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December 14, 2017
Archive of March 20, 2017

Pope meets Rwandan president, apologizes for Church failure during genocide

Vatican City, Mar 20, 2017 (CNA/EWTN News) - During a brief meeting with Rwandan president Paul Kagame Monday, Pope Francis voiced his sadness for members of the Church who participated in the 1994 genocide, asking for forgiveness and assuring those who still suffer of his prayer.

According to a March 20 Vatican communique, during the meeting, the Pope “conveyed his profound sadness, and that of the Holy See and of the Church, for the genocide against the Tutsi.”

“He expressed his solidarity with the victims and with those who continue to suffer the consequences of those tragic event,” it read.

In imitation of St. John Paul II’s gesture during the Great Jubilee in 2000, Francis implored God’s forgiveness “for the sins and failings of the Church and its members, among whom priests, and religious men and women who succumbed to hatred and violence, betraying their own evangelical mission.”

Pope Francis, in light of a statement published by the Rwandan bishops at the conclusion of the Jubilee of Mercy asking forgiveness for the failure of the Church and her members, expressed his desire that his own “humble recognition” of the failings of that time, “which, unfortunately, disfigured the face of the Church, may contribute to a purification of memory.”

He also voiced his hope that the renewed apology “may promote, in hope and renewed trust, a future of peace, witnessing to the concrete possibility of living and working together, once the dignity of the human person and the common good are put at the center.”

The genocide began April 7, 1994, after controversy over the plane crash that killed the then-president of Rwanda, a Hutu. In the aftermath, Hutu extremists killed over 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

About 57 percent of Rwanda is Catholic, with another 37 percent Protestant or Seventh-Day Adventist. The churches have worked to bring about healing and reconciliation as well.

The Pope’s meeting with President Kagame, which lasted around 25 minutes, took place inside the Vatican’s apostolic palace and was conducted in English.

During the “cordial” discussion between the two, mention was also made of the good relations between the Church and the State in Rwanda. Specific appreciation was expressed for “the notable path of recovery toward the social, political and economic stabilization of the country.”

Likewise, the collaboration between the State and the local Church in working for “national reconciliation and in the consolidation of peace” nationwide was also cited.

The two also exchanged views on the political, social and regional situation of Rwanda, with specific attention placed on areas suffering due to conflict and natural problems, including the high number of migrants and refugees in need of support from the international community.

After the meeting, Pope Francis greeted the presidential delegation of 9 people, handing each of them a rosary, before exchanging gifts.

Francis gave Kagame three books: his apostolic exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium,” his environmental encyclical Laudato Si, and his post-synodal exhortation “Amoris Laetitia.”

He also gave the president a medal, telling him that “I like to give this work to Heads of State because for me it represents the biblical passage: ‘a desert that becomes a garden,’ so that the countries can also become gardens.”

On his part, President Kagame gave the Pope a box with a black and white staff inside, explaining that “it’s a rod used to summon the people,” like a sort of “pastoral” hook.

After meeting the Pope, Kagame then met with Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin and Archbishop Paul R. Gallagher, the Vatican’s Secretary for Relations with States.

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Pope Francis' schedule for Fatima visit released

Vatican City, Mar 20, 2017 (CNA/EWTN News) - On Monday, the Vatican released the official program for Pope Francis’ two-day visit to Portugal in May, where he’ll celebrate the centenary of the Fatima Marian apparitions and make a brief stop at an air base to meet the country’s president.

Francis will likely make a stop at his favorite Roman basilica, Saint Mary Major, sometime before leaving Rome at 2 p.m. May 12.

He’ll land at the air base in Monte Real around 4:20 p.m. local time, where he’ll be greeted by an official welcoming ceremony and meet with the president of Portugal, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, before making his way to Fatima.

After his meeting with the president, the Pope is scheduled to stop by the chapel of the air base for a moment of prayer before boarding a helicopter that will take him to the Fatima’s multi-use stadium.

From there, he’ll hop inside an open car and drive to the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima. Once he arrives around 5:30 p.m., Pope Francis will head to the Chapel of the Apparitions inside the sanctuary, where he’ll recite a prayer.

He’ll then bless the candles in the chapel and offer a special greeting, marking his first public speech of the trip, before praying the rosary with faithful.

The next day, May 13, which marks the first apparition of Mary to the three shepherd children Lucia, Francisco and Jacinta, Francis will meet with Portugal’s Prime Minister António Costa at the city’s Casa “N.S. do Carmo” hotel-convent.

Francis will then head to the Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary in Fatima, which sits next to the official Shrine, to say Mass. After the celebration, he’ll greet sick and disabled persons who are present.

Lunch will then be served with the Portuguese bishops at the Casa “N.S. do Carmo” before the Pope heads back to the Monte Real air base for his official farewell ceremony.

He’s scheduled to leave around 3 p.m. local time, arriving to Rome’s Ciampino airport around 7 p.m. local time. As usual, he’ll likely pay another visit to the basilica of St. Mary Major to pray and leave flowers before heading back to the Vatican.

Of all Marian apparitions, those relating to Our Lady of Fatima are among the most famous. On May 13, 1917, siblings Francisco and Jacinta Marto – age 9 and 7 – and their cousin, 10-year-old Lucia dos Santos, took their sheep to graze near the Portuguese town of Fatima when they saw a figure of a woman dressed in white and holding a rosary.

After this first appearance, the Virgin Mary then appeared to the children on the 13th of every month from May until October. The message of the Fatima apparitions can be summarized primarily as a call to repentance and prayer.

In 1930, the Catholic Church proclaimed the supernatural character of the apparitions and a shrine was erected at Fatima. It was visited by Pope Paul VI May 13, 1967, and later by Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

St. John Paul II had a particularly strong devotion to Our Lady of Fatima. After a harrowing assassination attempt in 1981, he credited his survival to her miraculous intervention. As a sign of his gratitude, he placed the bullet from the failed assassination in her crown.

“Pray for the brother who shot me, whom I have sincerely forgiven. United to Christ, as a priest and victim, I offer my sufferings for the Church and the world,” Pope John Paul II said on that occasion.


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US bishops push for universal, pro-life health care

Washington D.C., Mar 20, 2017 (CNA/EWTN News) - The bill drafted to replace the Affordable Care Act has good pro-life measures but still presents “grave challenges” that must be remedied, said one leading bishop in a recent statement.

“Laudably, the AHCA [American Health Care Act] proposes to include critical life protections for the most vulnerable among us,” Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice, chair of the U.S. Bishops’ Domestic Justice and Human Development committee, stated last Friday of the new bill that would make changes to the Affordable Care Act.

However, there are also “some very troubling features” in the new law, like restrictions on health care “access for those most in need,” Bishop Dewane continued.

The American Health Care Act, currently under consideration in Congress and set for a floor vote soon, would be the biggest overhaul of health care policy since the Affordable Care Act passed under President Obama.

It would keep in place certain provisions, like insurers not being able to deny coverage based on pre-existing conditions, but would also phase out the expansion of Medicaid coverage from the old law and could substantially reduce Medicaid coverage.

Pro-life groups have in general been pleased with the language in the bill, particularly its stripping federal funding of Planned Parenthood for one year and its protections against taxpayer funding of abortion coverage in health plans.

Pro-life groups are also concerned that the Senate Parliamentarian could remove the language from the bill because, as it is to be passed through the budgetary procedure of reconciliation, such pro-life language could be interpreted as not pertaining to the budget.

These pro-life protections would be important, Bishop Dewane insisted.

And the bill gives greater flexibility to the states, which could be good, although if it affects the “effectiveness or reach” of the “social safety net” it could be bad, the bishop wrote.

However, there are problematic provisions within the bill, Bishop Dewane insisted. For instance, it lacks conscience protections that were also lacking under the Affordable Care Act. These could protect doctors, hospitals, and health care providers against mandates under the old law that they perform certain procedures like abortions or gender-transition surgeries.

Also, such a provision could protect employers, especially religious non-profits, against rules like the health care law’s contraceptive mandate that they provide birth control, sterilizations, and drugs that can cause abortions.

The most notable case here was that of Hobby Lobby, an arts-and-crafts chain owned by a Christian family who objected to the mandate because they believed that some drugs they had to cover in employee health plans could cause early abortions. The owners argued that this was a violation of their religious beliefs.  

Also, the Little Sisters of the Poor and other religious non-profits sued over the process of how they had to notify the government of their objection to the contraceptive mandate, saying it still forced them to cooperate with the provision of contraceptive coverage against their religious beliefs.

No conscience protections to nullify the harm caused by these mandates exists in the proposed legislation, Bishop Dewane said.

Other provisions existing in the new bill are problematic, he continued. The Affordable Care Act provided federal subsidies for low-income persons to buy health insurance, while in the new bill tax credits would be provided.

This new system, though, could reduce the benefits for the elderly and low-income persons and “appears to create increased barriers to affordability,” Bishop Dewane said.

The Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate – a penalty for not purchasing health insurance – would be replaced with a 30 percent fine on a person’s new premium if there has been a long enough gap in their health coverage.

This could dissuade many from buying new plans if they lose their old health plan, Bishop Dewane said.

Also in the proposed law are higher comparative limits that the elderly can pay in premiums when compared to younger enrollees. Under the Affordable Care Act, those limits were three to one, whereas under the proposed law the elderly could pay as much as five times the premiums of younger enrollees.

“Some studies show that premiums for older people on fixed incomes would rise, at times dramatically,” the bishop said.

Ultimately, the problematic parts of the Affordable Care Act should not be replaced with equally bad or worse policies, he concluded.

“(I)n attempting to improve the deficiencies of the ACA, health care policy ought not create other unacceptable problems, particularly for those who struggle on the margins of our society,” he said. “As Pope Francis has said, ‘Health, indeed, is not a consumer good, but a universal right which means that access to healthcare services cannot be a privilege.’”


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Don't misuse Bible to push death penalty, Philippines bishops say

Manila, Philippines, Mar 20, 2017 (CNA/EWTN News) - Remember what Jesus' cross stands for, and don't misuse the Bible to justify the death penalty, the Philippines' Catholic bishops have said.

“To the people who use the Bible to defend the death penalty, need we point out how many other crimes against humanity have been justified, using the same Bible?” the country’s bishops asked.

“We humbly enjoin them to interpret the Scriptures properly, to read them as a progressive revelation of God’s will to humankind, with its ultimate fulfillment in Jesus Christ, God’s definitive Word to the world.”

Their words came in a March 19 pastoral statement on the death penalty signed by Archbishop Socrates B. Villegas of Lingayen Dagupan, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines. The statement was read at all Masses in the country on Sunday.

Jesus came not to abolish the law, but fulfill it, the bishops explained: “Jesus was never an advocate of any form of ‘legal killing’. He defended the adulterous woman against those who demanded her blood and challenged those who were without sin among them to be the first to cast a stone on her.”

The letter opened with a quotation from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans: “God proved his love for us that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

The death penalty was abolished in the Philippines in 2006. At present President Rodrigo Duterte, who is also leading a brutal crackdown on drugs, has advocated its restoration.

In their letter, the Catholic bishops recounted the passage of a House of Representatives bill that would restore the death penalty.

“It was Ash Wednesday when members of the lower House, on the second reading of the death penalty bill, outvoted by voice-voting the nays with their ayes. Ironically, they were captured on television shouting in favor of death with their foreheads marked with crosses made of ashes,” the bishops said.

“Could they have forgotten what that cross meant?”

They questioned whether the legislators had missed that the crosses on their foreheads “were supposed to serve as a loud statement of faith in the God who, for love of us, chose to give up his life for our salvation, rather than see us perish.”

According to the bishops, the saying of the Bible, “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” was challenged by Jesus, who advocated non-retaliation of evil for evil and justice founded on mercy.

“Even with the best of intentions, capital punishment has never been proven effective as a deterrent to crime,” they continued. “Obviously it is easier to eliminate criminals than to get rid of the root causes of criminality in society. Capital punishment and a flawed legal system are always a lethal mix. “

The statement also spoke about the victims.

“We are not deaf to the cries of the victims of heinous crimes. The victims and their victimizers are both our brothers and sisters. The victim and the opressor are both children of God,” they said.

They said the guilty should repent and make reparation for their sins. The bishops offered love, compassion and hope to crime victims.

The death penalty will be applied more to the poor, who cannot afford adequate legal defenses, the bishops said.

“As a law, death penalty directly contradicts the principle of inalienability of the basic human right to life, which is enshrined in most constitutions of countries that signed the universal declaration of human rights,” they said.

The Philippines bishops called for prayers for the country’s legislators.

“Let us offer all our Masses for them, asking our Crucified Lord who offered his whole life, body and blood, for the salvation of sinners, to touch their consciences and lead them to abolish capital punishment once and for all,” they said.

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'It's a miracle': Woman survives devastating mudslide in Peru

Lima, Peru, Mar 20, 2017 (CNA/EWTN News) - Evangelina Chamorro was swept away for over a third of a mile by an avalanche of mud on the coast south of Lima. But she survived and said that thinking about “God and her daughters” gave her the strength.

In recent weeks, heavy rains have caused avalanches and floods in various parts of the country. Official reports note 70 dead and 70,000 victims throughout the country.

Evangelina, 32, was swept away from the Peruvian forest by a mudslide that reached the Punta Hermosa resort area about 25 miles south of the Peruvian capital.

She lived with her husband and daughters in a small house in a forested area near the resort. Evangelina and her husband were swept away by the mudslide when they both left their house to feed their animals in their nearby corral.

In a statement quoted in La Republica newspaper, Evangelina's husband, Armando Rivera, said that “we went out to feed the animals when in the distance we heard a loud noise. I thought two trucks had crashed into each other on the highway.”

“We managed to grab onto the trunk of a eucalyptus tree, but the force of the avalanche made us lose our grip. I saw the mud carrying away my wife. I didn't think I would find her alive. God is great, it's a miracle she's alive!” he said after being discharged from the hospital.

Evangelina is still hospitalized but making a remarkable recovery. Her body was struck by lumber, nails and other debris swept away by the mudslide.

She said that while she was swept away by the avalanche, “I thought of giving up, but the whole time I was asking God to give me the strength to keep on fighting.”

The Church in Peru is continuing to mobilize to help the thousands of people affected by the rains and floods which since January have been hitting different parts of the country especially the northern coast and part of the capital.

Since Jan. 14, rains caused by the El Nino Effect have made rivers overflow and avalanches of rocks and mud, affecting a number of areas.

So far the climactic phenomenon – which will continue the next few weeks – has caused the deaths of 62 people, 11 missing and 170 injured.

According the the report from the Center for National Emergency Operations, there are 552,866 people affected on the national level; 62,642 victims, 115,748 damaged homes, of which 7,974 have collapsed and 7,925 are uninhabitable.

In response, the various dioceses along with local Caritas organizations have launched solidarity and prayer campaigns on behalf of the victims.

Cardinal Juan Cipriani, Archbishop and Primate of Peru, announced the definitive cancellation of the 2017 March for Life in order to concentrate efforts on helping the victims of the natural disasters the country is suffering from.

Pope Francis expressed his “closeness to the people of Peru hard hit by the devastating rains.”

“I am praying for the victims and those involved in relief work,” he said.

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