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August 22, 2017
Archive of June 15, 2017

Vatican group meets to discuss situation of migrants around the world

Vatican City, Jun 15, 2017 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Vatican section on Migrants and Refugees met this week with Church leaders from around the world to hear about the challenges of migration faced in different parts of the world and to work on the Church’s contribution to a UN global compact on the topic.

According to a press statement ahead of the event, the private meetings, held June 12-13 in the Vatican, included some 40 leaders “directly involved in the protection of migrants and refugees’ rights and in the fight against human trafficking.”

This session “is the first time that our new Migrants and Refugees section has had the chance to consult with leaders of the Church throughout the world, from all the different continents, from the various major bishops' conferences, and from some national conferences,” Fr. Michael Czerny told CNA June 13.

“So we've had our first chance to take a look at the world situation of refugees and migrants through the eyes of those who are most concerned in the Church.”

Jesuit Fr. Michael Czerny is secretary of the new Dicastery for the Promotion of Integral Human Development, which went into effect Jan. 1, 2017, and includes a special section on migrants and refugees currently headed by the Pope himself.

The meetings provided the opportunity for collaboration, and to hear and learn from different perspectives. “I think we're united in our common care, our common concern, but we're just as anxious to hear what the different situations are in reality,” he said.

“For example, there were moments when we were concerned about how migrants were arriving, and there were bishops saying, yes, but why aren't you asking why they are leaving? It's not that one is the right question, and the other is the wrong, but from different points of view, different questions are vital.”

Another aim of the session was to begin the process of creating a working document for the Church’s participation in the United Nations global compact on migration, which will be the first agreement negotiated between governments covering all dimensions of international migration.

The UN process began in April 2017 and will conclude with an intergovernmental conference on international migration at the end of 2018 with the intention of adoption the compact.

“These points that we've discussed for two days,” Fr. Czerny said, “are the points that we will be urging upon the governments of the world, and upon the United Nations, so that the compact on migrants will be as open, as dignified, as effective, as possible.”

Among the points discussed are pastoral issues concerning migrants, refugees, displaced persons, asylum seekers and victims of trafficking. In addition to the UN project, they will likely be shared as well in departmental publications and messages of the Holy Father, he said.

This meeting was important, Fr. Czerny continued, because the Church “cares very deeply about those who are forced to flee, whatever the reason, and for those who are victims of human trafficking.”

“And if we can help in some way or another, that these people have an easier time of it, that they have less suffering, or encounter fewer obstacles, that they are safe and secure and can live their lives happily and productively – that’s bringing the Gospel, that's bringing the Good News to people, and we're happy to do that.”

 

 

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Hartford archdiocese works to guide faithful through parish merger

Hartford, Conn., Jun 15, 2017 (CNA/EWTN News) - Important decisions loom ahead as the Archdiocese of Hartford preps its reorganization plan, a reconstruction and consolidation of parishes throughout much of Connecticut.

Under the new plan, 144 parishes in the archdiocese will be merged into 59 new parishes. Each new church community will be made up of two to six old parishes.

The reorganization, which will officially begin on June 29, will cut the number of parishes nearly in half, from 212 to 127.

Only 68 parishes will go untouched in the reorganization.

Saint Margaret of Scotland in Waterbury is the only church scheduled to be deconsecrated thus far, with no announcement from the archdiocese as to what will happen with the building itself. Additionally, 26 church buildings will close, and will not hold regularly scheduled Mass times.

The archdiocese has developed a 200-page manual to help ease the process, which includes 26 sections offering suggestions on the transition of employment, cemeteries, parish records, and a check list for merging parishes.

Questions have been raised about what to do with some of the items donated to specific churches. The manual mentions that any sacred objects, like tabernacles, monstrances, and chalices, are not to be become an individual’s property.

The manual suggests establishing sub-committees, with representatives from each merging parish, to aid the transition, including the turnover of objects and parish archives. Developing a strategic plan is also encouraged to help create a guiding mission statement, and an assessment of the risks and goals surrounding the transition.

Not only do the archdiocese’s guidelines map out programs to facilitate the physical changes, but they also offer personal and community-led prayers to help with anxiety and stress over the move.

The pastor of Saint Rosa Lima in New Haven is one of the over 40 priests who are being reassigned in the new project, and he has established a transitional team, creating an opportunity for prayer and dialogue to help prepare his parishioners for the adjustment.

Saint Rosa of Lima will be joined by Saint Francis Parish in New Haven, adding more people to the nearly 1,300 families already attending the church.

Father James Manship served as Saint Rosa of Lima’s pastor for 12 years, and, although he sees his parish as strong, he understands the upheaval is upsetting and uneasy.

“The parish has been such a foundational part of their life and for that to have to be morphed and changed from the outside, by the restructuring, is tough,” he told the Hartford Courant.

Other parishioners are excited about the transition. Members of St. Bridget’s and St. Bartholomew’s are joining together in the new St. Teresa of Calcutta Parish.

“We agree that now we are moving forward as a stronger community, with Mother Teresa as a patron, is so beautiful, that we can go forward and proclaim the gospel of the Lord. This is what our point [is] here,” Father Marcin Pluciennik, who had been pastor of Saint Bridget Parish, told the Hartford Courant.

Archbishop Leonard Blair of Hartford has said that the reorganization is not just for financial reasons or due to declining membership, but is also for a rejuvenation of the community’s spiritual life.

 

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Millennials: Do you have something to say to the bishops? Here's your chance

Vatican City, Jun 15, 2017 (CNA/EWTN News) - The General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops announced the launch of a new website for the upcoming synod on youth, and encouraged young people to take the survey available there.

The theme for the 50th General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, set to take place in 2018, is “Young People, the Faith and the Discernment of Vocation.” It follows the much-talked about Extraordinary and Ordinary Synods of Bishops on the Family, held in 2014 and 2015 respectively.

While much of the new website is currently only available in Italian, it includes a survey for young people in multiple different languages: Italian, English, French, Spanish and Portuguese.  

The answers to the survey will be sent to the synod’s Secretary General, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, through November 30, 2017, and will be used to provide the bishops with an understanding of what it’s like to be a young person in the Church.

The preparatory document for the synod defines youth as being individuals 16-29 years old, but also takes into account that the definition of “young” is different depending on where you’re from. The survey allows for answers from people born in the year 1950 or later.

The broad survey includes questions about education, home and family life, what young people think about themselves, and how much trust they have in institutions such as the government and the Church.

It is part of an “extensive consultation that the General Secretariat is doing at all levels of the people of God,” according to a Vatican statement.

The website also includes videos, photos and messages from the Pope to young people, as well as the preparatory document and a history of the synod.

The theme for the 2018 synod was announced in October 2016.

“Through every phase of this Synod, the Church wants again to state her desire to encounter, accompany and care for every young person, without exception,” the preparatory document reads.

“The Church cannot, nor does she wish to, abandon them to the isolation and exclusion to which the world exposes them.”

According to the document, the Church wants to ask young people how best to reach them with the message of the Gospel.

“By listening to young people, the Church will once again hear the Lord speaking in today’s world. Listening to their aspirations, the Church can glimpse the world which lies ahead and the paths the Church is called to follow.”

 

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US bishops stress compassion, clarity in immigration panel

Indianapolis, Ind., Jun 15, 2017 (CNA/EWTN News) - In their discussion Wednesday on spiritual, pastoral and policy support for immigrants, the U.S. bishops highlighted the need for compassion, while also clearing up misconceptions about their views.

“There was a desire to express solidarity with and pastoral concern for those at risk, but also a desire to avoid encouraging exaggerated fears,” said Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles, who has worked for several months to head the bishops’ working group on immigration.

Archbishop Gomez presented on the efforts of his working group at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ general meeting this week in Indianapolis.

Kicking off the discussion was a talk by Fr. Daniel G. Groody, C.S.C., Ph.D., of the University of Notre Dame.

In introducing Fr. Groody for the first segment of the panel, conference president Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo indicated that the talk would focus on the “spiritual rather than political perspective.” The event program referred to the talk as discussing the “Spirituality of Immigration.”

Fr. Groody began by speaking about the Mass Pope Francis celebrated at Lampedusa in July 2013, saying that he “would like to reflect a little bit on migration and the Eucharist,” and “to see how we can foster a Eucharistic imagination in our people.” He linked the Mass at Lampedusa, which was celebrated using an altar, lectern, and chalice crafted from the boats of refugees, to the border Mass at the United States-Mexico border.

From discussing this pair of Masses, he moved into his reflection on moving “from otherness to communion.”

Discussing the “Age of Migration,” he described the exploding statistics of displaced people, noting that the twenty-first century has seen more refugees than even World War II, and that migrants (even those within their own country) and refugees today comprise one-seventh of the global population.

“The first thing I want to say is that migration is an incredibly, incredibly complex issue,” Fr. Groody said, and “those who don’t understand its complexity either aren’t listening or they don’t understand.”

Moving into what he described as a “Liturgy of Words,” Fr. Groody outlined various groups who interact with immigrants in the United States. These include “vigilantes” living and operating at the border, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), political leaders, corporations, Church leaders, and human rights activists. He then detailed how these groups interact in legal, economic, and humanitarian capacities.

Turning to the legal aspect of the discussion, he considered Thomas Aquinas’ four kinds of law: natural, civil, divine, and eternal. “The goal for us for a just society is to have some sort of connection and participation between these laws.”

From this “Liturgy of Words,” Fr. Groody reflected further on the Eucharist at Lampedusa, telling the story of the carpenter who created the liturgical instruments out of the wood of refugee’s boats.

During a question-and-answer session with the bishops, Fr. Groody mentioned the “risk of deporting our souls” as rumors about the increase in deportations fly. He also summarized his “central theological point,” namely that “God in Jesus Christ so loved the world that he migrated into the far and distant territory of our sinful and broken existence, and there he laid down his life on a cross so that we could migrate back to our homeland… it is no longer the ‘other’ who is the migrant, but it’s all of us.”

After Fr. Groody spoke, the panel moved into its second session, a summary of the tasks completed by the bishop’s working group on immigration issues, commenced at the November 2016 General Assembly. Wednesday’s session marked the final presentation of the group, whose work will now be integrated into the conference’s existing committees on immigration.

The presentation was conducted by Archbishop Gomez along with Bishop Joe S. Vásquez of Austin, Texas, chair of the bishops’ migration committee. After the presentation, which lasted about half an hour, the panel transitioned to a discussion session.

Archbishop Gomez gave a summary of the group’s work, noting that they had been formed in anticipation of the incoming presidential administration’s likely moves on the issue. As such, much of their work consisted of making public statements on behalf of the USCCB against measures such as the executive orders issued in the first days of the nascent administration.

He also summarized the resources the group had produced for dioceses, namely materials for prayer, pastoral accompaniment, action alerts, legal memoranda, and policy reports.

Bishop Vásquez then addressed where the conference intends to move from the group’s work. He expressed the desire to continue the collaboration strengthened over the course of their work, and highlighted the continuing good work of Justice for Migrants, an advocacy group of the USCCB.

He also spoke of the need to counter the false images presented of the bishop’s work on the topic, such as the misconception that they are advocating for “open borders,” and highlighted the five principles presented in their 2003 joint document with the bishops of Mexico, “Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope.”

 

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In book foreword, Pope Francis calls corruption a 'cancer'

Vatican City, Jun 15, 2017 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Francis, in a foreword to a work by Cardinal Peter Turkson, has said corruption infects the world like a cancer, and the Church must combat it by working together with society, infusing it with mercy.

“We must all work together, Christians, non-Christians, people of all faiths and non-believers, to combat this form of blasphemy, this cancer that weighs our lives,” the Pope wrote.

“It is urgent to take notice of it, and this is why we need education and a merciful culture, we need cooperation on the part of everyone according to their own possibilities, their talents, their creativity.”

Hi words on corruption were written in a foreword for Corrosion, a book-length interview of Cardinal Peter Turkson, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, published June 15.

The interview was conducted by Vittorio V. Alberti, a member of the Cardinal Turkson's dicastery.

The book was presented at the Vatican during an “International Debate on Corruption.” Italian daily Corriere della Sera published the Pope’s foreword June 14, just ahead of the book’s release.

Corruption, Francis wrote, in its Italian etymological root, means “a tear, break, decomposition, and disintegration.”

The life of a human being can be understood in the context of his many relationships: with God, with his neighbor, with creation, the Pope said.

“This threefold relationship – in which man's self-reflection also falls – gives context and sense to his actions and, in general, to his life,” but these are destroyed by corruption.

When we respect these relationships we are honest, responsible, and work for the common good. But when corruption enters in, they become torn. “Thus, corruption expresses the general form of disordered life of the decayed man,” he said.

And this has an effect on all of society.

What, for example, he asked, is at the root of exploitation, degradation, human trafficking, trafficking of weapons and drugs, social injustice, lack of service for people? What is the origin of slavery, unemployment, carelessness for cities, common goods, and nature?

Corruption “is a profound cultural question that needs to be addressed.”

But in order to address it, we must understand the different forms of corruption, besides merely the political, like those that infect even the average person.

For example, Francis said, our corruption can be a “spiritual worldliness, tepidness, hypocrisy, triumphalism, to make prevail only the spirit of the world in our lives, a sense of indifference.”

In the book, Cardinal Turkson explains the ramifications of these different forms of corruption, he continued, focusing in particular on the origins of corruption: which, “in fact, sprouts in the heart of man and can sprout in the heart of all men.”

“We are, in fact, all very exposed to the temptation of corruption: even when we think it has been defeated, it can be present again,” he said.

Cardinal Turkson explores the different types of corruption, including spiritual, cultural, political, and criminal, as well as the various ways in which they come about and insinuate themselves into our lives. Putting these together, he shows what the Church must do, the Pope said.

“The Church must listen, raise herself and bend herself on the sorrows and hopes of people according to mercy, and must do so without fear of purifying herself, assiduously seeking a way to improve.”

“Henri de Lubac wrote that the greatest danger for the Church is spiritual worldliness – therefore corruption – which is more disastrous than the infamous leprosy.”

“And it is with this awareness that we, men and women of the Church, can accompany ourselves and the suffering humanity, especially those most oppressed by the criminal consequences and degradation created by corruption.”

To fight the many ways we may allow corruption into our lives, we must join together, Francis said. On our own we are like individual pieces of snow, both Christians and non-Christians. But united, we can become like an avalanche, he explained: “a strong and constructive movement.”

“Here is the new humanism, this renaissance, this re-creation against corruption that we can accomplish with prophetic audacity.”

Writing from inside the Vatican, Francis reflected on the ways beauty can transcend sin and corruption.

“This beauty is not a cosmetic accessory, but something that puts the human person in the center so that it can lift the head against all injustices,” he said.

“This beauty should marry with justice. Thus we must speak about corruption, denounce evils, understand it, and show the will to affirm mercy for grief, curiosity and creativity for resigned fatigue, beauty for nothing.”

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Pope's US representative reminds bishops to reach those on the margins

Indianapolis, Ind., Jun 15, 2017 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Francis’ representative to the United States encouraged the nation’s bishops this week to promote solidarity and listen to those on the margins of society.

“Despite the various advances in technology and social communications, it seems that the mission of evangelization is stifled because often we only speak with those with whom we agree and do not listen enough to those at the margins of the Church and of society,” Archbishop Christophe Pierre, Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, told a gathering of the U.S. bishops on Wednesday.

True solidarity, he said, “demands recognizing the common, inherent human dignity of each person” like welcoming the migrant “fleeing persecution or ‘certain death,’ as is the case with so many migrants.”

The nuncio welcomed the bishops at their annual spring general assembly, held in Indianapolis on June 14-15.

At their meeting, the bishops discussed pressing issues like immigration, health care, and international religious persecution, as well as the upcoming synod on young people to be held in 2018.

Archbishop Pierre noted in his address that he has served as Apostolic Nuncio to the U.S. for a year, and that he has been “impressed with the faith of the people” in the midst of “an increasingly secular culture that values efficiency and productivity over spiritual values.”

He referenced the 2007 general conference of Latin American and Caribbean bishops which resulted in the concluding Aparecida document, where the bishops conceded that the culture was rapidly changing and secularizing and that they could not “passively and calmly wait in our church buildings.”

Likewise, Catholics in the U.S. cannot wait, but must be “missionaries” and go “to the margins of the Church and society” to listen to those at the peripheries, he said.

He commended the bishops for already doing this, giving examples of the Mass said at the U.S.-Mexico border, their presence at the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., and last November’s Mass at St. Peter Claver Church in West Baltimore, a historic African-American church near where the bishops gathered during their annual fall meeting.

That Mass “sent a powerful message in a time of racial tension that minorities will not be forgotten and that they enrich the whole Church,” he said.

Yet the bishops must continue reaching out to those on the “periphery” of society, including youth, who must be heard at the next synod on young people in 2018, the archbishop insisted. Yesterday, a survey was released on the Vatican website for the synod, reaching out specifically to youth between the ages of 16 and 29 to answer.

“I wish to encourage you to be proactive in ministering to our young people and in learning from them as you listen and evangelize,” the nuncio said.

He gave as an example of solidarity in action Latin American countries, which in recent years “have grown in fraternity” especially through “the collegial working of their bishops, giving rise to a true unity in diversity.”

“Why could the Church in the United States not generate positive results, in the Church and in the world, framing and influencing the direction of dialogue on the fundamental issues of our day?” Archbishop Pierre continued.

However, this solidarity between countries and persons is not “uniformity” that tramples on “the values and priorities of the people,” he insisted, as it rather opposes the “ideological colonization” that Pope Francis has warned of.

Rather, true solidarity can only be achieved “in the Truth, who is a person,” he said.

Earlier Wednesday morning, the bishops sent a greeting to Pope Francis where they mentioned his meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump in May.

“We pray the seeds sown on the common ground of life and religious freedom will bear much fruit,” they stated, while reaffirming their pledge to find “areas of good collaboration” with elected officials.

“Close to our hearts are the poor, families in need of health care and those immigrating to the United States in search of a safe and secure home,” they stated.

 

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US bishops vote to make religious freedom committee permanent

Indianapolis, Ind., Jun 15, 2017 (CNA/EWTN News) - The U.S. bishops voted on Thursday to make their Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty a permanent committee of the national bishops’ conference.

“The very idea of religious freedom and its root in human nature is challenged” today, said Archbishop Lori, chair of the ad hoc committee, at a meeting of the U.S. bishops Thursday.

He added, “how important it is that we remain in the public square through advocacy” for the freedom of religious institutions to fight poverty, provide health care and education, serve immigrants, and protect human life.

In 2011, the ad hoc committee was formed for a period of three years, as the “bishops were deeply concerned about a broad trend” of threats to religious freedom on the local and national level, Archbishop Lori noted, speaking at the annual spring general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Indianapolis.

Pope Benedict XVI, in his address to U.S. bishops in January of 2012 during their “ad limina” visit, warned of “grave threats to the Church’s public moral witness presented by a radical secularism” where there were “certain attempts being made to limit that most cherished of American freedoms, the freedom of religion.”

“Many of you have pointed out that concerted efforts have been made to deny the right of conscientious objection on the part of Catholic individuals and institutions with regard to cooperation in intrinsically evil practices,” the Pope said. “Others have spoken to me of a worrying tendency to reduce religious freedom to mere freedom of worship without guarantees of respect for freedom of conscience.

The U.S. bishops voted in 2014 to extend the committee for another three-year period. Then on Thursday, they voted to make the committee permanent by a vote of 132-53, with five bishops abstaining.

Most notably, the committee established the annual Fortnight for Freedom, a two-week campaign of prayer, penance, and advocacy for the Church’s continued freedom to serve in the public square, starting on June 21, the eve of the feasts of Sts. Thomas More and John Fisher, and ending on July 4, Independence Day.

One of the most notable threats the ad hoc committee warned of was the contraceptive mandate. The Department of Health and Human Services, interpreting the Affordable Care Act, had issued rules under the Obama administration that employer health plans had to cover sterilizations, contraceptives, and drugs that can cause abortions.

While churches and their immediate auxiliaries were exempt from the mandate, many religious institutions, including hospitals, universities, and charities, were not. Changes to the regulation offered by the Obama administration still violated the religious beliefs of the Catholic organizations, bishops and Church leaders contended.

In May, President Donald Trump promised regulatory relief from the mandate for religious non-profits like the Little Sisters of the Poor.

“The struggle against the HHS mandate is not over,” Archbishop Lori warned on Thursday. “Victory is not assured.”

The promised relief could change with another presidential administration who could again enforce the mandate against religious groups, the archbishop said.

And other threats to religious freedom persist, he said, like the legalization of same-sex marriage, which could pose problems for religious institutions that uphold the Church’s teaching on marriage.

The archbishop cited then-Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, who admitted during oral arguments in Obergefell v. Hodges, the 2015 Supreme Court case that legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states, that there could be an issue with the tax-exempt status of religious universities teaching that marriage is between one man and one woman, if same-sex marriage were the law of the land.

Some bishops voiced their strong support for the committee on Thursday, including Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, who chaired the USCCB when the committee was formed, and Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C. The most recent president of the USCCB, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, also supported making the committee permanent.

The bishops of the world “look to us,” Cardinal Dolan told his fellow bishops, “to be the real quarterbacks” in “defense of religious freedom.”

A few bishops voiced objections to making the committee permanent in the discussions before the vote on Thursday.

Several were concerned about how it would appear to make the religious liberty committee permanent at the same time that the bishops’ working group on immigration, begun in November, finished its formal work.

However, Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, vice president of the conference, clarified later on Thursday at an afternoon press conference that the working group “will continue,” although Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Houston-Galveston, president of the conference who had begun the working group last November, had not specified a timeline for how long it would continue.

Furthermore, Archbishop Lori stressed, the conference already has a standing Committee on Migration. “The important thing is that as the sun sets, there’s a permanent committee in place, because we understand the questions of migration are permanent,” he said.

Bishop Christopher Coyne of Burlington, Vt. also voiced concerns that funding for the religious freedom committee could eventually dry up, while Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark said that domestic religious freedom concerns “can be handled by the domestic policy committee,” referring to the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development.

“I am not convinced that there is a need at this time for it,” he said of the religious freedom committee.

Bishop Francis Kalabat of the Chaldean Eparchy of St. Thomas the Apostle in Detroit strongly supported extending the committee, however.

There are “currently 60 million refugees in the world,” he said. “What percentage of them came as a result of a lack of religious freedom?”

“Who you back up, or who backs you up, is who gives you the strength” in the Middle East, he said, noting that if the U.S. shows strong support for religious freedom, it also shows support for persecuted Christians elsewhere.

Religious freedom, Archbishop Lori stressed, covers “a wide spectrum of ministries, a wide spectrum of advocacy,” and there is need for “some consistency for a clearing house and a clear voice.”

“Religious liberty is a concept that really relates to one’s fundamental stance towards God,” he said, “that first and primal relationship towards God.” As Dignitatis Humanae states, he noted, religious freedom is “rooted in human nature” and “granted by God as a fundamental human endowment.

On Thursday, the bishops also voted to approve new guidelines for the celebration of the sacraments of persons with disabilities.

The new guidelines were said to pay deeper attention to allergy problems, for example the gluten intolerance or alcohol intolerance of a communicant. They encouraged parishes to be more aware and accommodating of persons with disabilities in the distribution of the sacraments.

Archbishop Kurtz tweeted on Thursday that the National Catholic Partners on Disability were “excited” about the revised guidelines.

 

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'Roughly half' of Iraqi, Syrian Christians have fled since 2011

Amsterdam, Netherlands, Jun 15, 2017 (CNA/EWTN News) - A new report estimates that between 50 and 80 percent of Christians have fled the countries of Iraq and Syria since the start of the Syrian Civil War in 2011.

Released by Christian advocacy groups Open Doors, Served, and Middle East Concern, the report estimates that at least 100,000 Iraqi Christians have fled or are internally displaced, and that the Christian population of Syria has been ‘roughly halved’, from about 2 million, since 2011.

“Factors for leaving included the violence of conflict, including the almost complete destruction of some historically Christian towns in the Nineveh plains of northern Iraq, the emigration of others and loss of community, the rate of inflation and loss of employment opportunities, and the lack of educational opportunities,” states the report.

The information for the report was gathered through a series of interviews with various sources, including NGO staffers and religious leaders, and also includes the findings of academic studies.

The report tracked the emigration of those Christians who have fled the Middle East to Europe, even though others have traveled to Asia, Australia or the Americas.

Since the 2003 U.S. invasion and the rise of the Islamic State, increased violence in Iraq and Syria has resulted in the targeted killings and expulsions of many Christians, with many fleeing to Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, or beyond, while others are displaced within their home countries.

The arrival of the Islamic State made the situation especially dire for Christians, who were forced to either pay a tax, convert, or leave if they didn’t want to be killed.

That was the “tipping point” for Christians in the area who had already experienced an “overall loss of hope for a safe and secure future,” the report notes.

Iraq once had a Christian population of as many as 1.4-2 million in the 1990s, which declined to around 300,000 by 2014, and is now down to approximately 100,000. Most of those internally displaced have fled to Erbil.

Pinpointing the exact number of Christians who have stayed in or fled Syria is more difficult, though the report notes that numerous regions and towns that once had large Christian populations have decreased significantly since the start of the war, with some communities all but disappearing.

The report estimates that approximately half of Syria’s estimated 2 million Christians have left, and a survey found that of the Christians still in the country, about 35 percent wish to leave, compared to eight percent of the country's Muslims.

Of the Christians who fled, many chose to seek resettlement in other countries through family or Church organizations rather than through state-sponsored refugee resettlement programs.

“Trust in churches allows people to feel more comfortable to register with them. Furthermore, it is seen to be less demeaning to have to line up to receive assistance ‘provided in a sensitive way in the safe space of a church,’” the report found.

The hope for return to their home countries varied among those who had fled. For the most part, those who were settled in their destination countries reported not wanting to return, while those who have encountered more difficulties in the resettlement process either have returned or hope to return someday.

Sweden and Germany have become popular destinations because of the ease of resettlement and the ability to find work, though the report found that due to new policies in these countries, that may change.

Published with the report was a policy proposal paper for the EU, since the report tracked only those Christians fleeing to Europe. It made several recommendations, including establishment of an “accountability mechanism,” to the European Union Parliament.

“Creating a national accountability mechanism for grievances is a long-term solution which aims to restore faith in a system that ensures all religious and ethnic communities are affirmed as equal citizens and deserving of protection, while also deterring negative actors from taking adverse actions against these communities,” it stated.

Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill that would authorize U.S. government funds to be given to aid groups directly providing assistance to displaced Iraqi and Syrian Christians. The bill has yet to clear the Senate. According to In Defense of Christians, thousands of Iraqi Christians have seen no financial aid from the U.S., despite the U.S. having given the Iraqi government millions of dollars for relief efforts.

As of October 2016, the Chaldean Archeparchy of Erbil has received more than $31 million in funding from Aid to the Church in Need, in addition to support from 16 other Catholic organizations from around the world. The Knights of Columbus have a website dedicated to providing relief to displaced Christians in the Middle East.

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As Iraqi Christians await deportation, bishop points to suffering Body of Christ

Indianapolis, Ind., Jun 15, 2017 (CNA/EWTN News) - Advocates for Chaldean Christians detained by federal immigration enforcement are in a race against time to halt their deportation back to war-torn Iraq.

“Today is also the feast of the Body of Christ. And this is where the Body of Christ is in pain, and it turns to the Body of Christ for healing,” Bishop Francis Kalabat of the Chaldean Eparchy of St. Thomas the Apostle of Detroit told CNA on Thursday, the feast of Corpus Christi.

“Today we are carrying our crosses, and those crosses are real,” he continued June 15. “And with every cross we have our Good Friday, but trusting in God we will also have our Easter Sunday.”

Beginning last Sunday, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrested dozens of Chaldean Christians in the Detroit metropolitan area, and most were quickly sent to detention at the Northeast Ohio Correctional Center in Youngstown, Ohio. Some were taken from their homes in front of their families, and others were reportedly arrested in public places like restaurants.

An estimated 106 Iraqis have been arrested so far, Bishop Kalabat said, “the vast majority of them Chaldean Christian,” though there are reportedly Muslims among the detained.

ICE explained in a statement that the Chaldeans had previous criminal records including convictions for homicide, rape, and aggravated assault, had been ordered for removal by a federal judge, and were being deported to Iraq as part of an agreement between the U.S. and Iraq.

They entered the U.S. legally, some of them decades ago, with an eventual path to citizenship, but since then those who committed felonies would not have a legal path to citizenship.

Many of the crimes were committed decades ago, in the 1980s and '90s, Bishop Kalabat said, with one case “literally 30 years ago.” That man “did his time [in prison], paid the price, has cleared his name,” and is now married with four children.

Some of the detainees may have recent criminal records and be a threat to public safety, the bishop noted, and if that is the case they should be detained.

He maintained, however, that many of those detained have long been responsible, law-abiding residents.

Chaldeans are native to Iraq and the population has been Christian almost since Christianity began. Detroit is one of the largest Chaldean diaspora communities in the U.S., where an apostolic exarchate was created in 1982. An estimated 30,000 Iraqi refugees have been settled in Michigan since 2003.

The church and the community have been working feverishly to halt the deportation of the Iraqis. Prayer vigils have been taking place this past week in the community, Bishop Kalabat said.

Martin Manna, president of the Chaldean Community Foundation, told CNA on Wednesday that advocacy for the plight of the detainees has reached the highest levels of government. The U.S. bishops have written a letter to the Vice President asking for a halt to the deportations, he added.

“Hardened criminals” make up a “very small percentage” of the detainees, he insisted.

The Knights of Columbus have written Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly on the matter, and several members of Congress – Reps. Sander Levin (D-Mich.), John Conyers (D-Mich.), Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.), Dan Kildee (D-Mich.), Brenda Lawrence (D-Mich.), and John Moolenaar (R-Mich.) -- wrote Secretary Kelly as well.

The detainees “will be placed in great danger if deported to Iraq,” they insisted, noting that the State Department declared in 2016 that Christians in Iraq and Syria faced genocide at the hands of the Islamic State. They continue to be threatened by the Islamic State and other terror groups.

“Because of the horrors perpetrated against the Catholic Chaldean population in Iraq, these individuals could be stranded in a country in which they are subject to extreme jeopardy,” the letter said.

Furthermore, many of the detainees may have no families or connections in Iraq given how long they have lived in the U.S., the members wrote.

“Until we in Congress can review all aspects of the agreement reached with Iraq, and the referenced safety measures, we urge you to hold off removal of these individuals to Iraq,” the members stated.

Detainees must not be deported without due process, Manna insisted, saying that sending them back to a country with an active war zone like Iraq is inhumane.

“The law is really on their side,” he said of the detainees, who have had clean records for at least ten years. They served their time in prison and “paid their debt” to society, he said, and should not be deported without due process as federal judges had ruled long ago they could be removed.

Furthermore, sending these detainees back to Iraq while it is an active war zone could violate the International Convention Against Torture, he added.

“The U.S. also bears responsibility” to rectify the problem, he told CNA, as the American-led 2003 invasion of Iraq precipitated a massive exodus in Christians from the country, from a population of 1.5 million in 2003 to under 300,000 now.

“The administration has committed itself to helping Christians,” Bishop Kalabat said, but if Christians who committed crimes decades ago and have “turned the corner” are being deported, “it doesn’t make sense.”

Yet God suffers with his people, he continued.

“This, to me, is the greater tragedy, when we forget about giving of our lives to God and allowing God to be with us, and allowing God to speak to us, to be hurt with us.”

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