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October 21, 2017
Archive of June 16, 2017

Mental health has a spiritual element, Holy See reminds UN

Geneva, Switzerland, Jun 16, 2017 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Holy See's representative to the United Nations appealed Wednesday to the Human Rights Council to couple psychological treatment with spiritual care.

In response to a recent report on mental health issued by the council's special rapporteur, Archbishop Ivan Jurkovich agreed that the report “rightly promotes the adoption of an integrated bio-medical, psycho-social, and community-based delivery of mental health care.”

“My Delegation also would like to point out the importance of spiritual care in helping persons living with, or affected by, mental health problems,” he added in his June 14 statement.

Archbishop Jurkovich quoted the words of St. John Paul II: “Whoever suffers from mental illness ‘always’ bears God’s image and likeness in themselves, as does every human being. In addition, they ‘always’ have the inalienable right not only to be considered as an image of God and therefore as a person, but also to be treated as such.”

The archbishop expressed hope that the report's “caution against reductionist biomedical paradigms” would “awaken the consciences” of human rights advocates, policy makers, mental health practitioners, family members, and communities “to the inalienable and God-given dignity of each person.”

He said the issues and people suffering from mental illness have been ignored for too long. The topic of mental illness, he said, tends to draw fear, discrimination, and even rejection from society, which in the past led to ‘“warehousing’ of such persons in large, isolated, and closed institutions.”

The archbishop stated there must be an established defense against the dangers which may be new forms of isolation, like cultivating an over-dependency on psychiatric drugs, social exclusion, depriving the patients of informed consent, and inhibiting their self-responsibility. He also decried “the increasing encouragement and facilitation of assisted suicide” among those with mental health challenges.

Spiritual care should also aid the people seeking out mental care, he said, noting it is an integral part of the human person. However, he drew a line between spiritual care and “faith healing” which ignores or even rejects medical treatment.

“Spiritual care should not be confused with, or mistaken by, so-called ‘faith healing’ to the exclusion of medical, psychological, and social assistance,” he emphasized.

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Cameroon's bishops ask state action to protect clergy in wake of murder

Yaoundé, Cameroon, Jun 16, 2017 (CNA/EWTN News) - After determining that one of their confreres was murdered two weeks ago, the bishops of Cameroon have called on the national government to take up its task of protecting human life.

Bishop Jean Marie Benoît Bala of Bafia, who was 58, left his residence late in the evening of May 30. He disappeared, and his car was found parked on the Sanaga bridge near Ebebda, about 25 miles northwest of Obala. His body was found June 2, about 10 miles from the bridge.

A note was found in his car which reportedly read: “Do not look for me! I am in the water.” This gave rise to the belief that he had committed suicide.

However, an autopsy showed that the bishop had not drowned, and there were signs of torture on his body.

“Given the initial findings, we, the bishops of Cameroon, affirm that Bishop Jean Marie Benoît Bala did not commit suicide; he was brutally murdered. This is one more murder, and one too many,” read a June 13 statement from the Cameroonian bishops' conference.

The bishops noted that there have been a number of clerics and consecrated persons whose murders in the country have never been solved, citing, “to mention only a few”: Fr. Joseph Mbassi, killed in 1988; Fr. Antony Fontegh, 1990; Archbishop Yves-Joseph-Marie Plumey, 1991; a group of religious sisters in Djoum, 1992; and Fr. Engelbert Mveng, 1995.

“We have the impression that the clergy of Cameroon are particularly persecuted by obscure and diabolical forces,” the bishops wrote.

They called on the Cameroonian government “to shed complete light on the circumstances and the motives” for Bishop Bala's murder and that those reponsible be identified and handed over to the authorities.

The bishops also asked that the government “assume its noble task of protecting human life, and notably that of ecclesiastical authorities.”

They said they are praying for Bishop Bala's murderers, asking them “to strive for urgent and radical conversion.”

In light of the rumors that spread about the bishop's supposed suicide, the bishops addressed the media and social media users, asking them “to renounce defamation, lies, calumnies, and recommending that they respect the dignity of the human person, truth, modesty, and discernment in the use of certain information.”

Addressing the people of the Dioese of Bafia and Bishop Bala's natural family, the bishops said: “keep courage, for Christ has conqured the world. Your pastors carry with you the dolour of this sad disappearance. Do not let your faith fail.”

“Find the necessary strength in the celebration of the Eucharist,” they advised.

“May the Virgin Mary, Queen of Apostles, Our Lady of Sorrows, Patronness of Cameroon, accompany us in this difficult trial.”

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Saving ancient Christian cultures…one story at a time

Washington D.C., Jun 16, 2017 (CNA) - Ancient artifacts. Centuries-old legends. Prayers dating back to the time of Christ. An enemy seeking to destroy it all. And a team of dedicated scholars trying to save the memories before it’s too late.

It may sound like the start of the next Indiana Jones movie, but for the team behind the Christian Communities of the East Cultural Heritage Project, the reality of Christian communities disappearing from the Middle East is a pressing threat.

Faced with persecution at the hands of ISIS, more than a decade of war, and generations of economic struggle, these researchers are looking to record the memories and traditions of the Christian communities of Iraq before they are lost forever.

But instead of swinging through empty tombs or digging through rubble, these scholars are asking the community members themselves to engage in the rich Middle Eastern tradition of storytelling, sharing their memories and descriptions in their own native Arabic and Neo-Aramaic languages – some of them singing and speaking the same language Christ himself did.

Dr. Shawqi Talia, a lecturer on Semitic and Egyptian Languages and Literatures at The Catholic University of America explained that his colleagues’ quest to preserve the history and culture of Iraqi Catholics is essential for passing on their meaning, not only to the next generation, but for the world.  

Talia, himself an Iraqi Chaldean Catholic, told CNA that he wants young people “to know how life was and what life was all about for the Christians – not just up north but in Iraq as a whole – in the ’50s and the ’40s and the ’30s, and to know that our history goes back for 2,000 years.”

Yet as Christians from the Nineveh plain continue to leave their homeland due to threats of violence, Talia hopes Middle Eastern Christians in diaspora will see the stories, songs, histories and memories contained in the project not only as a record, but as a tool. He wants Middle Eastern youth to “work in order to keep this kind of heritage alive, not just for the Christians from that part of the world who are now living in diaspora, but because it’s the history of humanity – for all of us.”

This history is not just for the Christian communities of the Middle East, but for all Christians and the whole world to learn from and preserve – especially as the ancestral lands continue to be embroiled in conflict. “You can read something in a history text, but now you see it, and you hear it in person,” Talia said of the recorded interviews.

Preserving the past

The idea behind Christian Communities of the East Cultural Heritage Project – a joint partnership between the Institute of Christian Oriental Research and the School of Theology and Religious Studies at The Catholic University of America – was born over the course of years of conversations between Dr. Talia and Dr. Robin Darling Young, an associate professor of spirituality in the university.

“The reason that we started this project was that we wanted to put together materials that would make available to other people and to communities themselves records of various kinds of the life of Christian communities in the Middle East,” Darling Young told CNA.

Attacks by ISIS against Christian and other minority religious communities in northern Iraq heightened the sense of urgency in preserving this culture’s heritage and history.

Since 2003, violence in Iraq and Syria has killed hundreds of thousands of people and displaced millions more, including whole communities of Middle Eastern Christians. In the past 14 years, an estimated 1 million Christians have left their communities in Iraq, leaving less than 500,000 Christians in the lands inhabited by the faithful for 2,000 years.

To begin preserving their history before it completely vanishes, the group used Talia’s connections to the Chaldean Catholic community in the United States, particularly those in the Washington, D.C. area and in Southeast Michigan, where some 150,000 Chaldean Catholics have established new homes over the past century. Plans also exist to interview Iraqi Christian communities in Europe and elsewhere, as well as release a documentary funded by the Michigan Humanities Council.

After developing a detailed questionnaire, the team began to record interviews with members of the Chaldean communities in both English and Neo-Aramaic, a form of the language spoken by Christ. The researchers also collected photographs and documents to digitize and present online along with the recordings as part of a comprehensive online archive.

Ryann Craig, a doctoral student in the department of Semitics, explained that after consulting with oral history experts at the Library of Congress and elsewhere, the team sought to “draw out descriptions of communal life in their original languages” in the interview process.

“My challenge was to try to craft questions that would get people to answer in their native tongue.” One of the first questions, she said, was to ask community members to explain the meaning behind their family name and its importance in their home village. This same technique was also used in getting participants to sing special communal songs created for special occasions like marriages or births, as well as to describe childhood games, or record how family recipes were made and their importance.

Given the circumstances that have brought some Chaldean Christians to the United States, however, some interviews have captured a much different side of the Middle Eastern Christian experience: persecution and flight. Craig told CNA that some of the first interviews of the project were conducted with recent refugees, many of whom were still processing the traumatic circumstances leading up to their exodus.

“A lot of the questions we were asking just weren’t relevant for them,” she said of the questions about traditions and history on the group’s questionnaire. “At that point we just decided to let them tell whatever story they wanted to tell, and didn’t really prompt as much as we do with people who have been here for decades and feel more settled.”  

In collecting both these stories as well as those from Chaldean Christians who moved to the United States decades ago for economic reasons, the group has been able to document a cross-section of Iraqi Christian life. Among those who came over in the 1950s-70s, the researchers have recorded histories by people from smaller Christian villages who spoke Neo-Aramaic and were very much connected to the Chaldean identity and more ancient traditions and ways of life.

Meanwhile, the majority of Chaldean refugees coming over to the United States as a result of violence and persecution are more likely to speak Arabic than Neo-Aramaic, and are also more likely to come from larger, more cosmopolitan cities. Still, among those persecuted, “there’s a profound sense of them being Christian, because they’re being persecuted for that reason.”  

'More than just memories'

Though Talia is not involved directly in the interview process, he stressed to CNA the importance of gathering oral histories due to their unique ability to capture the essence of what it’s like to be a Middle Eastern Christian.

Just as his mother painted the experience of growing up in her hometown for Talia and his siblings, so too do these oral histories transmit the feeling of being in the communities of northern Iraq. “When you see these memories put on audio or on video, you can feel as if you were, or are present.”

While Talia was raised in Baghdad, his mother came from a Christian village of around 5,000 people in the northern Nineveh plain, without electricity, but maintaining many ancient traditions in their daily lives, including use of the Neo-Aramaic language.

“It’s more than simply nostalgia,” he explained of the stories. “It’s more than just memories. It’s a way of life which has disappeared or is disappearing.”

For Talia, the importance oral history plays in Middle Eastern culture has all the more weight due to the uncertainty faced by many communities. Even those that have been freed from the hands of ISIS are often in ruins, and much of the Middle Eastern Christian community is now in diaspora. Talia wants to help ensure “that the community isn’t gone simply because it isn’t in the villages or the towns.”

The next generation

The preservation of their home cultures and traditions is also a major concern for young Middle Eastern Christians who want to know more about their roots.

Yousif Kalian is a second-generation Iraqi immigrant and a member of the Syriac Catholic Church. As an undergraduate student at The Catholic University of America, he was a young adult researcher on the Christian Communities of the East Cultural Heritage Project, and he has continued to work with the endeavor after graduation. He initially learned about the project while taking a class with Dr. Talia.

“I’ve always had an interest in the region from a professional point of view, on top of being Iraqi-American,” Kalian told CNA. He said that within both Catholic and secular culture in the United States, there is a lack of understanding about Middle Eastern Christians, as well as a culture gap between Middle Eastern parents or grandparents and their children or grandchildren. This, he said, has left a lot of questions about identity and culture among many of his Middle Eastern Christian peers.

Kalian sees this project’s blending of oral history and multimedia access as a way for young people to help change that knowledge gap.

“If you know anything about the Middle East, the oral tradition is the most prominent tradition there,” he said, pointing to the recitation traditions in Islam, Judaism and several Christian churches. Singing and storytelling are closely tied up with the identity of the people, he explained.

“I think not just preserving dates and numbers and facts, but really preserving the stories is the most important thing to preserve from Middle Eastern Christian culture,” Kalian stressed.  

“We all grew up with stories. The monastery that my grandfather is named after was destroyed by ISIS in 2015,” he said. “And my grandfather’s name was Behnam.”

Saint Behnam and Saint Sara monastery was established in the 4th Century in the Nineveh plain, about 20 miles from the city of Mosul. In late 2014, ISIS fighters took control of the monastery, expelling the monks under threat of death. On March 19, 2015, the terrorist group released images of the destruction of the tomb of Saint Behnam and the surrounding buildings.

Yet, Kalian keeps the memory of the monastery with him, as a part of who he is. “The story goes that my great grandma couldn’t have a son,” he told CNA. “Kept having daughters, and in Middle Eastern culture having a son is a point of pride: he carries the name and the wealth and protection. So she went to St. Behnam monastery and was praying, ‘Please give me a boy, St. Behnam. I’ll name him after you if you give me a boy’.”

“Sure enough, she gave birth to a boy, and he survived,” Kalian said, “He survived, and she named him Behnam.”

“You can find a book on Christianity in Iraq, or you can find a book on this monastery. But stories like this: they’ll die with our parents or grandparents.”

“That’s why I think this project is so important: to get the recipes of the food that they cook and the history behind the food they cook, and the names of our parents and grandparents and where they come from, and these saints and stories and traditions…once we move here, to an extent it stays and is alive, but in another sense it gets lost,” he lamented. “That’s why I think that this project really is important.”

And he is not the only one who is excited about the chance to pass on these stories: his siblings and other friends from his Syriac Catholic community have been interested in having a template to interview their parents and grandparents, and a way to digitize their memories. Kalian himself hopes to interview his family members and priests to collect their oral histories.

“I think every young person, if offered the opportunity, would love to speak with their grandparents or parents, if you gave them a structure to find out more about their own history,” he said.

“If you make it an active thing to learn about your culture and not just have it be reading or watching documentaries. Being able to engage – having it be an active thing and have an active culture – will engage them more and therefore persevere our communities, our history, our culture and our language.”

Once completed, the Christian Communities of the East Cultural Heritage Project will be accessible at www.ccmideast.org and in the archives of the Institute of Christian Oriental Research at The Catholic University of America. Documentary video will also be distributed in Michigan at a later date.

Photos courtesy of The Catholic University of America.

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Pope picks secretary for Dicastery on Integral Human Development

Vatican City, Jun 16, 2017 (CNA/EWTN News) - On Friday, the Vatican announced Pope Francis’ pick of human rights expert Fr. Bruno-Marie Duffé for secretary of the Dicastery for the Promotion of Integral Human Development, making him the final piece of the leadership puzzle for the new department.

From the French diocese of Lyon, Fr. Duffé's appointment completes a period of development for the dicastery, which went into effect Jan. 1 and combines the former Pontifical Councils for Justice and Peace, Cor Unum, Migrants and Itinerant Peoples, and Healthcare Workers.

The new mega-dicastery is headed by Cardinal Peter Turkson, who since March 2013 had served as president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. Francis also formed a special Migrants and Refugees Section within the dicastery, with himself as head, at least for the time being.

With Fr. Duffé's appointment, the leadership of the dicastery is finally complete. Previously, Fr. Duffé was a member of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.

Born on Aug. 21, 1951 in Lyon, France, Fr. Duffé, 65, was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Lyon in 1981.

He holds a doctorate in political philosophy, a master’s in theology, and a diploma from the School of Advanced Social Studies of Science and the Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva.

He’s been a professor of moral theology and social doctrine of the Church at the Catholic University of Lyon and the Jesuit Center of Baume lex Aix since 1982.

From 1985-2004 he co-founded and later directed the Institute for Human Rights at the Catholic University of Lyon, actively contributing to the creation of the UNESCO Chair on minority rights.

He served as chaplain of the Regional Center for Cancer Control from 2004-2014, and co-chaired the Ethics Committee at Léon Bérard.  

Episcopal Vicar of “Family, Health and Society” since 2012, he works on the Diocesan Council of Solidarity, created in 2013. He also initiated a coordination for the migrant crisis for the Diocese of Lyon.

From 1999 to 2015 he visited Haiti, Rwanda, Kosovo, Ukraine, Algeria, Cameroon, Israel, and Palestine. In some of these countries, he accompanied groups of young people, students and teachers.

He speaks French, English, Spanish and Italian.

While the original name of the new congregation for Integral Human Development was initially expected to include the elements of the councils it will merge, the final choice is a reflection of Pope Francis’ own personal style and is reminiscent of themes he has spoken of frequently since his election.

In his Motu Proprio “Humanam progressionem,” signed Aug. 17, 2016 Pope Francis stressed that the Church is called to promote the integral development of the human person in the light of the Gospel, which “takes place by attending to the inestimable goods of justice, peace, and the care of creation.”

He approved the statutes for the new dicastery “ad experimentum,” explaining that it will be competent “particularly in issues regarding migrants, those in need, the sick, the excluded and marginalized, the imprisoned and the unemployed, as well as victims of armed conflict, natural disasters, and all forms of slavery and torture.”

 

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Stolen relic of St John Bosco's brain recovered

Turin, Italy, Jun 16, 2017 (CNA/EWTN News) - A relic of St. John Bosco, which had been stolen from an Italian basilica two weeks ago, has been recovered, the local Prosecutor's Office reported.

An urn containing a relic of St. John Bosco’s brain was discovered missing on June 3. The reliquary was kept in the Basilica of John Bosco in Asti, the saint's birthplace, fewer than 20 miles east of Turin.

According to Italian press reports, the alleged perpetrator of the crime is a 42-year old man with a criminal record, residing in Pirenolo, Turin. He was arrested by the Asti police. The suspect allegedly planned to sell the reliquary, which he believed to be of solid gold.

St. John Bosco, founder of the Salesians, was a 19th century Italian priest who had a particular love and apostolate for at-risk and underserved youth. Today, the order serves youth throughout the world primarily in schools, homeless shelters, and community centers.

Fr. Enrico Stasi, provincial of the Salesians in Piemonte and Valle d'Aosta, thanked “the judiciary, all the police and all those who have contributed to the positive solution to this unpleasant affair.”

“It is consoling for the Salesians, for the Church in Turin and for the many friends of Don Bosco throughout the world who have abundantly demonstrated their closeness in this time,” he told Agenzia Info Salesiana.

In this regard, he said that “the occasion of the restitution and return of the relic to its original place will be for us and for the faithful another sign of the benevolence and blessing of Don Bosco for those who continue to keep his spirit alive in the world.”

The basilica has experienced some other minor thefts in recent weeks, though nothing of spiritual value.

Archbishop Cesare Nosiglia of Turin also commented on the missing relic, saying it was news “you would never want to hear, because it makes us think of a profound moral misery” that someone would steal something of spiritual and devotional value.

The archbishop told an Italian news source that he asked all of his priests to say a special prayer during their Pentecost Masses for the Salesian family and the recovery of the relic, so that it can “continue to be a point of devotion for the millions of faithful who come to the sanctuary dedicated to him.”

 

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US bishops ask forgiveness from survivors of clergy sex abuse

Indianapolis, Ind., Jun 16, 2017 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Beatitudes call us to own our responsibility for suffering in the world, Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta preached on Wednesday at a Mass for victims of clergy sexual abuse.

Through the Beatitudes, Christ “calls us to see with new eyes how to live in a world so continually filled with sorrow, injustice, and violence,” Archbishop Gregory preached during a June 14 Mass of Prayer and Penance for Healing of Survivors of Clergy Sex Abuse in Indianapolis.

Christ also teaches “how important it is to acknowledge our own share in causing or compounding the sorrows, suffering, and violence that often seem to surround us,” he added.

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. bishops' conference, said the Mass at the Cathedral of Sts. Peter and Paul in Indianapolis, on the first day of the bishops’ annual spring general assembly.

The Mass was celebrated in response to Pope Francis’ call that bishops' conferences around the world hold a day of prayer and penance for the victims of clergy sexual abuse. The Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors noted last year that a survivor of clerical child sexual abuse had proposed a universal day of prayer for all victims.

During the Mass, Cardinal DiNardo asked forgiveness from all the victims of sexual abuse in the Church.

“In solidarity with our brother bishops around the world, we acknowledge the sins that have occurred,” he said, “and ask forgiveness from, and healing of, those that have suffered abuse at the hands of those who should have been protecting and caring for them.”

At the end of the Mass, all the bishops present knelt and prayed a commemorative prayer for victims of clergy sex abuse.

Archbishop Gregory preached the homily on the Gospel for the day, Matthew 5: 17-19. The archbishop apologized on behalf of the conference for all the harm done to abuse survivors and for the scandal that resulted.

“At this Mass, we bishops humbly and sincerely ask for the forgiveness of those who have been harmed, scandalized, or disspirited by events that, even if they happened many years ago, remain ongoing sources of anguish for them, and for those who love them,” he said.

“We humbly seek forgiveness from the faith-filled people of our Church and from our society at large, and especially from those whose lives may have been devastated from our failure to care adequately for the little ones entrusted to us, and for any decision that we made or should have made that exacerbated the sorrow and the heartache that the entire Church has felt and continues to feel for what we have done, and for what we have failed to do,” he continued.

“We can never say that we are sorry enough for the share that we have had in this tragedy of broken fidelity and trust.”

Only in Christ can true healing be found, the archbishop insisted.

He said that “ultimately, it must be the Lord Himself Who heals and reconciles the hearts of those who live with the pain of God’s law unheeded.”

“For that grace, with sincere hearts, with contrite spirits, and with a renewed promise to protect, we simply pray this evening.”

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Is there a pontifical commission to reinterpret Humanae vitae?

Vatican City, Jun 16, 2017 (CNA/EWTN News) - As rumors abound concerning a Vatican commission to reinterpret Humanae vitae in light of Amoris laetitia, the president of the Pontifical Academy for Life has rejected these rumors.

“I can confirm that there is no pontifical commission called to re-read or to re-interpret Humanae vitae. However, we should look positively on all those initiatives, such as that of professor Marengo of the John Paul II Institute, which aim at studying and deepening this document in view of the 50th anniversary of its publication,” Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, who is also grand chancellor of the John Paul II Institute, told CNA.

Vatican reporter Marco Tosatti first reported in May, citing unnamed Vatican sources, that Pope Francis had, or was about to, form a “secret commission” to examine and suggest modifications to the Church's teaching on contraception, as laid out in Bl. Paul VI's 1968 encyclical Humanae vitae.

And on Wednesday, Roberto de Mattei of Corrispondenza Romana reported that Msgr. Gilfredo Marengo, a professor at the John Paul II Institute, would coordinate the commission.

Corrispondenza Romana said the commission was composed of Msgr. Pierangelo Sequeri, head of the John Paul II Institute, Professor Philippe Chenaux, a professor of Church history at the Pontifical Lateran University, and Msgr. Angelo Maffeis, head of the Paul VI Institute in Brescia.

Citing Msgr. Marengo's previous writings, de Mattei presented the priest as someone who would be in favor of reviewing Bl. Paul VI's teaching against the use of contraceptives.

Speaking to CNA, Msgr. Marengo dismissed what he described as the “imaginative report” about him heading a commission to review Humanae vitae, and referred to his own writings on Amoris laetitia to “fully understand my theological path.”
 
He has written that Amoris laetitia shows Pope Francis' path “toward a decentralization of doctrinal issues,” and that “whenever the Christian community falls into the error of proposing models of life derived from too-abstract and artificially constructed theological ideals, it conceives its pastoral action as the schematic application of a doctrinal paradigm.”

Msgr. Marengo told CNA that “the issue of a conciliation between Amoris laetitia and Humanae vitae is not in the agenda.”
 
“I have found it always harmful to invent answers to useless questions,” said Msgr. Marengo,  though he added that “theological and pastoral reflection have still a long way to go in order to gain a proper and fruitful understanding of both Paul VI’s and Pope Francis’ texts.”

Archbishop Paglia also told CNA that “there is in fact no doubt that the heart of Humanae vitae – the value of human procreation – is a theme on which we all need to reflect with much attention; the breaking of the marriage-family-procreation triptych is a risk which the Church and all of human society cannot take.”

The archbishop was appointed head of the Pontifical Academy for Life in 2016, and he has come under sharp scrutiny and criticism from former members who are concerned by his actions.

And while Archbishop Paglia was head of the Pontifical Council for the Family, the dicastery organized seminars on marriage and family life in which many of the participants suggested a “penitential path” that would allow the divorced-and-remarried to receive sacramental Communion while still engaging in sexual relations. The seminars' lectures were published with a foreword by Archbishop Paglia.

Interest in the reception of Humanae vitae is increasing, as the encyclical nears the 50th anniversary of its publication. In view of the anniversary, papers and studies on the text will be prepared and published.

A source in the Pontifical Lateran University, speaking on background, told CNA there is ongoing research in the university archives on the encyclical's genesis.

It may be that what has been reported as a “papal commission” is one of the many study groups on Humanae vitae created as its major anniversary approaches.

In fact, the source at the Pontifical Lateran University told CNA that “many studies are underway” and that “Pope Francis has been informed of them, and has encouraged them.”

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Be a Good Samaritan to Christians in Syria and Iraq, bishop pleads

Indianapolis, Ind., Jun 16, 2017 (CNA/EWTN News) - As the U.S. bishops discussed immigration at their annual meeting this week, one Syriac Catholic bishop begged them not to forget Christian refugees in Syria and the Middle East.

“I need your presence, to feel you are with me,” Bishop Barnaba Yousif Benham Habash of the Syriac Catholic Eparchy of Our Lady of Deliverance of Newark pleaded with the bishops on Wednesday.

“Our people, they do need the presence of the Catholic Church,” he continued. “This is the task of the Catholic Church today, to be the Good Samaritan.”

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops met for their annual spring general assembly in Indianapolis June 14-15. Bishop Habash spoke to his fellow bishops during an open floor session after a speech on the spirituality of immigration by Fr. Daniel G. Groody, C.S.C., a theology professor at the University of Notre Dame.  

The Syrian conflict between the government forces of President Bashar al-Assad and his international allies Russia and Iran, and various rebel groups supported by Saudi Arabia, the U.S., and others, began in 2011 and continues to rage.

More than 12 million have been displaced by the conflict, including over five million refugees. An estimated 500,000 people have died in the war.

A new report by the Christian advocacy group Open Doors claims that 50 to 80 percent of Christians in Iraq and Syria have fled those countries since the start of the Syrian conflict in 2011, including half of Syria’s Christian population.

Many refugees are residing in nearby countries like Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon. The sheer number of refugees has already threatened to strain Lebanon, where over one in four persons is a refugee. Bishop Habash implored his brother bishops to remember the “neglected and forgotten” Christian refugees in these countries who are without hope.

The bishop noted that 2,000 homes in his native city, Bakhdida, have been burnt out. Christians driven from their homes are languishing in the desert, he said, and need “a Good Samaritan” to be present to them and not just give them materials.

“It’s good to give me some food, to give me some tent in this winter, in this desert, but it’s not the solution,” he insisted. The Church must make itself present to them, “not just you pass by and ‘good bye,’ like nothing happened,” he said.

Over 100 Iraqi nationals with criminal histories were picked up by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and detained, to be deported to Iraq. Although some have reportedly filed emergency appeals, the Iraqis, many of whom are Chaldean Christians, could be sent back to a country with an active war zone, where Christians have been targeted for genocide.

Religious and civic leaders are trying to intervene on behalf of the Chaldeans, whose criminal records have reportedly been clean for at least ten years, sending letters to the Secretary of Homeland Security and hosting prayer vigils for the detainees. The ACLU has filed a lawsuit to halt the deportations.

Bishop Habash brought up the plight of these Iraqis in his plea to the bishops, and implored them to be the “conscience” of the country.

“They [ICE] took them from all over,” he said of the detainees, to deport them “to where? No houses, persecutions, only persecutions, fire is waiting for them, death is waiting for them. Why? Because we are Christian.”

“This nation should be Christian too!” he insisted. “If the Catholic Church wants to do and to protect, we have to be the conscience of this nation,” he said. “This nation is great, yes, it’s great, but it would be greater if we protected the innocent.”

Also at the assembly, Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, chair of the international justice and peace committee, delivered a presentation on international religious persecution.

He emphasized that amid widespread discrimination against Christians in Asia and the Middle East, the bishops in the U.S. must listen to the local Churches.

“Like a physician, our first duty is to do no harm,” he said of the U.S. bishops’ response to international Christian persecution. “We adopt strategies that complement the work of the local Church.”

“Solidarity visits are helpful in learning how to approach various situations. But sometimes solidarity visits are not advisable,” he said, because “at times it is dangerous for the local Church to be publicly associated with Church leaders from the United States, due to U.S. actions or policy.”

“We always follow the example of the Holy See,” he stated.

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US bishops urge caution as Senate considers health care bill

Indianapolis, Ind., Jun 16, 2017 (CNA/EWTN News) - The US bishops’ annual meeting included on Thursday a discussion on health care, focusing on efforts in Congress to replace the Affordable Care Act.

Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice, chairman of the domestic justice and human development committee, focused on the underlying principles by which the bishops approach health care.

No law should “compel us or others to pay for the destruction of human life,” he said June 15, explaining respect for life, the first of the four “key principles.”

The other principles he enumerated were  true access for all, true affordability, comprehensive and high-quality coverage, and no repeal of the Affordable Care Act without an adequate replacement. He also mentioned the importance of conscience protections.

He said those seeking health care should be able to do so “in accord with their means” and noted that “immigrants continue to be left out of this equation in many ways.”

Speaking about true affordability, he noted the bishops’ concern regarding “structural changes in Medicaid that would leave large numbers of people at risk to losing access.”

The Senate is currently considering the American Health Care Act, which was passed by the House of Representatives in May as a repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

The US bishops have been cautious about the AHCA, saying in the past that it has “many serious flaws.”

Bishop Dewane enumerated four primary concerns of the bishops regarding the AHCA, staring with changes in Medicaid that would allow states to opt-out of important coverage.

He also discussed protection of the unborn, as the bill faces challenges in this respect in the Senate, and a lack of access to health care for migrants.

Finally, Bishop Dewane noted, “the House bill does not provide any conscience protections.”

The bishop stated that the committees related to health care would continue their collaboration, and to provide resources to bishops to help them “preach and teach” on the issue.

In closing his remarks, Bishop Dewane noted, “the teaching we bring to bear in the questions on health and health care do not fit neatly… into the single party platforms. Because of this, the Church has a unique voice.”

He emphasized that the bishops would continue work for those “most in need at all stages of life.”

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the US bishops' conference, said discussion of health care “impacts nearly everyone in our society, but we as bishops strive to engage in this debate as a voice for the voiceless, for the poor, the sick, the unborn. There is still much to be done as the Senate considers a repeal and replacement for the Affordable Care Act.”

Among other bishops who spoke on the topic were Bishop George Thomas of Helena, who said we live in a time of “great gravity” as budget votes draw near which will affect Medicaid and nutritional assistance programs, and called for the bishops to work “by raising up a new degree of public consciousness.” Quoting Robert Frost, he implored the bishops that they “’choose the road less traveled’ for the sake of the people we have been ordained to serve.”

Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago also took the floor, saying that “the state has a responsibility of creating solidarity in a country,” and noted that religious sisters working in health care should be consulted in further discussions. Bishop Dewane clarified that this has been the case already.

Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego observed a “debasement of language” in the national health care debate, citing that while Bishop Dewane spoke of a “robust access,” the access being offered is only “access in theory, access if you’ve got enough money.”

He also noted that “health care is a fundamental human right,” but said the AHCA has been designed as “a house of sand which will deliberately fall apart in the coming years.” He also said that bishops should automatically oppose any bill which is projected to lower the number of people with access to health care.

Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City explained that under the Affordable Care Act, his local Church lost all its Catholic hospitals, and said that the ACA’s “Medicaid provisions were not sustainable by the states.”

He noted also that while the Obama administration had promised there would always be an option for a plan that did not offer abortions, that promise turned out to be false.

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