carry out all their movements peacefully.
“The Church supports the people who are asking for an end to corruption, to have ministers who are experts in their domains and who would take measures to stop all forms of corruption. We hope a new government will be formed soon.
“Throughout this ordeal, Jesus is with us and He will not leave us. We pray and hope to soon see the light at the end of this dark tunnel.”
Doreen Abi Raad writes for Aid to the Church in Need, an international Catholic charity under the guidance of the Holy See, providing assistance to the suffering and persecuted Church in more than 140 countries.
Baghdad, Iraq, Dec 12, 2019 / 05:00 pm (CNA).- Christmas celebrations among Iraqi Christians will be subdued this year in a show of solidarity with anti-government protesters.
“Morally and spiritually we cannot celebrate in such an atmosphere of tension,” Cardinal Louis Raphael Sako of the Chaldean Church in Iraq, told the Associated Press. About 400 people have been killed by the country’s security forces since protests broke out on October 1.
“It’s not normal to celebrate our joy and happiness while others are dying. That doesn’t work,” said Sako. “We will have no other celebration, we cannot make a big feast when our country is in a critical situation.”
He said that money that had previously been allocated for decorating the streets and holding Christmas celebrations for the holiday would go instead to aiding those wounded in the protests. Mass and prayers will be the only celebrations of the holiday, per Sako’s order. A Christmas tree in an area of Baghdad that is controlled by the anti-government forces is decorated not with traditional decorations, but with pictures of those killed in the protests.
Most of Iraq’s dwindling population of Christians are Chaldean Rite. The Chaldean Church is an Eastern Catholic Church that is in full population of Rome. Prior to when the United States invaded Iraq in 2003, there were about 1.5 million Iraqi Christians. Today, that number is believed to be fewer than 500,000. The rise of ISIS prompted many Christians to flee the country out of fear for their lives.
“We have suffered a lot,” Sako said. “Since the collapse of the old regime many have been killed, others kidnapped, others threatened and left, and many homes and properties of Christians have been occupied by militias.”
Sako defended the protesters, saying they were simply telling the Iraqi government that they look for “justice and stability and to be equal citizens.”
“We ask for the same justice for ourselves,” he said.
Although ISIS was defeated, the need for assistance of all forms is still great, said Sako in a letter released last week. Particularly, there is a “vital need” for healthcare services of all kind, he said.
“I strongly urge all actors to work specifically to restore life to the Nineveh Plain, for instance. By encouraging projects in agriculture, livestock, trade, etc.,” he said, suggesting that some more cooperation among bishops in the area could help achieve these goals.
The cardinal also asked Christians to “pray for Iraq, and in particular for the people of the Nineveh Plain,” as a special Advent devotion.
Vatican City, Dec 12, 2019 / 04:56 pm (CNA).- The Vatican’s Pontifical Academy for Life held an international symposium this week on medical ethics and palliative care, hosted together with the WISH initiative, a part of the Qatar Foundation.
The Dec. 11-12 conference included presentations by representatives of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism on the topic of medical ethics, palliative care, and the mental health of the elderly.
In a press conference before the event, Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, discussed the importance of palliative care, which focuses on alleviating suffering and improving quality of life. This care may be offered in end-of-life situations or at any stage of an illness. It may be offered on its own, or in conjunction with efforts to treat or cure a disease or medical condition.
Paglia said that promotion of palliative care is an area where all religions can work together. He said the symposium is part of a series of events being put on by the Pontifical Academy for Life which are focused on promoting “a culture of care in contrast to the culture of waste.”
The World Innovation Summit for Health (WISH) co-hosted the symposium, which drew around 250 people.
WISH is an initiative of the Qatar Foundation. The Qatar Foundation was founded by then-emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani and his second wife Moza bint Nasser and is both privately and governmentally funded.
A WISH employee, speaking with journalists on background, said it is a scientific not religious group; but because of its connection to Qatar, its activities usually do contain a Muslim “stream.”
CEO of WISH Dr. Sultana Afdhal noted Dec. 10 that within Islam, “religious scholars from different schools do have different interpretations of what Islam teaches when it comes to palliative care or beginning of life care.”
Mohammed Ghaly, the academic director of the Research Center for Islamic Legislation and Ethics in Qatar said Dec. 12 that the general consensus in Islam at the present moment is that suicide should be harshly condemned. A distinction was not drawn between physician-assisted suicide and other forms.
The British Medical Journal is also a sponsor of the event. Its executive editor, Kamran Abbasi, said the journal respects religions and religious views, but added that its job is to foster dialogue rather than reach an “end-point” in debates.
“We are always willing to entertain all sides of a debate,” he said.
Abbasi added that “this conference is perfectly in line with our core values,” which he said include patient-focused care and evidence-based medicine.
The first day of the symposium included a panel discussion on whether cooperation between faiths could help spirituality be better incorporated into palliative care. There was also a panel Dec. 12 on suicide and suicide prevention.
The first part of the panel was a presentation by Diego De Leo, an Italian doctor and expert on suicide and suicide prevention, based in Australia. His presentation did not distinguish between medically assisted suicide and other types of suicide.
De Leo noted that the suicide rate overall in the world is declining, with the biggest decline being among elderly.
One of the prominent exceptions to this decline is the United States, where the suicide rate is growing, especially among Americans aged 45 to 54, he noted. De Leo drew a correlation between this and the growing economic disparity, as well as lack of welfare, in the U.S. He pointed to research which shows poverty to be a major contributing factor in suicides around the world.
The doctor also spoke about suicide among elderly populations, which remains a significant problem despite some declines. In some countries, such as Italy, rates of suicide among young people are relatively low, but the rate rises with each age category.
Among the elderly, suicide correlates with a high prevalence of depression, physical illness, isolation and loneliness. Other risk factors include feelings of hopelessness, poor subjective sleep quality, family discord, financial problems, and bereavement.
Lack of social support, such as moral support from family and friends, is also connected to suicide in the elderly, De Leo said.
The symposium also included a talk on dementia and current models of healthcare, presented by Paulina Taboada, a professor of bioethics at the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile, who stressed the importance of “whole-patient care,” which she called the “biopsychosocial-spiritual model.”
Taboada challenged participants to think about how spirituality can contribute “in its own right” to the health and wellbeing of patients, especially those in palliative care.
She also presented the model of whole-patient care created by Edmund Pellegrino, an American bioethicist and former president of The Catholic University of America who died in 2013.
Pellegrino argued whole-patient care should take into consideration four aspects: evidence-based medicine, the patient’s best interests, the good of the patient as a human person, and the ultimate good of human life.
Vatican City, Dec 12, 2019 / 04:55 pm (CNA).- Pope Francis celebrated Dec. 12 Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica for the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, at which the pope mentioned that through the apparition, Mary revealed herself to be the mother of all humanity.
In his off-the-cuff homily, the pope talked about three aspects of Our Lady of Guadalupe: that she was a woman, a mother, and a mestiza.
While Christians have honored Mary under many titles, the Pope said, “nothing else is needed” than to remember her as a woman of holiness, an example for all woman, a faithful disciple of Christ, Pope Francis said.
“It is that simple,” the pope added.
Mary also “is our Mother, the Mother of our peoples…the mother of our hearts,” Pope Francis added.
The pope said Mary is the mother of the Church, and an image of the Church, and that a ”Marian sense” is needed to see the Church as she is, and to understand the role of women in the Church.
“What can be said of Mary can also be said of the Church, which is feminine,” Pope Francis said.
Finally, Pope Francis said that Our Lady of Guadalupe wanted be seen as a “mestiza.”
“She became a mestizo to show that she is everyone’s mother,” the pope said, adding that Mary fosters solidarity among all people, united in Jesus Christ.
Washington D.C., Dec 12, 2019 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- The Senate on Thursday passed a resolution recognizing the Armenian genocide, after several previous attempts to do so were blocked at the direction of the White House.
Senate Resolution 150, introduced by Sens. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), expresses “the sense of the Senate that it is the policy of the United States to commemorate the Armenian Genocide through official recognition and remembrance.”
It was passed with unanimous consent by the chamber on Thursday.
From 1915 to 1923, the Ottoman Empire killed an estimated 1.5 million Armenians in eastern Anatolia in systematic fashion, with reports of forced displacement, torture, mass killings and mass graves in the region.
Thursday’s Senate resolution recognizes the empire’s “campaign of genocide against Armenians, Greeks, Assyrians, Chaldeans, Syriacs, Arameans, Maronites, and other Christians.” It comes after the House passed a similar resolution in October recognizing the genocide.
Turkey has long denied that the genocide took place, claiming that the number of those killed was far less than is commonly estimated and that many deaths were due to the ongoing First World War.
In response to the Armenian genocide resolutions passed by the House and then being considered by the Senate, Erdogan in a Nov. 13 joint press conference with President Trump at the White House condemned the congressional efforts to recognize the genocide.
“And some historical developments and allegations are being used in order to dynamite our reciprocal and bilateral relations,” he said. “Especially in the House of Representatives, some of the resolutions that were passed on October 29th served this very purpose and hurt deeply the Turkish nation, and they have a potential of casting a deep shadow over our bilateral relations.”
“Turkey and the United States stand side by side in order to fully eradicate Daesh and in order to bring peace and stability to Syria once and for all,” he said.
After Erdogan’s visit, the genocide resolution was blocked from consideration by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), reportedly at the direction of the White House.
Subsequent attempts to bring the resolution up for consideration were blocked by Sens. David Perdue and Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.). The White House reportedly did not want the resolution enacted because of ongoing talks with Turkey about its purchase of a Russian S-400 missile system.
Cramer, in a statement provided to CNA, said he offered to block the resolution when informed of the White House’s disapproval. “When I was told of their concern, I said I would block the UC [unanimous consent] if they would like,” he stated.
The campaign of displacement, violence, and killings of Armenians—mostly Christians—by the Ottoman Empire has been recognized by many scholars as genocide. Pope Francis has recognized the genocide several times by name, including at a mass in 2015 shortly before the centenary of the genocide.
In 2015, the Vatican made public some materials from its archives related to the Armenian genocide, including correspondence between the Holy See and regional political and religious leaders.
The archives spanned from decades before 1915, when state-sanctioned violence against Armenians was occurring, to well into the 20th century, and showed efforts by the Vatican to quell the violence against Armenians and to aid the victims of the genocide.
In his June, 2016 visit to Armenia, Pope Francis recognized the “Great Evil” of the “genocide” of Armenians.
Warsaw, Poland, Dec 12, 2019 / 03:42 pm (CNA).- A coalition of abortion advocacy groups has launched a hotline service to inform Polish women on how to procure abortion inside and outside of the largely pro-life country.
“Abortion without Borders” was released Dec. 11 by a collaboration of six pro-abortion organizations, including Abortion Dream Team, Kobiety w Sieci, and the Abortion Support Network.
The service will advise callers on how to purchase abortion drugs online or refer them to abortion clinics in the Netherlands, Britain, or Germany. The project will also provide financial assistance to women unable to afford the process. According to the Guardian, this may cover travel and medical costs.
The project will be offered to women seeking an abortion in Poland, which has some of the most pro-life laws in Europe. The country bans abortion except in cases of fetal abnormalities, rape, incest, or life-threatening emergencies.
According to Thomas Reuters Foundation News, official figures state that about 1,000 women receive an abortion in Poland each year, but abortion advocates believe the number to be much higher. They estimate that tens of thousands of women receive an abortion annually through abortion drugs ordered online or by traveling to other countries to get the procedure.
Last month, Poland was among 11 countries affirming the univeral right to life on the sidelines of the Nairobi Summit, saying the gathering was too focused on “reproductive rights.”
The joint statement said “there is no international right to abortion; in fact, international law clearly states that ‘[e]veryone has the right to life’ (e.g. Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights).”
“The ICPD notes that countries should ‘take appropriate steps to help women avoid abortion, which in no case should be promoted as a method of family planning’ (ICPD 7.24) and to ‘reduce the recourse to abortion’ strongly affirming that ‘… [a]ny measures or changes related to abortion within the health system can only be determined at the national or local level according to the national legislative process’ (ICPD paragraph 8.25).”
The bishops of Poland issued a pro-life statement in 2018 after the “Halt Abortion” bill was approved by the parliamentary Committee on Justice and Human Rights. If passed, the law would prohibit the practice of eugenic abortions – those procured because of an unborn child’s congenital disorder or genetic deformity.
“Every conceived child has the right to birth and to life, regardless of innate diseases and genetic defects. The role of the state is to provide protection for every citizen, also in its first stage of life,” said Archbishop Stanislaw Gadecki of Poznan, president of the Polish bishops' conference.
“The right to life is a fundamental human right, there is no doubt in this matter,” Archbishop Gadecki added in a recent statement.
Vatican City, Dec 12, 2019 / 02:25 pm (CNA).- A group of around 50 women judges and prosecutors engaged in the fight against human trafficking and organized crime in Africa is meeting at the Vatican this week.
Hosted by the Pontifical Academy for Sciences, the Dec. 12-13 meeting reprises a similar summit held in December 2018.
Pope Francis addressed the summit privately for around 10-15 minutes in the afternoon of Dec. 12.
Judith Wanjala told CNA Pope Francis addressed the problem of human trafficking, “urging us to take positive steps to deal with this problem, which is affecting the entire world, so many countries.”
Wanjala, who has heard human trafficking cases as a judge in Kenya for more than 30 years, added that Pope Francis’ encouragement of the summit is for her a sign of his strong feelings against trafficking.
She said she is participating in the gathering to share and to understand better what practices judges and prosecutors in other African countries are putting into place.
“I think it is important for everybody to understand what trafficking is, because it affects almost every aspect of society, not just as women but the entire judiciary, prosecutors, police, investigators, and the public,” she said. Everyone needs “to understand what human trafficking entails.”
One participating judge, who asked not to be identified, called human trafficking a “plague” in Africa.
Mina Sougrati, an administrative judge in Morocco, told CNA that Africa is very concerned about human trafficking.
She explained that the increase in illegal immigration to Europe has been contributing to the problem, especially in Morocco: “There’s a big market for human trafficking.”
“For me it’s very important, you know, that this issue is international. And everyone from society is concerned,” she said. “Judges are more concerned because it’s up to them to decide whether it’s a human trafficker or not.”
She added that these meetings are very important because they do not always have opportunities to gather as judges within one country, “let alone the whole continent of Africa.”
“So, when we are here, everyone, from each country, talks about the problems, whether there is a law or no law, what is the strategy of the country, are there institutions working on this issue or not. We try to exchange experiences.”
Sougrati noted that the group is very happy Pope Francis has decided to create a pan-African committee on the topic of human trafficking. “The pope has done a very good thing,” she said. “This is a very, very strong work; no country in the world has done it like this.”
“We thanked him for doing this. I felt from his discourse that he speaks from the bottom of his heart that judges must work on this.”