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The Catholic vision of just immigration reform

Denver, Colo., Jun 18, 2018 / 03:59 pm (CNA).- A Honduran woman says that federal immigration authorities took her daughter from her arms as she breastfed the child. When she reached out for her daughter, she says she was handcuffed; she stood powerless as her daughter was taken away.

The woman was in a detention center - a jail - in Texas. She was waiting to be prosecuted for illegal entry into the United States.

Her story, if true, is heart-wrenching. It cries out for justice.

Catholics see in every nursing mother an icon of our own mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary, who nursed the infant Jesus at her breast.

We see in the bond between mothers and their children a reminder of the life-giving and nurturing love of God, and see, in the family, the first means through which God’s love brings us into being, guides us, and protects us.

“You drew me forth from the womb,” the Psalmist wrote to the Lord, “made me safe at my mother’s breasts.”

We don’t know what happened after that Honduran girl was taken from her mother’s arms.

We don’t know if she was taken to a warehouse, to be housed with hundreds of other children who had been separated from their immigrant parents. We don’t know if she sat strapped in a car seat, squalling for her mother, near the the big kids who let themselves cry only as they fall asleep on gym mats spread across the floor, behind a chain link fence.

We do know that policies that indiscriminately separate children from their migrant parents at our national border violate the sacred sovereignty of families. They need to be stopped.

But it’s not enough to condemn the treatment of a mother separated from her child without asking what should happen instead. There have been, unfortunately, too few solutions proposed to address a real problem: how should the identity of family members be verified at the border, to ensure that children are not being trafficked? That issue needs more than moralizing or grandstanding. It needs a real solution.

It’s also not enough to call for an end to family separation at the border without asking what led to this humanitarian crisis, and what kind of reforms will really make a difference.

For that reason, no matter how discouraged they are, Catholics need to lead efforts to develop comprehensive immigration reforms rooted in the principles of justice. Only serious reforms, which create a system that protects security and the right to migrate, will end humanitarian crises at the border, mass detentions and deportations, and the deaths of migrants crossing through the desert.

Among the principles of Catholic social teaching are five that seem particularly relevant to just immigration policy: That nations have a right to security; that families have the right to migrate for safety, freedom, or economic opportunity; that justice obliges countries who can receive immigrants without detriment to the welfare of their citizens to do so; that wealthy and stable nations ought to assist unstable and poor countries; and that the family is sacred, sovereign, and prior to the state.

The United States has the right to security: porous, unsafe, and uncontrolled borders do an injustice to those who cross them, and to our country’s citizens.

The United States also has the right to call on central and south American countries to reform their economies and to quell the violence and disorder that spur emigration. The United States has the means, and the obligation, to help those countries work for stability, and to hold them accountable when they do not.

But the United States also has the capacity to receive legally many more immigrants than we do now. We’re facing a labor shortage that won’t be resolved by the restrictive caps and quotas we now place on immigration, or by the byzantine processes that make waiting times for legal migration longer than people’s lifetimes. And importing labor also expands our tax base and our domestic consumer base. Those benefits outweigh the costs - measured in the provision of social services - associated with increased immigration.

Beyond the economic reasons for making it easier to come to this country are the moral reasons. We are a wealthy and safe nation. Poor people, from poor countries, have the right to migrate for work and security. Our wealth and safety will not be fatally compromised by their arrival. This is not a matter of charity. It is a matter of justice. “The money you have hoarded,” St. Basil the Great wrote in the fourth century, “belongs to the poor.”

In 1948, Pope Pius XII wrote to the bishops of the United States. He said that he was “preoccupied” and following with “anxiety...those who have been forced by revolutions in their own countries, or by unemployment or hunger to leave their homes and live in foreign lands.”

“The natural law itself, no less than devotion to humanity, urges that ways of migration be opened to these people,” the pope wrote. “For the Creator of the universe made all good things primarily for the good of all. Since land everywhere offers the possibility of supporting a large number of people, the sovereignty of the State, although it must be respected, cannot be exaggerated to the point that access to this land is, for inadequate or unjustified reasons, denied to needy and decent people from other nations, provided of course, that the public wealth, considered very carefully, does not forbid this.”

Seventy years later, the pope’s words remain true, and important. The United States needs a program of immigration reform that recognizes our moral obligation to allow broader participation in our economy. Catholics must lead the way toward this reform.

We cannot hoard our prosperity. We cannot exaggerate our national sovereignty. Our land, our jobs, our prosperity itself exists primarily for the good of all. God did not make the land on which we live, or bless the country we call home, so that we could live in comfortable security while those outside our gates suffer violence, chaos, and hunger.

The rule of law matters - it’s not reasonable or safe to expect that law-breaking at the border should continue unabated, or go unnoticed. But the justice of our laws matter too: no one can call for would-be immigrants to follow our nation’s laws without being sure that those laws are just. Our laws, measured against the Church’s criteria, are not just.

Comprehensive immigration reform, though, will be a long-time coming. It will require statesmanship, sober reflection, and serious analysis - these are not things we have come to expect from our national leaders. That both parties have reprehensible records on this matter demonstrates just how difficult our task will be. But we have to work for just.

In the meantime, we need to insist that the sovereignty of the family is respected. There are times when parents and children should be separated - when parents have been abusive or neglectful, or when they pose a danger to their children or others. Adults who enter with this country with children should be scrutinized - for the sake of the children, we should ensure that those adults really are their parents, that the children are not being trafficked or abused. But we need to do this without taking children from the arms of their mothers, or sending toddlers to live in detention facilities.

Using family separation as a deterrent for migration is an intolerable and contemptible injustice.

“Jesus, Mary and Joseph,” Pius XII wrote, “living in exile in Egypt to escape the fury of an evil king, are, for all times and all places, the models and protectors of every migrant, alien and refugee of whatever kind who, whether compelled by fear of persecution or by want, is forced to leave his native land, his beloved parents and relatives, his close friends, and to seek a foreign soil.”

Catholics are called to work for justice for the Honduran woman and her daughter, separated during the intimacy of nursing. We’re also called to work for a just system of migration to this country, to be its architects and champions. We are called, like Mary and Joseph, to be protectors of migrants, aliens, and refugees, especially those seeking peace as our neighbors.  

 

This commentary reflects the opinions of the author, and does not necessarily reflect an editorial position of Catholic News Agency.

 

What are the new border policies? A CNA explainer

Washington D.C., Jun 18, 2018 / 03:57 pm (CNA).- In recent weeks, changes to the U.S. enforcement of immigration policy have made headlines, as an effort to pursue criminal prosecution has led to family separations.

What exactly are the new policies? How did the changes come about? And how have Church leaders responded?

 

 

In May 2018, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a “zero tolerance” policy that seeks to criminally prosecute 100 percent of immigrants who are caught crossing the border illegally.

Until that policy was announced, people caught crossing the border illegally were sent to an immigration judge, who would determine whether they would be deported. While waiting for a hearing, they would be held in immigration detention centers, or – due to lack of resources or legal limits on how long certain types of immigrants could be detained – be given a court date and released.

The Trump administration’s decision to pursue criminal prosecution means that immigrants are held in a federal jail until they go before a federal judge, who must determine whether immigrants will receive prison sentences for crossing the border illegally.  

This shift to the criminal justice system is what leads to family separation, because children cannot be held legally in a federal jail with their parents.

The family separation policy has been described by Sessions as a deterrent to illegal immigration. “If you don't like that, then don't smuggle children over our border,” he said May 7.

Once the children are separated from their parents, they are classified as unaccompanied minors and placed in the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement. The children are kept in government facilities while arrangements are made to release them to a relative in the country, if one can be identified, or to place them in foster care, while their parents’ immigration case moves forward.

According to the Department of Homeland Security, some 2,000 immigrant children have been separated from their parents in recent months. They are held along with detained minors who crossed the border unaccompanied by an adult.

In total, it is estimated that upwards of 10,000 migrant children are currently being held in over 100 shelters, which are at 95 percent capacity, according to a McClatchyDC report. The Department of Health and Human Services is reportedly considering the construction of “tent cities” to hold the children.

The Bush administration had enacted a similar “zero tolerance” policy to criminally prosecute illegal border crossings. However, it made an exception for unaccompanied minors or families with children. The Obama administration enacted zero tolerance for a short period, but did not separate families as a matter of policy.

Critics of previous administrations warned that legal exceptions for families, children, and asylum seekers created loopholes that could be abused by immigrants to cross the border without facing criminal prosecution, for example, that would-be migrants might travel with children unrelated to them and falsely claim to be a family. Critics also said that family loopholes could enable, or even encourage, child trafficking. President Donald Trump has said that he wants to close these loopholes.

However, immigration and human rights advocates say they are concerned that, like other families illegally crossing the border, asylum-seeking families are also being separated.  

The right to claim asylum is recognized by international law. To claim asylum in the U.S., one must show a well-founded fear of persecution in his home country, on the grounds of race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or particular social group.

An individual can make an asylum claim at a U.S. port of entry. A judge will then determine whether to accept the asylum claim.

However, reports indicate that some people attempting to claim asylum legally at the border are turned away repeatedly, told that the system is unable to accept new applications to be processed. While prohibiting someone from making an asylum appeal is illegal under international law, delaying a claim, which essentially denies that it be made, is a legal grey area.

People can also claim asylum by crossing the border illegally and then turning themselves in to officials. While the act of crossing the border in this case is illegal, the right to claim asylum is still valid, under international law.

Immigration advocates and human rights groups say that legitimate asylum applicants are forced to cross the border illegally in order to make their claims, and are then separated from their children for breaking the law.

The United Nations has condemned the practice of family separation as “a serious violation of the rights of the child,” which “amounts to arbitrary and unlawful interference in family life.”

The U.S. bishops have been vocally opposed to the new policy, as well as a recent move to remove gang violence and domestic abuse from the list of asylum claims that will be accepted as valid.

Bishop Joe S. Vásquez of Austin, chair of the U.S. bishops’ committee on migration, has stressed that “Rupturing the bond between parent and child causes scientifically-proven trauma that often leads to irreparable emotional scarring.”

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston stressed that the U.S. government “has the discretion in our laws to ensure that young children are not separated from their parents and exposed to irreparable harm and trauma.”

Because families are “the foundational element of our society,” they “must be able to stay together,” he said. “While protecting our borders is important, we can and must do better as a government, and as a society, to find other ways to ensure that safety.”

 

In Western Europe, Christians who don't go to church outnumber those who do

Rome, Italy, Jun 18, 2018 / 03:15 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Most Western Europeans identify as Christian, but say they do not, or seldom, attend church services – outnumbering those Christians who do attend church, a survey from the Pew Research Center has reported.

Released May 29, results found in 12 of the 15 surveyed Western European countries, non-practicing Christians (defined as those who self-identify as Christian but report attending church services less than once per month) made up the largest religious group, beating out both religious “nones” and churchgoing Christians.

The telephone survey was conducted in mid-2017 with more than 24,000 participants from Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.

The median percentage of the population of Western Europe identifying as Christian was 71 percent, though only 22 percent of Western Europeans attend church at least monthly. Across all 15 countries surveyed, the median percent of those who had been baptized was 91, and 81 percent reported they were raised Christian.  

Median percentages were analyzed across the 15 surveyed countries to gain a view of the region overall, though countries varied in total Christian identification by as much as 42 percentage points.

Countries such as Italy, Portugal, and Ireland reported total Christian identification around 80 percent, while Norway and Sweden reported Christian identification at slightly above 50 percent.

In every country surveyed except the Netherlands and Norway, where the religiously unaffiliated are the largest religious group, non-practicing Christians make up the majority of Europe’s Christians. Italy is also an exception, where non-practicing Christians and church-attending Christians are split.

Non-practicing Christians in Western Europe were also found to outnumber people of all other religions combined.

The 71 percent Christian identification of Western Europe matches up with Christian identification in the United States. Western Europe also parallels the United States' declining rates of Christians overall and the increase in “nones.”

Particularly in Belgium, Norway, the Netherlands, Spain, and Sweden, the difference in the percentage of the population raised Christian versus the percentage of the population who still practices Christianity is a difference of 22 to 28 percent.

In the same countries, the percentage of people who now identify as religiously unaffiliated is between 21 and 28 percentage points higher than those raised without a religion.

In comparison to the U.S., however, religious fervor overall in Western Europe is significantly lower. While close to half of Americans say religion is “very important” in their lives, the median percentage of Western European adults who say the same is 11.

This difference becomes even more marked between American Christians and European Christians. Sixty eight percent of American Christians report religion is very important to them, compared with only 14 percent of Western European Christians.

The Pew survey on Western Europe also compared the attitudes of non-practicing Christians, church attending Christians, and the religiously unaffiliated on certain political, cultural, and religious issues, such as views toward immigrants, religious minorities, nationalist sentiment, abortion, and same-sex marriage.

On some issues, the views of non-practicing Christians were found to align more closely with religious “nones,” while on others they aligned more closely with church attending Christians.

Most non-churchgoing Christians reported belief in God or a higher power and had favorable views toward churches and other religious organizations.

On abortion, same-sex marriage, and the role of religion in government, a majority of both non-practicing Christians and the non-religious said they support legal abortion in all or most cases and support legalizing same-sex marriage. They also think religion should be kept out of government policies.

This program wants to help incoming college students keep their faith

Springfield, Ill., Jun 18, 2018 / 02:16 pm (CNA).- For Catholic high school students on their way to college, faith runs the risk of being lost in the shuffle of new roommates, classes, studying, and activities.

Campus ministries are often available to students in college – if they can get connected. One group is doing just that: helping high school students make a smooth faith transition into college by connecting them to their college’s Catholic center, even before they arrive.

“We reach out into the Catholic high schools and parishes to identify graduating seniors and where they are going off to college,” said Matthew Zerrusen, director and co-founder of The Newman Connection.

“We then get that information and send it to their respective campus minister. The idea is that the campus minister can then reach out to the student even before they arrive on campus,” Zerrusen told CNA.

The Newman Connection is a non-profit organization that provides national brand and support structure for campus ministries, assisting them in outreach, programming and organization development, said Zerrusen. Their main program is high school outreach, in which they contact Catholic high school students and connect them with the campus ministers at the colleges they plan on attending.

“We are essentially providing a list of warm leads for them [campus ministers] to boost outreach efforts,” said Zerrusen.

“We are changing the culture from a throw-darts-at-the-wall outreach plan to a strategic outreach plan that can target students based on the information given to us during high school,” he continued.

According to Zerrusen, around 80 percent of students stop practicing their faith in college. With such a substantial number of young people drifting away from the Church during formative years of their lives, Zerrusen believed something needed to be done.

“We have to change this,” he said, calling Newman Connection’s high school outreach program “a good start” in helping campus ministers connect with students and help them keep their faith on campus.

With the Newman Connection model, Zerrusen said students will already have a real, personal Catholic connection on their campus and will not have to rely on pamphlets or handouts to hear about Catholic events nearby.

JoAnn Shull, the campus ministry director for the St. Thomas More Newman Center at the University of Missouri, said the Newman Connection has allowed its campus outreach to focus more on actually ministering to students instead of spending time searching for them.

“When high schools and parishes communicate to the campus ministries through the Newman Connection, they provide a seamless transition for students to find their faith home in college,” Shull told CNA.

“From the campus ministry side, I see Newman Connection as another team member, albeit outsourced, that helps us find out Catholic students on campus,” she continued.

Over the past few years, Shull said she has seen significant strides in student outreach and remains “incredibly impressed” with the Newman Connection’s ability to make outreach more efficient. The St. Thomas More Newman at Mizzou has credited the Newman Connection for tripling its outreach numbers – taking their ministry from 400 students 5 years ago to over 1,200 students today.

Looking forward, Shull hopes more youth ministries, parishes and dioceses will come to understand the “critical nature of the mission of Newman Connection,” and its impact on the future of the Church, saying college students “need the Church’s support to help them grow in their adult faith.”

“Newman Connection can be a conduit for that process if parishes and dioceses can understand the critical importance of connecting these young adults to campus ministry,” she said.

The Newman Connection has been endorsed by almost 80 different dioceses and has connected upwards of 150,000 students to campus ministries in the past two years, according to Zerrusen. Moving forward, Zerrusen hopes their program can expand to even more parishes across the nation.

“We have to get out into the parishes. There are over 15,000 Catholic parishes in the U.S. and we want to reach them all,” Zerrusen said.

“It is aggressive but we think its achievable. Every year our numbers grow considerably, but getting more support from the public would certainly increase the speed at which we are able to operate.”
 
 
 
 

 

Australian priests 'willing to go to jail' rather than break confessional seal

Canberra, Australia, Jun 18, 2018 / 12:53 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- As Australian states and territories pass and consider laws requiring priests to break the seal of confession to report cases of child sex abuse, Catholic priests are saying they would go to jail rather than violate the seal.

“The state will be requiring us as Catholic priests to commit as what we regard as the most serious crime and I’m not willing to do that,” said Fr. Michael Whelan, a parish priest at St. Patrick’s Church in Sydney, according to local news.

Fr. Whelan added that he, along with other priests, would be “willing to go to jail” rather than break the seal of confession. When asked if the Church was above the law, Whelan said “absolutely not” and remarked he would only be protecting religious freedom.

“…when the state tries to intervene on our religious freedom, undermine the essence of what it means to be a Catholic, we will resist,” he said.

On June 7, the Australian Capital Territory Legislative Assembly in Canberra passed a law which requires religious organizations to adhere to the requirements of the Reporting Conduct Scheme, which requires religious groups to report any allegations, offences or convictions of child abuse within 30 days. This legislation extends to the seal of confession, making it illegal for priests to fail to report the confession of a child sex abuse crime.

South Australia has adopted a similar law, which will take effect Oct. 1, and New South Wales is considering the measure.

Fr. Whelan believes the rest of the nation will follow the royal commission’s recommendation.

“I expect every jurisdiction in Australia now will follow that recommendation and I expect the church throughout will simply not observe it?” Whelan said.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that “every priest who hears confessions is bound under severe penalties to keep absolute secrecy regarding the sins that his penitents have confessed to him,” due to the “delicacy and greatness of this ministry and the respect due to persons.”

The Code of Canon Law states that “The sacramental seal is inviolable; therefore it is absolutely forbidden for a confessor to betray in any way a penitent in words or in any manner and for any reason.” A priest who intentionally violates the seal incurs an automatic excommunication.

Whelan noted additional concerns with the law, saying the only way to ensure the law was being followed would be to “try and entrap priests.”

Instead, Whelan believes other precautions against child sex abuse should be taken, such as encouraging the perpetrator to confess to the police.

Clergy are not the only critics of the new legislation. Andrew Wall, a member of the Australian Capital Territory Legislative Assembly, said forcing priests to break the seal of confession oversteps an individual’s “freedom of association, freedom of expression and freedom of religious rights.”

Former pro football player prepares to take final vows as a nun

Toronto, Ohio, Jun 18, 2018 / 03:26 am (CNA).- Every single vocation story is different, but Sr. Rita Clare (Anne) Yoches is probably one of the more unusual.

Sr. Rita Clare, who this month will profess final vows with the Franciscan Sisters T.O.R. of Penance of the Sorrowful Mother, was a four-time national champion professional football player prior to entering the convent.

Yes, that’s American football. (She was a fullback.) Nowadays, the only football Yoches is playing is the annual two-hand touch game she organizes with the 38 T.O.R. sisters she lives with in Toronto, Ohio.

Although she was raised Catholic and attended Catholic schools, Yoches said she never once considered becoming a nun. Her family attended Mass each Sunday, but that was about it in terms of her faith life. A talented athlete, Yoches earned a full basketball scholarship to the University of Detroit-Mercy, where she played for four years.

After college, she began her football career in 2003 after a successful tryout with the Detroit Demolition, a now-defunct women’s professional team. She left the team in 2006, and in March of 2007, the former self-described party girl experienced a calling to enter religious life. She ended her relationship with her boyfriend, and entered the Franciscans shortly after.

“(I) loved to stay out as late as could on Friday and Saturday nights, but always went to Mass on Sundays. But I never really listened to what God was saying,” said Yoches in a video about her conversion.

One Sunday, after a particularly moving homily, Yoches realized that she needed to drastically change her lifestyle.

“And I was like, that’s me. I’m sick and dying on the inside. So that convinced me to go to Confession for the first time in a long time.” Her priest provided her with guidance about reading scripture every day, and she began attending Eucharistic Adoration.

It was during Eucharistic Adoration that she felt truly embraced by God, and really began to get a sense of His plan for her life.

"And then I felt God the Father just wrap his arms around me and give me a hug, and just pulled me onto his chest like only a father can hug a daughter,” she said.

“And my life was forever changed. I just wanted more and more of Jesus."

She says while her family was supportive of her decision to enter the convent, her friends were surprised, as she had largely kept her faith life private.

“People were very surprised that this was really who and what I wanted to do and be,” she told the Detroit Free Press.

Sr. Rita Clare will profess final vows on June 30.

Argentina bishops: Abortion vote shows we have work to do

Buenos Aires, Argentina, Jun 17, 2018 / 04:13 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The bishops of Argentina said that this week’s vote in the House of Representatives to legalize abortion shows the shortcomings of both the Church and society in accompanying women and educating people.

In a statement, the bishops said the vote calls them to recognize the “weaknesses in our pastoral efforts: comprehensive sex education in our educational institutions, a fuller recognition of the common dignity of women and men, and the accompaniment of women at risk for abortion or who have gone through that trauma.”

“These are all calls from reality that call us to a response as a Church,” they said.

By a vote of 129 to 125 with one abstention, Argentina's House of Representatives passed a bill on Thursday that would legalize abortion through 14 weeks of pregnancy.

The bill will now be sent to the Senate, and then to President Mauricio Macri, who has encouraged “responsible” debate over the topic and said that he personally opposes the legislation but will not veto it if Congress approves it.

The current law in Argentina prohibits abortion, except when the mother’s life or health is determined to be in danger, or in cases of rape.

If passed, the bill would allow would allow abortion for any reason up to the 14th week of gestation. Minors under 16 could get an abortion without having to inform their parents.

Health care workers under the bill could be eligible for conscience-based objections to participating in an abortion if they make such a request in advance “individually and in writing” to the director of their medical center. Institutions and health care facilities as a whole would not be allowed to conscientiously object to abortion.

The Argentine bishops stressed the need for dialogue and efforts “to seek new and creative solutions so that no woman has to go for an abortion.” They pointed to the need to address the challenges facing many women experiencing unplanned pregnancies, such as poverty, social marginalization and gender violence.

Unidad Provida (Pro-Life Unity), an Argentine network representing some 100 pro-life organizations, echoed the need to address challenges facing women rather than offer abortion as a solution.

With the passage of the abortion bill in the House, the group said, “we are dangerously approaching the establishment of a throwaway policy which allows the systematic elimination of persons, without solving maternal mortality or other profound problems that harm women.”

The network charged that the House vote “took place in a context overshadowed by disinformation campaigns, political pressures and economic interests which undoubtedly influenced the vote of our representatives.”

“False figures, expressions and gimmicky slogans have been thrown around, far removed from reality… [This] blinds us from understanding the magnitude of what we are debating, which is nothing more than institutionalizing violence against women. In each abortion an innocent boy or girl dies, and a woman is destroyed,” the group said.

As debate moves to the Senate, Pro-Life Unity voiced hope, saying that the heavily-attended marches for life throughout the country show that “the Argentine people have become aware of what is at stake.”

The network renewed its commitment to work “with even greater enthusiasm, offering our representatives all our support.”

Catholic input ‘ignored’ in Uganda’s new sex-ed program, bishops say

Kampala, Uganda, Jun 17, 2018 / 05:00 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A new sex-education program created by the government of Uganda will be rejected by Christian schools unless considerable revisions are made, the Catholic bishops of the country have said.

While a team of Catholic experts was consulted while the program was being created, their suggestions were “substantially ignored” in the final document, the bishops noted.

Among the shortcomings of the new program are that it ignores “the vital role of the family, especially in the early ages” and that it exposes children ages 3-5 years to “content and life skills which are not appropriate for their age.”

Furthermore, the bishops said, the information and life skills provided for upper level students are “open to interpretation and practices which may contrary to moral Christian values.” They also added that the program provides “no provisions or guaranties that school teachers are prepared and able to teach in a balanced and proper way such delicate and emotionally charged topics.”

“As it stands now, the National Sexual Education Framework, though containing some valid ideas and guidelines, fails to answer some crucial questions and address in an adequate manner some important issues,” the Uganda Episcopal Conference said in a statement issued after their plenary assembly earlier this month.

According to 2014 Census data, Roman Catholics constitute the largest religious denomination in Uganda, with nearly 40 percent of the population identifying as Catholic. Another 32 percent are Anglican, while Muslims make up about 14 percent of the population.  

The Ugandan bishops emphasized that “contrary to what many people think, the Church is in favor of a positive, age appropriate, culturally and religious (sic) sensitive sex education which upholds moral and Christian values.” “This is the task and shared responsibility of the family, the Church and the state throughout the schools,” they added.

The document is now undergoing a final evaluation by Catholic experts who are compiling suggested amendments to the program, the bishops said.

However, should the document remain unchanged, the Catholic Church in Uganda together with the Orthodox Church have decided “that we shall not be able in conscience to have it introduced and taught in our Christian-founded schools.”

Pope Francis: God works in mysterious ways – trust him

Vatican City, Jun 17, 2018 / 03:14 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Sunday Pope Francis compared the action of grace to the growth of seeds planted in a garden, saying God often works in ways that are both unknown and surprising, but which always bring fruit, and because of this it is important to always trust and never lose faith.

In his June 17 Angelus address, the pope noted that if one looks back at history, it can seem like the world is going “in an opposite direction to the design of the heavenly Father, who wants justice, brotherhood and peace for all of his children.”

Catholics, he said, are invited to live these periods “as seasons of trial, hope and of vigilant waiting for the harvest.”

Pointing to the parable of the seeds in the day's Gospel reading from Mark, Francis explained that both in the past and today, the Kingdom of God “grows in the world in a mysterious and surprising way, awakening the hidden power of the small seed and its victorious vitality.”

“Inside the wounds of personal and social events which at times seem to mark the shipwreck of hope, we must remain confident and in the subdued but powerful action of God,” he said.

Because of this, when moments of darkness and difficulty come along, “we must not break down, but remain anchored to the fidelity of God and to his presence, which always saves...Remember this: God always saves, he's the savior..”

Pope Francis spoke to pilgrims present in St. Peter's Square during his Sunday Angelus address, in which he focused on the two parables Jesus told his disciples in the day's Gospel reading, the first being about a seed which is scattered and grows of its own accord, culminating with the gathering of the harvest.

The second parable is about the mustard seed, which is the smallest seed but which grows to be one of the biggest shrubs.

In the first parable, the message conveyed is that through Jesus' preaching and action,” the Kingdom of God is announced, he made it burst into the field of the world and, like the seed, it grows and develops on its own, with its own strength and according to criteria that are not humanly understandable.”

This growth and sprouting inside history, he said, is not dependent on the work of man, but is “expressed by the power and goodness of God.”

On the parable of the mustard seed, Francis noted how the small seed grows to become one of the biggest plants in the garden, which is “an unpredictable, surprising growth.”

“It's not easy for us to enter into this logic of the unpredictability of God and to accept it in our lives,” he said, explaining that Lord encourages each person to have “an attitude of faith which overcomes our own projects, our calculations, our provisions.”

This is an invitation to open oneself with greater generosity to God's plan on both a personal and community level, Francis said, adding that every community must pay special attention to “the small and the great opportunities for goodness that the Lord offers to us, allowing  us to be involved in his dynamics of love, of welcome, and of mercy toward all.”

The authenticity of the Church's mission, he said, is not measured “by success or the gratification of results, but by going forward with the courage of trust and the humility of abandonment to God.”

“It's the knowledge of being small and weak instruments, which in the hands of God and with his grace can fulfill great works, advancing his Kingdom, which is justice, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit,” he said, and prayed that Mary would help Catholics to be attentive to God and to collaborate in helping the Kingdom of God grow “in hearts and in history.”

After leading pilgrims in the traditional Marian prayer, Pope Francis offered prayers for Yemen, as fighting continues to escalate near the port city of Hudaydah. If the port closes, desperately needed food and other aid would be cut off from thousands of people who already face starvation in the country, increasing the already dire humanitarian situation.

Francis appealed to the international community on behalf of Yemen, asking that they bring conscience “to the table of discussions in order to avoid a worsening of the already tragic humanitarian situation.” He then led pilgrims in praying a Hail Mary.

He then kicked off the “Global Action Week,” which is part of the Share the Journey initiative of the papal charity organization Caritas International, urging governments to adopt the global U.N. compacts on migrants and refugees in order to “reach an agreement to ensure the assistance and protection of whoever is forced to leave their own home.”

Novena for North Korea sheds light on issues beyond denuclearization

Seoul, South Korea, Jun 16, 2018 / 03:58 pm (CNA).- Following two historic summits involving North Korean Chairman Kim Jong Un, South Korea’s bishops are calling on Catholics to pray a novena for nine specific intentions for the Korean peninsula June 17 - 25.

The novena culminates on June 25, the annual “Day of Prayer for the Reconciliation and Unity of the Korean People.”

This novena is by no means a new endeavor for the Korean bishops, who have been leading Catholics in prayer for the reconciliation and unity of the divided Korean peninsula for decades. According to Archbishop Kim Hee-joong of Gwangju, Korean Catholics have observed June 25 as a day of prayer the Korean peninsula since 1965.

The first documented novena for Korean reconciliation and unity was in June 1993, a time when North Korea was beginning its descent into a famine caused by the collapse of their Communist economy, which had formerly been sustained by a heavy reliance on the Soviet Union. It is estimated that 500,000 to 600,000 people died in North Korean famine from 1993 to 2000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

A novena is nine days of consecutive prayer for a particular intention, often appealing for the intercession of a saint. It is modeled after the nine days the apostles spent in prayer between the time of Jesus’ ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

This year’s nine prayer intentions capture the complexity of the issues facing the peninsula in 2018:

June 17: Pray for the healing of a divided nation

Nearly 3 million Korean people died, 10 percent of its overall population, in the brutal Korean War from 1950 to 1953. But the Korean peninsula is technically still at war, 65 years after the armistice signed in 1953.

Since the division of the Korean peninsula along the 38th parallel, the North and South have significantly diverged economically and culturally.

On April 27, the leaders of the two Koreas signed the Panmunjom Declaration in which they committed to pursue future meetings with the goal of declaring an official end to the Korean War.  

June 18: Pray for divided families

Hundreds of thousands of people were permanently separated from their families by the division of the Korean peninsula. According to South Korea’s Ministry of Reunification, fewer than half of South Koreans divided from their family members are still alive, and their average age is 81.

The North and South Korean governments have occasionally held tear-filled reunions for the divided families. At one reunion in 2015, an 85-year-old wife was reunited with her husband, whom she had not seen in 65 years. They had 12 hours to spend together before they had to return to their respective countries.

June 19: Pray for our North Korean brothers and sisters

Twenty-five million people live in North Korea, the country with one of the worst human rights records in the world. A United Nations investigation in 2014 produced a 372-page report that documented crimes against humanity, including execution, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, forced abortions, and knowingly causing prolonged starvation.

There are currently an estimated 80,000 to 120,000 people in North Korea’s six political prison camps, in which the U.S. State Department has found evidence of starvation, forced labor, and torture.

June 20: Pray for North Korean defectors

There are currently 31,530 North Korean defectors living in South Korea, according to the unification ministry. Nearly all North Korean defectors escape by crossing the northern border into China before embarking on another dangerous journey to escape China, which repatriates escaped North Koreans discovered on Chinese soil. Many women refugees have been sold into sex trafficking in China.

PTSD is common in North Korean defectors after surviving such a journey, and many struggle to adjust to the South, where they often face discrimination. Catholics have been working with North Korean defectors for years to help them adjust to South Korean society.

June 21: Pray for the leaders of North and South Korea

Kim Jong Un was 26 years-old when he became the leader of North Korea in 2011, following the death of his father Kim Jong Il. He is the third “Supreme Leader” in the Kim family dynasty begun by his grandfather Kim Il Sung.

Kim made history in 2018 by crossing the military demarcation line into South Korea to meet the South Korean president in April and then being the first North Korean leader to meet an American president in June. While it is unclear whether this is an indication of Kim’s willingness to make serious changes in North Korea, the South Korean bishops request prayers for Kim Jong Un.

Moon Jae-In became president of South Korea in May 2017 after his predecessor was impeached on corruption charges. Moon is a practicing Catholic, former human rights attorney, and the son of North Korean refugees. He prioritized peaceful diplomacy with the north at a time when tensions with North Korea were high.

June 22: Pray for the evangelization of North Korea

In 1945, there were about 50,000 Catholics registered in parishes in what is now North Korea, according to the Korean Bishops Conference, with more than double that number of Protestant Christians. Before the Korean War, Pyongyang was referred to as the “Jerusalem of the East” and was considered a center of Christianity in Northeast Asia.

Just before the Korean War broke in 1950, most of the priests who were in North Korea were captured, killed, or disappeared, according to the Korean Bishops Conference. The beatification process has begun for 40 monks and sisters of Tokwon Benedictine Abbey who were martyred by the Communists.

In 1988, the “Korean Catholic Association” created by the Communist government registered 800 members. This association is not recognized by the Vatican, but is one of three state-sponsored churches that operate in North Korea under strict supervision of the Communist authorities.

Mass is occasionally celebrated in Pyongyang's Changchung Cathedral when a foreign priest is on an official visit to the country, but on Sundays the liturgy of the word is usually celebrated by state-appointed layperson, explained Father Lee Eun-hyung in an interview with Aid to the Church in Need.

Persecution of Christians is worse in North Korea than anywhere else in the world, according to the World Watch List by Open Doors, who estimates that there could be as many as 300,000 Christians practicing their faith underground in North Korea. Christians within the atheist state have faced arrest, re-education in a labor camp, or, in some cases, execution for their faith.

Pastors who have traveled to North Korea with the hope of secretly evangelizing have been arrested, but Christian organizations in Seoul continue to broadcast the Gospel via radio into the North with the hope that someone will find a way to tune into the signal.

June 23: Pray for the various exchanges between North and South Korea

One part of the Panmunjom Declaration signed by both Korean leaders is a commitment to more cooperative exchanges between the two countries. In the past, these exchanges have been both cultural and economic. The theme of the South Korean bishops’ annual symposium this year will look at the future of Inter-Korean exchange and cooperation on June 21 at the Catholic University of Daegu.

On June 13, the South Korean ministry approved an official exchange program between students from Seoul National University and Kim Il Sung University, the leading universities of the two countries respectively.  

June 24: Pray for the true reconciliation of the North and the South

“Reconciliation” is a word that the South Korean bishops frequently use when discussing North Korea. “Until the day finally arrives when peace is permanently established on the Korean Peninsula and our divided people are united, the Catholic Church in Korea shall continue to accompany the journey towards the reconciliation and unity of the Korean people with one accord,” said Archbishop Kim Hee-joong on April 27.

Since the division, both countries have produced significant propaganda dehumanizing each other. The novena prayer (see below) includes this line, “Forgive us our slander and fighting with one another and heal the wounds of division, grant us the grace of reconciliation.”

June 25: Pray for the peaceful reunification of the Korean people

For many Korean Christians, the peaceful reunification of the Korean peninsula is the ultimate goal. “Just as the church in Germany took an important role in the reunification of East and West Germany, the Korean church will raise our voice for the peaceful co-existence of two Koreas,” said Father Timothy Lee Eun-hyeong, the secretary of the bishops’ Committee for the Reconciliation of the Korean People in 2017.

“The Korean nation is symbolic of a world divided and not yet able to become one in peace and justice,” said Saint John Paul II on a papal trip to South Korea in 1989, “yet there is a way forward. True peace – the shalom which the world urgently needs – springs eternally from the infinitely rich mystery of God’s love.”

The pope saint continued, “As Christians we are convinced that Christ’s Paschal Mystery makes present and available the force of life and love which overcomes all evil and all separation.”

 

Here is the English translation of the South Korean bishops’ novena prayer:

 

Novena prayer for reconciliation and unity of the Korean people

Lord, You have created us in Your own image and likeness.

Make us daily more like You.

You have made us one in love.

Strengthen our love for one another.

O Lord, Your desire is for peace among us.

May peace be restored on this peninsula.

Forgive us our slander and fighting with one another and heal the wounds of division, grant us the grace of reconciliation.

O Lord, You desire the unity of all people. Heal the pain of separation that divides us.

Make us aware of our mutual indifference and help us strive for unity as we share all we have with one another.

Help us to respect and love one another and so bring about peaceful reunification.

Give us faith, Lord, to believe in You and let the Kingdom of God reign in this land.

We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Amen.

Mary, Queen of Peace, Pray for us!

All Korean Martyr Saints, Pray for us!