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Why this bishop thinks memes may just be the tool for evangelization today

September 15, 2017 CNA Daily News 2

Sydney, Australia, Sep 15, 2017 / 03:01 am (CNA).- Between the Harambe memes and quick explanations of Catholic doctrine on his Twitter page, Richard Umbers, Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Sydney, says that online humor is about more than just the laughs.

In fact, he says, Christian humor online can help to reach out to parts of our modern world that are in the process of secularization. This kind of online engagement – with a wink- plays into a larger need for Christians to engage in society and to promote a vision of Christian life.

Bishop Umbers is quick to note in his Twitter bio that he is indeed an “actual person and a realbishop”, adopting the description given him by Tommy Tighe, the “Catholic Hipster”.

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Whether in art, online culture, or political discussion, Christians should be giving an example of how to evangelize and to speak to the challenges society faces today. “You need the contemporary expression of Christian faith,” Bishop Umbers said of what the Church needs from its faithful today.

The writings of Benedict XVI, and Pope Francis’ Laudato si’, can provide such a template for living an “alternative” lifestyle as a Christian, while also speaking to contemporary culture, he indicated.

“You can promote a coherent alternative lifestyle, which is what Catholicism really is in our society.”

Bishop Umbers was born and raised in New Zealand, joining the personal prelature of Opus Dei before moving to Sydney to finish his degrees in economics. After guidance from a mentor, he discerned a call to the priesthood, upon which he travelled to Rome and then to Spain to continue his studies. He was ordained a priest of the prelature in Spain in 2002. Fourteen years later, Umbers was consecrated a bishop, becoming in 2016 the youngest bishop in Australia, at the age of 45.

Five or six years ago, he told CNA, he got his first Twitter account and started to use it regularly. In the past several years, he has used his twitter account to reach out on issues affecting Australian society – as well as to joke about a variety of topics: “You can have fun with memes.”

Part of the reason he’s drawn to memes, Bishop Umbers said, is not only because they match his sense of humor, but because of his own limitations. “I have an artistic vision with zero talent,” he joked.

More seriously, memes do indeed convey a message. Like political cartoons, which have spread powerful ideas and opinions for centuries, memes can also convey earnest information.

The creation of a meme culture in online Catholic spaces, or use of other kinds of social media outreach can help reach out and participate in conversations. In fact, he said, people tend to take notice when a conversation is constructive, rather than a “flame war.” Also, he warned, any conversation can sometimes face the threat of miscommunication, or being “overly ironic.”

Honesty and consideration can add balance to online evangelization. “I tell people all the time: be yourself,” Bishop Umbers said. He also advocated that Catholics online display their convictions, and even make “strong comments” – but also advised them consider what they say before they type.

The bishop also urged that Catholics online have faith and conviction in their beliefs – especially if they dabble in memes or in online discussions. “[It] takes a certain confidence in your own faith,” he said of online participation and discussion. This confidence can even help bring out the humor of the whole situation.

While throughout history “believers have always had a go” during important disagreements, poking fun at topics and laughing about the misunderstandings is “a lasting human tradition.”

It’s this sense of conviction that Bishop Umbers hopes believers can bring to conversations happening not only online, but in the Archdiocese of Sydney.

Australian society is currently experiencing “rapid secularization” and increasing “sectarianism”, he said, as issues like abortion, same-sex marriage, and euthanasia come to the center of Australian political debates.

While more Catholics continue to identify as Catholic, as opposed to the shift to “non-religious” among other Christian groups, some Catholic institutions have remained quiet or even supported positions that fly in the face of Church teaching.

“To stand up for Catholic teaching puts you, once again, on the margins”: Bishop Umbers explained that taking a counter-cultural position is likely to impact funding of Church programs as time goes on.

The marginalization of traditional Christian beliefs, however, does not mean that people do not listen or that people do not take interest in the Church’s arguments. “You’re definitely not irrelevant,” he said of the Christian voice in the public square.

Rather, he said, effective communication and coordination seem to be the major stumbling-block facing the Church in the Sydney area.

“That’s where social media can play a big role,” Bishop Umbers offered.

For example, he pointed to a successful social media campaign started by three young women which protested the expansion of abortion in the Australian state of New South Wales, of which Sydney is the capital. The young pro-life advocates started a twitter hashtag that started to change the conversation surrounding abortion, and inspired local communities to get involved.

“Because of them, there was a huge campaign across all the parishes to have people sign a petition.” More than 80,000 signed the petition, which eventually contributed to the bill’s defeat in parliament, the bishop said.

The center of a successful online campaign like the one in New South Wales, or of a meme, or of any mode of evangelization, lies, at its core, in the truth, Bishop Umbers said.

“Really it’s an expression of who you are, and I think that’s where evangelization comes from,” he said of online engagement. “It’s not a campaign. It is truly a sharing of your own convictions and your own thoughtfulness.”


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Filipino archbishop: Face opposition with a martyr’s courage

September 6, 2017 CNA Daily News 1

Dagupan, Philippines, Sep 7, 2017 / 12:08 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Despite hostility, the Church must teach the truth of the Gospel with the courage of the martyrs, said the Archbishop of Lingayen-Dagupan in the Philippines.

In a Mass during the archdiocese’s second-ever synod, Archbishop Socrates Villegas said the most important work of those assembled is to reach everyone with the Church’s teachings.

“We must teach even if our voices get hoarse. We must teach even if they threaten us,” the archbishop said Sept. 2, according to CBCP News.

“We must teach even if they kill us and if they kill us, our message will echo even more because the best way to teach is through martyrdom!”

Archbishop Villegas spoke at the Cathedral of Saint John the Evangelist in Dagupan – an archdiocese particularly known to voice its opposition to the government’s extreme measures in its fight against drugs.

Since President Rodrigo Duterte took office in June 2016, over 7,000 deaths have been related to the war on drugs, with more than 2,500 killings attributed to the Philippines’ police force, according to Human Rights Watch.

However, despite cultural opposition from the government or even on social media, God will triumph, the archbishop said.

“In the lights and shadows of life, in the stormy and sunny days, in the persecutions we endure and the triumphs we bask in – the Lord speaks.”

He said during these times pastors must not be afraid to “fill the dark world with the light of Christ,” and he encouraged the crowd to live up to the challenge of Pope Francis – to meet people in “the peripheries” of society.

“We dream not of [a] status quo Church but an ever vibrant Church that is excited, not afraid to plunge into the deep,” Archbishop Villegas said, noting Catholics must be willing to reach out to the people in the streets.

One of the Philippine’s fastest growing pastoral jurisdictions, the Lingayen-Dagupan archdiocese was founded in 1963, and this is its first synod since 1985.

The gathering will discuss matters relevant to local parishes, but the archbishop said it will also be an opportunity to listen and serve.


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Hong Kong bishop talks Church-state relations, hopes for the future

September 3, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Hong Kong, China, Sep 3, 2017 / 04:08 pm (CNA).-

The challenges endured by Catholics in China are complex, said Bishop Michael Yeung Ming-cheung of Hong Kong, but there are reasons to be hopeful about the future of the Church in China.  

In an interview with CNA, Bishop Yeung explained the state of religious freedom and Church-state relations in China, outlined major challenges, and stressed the importance of the Church’s work amidst the Chinese people, especially the elderly, sick, and poor.

Appointed Aug. 1 as Bishop of Hong Kong after serving briefly as coadjutor, Bishop Yeung succeeded Cardinal John Tong Hon at the helm of an influential Chinese diocese, where the Holy See has based its mission to study the situation of Catholics in mainland China.

Bishop Yeung stressed that despite political challenges, the Church in China continues to “discover the face of Jesus in the faces of the poor. There is no motivation other than serving Christ by serving the least of His brethren without excluding others from His love and embrace.  This is true of the Church in China as it is anywhere else.”

The Holy See and China have no diplomatic relations, and the Chinese government has tried to control the Catholic Church in China ever since 1949, when the Chinese Communist party took control of the state. This has resulted in a progressively difficult and complex relationship over the last 70 years.   

Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association

In 1957, the Chinese government established the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA), and required all bishops to join it. The Chinese Catholic Church split, with many bishops and priests going underground.

With time, the Holy See and the Chinese government have developed realpolitik solutions to the appointment of bishops, which the Chinese government claims the right to control. However, the Chinese government has still appointed bishops within the CCPA which are not recognized by the Holy See, and the Pope has appointed bishops which the CCPA has refused to recognize.

Talks for a possible agreement between the Holy See and the Chinese government regarding the appointment of bishops have been underway in recent years. The CCPA celebrated its 60th anniversary with no fanfare, thus raising hopes that an agreement would be finalized. In fact, though, things are at the moment stuck.

Bishop Yeung explained that “the Chinese authorities define the CCPA’s role as acting as a bridge between the Church and its own internal governance offices,” but that “it is how that role is played out in practice that can make an enormous difference.”

The bishop said that “not too much can be read” into the “lack of fanfare of the CCPA’s 60th anniversary celebration” because “the CCPA does not appear to me to be poised to write itself off.”

He explained that CCPA was created by the National Congress of Chinese Catholic Representatives (NCCCR), an organization founded to supplant the Bishops’ Conference of the Catholic Church in China (BCCCC), which was established by the Holy See.

“The very existence of these three entities, their composition and their relationships among themselves and with the Church are presumably all part of the challenges to be met in negotiations between the Holy See and Chinese administration.”

However, Bishop Yeung stressed that these are not “new challenges,” as “Pope Benedict XVI has himself identified and recognized these and various other issues in his 2007 letter to Chinese Catholics which cannot be washed away if there is going to be any sustainable ‘healing of relationships’.”

Bishop Yeung’s predecessors held strong views about the possible agreement among Chinese Church leaders: his predecessor Cardinal John Tong Hon has supported it, while the previous influential Cardinal Joseph Zen has been highly critical of the possible agreement.

Bishop Yeung recalled what the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, said in a July 27 interview granted to the Italian newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore. Cardinal Parolin said that “dialogue in itself is already a positive fact,” and that the Holy See was facing it “in a spirit of healthy realism.”

“A healthy realism,” Bishop Yeung commented, “is indeed required to guard against false hopes and unrealistic expectations on the one hand and premature closing of doors to further dialogue on the other.”

The Level of Reality

He stressed that “things aren’t always what they seem to be,” and that “what is happening at the practical level of reality is often more significant than what has or has not been achieved at the formal level.”

Talking about the situation of religious freedom in mainland China, he said that “signals are often mixed and the situation varies from religion to religion, from locality to locality and from time to time.”

Bishop Yeung said that “the Chinese Constitution speaks of ‘freedom of religious belief’ and protection of  ‘normal religious activities,’ but what truly matters is how governmental control is exercised…in practice.”

He noted that control is particularly important during this “sensitive time in the run-up to the 19th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party scheduled for November.”

“I’m not too surprised that Yu Zhengsheng, one of the seven members of the Politburo Standing Committee and Chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), is reported to have, in July this year, stressed that Beijing intends to keep ‘a tight rein’ to ensure that the Chinese Catholic Church is held firmly in the hands of those who ‘love the nation and the religion,” namely Chinese communists.  

Bishop Yeung explained that part of the strategy of the State Administration for Religious Affairs (SARA) “was to reinforce its regulation of religious affairs and control over religions, minorities and any potential source of social disruption.”

Increased regulatory restrictions require registration of all religious workers – including Catholic priests, both official and unofficial, through the CCPA – and certification of all religious sites.

Bishop Yeung recalled that “President Xi Jinping himself insisted in April last year, when addressing a National Conference on Religious Work, that religious groups must adhere to the leadership of the Party (with him as its helm), support the socialist system and socialism with Chinese characteristics, retain the principle of ‘religious independence’ and ‘self-administration’ and that there must be ‘Chinazation of Religion’.”  

The Chinese government, Bishop Yeung said, “has since at least last year increasingly pushed for what it calls the ‘five transformations,’ namely localizing religion, standardizing management, indigenizing theology (by contextualizing doctrine), showing financial transparency and adapting Christian teachings so as to mold them into institutions that reflect the objectives of the Communist Party.”

One of the official reasons why the Chinese government set up the CCPA was because they required all priests to be “patriotic” and to be connected to the Chinese administration.

Bishop Yeung reflected on the Chinese government’s seeming reluctance to accept that Catholic bishops are not inherently unpatriotic, and that the faithful can be good Catholics as well as good citizens and patriots.

“Chinese authorities appear to have different definitions of ‘patriotism’ for different purposes at different times,” he said. “The Chinese communist party seeks to bar party members from becoming Christians but it is perfectly content to appoint the Honorable Carrie Lam, a Catholic, who is not a member of the party, as Chief Executive of the Hong Kong governmental administration. No one suggests that she cannot love the country and love Hong Kong because of her religion.”

“Indeed,” Bishop Yeung explained, “our religion teaches us, among other things, to love God and neighbor, to have civic responsibility, to respect authority (at the same time insisting that authority is a form of service to be responsibly exercised), to be compassionate, to serve the poor and the sick and all those in need – and to love the country, people and planet. Indeed, you can’t be a good Catholic without truly striving to be a good person and a good citizen. That holds true for bishops as it is for any ordinary lay person”.

Serving the Poor

From the very first homily after his installation, Bishop Yeung talked about serving the poor, the sick and the needy, because, in his words, “the well-being of society requires the fostering of genuine ecology and unceasing efforts to bring about integral human development.”

Speaking about the challenges the Church faces in its ministry as “Church of the poor and for the poor,” Bishop Yeung said that “the Chinese government has generally encouraged the religious sector to participate more in social and charitable services.”

Bishop Yeung explained that in 2012, several government bureaus issued a policy document called Opinions Concerning the Encouragement and Regulation of Social Services Conducted by the Religious Sector to create a legal framework for such services, and that “by that time, thanks to Deng’s Open Door Policy, the Church had already established several hundred medical clinics and hospitals located mostly in provincial cities, village towns and urban centres.”

“Unfortunately, the Church, with few exceptions could only provide private medical services because the reforms of the medical insurance system generally did not cover Catholic medical institutions,” although he explained that in recent years, this has begun to change.

Catholic hospitals attract many clients, because of “the quality of patient care they offer.”

“Many religious personnel as well as dedicated lay people are frontline workers,” he said. “You find them also serving as caregivers in homes for the elderly, the handicapped, abandoned babies and orphans, not only in urban but also remote rural areas.”

Challenges that these personnel face include “difficulties in obtaining formal registration” and, more seriously, “sustainability of such services, particularly when there has been an overall fall in vocations to the religious life.”

Hope for the Future

Chinese Catholics hope for more equitable treatment in the years to come, Bishop Yeung said. He recalled the words of Cardinal Parolin: “The Catholic Church asks that people are guaranteed the right to freely profess their faith for the benefit of everyone and for harmony in society.  Catholics wish to live their faith serenely in their respective countries as good citizens, working toward the positive development of the national community.”

“I think,” Bishop Yeung reflected, “these are points worth underlining, and (they) resonate with civic responsibility, social harmony and developmental goals in the Chinese mainland context.”   



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Ahead of ballot, Australian bishops reaffirm Church can’t support gay marriage

September 1, 2017 CNA Daily News 2

Canberra, Australia, Sep 1, 2017 / 02:58 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- As a non-binding poll on same-sex marriage in Australia looms, some leading Catholic bishops have again clarified Catholic teaching that marriage can only be between a man and a woman.

“I wish to state quite clearly that the Catholic Church, through its official teaching, cannot support proposals for the changing of the legal definition of marriage to include same-sex couples,” Archbishop Tim Costelloe of Perth wrote an Aug. 17 pastoral letter.

He explained that this position is based on Catholic conviction that marriage is a beautiful union of a man and a woman for life, and the best way to raise children. These convictions rest on the belief that God’s “creative design is written into the nature of creation itself and especially into the nature of humanity.”

“This view presumes that marriage is about more than the mutual love between two people: it is also about the creation of a family,” the archbishop said, while also rejecting unjust discrimination against same-sex couples.

Australia is about to conduct a ballot survey by mail on whether to recognize gay marriage. Ballots will go out Sept. 12, with voters encouraged to return their ballots by Oct. 27. The final deadline for ballots is Nov. 7.

The poll is not legally binding, but if the results show support for legalizing gay marriage, a bill to do so would be introduced in parliament, where members of parliament would not be bound to vote with the public.

In mid-August, Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney told The Australian newspaper that the redefinition of marriage would imperil the free exercise of religion.

“In other parts of the world that have legalized same-sex marriage, those who believe in traditional marriage have been harassed or coerced into complying with the new view of marriage,” he said. “It would be extremely naive to think that won’t happen here.”

Archbishop Fisher said the only explicit religious protections he had seen applied to ministers of religion and civil celebrants.

“What protections will be offered to people who work for church-run institutions such as schools, hospitals and universities?” he said. “Will teachers be free to teach church teaching on marriage or will they be forced to teach a more politically correct curriculum?”

The archbishop asked political leaders to explain whether schoolchildren would be subject to “propaganda in favor of same-sex marriage and gender fluidity” as part of anti-bullying programs, and whether parents and church schools could exempt the children under their charge.

“Will employers of such church agencies be free to choose staff in sympathy with their church’s teachings?” he asked, also wondering whether Catholic welfare agencies would be required to provide marriage preparation or counselling for same-sex couples or face anti-discrimination penalties.

For his part, Archbishop Denis Hart of Melbourne became the subject of media coverage for commenting that Catholic Church employees who contract a same-sex union risk being fired for publicly contradicting Catholic teaching.

Amid the debate, several leaders at prestigious Australian boarding schools have weighed in with statements that appeared to challenge the bishops and Catholic teaching.

Principal Paul Hine of the prestigious Sydney-area St. Ignatius’ College appeared most defiant of the bishops. In an Aug. 25 message to parents, staff and students, he said Archbishop Hart’s comments “have not gone unchallenged.”

Hine portrayed his stand as supportive of all the school’s self-identified LGBTQI employees. People with same-sex orientation “face the onslaught of the press, religious institutions and the social divisions that surround this contentious matter,” he said, adding, “we will continue to support staff in whatever marriage choices they make.”

“This is a courageous statement as it not only questions Church officialdom, but, it goes to the heartland of gospel teaching,” Hine claimed, adding, “One of the features of Jesuit spirituality is its readiness to challenge prevailing culture by supporting those who may be adversely affected by the vortex of public opinion and disparagement.”

The school’s rector, Father Ross Jones, S.J., also criticized Archbishop Hart. The priest asserted that contracting a same-sex marriage was a private matter and would not publicly contradict Saint Ignatius College’s Catholic values.

While Fr. Jones seemed to back Archbishop Fisher’s concerns for religious freedom, he appeared to question Archbishop Costelloe’s pastoral letter, saying there is more than one approach to natural law. He outlined an argument which a married couple might use “in good conscience” to reject Catholic teaching on contraception.

“Presumably, same sex-couples, who make such a commitment to each other in good conscience, do so by reflecting on experience and on what it is to be human, using their God-given reason,” said the priest.

Saint Ignatius’ College alumni include Archbishop Fisher, as well as former Prime Minister Tony Abbot and current deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce. Both oppose the legal recognition of same-sex unions as marriages.

In Melbourne the rector of Xavier College, Father Chris Middleton, S.J., voiced concerns that opposition to same-sex marriage was being virtually equated with “hate speech,” as well as concerns about offensive posters against gay marriage that were being posted in Melbourne.

“The ‘yes’ campaign, in my reading of the polls, can only lose if a perception of suppressing alternative voices alienates many in the middle, and the ‘no’ campaign can risk all credibility for its proponents in Australian society if they are identified with prejudiced or hateful language,” he said.

Fr. Middleton said the debate over marriage “exposes a real disconnect between the Church’s public opposition to same-sex civil marriage and the attitudes of young people,” given “almost total unanimity amongst the young in favor of same-sex marriage.” He said young people are “driven by a strong emotional commitment to equality, and this is surely something to respect and admire.”

“They are idealistic in the value they ascribe to love, the primary gospel value. Any argument against same-sex-marriage must respectfully address these core values, or they will fail a basic test of credibility with our young.”

Michael Cook, writing of the Australian religious commentary site MercatorNet, reflected on these leaders’ remarks.

“For many Catholics, there must be a deep sadness in this admission of failure of schools to pass on Catholic values to the next generation,” Cook said Aug. 31.

He characterized Fr. Jones’ comments as “muddled and meandering”, and suggested both rectors’ statements reflected a defeatist attitude out-of-step with Pope Francis’ hopefulness.

Cook cited the Pope’s 2013 apostolic exhortation Evangelii gaudium, which said defeatism is both among “the more serious temptations which stifles boldness and zeal” and something which “turns us into querulous and disillusioned pessimists, ‘sourpusses’.”

“Nobody can go off to battle unless he is fully convinced of victory beforehand,” the Pope said.

Cook added:

“Christians have the secret of happiness and the key to truth – Jesus Christ. It is undeniable that the many young people have succumbed to a tidal wave of secularization. But – so Catholics believe – the attractiveness of the Gospel message cannot fade. There should be no room for pessimism in advertising the beauty of the Christian vision of marriage.”


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India’s president praises Church for assistance to the poor

August 25, 2017 CNA Daily News 1

New Delhi, India, Aug 25, 2017 / 03:57 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A group of bishops from across India met with the country’s new president and vice-president on Thursday, with both leaders voicing their support of the Church’s work in spiritual development and assistance to the poor.

President Ram Nath Kovind, elected at the end of July, told the bishops Aug. 24 that he appreciated, in particular, the work the Church does for the poor and downtrodden in the country.

He also said, as summarized in a statement from the bishops’ conference, that while the whole world speaks of development, spirituality is also an important aspect of development, urging the bishops to continue to promote it.

Led by Cardinal Baselios Cleemis Thottunkal, Syro-Malankara Major Archbishop of the Archeparchy of Trivandrum and president of the Indian bishops’ conference, the bishops also included Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Mumbai; Cardinal Telesphore Toppo of Ranchi; and Archbishop Filipe Neri do Rosario Ferrao of Goa and Daman.

Archbishop Abraham Viruthakulangara of Nagpur, Archbishop Albert D’Souza of Agra, Archbishop Anil Couto of Delhi, and Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas, Auxiliary Bishop of Ranchi, were also part of the delegation.

Bishop Mascarenhas, secretary general of the Indian bishops’ conference, also accompanied eight representatives of the Archdiocese of Delhi in a meeting with the new vice-president of India, Venkaiah Naidu, Aug. 24.

In the hour-long meeting, arranged by the Archdiocese of Delhi, Naidu said he appreciated the selfless work of the Church, adding that the Christian community in India was a peaceful community which had contributed a lot to the growth of the country.

He also said he remembered with affection his joyful association with the late Archbishop Samineni Arulappa, who died in 2005 after leading the Archdiocese of Hyderabad for almost 30 years.

India’s presidency is largely a ceremonial role, while the prime minister is head of the government and leader of the executive branch. Naidu described the prime minister of India, Narendra Modi, as a secular person, but one who is interested in including all in his development programs.

Both the president and vice-president emphasized India’s secularity, and how this, since the beginning, has allowed for people to live in peace and harmony and “as one country,” which to continue is dependent on the end of the practice of vote banks.  

For his part, Naidu laid blame with politicians for fomenting current divisions and for using caste and religious groups to form vote banks.

He also called out the Gau Rakshak group, a Hindu nationalist organization which defends cows and which often commits acts of violence toward those suspected of slaughtering or consuming the animal, by saying that the cow is important, but that human beings are more important.  

Cardinal Cleemis conveyed the good wishes and prayers of the Catholic Church toward Kovind and they gifted him a bouquet of flowers, a garland, and a framed picture of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

According to a statement, he said that though the Christian community in India is a small minority, it has always served the country and will continue to serve the country in health care, education, and other areas, in particular, serving the poorest of the poor and the marginalized.

“We pray that God may bless you that you may continue to serve the country through your ministry,” he said.

During the visit with Naidu, Archbishop Couto congratulated him and assured him of the prayers of the Church. They presented him with a bouquet of flowers and a picture of St. Joseph with the Child Jesus. Accepting the picture, Naidu said that the image personified “compassion and love.”


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Video shows ISIS destroying Catholic church, threatening Rome

August 25, 2017 CNA Daily News 2

Marawi, Philippines, Aug 25, 2017 / 10:49 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A new video has been released showing ISIS militants in the Philippines threatening to come to Rome as they desecrate a Catholic church.

Filmed in the Philippine city of Marawi, the video shows militants shooting and setting fires within a church, as they destroy a crucifix and statues of Mary and St. Joseph.

One jihadist tears up photos of Pope Francis and Benedict XVI while saying, “Remember this, you kuffar [non-Muslims] – we will be in Rome, we will be in Rome, inshallah [god willing].”

Over the footage, another narrator can be heard saying “after all their efforts, it would be the religion of the cross that would be broken. The crusaders’ enmity toward the Muslims only served to embolden a generation of youth.”

The video, distributed by the pro-ISIS media organization Al Hayat, also contains graphic footage of fighting in the besieged Philippine city, including dead Philippine soldiers and militants shooting AK-47s as a narrator encourages Muslims in East Asia to come to the city “to perform jihad.”

Since May 23, militants of the Maute group, which formed in 2012 and pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in 2015, have been fighting against government forces for control of the city of Marawi on the island of Mindanao.

Violence began after a failed army and police raid to capture Isnilon Hapilon, a local Islamist leader. The initial attack launched by Maute burned several buildings, including the Catholic cathedral and the bishop’s residence.

The majority of the city’s 200,000 people – mostly Muslim – have fled since its occupation. At least 400 people have been killed in the fighting as of mid-July, though numbers haven’t been updated since.

On Aug. 24, government forces recaptured the city’s Grand Mosque, where it had been believed that as many as 40 civilian hostages were being held by militants, though no militants or hostages were found.

Armed Forces of the Philippines spokesperson Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said in a briefing that the retaking of the Grand Mosque, located in the central area of Marawi, was “a significant development,” despite recovering no hostages.

The government has said some of the militants fighting in Marawi appear to be from abroad, including countries like Russia, Indonesia, and Malaysia. Officials say there are also indications that other slain militants have come from the Middle East.

The fighting has fueled fears that the Islamic State is attempting to set up a regional base in Southeast Asia.  



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Catholic leaders decry brutal police killings in Philippines

August 23, 2017 CNA Daily News 1

Manila, Philippines, Aug 23, 2017 / 05:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- As police and vigilante killings continue under President Rodrigo Duterte’s brutal campaign against illegal drugs, Catholic leaders in the Philippines have decried the bloodshed, begging the nation to stop support of the escalating violence.

Considered the deadliest week since Duterte’s war on drugs was launched last year, more than 70 alleged drug offenders were killed last week, including 17-year-old Kian Loyd de los Santos.

His death has sparked public outrage after surveillance footage of the attack appears to show the boy being dragged by police, and witnesses say he was beaten, handed a gun, told to run and then shot, contradicting a police report claiming he shot first.

Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan and Cardinal Luis Tagle of Manila both denounced public support for the killings of suspected drug offenders over the weekend, calling on the nation to be courageous and vocal in opposing the violence.

“The country is [in] chaos. The officer who kills is rewarded and the slain get the blame. The corpses could no longer defend themselves from accusations that they fought back,” Archbishop Villegas said in a pastoral exhortation Aug. 20.

“They say that if there are 32 killed every day, our lives would be better, and our countrymen nod in agreement. They applaud and cry with a smile … while counting corpses in the night, while passing wakes for the dead left and right. It’s not in our nature to be happy over the killings.”

In his own message, Cardinal Tagle said that the danger and destruction caused by illegal drugs is real, but that the problem “should not be reduced to a political or criminal issue,” but is rather “a humanitarian concern that affects all of us.”

Police officers and vigilantes have killed more than 7,000 persons in the drug trade from July 2016 through January 2017, according to numbers provided by the Philippine National Police. The alleged suspects are usually shot by police under the allegation that they attacked first.

In response, Archbishop Villegas has asked for all church bells in his archdiocese to ring for 15 minutes each night beginning Aug. 22, memorial of the Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary, until Nov. 27.

He said they are ringing the bells in prayer for all of the victims of the police operations in the Pampanga province and in the metro area of Manila last week. They also serve as an audible reminder each night to be brave in acting against the killings.

“Don’t we know how to weep?” Archbishop Villegas asked. “Why aren’t we shocked by the gunfire and flow of blood on the sidewalk? Why aren’t we angry at the flow of drugs from China? Why is it that it’s only the poor who are shot while if a rich person with connections with higher ups is tagged, there needs to be an investigation and affidavit first.”

Cardinal Tagle decried the illegal drug problem, saying. “We knock on the consciences of those manufacturing and selling illegal drugs to stop this activity.”

“We knock on the consciences of those who kill even the helpless, especially those who cover their faces with bonnets, to stop wasting human lives,” he continued, referring to the drug killings carried out by vigilantes who wear civilian clothes and cover their faces and heads with masks and hats.

He encouraged the nation to instead support peaceful means of drug reform, such as the parish-based rehabilitation program in Manila called Sanlakbay.

Cardinal Tagle has also asked all parishes in the archdiocese to observe nine days of special prayer at all Masses from Aug. 21-29 “for the repose of those who have died in this war, for the strength of their families, for the perseverance of those recovering from addiction and the conversion of killers.”

Elected president in May 2016, Duterte ran for office on a platform of taking strong action against the drug trade in the country, making shocking statements to underline his commitment to action.

“Forget the laws on human rights. If I make it to the presidential palace, I will do just what I did as mayor,” the BBC reported him saying. Duterte was previously the mayor of the city of Davao, where he made a name for himself as the “death squad mayor.”

“You drug pushers, hold-up men and do-nothings, you better go out. Because I’d kill you,” he said while running for president. “I’ll dump all of you into Manila Bay, and fatten all the fish there.”

Duterte, whose popularity remains high, praised the killing of 32 people in police raids across Pampanga province Aug. 14, saying, “Those who died in Bulacan, 32, in a massive raid, that’s good. If we can kill another 32 every day, then maybe we can reduce what ails this country.”


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US military archbishop prays following USS John S McCain collision

August 22, 2017 CNA Daily News 1

Singapore, Aug 22, 2017 / 11:18 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the US military archdiocese offered prayers Monday after a US Navy destroyer collided with a tanker off the coast of Singapore, resulting in five injured and 10 missing US sailors.

Remains of some of the missing sailors were found in sealed crew compartments by divers the following day. It was the second crash involving a US Navy ship in as many months, and the fourth in a year.

“Once again the shepherds and faithful of the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA, raise our voices in prayer for the deceased, injured, and remaining members of the crew of the USS John S. McCain, which collided with another ship last night,” Archbishop Broglio said Aug. 21. “We pray for the repose of their souls and for the families who mourn such a tragic loss.”

“Mindful of those who defend the nation in troubled times and in danger, we renew our prayers for a just and lasting peace in the world,” he concluded.

The collision between the USS John S. McCain and a commercial oil tanker Alnic MC occurred east of the Malacca Strait off the coast of Singapore around 5:20 am.
Four of the five injured sailors were airlifted to a hospital in Singapore, though their injuries are not considered life-threatening. According to CNN, a search and rescue mission for the 10 missing sailors is ongoing and has recovered one body, which they are working to identify.

Tuesday US Navy Admiral Scott Swift said that “some remains” of the other missing U.S. sailors have been found in sealed compartments aboard the ship. “Until we have exhausted any potential of recovering survivors or bodies, the search and rescue efforts will continue,” Swift stated.

The USS John S. McCain is named in honor of John S. McCain, Sr. and John S. McCain, Jr., who were admirals. They are the grandfather and father, respectively, of Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.). The destroyer was commissioned in 1994.

According to a Navy official, the collision was caused when the crew lost control of the ship through a steering failure.

In response, the Navy ordered a rare, one-day pause of operations. This means that over the next few weeks, fleets will take a one-day, safety stand-down at the discretion of individual fleet commanders.

Admiral John Richardson, chief of naval operations, said that the “trend demands more forceful action” and that there will be “a deliberate reset for our ships focused on a number of areas, such as navigation, ship’s mechanical systems and bridge resource management.”

The Alnic MC sustained some damage above the waterline, but none of its crew were injured and no oil spilled.

On June 17 a similar accident occurred when the USS Fitzgerald, also a destroyer, collided with a container ship off the coast of Japan. Seven sailors died as a result of the accident. The bodies of the deceased sailors were all recovered aboard the ship.

At the time of the accident, Archbishop Broglio expressed his “heartfelt sympathy to the families whose loved ones perished in this unfortunate incident.”

“Deeply saddened by the tragic loss of life on the USS Fitzgerald, I ask all of the faithful to remember in prayer the victims and their families.”

“The Naval community at Yokosuka has responded with great care in attempting to meet the physical, psychological, and spiritual needs of those who survived the collision,” he continued. “May Almighty God give them continued fortitude in the days ahead.”

In May, a US Navy guided missile cruiser collided with a fishing vessel, and in August 2016 one of its submarines collided with a support vessel.