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Swiss court suspends public worship ban in Geneva

CNA Staff, Dec 5, 2020 / 04:40 am (CNA).- A court suspended Thursday a ban on public worship in the Swiss canton of Geneva regarded as one of the broadest measures restricting public religious gatherings in Europe.

The Constitutional Chamber of the Canton of Geneva issued the order Dec. 3 after concerned citizens brought a legal challenge to the ban introduced on Nov. 1 by local authorities seeking to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Public religious services can now resume in the city of Geneva, known as the “human rights capital of the world,” and surrounding areas until the court hands down its final judgment on the ban. 

The court indicated that the legal challenge had a high chance of succeeding. It also noted that the authorities had failed to demonstrate that places of worship were responsible for outbreaks of COVID-19 in the canton.

Steve Alder, the lawyer who filed the case, said that the Geneva decree was one of the broadest bans on public religious gatherings in Europe. He argued that the order was discriminatory because the city permitted other public gatherings to take place. 

He said: “Enforcing it is a violation of the right to freedom of religion as protected in the Swiss Constitution and by international human rights standards. It disproportionately targets the activities of religious groups over commercial activities.” 

“With multiple religious groups in Geneva voicing their concerns over the disproportionality of the ban, we hope that the authorities will ultimately agree on a solution that protects everyone’s right to practice their religion in line with international law. The suspension of the ban is a welcome step in this direction.”

The Nov. 1 measures banned all public religious services except for funerals and weddings with strictly limited numbers in attendance. Churches were permitted to remain open for private prayer. 

Local religious leaders issued a joint statement Nov. 27 expressing “deep regret” that local authorities had failed to relax the measures governing public worship.

Following the suspension of the order on Thursday, the Catholic Church in Geneva said that public Masses would be limited to 50 people and respect measures to prevent the transmission of COVID-19 such as social distancing and the wearing of masks.

Jennifer Lea, legal counsel for the human rights group ADF International, which supported the legal challenge, described the suspension as “a significant step in the right direction”.

“Religious freedom is a fundamental human right and governments seeking to restrict it carry the burden of proving the restriction is truly necessary and that a less restrictive approach would not work,” she said

“Favoring commercial establishments over religious services is not only discriminatory but ignores the robust protection that exists in national and international law for religious freedom.”

The canton of Geneva is one of 26 cantons, or administrative divisions, comprising the Swiss Confederation and has a population of almost half a million people. The French-speaking region, located in the southwest of Switzerland, was the heartland of the Calvinist Reformation.

International organizations such as the World Health Organization and World Trade Organization have their headquarters in the city of Geneva. The United Nations has one of its four major offices in the city, which has a population of almost 200,000. 

Samuel Sommaruga, on whose behalf the legal challenge was filed, said: “Restrictions on fundamental rights must always be proportionate and proven to be truly necessary. Given that other public gatherings are still permitted, we do not see the proportionality of this restriction -- it targets religious groups in a discriminatory way. That is why we decided to challenge it in court.” 

“We are hopeful that the courts will ultimately recognize this as a violation of fundamental rights and that a solution will be found that protects the rights of all citizens of Switzerland and sets a good benchmark for the rest of Europe.”

Apostolic nuncio to US to hold webinar on Fratelli Tutti

CNA Staff, Dec 4, 2020 / 06:35 pm (CNA).- Archbishop Christophe Pierre, Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, will present a webinar on the pope’s recent encyclical, Fratelli Tutti.

Entitled "Social Implications of Fratelli Tutti: A Call to Fraternal Love,” the webinar will be held 8 p.m. EST on December 7. It will be livestreamed on Facebook, and registration is currently open.

The webinar is the second event under the Common Good in the Public Square (CGPS) initiative run by Global Responsibility, an international nonprofit that says it is “inspired by humanist principles to act in our societies and to encourage responsible citizenship worldwide.”

The initiative seeks to encourage individual and group action on important social issues, based on Catholic Social Teaching.

“We intend to further spread the message of Fratelli Tutti across the country, as we believe that the guidance provided by Pope Francis is of paramount importance,” said  Felipe Flores Herrera, U.S. Coordinator for Global Responsibility. “These are polarizing and challenging times, and we want our faith to inform our civic engagement as lay Catholics.”

Fratelli Tutti was released by Pope Francis in October. It emphasizes the primacy of love, in both social and political contexts, and urges people of good will to promote fraternity through dialogue, renewing society by putting love for others ahead of personal interests.

 

Effort to buy and preserve Tolkien house in Oxford

CNA Staff, Dec 4, 2020 / 04:30 pm (CNA).- Actors from the films trilogies the “Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” have backed a campaign to turn the former home of Catholic author JRR Tolkien into an educational center.

Project Northmoor is seeking to raise nearly $6.5 million to purchase the house where Tolkien wrote his most famous novels. As of Dec.4, the project has funded $250,000.

A video in support of the project was released Dec. 2. It includes the actors Ian McKellen, who portrayed Gandalf; Martin Freeman, who portrayed Bilbo Baggins; and John Rhys-Davies, who played Gimli.

McKellen tweeted that authors of Tolkien’s stature have museums and educational centers established in their memory. He encouraged Tolkien fans to donate to the campaign.

“We cannot achieve this without the worldwide support of the Tolkien fans,” he said. “We will only succeed if we do this together as a fellowship.”

While a fellow at Pembroke College, and later Merton, Tolkien lived at the house on Northmoor Road in Oxford from 1930 until 1947.

If the project raises enough money, the six-bedroom home will be renovated and the garden restored. This will include a hobbit house in the garden and a pipe-smoking area around Tolkien’s tree. The Tolkien house would also involve creative courses and special events.

"Unbelievably, considering his importance, there is no centre devoted to Tolkien anywhere in the world,” said Rhys-Davies, according to BBC.

“[It would be a] literary hub that will inspire new generations of writers, artists and filmmakers.”

Project Northmoor was founded by British Novelist Julia Golding. She said it is a huge challenge to raise this money in three months, but noted that this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

"We need only to look at Frodo and Sam's journey from Rivendell to Mount Doom, which took that same amount of time - and we are inspired that we can do this too, '' she said, according to BBC.

The video also features Leith McPherson, dialect coach on The Hobbit movies; Malcolm Guite, poet and scholar; and Golding, director of Project Northmoor. They highlighted the important influence that Tolkien’s life and literature have had.

“Tolkien’s world has been an inspiration for many artists, writers, filmmakers. But, so far there has been no specific place dedicated to the appreciation of Tolkien’s life,” said Guite.

“Tolkien built his vast mythology for his mythical world between teaching Oxford students the languages and literature he loved,” said Michael Ward, a British scholar and author.

“He also invented his own languages. From the beautiful language of the elves to the terrible Black Speech of Sauron,” said McPherson, switching between Elvish and the Dark Tongue of Mordor.

Golding said that if completed, the house will be dedicated to the fans and expressed hope that the house would become a center for fans from all over the world.

“This is our vision at project Northmoor, a charity set up to purchase the house and then go on to establish the center. We hope one day to welcome Tolkien enthusiasts from the world over to take part in our events.”

Vatican archbishop expresses ‘grave concern’ at rise in attacks on believers at prayer

CNA Staff, Dec 4, 2020 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- A Vatican archbishop expressed “grave concern” Thursday at the rise in attacks on believers praying in places of worship.

In a Dec. 3 address to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher said that “the Holy See wishes to express its grave concern for the rising number of terrorist attacks, hate crimes and other manifestations of intolerance targeting persons, places of worship, cemeteries and religious sites across the OSCE area and beyond.” 

“The fact that many of these acts of violence have been perpetrated against believers when they gather to pray in their places of worship make them particularly heinous: havens of peace and serenity quickly become execution chambers, as defenseless children, women and men lose their lives simply for gathering to practice their religion,” he said. 

Gallagher, the Vatican’s Secretary for Relations with States, made the comments at a virtual meeting of the OSCE held in the Albanian capital, Tirana.

The OSCE, which has 57 participating states in North America, Europe and Central Asia, describes itself as the world’s largest regional security organization. 

The organization published data last month documenting more than 500 hate crimes against Christians in Europe in 2019.

Incidents included attacks against Catholic priests, arson attacks on Catholic churches, the destruction of images of the Virgin Mary, vandalism of a pregnancy counseling center, and the theft of consecrated Eucharistic hosts from tabernacles.

Gallagher said that the OSCE could be “rightly proud of being one of the first international organizations to raise the alarm on intolerance and discrimination against Christians.”

The archbishop was speaking weeks after a Tunisian man stabbed three people to death at the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Nice in France. Witnesses said that he shouted “Allahu Akbar” (God is greatest) throughout the attack.

Gallagher said: “It is even more regrettable that some of these abhorrent attacks are committed ‘in the name of religion.’ Let me emphasize that violence does not stem from religion but from its false interpretation or its transformation into ideology.” 

“Violence, persecution and killing in the name of God is not religion but radicalism, which needs to be fought by all using all legitimate means.”

Gallagher argued that the commitment to defending freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief should lead to the protection of places of worship. The OSCE’s participating states therefore had a “common duty” to defend communities from attacks.

“For the OSCE to promote human dignity in an integral way, it must effectively address intolerance and discrimination against Christians, Jews, Muslims and members of other religions without prejudice or hierarchical selectivity, thus addressing hate crimes and security needs of all religious communities,” he said.

In his wide-ranging address, Gallagher also reflected on the pandemic. He lamented the surge in poverty caused by the coronavirus and its “disproportionate effect” on women.

He added: “Some of the measures imposed by states to combat the COVID-19 pandemic have had profound ramifications on different fundamental freedoms, including the freedom to manifest one’s religion or belief, while also limiting the religious, educational and charitable activities of faith communities.” 

“In this respect, civil authorities should always be aware of the severe consequences those regulations might create for religious or belief communities, which play an important role in dealing with the crisis not only by their active support in the field of healthcare and social assistance, but also by their spiritual and moral help and their messages of solidarity and hope.”

Patriarch Pizzaballa makes solemn entry into the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem

Rome Newsroom, Dec 4, 2020 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- Patriarch Pierbattista Pizzaballa made a solemn entry into the Church of the Holy Sepulchre Friday as the new Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem.

“I cannot but experience feelings of fear in the face of a mission that exceeds my capacities. But I accept this new obedience, which I wish to fulfill with joy. It is certainly a cross, but a cross that bears fruit of salvation each time it is embraced in joy,” Patriarch Pizzaballa said Dec. 4.

“The Cross of the Son of God, raised only a few meters away from here, has given meaning to all the crosses of the world.”

Wearing a face mask and a bishop’s miter, the new Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem processed into the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which contains the tomb of Christ and the site of the crucifixion.

He prayed at Christ’s tomb before offering a few remarks at the ceremony, which was broadcast via livestream.

“Here we are … in front of the Empty Tomb of Christ -- the heart of our faith and of our Christian community,” Pizzaballa said.

“It is a tradition here in our Land, that at the start of a new ecclesial journey, we unite at this Holy Place, to remember Easter whatever the time of the liturgical year. There is no beginning, no ecclesial initiative, no project that can exist outside of the Easter experience,” he said.

“‘To celebrate Easter’ means to give one’s life out of love. And this is particularly true for our Church in Jerusalem which has this specific calling and mission of living in the light of Easter.”

 

Solemn Entry of HB Patriarch Pierbattista Pizzaballa at the Holy Sepulcher today. The complete celebration is in our Facebook page. pic.twitter.com/i1L158T8xw

— Christian Media Center (@terrasantacmc) December 4, 2020  

As the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Pizzaballa will lead the estimated 293,000 Latin Catholics in Israel, the Palestinian territories, Jordan, and Cyprus.

He acknowledged that the region faces political and economic difficulties, which have worsened with the coronavirus outbreak.

“Enormous economic and social problems confront us, aggravated all the more by the ongoing pandemic,” Pizzaballa said. 

“We look forward to saying a clear and peaceful word regarding politics, which is often fragile and short-sighted, but which weighs heavily on the lives of all our families.”

Pizzaballa has lived in the Middle East since 1990. The Italian moved to the Holy Land shortly after his priestly ordination as a Franciscan to study biblical theology at the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum in Jerusalem.

He went on to serve as Vicar of the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem for the pastoral care of Hebrew-speaking Catholics in Israel, and oversaw the publication of the Roman Missal in Hebrew in 1995.

Pizzaballa also served as Custos of the Holy Land -- the major superior of the Friars Minor in the Middle East -- from 2004 to 2016. He was appointed apostolic administrator sede vacante of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem on June 24, 2016.

Pope Francis named him the new Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem in October. In November, Pizzaballa traveled to Galilee and the Sharon Plain to entrust his mission to the prayer of contemplative religious orders in the Holy Land.

Pizzaballa will return to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre on the morning of Dec. 5 to offer his first Pontifical Mass.

“Dear brothers and sisters, I invite you to pray for me and for our beloved Church in Jerusalem, so that I may lead it, serve it and love it with an undivided heart,” Pizzaballa said.

“From this Holy Place, the Risen Lord repeats the words that He spoke to the women on the day of the Resurrection: ‘Do not fear; go and tell my brothers’ … These are the words of the Risen Christ and they must always resound in our hearts. We are not alone, nor orphans, we need not be afraid. We are sure that the Risen Lord will once again fill us with His Holy Spirit and make us bold witnesses of His love in His Land.”

Gethsemane church targeted in arson attack

CNA Staff, Dec 4, 2020 / 12:01 pm (CNA).- The Catholic leaders of the Holy Land are demanding an investigation into an attempted arson attack at a basilica located near the Garden of Gethsemane.

The Basilica of the Agony, located on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem next to the Garden of Gethsemane, is also known as the Church of All Nations. It houses a section of rock where Christ prayed the night before his crucifixion.

Israeli police on Dec. 4 said they had arrested a 49-year-old Jewish man who "poured flammable liquid inside the church.” The fire damaged a Byzantine mosaic, but did not spread to the church’s structure.

The Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries, which is composed of the leaders of the Holy Land’s Latin and Eastern Catholic Churches, shared pictures in a Dec. 4 joint statement of several pews blackened by smoke.

“As we thank God that the fire was quickly extinguished, we thank the police for their swift action and arrest of the suspect. We also demand the police to seriously investigate this arson attack, especially since it seems that it is racially motivated,” the ordinaries said.

In recent years Chrsistians say they have been attacked by some groups of Israeli settlers in traditionally Christian regions, and attacks on Christians have also been documented in Jerusalem. Most of the Christians in Israel are Arabs.

Pope Francis has urged the necessity of maintaining the status quo in the Holy Land, such as in his meeting with Theophilos III, Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, in October 2017, in which the two discussed the patriarch’s concern for the Christian community amid aggression by Jewish settlers.

The Benedictine Dormition Abbey in Jerusalem has been vandalized on five different occasions in recent years, including with anti-Christian graffiti written in Hebrew. In 2014, an assailant tried to burn the abbey down.

In June 2015 an arson attack damaged the Church of the Multiplication, which is located on the Sea of Galilee where Jesus Christ fed thousands of people through the miraculous multiplication of loaves and fishes.

Vandals shattered stained-glass windows and destroyed a statue of Mary in St. Stephen Church in the Beit Jamal Salesian monastery, 25 miles west of Jerusalem, in September 2017.

On June 8, 2019, Armenian Apostolic Orthodox seminarians in Jerusalem’s Old City were targeted by three young Jewish extremists who spat on them, saying “Death to the Christians” and “We will wipe you out of this country.”

The Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem has repeatedly called for educational measures in response to vandalism attacks.

The Assembly of the Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land’s requests to discuss the attacks with the Israeli authorities, including with the Prime Minister, have been repeatedly denied.

Pro-life research group rates ‘encouraging’ COVID vaccine development

CNA Staff, Dec 4, 2020 / 11:30 am (CNA).- A pro-life research group has clarified which of the leading COVID vaccine candidates in the United States have not used abortion-derived cell lines in production or testing.

The Charlotte Lozier Institute (CLI), the research arm of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, said on Thursday it is “encouraging” that “many leading vaccine candidates” funded by the U.S. “do not use abortion-derived cell lines in their production.”

However, the institute said, some of the tests conducted on these vaccine candidates used the abortion-derived cell lines—which “unnecessarily put American families in a difficult position,” CLI said.

Since COVID-vaccine development began, the group has documented any use of aborted fetal cell lines in production or testing of the vaccine candidates. CLI has also tracked vaccine development under Operation Warp Speed, the Trump administration’s campaign to fund companies to rapidly produce a COVID vaccine.

As some COVID vaccines are on the cusp of government approval in the U.S., CLI updated its list of the ethically-produced or tested vaccines, concluding that while some of the leading candidates were ethically-produced, some of the testing on these candidates used fetal cell lines derived from an aborted baby.

Pharmaceutical companies have already submitted requests to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for emergency use authorization of two COVID vaccine candidates, developed by Pfizer and BioNTech, and Moderna.

While these two vaccine candidates did not use an abortion-derived cell line in production, some of the tests on the vaccine did use this cell line, CLI said.

Three other leading vaccine candidates developed by AstraZeneca with Oxford University, Johnson & Johnson, and Novavax, all have used aborted fetal cell lines both in production and in testing. All three candidates are still in Phase III trials.

CLI called on developers to use ethical alternatives to fetal cell lines in the testing phase.

“Many developers already opt to use animal cell lines, non-fetal human cells, yeast, or chicken eggs instead,” the group stated, adding that using ethical alternatives “will reduce vaccine hesitancy for those who oppose the use of fetal cell lines.”

Many vaccines are produced by using certain human cell lines; common vaccines, including those used to innoculate children for smallpox, measles, and rubella, have been produced with cell lines derived from aborted babies, such as the HEK-293 cell line.

The Pontifical Academy for Life has said that Catholics should advocate for ethically-produced vaccines which do not use cell lines of aborted babies.

As recently as 2017, the academy recognized “the moral obligation to guarantee the vaccination coverage necessary for the safety of others,” and said that “the cell lines currently used” from babies aborted in the 1960s “are very distant from the original abortions and no longer imply that bond of moral cooperation indispensable for an ethically negative evaluation of their use.”

On the matter of medical research conducted on fetal tissue from aborted babies, the Trump administration in 2019 declared a halt to such research at NIH facilities; any federally-funded research proposals involving fetal tissue conducted outside of NIH facilities would be reviewed on a case-by-case basis by an ethics advisory board.

The advisory board in August recommended to withhold federal funding of 13 different fetal tissue research proposals.

However, under Operation Warp Speed the administration funded multiple COVID vaccine candidates that were produced with aborted fetal cell lines, such as the Oxford University/AstraZeneca vaccine currently in Phase 3 trials; it also funded other candidates that used the cell lines in some testing, such as the Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine candidates.

While the production of Moderna’s vaccine did rely on some research that was connected to aborted fetal cell lines, the production process itself did not use cell lines at all. Moderna scientists were not involved in the problematic research.

Chaput says denying Biden Communion is ‘pastoral’ not ‘political’

CNA Staff, Dec 4, 2020 / 11:23 am (CNA).- Archbishop Charles Chaput said that Catholic president-elect Joe Biden should not receive Holy Communion because of his support for the “grave moral evil” of abortion.

Writing in the magazine First Things on Dec. 4, the archbishop emeritus of Philadelphia also warned that individual bishops who publicly announce their intention to give Biden Communion risk doing a “serious disservice” to Biden, and to the rest of the American bishops.

Biden will become the second baptized Catholic to be sworn in as U.S. president. During his campaign he frequently referenced his Catholicism while taking stances in direct opposition to various aspects of Church teaching, including his support for enshrining unrestricted access to abortion in federal law.

“By his actions during the course of his public life, Mr. Biden has demonstrated that he is not in full communion with the Catholic Church,” Chaput wrote.

“To his credit,” Chaput noted, Biden “has championed many causes and issues that do serve the common good. However, many of his actions and words have also supported or smoothed the way for grave moral evils in our public life that have resulted in the destruction of millions of innocent lives.”

“Mr. Biden has said that he will continue to advance those same policies as president, and thus should not receive Holy Communion. His stated intention requires a strong and consistent response from Church leaders and faithful.”

Chaput, who retired as Archbishop of Philadelphia in January 2020, also noted that when he was a serving diocesan bishop, he was not always in favor of publicly denying politicians Communion over their political stances.

“I believed then, and believe now, that publicly denying Communion to public officials is not always wise or the best pastoral course,” said Chaput. “Doing so in a loud and forceful manner may cause more harm than good by inviting the official to bask in the media glow of victimhood.”

Chaput recalled that in 2004, John Kerry – also a Catholic – was the Democratic nominee for president and also took policy stances at odds with the Church’s moral teaching, a situation which resulted in “internal tensions among U.S. bishops about how to handle the matter of Holy Communion.”

“At the time, Washington’s then-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, along with Pittsburgh’s Bishop Donald Wuerl [who succeeded McCarrick in Washington], had very different views from my own regarding how to proceed,” Chaput said.

“What I opposed in 2004… was any seeming indifference to the issue, any hint in a national bishops’ statement or policy that would give bishops permission to turn their heads away from the gravity of a very serious issue.”

Chaput noted that, in answer to that situation, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) issued a letter clarifying that Catholic politicians who campaign and vote for laws promoting abortion and similar grave moral evils should be “instructed” by their pastor on Church teaching and warned that they would be denied Communion. If they continued “with obstinate persistence” in their stance and still presented themselves for Communion, the CDF said, “the minister of Holy Communion must refuse to distribute it.”

“To my knowledge, that statement remains in effect,” Chaput said on Friday. “The implications for the present moment are clear. Public figures who identify as ‘Catholic’ give scandal to the faithful when receiving Communion by creating the impression that the moral laws of the Church are optional.”

“And,” Chaput continued, “bishops give similar scandal by not speaking up publicly about the issue and danger of sacrilege.”

During their Fall General Assembly last month, the U.S. bishops noted that Biden’s public Catholicism and his policy platform presented a unique set of challenges for the bishops as they sought to work with the incoming administration.

The conference president, Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, closed the meeting on Nov. 17 by announcing the creation of a bishops’ working group to prepare for the Biden presidency.

The USCCB president noted several Biden policies that “pose a serious threat to the common good, whenever any politician supports them.”

Gomez went on to observe that “when politicians who profess the Catholic faith support them, there are additional problems. Among other things, it creates confusion among the faithful about what the Church actually teaches on these questions.”

As a consequence, he announced the formation of a special committee, chaired by Archbishop Alan Vigneron of Detroit, and made up of the heads of various USCCB committees to “emphasize our priorities and enhance collaboration.”

Despite the announcement of this committee, on Nov. 24, Washington archbishop Cardinal Wilton Gregory announced in an interview that he would not deny Communion to Biden, and committed himself to dialoguing with the president-elect to “discover areas where [he and Biden] can cooperate that reflect the social teachings of the Church, knowing full well that there are some areas where we won’t agree.”

As the Archbishop of Washington, Cardinal Gregory would be Biden’s local bishop when he arrived in the White House. In his interview, the cardinal dismissed the possible “confusion” over Church teaching caused by a Catholic president promoting unrestricted access to abortion.

“It’s not a matter of confusion,” Gregory said. “On my part, it’s a matter of the responsibility that I have as the archbishop to be engaged and to be in dialogue with him, even in those areas where we obviously have some differences.”

Chaput wrote on Friday that “Those bishops who publicly indicate in advance that they will undertake their own dialogue with President-elect Joseph Biden and allow him Communion effectively undermine the work of the task force established at the November bishops’ conference meeting to deal precisely with this and related issues.”

Chaput said that unilateral action by bishops on Biden and Communion “gives scandal to their brother bishops and priests, and to the many Catholics who struggle to stay faithful to Church teaching.”

“It does damage to the bishops’ conference, to the meaning of collegiality, and to the fruitfulness of the conference’s advocacy work with the incoming administration.”

“When bishops publicly announce their willingness to give Communion to Mr. Biden, without clearly teaching the gravity of his facilitating the evil of abortion (and his approval of same-sex relationships), they do a serious disservice to their brother bishops and their people,” said Chaput.

The archbishop went on to argue that denying a Catholic in a state of grave sin Communion was an essential pastoral action.

“This is not a ‘political’ matter,” he said, “and those who would describe it as such are either ignorant or willfully confusing the issue. This is a matter of bishops’ unique responsibility before the Lord for the integrity of the sacraments.”

“Moreover,” Chaput concluded, “there is also the pressing matter of pastoral concern for a man’s salvation.”

 

USAID gives $900,000 to feed the hungry in Italy amid pandemic

Rome Newsroom, Dec 4, 2020 / 11:00 am (CNA).- The United States’ international aid agency has given a $900,000 grant to a Catholic group to provide food to people suffering from hunger in Italy because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Catholic Sant’Egidio community said it had increased its food donation projects with the help of the USAID funding and in collaboration with the International Union of Superiors General (UISG).

Speaking at a video press conference Thursday, Mauro Garofalo, head of Sant’Egidio’s international relations, said: “In this period of health and social emergency, Sant’Egidio has increased its street service, the distribution of food to the homeless, the elderly and vulnerable families.” 

“The pandemic has had serious consequences on the Italian social and economic fabric,” he said, noting that, thanks to the contribution of USAID, Sant’Egidio has been able to double the number of meals it serves in its soup kitchens and the number of take-away meals it hands out.

“In addition, thousands of families were reached every month with the distribution of food parcels in a dozen neighborhoods in the Roman suburbs and in 25 cities in 15 Italian regions,” Garofalo said. 

U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See Callista Gingrich also spoke at the press conference. She highlighted the coronavirus pandemic’s impact on the world, observing that in Italy more than 1.6 million people have been infected and 50,000 people have died.

“The United States and Italy enjoy a strong and friendly relationship, enriched by our shared history, values, and culture,” she said.

Gingrich said that the U.S. was honored to give the grant “to provide critical humanitarian assistance to those most impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic in Italy.”

The ambassador said that the project, which began in July, had been able to provide clothing and personal protection equipment to the homeless, the elderly, and other at-risk people.

“They have also provided counseling services and virtual medical assessments,” she said.

Garofalo added: “COVID-19 has highlighted the centrality of proximity and solidarity networks, which are even more essential today to combat the loneliness and isolation of many people.” 

He said that the widespread presence of Sant’Egidio in Italy had allowed the group to respond quickly to increased needs. 

Sr. Patricia Murray, IBVM, the executive secretary of the UISG, said she had been “very touched by the testimony of so many elderly nuns, whose lives have been completely changed by COVID-19.”

“They don’t live in a protected situation, but they share the same fears and anxieties as everyone,” she said. “They draw on their deep faith in Christ and depend on the generosity of others to help the poor personally and as a community.”

“I express deep gratitude to those who have worked to support our congregations and ensure that our convents are safe places at this time, especially for those who are elderly and frail.” 

New Vatican guide for bishops addresses common challenges to Christian unity

Vatican City, Dec 4, 2020 / 09:40 am (CNA).- The Vatican published Friday a guide with suggestions for Catholic bishops to promote unity with other Christian communities, offering practical advice for how to overcome common challenges to ecumenism.

The 26-page “ecumenical vademecum” was approved by Pope Francis and issued Dec. 4 by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

The document emphasizes the responsibility of diocesan bishops to promote unity among Christians within their jurisdiction and gives practical suggestions for how this can be achieved.

The vademecum recalls that ecumenical dialogue and inter-religious dialogue have different aims. Dialogue with different religious traditions aims at establishing “good relations and cooperation,” but dialogue with different Christian communities “aims at restoring the unity Christ willed for his Church,” it says.

The guide also addresses questions such as marriage between a Catholic and a non-Catholic Christian, “communicatio in sacris,” and the use of Catholic church property by other Christian communities.

“Communicatio in sacris” means to participate in Holy Communion with a church or Christian community outside one’s own tradition. The document restates Church law, which says that a Catholic bishop may allow a non-Catholic Christian to receive the Eucharist in “exceptional” cases, such as danger of death or “grave necessity,” provided that the person shares the Catholic belief in the Eucharist.

Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, said in a press conference Dec. 4 that “the Catholic Church holds that Eucharistic communion has as a prerequisite ecclesial communion.” 

This is why, he said, canon 844 of the Code of Canon Law -- which indicates the conditions under which a Christian not in full communion with the Catholic Church may receive Holy Communion from a Catholic minister -- states that the person must “manifest Catholic faith” in the Eucharist and be properly disposed.

The vademecum notes that a bishop’s judgment about what constitutes a “grave necessity” and “when exceptional sacramental sharing is appropriate” always requires “pastoral discernment,” because it has to do with “the care and the salvation of souls.”

“Sacraments may never be shared out of mere politeness. Prudence must be exercised to avoid causing confusion or giving scandal to the faithful,” the document says.

Cardinal Koch said it was his opinion that the issue of whether there is valid ordination in Christian communities outside the Catholic Church is “the biggest obstacle” to resolving the theological question of intercommunion. 

He cited, for example, the fact that the Anglican community has allowed the ordination of women as priests and bishops, which the Catholic Church cannot accept.

“We must work on this situation very hard in the future, but we have not resolved this situation today,” he said.

Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, also said that the problem of episcopal ordination was “fundamental, and so it is at the core of ecumenical dialogue.”

Another place where the guide addresses giving scandal is in the use of a Catholic church by another Christian community. The bishop may offer that possibility if the need arises, but he must discern that it “will not cause scandal or confusion to the faithful,” the vademecum says.

In January of this year, a controversy erupted over a Virginia bishop’s decision to allow an Episcopalian diocese to use a Catholic parish for the consecration of an Episcopalian bishop, Susan Haynes.

Bishop Barry Knestout of the Catholic diocese of Richmond defended the decision to allow the Episcopalian Diocese of Southern Virginia to use St. Bede Catholic Church in Williamsburg, citing Vatican II documents on ecumenism. But the location of the event was changed after an internet petition objecting to the event drew national attention. 

The new document may help bishops navigate situations like this in the future.

The guide for bishops also addresses what it calls “interchurch marriages,” when a Catholic and a non-Catholic Christian marry. It says these marriages “should not be regarded as problems for they are often a privileged place where the unity of Christians is built. However, pastors cannot be indifferent to the pain of Christian division which is experienced in the context of these families, perhaps more sharply than in any other context.”

The document recommends that bishops meet with and listen to interchurch families in their dioceses, especially during marriage preparation and as couples have children and prepare them to receive the sacraments.

Koch said that the idea for the vademecum came about during the pontifical council’s 2016 plenary meeting, attended by bishops from around the world. He explained that some members of the council asked for a practical document for bishops to learn from and reference on the topic of ecumenism. The guide then took three years to write, in consultation with other curial departments.

“The ministry of the bishop is the ministry for unity,” the cardinal said. “Not just for his own diocese or for the Catholic Church, but unity for the whole of Christians.”

The new document also notes the obligation of lay Catholics to work for unity with other Christians and promotes “practical ecumenism,” which it describes as Christians serving together to promote a common cause or to address injustices, such as human trafficking, mistreatment of immigrants, and attacks on the sanctity of life, among other issues.

“The experience of bishops in many parts of the world is that cooperation between Christian communities in service of the poor is a driving force in promoting the desire for Christian unity,” it says.

“Our common service manifests before the world, therefore, our shared faith, and our witness is more powerful for being united.”

Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, emphasized the importance of Christians being united in order to give authentic witness to people of other religions.

“Lack of unity among followers of Jesus … undermines evangelization and obscures the person of Jesus. The non-Christians are confused: ‘How many Christs are there?’” he said in the press conference.

“The non-Christians are scandalized, really scandalized, when we all claim to be followers of Christ and they see how we are fighting one another,” he continued. “It weakens -- the lack of unity and even this almost outright anger toward one another -- it weakens evangelization.”

The vademecum stresses “the long history of Christian divisions and the complex nature of the theological and cultural factors that divide Christian communities” and the challenges they present to those engaged in ecumenism, noting that “the obstacles to unity are beyond human strength; they cannot be overcome by our efforts alone.”

“But the death and resurrection of Christ is God’s decisive victory over sin and division, just as it is His victory over injustice and every form of evil. For this reason Christians cannot despair in the face of Christian division, just as they cannot despair in the face of injustice or warfare. Christ has already defeated these evils,” it says.

“The task of the Church,” it continues, “is always to receive the grace of the victory of Christ. The practical recommendation and initiatives suggested in this vademecum are ways in which the Church and, in particular, the bishop can strive to actualise Christ’s victory over Christian division.”

The document highlights prayer, noting that by “praying for unity, we acknowledge that unity is a gift of the Holy Spirit and not something we can achieve through our own efforts.” It also lays out some of the common beliefs among different Christian communities, such as in the saints and martyrs, liturgical feasts, and Sacred Scripture.

It also explains that ecumenism is not based on compromise, “as if unity should be achieved at the expense of truth. On the contrary, the search for unity leads us into a fuller appreciation of God’s revealed truth.”

“The bedrock of ecumenical formation, therefore, is that ‘the Catholic faith must be explained more profoundly and precisely, in such a way and in such terms as our separated brethren can also really understand,’” it states.

Ecumenism also requires the virtue of charity, the guide says, urging Catholics to “avoid polemical presentations of Christian history and theology” and to “seek to emphasize the Christian faith that we share with others and to present the theological differences that divide us with balance and accuracy.”

The guide ends with an appendix of the names and descriptions of different Christian communities with which the Catholic Church conducts bilateral dialogue, as well as a list of the ecumenical groups with which it engages in multilateral dialogue.